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The Life-force

The riddle of life

James Anderson

Editor's note

All forms of life are made perfect. No plant or animal ever thinks of exceeding itself. Only man. So we see such modern miracles like flying across the world in a day, across the solar system in a week or communicating around the world as if we are here and now. And even in the inner worlds, where no other life-form dares to intrude, man goes...This is one such adventure.

Learning about myself has indeed been a huge voyage of discovery. Maybe, though, it took a while for this journey to start in earnest. Indeed, for an early part of my life, I had been living almost with a blanket over my eyes! When at last this enquiry began, I still could not get anything like a clear picture. I kept on trying to fathom why my nature was continually being pulled in every conceivable direction. When finally I came to Sri Aurobindo, I discovered that the human being is in reality comprised of many parts. These parts constructed a complex network and the picture I saw was certainly not a compact whole.

“Each plane of our being — mental, vital, physical — has its own consciousness, separate though interconnected and interacting; but to our outer mind and sense, in our waking experience, they are all confused together (1).”

After I began absorbing such insights, I noticed how these parts often collided and wrestled with one another and how that situation only brought a state of disorder and disharmony. So I began to wonder whether this phenomenon might explain some of the blockages that I was experiencing in the body.

As soon as I started settling in Pondicherry, I became aware that one part of my being in particular was screaming out for attention. The furore emanated from the furnace of my impulses, lodged within the vital itself. I am certain that my reaction to the atmosphere here had much to do with this because I must confess that I initially found it somewhat dry. Certain places in which I had dwelled earlier in life had been charged with a strong vital force so I was not really prepared for the contrast I was facing here. I felt that I was in the midst of something truly unique: a highly charged atmosphere, but altogether more refined than what I had been accustomed to.


Apart from an abiding pressure at the top of my head, I also experienced long periods of drought in those early days. Later on, I was to discover a more covert quality to this place, one not as easily discernible. For me now, this place simply represents the domain of the soul. But at that point in time, it seemed that a part of me was slowly being made to starve. However a more resolute voice told me to carry on and endure. So I did and I stayed.

Before I came here, my body had become very reliant upon this force. My background and upbringing in the West had certainly reinforced this energy. Working in quite a stressful job in London had also got my body accustomed to its spasmodic shots of adrenalin. The urge to compete, instilled from early infancy, had constantly kept my nerves on edge. There were times in my life when this impulsive force had burst through me in huge waves. There were long periods of moderation, but now and then these pauses were broken by bouts of free license. It was as if one huge storm was slowly building up for the next. On such occasions, it seemed that the nature teetered on the edge of oblivion and chaos.

I had previously tended to class this part of the being with the mind, but as I went deeper I found that it was entirely different in character and substance. So first I became aware of its independent existence. Before anything else then, my vital nature had to be addressed. It needed harnessing, but in such a way that it would not cave in altogether. Otherwise I felt that there was serious risk of it imploding entirely. So, my sadhana started largely from this point.

So the inner work actually unfolded very naturally for me. My gaze was changing direction and I started to probe deeper inside. On the outside, I found myself comprised of many raw edges. As I burrowed deeper, I observed how these edges had somehow got connected and fused with dark pockets and stains of obscurity inside. These hidden corners, reinforced by habitual conditioning, had been left undisturbed by many years of neglect. The impulsive outbursts were somehow connected to these patches. Without the Mother (1) by my side I would have been quite bewildered and lost! But with Her help, I slowly started observing with a keener eye and began slowly to put the pieces back together again.


So first of all, I gradually became conscious of this disparate entity inside that demanded recognition. Now the questions came in innumerable droves. Before I confronted the vital nature, I needed to understand it first; I wanted to know it. What was it in me that was capable of inducing such a state of unbridled anarchy and wanton abandon? Lower down the range, I perceived nothing but mud; what I saw was very dark and sticky. If left completely untamed, I observed that this part even had the power to lead me to total ruin. I also noticed that whenever it got inflamed the net result for the body was complete exhaustion. Passion, anger, lust and desire were obvious hallmarks but these were only pieces in an enormous jigsaw puzzle.

There was of course the force which gave me energy and here was clearly the source of my drive and enthusiasm. I even found that this part would, at times get almost intoxicated with its own exuberance. It might give itself out in an exaggerated mode of expression, often throwing itself into social contacts. But what was it that might suddenly change tack, throw away all its tools and lie as dead as a stone? What was it too that produced those currents of joy that sometimes coursed through my veins?

There were also parts of me that lay deeply embedded in human attachment. It became clear to me that the emotional nature was also comprised in this side of my being. Now and then, this part might rise up to dizzy heights of expectation and human love. The effect could become almost euphoric. But there was always the prospect of sharp descent. Later on, I discovered too that a higher part of this force even took a joy and appreciation in beauty and a certain form of expression. Indeed I started noticing that the life-force itself was almost as varied as the entire nature itself.

Thankfully, much of my initial time at the ashram was spent reading the works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. I am so grateful for the foundation They have given me. Without Them, I simply could not have endured. There were colossal gaps in my education but I found that every dilemma I was facing could be addressed simply by tuning into Their teachings. I had reached maturity equipped with the right diplomas but when it came down to the matter of practical living, there was clearly something amiss.

Coming here too with the need to properly address the body somehow made this quest even more imperative. Reading the Mother’s works, it soon became evident that it was indeed the vital itself that urgently required my first attention: I simply couldn’t afford to by-pass it any longer. I also sensed that many of the body’s ills could be put down to this ingredient inside me. Hitherto, my lifestyle had been loose, to say the least; there was a lack of cohesion and discipline — so a greater order was required.


Sri Aurobindo writes that

“… if the vital is unregenerated and enslaved to desire, passion and ego, then it is as harmful as it can otherwise be helpful. Even in ordinary life the vital has to be controlled by the mind and mental will, otherwise it brings disorder or disaster. When people speak of a vital man, they mean one under the domination of vital force not controlled by the mind or the spirit. The vital can be a good instrument, but it is a bad master (2).”

These words call to mind the Mother’s advice to a young sadhak:

“The vital is a most bothersome character who prefers to be bad rather than to go unnoticed. You must teach him that he is not the master of the house (3).”

One major reason I came to Pondicherry in the first place, I have to admit, was to find some solutions for the body. Up to this point, I had almost been living in denial: leading a relatively incoherent lifestyle, yet not really attempting to address the imbalance. It immediately became clear to me that, for the sake of the body alone, the life-force had to be reined in. The Mother comments:

“Usually, unless one has taken good care to make it otherwise, the impulses — the impulses of desire — all the enthusiasms and passions with all their reactions are the masters of human life. One must already be something of a sage to be able to undergo a rigorous discipline of the body and obtain from it the ordered, regular effort which can perfect it. There is no longer any room there for all the fancies of desire. You see, as soon as one gives way to excesses, to immoderation of any kind and a disorderly life, it becomes quite impossible to control one’s body and develop it normally, not to mention that, naturally, one spoils one’s health and as a result the most important part of the ideal of a perfect body disappears; for with bad health, impaired health, one is not much good for anything. And it is certainly the satisfaction of desires and impulses of the vital or the unreasonable demands of certain ambitions which make the body suffer and fall ill. (4).”

The outer garbs required arresting too. I stopped drinking, adhered to a more sattwic diet and abstained from sexual indulgence. My company and friends seemed to change in one fell swoop. The whole process was carried out very promptly and perhaps it wasn’t as difficult as anticipated because the resolution somehow encouraged my vital to move up to a higher poise. Initially the reversal somehow stirred its imagination! Keeping it at a higher station, though, was a challenge that faced me in my early days of this sadhana.

The fact that the horse had, to some extent, already bolted obviously made my task more difficult. However I never felt it was impossible because I could feel, from the beginning, the Mother’s Force working through me and by adhering to Her wisdom, I felt I had obtained the necessary sanction. So I gave myself largely to the power of the mind. The rule of reason was gradually imposed on both life and body. Moderation and self-discipline were gradually instilled on the vital; methodical exercise was initiated on the body.

“Reason is the master of the nature of mankind. One must obey reason and absolutely refuse to be the slave of instincts. And here I am not talking to you about yoga, I am not talking about spiritual life, not at all; it has nothing to do with that. It is the basic wisdom of human life, purely human life: every human being who obeys anything other than reason is a kind of brute lower than the animal. That’s all (5).”

Consent of the vital

Nevertheless it was always evident to me that the body depended on the collaboration of the vital if it was to regain its true balance and vigour. Sri Aurobindo is quite explicit on this:

“The vital is a necessary force and nothing can be done or created in the bodily existence, if the vital is not there as an instrument (6).”

It was evident to me that the vital required my attention. It simply couldn’t be ignored or sent into a corner like a sulky school-child. Quite apart from anything else, my psychological well-being depended upon it. The life-force needed a strong hand of course, but above all it demanded my awareness.

From the Mother’s words too, it became clear to me that it certainly had a crucial role to play:

“The vital is meant to put in the drive, the realising force, the enthusiasm, the energy necessary for the idea formed by the mind to be transmitted to the body and realised in action. Well, so long as the vital limits itself to this activity, that is, sets all its energy, enthusiasm, strength to work in order to collaborate with the idea, it is very good (7).”

Sri Aurobindo Himself wrote that a strong vital should not be decried at all:

“A strong vital is one that is full of life-force, has ambition, courage, great energy, a force for action or for creation, a large expansive movement whether for generosity in giving or for possession and lead and domination, a power to fulfil and materialise — many other forms of vital strength there are also. It is often difficult for such a vital to surrender itself because of this sense of its own powers — but if it can do so, it becomes an admirable instrument for the Divine Work (8).”

“No, a weak vital has not the strength to turn spiritually — and being weak, more easily falls under a wrong influence and even when it wants, finds it difficult to accept anything beyond its habitual nature. The strong vital, when the will is there, can do it much more easily — its one central difficulty is the pride of the ego and the attraction of its powers (9).”

So a strong vital can truly become an indispensable aid in the work of transformation. It gives the necessary dynamic force that is required for true change. On the other hand however, if armed with a strong vital nature, I do feel that there is a greater danger of breakdown. As the life-force expands, the ego and spiritual pride can readily inflate with it. With that, I feel, the consequences of collapse can also be even more calamitous: the higher the climb, the greater the fall.

Sometimes I have found it better to pursue parallel lines although at no stage have I forgotten my true aim, which since I had set foot on this yoga, has become quite clear. Whatever methods were adopted to address both life and body, my first aim was always to find the Divine and now my goal is to realise and manifest it. All other considerations are secondary and there has always been a faith that the Mother would attend to every other detail of my life. So whatever framework I might have initially adopted, the search for the soul was and still is my true quest.

This search could yield the most exquisite fruits. There were occasional glimpses, sudden and unexpected, which truly sustained me. Life would have been so barren without these glints of the Truth. In addition, whenever I began to droop, the Mother seemed to pick me up and propel me forward again. From the start too, I was given very clear guidance. I have never experienced such vivid dreams as in this period of my life. I was graced with the most explicit signals which have become clear pointers on my path. Whenever I made the definitive choice, the Mother has invariably been present. But I realise that She indeed always was! When I was stumbling in the dark I know She had shielded me but as long as the ‘choice’ was left dangling, I was only drifting in ‘noman’s land’ and without any clear direction.

Limits of mind

After some time, a stronger cohesion has emerged: a greater alignment and order has largely appeared. If I ever look back at my life before I had undertaken this work I find my old nature almost unrecognisable from what it is now. There is a greater clarity but this fact only demonstrates to me how much more there is that needs to change. This vital, of course, is still no exception.

The efficacy of calling in reason has proved well founded. But as soon as I decided to take up the yoga, many new criteria started to emerge. My efforts now are concentrated on opening every aspect of the lower nature to the psychic being inside. However, a change in government inevitably brings obstacles in transition and I often find the surface mind very reluctant to relinquish its grip over the proceedings.

The mind assumes an enormous role in controlling the vital in ordinary life. It has many gradations but on the surface, living becomes largely a matter of adjustment and compromise. But I feel that if one is sincere about embarking on a spiritual life, a new master has to assume control. If the exterior mind won’t relinquish this role, it can create considerable problems. Its overzealous rule frequently has the effect of stifling both life and body. It can squash and cramp them. However, through the dominion of the soul, I feel, these parts can actually expand and not shrink.

The problem with the rule of the mind is that it is incapable of any true executive action as such. It cannot transform. In my case, the alliance between mind and vital has always been very uneasy and I don’t believe I am a stark exception. At best, I find it comprised of many checks and balances. I sometimes observe a mental complicity which masks the excesses of the vital and they often try to become accomplices.

The surface mind can be a ‘measurer’ too: I used to find it occasionally trying to measure whatever energy the body found at its disposal. However I realise that as soon as the mind starts calculating whatever energy is given to the physical, it imposes limits upon the very source itself. I admit that an uneven amount of effort is at times applied to my movement. From that viewpoint, there was a strong temptation to allocate this energy and hold some of it back for later. That, I realise, was entirely a mental notion and the surface mind only suffocated it — at that point I had accepted that the life-force was not free. This situation even seemed to offend its own peculiar sense of largesse. Energy is a spontaneous force; it is not something that I can possess, let alone ration. Once I start constraining it inside the confines of the exterior mind, it gradually shrinks. It is the very act of calculation which is damaging — there must be some freedom: I only have to observe the sheer abandon of children at play....

On other occasions, when the vital becomes unruly, I might find the mind trying to ‘sit’ on it. That situation only suppresses the life-force and can even be done to such a degree that any natural élan which the vital might possess is crushed and choked out of existence. Any innate strength gets sapped under this censorial control. This is perhaps one reason why those ‘grey periods’ that Sri Aurobindo frequently writes about sometimes appear. Particularly earlier in my sadhana here, I found this feature constantly presenting itself. It occasionally still does: I am sure this is a major reason why I find the body at times gasping for energy! However I do feel now, with consciousness, another domain gradually reshaping my life and infusing a much vaster Force into the being.

If I find myself induced onto the surface by vital desires or aversions, it might be considered only ‘natural’ that I might look to the surface for an answer. But the Mother has repeatedly stated that, in yoga, we are clearly not here to follow the laws of nature. Even the processes of prakriti have to be reversed and, in my experience, that transition can only be achieved through the hand of the Mother and the touch of the soul. So I feel that the time for reason is purely a bridge and necessary stopgap. If one is sincere about walking this path, it must give way to a greater rule:

”The reign of reason must come to an end only with the advent of the psychic law which manifests the divine Will (10).”

The gaze of the soul

From reading Sri Aurobindo’s words, it became plain to me that the psychic alone was capable of mastering the lower nature:

”The vital has not to be killed or destroyed, but purified and transformed by the psychic and spiritual control (11).”

Indeed, the mastery of the soul is an entirely different matter. I trust that when the vital moves totally under its guidance, the essential quality of the life-force will not be lost, only its excesses. I also trust that it will be purified and will completely collaborate.That is because only the soul can understand its role as a ‘good instrument’. As the soul understands this, the soul can perfectly execute the necessary transfer too. That is because the soul, when it moves forward, can also assume a more dynamic function. The shift happens spontaneously when I am aligned and able to stand in my truth. When I live in my truth, everything finds its true place. Vital aversions or distractions, in that context, lose virtually all attraction as there is simply no longer any resonance.

I guess there are many ways of aligning ourselves, but in the Integral Yoga we are blessed with the simplest of means: through the Mother. If I just lovingly hold Her image before me, I can become better poised. Any disturbance from my lower vital is then resolved: it can often be as conclusive as that. Sometimes the lower reaches may present themselves as a bed of thorns but if, in the midst of disarray, I am able to evoke a feeling of adoration everything seems to become once more light and free. This demonstrates the transforming power of love. If I can inspire the heart, the hearth of the higher vital, to lift itself up to the soul in a movement of love, I trust that any disturbance lower down automatically dissolves. There is indeed a strong resonance when the higher part of the vital can act upon the lower. A day will also surely come when the heart and soul can totally melt and bond in this union of love.

However the reality is often different and I might find myself in complete knots and have to ‘work’ my way through the difficulty. However by entreating Sri Aurobindo and the Mother to be by my side, I am never alone. If I can free myself of clutter and calm myself, the soul will always come forward. Indeed, if the mind allows it, the work is simply done without me. The only onus on me is to observe inside and, by lovingly calling the Mother, I am able to look at the difficulty through the eyes of the soul. I also find that the vision intrudes deep into the roots of any affliction.

But I don’t feel that it is a question of propping up the ‘good’ and weeding out the ‘bad’. It is rather a matter of harmonising the whole being, not just the vital, around this central truth that we term the ‘soul’. By gazing deep down into the trouble, yet maintaining my station above (or inside), the source of the difficulty is inevitably unearthed. Maybe a long-buried association or painful memory will emerge to be dissolved in Her Light. As the knowledge surfaces spontaneously, the Mother seems to untie the knot with Her very own hands. I only need to be as attentive and disinterested as possible. At times the process may demand an element of courage. What I see is not always pleasant; I need to detach and not squirm. If I identify with the distortion I will only find myself plunging into it. I just try to simply observe and the Mother’s Force and Light does the rest.

I believe that if we are sincere about walking this path and willing to drop everything to collaborate in Her work of transformation, we cannot avoid this task. Whatever the affliction, mental, vital or physical, the same process can apply. The work of alignment is integral because no facet of the being can be ignored. As every part inside is interconnected, the whole must be addressed. If I neglect one part, sooner or later, it will drag me back:

“One day you have to face the thing, you have to. Otherwise you can never reach the end, it will always pull you backward. You may feel ahead, may see the goal there, drawing near, all this more and more, you may have something which goes before and has almost the feeling that it is going to touch, but you will never touch it if you have these millstones pulling you back. One must make a clean sweep of everything.

It is better to do your task immediately, look yourself straight in the face, straight in the face, not try to sugar-coat the bitter pill. It is very bitter: all the weaknesses, uglinesses, all kinds of nasty little things which one has inside — there are, there are, there are oh! lots of them. And so you are on the point of attaining a realisation, on the point of touching a light, having an illumination, and then suddenly you feel something pulling you back like this (gesture), and you suffocate, you cannot advance further (12).”

Constant attention

When the Mother asks us to be conscious, She does so for such good reasons! I want to be always awake: I don’t believe it sufficient to just call in the Force whenever I have a quiet moment. I feel that at least some part of the inner gaze must be switched on at all times. Eruptions will inevitably arise throughout the day. The smallest circumstance, for instance, might trigger irritation when I least expect it. If I am attentive, the distortion can be caught before it has a chance to percolate throughout the being. If I am able to observe it at least partly through the eyes of the soul, I might find that it will be immediately effaced. As soon as a truth is discovered, something new is resolved: that is the nature of discovery.

It is a simultaneous process which can be applied to all my nature. I often find myself ‘catching’ the mind in mid-judgment. I find that a radical shift can even sweep over the body if the consciousness is applied at the appropriate time. In fact, I maintain that it is precisely at the point of the greatest difficulty that a transformation can ensue. I know that any vital eruption can be immediately resolved by this instantaneous alignment. However, if a wrong movement is ignored or missed, it only has a chance to settle and consolidate in the being. Eventually, it will find a convenient place to bury itself. From there, it will fester maybe for years until a suitable circumstance allows it to rise up.

This is perhaps one reason why the Mother continually advises vigilance. I believe that this awareness, even if only partial, has pulled me back from the brink of ruin on several occasions. This requirement, I believe, is why the Integral Yoga is such a process of living psychology. At the moment a movement arises and I am conscious of it, a truth can emerge in my being. That truth will automatically restore balance and harmony. However, so often I get pulled onto the surface as orientation gets lost. This is truly a journey inside and, as the Mother says, it reaches a defining point when we experience what She terms the ‘reversal of consciousness.’ At that stage, our perspective entirely turns inside out. That seems to me to be a total revolution: to be master of all my inner movements! It is a mighty aim indeed.

However I still have the opportunity to do this work every minute of the day. We all do. In the meantime, I humbly aspire for my inner sight to expand and widen. I find it not always enough just to probe right down to individual roots. I feel that a simultaneous vision will eventually be required.

Division of the being

But my nature is still divided and therein lies the root of the problem. When each part is in its true place, fulfilling its true role and aligned around my central truth, things go well. But when one part lags behind or resists, disequilibrium arises and the being falls into disarray.

The Mother says that,

“…there is one part of your being which has refused to go along with the rest. It is usually like this that it happens. There is one part which has progressed, one part which holds on and doesn’t want to move; so you feel it more and more as something which persists in being what it is. That’s because you have dropped some of your baggage on the way and left it on the roadside instead of carrying it along with you. That will always pull you backward.… It’s because one shuts one’s eyes to so many things in the being. One doesn’t want to see them, because they are not so pretty to see. So one prefers not to know them. But because one is ignorant of the thing it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist any longer (13).”

It is also very evident to me that both mind and life, not just the body, are deeply motivated by habit. I find myself often having to face the same distorted patterns in both these parts whenever I work inside. These are the grooves of my nature. I feel that if left unattended they would only go on repeating themselves until the time comes to draw my final breath! That is not a pleasant prospect. The mind for instance has its repetitive judgments, directed at both inside and out. The vital has so many knots that have grown tight by years of tension. The emotional nature, I find, can be regularly bombarded by formations that seep in through threads of attachment or association. Something inside my nature must resonate with these formations that appear. Sri Aurobindo observes this fact in the emotional nature:

“When it is struck by the world’s impacts from outside or urged by the reflective powers of the subjective inner being, it throws up certain habitual activities, the mould of which has been determined by our evolution (14).”

When these formations try to enter, I simply ask the Mother to stand in between. There is nothing else I can do. I also find myself continually calling Her to untie these knots. And when the work is done, such a feeling of gratitude dawns in my being! A peace descends as the entire nature harmonises itself around my true centre.

“Total harmony does not at all lie in an identity, but in a harmonisation which can come only by putting each thing in its place (15).”

But the work requires endless patience because, before I know it, the same knots might appear again and again. I sometimes find it incredible that these members are supposed to be playing in the same team! But when the mind joins with the vital against the physical, the most frightful consequences can result. The mixture of mental judgment and vital impatience, I have experienced, can become a lethal cocktail to the body.

The dangerous thing about the vital is that it is so aware of its own importance. If things don’t go its way, there is even the prospect of it going completely on strike. At that point, it seems to exclaim, “Well, if I can’t have this, let’s see how you manage without me!”

The vital wants to see quick results for its efforts. It is perhaps due to this trait that it can be so fickle. But one of the realities of transformation, particularly in the physical, is that it tends to take time. From personal experience, I have been working with the body for some years now, problems always ensue when this side starts to get impatient for immediate rewards. I find the mind demands its proofs too. That is because these two fellows probably don’t care to look behind the scenes, at the immense preparation that needs to be done for this work to be successful. So now and then, a critical voice is heard asking, “You’ve been doing this work for years now and what have you got to show for it?” Teaching the mind and vital to be patient can be a mighty task indeed. In this context, I feel that it is my charge to give my entire being to the Mother’s Force. I am sure there are other ways but this is the only one I know.

Looking up

I find that another trouble is that the vital does not really equate to common sense. I feel that it needs to experience and live through a truth in order to be influenced by it. I believe that by attuning it to a higher vibration, it can slowly but surely become a stauncher ally. My experience is that when I look down, everything becomes cloyed and very murky. When it comes down to practicalities, if I am stuck in the mire, everything goes backwards, not least the body. If I find myself immersed in desire, the body finds itself moving through quicksand. Whenever the vital is overactive in the lower domains, it will only try to pull the rest of the nature down with it too.

But I do believe the vital being can be taught to ‘look up.’ What I then receive is the greatest gift that the life-force is capable of giving: boundless energy. This energy is no longer cramped in narrow corridors but actually expands. This naturally has a radical effect on the body. It becomes lighter and freer; indeed a joy pervades the entire being. All those physical knots which hold it together become unravelled as a new adventure can begin. It is almost like being born again.

I also now realise that the appreciation of beauty comes from the vital nature. From my experience, with the higher acting upon the lower parts, the relationship has a harmonising influence. Somehow I feel that the process has a purifying effect on the entire vital: it somehow becomes more transparent. As the vital is refined, the aesthetic sense can be chiselled by the reasoning mind into a more coherent shape. This is an example, I contend, where the mind can actually lift up, and even flush, the life-force; the mind doesn’t necessarily have to always suppress it. The mind too has its own domains and I find that many of its troubles invariably reside on the surface. But I have found that pure reason can use its organisational ability to create order. I also maintain that the vital nature can be nourished by it. In the creative play too, I have noticed that even the soul can join life in a free expression of wholeness and beauty.

I feel that there are many ways our entire being and life-force can be induced to look up. On the dynamic side, it is acknowledged that work gives it the purest expression and means of fulfillment. So I know that an overactive vital can always be channelled into joyful service for the Mother. I find that when this happens, the results can be formidable. There’s a feeling that even mountains can be moved!


With joy too, the whole being can climb to considerable heights. Sri Aurobindo has written that:

“Joy is a vital feeling, like its opposite, sorrow (16).”

But just because it is a vital trait is no reason to decry it! In truth, most things are a mixture after all. I find it still such an elixir for the body. As its source is primarily vital, I doubt whether this emotion has the ability to transform. But I do find it can help form an armour against difficulty because its nature is to accept and embrace. It can even carry the body by its exuberance. I do feel the emotion itself can be transmuted and in that context, maybe it can become a stepping-stone for even the divine Ananda to emerge. Indeed I feel that every vital emotion can be offered and placed at the altar of the soul. If I can somehow detach from the swell, I just see the feeling for what it is. And to be grateful! It is just that the vital, on its own, is incapable of sustaining a joy free of every stain or duality.

This has become apparent to me on several occasions. After experiencing a surge of joy, I have frequently felt a gravitational pull from the lower regions, which sometimes may translate it into passion or desire. Again, I believe that it is at that exact point, when the distortion first shows its face, that the emotion can be transmuted. I find that a disinterested attitude greatly helps because any sense of evaluation only adds another distortion. At that moment, joy can be channelled upwards. It is not easy. It is a little like swimming against a strong current: a big wave comes and I simply get carried away. However if I can cultivate the inner contact, a solution will eventually emerge and, in that instance, I can then effortlessly observe the wave pass me by. I believe this is one sure way that joy can be attuned to the rhythm of the soul.

The key

Each person has his own way; each has his own nature. I guess that there is no universal potion for the vital and I can only relate my own experience. Whatever the means however, I find that every avenue converges on this one single point: the soul. Only the soul, I feel, can entirely solve the riddle of life. Only the Truth can transform and the soul is indeed its home.

As time has passed, I have noticed a quite perceptible shift inside. There was a time when I could summon the vital force almost at will. Whenever I wanted the body to change gear, I automatically called on that reserve and propelled myself onward. If I was in danger, my vital defences would be erected immediately. Now this ability almost appears to have disappeared. When I am in danger now, my only reflex action is to give an SOS to the Mother inside my heart! So this period of transition can often seem long and unremitting. Where is that overdrive that used to impel my steps? Most of all, where is this ‘Energy Inexhaustible’ that the Mother speaks about? But I know this is the true way. It just requires a little trust and patience. At times it can be a very bumpy ride. The body occasionally creaks and groans under the burden but, to its credit, it carries on and endures.

I am beginning to sense that something greater is slowly approaching from behind the scenes. I don’t think the resonance will ever be the same. I truly believe so because I now vividly experience a marked difference whenever the spirit starts to move the body. A more effortless spontaneity actually emerges. The Mother Herself invades my body and a greater sense of lightness pervades my steps. There is also the feeling of being carried by the Grace. And spontaneously, in response, an overwhelming gratitude and aspiration arises in the body to be lifted in Her arms.

Sri Aurobindo inevitably has the answer:

“All would change if man could once consent to be spiritualised; but his nature, mental and vital and physical, is rebellious to the higher law. He loves his imperfection (17).”

So this is the work I must accomplish. This is my true goal and it is in this body and in this life that the victory must be achieved. It is not my victory but another victory for the Mother. The stakes are incredibly high so the work calls for heroism in each one of us:

”This courage, this heroism which the Divine wants of us, why not use it to fight against one’s own difficulties, one’s own imperfections, one’s own obscurities? Why not heroically face the furnace of inner purification so that it does not become necessary to pass once more through one of those terrible, gigantic destructions which plunge an entire civilisation into darkness?

This is the problem before us. It is for each one to solve it in his own way (18).”

This is the spirit I need. But what about the vital? In reality, when the vital sets its aim on something, there is little that can stop it. Somehow too, these words seem to inspire it, so I’ll take whatever help is coming my way. I daresay that there are still a few more wars to be waged and I’d sooner have this champion fight by my side.


1. Sri Aurobindo. SABCL, Volume 22. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1970, p. 347.
2. Ibid. p. 346.
3. The Mother. Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 16. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1987, p. 147.
4. Op. cit. Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 9. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1977, p. 99.
5. Op. cit. Collected Works of the Mother, Volume Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1977, pp. 101-2.
6. Op. cit. SABCL, Volume 22. Pondicherry; Sri Aorobindo Ashram Trust, 1970, p. 346.
7. Op. cit. Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 5. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1976, p. 101.
8. Op. cit. SABCL, Volume 22. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1970, p.343.
9. Ibid. p. 344.
10. Op. cit. Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 9. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1977, p. 102.
11. Op. cit. SABCL, Volume 22. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1970, p. 346.)
12. Op. cit. Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 7. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1979, p. 198.
13. Ibid. p. 197.
14. Op. cit. SABCL, Volume 21. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1970, p. 621.
15. Op. cit. Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 9. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1977, p. 55.
16. Op. cit. SABCL, Volume 22. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1970, p. 343.
17. Op. cit. SABCL, Volume 16. Pondicherry, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1971, p. 393.
18. Op. cit. Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 9. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1977, p.74.

(1) Mira Alfassa, born in Paris in 1878 and later known as the Mother, came to Pondicherry and developed the Integral Yoga with Sri Aurobindo.

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

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World in darkness