Someone wrote to me regarding his experience of worsening health due to the practice of Integral Yoga. He had read Satprem’s “Adventures of Consciousness” about 15 years ago and started practicing immediately. In the beginning, it was slow walking meditation where he would attempt to suspend his thought process while keeping attention on surrounding objects. Later, he imagined himself becoming one with his surroundings and offering it to the Divine.
Another method he tried in recent years was to focus on imaginary descending Force at the top of the head through the Sahasrara Chakra (to invoke the Descent of Shakti). He would experience a thick invisible substance coming down through his head into upper body, sort of like a heavy wave that relaxed and expanded local tissues in the head and upper body. When he focused on this wave, it would slow down or shut down the thoughts so he would stay in it for a few minutes.
He had a few uplifting experiences early on. Once he felt strange strong vibrations for a few seconds around the backbone while awakening from a nap. Another time, he felt some sort of very light “electrical” vibrations around the head, as if a thousand tiny electrical butterflies were flying in a circle, flying in and out such that these vibrations were felt inside and outside of the head. When he went into a dark area, he could even see some very light blinks near the head. This sensation disappeared after a few days. He also began experiencing the phenomenon known as “déjà vu”, where you feel as if the scene that you are participating in right now has occurred before.
Unfortunately, in the last few years, his condition has deteriorated. He has been experiencing a worsening of memory, mental cloudiness, physical and mental fatigue. If he takes a nap, he feels refreshed but the thinking power does not recover. He feels he is not in the present moment, because the mind is partially busy with something he is not aware of. He also has a reduced sense of personality; he has no opinion and doesn’t care about many things which may be relatively important. He feels body tension which starts from under chest and goes to the throat.
According to him, there is a remark in Satprem’s “Adventures of Consciousness” which accurately captures his condition: “We become extremely sensitive, with an impression of bumping into everything, into gray or aggressive people, heavy objects, brutal events”.
After some back-and-forth, we tentatively agreed that his difficulties may be related to the excessive mental effort outlined in the following remarks made by the Mother:
Disciple: “In the inner life, why are there periods when one can no longer make a conscious effort, and if one enforces it, parts of the nature revolt or else everything in the being seems to become petrified; effort becomes the mechanical repetition of past movements. What should be done at such times?”
Mother: This has been very well observed. What is not mentioned here is the nature of the effort, for it is a certain kind of effort which leads to the result described here, which is either a revolt or a sort of—yes, petrifaction, truly, something that becomes absolutely insensible and no longer responds at all to this effort. This happens when the effort is almost exclusively mental and quite arbitrary, in the sense that it does not at all take into account the state of the rest of the being; it has its own idea, its own will, and without any consideration for the rest of the being, it imposes this will on the being as a whole. This is what usually brings about the revolt or the petrifaction. And the only thing to do is to make the mind quiet. And this is the time to make a movement of self-giving, full of peace, quietude, confidence. If one makes this movement of selfgiving, of complete surrender to the divine Will, all the tension arising from the effort, an effort which could be called premature or unconsidered—all the tension arising from this effort gives way. There is a relaxation in the being. And the progress one could not make by this purely mental effort usually comes about almost automatically, by the very fact that one has relaxed in confidence and self-giving to the divine Will.
Disciple: “At other times, one has the impression of making no effort, but of feeling only the presence of a consciousness due to which in many circumstances of daily life a means of progress is found. One wonders then what effort is and what its value? What we call effort—isn’t it too mental a movement?”
Mother: That is exactly what I have just explained, which shows that the observation is quite correct.
It is an arbitrary decision of the mind, and being arbitrary and not in conformity with the truth of things, it naturally brings about these wrong reactions. This does not imply that no effort must ever be made but the effort also must be spontaneous. So too I told you once that for meditation to be effective, it must be a spontaneous meditation which takes hold of you rather than one you make an effort to have; well, effort, that kind of tension of the will in the being, must also be something spontaneous, and not the result of a more or less inopportune mental decision .
He wondered if living together with his spouse and kid, who live a conventional life and have no spiritual inclination whatsoever, might be adversely affecting his consciousness. That is possible; an atmosphere permeated with chronic boredom, indulgence in frivolous pleasures and slovenliness is not conducive to any effort to raise one’s consciousness. The depletion of vital energy and the buildup of subconscious blockages due to aging can also take a toll on yogic practice.
This vignette illustrates the peril of having deeper Kundalini experiences in the absence of a Guru, who guides you in person or through your dreams. Authentic Gurus like Sri Aurobindo, the Mother, Anandamayi Ma, Ramana Maharshi, Ramakrishna Paramahansa are endowed with the occult vision that can discern and eliminate the energy blockages in a person’s subtle body. In the absence of such vision and power, it is nearly impossible to determine if one’s yogic practice is heading in the wrong direction until it is too late.
One sometimes comes across Westerners, mostly men, who entertain the erroneous idea that they can just do Yoga on their own without any guidance from a Guru. They have been raised to be highly individualistic since birth and bring the same go-it-alone attitude to the yogic path (The Mother had commented on this phenomenon as well). For them, the Guru is a surviving artifact of the archaic and subservient Hindu or Tibetan tradition who can be discarded while adapting Yoga to their progressive, egalitarian, freedom-loving Western civilization of the 21st century. If you search google for “age of gurus is over”, you will find quite a few people who claim that Gurus are outdated.
So can one actually practice Yoga without a Guru? It depends on the individual and the goal which one seeks to attain. There are precocious individuals like Ramana Maharshi who don’t need a Guru because they come predestined to attain Self-realization due to some innate power acquired during past births. In case of other people, it is certainly possible that the initial stages of Yoga wherein one develops devotion to the Divine and learns to silence the mind for several minutes every day can be attempted on one’s own, but one has to be extremely cautious in the later stages when the Kundalini begins to circulate within the body. Forcibly awakening the Kundalini through the strenous concentration on the Chakras and without any purification of consciousness is unquestionably dangerous.
More specifically, can one practice Integral Yoga without Sri Aurobindo or the Mother? Sri Aurobindo once wrote to someone: “This yoga especially, as I have written in my books, needs the help of the Guru and cannot be done without it” . This might summarily exclude the possibility of practicing Integral Yoga in their physical absence, and yet there are people who continue to do so. They meditate on the psychic being in the heart and aspire for the initial psychic transformation. There are also people who claim that Sri Aurobindo and the Mother continue to exist behind the veil and are still guiding them. They feel their transformative presence at the Samadhi in Pondicherry, in the relics which reside in various places in the world, in the voice of the Mother and her organ music, and also in their written works.
We shall end on this tantalizing note. More on “Practicing Yoga without a Guru” in the next blog post ! (Update : See “Practising Yoga without a Guru“)
- Satprem. The Adventures of Consciousness, Chapter 4, The Silent Mind.
- The Mother. Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 8, pp 391-392.
- Sri Aurobindo. SABCL vol 23, Letters on Yoga, p 1051.
- Identifying the Signs of Spiritual Progress
- Receiving guidance from Masters of a bygone age
- Triple transformation
- The equipoise required for Yoga
- Developing one’s own spiritual atmosphere (Gita 3:17)
- Disrupting the routines of life
- The spiritual ego
- The phenomenon of double consciousness
- Why spiritual experiences do not repeat?
- Sharing spiritual experiences with others
- Various ways in which the Kundalini rises
- The subtle sounds which indicate progress in Yoga
- Explaining the Ascent-Descent in Integral Yoga
- Why does Yoga give you a “high”?
- The inversion of day and night (Gita 2:69) which occurs in Brahmic consciousness
- The Triple Cord which has to be sundered
- The Golden Lid or Hiranmaya Patra which has to be ruptured
- The Divine child suckled by the Vedic day and night
- States of self-realization defined in the Gita
- Dharana Shakti : the capacity to sustain spiritual experiences