The following article is based on a presentation made during the
Second International Conference on Integral Psychology,
held at Pondicherry (India), 4-7 January 2001.
The text has been published in:
Cornelissen, Matthijs (Ed.) (2001) Consciousness and Its Transformation. Pondicherry: SAICE.

Working in matter

Aster Patel

Friends, in the wake of the preceding invocation this morning, we have a long, indescribable journey to undertake—from the Silence... to the Word... to Matter! How we shall traverse this seeming distance is a little hard to say at the start. But let's try.

This is the concluding session of the four-day seminar. And as such, one wishes to spend some time on what one has learnt during these three days of exchanges. What has come through very strongly is the almost pervasive love of “wholeness”, of “integrality” and “integration”. It is interesting to see that this happens at a time when, on the one hand, physics with its study of matter, and on the other, biology and its study of the living organism, have arrived at a point where they discover “wholes”, indivisible, organic wholes which go beyond the ken of both the sciences and their methodology. At the same time you have the psychological sciences, the social sciences, the medical, the environmental—in fact, all that one can think of—where the seeking for a “wholeness” of perspective is dominant. Even the patterns of lifestyles feel this need of wholes.

In this first year of the new millennium it sets one thinking. In the last century what we developed to an extreme of perfection was the capacity of the mind which reached a zenith of effectivity. Mind applied itself, with its characteristic methodology to all problems—whether physical, scientific, sociological, even spiritual—leading to tremendous psychological results.

But where are we today? Mind which is basically analytic in its approach, constructive in its methodology, arriving at aggregates in its results—is now arrested in the presence of “wholes”—not as in distant spiritual experience but in matter, in the living cell. How is it going to deal with this “whole”? This is a very critical, urgent, relevant, pertinent question. It has been of concern to me personally like it must have been to everyone else.

In fact, there are two concerns I wish to share. Obviously we cannot pursue this kind of frenetic, analytic, mental activity much further if we really want to arrive at an experience of the “whole” and to be able to live it. We know that it is in the very nature of mind to seek wholes but it cannot seize them. It seeks harmony but can't arrive at it. So what must happen? We must psychologically prepare ourselves for another mode of being, for another mode of consciousness. There may be two possibilities—one doesn't yet know—we will have to explore a great deal. Maybe, that the mind itself opens up to another consciousness that can seize a “whole” in a kind of intuitive grasp yet see all the details of structure and relationship within that “whole”. Not an amorphous “whole” but a structured, detailed, relationed “whole” and to see how it functions. Or, as an interim step, it may be of help—and I think a lot of us have tried it already as is evident by the beautiful presentations we've had in these last three days—if the analytic mind gets grounded in the depths of being, its deeper profundities of consciousness, then its function can begin to change. It was visible in some of the presentations made earlier, that the functioning had already undergone change. If this preparation is not done, then to give up the old, all of a sudden, for something new would be a painful, traumatic exercise for mankind as a whole. Thus to prepare ourselves seems to be a very urgent necessity.

The second concern, I must say, has been with me for about fifteen years with no clear answers yet! But one would like to share the question nonetheless—and this is a question of “methodology”. The dualistic, reductionist method of science followed so successfully since the Renaissance, the European Renaissance of the sixteenth century, has arrived at a point where it has discovered a reality that it is incapable of pursuing further in its investigation. How will a “reductionist” method proceed further in, let us say, a knowledge of “wholes”, the handling of “wholes”. How will it do so? It goes almost without saying that this method has reached its limit. But what is the new method? If we don't embark upon that discovery of the new method we go into the doldrums, scientifically speaking—for a long time to come—and land ourselves in complete confusion. Technology will, of course, keep itself repeating—for its cycle is repetitive in nature—but it will not be “breakthroughs” because the method is no longer appropriate to its subject-matter, it is no longer of the measure of its own findings. This is a significant statement to ponder over. Sri Aurobindo's formulation of this underlying truth is very succinct: “Our way of knowing must be appropriate to that which is to be known.” (Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine , p. 323)

How shall we set out in search of “another” method? Shall we venture to suggest a possible direction which can be pursued? There is only a sense of “direction”, no more—but even that is like taking a further step. It seems important to accept—which in itself isn't easy— that “another” poise of consciousness, other than the habitual mental form of activity, is now needed. A poise of consciousness that knows, that feels and acts in a manner other than what we have been accustomed to. The present psychological makeup of our personality divides these three functions—of cognition, affection and volition—into distinct ones. They are almost always at war with one other or, at best, tend to go their own way and have to be reined in so as to offer some semblance of order! But can these three be “unified” in one process, one effective movement of consciousness? A poise of consciousness, in which to know and to feel is to act—for the “power” at source is one but triune in its manifestation. Can we arrive at such a wholeness and integration in our very being that makes us capable of seizing other “wholes” of reality?

We would like to make a further suggestion in this regard. At a time when we are “globetrotters”—both in the geographical and cultural sense—we could examine the history of all great cultures of the past and their contemporary creations and look for indications for these other “methods” that might have been known to them. Not that we could adopt them as such, but they might give us valuable clues as to how to proceed further. This question of a new methodology and our earnest search for it, is, I think, urgent. We must look far and wide, if need be, in our world's sum of culture and knowledge and, very perceptively, pick up those strands that could lead us in the direction of the future.

Having made a round of the three days of the seminar and shared two concerns that pertain to it, we must come to the theme listed in the programme, Working in Matter. The very wording requires that we draw upon experience! In a sense, nothing is more meaningful than sharing an experience—and, in this case, though the experience, in its initial contours, seems to be that of an individual, are we not here, as a collective, all part of it? In the very act of sharing, the two merge—to create a larger identity and to give it a greater relevance.

As embodied beings, matter is the very stuff of our existence. It is the matrix in which we live and move and work. We may soar with the spirit, plane on high with the mind—but it is here in the body, in this physical world, that we have to come to terms with the “personality” that is ours. In order to come to terms with it, to seek a perfection of it—which is a big word!—but even some change in it, some degree of integration, it is right here that we have to do it. This realisation takes a bit of sinking in! As mental beings we do not easily accept it. We accept it theoretically perhaps but we do not accept it in life. It takes a very, very long time to do so, a very long time indeed. It is then that we realise how completely rooted in materiality we are.

The body, of course, is our first base and our first environment, our entire life part is rooted in matter and so many levels of the mind too are rooted in matter. When we arrive at that point it comes as a great shock. We tend to think that the “mind” is way above. It isn't. Some levels, of course are—but the fact of rooting is right here.

How do we handle this personality of ours rooted in matter? And also the matter “outside” of us, so to speak,—in the world, other people, matter itself? At a certain point we find that the two are contiguous, that the matter that is ours is also outside. It is not broken up. We discover, in the process, that there are two distinct ways of handling matter. We all have that experience but perhaps letting it flow through words and sharing it with others, we may render it more concrete.

Habitually we handle matter from the “outside”. We see it laid out in space. We see its bits and pieces, we see its objects, we run into its hard, opaque, impenetrable surfaces. We know there are days when we move around the room and we feel awkward and everything jars and jostles—chairs, tables, people... just everything! And there are days when things flow. But when we try to put bits of matter together in a given space what do we do? We establish spatial rapports between these bits and pieces—rapports which are extraneous to one other—and we arrange a space beautifully, with each object in its place.

Our collective habit of dealing with matter in this way—what we might call the “organizational” way—is so deeply ingrained in us, as mental beings, that we deal with our own personality in the same way. This has been the foremost problem of our modern civilization in psychological and sociological terms! We see our external personality in bits and pieces. We look at ourselves from “without”. Since some time, however, there has been a change of perspective and we are more attuned to looking at ourselves differently.

We tend to forget that though our external personality is so completely rooted in matter, it is still supported by an inner reality which is non-material, which is a content of consciousness. Therefore this way of handling our personality runs into such serious trouble that we cannot even list the problems that it gives rise to. When we try to organise these bits of ourselves, to integrate them—it just doesn't work. For we are a “whole” in spite of our dualities, our multiplicities. We are a “whole” by virtue of that which upholds us from within. If there is a pervasive sense of helplessness that we suffer from today—whether as individuals or with regard to social units, big or small,—it is a result of this way of handling personality: “organisationally” as matter seen from the “outside”.

But we also come across another way, a second way of handling matter—from “within”. It is true that the normal formation of personality is—to use the ancient word from the Upanishads— bahirmukh . It is outward oriented. It looks out as a fact of habit and formation.. The senses and the very body relate outward. But there is an inner consciousness that is in-gathered and we have experience of it in many ways—through music, love of beauty, of harmony, other states of consciousness, also through deep emotion. There are many ways of experiencing the inner reality.

The entire formation of the external personality, which is outward directed, feels the attraction of the inner consciousness and can “turn itself around” to go within. A long preparation is needed but this is a very tangible, concrete experience. The various parts of personality are gathered within and fuse, in slow stages, with the inner consciousness—not losing their essential characteristics, but retaining and heightening and enlarging their functioning. The disparate elements are kind of absorbed in that inner consciousness—we may call it a stream or a body or a flow of consciousness for it can change its forms also. And a total reversal of the poise of personality takes place: it becomes antarmukh , turned and gathered within.

Then, one discovers that there is an “inner” core of matter, the “consciousness content” of matter. It is matter in its inner and true reality. One's action in the material world then begins to proceed in another manner and to arrive at a different result. The touch becomes sure, action inter-penetrative, and the result in the objective field is more effective. Matter becomes pliable, supple. It has density but a soft density—not hard, resistant surfaces against which we knock. We find that there is a within to matter as there is a without to matter. Maybe one day we'll discover the totality of matter. But that there is a within to matter and one can live and act from that poise—in the midst of the world—this is an experience of such ease and simplicity and a smoothness of flow And, at the same time, at the risk of repeating oneself, of such effectivity as one doesn't otherwise know.

This manner of being has its own norms, its own fluctuations—it happens, it doesn't happen—but the fact remains that one can, one might say, almost slide into matter and live the perfectly normal life that one has ever lived and find that the personality, in its entirety is undergoing a change. It is almost as though, by the fact of looking at matter from within and handling it so, something of the inner consciousness has permeated the pores or layers of matter. For it seems to have layers. There is a term that comes repeatedly—the contiguity of matter. Seen from “within”, matter is one. The distinctness of form, of object, its identity is not lost— but there is a basis of contiguity. And yet there is form. There is distinction, there is difference. There is still what one may call a rapport in space. But there is no sense of separation, no hard surfaces. How to express this? It is like “another” way of being in matter.... It is true that it doesn't always last. It fluctuates. One move away from it. One go back to it. Perhaps one needs to be stabilised in it. But slowly one begins to sense that wholeness of being and of life in matter is a possibility.

So if we are looking for a concrete unity of life and people, a diversified unity which alone can be the basis of multiplicity, then this work has to be attempted. One also has a feeling that this work is being done by many people, each in his own way. But sharing of it is a help—because like there is a contagion of a spiritual vibration, a contagion of mental awareness and activity, there is too a contagion of working in matter. And, in a sense, unity there is more stable because one has a feeling that matter has no ego. Matter has no ego. That is the way it comes.

A few words of Sri Aurobindo come to one forcefully. He says that the “joys of matter”—not in the sense of material sensory pleasures—are “more intense than the joys of the mind”. As we enter this new millennium, this is something that we, who have been mental beings and still are in large parts of our personality, will perhaps find it useful to remember. Matter, not as we have known it, but a new kind of matter that makes the Spirit palpable by its touch—giving it body and substance and a sure “footing”.