The first stage in Sri Aurobindo’s yoga, and the major task that opens the door to many realizations, is mental silence. Why mental silence, one may ask? Clearly, if we wish to discover a new country within us, we must first leave the old one behind; everything depends upon our determination in taking this first step. Sometimes it can happen in a flash. Something in us cries out: “Enough of this grinding!” We at once are on our way, walking forth without ever looking back. Others say yes then no; they vacillate endlessly between two worlds. Let us emphasize here that the aim is not to amputate from ourselves any painfully acquired possession in the name of Wisdom-Peace-Serenity (we will also avoid using big and empty words); we are not seeking holiness but youth – the eternal youth of an ever-progressing being; we are not seeking a lesser being but a better being and above all a vaster one: Has it not occurred to you that if they really sought for something cold, dark and gloomy as the supreme good, they would not be sages but asses? Sri Aurobindo once humorously remarked.
the door to many realizations, is mental silence
Actually, one makes all kinds of discoveries when the mental machine stops, and first of all one realizes that if the power to think is a remarkable gift, the power not to think29 is a far greater one yet; let the seeker try it for just a few minutes, and he will soon see what this means! He will realize that he lives in a surreptitious racket, an exhausting and ceaseless whirlwind exclusively filled with his thoughts, his feelings, his impulses, his reactions – him, always him, an oversized gnome intruding into everything, obscuring everything, hearing and seeing only himself, knowing only himself (if even that!), whose unchanging themes manage to give the illusion of novelty only through their alternation. In a certain sense we are nothing but a complex mass of mental, nervous and physical habits held together by a few ruling ideas, desires and associations – an amalgam of many small self-repeating forces with a few major vibrations.30 By the age of eighteen we are set, one might say, with our major vibrations established. Then the deposits of the same perpetual thing with a thousand different faces we call culture or “our” self will ceaselessly settle around this primary structure in ever thicker layers, increasingly refined and polished. We are in fact shut in a construction, which may be like lead, without even a small opening, or as graceful as a minaret; but whether in a granite skin or a glass statue, we are nonetheless confined, forever buzzing and repetitive. The first task of yoga is to breathe freely, to shatter that mental screen, which allows only one type of vibration to get through, in order to discover the multicolored infinity of vibrations; that is, the world and people as they really are, and another “self” within ourselves, whose worth is beyond any mental appreciation.
After living in a condition of mental effervescence, we suddenly feel like a convalescent, rather lost, with strange echoes in our head, as if this world were horribly noisy and tiring. We become extremely sensitive, with an impression of bumping into everything, into gray or aggressive people, heavy objects, brutal events; the world appears enormously absurd. This is a sure sign of the beginning of interiorization. Yet if we try to go consciously inside ourselves in meditation, we find a similar void, a sort of dark well or amorphous neutrality. If we persist inward, we might even drop off to sleep for a few seconds or minutes, or sometimes even longer. Yet this is no ordinary sleep: we have passed into another consciousness, but there is still no link between the two, and we come out of this state apparently no more enlightened than when we entered it.
This transitory condition might easily lead to a sort of absurd nihilism: nothing outside or inside. Here is where we must be very careful, once we have demolished our outer mental constructions, not to become confined in another construction of false profundity, an absurd, illusionist or skeptical, perhaps even rebellious, construction. We must go farther. Once we have begun yoga, we must go to the end, no matter what, because if we let go of the thread, we may never find it again. There, indeed, is the trial. The seeker must understand that he is being born to another life, and his new eyes, his new senses are not yet formed; he is like a newborn child just coming into the world. There is not a lessening of consciousness but, in reality, a passage to a new consciousness: The cup [has to be] left clean and empty for the divine liquor to be poured into it. The only resource in these circumstances is to cling to our aspiration and, precisely because everything is so terribly lacking, allow it to grow like a fire into which we throw all our old clothes, our old life, our old ideas and old feelings; we have to have an unshakable faith that behind this transition, a door will open. And our faith is not foolish; it is not a credulous stupidity but a foreknowledge, something within us that knows before we do, sees before we do, and which sends its vision and knowledge to the surface in the form of a yearning, a seeking, an inexplicable faith. Faith, says Sri Aurobindo, is an intuition not only waiting for experience to justify it, but leading towards experience.
The Descent of the Force
Little by little the void is filled. We then make a series of observations and experiences of considerable importance, which cannot be listed in a logical sequence, because from the moment we leave the old world we find that everything is possible, and, above all, that no two cases are alike – hence, the falsehood of all spiritual dogmas. We can only mention a few broad lines of experience.
First, when calm, if not absolute silence, is relatively well established in the mind, when our aspiration, our need, has grown and become constant, throbbing, as if we carried a hole within ourselves, we start noticing a phenomenon that will have enormous consequences over the entire course of our yoga. We feel around the head, and particularly in the nape of the neck, a kind of unusual pressure, which may give the sensation of a false headache. At the beginning we cannot bear it for very long, and we try to shake it off, distract ourselves or “think of something else.” Gradually, this pressure takes on a more definite form, and we actually begin to feel a descending current, a current of force that does not resemble an unpleasant electric current but rather a flowing mass. We then begin to realize that the “pressure” or false headache was caused simply by our own resistance to the descent of this Force, and that the obvious thing to be done is not to obstruct the passage by blocking the current in the head, but to allow it to flow through all the levels of our being, from head to toe.
This current is at first rather spasmodic, irregular; a slight, conscious effort is required of us to reconnect with it when it vanishes; then it becomes continuous, natural and automatic, giving the very pleasant sensation of a fresh energy, like another breathing, fuller than that of our lungs, enveloping us, bathing us, making us lighter, while also filling us with strength. The physical feeling is very similar to that of a brisk walk in the wind. We do not realize its true effect (it settles in very gradually, in small doses) until, for one reason or another – distraction, error, or excess – we cut ourselves off from the current. Then we feel empty, shrunken, as if lacking oxygen, with a very unpleasant impression of a physical shriveling, not unlike an old apple whose sunshine and juice have been squeezed out. At this point, we really wonder how we were ever able to live without that current before. This is a first transmutation of our energies. Instead of drawing from the common source, below and around us, in universal life, we draw from above. And that energy is far clearer, far more sustained, uninterrupted, and especially far more dynamic. In daily life, in the midst of our work and our myriad other occupations, the current of force is at first rather diluted, but the moment we stop and concentrate, there is a massive inrush. Everything comes to a standstill. We are like a jar filled to the brim; the sensation of “current” disappears, as if the whole body from head to foot were charged with a mass of energy at once compact and crystalline (a solid cool block of peace, says Sri Aurobindo).
Spiritual Force is not just a word
And if our inner vision has begun to open, we may notice that everything has become bluish; we are like an aquamarine, and vast, vast, tranquil, without a ripple – such indescribable freshness, truly the feeling of bathing in the Source. Indeed, this “descending force” is the very Force of the Spirit – Shakti. Spiritual Force is not just a word. Ultimately, it will no longer be necessary to close our eyes and withdraw from the surface to feel it; it will be there every second of our life, no matter what we are doing, whether we are eating, reading, or speaking; we will see it take on a greater and greater intensity as our being becomes accustomed to it. It is actually a formidable mass of energy, limited only by the smallness of our receptivity and capacity.
– ADVENTURE OF CONSCIOUSNESS BY SATPREM