Human beings generally have little patience or endurance. Particularly in today’s world, where we expect “immediate” gratification, we want something to get done quickly, easily and permanently. If we work on a particular issue we notice in our being, we want to see results and not have to continually revisit the same issue time and again. While we hold such expectations, they do not work out in actual fact, and this leads to frustrated expectations, and eventually recoils into despair, hopelessness and depression. If we look at this process through the lens of the 3 Gunas, or qualities of Nature, we find that our initial push is driven by the quality of Rajas and when it gets denied or limited, we tend to recoil into Tamas.

A sattwic approach would look at how things actually occur in our lives and in Nature in general, and tailor our expectations, our approach and our efforts to address the actual reality. In terms of changing an element of human nature, we will inevitably find that this process is not something ‘instant’ nor ‘permanent’. Rather, we work on an issue, bring it to a certain stage of understanding, control and mastery, and then turn our attention elsewhere as other issues or elements arise. What we have not recognised is that we have left the seed of the behavior or concern alive in the subconscient and once the circumstances once again favor it, it sprouts up again and we have to address it once again. There are many plants, for instance, that we treat as invasive weeds and we try to dig them out of the soil. Yet, if even a tiny portion of the root is broken off in the soil, it regrows the plant! If we have waited for the plant to go to seed, we now have to contend with both the potential of a piece of root and the spectre of seeds eventually sprouting if they land on fertile soil.

We may look at the example of people who try various weight-loss regimens. They lose weight initially, gain a certain amount of pride in their accomplishment, and then slowly but surely, the attention lapses, old dietary habits reoccur, exercise routines fall by the wayside, and the weight they lost then returns.

If we add to this the fact that our entire Nature is not actually entirely separate from the rest of Nature, we then have to address those forces that we may have pushed out of our immediate environs, but which continue to take place outside us and pressure for return. We see this in the case of serious drug addiction. A person goes through a program and gives up the drug (whether alcohol, nicotine or other drugs) while in the program, but if he takes up association with his friends who maintain those addictions within themselves, he may soon revert to the old behavior pattern.

These issues get compounded when we associate them with our own sense of “weakness” rather than recognising them for universal forces at work on a far larger scale. As soon as we identify with them, we tend to denigrate ourselves and blame ourselves for the weakness, and this simply complicates and compounds the issue. A clear-sighted understanding will provide us the needed distance to encourage patient, persistent and fruitful efforts to systematically shift the conscious attention and focus of the being toward the higher forces and away from these atavistic expressions of past (and present) human nature.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “It is quite normal for difficulties to come back… and it is not a proof that no progress has been made. The recurrence (after one has thought one has conquered) is not unaccountable. I have explained in my writings what happens. When a habitual movement long embedded in the nature is cast out, it takes refuge in some less enlightened part of the nature, and when cast out of the rest of the nature, it takes refuge in the subconscient and from there surges up when you least expect it or comes up in dreams or sudden inconscient movements or it goes out and remains in wait in the environmental being through which the universal Nature works and attacks from there as a force form outside trying to recover its kingdom by a suggestion or repetition of old movements. One has to stand fast till the power of return fades away. These returns or attacks must be regarded not as parts of oneself, but as invasions — and rejected without allowing any depression or discouragement. If the mind does not sanction them, if the vital refuses to welcome them, if the physical remains steady and refuses to welcome them, if the physical remains steady and refuses to obey the physical urge, then the recurrence of the thought, the vital impulse, the physical feeling will begin to lose its last holds and finally they will be too feeble to cause any trouble.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Our Many Selves: Practical Yogic Psychology, Chapter 2, Planes and Parts of the Being, pg. 57

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.