The external being wants to have a stable basis by which it can understand and act in the world. The tools that support this stable basis include habit, fixed tendencies, instincts, education, memory and even the way the mental processes work, comparing new impulses of the senses to past memory to create pattern recognition and fixed lines of action. Psychologists have even concluded that neural pathways are built that, through repetition, lead the understanding down well-worn ways of understanding and acting, and which tend to solidify the life into predictable responses.

These things provide stability and are one of the conservative mechanisms that ensure that there is an orderly progression in the life that has a basis that is solid, steady and sure. The energy required to overcome this inertia of the external being is quite considerable, yet progress can only occur when an individual is able to pass beyond the limits of the past ways of knowing and acting.

The same thing happens with respect to spiritual experiences. The individual wants to continually repeat the experiences once they have made an impression on him, and then goes about classifying, organizing and remembering those experiences, and uses this mental framework to try to recapture the magic of that past event. In a certain way, this may help during a period of consolidation and fixing the experience into the external workings of the mind, life and body, but to the extent it remains fixed there, the individual cannot progress to the next new level of understanding and experience.

A devotee inquires: “Mother, why is it that the same contemplation does not always produce the same sensation in oneself? That is, for example, when one looks at the sea or the stars and thinks of one’s insignificance, then there is a particular sensation which is produced within, and then at another time, when one wants to have the same experience, even if one thinks about it, why doesn’t it recur?”

The Mother notes: “One can never have the same experience twice because one is never the same person twice. Between the first experience and the second, even if one hour has passed, you are no longer the same man and you can never reproduce identically the same thing. If you take care to become more conscious, more sincere, more concentrated, the experience you have will be different, but it may be deeper and more clear. But if you cling to something you have had and want to reproduce the same thing, you will have nothing at all, because you can’t have the same thing and you are in a state in which you refuse to have a new experience, for you are attached to the past one. And usually when one has had an experience which was a revelation, something altogether important, one doesn’t want to leave it, one is afraid of not having it any longer, and so, in this movement of clinging on to something, one prevents oneself from progressing and puts oneself in conditions in which one can’t have the next experience.”

“Well, this has to be understood, because it is an absolute fact: one can never have the same experience twice. There may be similar experiences, very close, and particularly some which appear similar, but these experiences… if one is absolutely sincere, impartial and like a blank page, he will perceive that there is a difference, sometimes an essential one, between the two, though in appearance they seem very close. But the more ready you are to leave behind all that you have experienced, in order to be able to go towards something better and higher, the faster you will go; the more you drag the heavy weight of all the past which you don’t want to get rid of, the slower is your advance.”

“All the past should always be simply like a stepping-stone or a ladder, something to lead you farther; it should not have any other use except to push you forward. And if you can feel this and always turn your back on what is past and look at what you want to do, then you go much faster, you don’t waste time on the way. What makes you lose time is always this clinging to what has been, to what is, what seemed to you beautiful and good in what is past. This must only help you, you must not reject it, but it must help you to go forward, it must simply be something on which you lean to take a step forward.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter VII Growth of Consciousness, Inner Experiences, pp. 144-146

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.