Facing mental challenges on the spiritual path: reaching equanimity

“Everything pushed to its extreme is transformed into its opposite,” says a Chinese proverb.

The teachings of Sri Aurobindo and Mother give us knowledge and tools to address mental challenges on the spiritual path in an innovative manner.

One of the important challenges on the spiritual path is the difficulty to assess our daily progress. We forget that the consciousness self-appropriates in real time all new information as if it had always been part of its system, and it is therefore sometimes difficult to distinguish what has just appeared from what has been acquired for a long time. Daily illuminations are expected, whereas progress is tenuous and fragile. On the other hand, our progress concerns first the psychic being, so that then changes in our personality may appear.

Another challenge is the persistence of old behaviours. Sometimes we feel like we are stagnating, especially when attitudes that we thought had disappeared since long, reappear. In fact, nothing totally disappears from our system. The uniqueness of our experience means that each of us keeps a conscious or unconscious memory of everything that has happened, of all that we have done and of all that we could have done. A cloud of information constantly surrounds us, like a tank of memories and possibilities.

These old behaviours also represent those antagonistic forces that battle in us, which share our energy and our subtle bodies, and which are perhaps more to be considered as autonomous electromagnetic forces, endowed with a certain power. These thought-forms that we have enlivened during all these years, or that come from older memories, hypnotize us in return. Whenever we fall into a bad habit, a pattern of our personality, we feed electromagnetic fluid, pure vital substance to these constructions that took shape little by little, and who are today real demons who threaten us at every moment.

If we stop feeding them, they will gradually break up, but without ever disappearing completely, as they are part of our system. They are a part of us. When a break of vigilance appears, a surprise, a painful event, a shocking experience, a great stress, our psychic armour may crack. A temporary weakness settles in, which will lead us to lower our defences, while the disappearance of the filters that usually kept away the triggers of our old ‘bad’ habits, will provoke the resurgence of old automatisms, perhaps forgotten, for us to react the exact same way as years back.

These two challenges, the difficult evaluation of our progress and the persistence of old automatisms, make logically appear a third one, the instability of our moods, the difficulty of installing a fair equanimity in our daily lives. This results in a considerable amplitude of the fluctuations of our mental, emotional or even physical states, making us pass from exaltation, from a feeling of total power and irresistibility, to an impression of stagnation, a disappointment, to ‘still and always react in the same way’. These amplitude differences for the mind are like sudden changes in temperature for the physical body. Changing several times a day from cool air conditioning to heat, puts our body through huge discomfort. We sometimes tell ourselves that it was better to stay in a certain state rather than being constantly shifted from one to the other. We also think that, maybe, our previous comfort, when we were still in ignorance and we had not yet started on this spiritual path, was much more comfortable.

Finding the balance We should understand how much suffering procures us the sensation of being alive, because it gives us an object with which to moan and to struggle against. On the other hand, equanimity can give us the feeling that nothing is happening, apparently since the profound changes interest the Psychic Being first. One of my former patients has succeeded, after many sessions, to come out of his depression. Later, he told me that he felt much better but that he was deeply bored.

When periods of lows last for long, the depression threatens to settle in. An innovative therapeutic behaviour would advise to to balance the mood swings, by lowering the peak of the mood rather than waiting to be at its worst. When one is at the lowest, in a depressive state, the neuronal connections are altered, it is difficultto align two constructive thoughts; one could even have difficulty speaking. Our behaviour becomes erratic. It is easier to intervene when we are at our best, but we do not think about it, our euphoria is such that we do not want it, we prefer that this state is prolonged endlessly.

The subconscious mind does not have the same behavioural charter as the conscious one, the reasoning part. In the subconscious mind, there is no distinction between the good and the bad, the true and the false, which are concepts proper to the conscious part. The subconscious mind of a human being is like a 6-year-old child, whose only goal is its safety, before its happiness. It can also be compared to a machine, saturated with programmes that have been implemented throughout our lives by event /emotion associations that continue to run until they have been deprogrammed.

If the subconscious mind does not distinguish between good and bad, according to our conscious human and societal norms, it will only consider the intensity or the amplitude of the emotions and not the history of the original behaviours. Thus, if we intervene on our behaviour when we are in a phase of exaltation, the information will be passed to the subconscious mind that the amplitude is too important. Further, it will have the natural tendency to level it out when the amplitude is identical at the lowest, during a phase of depression. So to say, to bring it back to a balanced level. In addition, the approach will be easier because the cognitive possibilities are intact, or even higher for the return to equanimity, while they are lessened in a phase of depression.

The new difficulties encountered on the spiritual path are always the sign of abilities to solve them, otherwise they would not occur. Ask an eight-year-old child to solve a second-degree mathematic equation; he will not even understand that there is a problem, because he has never come across this matter. Ask the same question to a sixteen-year-old, he will understand the problem because he has already encountered and studied it in school.

In fact, the greater the difficulty the more obvious is the progress on the path, because the difficulty is always accompanied by the ability to overcome it. Alternatively it may prompt the memory that the difficulty has already been solved. We are sometimes almost on a hill, whose shape ahead prevents us from seeing the landscape behind. As soon as we reach the summit, a new hill might present itself. This means that we have already reached the top of the first to be able to see the next one.

In a battle between enemy armies, or a conflict between inner forces, strategists will always try to destabilise the one who represents the greatest danger, while they will ignore the one who is harmless. Being confronted with a mental magnetic storm always testifies our ability to overcome it. To be confronted with these great electromagnetic turbulences, which are these inner demons, attests of our capacity to overcome them.

Otherwise it gives us the opportunity to turn them into friends, which will ultimately lead to the same result: Love and Compassion, to oneself this time, are the only truly effective weapons.