How to Deal with Irritability

My teacher, Sri Chinmoy, often spoke of five levels of consciousness: the physical consciousness, a vital consciousness…

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“True happiness lies in the finding and maintenance of a natural harmony of spirit, mind and body.” — Sri Aurobindo

Harmony for the Whole Being

My teacher, Sri Chinmoy, often spoke of five levels of consciousness: the physical consciousness, a vital consciousness, a psyche or heart consciousness, a mind consciousness and a soul consciousness. Recognizing these components of oneself can be very useful in our spiritual journey. One such time is when we feel the need to manage our inner life. By ‘managing’ I mean moderating or controlling thoughts, emotions and habitual behavior. A good way to approach the problem of negative habits is to ask ourselves from what consciousness does it arise? We may discover more than one consciousness is involved. For instance, irritability may arise in the physical consciousness due to discomfort of the body, in the vital consciousness due to repressed or over used energies, in the heart due to emotional failings or disappointments, or in the mind because of mental confusion. In the case of irritability, one place we can be sure it does not arise is in the soul consciousness, for the soul is that clear and flawless perception that is beyond human disturbances. It is the soul that recognizes a disturbance as something that needs correcting.

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The Body

If we can identify the source of our irritability we can begin to effectively deal with it. Let us begin with the body consciousness. A common cause of irritability in the body is lethargy. The body is naturally lethargic, and when our lethargy is disturbed irritation arises. The way to control this common problem is to keep the body energized by regular exercise and a variety of different activities. That will minimize stagnation and lethargy in the body consciousness. A regular yoga practice can stabilize and bring a very peaceful and harmonious energy to the body consciousness.

The Vital

Exercise also keeps the vital consciousness fresh and flowing in a positive manner. The vital has a profound influence on both our physical and mental health. Recent research has shown that vigorous exercise may be the most effective medicine known to man, as it prevents or corrects a host of health issues. Exercise neutralizes anger, depression, and other negative energies that send the vital into a downward spiral, where frustration and irritability will be the inevitable result. It is important to understand that irritability is not always the result of outer causes. Vital stagnation and irritation can easily be caused by negative thoughts and emotions or by any unhealthy practice that has become habitual. 

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The Heart

As our vital energy goes, so goes our heart and mind, for they are closely tied to vital influences. The heart may faire a bit better than the mind under a negative influence, for the heart consciousness is more closely connected to the soul. It has an all-important counter-balance to disturbances arising in the lower nature. Still, the heart is not immune to negative influences. To be happy and in communion with others are fundamental desires of the heart. Self-giving is the essence of the heart consciousness. When we give of ourselves to others for the benefit of others, without expectation for self-gain, the heart is both gladdened and strengthened. The heart requires no elaborate medications or procedures, the simplest every day acts are what matter most to the heart.

The Mind

Sri Aurobindo referred to ‘vital-mind’ as the prevailing consciousness of our age. If we look at modern culture, we see ambition and desire gratification framed as the reward for being ‘smart.’ ‘Wisdom’ rarely enters the conversation, as the heart has been bypassed and almost forgotten in the ethic of our age. This, according to Sri Aurobindo, is a tragic mistake that could become fatal for the human race. Wisdom is a function of heart and mind in balance and working together. Ambition and desire are to the mind like sugar to a child. Unfortunately a heartless intelligence lacks both balance and wisdom. The vital-mind consciousness does not want to believe that true life satisfaction requires the mind to be in the service of the heart. To use ones intelligence in the service of selfless love and compassion is the best medicine for the mind. Another is to learn meditation. Meditation puts the vital-mind connection on hold and gives relief from the constant demands and expectations of the vital-mind consciousness. It brings a deeper and wiser perspective to our life.

The Soul

The soul consciousness is pervasive throughout the body, vital, mind and heart, but ironically it is imperceptible to physical awareness. So intangible is the soul, it is sometimes thought of as a ‘witness’ rather than a participant in our life. Spiritual masters, however, have assured us the soul can be realized and that it is the true and proper guide for our being. Even if soul awareness is for the moment beyond our ability, we can increase our awareness of the other four levels of consciousness and we can cultivate health and happiness through that awareness. Proper maintenance of body, vital, heart and mind are as essential to our happiness as happiness is to knowledge of the soul.

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