The spiritual path often seems like a walk through the arid desert. Intermittently, one may encounter an oasis of water in the form of a replenishing soul moment, but the rest of the time one has to trudge through the scorching heat of the hardships of daily life. It is in this context that the Vedic Rishis spoke of the spiritual seeker being like a Divine child who is suckled by two Mothers – Dawn and Night. In such situations, one may wonder why spiritual experiences never seem to repeat; why can’t one recapture that stirring rapture one had experienced before? The Mother Mirra Alfassa provided some striking and sagacious answers to such often perplexing questions.
Question: Mother, why is it that the same contemplation does not always produce the same sensation in oneself? That is, for example, when one looks at the sea or the stars and thinks of one’s insignificance, then there is a particular sensation which is produced within, and then at another time, when one wants to have the same experience, even if one thinks about it, why doesn’t it recur?
Mother Mirra Alfassa: One can never have the same experience twice because one is never the same person twice. Between the first experience and the second, even if one hour has passed, you are no longer the same man and you can never reproduce identically the same thing. If you take care to become more conscious, more sincere, more concentrated, the experience you have will be different, but it may be deeper and more clear. But if you cling to something you have had and want to reproduce the same thing, you will have nothing at all, because you can’t have the same thing and you are in a state in which you refuse to have a new experience, for you are attached to the past one. And usually when one has had an experience which was a revelation, something altogether important, one doesn’t want to leave it, one is afraid of not having it any longer, and so, in this movement of clinging to something, one prevents oneself from progressing and puts oneself in conditions in which one can’t have the next experience. Well, this has to be understood, because it is an absolute fact: one can never have the same experience twice. There may be similar experiences, very close, and particularly some which appear similar, but these experiences… if one is absolutely sincere, impartial and like a blank page, he will perceive that there is a difference, sometimes an essential one, between the two, though in appearance they seem very close. But the more ready you are to leave behind all that you have experienced, in order to be able to go towards something better and higher, the faster you will go; the more you drag the heavy weight of all the past which you don’t want to get rid of, the slower is your advance.
All the past should always be simply like a stepping-stone or a ladder, something to lead you farther; it should not have any other use except to push you forward. And if you can feel this and always turn your back on what is past and look at what you want to do, then you go much faster, you don’t waste time on the way. What makes you lose time is always this clinging to what has been, to what is, what seemed to you beautiful and good in what is past. This must only help you, you must not reject it, but it must help you to go forward, it must simply be something on which you lean to take a step forward.
Now, at a particular time, a set of circumstances, inner and outer, has caused one to be receptive to a certain vibration; for example, as you say, while looking at the stars or contemplating a landscape or reading a page or hearing a lecture, one has suddenly an inner revelation, an experience, something that strikes him and gives him the impression of being open to something new. But if you want to hold on to this tightly like that, you will lose everything, because one can’t keep the past, one must always go forward, advance, advance. This illumination must prepare you so that you can organise your whole being on this new level, in order to be able suddenly, one day, to leap up again to a higher step.
There is a horizontal advance between abrupt ascents. It is the moment of the abrupt ascent which gives you an impression of something like a revelation, a great inner joy. But once you have climbed the step, if you want to climb it once more you would have to go down again. You must go on preparing yourself at this level in order to climb another higher step. These things which suddenly give you a great joy are always ascents. But these ascents are prepared by a slow work of horizontal progress, that is, one must become more and more conscious, establish more and more perfectly what one is, draw from it all the inner, psychological consequences, and in action also. It is a long utilisation of an abrupt leap and, as I say, there are two kinds of progress. But the horizontal progress is indispensable.
You must not stop, you must not cling in this way to your vertical progress and not want to move because it has brought you a revelation. You must know how to leave it in order to prepare for another.
(Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 7, pp 34-36)
As the Mother says above, one must not cling to the memories of past experiences and the case of the Satprem, a disciple of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, is particularly apposite in this discussion. In the early stages of the spiritual path, Satprem nursed a notorious wanderlust. He would constantly implore the Mother to permit him to travel to some distant forest or island where he could recapture the sense of release he had experienced in the past. The Mother wrote to him:
One should beware of the charm of memories. What remains of past experiences is the effect they have had in the development of the consciousness. But when one attempts to relive a memory by placing oneself again in similar circumstances, one realizes quite rapidly how devoid they are of their power and charm, because they have lost their usefulness for progress.
You are now beyond the stage when the virgin forest and the desert can be useful for your growth. They had put you in contact with a life vaster than your own and they widened the limits of your consciousness. But now you need something else.
So far, your whole life has revolved around yourself; all you have done, even the apparently most disinterested or least egoistic act, has been done with a view to your own personal growth or illumination. It is time to live for something other than yourself, something other than your own individuality.
Open a new chapter in your existence. Live, no longer for your own realization or the realization of your ideal, however exalted it may be, but to serve an eternal work that transcends your individuality on all sides.
(Mother’s Agenda, Oct 28, 1956)