We generally live under an illusion of separateness from other beings and the rest of the world. We believe our individual personality, individual body, life, mind are independent from everyone and everything else. This fixed idea, however, is part of the confusion we experience that misleads us about the true nature of existence. In fact, everything is intimately connected. We breathe in oxygen in order to live, which is produced by the plant life of the planet. Similarly, the plant life breathes in carbon dioxide, which we produce. We are thus symbiotic, or even closer, part of one existence that cannot exist in isolation or separation from the other parts. We can recognise, if we observe closely, that our feelings, emotions, thoughts all come from our environment, whether from other people with whom we associate, or from general factors. The collective experience is understood to be contagious, such that a mob that has been whipped up will act out a sense of rage, and this can catch even individuals who are normally quite easy-going. Similarly, situations that provoke fear can infect individuals who themselves are not directly affected. We talk about sympathy, empathy, love, compassion, goodwill. All of these are expressions of relationship to others and express the sense that feels can be and are communicated back and forth.

The question then arises as to whether we experience these things only when they are consciously brought to our attention, or whether our senses respond to subtle energetic experiences. There is no doubt that we can pick up energies that are moving in our environment, and in many cases, we also recognise that we can pick up thoughts that are active in our environment. Thus, there is this subtle interchange constantly taking place where we share the vibrations of those around us and respond to them, just as they share in the vibrations we emanate.

For the practitioner of yoga, it is essential that he becomes aware of this interchange and the impact of it, as it is impossible to change his own responses and reactions purely based on the internal experience when all sorts of thoughts, ideas, emotions, feelings, perceptions are constantly entering from outside and provoking a response that is in many cases the result of long habit of human nature. Until such time as the sadhak has the power to actually effectuate change in the general nature, he needs to at least be conscious of and take steps to protect himself from the continued re-infection of these energies that pour into him at all times.

This is one of the reasons that spiritual aspirants have frequently been guided to avoid crowded circumstances and ordinary interchanges and to seclude themselves in caves or forests or deserts or high on a mountain somewhere. They are then able to focus on the immediate issues within themselves without as much stimulation from outside, with its corresponding energetic impacts, to distract, or even potentially disrupt, the inner process. Eventually however, these protective measures must give way to a wider effort that seeks to maintain the yogic poise even in the midst of all pressures from what we perceive as outside ourselves.

The Mother observes: “The whole purpose of the Yoga is to gather all the divergent parts together and forge them into an undivided unity. Till then you cannot hope to be without difficulties — difficulties, for example, like doubt or depression or hesitation. The whole world is full of the poison. You take it in with every breath. If you exchange a few words with an undesirable man or even if such a man merely passes by you, you may catch the contagion from him. It is sufficient for you to come near a place where there is plague in order to be infected with its poison; you need not know at all that it is there. You can lose in a few minutes what it has taken you months to gain. So long as you belong to humanity and so long as you lead the ordinary life, it does not matter much if you mix with the people of the world; but if you want the divine life, you will have to be exceedingly careful about your company and your environment.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter VI Growth of Consciousness, Difficulties and Pitfalls, pg. 119

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.