We tend to believe that we are a single, consistent and harmonized individuality, personality, character. For the most part, we are not self-reflective enough to recognise the inconsistencies and inner conflicts that take place within the being, due to different drives, needs, desires, and thoughts pulling us in different directions. This view makes it difficult, if not impossible, to effectuate real change in the nature. To the extent that we recognise that there are multiple selves possible for an individual, we tend to relegate this to an extreme category of psychological imbalance which we call “multiple personality disorder”. In fact, every individual has a number of different selves that find among themselves a rough form of balance, with one in ascendent at one point in time, and another at another point in time.

For those individuals who wish to gain mastery over their nature, who are following spiritual pursuits, who are seeking to participate consciously in the evolution of consciousness, it soon becomes evident that a deeper understanding is required and the yogic process is transformed into ‘practical psychology’ as Sri Aurobindo has termed it. The exploration of the inner makeup, the divergent drives, thoughts, emotions, feelings, desires, perceptions and needs that create these separate selves within us, becomes an important and even essential part of the yogic practice.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “…we have within us and discover when we go deep enough inwards a mind-self, a life-self, a physical self; there is a being of mind, a mental Purusha, expressing something of itself on our surface in the thoughts, perceptions, activities of our mind-nature, a being of life which expresses something of itself in the impulses, feelings, sensations, desires, external life-activities of our vital nature, a physical being, a being of the body which expresses something of itself in the instincts, habits, formulated activities of our physical nature. These beings or part selves of the self in us are powers of the Spirit and therefore not limited by their temporary expression, for what is thus formulated is only a fragment of its possibilities; but the expression creates a temporary mental, vital or physical personality which grows and develops even as the psychic being or soul-personality grows and develops within us. Each has its own distinct nature, its influence, its action on the whole of us; but on our surface all these influences and all this action, as they come up, mingle and create an aggregate surface being which is a composite, an amalgam of them all, an outer persistent and yet shifting and mobile formation for the purpose of this life and its limited experience.”

The Mother adds: “If you have the philosophic mind, you will ask yourself: ‘What do I call ‘myself’? Is it my body? — it changes all the time, it is never the same thing. Is it my feelings? — they change so often. Is it my thoughts? — they are built and destroyed continuously. That is not myself. Where is the self? What is it that gives me this sense of continuity?’ … You continue to observe, you tell yourself: ‘It is my memory.’ But even if one loses one’s memory, one would be oneself. If one sincerely continues this profound search, there comes a moment when everything disappears and one single thing exists, that is the Divine, the divine Presence. … When one has made this discovery, one becomes aware that one was nothing but a bundle of habits. It is always that which does not know the Divine and is not conscious of the Divine which speaks. In everyone there are these hundreds and hundreds of ‘selves’ who speak and in hundreds of completely different ways — ‘selves’ unconscious, changing, fluid. The self which speaks today is not the same as yesterday’s; and if you look further, the self has disappeared. There is only one who remains. That is the Divine. It is the only one that may be seen always the same.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Our Many Selves: Practical Yogic Psychology, Introduction, pp. vii-viii

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at http://sriaurobindostudies.wordpress.com and podcast at https://anchor.fm/santosh-krinsky He is author of 17 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.