Most people who take up spiritual practices are deeply involved in some kind of regular practice and, as with everything else in the normal life, they look for signs and signals that show they are making progress in their chosen path of development. An experience comes, some new revelatory insight takes hold of them, and they rejoice in the obvious signs of progress. Only these experiences and insights, with their intensity and authenticity, tend to recede, fade and become a thing of memory rather than a living, constant experience. This can bring disappointment, concern and even depression to the seeker. This phenomenon is know to spiritual and religious aspirants throughout history. The famous Christian work A Pilgrim’s Progress describes the difficulty the seeker experiences in the slough of despond, where seemingly all the spiritual illumination has disappeared and the individual is struggling with the pressures of life and human nature.

In actuality, it is important to consider the complexity of the changes being sought, the multiple layers of the human instrument and the need to appreciate the time-dimension. Sri Aurobindo describes a process of “ascent and integration” where the seeker opens up to a higher force or level of consciousness, is touched by that, and then there is needed a period of time to assimilate and adjust the rest of the nature to the new seeing and way of acting. Until the nature is fully ready to switch its standpoint and basis entirely, it will naturally modulate back and forth between the two states. An integral transformation of the external being and nature actually requires this kind of process. There cannot be any “cutting of the knot” of human nature to escape into some form of nirvana or permanently blissful experience, while disregarding, downplaying or simply abandoning the external nature and the life in the world.

The Mother writes: “There is one phenomenon which obviously seems indispensable if one wants the realisation to become stable…. Experiences come, touch the consciousness, sometimes bring great illuminations, then get blurred, retreat into the background and, outwardly, in your ordinary consciousness, you don’t feel that there is a great change, a great difference. And this phenomenon may occur very often, may repeat itself for many years. Suddenly you get a sort of revelation, like an illumination, you are in the true consciousness and have the feeling of having got hold of the real thing. And then, slowly or suddenly, it seems to recede behind you, and you seek but do not find that there is any great change in you…. These things seem to come as heralds or as promises: ‘See, it will happen’, or to tell you, ‘Well, have faith, it will be like that.’ And this may recur very often. There is progress, obviously, but it is very slow and hardly apparent.”

“But then, suddenly — perhaps because one is sufficiently prepared, perhaps simply because the time has come, and it has been so decreed — suddenly, when such an experience occurs, its result in the part of the being where it takes place is a complete reversal of consciousness. It is a very clear, very concrete phenomenon. The best way of describing it is this: a complete reversal. And then the relation of the consciousness with the other parts of the being and with the outer world is as if complete changed. Absolutely like an overturning. And that reversal no longer comes back to the same old place, the consciousness no longer returns to its former position — Sri Aurobindo would say ‘status’. Once this has happened in any part of the being, this part of the being is stabilised.”

“And until that happens, it comes and goes, comes and goes, one advances and then has the impression of marking time, and one advances again and then marks time again, and sometimes one feels as though one were going backwards, and it is interminable — and indeed it is interminable. It may last for years and years and years. But when this reversal of consciousness takes place, whether in the mind or a part of the mind, whether in the vital or a part of the vital, or even in the physical consciousness itself and in the body-consciousness, once this is established, it is over; you no longer go back, you do not ever return to what you were before. And this is the true indication that you have taken a step forward definitively. And before this, there are only preparations.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter IX Reversal of Consciousness: The New Birth, pp. 167-169

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.