When we begin to observe ourselves, the thoughts we entertain, the emotions we express, the feelings we have and accept, the physical reactions that occur within ourselves, it soon becomes clear that we are more ‘reactive’ than ‘active’. We respond to energies, vibrations, pressures from outside ourselves. We are conditioned, educated, and manipulated through external stimuli, social media, advertising campaigns, and social pressures to think a certain way, to believe certain things, to respond in approved ways. What of all of this can we truly say belongs to our own ‘self’, our own individuality, and has not been simply created or shaped by these external forces acting upon us.

Even this shaping pressure does not build a totally constant and consistent individuality. We tend to change our reactions based on the situations we face. Even if we have a generally consistent personality-complex, this too is dependent on the fluctuation of the Gunas, as well as differences of time and circumstance so that what we consider to be our ‘normal’ mode of response may undergo a radical alteration when we are confronted with some new force acting upon us. We take on the appearance of a radio receiver that changes its station based on whatever the loudest signal from outside happens to be at the moment.

The underlying issue is that the mind-life-body complex that makes up what we consider to be our personality, our ego-personality if you will, is not a fixed formation and does not, in the end, constitute our true selves. The famous dictum ‘know thyself’ is intended to take us deeper than the surface personality, just as Ramana Maharshi’s famous question ‘who am I’ is meant to take us beyond the shape of the ego that we represent normally as ourselves in the world.

The Mother observes: “… till the self-giving is firmly psychic there will be disturbances, the interval of dark moments between bright ones. It is only the psychic that keeps on progressing in an unbroken line, its movement a continuous ascension. All other movements are broken and discontinuous. And it is not till the psychic is felt as yourself that you can be an individual even; for it is the true self in you. Before the true self is known, you are a public place, not a being. There are so many clashing forces working in you; hence, if you wish to make real progress, know your own being…”

“You must learn to unite what you call your individual self with your true psychic individuality. Your present individuality is a very mixed thing, a series of changes which yet preserves a certain continuity, a certain sameness or identity of vibration in the midst of all flux. It is almost like a river which is never the same and yet has a certain definiteness and persistence of its own. Your normal self is merely a shadow of your true individuality which you will realise only when this normal individual which is differently poised at different times, now in the mental, then in the vital, at other times in the physical, gets into contact with the psychic and feels it as its real being. Then you will be one, nothing will shake or disturb you, you will make steady and lasting progress.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter VIII The Psychic Being and Inner Growth, pg. 162

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 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.