When an action takes place in the world, it has a number of effects both in the world, and in the psychology of the individual carrying out the action. Each action creates a formation, a rhythm, or a solid result that tends to perpetuate and repeat itself on an ongoing basis. Thus, the more we carry out specific forms of action, the more difficult they are to change or remove. This is the secret of why habits, addictions and instincts are so hard to change.

For those individuals who wish to effectuate a real change, therefore, they must contend with the pressure that habits and concretised forms exerts upon them. Once brought into existence through action, these external formations have a momentum and a pathway to recreate themselves.

In any attempt to change, therefore, the importance of discontinuing support for and overt manifestation of outer actions cannot be over-emphasized. An addiction cannot be broken as long as it continues to be “fed”. This is the case whether one is speaking about a strong physical addiction such as alcohol, tobacco or drugs, or about other less dramatic issues one is facing, such as cravings, desires or habits which are otherwise deemed acceptable by society. It is also true that to overcome the force of such embedded outer manifestations, a will and an aspiration for change must be present, so the fact of changing the outer action implies changes to the inner forces that supported it in the first place.

It is of course not simple to change deeply entrenched habits of action. Outright suppression eventually can backfire if it increases the pressure and force of the suppressed action, which then returns with an increased power. To the extent possible, a process of redirecting the energy and the focus toward other things can be much more effective. We see this occurring naturally as a child grows and interests change, and thus, the child is able to leave behind childish acts and desires and the focus on childish games and toys, to redirect the attention to new occupations and interests. A strong spiritual aspiration has the power to effectuate in the seeker, a redirection of attention and focus away from those actions that are to be put aside or changed.

The Mother observes: “… you must never say: ‘I shall first purify my thought, purify my body, purify my vital and then later I shall purify my action.’ That is the normal order, but it never succeeds. The effective order is to begin from the outside: ‘The very first thing is that I do not do it, and afterwards, I desire it no longer and next I close my doors completely to all impulses: they no longer exist for me, I am now outside all that.’ This is the true order, the order that is effective. First, not to do it. And then you will no longer desire and after that it will go out of your consciousness completely.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter IV Growth of Consciousness First Steps and Foundation, pp. 67-68

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at http://sriaurobindostudies.wordpress.com and podcast at https://anchor.fm/santosh-krinsky He is author of 17 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.