Freedom from mental constructions

There is a rattling cage of thought formations which perpetually surround our brain. It’s a chaotic mixture of golden rules, calcified beliefs and fervid anxieties which we have aggregated based on our life experience. We reinforce them every day by repeatedly applying them and talking about them with others. This cluster of thoughts is what the Mother referred to as a “mental construction“.

When the Mother first visited Sri Aurobindo in 1914, she too had crystallised a “mental construction” of what spiritual life ought to be. One day, as she sat near Sri Aurobindo, she suddenly found that her mind had fallen completely silent. With a flourish of his hand, he had tranquilized her thought process and totally demolished all the sublime philosophies and wisdom teachings that she had assiduously absorbed over the years (Agenda Sept 20, 1960;)

I was seated at his feet, very small, with the table just in front of me—it came to my forehead, which gave me a little protection … I didn’t say anything, I didn’t think anything, try anything, want anything—I merely sat near him. When I stood up half an hour later, he had put silence in my head, that’s all, without my even having asked him—perhaps even without his trying.

Oh, I had tried—for years I had tried to catch silence in my head … I never succeeded. I could detach myself from it, but it would keep on turning … But at that moment, all the mental constructions, all the mental, speculative structures … none of it remained—a big hole.

And such a peaceful, such a luminous hole!

[…] Later on, I heard Sri Aurobindo saying that there were two people here to whom he had done this and as soon as there was silence, they panicked: ‘My God, I’ve gone stupid!!’ And they threw it all overboard by starting to think again.

(Mother’s Agenda, Sep 20, 1960)

The disorientation and exhilarating freedom that she experienced after attaining this mental stillness is captured in subsequent entries in her diary “Prayers and Meditations” seen below.

December 4, 1914 (Prayers and Meditations)

AFTER long days of silence, entirely occupied by outer work, it is at last given to me to resume these pages and continue with Thee, Lord, this conversation which is so sweet to me. . . .

But Thou hast broken all my habits, for Thou wouldst prepare me for liberation from every mental form. Certain mental forms, more particularly powerful or adapted to the temperament, are sure guides to supreme experiences. But once the experiences are over, Thou wouldst have them free in themselves from bondage to any mental form, however high or pure it may be, so as to be capable of expression in the new, most true form, that is, the one most suitable to the experience.

So Thou didst break all my forms of thought, and I found myself before Thee stripped of all mental constructions, as ignorant about this as a new-born child; and in the darkness of this void lay once again the sovereign peace of something which is not expressed in words but which IS. And I wait without impatience and without fear, for Thee to construct once again from the heart of the unfathomable depths the intellectual form which seems to Thee the most suitable for manifesting Thee in this instrument moulded out of surrender and ardent faith.

And before this immense night full of promise, I feel, more than I have ever felt before, free and vast, infinitely.
. . .
And in a supreme beatitude I offer Thee thanks, O Lord, for the marvellous favour Thou hast bestowed upon me: that of being before Thee like a new-born child.

December 10, 1914 (Prayers and Meditations)

LISTEN, O Lord . . . in the silence of deep meditation my prayer rises ardently to Thee.

Is it not a great folly to become identified with one form of thought, one mental construction, however vast and powerful it may be, to the point of making it the living centre of one’s being, one’s experience and activity?

Truth is eternally beyond all that we can think or say of it. To endeavour to find the most suitable expression, the one best adapted to this truth, is of course a useful task, even an indispensable one for the integrality of one’s own development and that of all humanity; but one must always feel free in front of this expression, have one’s centre of consciousness above it, in the reality which, despite the grandeur, the beauty, the perfection of a mental formula, always eludes every formula. The world is not what we think it to be. The importance of the idea we have of it lies in its effect on our attitude towards action; and this attitude may come from a much deeper, truer, more unchanging inspiration than that resulting from a mental construction, however powerful it may be. To feel in oneself the will to express for men the eternal Truth in a completer, higher, more exact form than all those which have preceded it, is good; but on condition that one does not identify one’s self with this work to the point of being its slave and losing before it all independence and self-control.

O Lord, my prayer is not formulated, but Thou hearest it.

It is just an activity and nothing more, whatever may be its importance from the earthly point of view; but it must not be forgotten that it is relative like all activities and that we should not allow it to disturb our deep peace and that immutable calm which alone lets the divine forces manifest through us without any deformation.

I found myself before Thee stripped of all mental constructions, as ignorant about this as a new-born child

Mother, Prayers and Meditations, Dec 4,1914

Jan 2 1915 (Prayers and Meditations)

EVERY idea, however powerful and profound it may be, repeated too often, expressed too constantly, becomes stale, insipid, worthless. . . . The highest concepts thus lose their freshness after a time and the intelligence which delighted in transcendental speculations suddenly feels an imperious need to abandon all reasonings and all its philosophy and contemplate life with the marvelling gaze of a child, so as no longer to remember anything of its past knowledge, were it even a sovereignly divine one. . . .

It is true to say that the divisions of time are purely arbitrary, that the date assigned to the renewal of the year varies according to the latitude, the climate, the customs, and that it is purely conventional. This is the mental attitude which smiles at the childishness of men and wants to let itself be guided by profounder truths. And then suddenly the mind itself feels its powerlessness to translate these truths precisely, and, renouncing all wisdom of this kind, it lets the song of the aspiring heart arise, the heart for which every circumstance is an opportunity for a deeper, vaster and more intense aspiration. . . . The year of the West renews itself: why not profit by it to will with renewed ardour that this symbol should become a reality and the deplorable things of the past give place to things which must exist in all glory?

Always we believe that we can define Thee, can shut Thee up in our mental formulas; but however vast, complex synthetic they may be, Thou wilt remain always the Inexpressible even for him who knows and lives Thee. . . .

For one can live Thee though one is unable to express Thee, can be Thy infinity and realise it though unable to define or explain Thee; always Thou wilt remain the eternal mystery, worthy of all our wonder; not only in Thy unthinkable and even unknowable Transcendence but in Thy universal manifestation, in all that we integrally are. And always forms of thought are succeeded by new forms, ever purer, higher and more comprehensive, but never will one of them be considered sufficient to give so much as an idea of what Thou art. And each new fact will be a new problem, more marvellous and mysterious than all that preceded it. Yet, faced with its own ignorance and incapacity, the mental being remains luminous, smiling and calm, even as though it possessed the supreme knowledge that of its being Thou, innumerably, invariably, infinitely, very simply Thou.

See Also

  1. Early mystic experiences of Sri Aurobindo
  2. Sri Ramakrishna’s occult contact with Sri Aurobindo
  3. An autobiographical short story by the Mother Mirra Alfassa
  4. The first meeting of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother Mirra Alfassa
  5. Subhas Chandra Bose on Sri Aurobindo
  6. Anandamayi Ma as the Guru
  7. The Mother Mirra Alfassa as a Guru
  8. How an Egyptian discovered Sri Aurobindo
  9. Silviu Craciunas has a dream of Sri Aurobindo
  10. Xu Fancheng (徐梵澄) : a Chinese disciple of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother
  11. Emma Calvé’s interaction with Swami Vivekananda
  12. Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood
  13. Reminiscences of the Mother’s physician, Dr. Bisht
  14. The laissez-faire approach of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother

3 thoughts on “Freedom from mental constructions

  1. Be Scott

    Bless your heart, Sandeep. You would be astonished by the level to which this blogpost spoke to me this morning. As an American spinning round and round in what feels like a sea of lies, I have been reaffirming — to myself and everyone who will listen — the value of truth. But is my belief system — the one that I keep affirming over and over, that people must base their philosophy on something provable, not just conjecture — just my own mental construct? It was at this place that I ended my writing today, and now I read this.

      1. Be Scott

        That’s exactly what it is. This morning, in “Lights on Yoga,” I read this:
        “If there is a refusal of the psychic new birth, a refusal to become the child new born from the Mother, owing to attachment to intellectual knowledge or mental ideas or to some vital desire, then there will be failure in the Sadhana.”

        Is my adherence to what I perceive as the truth (aka not a conspiracy theory but the truth of the best that this country tries to stand for), is that an attachment to intellectual knowledge or mental ideas?

        That’s a rhetorical question.

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