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The body

Moving matter

James Anderson

Editor’s note

Once again we have the privilege of following the journey along with this author. Willing to share his experiences with others with a singular will to help us understand things better through example, it is fascinating to see how he simplifies the complex knots that tie us to our earthly existence. His journey through matter takes the within and the without as two poles of a single movement and reveals to us the inter-connectedness of matter and spirit and the eventual possibility of the conquest of matter and physical life by the power of the Spirit.    

The way of transformation is rich with possibility. It is a journey open to every human being on this planet although, initially at least, it is a hard, exacting path. We come to earth armed with a body and it is in a body that the path must reach fulfilment. This body reflects a bigger picture: it seems to me a microcosm for matter itself. I feel that it symbolises a crucible for the whole transformation. So the transition to divine life would be incomplete if its action by-passed the body.

We find that every obstacle and resistance surface there and it is the principal reason why the way of transformation is so hard. On it a vast battle is being fought; at times, it resembles a relentless war of attrition. It is a struggle that has been going on for centuries and most of us are unable to sense any conclusive result. Every effort at changing it has ended in defeat or at best stalemate. So for most, the body represents the lowest echelon of consciousness: tamas and inconscience. Perhaps that is why so many of our forefathers decided to run away from it and escape to the heavens. All in all, this is perhaps the greatest deterrent we face on our path. Here, Sri Aurobindo describes the bare facts of the material consciousness:

“What you describe is the material consciousness; it is mostly subconscient, but the part of it that is conscious is mechanical, inertly moved by habits or by the forces of the lower nature. Always repeating the same unintelligent and unenlightened movements, it is attached to the routine and established rule of what already exists, unwilling to change, unwilling to receive the Light or obey the higher Force. Or, if it is willing, then it is unable. Or, if it is able, then it turns the action given to it by the Light or the Force into a new mechanical routine and so takes out of it all soul and life. It is obscure, stupid, indolent, full of ignorance and inertia, darkness and slowness of tamas (1).”

However a divine seed has been planted deep into the soil of matter and for some time it has been quietly germinating. It only seeks revelation. So, in spite of its current limitations, the potential of the body is limitless. Our body is the field of action and on this tiny arena we open to a play which can reverberate throughout the entire earth. So I believe that it is incumbent on each of us to nurture and protect this seed until a day comes when the spirit can finally move the body.

“It is this material consciousness into which we are seeking to bring first the higher (divine or spiritual) Light and Power and Ananda, and then the supramental Truth which is the object of our yoga (2).”

A new way has to be found to move matter; a new way has to be found to galvanise the body. It is the final link in a chain of complete change. If this link snaps, nothing will be truly resolved. The divine life implies a totality and the body is its last frontier. Once again, initial effort moves it forward, but it is my understanding that its very nature can only be changed by a more supreme intervention. When the soul calls the spirit descends; wherever there is an opening, I believe the Force will penetrate. So deep inside each one of us lies the agency for this change. Everything starts from inside and by opening to this sublime presence, I feel that a new consciousness will respond and eventually radiate onto the outside too. It is the central faith I hold onto. Truly, it is the only way I know. Whenever everything seems hopeless, I try to hold onto this rock.

The physical nature may be flawed, but it is my impression that most of its woes arise from other sides of the being. Sri Aurobindo’s words on it are certainly validated by experience. The physical is a docile creature, prone to lethargy and terribly obstinate at times but its imperfections are often magnified by mind and vital. I find the body probably more receptive to the action of the spirit. It possesses a goodwill that the other members lack. With the mind and vital, there is usually a twist and the body is sometimes monopolised to serve their narrower ends.

If there is physical rupture or breakdown, I have found that the level of interference can reach alarming degrees. When illness comes, false circuitry is sometimes re-programmed into the physical. The inherent spontaneity of the body is lost and the mind and vital might jump in, try to correct or look for convenient solutions. These responses lie at the root of many wrong habits and patterns. One sometimes has to start building from scratch again. If the process is left unchecked all natural alignment dissolves and this is why I find the sādhanā of the body so imperative. It is my way of aligning the body around the only part that is true. I have to look to a higher determinism. However, before I reach that, I realise that many obstacles have to be cleared as so much of our nature impedes the influence of the soul.

Working inside

In keeping these channels open, I first look to ensure that no debris stands in the way. I am convinced that most of man’s personality amounts to little more than debris. So much is shaped and moulded from outside and what he sees of himself becomes mere illusion. What he regards as himself is usually nothing more than the product of this conditioning. He loses touch with his truth and so debris comes in. It is debris that blocks and retards the spontaneity of the body. The only part that is true lies buried beneath all this waste. Waste can accumulate with many things – fear, doubt, depression and self-pity, to name a few – and it arises if we allow the body’s innate connection to its truth to fall way. If we don’t keep these channels open, we can be sure that Nature will dump it all upon us. So if man is ever going to access this truth, he has to find a way of making himself somehow more clear and transparent inside.

So I do this work through the body. With consciousness, every knot or distortion will eventually surface there and it can assume many forms. Something in the past might claw into our being and consolidate as a pattern; something inside resonates with the distortion of desire and clogs our whole being. Most memories and attachments are buried so deep that we are completely unaware of them. Truly, “we live in a present born from an unknown past (3).” But with attention and time, it will eventually appear to view. Unhappily, without this awareness, the past often tends to strangle us, producing knots which may cause disequilibrium. Sooner or later, if nothing is done, it is likely they will creep unnoticed to the surface and bring trauma or illness.

So my work on the body follows a simple procedure. I call and pray to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother for their help. They have given me this work after all. I try to relax and just observe: there is nothing else I can really do. However, by scanning and staying connected to them, I see or feel these knots gradually disentangle and witness a new consciousness appear. It spontaneously resolves everything it touches. The being melts at the feet of the Mother. But it is not regressive: the body becomes so much more vibrant and alive. There is a greater sense of strength, poise and power; a solid peace descends. It serves notice that the body is not redundant after all; it shows that there is still work to be done. The end-result is a feeling of quiet accomplishment and joy. A sense of harmony once more reigns over the entire being and the body uses and aligns itself around its true dynamic centre.

I find it a little perplexing that I am no longer able to align the body without doing this work first. Indeed it is now simply impossible to do otherwise. Just imagine if we found a way of instilling the Force into our body at every second of our lives! Every moment would witness a new perfection in the material consciousness. In reality though, we are always switching ourselves ‘on’ and ‘off’. However I believe that only by saturating the body with this Force will the process reach a glorious conclusion.

The key for me is to reorientate the consciousness. However I find that the current scenario can be very different. On this path of growth, one often advances a little then steps back. No matter how strong the filter, more debris might seep in non-stop. Old habits invariably return, but we carry on. We do the work again and again until such time that they are gone for good. I believe it is the only way. By persistently opening to this Force, the body also starts to resonate with what it meets. When that happens, I believe that aspiration naturally arises in the physical. It is a sure sign that the body itself is starting to become more conscious.

Working outside

When aligned inside, I find it then possible to work directly on the exterior. Always keeping that connection, I turn my attention onto the physical body. I always begin at square one and I look first at my posture. I watch how the feet are planted. Are they rooted to the earth or struggling to find a comfortable position? Is the weight evenly distributed? The body yearns for a strong base; it needs to be rooted to the earth. I observe how the alignment of the upper trunk has direct bearing on the body’s balance and poise below. If there is pain, it is a sign of tension and I might gently flex the knees in order to restore a sense of fluidity to the whole physical structure.

Gentle movement gradually comes but I try to hold onto that essential thread of consciousness. The work is very delicate but there is a sense of immobility that seems to preside over any action. I try to transfuse this poise into every movement. When I am guided there is little premeditation: a more effortless synchronicity unfolds. It is important to keep the atmosphere intact because the work can be very detailed and painstaking and I don’t believe that the surface mind has the patience to undertake it.

Here again, the body has become a teacher and slowly cultivates in me a greater art of patience. It is certainly not something that has come naturally to my being. Somehow, we have to learn to transfer the reins over to something higher. Only then can the Force move the body, independent of all personal will. We can also try to meet this Force half-way. Surely the body can do this. Its aspiration is innate, almost wholly concealed at first, but certainly present in each and every tissue and cell. I find that by calling the Mother’s name, the body automatically receives at least a little of this attunement. It is quite a material experience, but it is clearly one that comes from a separate domain. It is the welcome sign of intrusion of spirit into matter.


Working on the whole nature, it has become apparent to me that the body’s progress does not proceed in anything like a straight line. There are many variations, plateaus, adjustments and maybe even partial descents that come along the way. Even exclusively within the body itself, if one is not careful, certain parts might lag whilst others move happily onwards. Sometimes we find ourselves constantly having to recover ground in order to embrace the whole. The whole of our body must be made conscious, but against a backdrop of our whole nature. Everything must be harmonised: I believe that everything can be kept open to the Mother’s Light and Force.

So it is not surprising that the progress can be uneven at times. If the physical were left entirely to its own devices, purely material means could be adopted and then, perhaps, a more linear development might be observed. A steady but limited progress would be probably maintained.

But that seems quite elusive now. It is not one point but many that require my attention and as long as the crust of this nature continues to resist, that’s how it’s going to be. It is more a spherical progress that we seek: that seems to me more the nature of the integral work. This work has to be done in every conceivable direction and certain parts will inevitably lag behind. From experience, I find myself continually going down to attend to every detail in order to rise up again. Different parts of our nature move from light to shadow. They all press, constrict one another and jostle for position. Because the body is low in hierarchy, it struggles for expression, passing through phases of expansion and contraction. It often finds itself suffocated by the rest of the nature.

Embarking on this journey, it soon became clear that my inner state had to be addressed first. The inner nature needed to be more harmonised for the body to re-discover its true rhythm. So nothing can be looked upon in isolation; absolutely everything is interlinked. This is a keynote of Integral Health. The Mother repeatedly says that it is the inside that governs the outside and it is my understanding that this relation becomes more and more prominent the more one expands and grows.

This work inside is a joy but it is certainly the biggest labyrinth I know. I can only witness. I am in the middle of a maze and can only bring order if I surrender to my guide. Very often I am unable to work exclusively on the body because there is disruption lurking inside. When that happens, I have no option but to address the intrusion first. It is also my understanding that the more the work of clearance ensues, the more rapidly will any latent disorder rise to the surface. That is the effect of the light; it is the light of our consciousness. It is the hand of the Mother gradually making us more transparent. This task of clearing can at times seem endless.

But it can suddenly change and an answer comes. Sometimes a prayer or sincere invocation can be enough. It is like the sun emerging from behind clouds. When it manifests, I can then stand in my truth. I can also move and walk in my truth and that is simply all the proof I need. It is a glimpse of what can be. Actually, it gives a glimpse of what already is. The truth is alive here and now: one just has to reach out and hold onto it. Surely if one could keep it constantly, one moves into the domain of miracles. So my aim is clear now. I want to keep this truth locked inside my heart and never let it go.

But I find a disparity clouds over this proof. Practical experience tells me that it is not just a matter of aligning the being inside. We cannot exist screened from the world. If we could the path would be much less problematic, but then neither would it offer such possibility. There are also exterior factors which need to be overcome. In my case (and I don’t believe it unique), there is a shroud caused by local conditions that continually shadows over the physical. Although this place* is clearly home for the soul, the body and vital frequently shrink under a ‘yoke’ and this has a corrosive effect upon the energy-field that sustains the whole structure. The obvious example is the climate. But it manifests in many ways that attritionally affect both life and body. We are all products of conditioning and will remain so until the hand of the spirit takes sufficient hold. There is always going to be disequilibrium until such time that the Force fully consolidates in our being. When it does, I pray, we can hope for a greater immunity to ensue. Until then, I guess that we have to remain open and quietly endure.


We all live in a sea of vibrations and formations. Many are undoubtedly helpful. We all know a positive outlook helps. It is like a current that aids our growth. It works on others too: its influence can be contagious and inspire anyone to conquer the most arduous difficulties. Even an atmosphere of encouragement helps, far more than the limp atmosphere of negativity that seems to plague much of the modern world.

If I’m honest with myself though, the judgment and opinion of others is only a mirror for a judgment that takes place inside. Our consciousness acts like a magnet in both positive and negative ways. Evidently too, it is this susceptibility to outside formations that needs to be examined. The flaw lies in the way that we react. There is little purpose bothering about the state of the world when there is so much to shift inside. Indeed the world can change only when we first start to get transformed.

But, particularly on a collective scale, most formations fall into line with the laws of nature. The trend reflects a mode of gravity and disintegration. Collective formations are much more pervasive and powerful and one is exposed to them every second of our life. They can have an insidious effect on the being and only the individual has the means to rise above this stew. If we want the body to stay open to positive change, I feel it is imperative to erect some sort of filter that separates the true from the false. If we don’t do this, we will only fall prey to a colossal lie. Unless we protect our work, it can very easily be undone.

Sometimes I feel a weight trying to tug me down: this is the law of atrophy and it all amounts to a huge pressure for disintegration. Anyone taking this path of growth will inevitably feel this. We spend our lives swimming through formations and very few can see below the surface. Society simply expects them; one can easily get brainwashed into absorbing them too. Ironically, I particularly sense this law from those dearest to me and so a spectre of inevitability can sometimes sink. Most damaging of all, if I’m not attentive, I can get used to it too.

So one thing I am learning when opening the body to change is to try to immunise myself from negativities. They are always seeking resonance and look to take shelter within. But anyone engaged in this work of transforming matter seems to eventually come up against an immense world formation; he or she has to stand up against the whole weight of nature. That is an entirely different matter. This pressure particularly confronts us with established facts and ‘physical laws’, to use the Mother’s expression1 which are so entrenched and proven that they stand at the root of every medical dogma.

The body consciousness seems to give carte blanche credence to these ‘laws’ and it becomes “so automatic, that it is unconscious (4).” Pulling the body out of this conditioning is truly a herculean task. Sooner or later, if one is not very careful, these formations will find a way of burrowing into the very fabric of our being.

The chasm

At the root of these ‘physical laws’, the Mother observes, is a chasm we create between the material life and spiritual existence. A separation has been made and false domain established. Inside this domain, these laws have become almost sacrosanct:

“Well, to be able to cure that, which of all the obstacles is the greatest (I mean the habit of putting spiritual life on one side and material life on the other, of acknowledging material laws to exist), one must make a resolution never to legitimize any of these movements, at any cost (5).”

I feel that it was a profound legacy of the Mother’s work to remove this distinction. That is why I feel that her message is so radical and new. If one focuses on her words and if the spirit is ever going to govern matter, it is truly the only way. The two worlds have to become one: the material life has to be saturated by the world of the spirit. Only then can matter be moved by the spirit. I somehow feel that the world process has already started. Perhaps that is why the barricades of resistance have risen even higher. Maybe one day a tidal wave will come and sweep them all away for good; perhaps not, as the way of Truth is to harmonise after all.

It takes a vast effort to protect oneself against this sterile but formidable formation. The Mother affirms that “none of these things [physical laws] should be legitimized (6).” Surely the strength to achieve this comes from the Mother herself. I don’t think it is possible to face this blockade ourselves. But when we truly surrender to her, I believe that an impregnable fortress gets erected around us. Our faith also soars. Instead of confronting every insinuation or ‘bald fact’ in detail, we can invoke the Mother to build an armour around us. Instead of always being on edge, we can go through life armed instead with a more trusting confidence. I feel this is our best protection against any formation. Indeed, it is our best protection against every eventuality. From experience, I’ve lost count of the times the Mother has pulled me out of catastrophe. To live in her bubble, to live in the Mother’s Presence is always, for me, the best way of protecting this work. After all, this is the work that She has entrusted to each and every one of us. Unhappily, sometimes we let it slip and negativity seeps in or attacks come. But we can always try to cement this connection.

Medicine and physical laws

It is interesting to consider how, when major illness occurs, we often end up paying homage to the ‘tried and tested’ modalities of medical science. That was certainly the case when physical breakdown came to me years back. Even now, I have to admit that there is a lingering affinity with material solutions. It’s like being caught between two stools. Most of us continue to resort, at least from time to time, to the proven remedies of medical science. The ways of modern medicine are still deeply entrenched and people need a fair amount of courage to take the body’s destiny into their own hands and forge their own way forward. Maybe a fine balance is required. We can always seek to enhance the link between body and soul. That and a simple trust in the Grace is our truest panacea. However, it helps to be a little pragmatic and aware of the credibility of the physical frame. In this way, we can see more clearly what we are up against. Physical laws ultimately only foster a numbing sense of negativity and disbelief. But, as the Mother says, the body can be unbelievably obstinate when it comes to these matters. Perhaps that is one reason why the Mother says that “it is an infirmity which has to be endured for the time being (7).”

Walking the path, you get a faint idea of what the Mother was up against. She had to carry the weight of the entire world on her shoulders. She had to face a huge doubt even from those in her midst. A part of her mission was to conquer the spectre shaped by the collective subconscious. She has shown us the way and now it is our turn to face this doubt. And the biggest battle is taking place in the body. It is like trying to change the unchangeable, trying to overturn a vast formation accumulated over eons of evolution.

I guess that as long as man substantially lives in the physical consciousness, these physical laws will always hold sway. It is only when he starts examining himself that they lose their iron grip. But it is a grip never easily relinquished. Slowly I am coming to feel that these laws are no more than habits thrown in by nature to keep man tied down to his present limitations. So surely the only solution is for man to change his own nature first: this, I believe, is the challenge that presently faces him.

Sooner or later, we need to stand on our faith. We need to plunge into that vast ocean regardless of what these physical laws may say. Faith is integral and a ‘faith in the divine Grace’ necessarily includes a faith in the body too. As the Mother says, “If only we would accept the Supreme inside our bodies…(8)”

The subconscient

This disbelief is not just a surface phenomenon. If it were, I suppose it might be more easily reversed. But it lies embedded in the darkest caverns of our nature. A dark shadow comes to haunt anyone looking to change the body; a phantom appears as soon as our more frontal resistance is dissolved by the spirit. As our attention goes gradually more down to the physical, a turbid mixture is aroused and the subconscient awakes.

Throughout our lives, every impression and experience is absorbed and sinks down near the bottom of our nature. Every collective formation finds abode there. Then, sooner or later, they rise up again unannounced:

“The subconscient is the main cause why all things repeat themselves and nothing ever gets changed except in appearance…. All seeds are there and all Samskaras of the mind, vital and body, — it is the main support of death and disease and the last fortress (seemingly impregnable) of the Ignorance. All too that is suppressed without being wholly got rid of sinks down there and remains as seed ready to surge up and sprout up any moment (9).”

This is such an obscure domain and it is not easy to recognise when it is active. This region is so hazy that it is very difficult to trace those impulses back to their source. It requires detailed observation and work to do this. The subconscient is the main reason why the body is so encrusted in inertia and habit. It is what always pulls the body backwards. It is also a huge sower of doubt. It induces the feeling, ‘This has never been done before and it is impossible to recover from this affliction.’ This is the greatest weight that the body faces.

The law of disintegration is so embedded that it has taken root in the global subconscious. So what chance has a mere individual, however conscious, got in standing against such a weight? In a sense though, the only hope lies in the individual, one sufficiently equipped to surmount this huge formation. To be honest though, I don’t believe that such an individual actually exists. We have to look to the highest determinism in order to conquer and that is the Truth. So Sri Aurobindo states that, “It is only by bringing the higher Light and Force into it that it can change (10).”

The easiest way of doing this is to call the Light down into the body so it can saturate further down. The body is always the arena. It’s where everything surfaces and ultimately it is where many things have to be dissolved:

“If light, strength, the Mother’s Consciousness is brought down into the body, it can penetrate the subconscient also and convert its obscurity and resistance (11).”

The spirit

For me, the sādhanā of the body means simply to open the body to the influence of the Force: no more or less. We have to make best use of the instrument that the Mother has given us. If we find our equipment a little lacking there is usually a reason but certainly no justification to give in. Starting with a fit and supple body will certainly be a boon and if not, extra work is necessary. But no work is ever wasted. In the vast range of things, I always try to remember that, in the course of our lives, these first building bricks are being laid for eternity.

So I believe the key is consciousness. In spite of its tamasic nature, there is a goodwill which can raise the body up to greater heights. If there is weakness, the process becomes more problematic but it can still make up for its shortcomings in surprising ways. Whatever the infirmity, I feel the body can always be made plastic to the Force. I actually find it more open to the action of the spirit than either the mind or vital. When it is touched by this grace, a new lightness and surety of step intervene. It comes in small unexpected openings and, on such occasions, there can be distinct change. But I find the problem comes from what stands in between and so progress has, up to now, always been followed by regression. That is the greatest barrier to healing. We just have to carry on until a day comes when we no longer need to step back. I don’t believe it helps to set time-limits for this course.

The enigma of the body has to be faced in its entirety and the solution obtained from the whole picture. One gets to a point where a piecemeal approach doesn’t really help at all. I’ve been as culpable as anyone with this kind of tinkering. But if matter is ever to be transformed, ultimately it has to be approached in an integral way.

There is the obvious problem of handing it over to a greater power. Walled in by the parameters of the ego, we still look for solutions from those ‘tried and tested’ formulas that nature provides us. We look for hidden reserves and sometimes even logical solutions. There may also be a little fear of the unknown, so the answers to the riddle of the body get safely parcelled away in life’s comfort zones. But the spirit clearly doesn’t quite work that way.

Allowing the spirit to move the body is not really something that can be done by effort. The effort seems to lie in the preparation. Certain requirements have to be fulfilled if the spirit is ever going to move the body. The groundwork is often laborious and painful; and that can only be done by effort. As long as ignorance predominates, we depend upon those qualities that nature has left us. Effort may have to continue for a long time. Effort is needed to shape the various facets of our nature into more authentic divine instruments. After all, we have to make our individuality perfect by effort. When that is done, we hand it all over. For some, that may be the biggest effort of all. But when the spirit moves the body, it is surely effortless. Spontaneously it just happens: a seamless transition. I speak from mere glimpses but these are enough to convince me of the absolute truth behind this work.

The ego is always the final bar. I believe that when we live in our truth, the spirit always descends. I believe our truth to be a sublime imprint, like a tiny fingerprint of the Divine. Due to this, it is something unique and totally individual to us. It is what we have come down on earth to manifest. To express our truth wholly and completely in this lifetime is our given work. This wholeness includes the body so when embraced, how can the spirit not resonate?

In the Integral Yoga, our focal point is the Mother. For me, She is also truly the spirit that moves matter. It is Her Force and Her Light: everything is Her. So calling Her is the only way I know. I readily admit that I cannot complete this task myself: it is simply impossible. It is always the Mother who picks me up so that I can begin again. Whenever I repeat Her name, I automatically feel more grounded. In fact, if I ever feel myself floating away, I call for that reason. It may not necessarily make life more comfortable but Her Presence always realigns me to the work that is at hand. She never seems to encourage shortcuts and Her response invariably reminds me of all my unfinished business. It simply sustains me.

So the totality of life has to be embraced and it all has to be experienced in the body. I also believe this experience can also bring a totality of ecstasy and joy. Only then, I understand, can the body be transformed because, ultimately, delight will be our substance. So that is why, through light and shadow, I pray that the Mother walks our steps: one can’t really ask for more than that.


1. Sri Aurobindo. SABCL, Volume 24. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1970, p. 1429.

2. Ibid. pp. 1429-30.

3. Op. cit. SABCL, Volume 29. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1970, p. 378.

4. The Mother. Mother’s Agenda, Volume 1. Paris, Institut de Recherches Évolutives, 1978, p. 158.

5. Ibid., p. 159.

6. Ibid., p. 158.

7. Ibid., p. 159.

8. Ibid., p. 156.

9. Op. cit. SABCL, Volume 22. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1970, p. 355.

10. Ibid., p. 357.

11. Ibid.

* Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry

1For a more complete reading, refer to the extract from the Mother on ‘Physical laws’ in the previous issue (Volume 20, Issue 2, p. 4).

Mr. James Anderson, a sadhak, is following the Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and working at SAIIIHR, Pondicherry.

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Exacting path


A docile creature

Working inside

Gentle movement




world of spirit

Physical laws

The subconscient