“The technique of a world-changing yoga has to be as multiform, sinuous, patient, all-including as the world itself. If it does not deal with all the difficulties or possibilities and carefully deal with each necessary element, does it have any chance of success?
“You have a special aim, a special mission, a special realization which is your own and you carry in yourself all the obstacles needed for this realization to be perfect….you have a capacity but also you have the negation of that capacity. If you have a very thick and very deep shadow, be sure, somewhere in you, of a great light. It is up to you to know how to utilize the one to realize the other.”
-Mirra Alfassa, “the Mother”
“This hidden foe lodged in the human breast, man must overcome or miss his higher fate. This is the inner war without escape.”
When people ask me what type of meditation I practice, I usually just say: Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga. But giving a practical name to something that cannot be reduced to any method, while necessary and meaningful in some sense, does not do justice to the idea. I will often direct them to Sri Aurobindo’s work or Satprem’s book on him, which serves as a good introduction. But people are used to getting some method, some simple formula and are usually skeptical of weighty tomes (which Aurobindo was fond of writing). In response I usually want to say something like:
“Ok then: Sit. Don’t slouch. Don’t be stiff. Relax. And Concentrate. Other than that method is a racket. It should flow from your wisdom. Wisdom comes from reflection. Learn to think. Then you will learn to see”.
But of course, learning to think is the most difficult thing in the world, and, of course, what constitutes proper thinking is the very essence of difference and uncertainty. Too often “spiritual practice” is attractive to people as a way out of this dilemma, a way around the burden of thinking for one’s self, a promise of certainty and single-mindedness. And while this approach can lead one into a certain degree of health and coherence, it can also lead into a corner of narrow minded and deluded dead ends, which anyone can see litters the history of spiritual movements.
Integral Yoga differs from most spiritual practice in that it is a top-down approach that takes advantage of the cognitive development of the modern mind to properly discern, and with great discipline, surrender to the powers of an intelligence with a high degree of coherence and power, allowing them to reorganize the mind, body, vitality, and through them work on the world at large. While this top-down approach is found in the Western esoteric tradition, Western teachers, with the exception of Rudolf Steiner, tend not follow through with the possibilities of integration emphasized by Sri Aurobindo. While bottom-up methodological approaches can raise up our vitality to meet and provoke this descending power, without the philosophical context to guide its translation into our worldly vehicle, so many things can go wrong or prevent further progress. No philosophy is a guaranteed protection against error, but the superiority of an integral approach to practice, just as in theory, is the possibility of connecting all paths, seeing the value and limitations in each, and hopefully, with a broad view of the possibilities, walking a path that is all our own.
More than anything, this respect for individual difference is what characterizes any spiritual path fit for our times. While there are many important figures in modern spirituality, many are misleading. I list the most important in the recommended reading section but Rudolf Steiner and Sri Aurobindo are by the far the most comprehensive guides to practice. Steiner’s ideas however, have several qualities that can distract many people from the great value of his genius. So I will use Sri Aurobindo’s terminology, in which the first goal of transformation is the reorganizing of the personality around what he calls the “psychic being”. This is the seat of that which is truly unique in each individual—their eccentric spin on the Divine character, their particular accent of flavor of that ultimately singular taste of unity. This being must not only be experienced as that core of sweetness in our innermost heart of hearts, but allowed to become the center of gravity so to speak(in contemporary bio-field physics terms we would say this means center of spin). Only when we are grounded in this psychic center, pulsing in the depth of our hearts, can we begin the greater path of spiritual development without falling victim to the myriad traps for the wayward soul. Not that this or any attainment is absolute or unerring in its wisdom. It is only the first step, and its vision is limited. But when the meeting of the downward and upward spiraling energy finally meets in the heart, this is the crucial step in building a vehicle tuned to the proportions of an evolving harmony, a decisive break with our addiction to an entrenched structure of power. (for an extensive letter Aurobindo wrote on the dangers of what he calls here “the intermediate zone” click here: http://intyoga.online.fr/intzone.htm)
Yoga without theory is blind. Theory without yoga is impotent. Beneath all the mysticism, yoga is basically a practical psychology. This was Aurobindo’s helpful characterization—though in the West we tend to see yoga as an exercise, and for many people an exercise is a good place to start. I usually start by talking with people about diet and lifestyle choices. But the idea is always to progress to where each person becomes aware of his or her own inner creative coherence and is inspired to make of that spark, a fire that illuminates us all.