For the individual living on the surface of his being, interacting with the external world, responding to impulsions, pressures, forces and the objects of desire, his inner experience is essentially a reaction to these external pressures and an attempt to meet the desires that arise and somehow enjoy one’s life. When he succeeds in obtaining some object of desire, he experiences a short-lived sense of happiness or joy. When things do not work out as he hopes, he may go through experiences of anger, frustration, or depression. Everything revolves around how the external being perceives itself to be succeeding in the outer life and the goals he has set before himself in that life. There is no real attempt to harmonize all actions and reactions, all thoughts and feelings, all drives and desires around any central unifying intention, generally. The individual simply accepts this amalgam as ‘who he is’ and accepts that this is the way things need to be.

To the extent that an individual fixates on some specific purpose that requires extensive concentration, such as mastering a sport at the world-class level, or examining some deep scientific or mathematical concept, or mastering the composition or performance of music, there may be a temporary seeming harmony that allows the focus to succeed, but we quickly see that once the immediate object of concentration has been achieved, the same confused and confusing assortment of desires, thoughts, emotions, etc. arise once again. We can see this in the life of certain great artists or composers, such as Beethoven, Mozart, van Gogh, who each had serious difficulties due to the vital nature and its ability to fulfill its desires, as well as subsequent issues with physical illnesses and mental instability in some cases.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “To the ordinary man who lives upon his own waking surface, ignorant of the self’s depths and vastnesses behind the veil, his psychological existence is fairly simple. A small but clamorous company of desires, some imperative intellectual and aesthetic cravings, some tastes, a few ruling or prominent ideas amid a great current of unconnected or ill-connected and mostly trivial thoughts, a number of more or less imperative vital needs, alternations of physical health and disease, a scattered and inconsequent succession of joys and griefs, frequent minor disturbances and vicissitudes and rare strong searchings and upheavals of mind or body, and through it all Nature, partly with the aid of his thought and will, partly without or in spite of it, arranging these things in some rough practical fashion, some tolerable disorderly order, — this is the material of his existence.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Our Many Selves: Practical Yogic Psychology, Introduction, Sri Aurobindo on Our Many Selves, Planes and Parts of the Being, pg. xviii

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 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.