We know we are doing something wrong and yet, when the time comes, we are unable to stop ourselves. This can happen for very small things and also for things which have a crucial impact on our lives. When we are quiet, by ourselves, we feel that we will not indulge in wrong movements or repeat our mistakes. But as soon as the occasion arises, not only do we forget our resolutions, but even begin to find justifications and excuses for our indulgence. And the whole cycle repeats itself over and over again. We sometimes wonder why this is so. This article explores the way out of this psychological predicament.
The human personality is extraordinarily complex consisting of several antagonistic parts nominally bound together under the control of the mind. The mind itself is not a flawless instrument either; it is always capable of finding a way of explaining everything and providing admirable reasons for its conclusions. Depending on which side one begins to argue from, it can justify any impulse in the world. The mind cannot eliminate the multitudinous impulses and desires we cherish within; it can only suppress them until the moment inevitably comes when mind becomes fatigued or foggy, allowing some other part of the personality to rebel and satisfy its pent-up thirsts. The other thing to observe is that one cannot exhaust a desire by fulfilling it just once or a few times. The habit patterns cannot be broken by reinforcing them even marginally; they are nullified only after we have cast ourselves into the Greater Light of the Spirit.
When we begin to struggle with our desires, we begin to observe that there is a certain rhythm to it. Once we gain enough will-power to refrain from a certain act, we realize that the habit hasn’t really been eliminated. The vibration which has been cast out from within seems to hangs around in one’s atmosphere (circumconscient) from where it can re-enter during a moment of depression, anger or excitement. To overcome this difficulty, one has to illuminate one’s own atmosphere through regular practice of Yoga, but even then the struggle is not over for the vibrations which we presumed to have been neutralized tend to sink into the subconscious, and from there they can rise during moments of weakness or during dreams when we are supposedly fast asleep. The seeker of Yoga finds himself or herself caught in this labyrinthine game of hide-and-seek which can consume the greater part of one’s life. But then, the unexamined life is not worth living, is it?
We must begin with little victories.
The only solution is to keep making the effort day after day and, little by little, allow the rhythm of the body to change. As the Mother Mirra Alfassa puts it:
It happens only when you have decided: “Well, this time, I am going to try not to do it, and I shall not do it, I shall apply all my strength and I shall not do it.” Even if you have just a little success, it is much. Not a big success, but just a small success, a very partial success: you do not carry out what you yearn to do; but the yearning, the desire, the passion is still there and that produces whirls within, but outside you resist, “I shall not do it, I shall not move; even if I have to bind myself hand and foot, I shall not do it.” It is a partial success – but it is a great victory because, due to this, next time you will be able to do a little more. That is to say, instead of holding all the violent passions within yourself, you can begin calming them a little; and you will calm them slowly at first, with difficulty. They will remain long, they will come back, they will trouble you, vex you, produce in you a great disgust, all that, but if you resist well and say: “No, I shall carry out nothing; whatever the cost, I shall not carry out anything; I will stay like a rock”, then little by little, little by little, that thins out, thins out and you begin to learn the second attitude: “Now I want my consciousness to be above those things. There will still be many battles but if my consciousness stands above that, little by little there will come a time when this will return no longer.” And then there is a time when you feel that you are absolutely free: you do not even perceive it, and then that is all. It may take a long time, it may come soon: that depends on the strength of character, on the sincerity of the aspiration. But even for people who have just a little sincerity, if they subject themselves to this process, they succeed. It takes time. They succeed in the first item: in not expressing. All forces upon earth tend towards expressing themselves. These forces come with the object of manifesting themselves and if you place a barrier and refuse expression, they may try to beat against the barrier for a time, but in the end, they will tire themselves out and not being manifested, they will withdraw and leave you quiet. 
The right order is to work from outside-in
The Mother said that the most effective way to achieve self-control is to work from outside-in.
“…you must never say: “I shall first purify my thought, purify my body, purify my vital and then later I shall purify my action.” That is the normal order, but it never succeeds. The effective order is to begin from the outside: “The very first thing is that I do not do it, and afterwards, I desire it no longer and next I close my doors completely to all impulses: they no longer exist for me, I am now outside all that.” This is the true order, the order that is effective. First, not to do it. And then you will no longer desire and after that it will go out of your consciousness completely.” 
Lets take the example of the currently widespread addiction to Internet browsing which hinders any type of deeper contemplation. The screen images inundate the brain, draining its energy and sinking the mind into a stupor which hinders any other innovative train of thought. If one had to combat this addiction problem using the outside-in process, one could conceivably work in the following stages:
- In the first stage, one could reconfigure the environment to keep the computer as far away as possible. Introduce some annoyance that disrupts the cycle of desire satisfaction and forces one to take cognizance of the turbulence within one’s consciousness.
- In the next stage, one would observe (and gradually lengthen) the gap between the desire to access the computer and the actual instance of usage. It should be possible to sit in front of the computer and then walk away from it without using it. The ability to achieve such a stupendous degree of control can be regarded as the hallmark of a successful modern-day Yogi! One should even be able to control the time one uses the computer. (” I am getting off… enough is enough“)
- In more advanced stages, the granularity of self-control has to increase. One should be able to watch one’s mind as one makes decisions at the computer. Why am I clicking on this link? Why am I visiting this webpage? Is it because I like to read gossip on the lives of celebrities? Is it because I am so bored that I’d rather sit at the computer than do something productive?
This article was adapted from the Question of the Month, May 2000 appearing in the NextFuture magazine published by the Sri Aurobindo Society. For the archives of the Question of the Month section, click here.
- Collected Works of the Mother, Vol 5, Question and Answers, 5 Aug 1963.