As the seeker begins to examine his life, he quickly finds that virtually all his thoughts, emotions, feelings and actions are based on habitual patterns, either ingrained in the human encoding as a species, or developed through socialisation in a society or civilisation, through family influence, peer influence, educational influence or through interaction through communication and media, including advertising, internet, and the subtle expectation of things built into each society. Very rarely can the seeker identify anything that does not have as an underlying basis one of these habitual factors. We are thus, for the most part, very much similar to one another and the field of psychology recognises this by identifying what is “normal” in the society and graphing responses to various tests or circumstances using bell shaped curve modeling, etc. Rare exceptions may be due to specific individual circumstances, physical limitations or developed capacities, or may represent a true and unique individuality that has developed. While we pride ourselves on our ‘individuality’, when we look deeply at these habitual processes, the differences are mostly superficial.

True individuality arises when an individual is able to go beyond the habits that are either encoded or trained (nature AND nurture) to create a truly unique responsiveness to the world and its environment, forces, pressures and activities. Such a uniqueness occurs when the soul, the psychic being actually comes forward, addresses the unique challenges and opportunities for the soul’s growth based on its past experience and needs in the current lifetime. True individuality is, as Sri Aurobindo says, an “adventure of consciousness.”

The Mother observes: “One lives by a kind of habit which is barely half-conscious — one lives, does not even objectify what one does, why one does it, how one does it. One does it by habit. All those who are born in a certain environment, a certain country, automatically take the habits of that environment, not only material habits but habits of thought, habits of feeling and habits of acting. They do it without watching themselves doing it, quite naturally, and if someone points this out to them they are astonished.”

“As a matter of fact, one has the habit of sleeping, speaking, eating, moving and one does all this as something quite natural, without wondering why or how…. And many other things. All the time one does things automatically, by force of habit, one does not watch oneself. And so, when one lives in a particular society, one automatically does what is normally done in that society. And if somebody begins to watch himself acting, watch himself feeling and thinking, he looks like a kind of phenomenal monster compared with the environment he lives in.”

“Therefore, individuality is not at all the rule, it is an exception, and if you do not have that sort of bag, a particular form which is your outer body and your appearance, you could hardly be distinguished from one another.”

“Individuality is a conquest. And, as Sri Aurobindo says here, this first conquest is only a first stage, and once you have realised within you something like a personal independent and conscious being, then what you have to do is to break the form and go farther. For example, if you want to progress mentally, you must break all your mental forms, all your mental constructions to be able to make new ones. So, to begin with, a tremendous labour is required to individualise oneself, and afterwards one must demolish all that has been done in order to progress.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter I Emergence from Unconsciousness, pp. 5-6

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 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.