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Namah Journal


Transmuting the emotions

James Anderson


Working on our emotions is essential for growth and well-being. The author shares his experiences, identifying a few difficulties that come from this part of the nature. We need to be very awake to immediately defuse any emotional negativity. Whatever the hindrance however, our nature is capable of change and the solution resides always in our Truth inside.

The context

Ultimately our well-being depends upon growth. This urge we can ill afford to resist. We cannot remain static; if we attempt to stand still we are bound to go backwards. Moreover the spiritual dimension cannot be neglected because the spirit is the only thing that can truly resolve mankind’s inner and outer malaise. It is the secret force behind all growth. Somehow humanity has to expand beyond nature’s impositions to reach a pinnacle of true Integral Health. It cannot do this unaided. It needs to look up to a much higher determinism than its confused and frail mentality; it requires a secret Hand. When we lean more and more on the spirit, we realise increasingly that the inside governs the outside and our health will start to be viewed more as an integer and a totality. This conviction provides a secure basis for the work. So progress becomes the only way and humanity has to follow the evolutionary path. Somehow our whole nature needs to respond and elevate to a higher vibration and, not surprisingly, our emotions play an intrinsic part in this process.

The reality is, if we take the time to notice, we find that our emotional nature either helps or hinders our equilibrium and health. Properly channelled, our emotions can elevate the rest of the being to new heights, but if distorted and downgraded they can lead us to the direst depths of depression, disorder or revolt.

Let’s look at the heart for instance. It has “wings (1)” and no part of our nature delivers greater happiness. But it is not correct to say that the heart is always right. Its promptings should certainly be heeded but it should be remembered that it is still a part of a fallible nature. The heart can be ensnared easily by the turgidities and passions of the lower vital. It is impressionable and can be seized by very contrary influences. Really though, there can be no more perfect channel for love than the heart. However, we need only observe how easily love can change into rancour and even hatred. Behind the heart, though located much deeper, is surely found the voice of truth.

Emotions mirror our levels of consciousness. In The Synthesis of Yoga, Sri Aurobindo refers to the “double character of the human emotive being (2).” It’s as if they are divided between two hemispheres. They are separated by duality. We have to keep propping these emotions up. The mind can’t achieve this unaided and tries to instil stoicism. Can anything truly refine and change them?

For our well-being to become complete, the growth needs to become integral and whole and the emotions play a crucial role in this movement. They need to be organised and refined around our true centre to supplement and support this upward momentum. It is the centre itself that alone can achieve this. Indeed, it provides the key to all our growth.

Our centre

This centre, which Sri Aurobindo termed the psychic being, has an executive power. It can embrace and reconcile the discords of the lower hemisphere, lift them up and harmonise everything into a state of oneness. It nurtures the higher ranges and transforms them into a sense of overwhelming gratitude. When our emotions base themselves on thankfulness, we know we’re on the right path. It will bring illimitable happiness and provide the perfect fuel for well-being, growth and progress.

But we need to be attentive and listen to the promptings from deep inside. If we are awake and maintain a watchful poise, we give no leverage for the rumblings of the lower hemisphere. Our growth, however, is a journey from outside to inside and not all our nature wants to collaborate in this process. The ego depends always on the outside for its sustenance and certain parts of our nature will remain obstinately stuck to the façade.

The trigger, though not the cause, for discord is circumstance. Fortunately, the very discords we experience offer an opportunity to also unearth the cause. We will find eruptions occurring particularly if we are not truly connected inside. But when that happens, everything depends upon how much of our nature is correctly aligned. Take anger for instance. The specific emotion is not relevant at all as the process can be applied to any negative emotion. On the surface, anger may appear a quite spontaneous outburst but really it is a matter of habit. Habit engrains our whole emotional nature as well as everything else. A spark from outside might activate a deep-seated memory or association and trigger a recoil and our well-being will then fall into nose-dive. The process is totally unconscious and our equilibrium will be temporarily shattered. The question is, was any part of our nature ‘connected’ at the time? Were we awake enough to observe this familiar reaction repeating? If there is a strand of awareness, that was enough to save us. The only way to completely short-circuit the anger is by defusing it the very moment it surfaces. We have to ‘catch’ it as soon as it shows its face. Our consciousness is all that is required. The consciousness gives a simultaneous insight into the root and the cause. What we observe gives knowledge; it may well be unspoken but it is definitive and known. What we observe transforms and changes. It is a divine reality, the eternal union of Chit and Śakti. They are one and indivisible. But we have only a split second; otherwise all is lost. Otherwise we have to suffer the inevitable consequence of our inattention again and again until the lesson is fully absorbed.

I find myself constantly experiencing such negative movements slip out of my grasp! Once it appears, it’s already gone. I get caught in the drama and before I know it, the fire is lit. The more unconscious one stays, the more the problem will repeat and persist. If anger is not to rise again, the whole being needs to be centred constantly on our Truth. It is the only safeguard. The gap between trigger and response needs to be constantly narrowed. The true response, securely founded on the Truth, that is our destination, but the reality is usually quite different and so we find ourselves playing catch-up with our negative emotions time and again. We might fester even into self-pity and remorse. The emotions might slump into a deeper chasm. I find often anger’s aftermath brings invariably a state of confusion, exhaustion and depression. I guess it all depends upon the characteristics of one’s individual nature. One thing is certain though: if the ego has a chance to dwell on it, the damage will be only magnified.

For therapy, we can even retrace our steps and go back to that fatal instant. We can attempt to re-live that trigger and its consequence. We can experience that fury once more and then expel it from our nature or harmonise it around our Light inside. We can go backwards and even manufacture a different outcome. This is a technique I gleaned years ago in holistic workshops of the West. It was a way of processing ‘life-shocks’. This method certainly helped, but it seems to me now a skewed way of refining our nature. It rests too much on the frontiers of the imagination. More important though, the past can never be completely corrected by going backwards. The only way to truly efface it is to remain absolutely present in the first place. This station comes from being in a state of perpetual self-alignment: it is true growth and yoga. We need always to stay awake because the only way to transform them is to enlighten them as soon as they rise onto the surface. It is an exercise in living.

The subconscious

Our emotions often source from subconscious regions. If we’re honest and sufficiently awake, we find ourselves, partially at least, secretly controlled by them. So many of our emotional responses don’t make sense; it is impossible to source them all in a precise way. We can sense the grooves that lead to them up to a point but going further, all is obscurity. They can not only be illogical but incredibly repetitive too. We come back to the phenomenon of habit again. It is the subconscious that clamps our emotions down to the fixed grooves of habit. We feel ourselves chained to reactions that we cannot control or comprehend. The conditionings of the past limit us in a most chaotic way. Our emotions become scattered and dispersed, eroding our well-being and fail to point us in a coherent direction. They lead us to psychological dead-ends.

We need to know where our emotions come from and where they lead. We should first of all try to trace them on more conscious levels. We should allow the practice to evolve, deepen and naturally work through us. If we surrender to the process, this will happen. We need to observe these emotions as disinterestedly as possible. It is an exercise in introspection. It is by detailed observation that more clarity comes. When connected inside, in a relaxed, persistent and unhurried way, by scanning the body from top to bottom and by disinterested enquiry, the face of knowledge invariably appears. The answer surfaces always on the body. It’s an answer I can rarely put into words. The Light defies all mental comprehension. Sometimes though, a single word might ‘nail’ it entirely. One is working sometimes through tangled and ill-lit domains; one can only endure and carry on and plough through all the confusion. Gradually the probe gets deeper and over time the light moves more downwards. To my eyes, the subconscious is a vast region and one I should put aside a lifetime to resolve. Trust in the Mother and trust in the process is the key.


The greatest contribution our emotions can make to growth and well-being is through the diffusion of love. Love heightens the being and puts it on an entirely new frequency. But love is neither a sentiment nor an emotion. It is an absolute and sovereign power. It is a whole plane of consciousness, too rarefied to be absorbed by us in anything like an entirety. The heart simply translates love into an emotion along with everything else it processes. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother often used to say it was not time for the reign of Love to arrive. Truth had to consolidate fully first 1. Much time has passed since They were physically amongst us, but I don’t believe the situation has changed much at all. If anything, resistance has intensified. This full power is holding itself still back because humanity is just not ready. Love as a force, as it exists on this planet, is still uneasily split between opposing states. At best, it persists in a tarnished way and gets traded between like-minded individuals. The emotion is always prone to sink to the most depraved depths.

The Mother distinguished frequently between divine love and human love. I believe that love comes in many gradations. It is like a ladder reaching up to a sky of bliss. The demands are very high if one intends reaching the summit. Love, the positive, can easily get subtracted into a negative. So to rely solely on love for one’s passage of growth can be extremely precarious indeed.

First of all, it needs to be grounded as much as possible in the Truth to expand in a continuous way. What we translate from love, along with every other emotion, needs to be referred constantly back to this foundation. It is the soil from which all our nobler feelings germinate and bloom. Secondly, it needs to be broadened. It helps to extend it beyond our immediate periphery. Love is not something we should just sprinkle on a selected handful. For most people this is probably too difficult; being human, we cling to our chosen few. Love is not really something we can switch on and off; it is a vibration we can aspire to carry around continuously with us. There can be no surer way to well-being and emotional contentment than this.


If we don’t broaden our horizons there is a danger that this love will shrivel down to attachment. The ego distorts love and narrows it down to attachment. Relationships of this kind can be suffocating, to say the least. There is friction and everything grates. They persist particularly within family life: they arise unconsciously, sometimes even before birth and can be very difficult to resolve. They are inside us without our knowing and the roots are very deep. Eventually they need to be observed very closely because the effect upon our growth can be very harmful indeed.

In the past I have experienced such effects in a very vivid way. For me, the sādhanā brought these attachments very much into the open. Soon they became something I had to resolve. I noticed that the ties had got completely implanted in my nature. There was a long chain stretching far back, entirely without questioning or awareness. After a while here, I was being asked to look upon them and they were appearing to me almost like an open sore. So for many years here, this left a suffocating and at times quite toxic effect on my inner health. It was often so extreme that it was able to drag down the body to quite alarming degrees.

These kind of attachments need to be worked through. If not, one is liable to find oneself in a very stifling net. They have appeared to me in many nuances and forms. The problem may meet me with many faces but the procedure I adopt will always be the same. I work through the body and see what signals come from there. The Truth gives me a searchlight to work through the emotional knots that lie hidden in the body. I’m looking at deeply implanted habits, so much persistence is required. It is a process in which I am engaged to this day. Eventually though, the stranglehold of attachment will be gradually released. But like everything on this path, the process has to be seen to the very end.

In my experience, the only solution to any emotional complication comes through enquiry and consciousness. It needs to be looked upon as something quite apart from oneself. A disinterested poise really helps. We can allow always the flame of Truth to purify and harmonise. One starts with detailed work and observation but I feel the definitive shift takes place when the Truth is sincerely invited to manage and govern every aspect of our everyday life. If one can simply accept the Truth as observer, the necessary change will come. It is almost a reversal of consciousness and there are no boundaries. The aim is to maintain this station even outside those times of individual practice. The Truth brings knowledge and once embraced and known, emotional distortions disappear and a greater clarity emerges.


1. The Mother. Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 14. 2nd ed. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust; 2004, p. 351.

2. Sri Aurobindo. Birth Centenary Library, Volume 20. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust; 1971, p. 419.

3. The Mother. Collected Works, Volume 15. 2004, p.189.

1 1968 Message: “Truth alone can give to the world the power of receiving and manifesting the Divine Love. (3).”

James Anderson is a member of SAIIIHR and coordinating editor of NAMAH.

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