Most people live a life without inward reflectoin, reacting to circumstances, conditioned by habits developed through millennia, trained responses and built up expectations. Their lives are fixated on whatever is presented to them at the moment, and they lose any sense of self-awareness in this reactive state. The organising principle is the ego-personality and its relations to the world, its perceived needs, its past line of development and its future expectations. For many, this is a state of sleepwalking through life, a state of absorption in the outer life.

As we begin to develop awareness, and self-awareness, we can recognise the shallowness and poverty of a life of reactiveness of this sort, and begin to recognise that much of this reaction is based on past habits or experiences or on a future of daydreams, ‘what if’ scenarios. To break down these fixed patterns, we are asked to live in the ‘now’, to treat everything as a fresh experience that we can perceive and respond to without the accretion built up of the past, and without overlaying the expectations of the future. This remains fixated on the outer being, but it is the first stage of an inward journey.

Another stage eventuates with the understanding that even trying to live in the ‘now’, we tend to allow many things to occur unobserved and simply to take place automatically. We are rushing through experiences making the ‘goal’ rather than the ‘journey’ the focus. This leads to the concept of practicing ‘mindfulness’ and thereby begin to pay attention to each action, each reaction, each response, and what it raises up. This is a stage of mental development that remains focused on the outer experience and life.

The next stage comes with a realisation that we cannot truly understand the significance or meaning of our lives until we recognise that the body-life-mind upon which we have fixed so much attention is not our true self, that there is an inner and deeper self that takes on a specific form of being and life for purposes of growth and to carry out the universal manifestation. As we begin to identify with this inner self, we experience a separation of our awareness such that we can seat ourselves within and become the observer of the outer action, while concurrently fully engaging the outer being in its role and activity. This is a process of detachment from the outer being.

Along the way, we may try to use our mental awareness as a form of detachment, but this gets in the way of our ability to focus and accomplish the actions of life, whether in the field of physical activity, vital or emotional responsiveness or mental development. In these areas, an exclusive concentration that blocks out other forms of attention is, in many instances, required to carry out the needed tasks.

There is no necessary conflict between the witness consciousness based outside the body-life-mind complex and the needed exclusive concentration for the outer being, once the individual recognises the difference between the witness and the nature, Purusha and Prakriti.

Sri Aurobindo notes: Ordinarily, identification leads to ignorance rather than knowledge, for the consciousness is lost in what it becomes and is unable to envisage proper causes, concomitants and consequences. Thus you identify yourself with a movement of anger and your whole being becomes one angry vibration, blind and precipitate, oblivious of everything else. It is only when you stand back, remain detached in the midst of the passionate turmoil that you are able to see the process with a knowing eye.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Detachment and Rejection, pp. 22-27

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at and podcast at He is author of 16 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.