We identify something about ourselves that we would like to change — it could be a physical transformation we seek, or a way to address an imbalance in our feelings or emotions, or it could be a change to our mind-set to overcome ideas of weakness, failure, incapacity, etc. We then try to find a way to create this change. We may try a new diet, we may take up a new exercise routine. We may change our wardrobe, or take up travel or a course of study and self-development. We may go to therapy to heal our relationships with others. We may try to find satisfaction in earning money or having a career. Or we may take up a cause to try to fix what we see is wrong in the world. At the end of the day we continue to try to apply external prescriptions to our internal sense of dissatisfaction.

If we examine our inner landscape closely, we begin to recognize that there are certain things we seek, in most cases without thought about it, such as happiness, inclusion, fulfillment, and the good will, support and approbation of family, friends, and the society around us. As we grow and mature, we adjust our inner goals to include finding and living out a meaningful and purposeful life that speaks to the deeper aspiration for the reason of our very existence. As our mental awareness engages, we seek for understanding of ourselves, the world we live in, the meaning of our lives and the purpose and nature of existence itself.

The first thing we run into as we undertake this examination is a lot of confusion about things. Why are we unable to effectuate change that we know we want to accomplish? How do we sort out the conflicting motives, drives, desires, emotions, feelings and thoughts that are constantly pushing us and pulling us in all different directions. It is in this area that Sri Aurobindo’s insight about the different parts of the being, their different nature and drives and the manner of their action and interaction becomes valuable, even essential, in bringing clarity to this inner chaotic state. The process of separating oneself from the action of all of these forces, and beginning to observe them, understand where they come from and how they arise, and what power they have in their action, is the meaning of ‘becoming conscious’.

The Mother observes: “To work for your perfection, the first step is to become conscious of yourself, of the different parts of your being and their respective activities. You must learn to distinguish these different parts one from another, so that you may become clearly aware of the origin of the movements that occur in you, the many impulses, reactions and conflicting wills that drive you to action. It is an assiduous study which demands much perseverance and sincerity. For man’s nature, especially his mental nature, has a spontaneous tendency to give a favourable explanation for everything he thinks, feels, says and does. It is only by observing these movements with great care, by bringing them, as it were, before the tribunal of our highest ideal, with a sincere will to submit to its judgment, that we can hope to form in ourselves a discernment that never errs.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Becoming More Conscious, pp. 2-5

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at http://sriaurobindostudies.wordpress.com and podcast at https://anchor.fm/santosh-krinsky 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.