Yoga Psychology, Chapter 16: The Transformation of the Individual

  • Yoga Psychology, Chapter 16: The Transformation of the Individual

    Posted by Don Salmon on July 12, 2023 at 3:00 pm

    CHAPTER 16



    As the crust of the outer nature cracks, as the walls of inner separation break down, the inner light gets through, the inner fire burns in the heart… the soul begins to unveil itself… A guidance, a governance begins from within which exposes every movement to the light of Truth… All is purified, set right, the whole nature harmonized, modulated in the psychic key, put in spiritual order.[iii]

    Sri Aurobindo

    When we quiet the noise of the surface consciousness, it is possible to go within, and enter the vast realm of the inner consciousness, a subtler region of the Field of Conscious-Energy. We can also go still deeper and awaken to the psychic being – the individual Knower. That in itself, however, does not necessarily result in a change of the nature, the individual Field of physical, vital and mental consciousness. It is possible, though, if one aspires to do so, to bring about a fundamental transformation of the nature following the awakening of the psychic being.

    Self-Control: Military Music or Quantum Jazz?

    Karmic Momentum

    The yogis say that at any moment, it is possible to step out of the chain of karma, into the freedom of the Infinite Consciousness. If this is true, why is it so difficult for us to change? Sometimes, our attention is so thoroughly absorbed in our thoughts and feelings and outer events that we simply ignore the signs that some kind of change is needed. An extreme instance of this kind of inattention took place during the Manhattan Project, the government-sponsored effort during World War II to produce the first atom bomb.

    At one point, the physicists working on the project calculated there was a small possibility that testing the bomb would initiate a chain reaction which would explode the atmosphere – resulting in the end of all life on earth, and possibly even the destruction of the planet itself. There was some discussion about discontinuing the project, but according to several of the scientists involved, they were so absorbed in their calculations that the reality of the potential consequences did not seem quite real to them. As one of the physicists put it, “We were like automatons, programmed to do one thing, and we did it.”[iv]

    Even when we know we need to change, often, we are so caught up in the momentum of desire, we find we are incapable of shifting direction. Freeman Dyson, one of the physicists involved in the Manhattan Project, described in an interview conducted many years after the end of the war, the thrill the scientists had felt while grappling with the enormous intellectual challenge of producing the bomb:

    I have felt it myself, the glitter of nuclear weapons. It is irresistible if you come to them as a scientist and feel its there in your hands to release this energy that fuels the stars, to let it do your bidding, to perform this miracle, to lift a million tons of rock into the sky. It is something that gives people an illusion of illimitable power, and it is in some ways responsible for all our troubles, I would say. This what you might call technical arrogance that overcomes people when they see what they can do with their minds.[v]

    Blowback: The Consequences of Misdirected Efforts at Change

    From time to time, on a lesser scale, most of us make choices that result in consequences other than those we intended. For example, it may be important to our health that we lose a certain amount of weight. We may try to limit our food intake, but end up bingeing and gaining rather than losing weight. We may then redouble our efforts, deciding to do a week-long fast to jump-start the process, triggering an even greater reaction with the result of still more weight gain.

    Members of the United States Central Intelligence Agency, have been so accustomed to seeing unintended consequences of actions taken at the international level, that they coined the term “blowback” to describe the phenomenon. One of the more notable examples of “blowback” in recent history had its roots in Afghanistan in the early 1980s. It involved CIA training of private militias intended to assist the United States in pursuing its goal of destabilizing the U.S.S.R. One of the most successful of these militias was the al Qaeda group headed by Osama bin Laden. During the first Gulf War, the United States, again in pursuit of its own interests, built military bases in bin Laden’s native land of Saudi Arabia. Enraged by this and other U.S. actions he perceived to be a desecration of what he held sacred, bin Laden masterminded the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.

    Given the level of pain and suffering in the world as well as in our own lives, we can see there needs to be a fundamental change of some kind in this unconscious cycle of action and reaction. However, to the extent we have tried to make changes and our efforts continue to fail, we may be overcome by a sense of hopelessness, wondering if real change is even possible. Is the problem that human nature is simply unchangeable, or is there perhaps something wrong in the way we try to change?

    Suppose you find out your blood pressure is elevated. You make an appointment with the doctor who performs a brief examination and orders a number of diagnostic tests. Though the doctor has not identified a specific cause for your hypertension, during her examination, she mentions in passing that contributing factors may include that fact that you are 45 pounds overweight, tend to eat too much salty, high-fat, food, smoke two packs of cigarettes daily, rarely exercise, and are under a great deal of work-related stress. Apart from these observations, no treatment other than medication is suggested. The initial drug doesn’t work, but after a year or so of various trials, a combination of three drugs is found which, for the time being, normalizes your blood pressure. However, as long as you haven’t addressed the lifestyle that is contributing to the elevated blood pressure, you will have to keep taking the medication – and endure the accumulating side effects.

    Toward a More Harmonious Change Process

    The way we usually engage in trying to bring about change is as a control agent separate from the whole, acting on a problem that is isolated from the whole. Psychologist Gary Schwartz proposes that true healing, rather than involving this kind of military attack on a problem location, is a finely tuned balancing act between mind, body and the environment of which they are a part. According to Schwartz, illness, pain and suffering come about when the organism fails to pay sufficient attention to feedback, both from within and from the environment. In the example above, hypertension wasn’t the fundamental problem. The elevation in blood pressure was actually feedback from the body letting you know something was out of balance in the relationship between your mind, body and the environment, requiring your attention. When sufficient attention is given to maintaining harmonious relationships amongst all three, the result is a dynamic state of integration and equilibrium, leading to what Schwartz calls “optimal health.”[vi]

    If we attempt, using only the surface consciousness, to achieve the kind of balance Schwartz recommends, we will at best achieve only a limited state of harmony. This is because in our ordinary waking state, action is taken on the basis of separation – “I” am separate from that upon which “I” am acting. From this surface vantage point, no matter how ardently we wish to achieve integration, our fundamental perception remains that of a “mind,” “body,” and “environment” separate from each other. Lacking direct awareness of the connection between our self and the greater Reality of which we are a part, we have a very limited capacity to effect real and lasting change.

    Change From the Inside Out

    When we open to the deeper, inner consciousness, we gain the capacity to bring about more far-reaching change, because in the inner realm we are in more direct contact with the whole. In 1971, in a series of experiments conducted at the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas, Swami Rama was able to demonstrate this power of change initiated from within. He demonstrated the ability to generate delta waves – brain waves that normally occur only in the state of deepest sleep – when he was fully awake. In addition, he was able to intentionally “produce and maintain [various] brain wave patterns on demand”[vii] with a level of precision that amazed researchers.

    It is not possible to retain wakefulness and generate delta waves as long as one’s consciousness is confined to the ordinary limited surface awareness. Swami Rama did not control his brain waves by means of the ordinary limited “self.” Even if he had described his experience by saying “I” shifted my consciousness, it would not have been the same “I” as that with which we normally identify. The way he brought about the change in his brain waves was not the way we ordinarily think of controlling our bodies – by an effort of our separate, egoic will. By means of a gentle withdrawal of attention from the surface, Swami Rama was able to “surf” the ocean of consciousness, allowing different waves to emerge and subside. This movement of consciousness is what manifested in the laboratory as different brain wave patterns.

    There is a way of “control” which is still deeper than that which can be initiated from the inner realm. Biologist Mae Wan-Ho gives intimations of this deeper way in her description of a state of integration which she refers to as “quantum coherence” – a state which involves simultaneous, nonlocal connections between all parts of an organism. She extends this notion of coherence to the interconnection between the organism and its environment, and has even suggested that the entire universe may exist in a profound state of quantum coherence.

    Describing the nature of coherence in terms of a musical performance, she writes:

    To get a feeling for [the coordination of activities involved in the workings of an] organism, imagine an immense super-orchestra, with instruments spanning the… spectrum of dimensions from molecular piccolos of 10<sup>-9</sup> (one billionth) meter up to a bassoon or a bass viol of a meter or more, performing over a musical range of seventy-two octaves… [T]his super-orchestra never ceases to play out our individual songlines, with a certain recurring rhythm and beat, but in endless variations … Always, there is something new, something made up as it goes along. It can change … as the situation demands, spontaneously and without hesitation. What this super-orchestra plays is the most exquisite jazz, jazz being to classical music what quantum is to classical physics. One might call it quantum jazz. There is a certain structure, but the real art is in the endless improvisations, where each and every player, however small, enjoys maximum freedom of expression, while maintaining perfectly in step and in tune with the whole. There is no leader or conductor, and the music is written as it is played.[viii]

    From the perspective of yoga psychology, Mae Wan Ho’s description points to the capacity of the awakened soul to “see” in one all-encompassing and joyous gaze the whole Divine Reality in whom, as St. Paul said, “we live and move and have our being.”[1]

    If fundamental change requires such a profound state of consciousness, is there any hope for those of us who find it challenging to quiet our minds for more than a few seconds? In fact, it is possible to begin wherever we are. By looking calmly at what is happening in this very moment, we can learn to refine our attention and thus initiate a process of bringing about change in a profoundly new way.

    Preparing for the Process of Transformation: Using the Thinking Mind to Sort Out the Tangles of the Surface Nature

    All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him, as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the carriage.

    All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.[ix]

    The Buddha

    Learning to direct our attention is at the heart of the process by which we can begin to free ourselves from the grip of desire and ego, and the karmic chain of action and reaction. By refining our attention, we can learn to perceive the subtler movements of our nature which keep us bound in the cycle of reactivity.

    How exactly does attention facilitate change? Our ordinary consciousness is rather dull and inattentive. We are hardly aware of the thick web of subconscient impressions that affects every aspect of our physical, vital and mental consciousness. We also subconsciously filter out a whole array of information that conflicts with our preconceptions and subconscious beliefs about our self and the world. And even that to which we do attend is generally distorted by our egoic preferences and desires:

    On the surface we know only so much of our self as is formulated there and of even this only a portion… But there is also a distorting action which obscures and disfigures even this limited self-knowledge; our self-view is vitiated by the constant impact and intrusion of our… vital being, which seeks always to make the thinking mind its tool and servant: for our vital being is not concerned with self-knowledge but with self-affirmation, desire, ego. It is therefore constantly acting on mind to build for it a mental structure of apparent self that will serve these purposes; our mind is persuaded to present to us and to others a partly fictitious representative figure of ourselves which supports our self-affirmation, justifies our desires and actions, nourishes our ego. This vital intervention is not indeed always in the direction of self-justification and assertion; it turns sometimes towards self-depreciation and a morbid and exaggerated self-criticism: but this too is an ego-structure, a reverse or negative egoism, a poise or pose of the vital ego. For in this vital ego there is frequently a mixture of the charlatan and mountebank, the poser and actor; it is constantly taking up a role and playing it to itself and to others as its public. An organised self-deception is thus added to an organised self-ignorance; it is only by going within and seeing these things at their source that we can get out of this obscurity and tangle.[x]

    According to psychologist Leslie Greenberg, the simple act of being attentive, without judgment, to what is happening in and around us each moment, in itself initiates a process of change.[xi] As attention to our present experience intensifies, it gives us the power to see through old reaction patterns and gain freedom from them.[2] It slows down the blur of experience, helping us to see with greater clarity the strands of mental, vital and physical consciousness that make up our experience.

    Our habit of interpreting present experience through the lens of the past is in part what leads to the state of “organized self-ignorance” of which Sri Aurobindo speaks. By paying close attention to what is actually happening in the present, we allow in information that was previously unattended to. The simple act of incorporating new data – even without further effort on our part – can often be sufficient to begin to unravel some of our subconscious impressions and diminish the karmic momentum that fuels them.

    To take a fairly common example, suppose you are experiencing some lower back pain. Ordinarily your conscious experience would be one of a general, undefined sense of physical “pain,” You could instead choose to calmly direct your attention to the point in the back where the pain is most intense. If you were to observe very closely, you would see that the “pain” is not merely physical. Contributing to your experience is a vital reaction, which, if put into words, might be expressed as “this is bad, this shouldn’t be, it has to change.” Also contributing to your pain construction are the subconscious mental impressions made up of memories of past pain, associations to others’ back pain, future projections about how long it will take to go away and what might happen if the pain doesn’t change, etc. What you will find, if you look with sufficient calmness and clarity, is that the simple act of looking and distinguishing these components of your experience can in itself – with no conscious attempt on your part to “change” anything – significantly reduce the level of pain. Simply attending to the construction loosens the mental, vital and physical threads that make up the pain experience, and is sufficient to begin to lessen the pain.

    As Sri Aurobindo noted, in addition to this self-ignorance is an “organized self-deception.” When our attention is guided by desire, we interpret everything through the lens of that desire. We subconsciously alter information to fit with our selfish needs and filter out anything which conflicts with them.

    For example, suppose you are scheduled to play a game of softball with some friends, but you sort of know from past experience that because of the pain in your lower back, an afternoon of softball would leave you with worse pain that might last for several days. Nevertheless, your desire to play is so strong, you ignore this, and go ahead with your plans. During the game one of your teammates remarks that you’re moving a little awkwardly and asks if there’s some kind of problem. Though on the fringe of your consciousness there’s a vague awareness of physical discomfort, you’re so focused on impressing your teammates with your physical prowess that you react with some irritation, dismissing his comment with a wave of your hand, “Nah, I’m fine.”

    You’re so intent on proving you don’t have a problem that you remain oblivious to the fact that the pain in your back is increasing throughout the game. The next morning, you wake up in so much agony that you decide you can’t go to work. Without realizing it, you exaggerate your incapacity, compelling your family to wait on you and attend to your needs. At some point, either as a result of your family’s complaints or the intensity of the pain, you realize you need to do something to change the situation.

    Normally, at a point like this, we are so caught up in the cycle of action and reaction, any choice we make simply continues the cycle of reactivity. For example, rather than attending directly to the pain, you might try to override it and go to work anyway, only to create more pain. Or, still ignoring the cause of the pain, you might take a large dose of pain relievers, and go through the day feeling dull and sleepy. However, at any point in this situation, there is a possibility of stepping out of the reaction chain altogether. If you are able to gain some measure of detachment, to look at yourself and the situation without judgment or self-criticism, you can, with sufficient attention, begin to dissipate some of the energy which fuels the chain of karma.

    Deconstructing the Chain of Reaction

    In previous chapters, we’ve looked at how the reaction chain gets built up in the moment, taking place too rapidly for us to see how our experience is constructed. Because of this, we are normally aware only of the initial event (the occasion for the reaction) and the endpoint of the reaction chain (our conscious reaction and subsequent behavior). It is possible to significantly reduce the intensity of the emotional reaction by refining our awareness of the elements of the reaction chain that lead up to it.

    For example, if you had been slightly more attentive in the moment your teammate asked if you had a problem, you might have been aware of the feeling of irritation that preceded your response. You might not have realized why you were irritated, but given that extra measure of attention, you could have chosen to respond in a more gracious manner, perhaps thanking him for his concern.

    If you were able to further refine your attention as the emotion was arising, you could have seen that preceding it were a host of desires as well as beliefs and assumptions about yourself and the situation that gave rise to the feeling of irritation: the belief that you needed to project an image of being tough; an assumption that people would think less of you if you appeared weak or vulnerable; the subconscious desire to push past pain; etc. The simple act of bringing attention to the thoughts, images and desires that generated the feeling of irritation could, in itself, have been sufficient to significantly reduce the intensity of the feeling.

    Refining the attention still further, you could see that, prior even to these subconscious desires, beliefs and assumptions, there was the simple sensory awareness of the event (your teammate asking if you had a problem), accompanied by a primitive feeling of aversion to being asked. The capacity to see at this level of subtlety would have reduced the impact of the subconscious vital and mental impressions, leading then to a different emotional reaction and a greater choice as to how to respond.

    Looking at the whole chain of reaction, we might see a pattern something like this. The arrows going from right to left indicate how we can direct our attention, successively, over time, to deconstruct the reaction, eventually becoming conscious of the initial feeling of attraction or aversion that sets the chain in motion.


    As we learn to step out of the reaction chain, we gradually become freer of the obscurations of ego, desire, and the many layers of subconscient impressions. As this occurs, our surface consciousness becomes clearer, and we begin to open to the influence of the deeper consciousness[3] as well as higher levels of consciousness above the thinking mind. Less obscured by desire, the inner vital and psychic being can open our heart, enabling us to be more responsive to others. Our mind, less bound by mental habits, becomes receptive to the wisdom of the more intuitive inner mental consciousness. Our body, less weighted down by the desires of the vital and mind, becomes more flexible and pliant, more deeply infused with the powerful energy of the subtle physical consciousness.

    In recent years, this act of refining attention has come to be identified with a particular technique of Buddhist meditation known as “mindfulness.” This technique classically involves sitting in a particular position, at a particular time, sometimes using the breath as an object of concentration. There are also other mindfulness techniques which involve carefully observing the contents of one’s consciousness while engaged in walking or other activities. In fact, there are virtually a limitless number of techniques and contemplative practices that can help support the development of attention. However, the process we’re describing here is not essentially a “technique” or “method.” Rather, what we are attempting to portray is a fundamental movement of consciousness, the act of stepping back and freeing up attention which underlies any process of transformation.

    This process of refining attention can be a powerful means of bringing about substantial change in our bodies, hearts and minds. However, from the perspective of yoga psychology, the process of attentional development described above is only the preliminary stage of a more comprehensive process that can lead to deeper and vaster dimensions of being and to the total transformation of the physical, vital and mental consciousness. [4]

    Awakening of the Psychic Being and the Transformation of the Nature

    Yoga demands a constant inward remembrance of the one central liberating knowledge: In all is the one Self, the one Divine is all; all are in the Divine, all are the Divine and there is nothing else in the universe.[xii]

    Sri Aurobindo

    The whole problem of life is at root the problem of living in and as a divided consciousness, taking ourselves to be separate beings, apart from each other, the world and the all-pervading Infinite. It would seem then, to solve the problem, we would need simply to wake up to the truth of our Oneness. But is the whole point of evolution simply to wake up? When everyone has woken up, would the “game” of evolution be over? Or, is there a new, and quite different game possible?

    According to yoga psychology, once having awakened to the truth of who we are, it is possible to allow the true inner nature to gradually infuse and transform the outer personality.[5] Instead of it being “a hurtling field of joy and grief,” a “stupendous play of passion ,” our personality can become a clear window through which something else may naturally emerge.

    But we cannot do this by our own power. The mind can assist in the process of transformation by means of the kind of calm attentive mindfulness and heartfulness we described above. But even the deeper mind or heart cannot accomplish the transformation of the nature by themselves:

    A Divine power has to replace our limited energy so the instruments can be shaped into the divine image and filled with the force of a greater infinite energy; this will happen to the degree we can surrender our self to the guidance then to the direct action of that power; faith in [this Divine Power] is essential; faith is the great motor power of our being in our aspiration to perfection.[xiii]

    Before the transformation can begin, we need to awaken the psychic being, the primary channel through which the Divine Power[6] can effect change in the physical, vital and mental consciousness. To prepare ourselves for this awakening, we will need to have developed the capacity to step back from the surface noise of the mind.[7] There is no need at first to stop the chatter, simply to stop fueling the patterns with the energy of our attention:

    In the calm mind, it is the substance of the mental being that is still, so still that nothing disturbs it. If thoughts or activities come, they do not rise at all out of the mind, but they come from outside and cross the mind as a flight of birds crosses the sky in a windless air. It passes, disturbs nothing, leaving no trace. Even if a thousand images or the most violent events pass across it, the calm stillness remains as if the very texture of the mind were a substance of eternal and indestructible peace. A mind that has achieved this calmness can begin to act, even intensely and powerfully, but it will keep its fundamental stillness.[xiv]

    As the surface noise begins to soften, and the inner consciousness awakens, there is an intensification of the psychic being’s aspiration to awaken. At a certain intensity of attention, the sense of a separate self temporarily dissolves and there arises a feeling of self and other moving together as one. Quarterback John Brodie describes moments during a game when “time seems to slow way down… as if I have all the time in the world to watch the receivers run their patterns and yet I know the defensive line is coming at me just as fast as ever… [T]he whole thing seems like a movie or dance in slow motion.”[xv] Based on accounts of pro-football player Pat Toomay, Larry Dossey describes moments such as these in the lives of various professional athletes – moments “when everything functions perfectly – knowing the flow of a play before it develops, where the ball carrier will run, where the ball will be thrown before it is released. In baseball, the ball and bat become one; the batter can’t miss; for the pitcher, the curve ball breaks perfectly, the fast ball is alive, and hitters are retired in effortless sequence, for the basketball player the ball and the net form an arc of oneness from the moment of the ball’s release.”[xvi]

    The experience of these athletes, while no doubt extraordinary, does not constitute an awakening of the psychic being, nor even a direct entry into the inner consciousness. Rather, it is an example of the surface consciousness being touched by the influence of the inner realm and perhaps, still deeper, the psychic being. It is only when such intimations are accompanied by an all-pervading aspiration, one that persists through day and night, steadfast and unyielding in the face of any disturbance or challenge, that a true reversal of consciousness can take place, allowing the full light of the psychic being to come to the surface:

    As Tibetan Buddhist nun Tenzin Palmo describes her own experience of the soul’s [8] awakening:

    One has to become completely absorbed, then the [awakening] will occur. The awareness naturally drops from the head to the heart – and when that happens the heart opens and there is no ‘I’. And that is the relief. When one can learn to live from that center rather than up in the head, whatever one does is spontaneous and appropriate. It also immediately releases a great flow of energy because it is not at all obstructed as it usually is by our own intervention. One becomes more joyful and light, in both senses of the word, because it’s going back to the source.[xvii]

    Thus, by allowing the action of the surface mind to continue, but taking no interest in it, an awareness grows of the ever-present Silence behind the action of the mind. In that silence is a Force to which we can surrender.[9] To the extent we remain quiet, opening ourselves, this Force can continue to work for a transformation of the mind, the vital and the physical body.

    Beginning the Process of Transforming the Surface Nature

    Sharon had had several glimpses of the Divine Presence, but for some time they remained special experiences apart from her day-to-day life. She had no knowledge of “meditation” practice, and didn’t realize it might be possible to cultivate the experience of this Presence. For a while, she drifted from one odd job to another, wondering what it was she was really supposed to be doing. Though still feeling some intense pain, the sense of hopelessness had waned. She spent a good deal of time reflecting back on her life, her ideals, her many regrets, her sense of dislocation since the war.

    Several years after her initial experience of the “tree at the end of the earth,” she returns to visit her father. It has now been several months since she’s had one of those calm moments of Presence.


    Sitting on the bench in the backyard of her father’s house, Sharon gazes out at the pond, reflecting on the course of her life. Looking back at the many ways she had driven herself to succeed, she feels the sting of unsatisfied desire and thwarted ambition bringing a dull pain to her gut. Though she still doesn’t know what she is supposed to be doing, she feels strongly that whatever it is, she has to engage with it in a new way, without having to prove herself, without being driven. As she continues to reflect on this, her mind grows slightly more agitated. Aware of the growing tension, she realizes that once again, she is trying to figure it all out. Seeing this, her mind slows down.

    She returns her attention to the water and the red hibiscus flowers beside the pond. A calm begins to descend; she starts to feel the familiar Presence, more substantial and powerful than in the past. It slowly gathers strength in and around her. She knows by now there’s no point in trying to analyze it. She doesn’t understand it, can’t understand it, but she can just be present and let the experience unfold.

    She feels her attention being gently drawn back to painful memories from the past – she sees Bobby sipping water from the cup she held in her hand, and the notice several years later of his death in a drive-by shooting. Familiar images arise of the truck with dead bodies, followed by the faces of people she had used to ascend the ladder of success. Though these images are accompanied by familiar waves of pain and anguish, in some way she can’t understand, her experience of the pain is different. However intense each wave may be, it doesn’t in any way affect the stillness she feels behind. As these images continue to flow through awareness, the sense of who “she” is shifts in subtle but definite ways.

    While this is taking place, Sharon becomes aware of a kind of “Force” that has been guiding her attention, showing her the thoughts, beliefs, memories, feelings, and images of herself that went into constructing her experience of the events of her life, that continue to come together to form what she has taken to be her “self,” and which until the last few years were all she had known of herself and the world.

    Slowly, with the guidance of this gentle but powerful Force, Sharon sees the various threads which have woven the fabric of her life. She “sees,” as if part of a single tapestry, the generations that preceded her birth, her ancestors who were brought over on slave ships from Africa. She understands the connection between her birth as a black woman in mid-20<sup>th</sup> century America, the difficulties she struggled to overcome, and the ways in which she tried to overcome them. She can feel in each phase of her life – leading youth groups, tending wounded soldiers in Vietnam, working in business and politics – the tension between her deeper aspiration and the desires of her surface nature. Watching as the flow of her life unfolds before her inner eye, she feels the tension reaching a kind of crescendo, and begins to perceive a poignant beauty in the choreography of her life

    Once again, Sharon is shown, with searing intensity, the utter desolation and sense of emptiness that followed her war experience. Her awareness piercing still further below the surface, she understands how it was the desire to escape from despair that drove her from one pursuit to another, seeking but never finding relief. And still deeper, she begins to feel, underlying the emptiness, the Grace that prevented her from finding solace in anything less than that deepest sense of calm and simplicity she had come to know beside the “tree at the end of the earth.” She understands how the suffering served to wear down her egoic pride, helping to make her consciousness more flexible and pliant; how it prepared her for the experience that day by the pond in her father’s backyard, and allowed her to let go of her desire to analyze and capture the experience with her mind. She sees that each and every experience of her life has been an expression of a greater whole.

    Her awareness becoming more global, taking in her life in a single glance, Sharon recognizes that this guidance, this loving Presence, was there all along, guiding her through the vicissitudes of her life. But it had been obscured, unable to shine through the thick screen of her surface nature. Nevertheless, her psychic being had been there as a formative presence at every moment – from early infancy through the idealism of her adolescence; amidst the horrors of war, the pressured years as a successful entrepreneur, and the years she was haunted by memories of dying soldiers and a deepening sense of life’s futility.

    Full of wonder, her mind quiet, her heart soft and open, her body suffused with a flowing energy, she observes with quiet delight as an image emerges suggestive of some work she might do. This image arises without any feeling of effort, ambition or striving on her part, inviting her participation without insistence, without demand. She feels as if she is truly awake for the first time in her life. Involuntarily she lets out a sigh, and finds herself laughing at the simplicity of it all.

    The image of what she is to do is still vague, uncertain. But it doesn’t matter. Sharon feels almost no concern at this moment about her future. She sees it will be a different kind of adventure from any she has yet experienced. All that matters to her at this moment is to remain open to this process, to bathe in the simple delight of this gentle untangling of knots, this opening of her mind, her heart and her body to the Force of the Divine Presence. She smiles, and looks over at the sparrow which has just alighted on the lowest branch of the tree.

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    [1] We’re not asserting (or denying) here that Mae-Wan Ho is directly describing a spiritual experience. We offer this beautiful passage as an intimation of something deeper than the ordinary surface consciousness.

    [2] Greenberg, using the language of cognitive science, refers to what we’ve been calling karmic impressions as cognitive or affective “schemas.” In the language of yoga psychology, “schemas” are related to a relatively thin layer of the mental consciousness, one just beneath the surface awareness and relatively easily accessible to it. Cognitive science considers schemas to originate in what has been termed the “cognitive unconscious,, which is thought to reside in brain processes which are inaccessible to conscious awareness. Karmic impressions, on the other hand, refer to levels of consciousness far deeper, including the vital and physical consciousness (not our mentalized experience of them) and still deeper layers of the mental, vital and physical subconscient. By means of highly refined yogic practices, these deepest layers can become accessible to conscious awareness.

    [3] The inner mental, vital and subtle physical consciousness, and, still deeper, the psychic being.

    [4] Sri Aurobindo describes this process of attentional training in great detail in the first nine chapters (especially in chapters VI and VII) of “The Yoga of Self-Perfection” in his book, “The Synthesis of Yoga.”

    [5] Some Indian philosophers assert that liberation, not transformation, is the final goal of yoga. However, whether or not they consider it worthwhile, most do acknowledge that transformation is possible.

    [6] “Divine Power” is a translation of the Sanskrit, Shakti.

    [7] This should not be conceived of as being limited to a formal practice of sitting meditation. This is an inner stance to be maintained throughout the day, and to whatever extent possible, the night as well.

    [8] We are aware that Buddhism is thought to deny the existence of the soul. It is our understanding that this denial relates specifically to the assertion of some kind of separate, inherently existing entity – which is not what the word “soul” – as used here – points to. A “Buddhist” understanding of “soul” might be expressed as ““the Buddha nature within – a (not inherently self-existent) focus of the Infinite, Ineffable, Unthinkable and Immeasurable.”

    [9] In fact, from a deeper perspective, even the surrender is “done” by the Force, not by our small self.

    <hr align=”left” size=”1″ width=”33%”>

    [i] Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, p. 236.

    [ii] Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, p. 907.

    [iii] Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, p. 907.

    [iv] Frank Oppenheimer, in The Day After Trinity: J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Atomic Bomb, video documentary available at

    [v] Freeman Dyson, in The Day After Trinity.

    [vi] See Schwartz, G. E., Psychobiology of Health.

    [vii] Swami Rama: Researcher/Scientist, at

    [viii] Wan-Ho, M., The Organic Revolution in Science and Implications for Science and Spirituality, at

    [ix] The Buddha, The Dhammapada. Verses 1 and 2. (trans.) Max Muller.

    [x] Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, p. 533.

    [xi] See Greenberg, L.S., Rice, L. N., & Elliot, R., Facilitating Emotional Change.

    [xii] Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, p. 112.

    [xiii] Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, p. 693.

    [xiv] Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, p. 638.

    [xv] Dossey, L., Space, Time and Medicine, p. 170

    [xvi] Dossey, L, Space, Time and Medicine, p. 171.

    [xvii] Palmo, T., Cave in the Snow, p. 118.

    [xviii] Ramana Maharshi, The Teachings of Ramana Maharshi, p. 207.

    Book III, Part IV, Chapter 17: Psychic Awakening and the Transformation of Society (page numbers)

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