Every part of our being has certain habitual patterns of responding to, accepting and dealing with forces and vibrations that enter into them. These habitual patterns for the most part lock in the old ways of seeing and acting, and it takes a change in standpoint from the mental-vital-physical complex to the standpoint of the soul or psychic being, in order for the individual to clearly see what is happening and what is being accepted by them in the normal course. Sri Aurobindo provides the example of illness and the way to deal with it when there is an attack on the physical body. The mental and vital levels similarly are subject to such attacks. For those who have taken up a spiritual path, there comes a time when the divergence between their spiritual aspiration and the reality of how their mind and their vital being responds can become quite intense. In the worst cases, this brings about what is known in spiritual circles as ‘the dark night of the soul’. This status can bring about a state of deep depression and to the extent the individual identifies with the external being, he begins to feel like he is not cut out for the spiritual life, that he is a failure and that he just needs to give up the pursuit. Dark thoughts can go further and lead to suicidal impulses.

The way to overcome this is to utilize the separation of Purusha and Prakriti to create a division between the outer nature, subject to these failures, resistances and doubts, and the psychic being which recognises that the task of addressing and changing human nature and its long habitual response patterns, is one that requires extreme patience, persistence and dedication regardless of the force of the thoughts that overwhelm and continue to repeat themselves without break to beat down the will of the seeker.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “… the constant recurrence of depression and despair or of doubt and revolt is due to a mental or vital formation which takes hold of the vital mind and makes it run round always in the same circle at the slightest provoking cause or even without cause. It is like an illness to which the body consents from habit and from belief in the illness even though it suffers from it, and once started the illness runs its habitual course unless it is cut short by some strong counteracting force. If once the body can withdraw its consent, the illness immediately or quickly ceases, — that was the secret of the Coue’ system. So too, if the vital mind withdraws its consent, refuses to be dominated by the habitual suggestions and the habitual movements, these recurrences of depression and despair can be made soon to cease. But it is not easy for this mind, once it has got into the habit of consent, even a quite passive and suffering and reluctant consent, to cancel the habit and get rid of the black circle. It can be done easily only when the mind refuses any longer to believe in the suggestions or accept the ideas or feelings that start the circle.”

“It is these things you have to get rid of. But a sorrowful or despondent mood is not the proper condition for doing that. You have to stand back from the feeling of suffering, anguish and apprehension, reject it and look quietly at the resistance, applying always to yourself your will to change and insisting that it shall be done and cannot fail to be done now or later with the divine help because the divine help is there. It is then that the strength can come to you that will overcome the difficulties.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Detachment and Rejection, pp. 22-27

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.