“The seeker began his journey with a positive experience. He set out on the way because he needed something else. He strove for mental silence and found that his very effort produced an Answer. He felt a descending Force, a new vibration within him, which made life clearer, more alive. Perhaps he even experienced a sudden tearing of the limits and emerged at another altitude. The signs might have come in a thousand ways to indicate that a new rhythm was setting in. But then, after this hopeful start, everything became veiled, as if he had been dreaming or had become carried away by some childish enthusiasm: something within him is now busy taking its revenge through a spell of skepticism, disgust, or revolt.
This will be the second sign, perhaps the true sign, that he is progressing and has come to grips with the realities of his nature or, rather, that the descending Force has begun its churning work. Ultimately, progress is not so much a matter of ascending as of clearing up the prevailing obstructions – for when we are clear, everything is right there. Thus the seeker begins to discover his many obstructions. On the path of [awakening], the feeling is often of finding the worst when we had wished for the best, of waging war when we had sought peace and light.
Actually, let us face it, it is a battle. As long as we are swimming with the [matrix] current, we can believe ourselves to be very nice, proper and well-intentioned individuals, but the instant we take another direction, everything begins to resist. We begin tangibly to appreciate the colossal forces that weigh upon human beings and stupefy them; yet it is only by trying to get out of their clutches that we can realize this. Once the seeker has had a first decisive opening above, once he has seen the Light, then almost simultaneously he feels a kick in the shins, as if something in him were in pain.
Now he knows what Sri Aurobindo meant by ‘the wounded gloom complaining against light.’ And he will have learned his first lesson: each step upward is necessarily followed by a step downward. Instead of taking these sharp jolts as a kind of fatality, the seeker will make them the basis of his work. Indeed, this dual movement of ascent and descent is the fundamental process of the integral yoga: ‘On each height we conquer we have to turn to bring down its power and its illumination into the lower mortal movement.’
Such is the price for transforming life, otherwise we merely poeticize and spiritualize on the peaks, while below the old life keeps bumping along. In practice, the downward movement is never created by an arbitrary mental decision; the less the mind interferes in this, the better. Besides, one wonders how the Mind could ever “descend,” comfortably seated, as it is, behind its little desk. It is the awakened and individualized consciousness-force in us that does all the work, automatically. The moment we have attained a certain intensity of consciousness and light, it automatically exerts a pressure on the rest of our nature, which results in corresponding reactions of obscurity or resistance. It is as if an overdose of oxygen were abruptly pumped into the ocean’s underworld: the deep-sea creatures would struggle frantically, or even explode.
This reversal of consciousness is strange indeed, as if going from a well-lighted room to the same room filled with darkness, or from a joyous room to the same room riddled with pain: everything is the same, and yet everything is changed. As if it were the same force, the same vibratory intensity – perhaps even the same vibration – but with a minus sign in front of it instead of a plus sign. One can then observe, almost step by step, how love changes into hate, for example, or how the pure becomes impure; everything is the same, only reversed. Yet, as long as our psychological states are merely the reverse of one another, and our good the back side (perhaps we should say the front side?) of evil, life will never change.
Something radically different is needed – another type of consciousness. All the poets and creative geniuses have known these swings of consciousness. Even as he experienced his Illuminations, Rimbaud visited strange realms that struck him with “terror”; he, too, went through the law of dark inversion. But instead of being unconsciously tossed from one extreme to another, of ascending without knowing how and descending against his will, the integral seeker works methodically, consciously, without ever losing his balance, and, above all, with a growing confidence in the Consciousness-Force, which NEVER initiates more resistance than he can meet, and never unveils more light than he can bear.
After living long enough from one crisis to the next, we will ultimately discern a pattern in the action of the Force, and will notice that each time we seem to leave the ascending curve or even lose something we had achieved, we ultimately retrieve the same realization, but on a higher, more expanded level, made richer by the part that our “fall” has added; had we not “fallen,” this lower part would never have become integrated into our higher ones.
[The process of Awakening] does not follow a straight line rising higher and higher out of sight, toward a smaller and smaller point, but, according to Sri Aurobindo, a “spiral” that slowly and methodically annexes all the parts of our being in an ever vaster opening based upon an ever deeper foundation. Not only will we observe a pattern behind this Force, or rather this Consciousness- Force, but also regular cycles and a rhythm as certain as that of the tides and the moons.
The more we progress, the wider the cycles, and the closer their relationship with the cosmic movement itself – until the day when we can perceive in our own descents the periodical descents of consciousness on earth, and in our own difficulties all the turmoil, resistance and revolt of the earth.
Eventually, everything will become so intimately interconnected that we will be able to read in the tiniest things, the most insignificant events of daily life or the objects nearby, the signs of vaster depressions that will sweep over all men and compel their ascent or descent within the same evolutionary wave. Then we will understand that we are unfailingly being guided toward a Goal, that everything has a meaning, even the slightest thing – nothing moves without moving everything – and that we are on our way to a far greater adventure than we had ever imagined.
Soon, a second paradox will strike us, which is perhaps the very same one. Not only is there a law of ascent and descent, but there is also, it seems, a kind of central contradiction. We all have a goal in this life and through all our lives, something unique to express, since every human being is unique; this is our central truth, our own special evolutionary struggle. This goal appears only gradually, after numerous experiences and successive awakenings, as we begin to be a person with an inner development; we then realize that a kind of thread runs through our life, as well as through all our lives (if we have become conscious of them), indicating a particular orientation, as if everything always propelled us in the same direction – a direction that becomes increasingly poignant and precise as we advance.
Yet as we become conscious of this goal, we also uncover a particular difficulty that seems to represent the very opposite or contradiction of our goal. It is a strange situation, as if we carried within us the exact shadow of our light – a shadow or difficulty or problem that confronts us again and again with a baffling insistence, always the same beneath different masks and in the most diverse circumstances, returning with increasing strength after every battle won and in exact proportion to our new intensity of consciousness – as if we had to fight the same battle over and over again on each newly conquered plane of consciousness. The clearer the goal becomes, the stronger the shadow. Now we have met the Foe: ‘This hidden foe lodged in the human breast. Man must overcome or miss his higher fate. This is the inner war without escape.’ (Sri Aurobindo) ”
– from “Sri Aurobindo or the Adventure of Consciousness” by Satprem