As long as we live within a certain frame of understanding, we cannot truly understand who or what we are, or why we do what we do, as we are bound by the limitations of that frame. Thus, as we are born in a particular culture, or a particular society, or a particular religious persuasion, or social setting, we tend to take on the habits, predilections, customs, and traits that pertain within that frame.

When an individual, for some reason, travels to a distant land and winds up in a different culture, with different worldview and different language for instance, he may either try to shut out the variances by falling back on his tried and true ways of responding, or, if he is open and receptive, he gains some ability to step outside of his comfort zone of the familiar frame, and begins to see things from a new, wider perspective. This same process operates at the next wider level of humanity as well. Overarching the differences brought about by specific social settings, there are things common to our humanity that we all do essentially without reflection or consideration. By finding a way to step outside the frame of the human experience, we can begin to reflect on the habitual patterns that govern our human process and thereby consciously work to adjust, modify, change or eliminate those things which are no longer relevant to the next phase of our development and growth.

The Mother writes: “And only when these external forms come into a mutual friction you begin to feel that you are different from others. Otherwise you are this person or that, according to the name you bear. It is only when there is a friction, when something does not go smoothly, that you become aware of a difference, then you see that you are different, otherwise you are not aware of it and you are not different. In fact, you are very, very little different from one another.”

“How many things in your life are done at least essentially in the same way as others. For instance, sleeping, moving and eating, and all sorts of things like that. Never have you asked yourselves why you do a thing in one way and not another. You wouldn’t be able to say. If I asked you, ‘Why do you act in this way and not that?’ you wouldn’t know what to say. But it is quite simply because you were born in certain conditions and it is the habit to be like that in these conditions. Otherwise, if you had been born in another age and other conditions, you would act altogether differently without even realising the difference, it would appear absolutely natural to you…. For instance — a very, very small instance — in most Western countries and even in some Eastern ones, people sew like this, from right to left; in Japan they sew from left to right. Well, it seems quite natural to you to sew from right to left, doesn’t it? That is how you have been taught and you don’t think about it, you sew in that way. If you go to Japan and they see you sewing, it makes them laugh, for they are in the habit of sewing differently. It is the same thing with writing. You write like this, from left to right, but there are people who write from top to bottom, and others who write from right to left, and they do it most naturally. I am not speaking of those who have studied, reflected, compared ways of writing. I am not speaking of more or less learned people, no, I am speaking of quite ordinary people, and above all of children who do what is done around them, quite spontaneously and without questioning. But then, when by chance or circumstance they are faced with a different way, it is a tremendous revelation for them that things can be done in a different way from theirs.”

“And these are quite simple things, I mean the ones which strike you, but this is true down to the smallest detail. You do things in this way because in the place and environment in which you live they are done in this way. And you do not watch yourself doing them.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Our Many Selves: Practical Yogic Psychology, Chapter 6, Some Answers and Explanations, pp. 156-158

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 19 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.