| by Nora Archambeau
I would like to offer many thanks to Mother and to Sri Aurobindo for bringing me to this point in my life.
The first time I encountered Integral Yoga was at the end of 1993. I was about to embark on a seven-week trip throughout Asia with my first stop being in India. My intention was to locate an ashram to visit. Having worked with Indians in international education for six years, I wanted to understand and experience more of the spiritual side of their culture. At the same time, I had recently been accepted into a graduate program whose foundation was built on the philosophy of Integral Yoga. I was directed to a book in the school's bookstore that included the name and address of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, India. I was immediately excited and felt that this was the town I should visit.
I first visited Pondicherry -- "Pondy" to those who adore her -- in November, 1993. During my stay, I had two striking experiences. The first was meeting an Australian woman who simply loved the people and the Indian culture and had a wonderful, endearing way of introducing me to both.
The second experience occurred while sitting in my room at the Park Guest House on Thanksgiving day. It had been about five days since my arrival in India, and I had not had any extended, nor meaningful, conversation with an Indian. I felt that to experience the culture meant truly engaging with the people. I looked up from the table and chair where I sat and looked at a somewhat ominous photo of Mother. I started receiving the words, "Go to the French book shop." (Two days prior, I had visited the book shop and met a lovely Indian woman who was one of the first to extend a sincere smile, full of warmth, to me.) So, I got up, closed my journal, and walked to the bookshop to, hopefully, reconnect. Well, I did, and by the end of my stay in Pondy, I felt truly grateful that I was sent this message and indeed heeded its words. I consider these experiences to be my first encounter with Mother. I have been drawn to Integral Yoga ever since.
Integral Yoga is a philosophical and spiritual way of life based on both surrendering and aspiring in pursuit of truth. This is how I define Integral Yoga. Following this path helps me to get closer and closer to my authentic self and Self. At the time of this writing, the energetic forces of Mother and Sri Aurobindo are helping me to break down the resistances I put up to protect myself from further hurt and disappointment. While defense systems are natural and even necessary at times, protecting oneself too much can also keep out love and connectedness. This is not what I want nor is it true to my nature. In addition, when I am sincere in my requests to these two incredible spiritual teachers, I find that the means to know what I should do are given to me almost instantaneously. Let me offer you an example.
Recently, I was experiencing communication difficulties with another sadhak and did not know how to connect in an honest and authentic way. I asked Mother for forgiveness toward this sadhak and to please give me the means to talk to him. I soon felt the opportunity was given and therefore seized it. Next, I just trusted that whatever came out of me was what needed to be said. Fortunately, some resolution was achieved between us. While I believe that Integral Yoga works at transforming us, we also have to be open, aware, and conscious of our own steps and actions.
Following Integral Yoga makes my life easier in several ways. It helps to uncover the layers of personas I have developed over the years, it brings me closer to ongoing connectedness with all sentient beings, and it diminishes loneliness and sometimes isolation in the individualistic, western world I live in. In addition, practicing Integral Yoga makes me psychically stronger.
What continues to attract me to this yoga is how well I feel being in the presence of Mother's and Sri Aurobindo's vibrations. While recently participating in one of the monthly retreats at the Sri Aurobindo Sadhana Peetham in Lodi, California, I experienced a wonderful state of being: self-confident, calm, serene, present, aware, and alert. I was without anxiety and not longing for anything else. I felt whole within myself. I also feel well in the presence of other aspirants of the yoga.
Integral Yoga is a vehicle for practicing collaboration within a collective. Collaboration within Integral Yoga harnesses the gifts and talents we each carry and calls us to bring them forth in the group. It allows for differences of expression and opinion and respects these differences while offering venues that encourage consensus. These are not easy tasks to accomplish within any group, yet they pave the way toward peaceful co-existence in the world.
It is often said that this yoga encourages certain qualities that are commonly reflected in the individuals practicing it. The joyful discovery for me has been the qualities of sweetness, love, sincerity, harmony, individualism, collaboration, authenticity, courage, willingness, play, truth, abundance . . . and the list goes on. These are all qualities inherent within and integral to the yoga because they assist in the process of chipping away the nonessential layers of one's being and getting to the core of one's essential beinga beautiful, fulfilling, mysterious, and often challenging journey.
Surrender and aspiration
Surrender and aspiration are driving forces within Integral Yoga and have become personal principles for me to live by. The Mother (The Sunlit Path, p. 21) writes, "Surrender is the decision taken to hand over the responsibility of your life to the Divine. Everything else comes naturally after it, for the whole process starts with surrender." As for aspiration, Sri Aurobindo speaks of it as the call of the being for higher things, for the Divine, for all that belongs to the higher or divine consciousness.
Surrendering is putting one's complete trust in something higher, larger, more profound, than oneself. It is not trying to control a situation, an individual, a plan, or an event. It is participating in life with conscious decision making in choice and in action while turning over the outcome of your life to the Divine. It is taking that leap of faith over and over again until it becomes automatic. It is taking risks. And, as a westerner who is not totally self-surrendered, I believe that using personal will to discern and discriminate is a necessary part of the decision-making process. It is in times of conflict, confusion, or indecision when I feel that I am especially challenged to assert my personal will and to act out my part in this play called life with God.
Aspiration, I find, works in tandem with surrender. Once surrendering has occurred, one must follow or aspire to take the necessary steps that will hopefully lead to the best outcome for the situation, the individual, the plan, or the event at hand. It is about setting the intention of aspiration in the heart, then persevering toward reaching clarity, increased awareness, peace, and fulfillment of the desired goal.
One way I practice surrender in my daily life is simply reminding myself of it when I start to feel overwhelmed. When I start to feel that I alone am suppose to have the answer to something and have put my trust into that something or someone outside of myself, this is when I know I need to pause. Next, I need to step out from under the egoic self, from the distrusting part of myself, from the other, and relinquish my trust to God, the Divine, Mother, Sri Aurobindo. A wave of relief comes over me, I feel less tense, and am soon back to my center.
Some basic ways I practice aspiration in my daily life include eating and sleeping well (vegetarian food and eight hours of sleep); exercising (to increase flexibility, strength, and stamina); reading the works of Mother and Sri Aurobindo (whose words are in and of themselves a force in action); attending monthly retreats (to connect and collaborate with other aspirants); and following what intuitively feels right in the Yoga.
This is how the yoga moves within one aspirant. The yoga moves differently in different people. Perhaps sharing my experience will lend itself to hear how the yoga operates within others.
Namaste Mother. Namaste Guruji. Namaste.
Nora Archambeau is a recent graduate of the California Institute of Integral Studies, and lives in Oakland, California. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.