It is a typical belief that through the use of logic, argument or some kind of pressure that is exerted, through perhaps an enforced dogma or belief system, that opinions and beliefs can be changed. It is true that the power of an idea may capture an individual’s focus and support. It is also true that adherence to that idea may last a lifetime. The question remains open, as to whether a comprehensive change in the way of seeing and acting, penetrating through all levels of the being, is even possible through these methods.

The deeper movements in our human nature are very much influenced by and patterned after the environment in which we live. This depends in many cases on the influence during the early growth stages of childhood. Modifications take place as we grow and enter into a sustained environment through our teenage and young adult years.

We know from study of dysfunctional families that habits in the ways of dealing with situations tend to perpetuate from one generation to the next. They say that a child who has been abused will tend to be an abuser in their own right as they grow. More generally, there is the entire atmosphere by which the child is surrounded and which sets the ‘tone’ for whether the child learns how to reflect, develop empathy and a caring attitude, or is closed off and emotionally distant, intellectually disengaged, or vitally reactive with potentially destructive interactions with others. Some families create an environment of argument and shouting, while others rely on quiet counseling and mutual consideration to sort out issues or disagreements. These patterns carry forward into the way people deal with situations throughout their lives in most cases.

Scientists point out to us the power that water has to reshape the physical landscape over long periods of time. Yet we do not frequently appreciate that the influence of an atmosphere in a particular location, a particular family or group, or culture, has a similar shaping effect on the individuals who are immersed in that situation.

The Mother points out the power of such subtle influence in shaping and preparing the individual for growth and spiritual development. The individual breathes in the atmosphere and energetic force of the community. This tends to work quietly in the background, preparing the ground, shaping the individual’s mind, emotions and vital reactions, and guiding and directing his efforts over time. When everything is prepared internally, the result then becomes visible on the outside. This experience is very much in evidence at places of spiritual sadhana, such as at Sri Aurobindo Ashram, about which the Mother speaks.

The Mother writes: “I believe more in the power of the atmosphere and of example than of a rigorous teaching. I count more on something awakening in the being through contagion rather than by a methodical, disciplined effort. … Perhaps, after all, something is being prepared and one day it will spring up to the surface. … That is what I hope for.”

“One day you will tell yourself, ‘Just think! I have been here so long, I could have learnt so much, realised so much and I never even thought of it!’ And then, on that day… well, on that day, just imagine, you are going to wake up all of a sudden to something you never noticed but which is deep within you and thirsts for the truth, thirsts for transformation and is ready to make the effort required to realise it. On that day you will go very fast, you will advance with giant strides…. Perhaps you will suddenly feel an irresistible need not to live in unconsciousness, in ignorance, in that state in which you do things without knowing why, feel things without understanding why, have contradictory wills, understand nothing about anything, live only by habit, routine, reactions — you take life easy. And one day you are no longer satisfied with that.”

“It depends, for each one it is different. Most often it is the need to know, to understand; for some it is the need to do what must be done as it should be done; for others it is a vague feeling that behind this life, so unconscious, so futile, so empty of meaning, there is something to find which is worth being lived — that there is a reality, a truth behind these falsehoods and illusions.”

“The starting-point: to want it, truly want it, to need it. The next step: to think, above all, of that. A day comes, very quickly, when one is unable to think of anything else. … That is the one thing which counts. … And then… well, one will see what happens. … Something will happen. Surely something will happen. For each one it will take a different form.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter II Awakening of Consciousness, pp. 22-23

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.