Sri Ramana Maharshi, to point the seeker towards the truth of his existence, asked ‘who am I?’ With persistent inquiry, the individual soon finds that this external personality, ego-self that we normally treat as who we are, is in reality a front, a shell, an illusion, and that the truth of our existence lies deep within, held as knowledge within the soul, and only released into the forefront of our consciousness when the being is ready. The readiness may be prepared over many lifetimes, and at the right moment, the realisation occurs as if by a miracle. The realisation involves a shift of the consciousness, away from the ego-personality to the divine consciousness. The individuality is recognized as a nexus of energy, one among an infinite number of such nodes, and simply a tool to be utilized for action from that particular view and location in time, space and circumstance.

Without recognising it, we experience from time to time modest ‘shifts of standpoint’ which represent, in their own limited way, a ‘reversal of consciousness.’ For instance, a person goes to work in a company and works in a particular department, imbibing the process, methods, and focus of that department. The department works to optimize its results in order to achieve the objectives set before it. The person then may work for another department and go through a similar process of acculturation in that department. He may recognise that some processes in the first department may actually interfere with the actions of the second department, but he is involved in his own work and the results of his own department so he can disregard this. At some point he obtains a position in management, and now gets to oversee and view not just one department, or another, but the entire functioning of the company’s apparatus and departments. Initially he may remain in his department-centric view, but eventually a day comes when he can actually see the entire workings of the company as a coordinated, integrated process, across all departments, and he sees how the departments are actually interfering with one another and with modest adjustments and interfaces, everything could operate much more smoothly, efficiently and effectively for the overall goal. He has experienced a “shift in standpoint” from employee to manager at this point.

Similarly, many people report a near death experience that involves an out of body experience. They report sitting up at the ceiling of a room, or along a wall, and observing the medical workers trying to revive their own body. They can then recognise that they are not the body, but some other consciousness that inhabits and uses the body. They bring this new awareness back with them when they are revived.

While these experiences may not lead to the type of permanent shift, or even to a full shift to the divine consciousness, they help the individual to understand the radical change of viewpoint that occurs when such a shift occurs.

A disciple inquires: “Is it possible to change this at once, change this consciousness? … One feels that it will be a revolution to change that.”

The Mother observes: “Yes, but a revolution can occur in half a second; it can also take years, even centuries, and even many lives. It can be done in a second.”

“One can do it. Precisely, when one has this inner reversal of consciousness, in one second everything, everything changes… precisely this bewilderment of being able to think that what one is, what one considers as oneself is not true, and that what is the truth of one’s being is something one doesn’t know. You see, this should have been the normal reaction, the one she had, of saying, ‘But then what is myself? If what I feel as myself is an illusory formation and not the truth of my being, then what is myself?’ For that she does not know. And so when one asks the question like that…”

“There is a moment — because it is a question which becomes more and more intense and more and more acute — when you have even the feeling, precisely, that things are strange, that is, they are not real; a moment comes when this sensation that you have of yourself, of being yourself, becomes strange, a kind of sense of unreality. And the question continues coming up: ‘But then what is myself?’ Well, there is a moment when it comes up with so much concentration and such intensity that with this intensity of concentration suddenly there occurs a reversal, and then instead of being on this side you are on that side, and when you are on that side everything is very simple; you understand, you know, you are, you live, and then you see clearly the unreality of the rest, and this is enough.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter IX Reversal of Consciousness: The New Birth, pp. 172-173

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.