The Time of the Other

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Surely there are many facets of me, of you. But just for now let’s look at two of them. There’s the conscious, busy person we are, doing what’s needed to feed and clothe ourselves and our dear ones, as well as get ahead in the world. And then there’s the Other.

Who suddenly appears at any moment of the day or night to disturb our present occupation and our carefully laid plans? Who can make us say or do what we never intended? Who enters without a by-your-leave into our dreams? Though we may think in our conscious mind that we know who we are and what we want, there’s an alternative energy that sometimes appears, seemingly very alien to our own. It seems to be saying, “Hey, You! Have you forgotten that I, too, am right here with you? I have my own aims and intentions. I, too, have a right to be Me!”

While these messages from another world are disconcerting to say the least, it would be a big mistake to deny their reality. Maybe this sudden visitor is calling us from the Unconscious or from the Soul. Or perhaps, as some Jungians might say, it is the representative of our Unlived Life, trying to make its own statement before we leave the planet. It could even be some fragmentary persona acting out what we’ve refused to accept in ourselves. But wherever it’s coming from, we need to make time to listen to the Other.

So how to figure out what’s going on? Perhaps another aspect of myself wants to tell me something. But since everything about it is unknown to my everyday person, I must step carefully into this new relationship, since I suspect the Other pursues different aims than those my conscious mind signed up for.

One of its characteristics, so unlike my usual way of being, is the way it moves in on me. My tendency is to settle in, dig myself a foundation for a particular way of living, and announce to myself and the world that this is what I want, and that is what I stand for. But that Other may suddenly cry “enough!” and leave my intentions, my public persona, and my private image of myself blowing in the wind.

In his autobiography, Memories, Dreams Reflections, Psychiatrist C. G. Jung says: “We have in all naiveté forgotten that beneath our world of reason another lies buried.” That rings true. Like Horatio, we often forget that there’s much more in our inner and outer world that we can bend our minds around. Jung also writes, “In each of us there is another we do not know. He speaks to us in dreams and tells us how differently he sees us from the way we see ourselves.”

So if I choose to pay attention, if I’m not totally freaked out or in denial when the Other appears, I can make time for it by beginning to pay attention to my dreams, to the false starts I make in my day, the moments I’m off balance mentally and physically, the words I didn’t mean to say, even the songs I discover I’ve mindlessly been humming. They all carry messages from the Other.

If, like me, you’re curious about these visits from another world within, welcome to a walk on the dark side! While it’s not easy to wrest answers from this alternative inner universe, if you’re game for it, below are some experiments you might try, in order to catch a glimpse of whatever seems to drive you where you may not want to go. And while you do, it’s really important to ground yourself in your own physical reality. As Jungian analyst Marion Woodman said in The Ravaged Bridegroom: ” Men as much as women need to know that their soul is grounded in their own loving matter. ‘This is who I am. Every cell in my body tells me this is of value to me—not to my persona, to me.’ That is the container whose feeling can be trusted because it is grounded in reality.”

  1. Begin to notice your emotional reactions like a scientist gathering data, and write them down at the end of each day. When the soul becomes more quiet and reflective because our daily supply of energy has been largely used up, we see things differently. No judgments about whether this or that attitude or expression was good or bad, just a description. You may be surprised at how much your notes tell you about yourself a day, a week, or a year later.
  1. Write down your dreams or daydreams right when they occur. Reread them the next day, listening without judgment to what stirs you up in them. The fact is that deep under the dynamics of our daily life flows a hidden river of unconscious activity that tries to compensate for our fixed conscious attitudes and our domineering complexes by offering often-alien shadow messages. Through dreams, associations and unconscious reactions, our soul’s energy seeks to communicate with us, inviting us to open to a larger understanding.
  1. Listen carefully to yourself when you say or think, “I’m not like that!” or “That’s not me!” Or even when, with sorrowful pride, you insist: “That’s just how I am and I can’t change! Everyone will have to accept me as I am!” It’s not easy to scope out what I don’t really want to admit to, but well worth the attempt. Above all, I begin to see that these fragmentary personas aren’t really me. They are related to habitual aspects of how I think about myself — as the hero of my own romance, or my public persona, or my private ideal.
  1. When you run into a heretofore unknown member of the cast of characters that expresses itself through you, someone who’s not so dominant that you think of it as “you,” ask it to explain itself. Approach a dialogue with care. Try to be open and accept the uncertainty of the outcome. It may be necessary to give up your in-charge self for a little while, otherwise you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. These hidden sides of our personality or essence may not respond to closed minds or challenging attitudes. Why should they? After all, how many know-it-alls would you want to open up to?
  1. Make note of any strong feelings you have about these efforts. When I explore this little known emotional territory, I’m most helped when I admit I don’t understand what’s going on. It may seem counter-intuitive, but giving up is a powerful tool that allows us to listen with a real need to understand. If these are huge, archetypal energies blowing through me, I’m safest when I’m in touch with my own limitations and the small piece of earth I occupy.
  1. Be ready for surprises. Don’t assume an outcome or you may not learn anything new. But don’t cut off an exchange just because one of these offshoots of yourself says what you don’t want to hear. Ask for clarification instead. If you can hold back strong reactions and really listen, or allow your gut reactions to morph into questioning words, you’re sure to discover something new.

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