One of the big issues that all people face is dealing with cravings, habits and addictions and their effects in their lives. The mechanism at work here is not based on conscious decision-making, but on impulses, feelings and pulls that occur subconsciously, whether in the mind, the vital being, or the body. Certain habits may begin with a mental or vital acceptance, particularly as a result of peer pressure or tradition. Thus, many begin to utilize tobacco or alcohol, or other ‘recreational drugs’ as a result of the pressure from outside. Once the acceptance is there, the physical effects of the habit begin to be felt. In the beginning many of these are experienced as extremely positive experiences, euphoric, or soporific, or bringing with them feelings of warmth and lower inhibitions, reduction of feelings of social awkwardness. These experiences also work on the physical cells of the body and stir the release of certain hormones that are associated with pleasure and good feelings.

When the immediate stimulus wears off, one feels a lack stemming from the reduction of the flow of the hormones in the system, and at later stages, when addiction arises, there are physical symptoms of ill-feeling that arise. There can be headaches, nausea, uncontrolled nervous impulses, and feelings of depression. The body has accepted, subconsciously, the need for the habit. It should be noted that not all habits or addictions are related to taking a physical drug or substance. These can also arise through vital movements or even mental addiction when the mind gets a thrill or satisfaction from certain actions. When intense, an addiction can wrack the body in nerve pain to such a degree that the individual feels like he is burning up or otherwise experiencing extreme bodily discomfort bordering on physical torture. In those instances, the individual will do just about anything to satisfy the addiction.

The needs so created are not ‘real’ needs, inasmuch as they are created through actions that are extraneous to basic physical, vital or mental needs of life. However they are created however, eventually the individual must either take steps to break the habit or addiction, or suffer an ever-deepening spiral of pain, pressure and systematic destruction of the body, the life-energy and the mental powers as the addiction gets out of hand and takes over one’s life.

The first step is to find the will to overcome the habit or addiction. Some are easier to break than others. Caffeine addiction is, for instance, extremely common in our society with the accepted social intake of tea or coffee. It is relatively easy to marshal the will to overcome caffeine addiction, with some physical side effects for a few days or a week. Much more difficult would be addiction to opioids which require the individual to undertake a program, in most cases with very heavy assistance, to break the habit and fight through the withdrawal suffering. Alcohol addiction is one that falls in between, as the mood one feels while imbibing alcohol is said to help individuals ‘unwind’ from the stress of modern day life, of poor circumstances, and escape from the pressures of the present life. It becomes a crutch that people do not want to throw away, until such time as they recognise the issues the alcohol is creating for them physically, vitally, mentally and in their social relationships. By that time, many have suffered irreversible damage to their internal organs and thus, a new round of physical difficulties and suffering follows. If the individual wakes up soon enough to the dangers of any of these addictions, he can exercise will to implement a plan to overcome the habit, craving or addiction, whatever it is. This plan generally involves some kind of changes in diet, lifestyle and, in many cases, assistance of professionals and use of a program of weaning off of the addictive substance over time, with patience, perseverance and a strong will to succeed.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “It is the habit in the subconscient material that feels an artificial need created by the past and does not care whether it is harmful or disturbing to the nerves or not. That is the nature of all intoxicants (wine, tobacco, cocaine etc.), people go on even after the deleterious effects have shown themselves and even after all the real pleasure in it has ceased because of this artificial need (it is not real). The will has to get hold of this subconscient persistence and dissolve it.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of the Subconscient, Subconscient Habits, pp. 110-111

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at and podcast at He is author of 16 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.