False Step

We project our own inability on the Spirit. False Step is an error in mental ‘rationality' that undermines our own capacity for accomplishment. This article illustrates the process of making and avoiding False Steps by incidents in Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice.

Consciousness is the creator. It is a fundamental spiritual truth that our mental and emotional understanding are powerful determinants of life events. What we believe and what our emotions sanction or accept gains the force of reality. Our consciousness creates our reality. The Secret focuses on the positive side of this truth and advocates consciously envisioning the positive outcomes we want in our lives. The method is fully true and powerful within the limits of our personal capacity. But our conscious mental will and attitudes constitute only a small part of our total consciousness, most of which is subconscious and inaccessible to conscious alteration except by an arduous effort. The negative side of this truth is that most often we make the false step of accepting as fait accompli that which can be otherwise had we not thrown the full weight of our consciousness behind endorsing it.

This article analyzes how an apparent catastrophe arising from Lydia's elopement with Wickham was avoided because for a variety of reasons the principal characters did not simply resign themselves to the negative outcome.

Response to Lydia's elopement

Lydia eloped with Wickham threatening to bring scandal and disgrace to the Bennet family and to undermine the aspirations of the four other daughters to marry. The problem was created and precipitated by Lydia, for which Wickham was a willing accomplice. It is a problem for the entire family of which she was oblivious. Wickham himself was obliviously insensitive and callous as to her future and how it would affect the family. Though there is no malice or venom involved in it, it is a self-centred selfishness to ruin a girl and through her a family for a short-lived satisfaction for him. On his part it was a conscious crime. On her part it was unconscious. It was an unconscious urge taking initiative.

Our understanding of the events will be really comprehensive if we deal with everyone's attitude and the social magnitude of the calamity. Incidentally Mr. Bennet said he was not worried about it because these things would pass away after some time. It only means that he was sure of finding Lydia married and the scandal would be only the elopement prior to the marriage. His mind did not go to the possibility of Wickham not marrying her, and the whole family being ruined because of that. It may be a credit to his indolence, but his unwillingness to contemplate possible disaster was his contribution to the final positive outcome.

Elizabeth pointed out to Jane that the elopement would cancel the possibility of their marriages as well. This consequence had not occurred to Jane. By not thinking negatively, even if it is out of her ignorance, she prevented that possibility from precipitating. The mind of Elizabeth is too quick not to see full consequences of Lydia's actions. In her case it released in her a deep and genuine regret for her own contribution to the problem and an aspiration to be better. Her conscious effort cancelled out her negative thinking. Indolence contributes by inaction. Insight contributes by transformation. On finishing Jane's letter, Elizabeth impetuously runs to the door calling for her uncle. Darcy appears instead. He was astonished to the point of shedding his politeness and being natural. The reality of the situation fully dawns on her. Her knees tremble. Trembling knees means fear in the mind reaching the physical. In other words, the reality of the lowness of her family became a knowledge in her body. Darcy loses his formality. Instead of maintaining the poise of a gentleman in honouring Elizabeth's privacy, he takes the lover's position of sharing her grief, which he has seen but not understood. This was the first moment the lovers met or their love met. It is this attitude of his that made her come out and share her misery with him inspite of the fact that he is the one stranger from whom it should be kept. It was impossible for Darcy to leave her or refrain from speaking in a tone of gentleness and commiseration, as he wanted to give her some present relief. They have emotionally met. He was anxious to ensure that there was nothing wrong with her health. She told him there was nothing wrong with her. That relieved him, being a very selfish man. It is a crucial moment in her life. The initiative George Bernard Shaw says that women take to pursue the men they want to pursue them, she takes in the subconscious plane. She understood at that moment that all Darcy's interest in her would end, now that he knows of her family's disgrace. She tries to renew his interest by appealing to his pity. His affection, which she could not accept when it issued from love of pride, she now tries to elicit from pity. She takes the extraordinary step, after a few minutes of silence, to enlist his sympathy for her position. He was "observing her in compassionate silence." Silence itself can be a cure and compassion can dissolve distress. It is something that cannot be concealed from anyone. Her youngest sister has left all her friends, has eloped, has thrown herself into the power of Mr. Wickham. He knew Wickham too well to doubt the rest. Lydia has no money, no connections, nothing can tempt him. She is lost forever. Elizabeth is brutally frank and concretely feminine in practical terms, confirming every accusation of his about her family by giving live evidence. Her subconscious motive was to create sympathy or, at least, pity so that he may not desert her. It is the genius of Jane Austen to have made it so real. Darcy was fixed in astonishment. She continues the appeal in her own fashion that she might have prevented it, she who knew what Wickham was if she had only explained some part of it (suppressing the part of Georgiana) to her own family. Had his character been known, this could not have happened. It is all too late now.

She has taken him into confidence so that he might not give her up. It is not as if Darcy got up and walked away on hearing the information. What she planned for worked. He was grieved, shocked. Meaning, he participates in her distress. She has enlisted his sympathy. It has worked. He asks what has been done to recover them. That clearly shows he did not want to desert Elizabeth even after hearing the information. He has not put up the attitude of dropping her totally on hearing the information, which she assumed. His grief and shock is not just of a third person but of one who shares her emotions. She explains Wickham's intention to go with Lydia to Scotland, her father going to London, and exclaims: Nothing can be done. She knew very well nothing could be done. How is such a man to be worked on? How are they even to be discovered? She did not have the smallest hope. It was in every way horrible.

Neither she nor he considered the elopement as a private matter. The wall of privacy between them had fallen. By her intensity, she is pleading to him not to desert her. But she had no hope. "Darcy shook his head in silent acquiescence." There was no sign of disapproval or disgust or detachment in him. Made bold by his attitude, "her eyes were opened to his real character. She was afraid of doing too much. Wretched, wretched mistake." She knew subconsciously he would do anything for her and therefore takes the entire blame on herself. It is from a hope that he would not desert her because of this. This is a subconscious opening that complements his subconscious readiness not to give her up.

Darcy made no answer, scarcely heard her, walked up and down the room in earnest meditation, his brow contracted, his air gloomy. Elizabeth soon observed and instantly understood. Elizabeth understood, apart from the realities of the situation that Darcy's manner indicated his giving her up totally. Austen continues to say, Elizabeth's power was sinking. Everything must sink under such a proof of family weakness. It was such an assurance of deepest disgrace. Elizabeth could neither wonder nor condemn. But her belief of his self-conquest brought nothing conciliatory to her bosom, afforded no palliation to her distress. Darcy, like a man who would accomplish, does not speak out. Perhaps she expected him to extend help. She sank because her power gave way, meaning the shock has touched the physical consciousness.

Elizabeth had never so honestly felt she could have loved him. And now all love must be in vain.

All sincere prayers are answered when the whole being calls for the help. Elizabeth's call is from her physical consciousness. It was successful in fact, not in her understanding. The humiliation, the misery Lydia brought on them all soon swallowed up every private care. She would not allow her Self to intrude. Meaning, she was so engrossed that she could not think of her private misery of loss of chance for marriage. There was a pause of several minutes and it was he who first spoke. His breaking the silence is his subtle initiative in the mind not to desert her. He speaks normally, that he might offer consolation to such distress. In his mind, it would be to ask for her thanks. He has decided to help her by finding Lydia using his resources but does not want to express it. He is in his depths an organised, selfish person and he shamelessly says, that unfortunate affair would prevent his sister from having the pleasure of seeing Elizabeth at Pemberly.

Now both of them try to assume a formal relationship. She asks him to conceal the unhappy truth as long as possible. It is directly going back to her appeal to him to recognise the confidence she reposes in him. Neither of them know the other to warrant this amount of confidence. It is her opening her private affairs again more fully to his participation.

He wished for a happier conclusion of the misadventure and left his compliments for her relations. With one serious, parting look, he went away. It was his silent promise that he would not give Elizabeth up, Lydia or no Lydia. His response suggests that he would have married her and allowed Bingley to marry Jane even if Lydia had not been traced. There are two reasons for this conclusion: first, that is the strength of his attachment to her, and second, he is such a proud, selfish man who could not take a ‘no' from anyone. He would rather humble himself to succeed in a humiliating game than lose what he was after. Elizabeth felt how improbable it was that they should ever see each other again on such terms of cordiality as had marked their several meetings in Derbyshire. And as she threw a retrospective glance over the whole of their acquaintance, so full of contradictions and varieties, she sighed at the perverseness of those feelings, which would now have promoted its continuance and would formerly have rejoiced in its termination. This description of Elizabeth makes the reader understand that she recognised the perverseness of her feelings. It was her partial attempt at transformation.

Jane Austen writes: "gratitude and esteem are good foundations of affection." Elizabeth's change of sentiment is neither improbable nor faulty. Austen asks whether the regard springing from such sources is unreasonable or unnatural. The author is aware that the character is making a supreme effort, even to the point of being accused of unreasonableness and unnaturalness, to feel gratitude and esteem for him so that affection might be born.

False Step

Those who have had direct spiritual experience of the ultimate reality, Brahman, pure Spirit, the Absolute, of which the universe is a manifestation often perceive it as something aloof and detached from the world and incapable of determining events in the universe it has created. This conclusion arises from an error of mental reasoning that mistakes the Infinite's freedom from limitation with an inability to limit and express itself in finite form. That, Sri Aurobindo says, is man projecting his inability on the Absolute.

An uninformed man believes his cataract is a result of his karma and it cannot be cured. This happened in a Tanjore village for five people in the same family. If you analyse the logic of the false step, it is taken by the self-willed intellect. The intellect knows something which it insists on. This man knows cataract is by his karma and he believes that. Thereby he rules out a cure by operation. He may look very superstitious and foolish in our eyes, but when you see your life coming face to face where you think something is not possible, you consider it is not possible. Yoga requires in life not to take that false step, not to believe it is impossible, but also to believe what is not possible for us is possible for the Absolute. That is what The Secret means when it asks us to rely on the power of the Universe.

What looks to be so simple in this context is really a profound philosophical attitude expressed in life which no system of philosophy prior to Sri Aurobindo enunciated. This does not just mean that our prayer can be answered either by God or by the Universe. That is by faith or hope. It goes beyond that. It means that our attitude regarding the power of Spirit, God, Absolute itself determines the extent of that power in our lives. Our refusal to take the false step of accepting something as impossible is ultimately a recognition of the Spirit's freedom of action. It leaves open a channel through which our faith can act.

Response to Lydia's Elopement

Let us see how the characters in P&P do not take that false step:

  • Mrs. Bennet: She has no vital capacity to think that she would ever fail. She lives in a world of her imagination. She can only think of her imaginations coming true. So when that receives a blow, she collapses at that point. Not even fear or fearful thoughts enter her mind. It is a negative cooperation she gives.
  • Mr. Bennet: Already we commented about his indolent attitude. A lazy man is capable of wishful thinking, not that he is unaware of the consequences of her running away. But he thinks it will pass away soon.
  • Jane: She is so naïve, stupid, unthinking, but not negative, that it never occurs to her that Lydia's elopement will harm the family.
  • Elizabeth: She knows all the possible consequences, not like the other members of the family. Her mind opens up to all those dimensions. Such an opening makes possible her transformation. If no transformation is made, what she negatively believes will become true. In this story a small effect of transformation is there. It is not only that Lydia is saved by marriage, it leads to other marriages.
  • Darcy: He was grieved and shocked by Lydia's elopement, but his attachment to Elizabeth is so great that he was not willing to give her up even after that. He has enough information to trace Wickham and believes in his capacity to restore Lydia to respectability.

At Rosings Elizabeth tells Fitzwilliam that she would not be intimidated by any threat, but she says her courage increases when the threat increases. That is the attitude necessary not to take the false step but take the right step.

Each character in the story for various reasons refuses to take that false step. In our own case, when we refuse to take that false step, we do not just stop there. We take the right step to cross the boundaries of the world's knowledge. That takes us beyond the mind into the realms of the Supermind.

The method gives results according to the level of one's understanding. The understanding of Mr. Bennet and Jane is minimal. That of Darcy and Elizabeth is greater, which is reflected in the results. The same method with a full knowledge of The Absolute will give the result of supramental transformation.

Levels of False Step and Results

False steps exist in different degrees or levels. So also the capacity not to take a false step -- which is a positive human endowment -- has different degrees or levels. Firm belief in a false information, such as Elizabeth's acceptance of Wickham's lies about Darcy, is an example of insistence on a false step. Refusal to believe a false information, such as Jane's refusal to think Darcy could be that bad, indicates the presence of a positive endowment capable of avoiding error at the lower end of the spectrum. The capacity to discern and believe firmly in the very opposite of the false information is a positive endowment at the higher end of the spectrum.

The level of the false step or abstinence from it determines the level of the consequences. At the lowest level, the refusal to take a false step enables one to achieve results which others miss because of their inability to refrain from that step. At a higher level, the capacity to actively reject a false step in different degrees opens up higher opportunities that were previously unimaginable. Mr. Gardiner has difficulty believing that anything will make Wickham agree to marry Lydia, but he does not fall prey to the false step of declaring it impossible. Jane maintains an active hope in a positive outcome, which keeps the door open. Mrs. Bennet is ever ready to forget the past and fully believe in the best of all possible outcomes. Subconsciously, Elizabeth knows that Darcy is deeply committed to her. Though she cannot formulate it as a thought in her mind, something deep inside believes a man passionately in love would do anything for the woman he loves. Her idealistic belief in the power of love is a higher endowment or sanction for a positive outcome. That outcome far exceeds her wildest conscious expectations. At the highest level the capacity to believe in opposition to apparent facts and rational expectations takes one to the borders of the spiritual plane which Sri Aurobindo refers to as the Supermind.

The ordinary human mind facing daily issues comes to many points at which everybody feels there is no solution. Accepting that social view is a false step. When we refuse to accept that social view as final, life works through our faith and gives us a result which other people do not get. At the other end of the spectrum there is the possibility of basing our faith on the highest spiritual power.