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Notes on counselling

Time and choice

Dr. Soumitra Basu


In the presence of depression or under the influence of delusional thinking, decisions about major life events can be wrongly conceived and timed and prove counter-productive. In aspirants in quest for a higher life, sudden decisions to change external circumstances might not be useful too. A disciplining of the vital and emotional repertoire is needed so that one can remain detached and not compete with time, enabling one to take intuitively correct decisions.

A counsellor has to face a sensitive issue when an opinion is sought for choosing a proper time for significant change in some aspect of life at one of the most crucial junctures in a client’s unfolding history. The first time I had to do it was when an 11-year- old boy had lost his father in a gruesome traffic accident, while his mother remained incapacitated with multiple injuries that were actually life-threatening (though she subsequently survived). The relatives had almost taken a decision to shift the hapless boy from his day-school and send him to a distant boarding school and wanted me to convey this message as a counsellor. I had to explain to them that a boy who had just been separated from his father should not be allowed to suffer from any further trauma by separating him immediately from his peer group and from the school which he loved so dearly. A loss of a parent was irreplaceable, yet if any mitigation of the boy’s grief could be done it would be best done by his peer group and not by elders who could have messed up affairs. Fortunately, the boy was not separated from his school and friends and the spontaneous boisterousness of his boyhood helped him to overcome his loss and move forward in life only because the correct decision was made at the correct time. 

The next time, I was not so lucky. A 20-year- old schizophrenic girl, who was otherwise intelligent and had aesthetic qualities, but who at intervals also had spells of possession states, suddenly had an idea that her father should sell their house and buy a new house. Her father thought that shifting to a new house would have a healing effect on his daughter. I explained that this emotive decision was influenced by an illogical delusional idea and would have a deleterious effect. Her father did not comply, sold the old house, bought a new one and, dancing to the tunes of his daughter, immediately arranged a marriage for her. She had a relapse of her psychosis, underwent a possession state, behaved erratically and committed suicide ending a 3-month old saga. In this case, the time selected for moving to a new house and the time selected for her marriage were both done abruptly based on the girl’s delusional, irrational and unrealistic ideational system. Even short of delusional ideas, over-valued ideas also can lead to decisions that should have been organised with better logic.    

Subsequently I saw scores of depressed subjects taking wrong decisions in resigning from jobs, taking voluntary retirement, shutting down business, selling property, moving out house, initiating law-suits, opting for marital separation and then hugely repenting their untimely acts triggering further exacerbation in depression. Through experience, I have learnt that one should not take major decisions in life when one is severely demoralised, especially under the spell of clinical depression. At that time it would be wise to remain silent, be detached, not to compete with time and wait patiently for the depressive spell to abate so that an intuitive guidance can arrive as a saviour grace. It would be interesting to recall that the late Dr. Venkoba Rao, one of the leg-endary psychiatrists of India, in a seminar on ‘Death, Dying and Beyond’ held at SAIIIHR, Pondicherry, described how a significant number of cases of reversible depression had unfortunately opted for active euthanasia in Europe. 

What about cases of aspirants who in quest of a higher life often opt for a sudden change in milieu, work, family bonding and social ties? In earlier times, many such aspirants, especially those who were disgusted with the falsehood, banality or hypocrisy of worldly life or wanted to escape reality, left home abruptly for the hermitage, snapping off all personal and social responsibilities, attachments and bindings in one go. But today spirituality has to manifest in worldly life and has to progressively transform every strata of consciousness. Here too, a sudden and abrupt decision may be untimely and unwise unless it is an authentic soul-decision guided by a higher intuition. Otherwise, one falls into the trap of the vital, that unpredictable zone of our being which is the repertoire of our emotions, passions, desires, turbulences and is thus impulsive and outrageous, unless it is trained, harnessed and disciplined, though a complete victory over the vital can only be expected when it is transformed or transmuted. In fact, even in patients suffering from depression, it is the vital that suffers recoil and influences the mind to act impulsively. In schizophrenia, which is primarily a thought disorder that affects mood (in contrast to depression which is primarily a mood disorder that affects thinking), delusional ideas influence the mood and one can take incongruous decisions and that too at the wrong time. 

Workings of the vital

To understand the process which leads to taking untimely decisions that prove counterproductive, it is necessary to understand the workings of the vital. An absence of psychopathology does not mean that the vital is under control. Far from it. 

The Mother (1) described: 

“But I have noticed, especially for those who have had a Western education, that they shouldn’t change their external occupations abruptly. Most people tend to want to change their environment, to want to change their occupation, to want to change their surr-oundings, to want to change their habit, thinking that will help them to change inwardly — it’s not true. You are much more vigilant and alert to resist the old movement, the old relationships, the vibrations you no longer want when you remain in a context that, in fact, is habitual enough to be automatic. You shouldn’t be ‘interested’ in a new external organization, because you always tend to enter it with your old way of being. 

...When you change your external surr-oundings, always tend to keep your internal organization in order to keep your individuality; whereas if you are held by force in the same context, the same occupations, the same routine of life, then the ways of being you no longer want become more and more evident and you can fight them much more precisely.  

“Basically, in the being, it’s the vital that has difficulty; it is the most impulsive part and has the greatest difficulty in changing its way of being. And it’s always the vital that feels ‘free’, encouraged and more alive during travels, because it has an opportunity to manifest freely in a new environment in which everything has to be learned: reactions, adaptations, etc. On the contrary, in the routine of a life that has nothing particularly exciting, it strongly feels (I mean, if it has goodwill and an aspiration for progress), it strongly feels its inadequacies and desires, its reactions, repulsions, attractions, etc. When one doesn’t have that intense will to progress, it feels imprisoned, disgusted, crushed — the whole habitual refrain of revolt. “(pp. 303-4) 

How should the turmoil and discordance of the vital be dealt with? The Mother (2) elaborates,

“...the vital must first begin with detachment, which generally, when it isn’t very refined, turns into disgust. A general detachment. Then all at once (sometimes ‘all at once’, sometimes slowly), it feels that the impulse, the inspiration must come from within, that nothing must come from outside any more and excite it. And then, if it has goodwill, it turns within and begins to ask for the Inspiration, the Command and the Direction; and after that, it can start doing work again.  

For some people, it takes years; for others, it’s done very quickly — it depends on the quality of the vital. If it’s a refined vital, of a higher quality, it goes quickly; if it is something very brutish, which goes like a bulldog or a buffalo, it takes a little more time.”(p. 304) 

The Mother is referring here to the disturb-ances of the vital in otherwise stable individuals who seek an internal change through outer means. In the presence of psychopathology, the vital gets distorted and perverted to the extent of culminating in macabre and sinister decisions. That is why, in an ideal educational programme, an education of the vital is imperative from the very beginning. If the vital has been dealt with properly during the developmental stage of a growing child, then even in adult life if there is a psychopathological phase, one can still harbour a space where innov-ative and corrective measures can be initiated.


1. The Mother. Mother’s Agenda, Volume 5. 1st ed. English translation.Paris: Institut de Recherches Évolutives; 1988.

2. Ibid. 

Dr. Soumitra Basu, a practising psychiatrist and member of SAIIIHR, is the Director of a new school of psychology, Integral Yoga Psychology. He is also one of the Editors of NAMAH.

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The Mother