The Indian tradition relates a story of the divine singer, Narad, which emphasizes the power of a positive mind-set in the spiritual quest. He came across a yogi undertaking strenuous discipline, tapasya, This yogi inquired how much longer he would need to achieve enlightenment. Narad replied “4 more lifetimes”. The yogi became despondent and complained that after so much effort, still 4 more lifetimes would be required. Narad continued on his journeys and came across a seeker who was singing and dancing in ecstatic dance. He also inquired of Narad who replied that his enlightenment would require as many lifetimes as there were leaves on the tree that stood nearby. The seeker exclaimed how wonderful it was that he would achieve enlightenment eventually! He was granted immediately liberation!

We frequently discuss the idea of “the glass half full” versus “the glass half empty” to describe the way people approach their situation in life. Optimists see the glass as half full; pessimists as half empty. And of course there are those who see the glass as “refillable”. The attitude one takes is important due to the focus and attention one pays to the circumstances and the difficulties. The more attention we give to a difficulty, the more we attract it to ourselves and condition ourselves to accept the adversity. While ignoring a difficulty will not dispense with its occurrence, by not giving it undue attention the seeker can minimize its intensity and longevity in his life and efforts.

It is said that in the spiritual quest, the greatest challenges are brought to those who have the greatest potential and capacity to overcome. This may include both adversities and temptations. Buddha gained his enlightenment by overcoming temptation. Jesus faced temptation and the offer of world dominion and overcame them through his devotion and purity of intention. When difficulties arise, the seeker has the opportunity to redouble his devotion, redouble his sincerity, redouble his aspiration, and thereby focus and tune his consciousness toward the higher force rather than the obstructions that otherwise try to distract him and demand his attention.

The Mother writes: “… for each one it is the best and most favourable conditions which are given. We were saying the other day that it is only his friends whom God treats with severity; you thought it was a joke, but it is true. It is only to those who are full of hope, who will pass through this purifying flame, that the conditions for attaining the maximum result are given. And the human mind is made in such a way that you may test this; when something extremely unpleasant happens to you, you may tell yourself, ‘Well, this proves I am worth the trouble of being given this difficulty, this proves there is something in me which can resist the difficulty’, and you will notice that instead of tormenting yourself, you rejoice — you will be so happy and so strong that even the most unpleasant things will seem to you quite charming! This is a very easy experiment to make. Whatever the circumstance, if your mind is accustomed to look at it as something favourable it will no longer be unpleasant for you. This is quite well known; as long as the mind refuses to accept a thing, struggles against it, tries to obstruct it, there are torments, difficulties, storms, inner struggles and all suffering. But the minute the mind says, ‘Good, this is what has to come, it is thus that it must happen’, whatever happens, you re content. There are people who have acquired such control of their mind over their body that they feel nothing; I told you this the other day about certain mystics: if they think the suffering inflicted upon them is going to help them cross the stages in a moment and give them a sort of stepping-stone to attain the Realisation, the goal they have put before them, union with the Divine, they no longer feel the suffering at all. Their body is as it were galvanised by the mental conception. This has happened very often, it is a very common experience among those who truly have enthusiasm.

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Exercises for Growth and Mastery, Mastery Through Attitude, pp. 143-144

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.