Meeting the 'Other' Within

As I point out in my recent book, The Madness of George W. Bush: A Reflection of our Collective Psychosis, withdrawing our shadow projections, the darker part of ourselves that we see reflected in ‘others,’ initiates the process of being able to more effectively deal with the darkness in our world. The question arises: what does owning our shadow and withdrawing our shadow projections look like? When we recognize, own and withdraw our shadow projections from the outside world that we have cast onto ‘others,’ we get in touch with the ‘other’ inside of ourselves. When we stop seeing the ‘other’ who is outside ourselves as separate, but as a reflection of something within ourselves, we become acquainted with the ‘other’ who exists within.

This newly found ‘other within’ is subjectively experienced as not being under the control of our will, as if it is a separate and autonomous being. To meet the other within is to discover that we are not the master of our own house. To conceptualize this other within ourselves, think of our primary identity or who we imagine we are—a good, kind, spiritual person, for example—and then take the polar opposite of this perspective... this is how the other within us sees the world. To quote Jung, “We discover that the ‘other’ in us is indeed ‘another, a real person, who actually thinks, does, feels, and desires all the things that are despicable and odious. A whole man, however, knows that his bitterest foe, or indeed a host of enemies, does not equal that one worst adversary, the ‘other self’ who dwells in his bosom.” To quote the cartoon character Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

The autonomous other within us is symbolically related to the figure of the devil, who is the ‘other’ and adversary, to God (one of the inner meanings of the word ‘devil’ is the ‘adversary’). The battle between Christ and his adversary (the Antichrist)—seen symbolically—is a reflection of the dynamic that exists between ourselves and the ‘adversarial other’ unconsciously residing within us. Commenting on this correlation, Jung said “... the ‘adversary is none other than ‘the other in me.’ And yet, in some mysterious way, this adversarial other plays a crucial role in the actualization of our true nature.” Jung also said, “The shadow and the opposing will are the necessary conditions for all actualization.”

This other within can really get in our way and mess with our best intentions, however. This other within can manifest in a way that is truly ‘devilish,’ thwarting us at every turn. Interestingly, one of the meanings of the word ‘Satan’ is ‘that which ‘obstructs.’ This other within can manifest so demonically and arouse such terror in us because it is a reflection and projection of our inner state of fear and denial, as ultimately it is related to—an expression of and inseparable from—ourselves. Because we experience this ‘other’ within ourselves as alien and separate from ourselves and not under our control, however, we feel fear upon meeting it. Fear and the experience of an ‘other’ (whether in the outside world, or within ourselves) co-arise simultaneously, as they mutually evoke and reinforce each other. Fear is the very expression of the separate self, as one is never found without the other.

Autonomous Complexes

Jung relates demons to what he calls ‘autonomous complexes,’ which are parts of the psyche that have been so split-off due to trauma they develop a seemingly independent and quasi- life of their own. These split-off and disowned autonomous complexes, which seem to oppose us, are ultimately parts of ourselves that we have disassociated from. This is similar to forgetting about part of our physical body. This part of ourselves will compensate our dis-membering of our wholeness by trying to get our attention and help us to re-member it; so it is in our psychic landscape. When we split-off from a part of our psyche, we project out this part of ourselves and it will invariably get dreamed up, either as an ‘other’ within our psyche, or as an ‘other’ in the outside world.

These autonomous complexes are ultimately our own energy appearing to us in projected, seemingly out-there form, so as to compensate a one-sidedness on our part. These autonomous complexes are genuine symbols that reflect our inner situation while at the same time being potentially transformative of it. They are an expression of the part of us that is one-sided, while simultaneously being the very doorway into integrating our imbalance, embracing the split-off inner ‘other’ and actualizing our intrinsic wholeness. How the autonomous other within us manifests—constructively or destructively—depends upon whether we recognize what it is revealing to us. Jung said, “Individuation is an exceedingly difficult task; it always involves a conflict of duties, whose solution requires us to understand that our ‘counter-will’ is also an aspect of God’s will.” This autonomous other, with its ‘counter-will,’ plays a mysterious and key role in the revelation of our true nature. Paradoxically, this ‘autonomous other’ within ourselves, though seemingly separate from ourselves, is simultaneously none other than ourselves. It is as if we are so split off from our true self that we have to dream it up as being alien to ourselves in order to begin relationship with it.

Interestingly, such disparate thinkers as Jung and the philosopher Terrance McKenna, hypothesized that the ET/ UFO phenomena might actually be an expression of the psychic fact that we are so split-off from our true self that we can only begin to experience it in the projected form of an alien other. Are the seeming appearances of ET/UFOs in the outer world simply an embodied reflection of this inner, psychic process, as if an archetypal process existing deep within the human psyche is being ‘dreamed up’ into materialization through our universe in order to show us something about ourselves?

When we are completely disassociated from a part of ourselves, just like in a dream, we project it outside of ourselves (whether inwardly or outwardly), where this unconscious content belonging to ourselves gets ‘dreamed up’ in the form of an ‘other.’ If we can recognize the reflection of ourselves that is being revealed to us, we can then begin the process of integrating this split-off, unconscious part of ourselves into our conscious self image. This is similar to how Christ, who symbolizes God incarnate, had to fully incarnate in humanity, which is to say become completely alien and separate from God, for God to reconcile with and become one with Itself. To quote Jung, “God in his humanity is presumably so far from himself that he has to seek himself through absolute self surrender. And where would God’s wholeness be if he could not be the wholly other?”

The Other Within as a Sacred Experience

When we discover the ‘other’ within ourselves, we begin to get in relationship with it, instead of trying to dominate and destroy it. We begin to treat our darker part religiously, as we honor and respect this darker partner with whom we are sharing our life. Etymologically, the word ‘religio’ derives from the word ‘religare,’ which means to link back and reconnect, e.g., to the source, God, our true selves. Talking about treating things religiously, Jung said, “Religion appears to me to be a peculiar attitude of mind which could be formulated in accordance with the original use of the word religio, which means a careful consideration and observation of certain dynamic factors that are conceived as ‘powers.’” The use of the word ‘religio’ in this context must not be confused with the contemporary pejorative use of the word, which typically refers to the dogmatic, rigid fundamentalism of ‘organized religion,’ which entails following a set of predetermined beliefs or laws imposed by an outside authority.

Our existential situation as human beings is to find ourselves having to come to terms with archetypal powers that are seemingly more powerful than ourselves. From Jung, “The truth is we do not enjoy master-less freedom; we are continually threatened by psychic factors which—in the guise of ‘natural phenomena—may take possession of us at any moment.” The withdrawal of metaphysical projections leaves us almost defenseless in the face of this happening, for we immediately identify with every impulse instead of giving it the name of the ‘other,’ which would at least hold it at arm’s length and prevent it from storming the citadel of the ego. ‘Principalities and powers’ are always with us; we have no need to create them even if we could. It is merely incumbent on us to choose the master we wish to serve, so that his service shall be our safeguard against being mastered by the ‘other’ whom we have not chosen. We are in a position where we choose, whether we know it or not, whether we become taken over by the ‘other’ within ourselves in a way where we unwittingly become its instrument, or relate to this power seemingly greater than ourselves with consciousness. This is related to the choices each of us must make in coming to terms with our own compulsive, addictive tendencies.

To relate to the ‘other’ within ourselves in a ‘religious’ way is to be carefully contemplating it as a power greater than ourselves (the numinosum) that is worthy of our devoted attention. Jung said, “Religion, as the Latin word denotes, is a careful and scrupulous observation of what Rudolph Otto—author of The Idea of the Holy—aptly terms the numinosum; that is, a dynamic agency or effect not caused by an arbitrary act of will. On the contrary, it seizes and controls the human subject, who is always rather its victim than its creator. The numinosum—whatever its cause may be—is an experience of the subject independent of his will.”

To treat things religiously is to develop a more holistic attitude towards our experience, in which we realize that we are inseparably united with our universe. Instead of relating to our experience in a literal, linear and materialistic way, we recognize that this universe of ours is a living oracle, a continually unfolding revelation that is speaking symbolically, just like a dream. This is to recognize that the ‘material’ of our universe is infused with spirit, a realization which itself is a reflexion and effect of cultivating a religious attitude. Jung explains that “... the term ‘religion’ designates the attitude peculiar to a consciousness which has been changed by experience of the numinosum.” When we have the numinous experience of getting in relationship with the other within ourselves, we, as well as the very universe in which we live, become transformed in the process.

We encounter the numinous every moment, as our very life experience is nothing other than an ongoing experience of the numinous. The question is: do we add consciousness to our experience of the numinous or do we continue to experience it unconsciously, indirectly, and hence, as problematic? The answer to this fateful question literally determines our destiny. This is why Jung said, “The main interest of my work is not concerned with the treatment of neuroses but rather with the approach to the numinous. But the fact is that the approach to the numinous is the real therapy and inasmuch as you attain to the numinous experiences, you are released from the curse of pathology. Even the very disease takes on a numinous character.”

When we encounter the numinosum, the seemingly negative aspect of our experience reveals itself to be an aspect of the divine.” To have an experience of this autonomous other within ourselves can potentially lead to a life-transforming experience in which we get more deeply in touch with the truth of who we are. To quote Jung,

“All modern people feel alone in the world of the psyche because they assume that there is nothing there that they have not made up. This is the very best demonstration of our God-almighty-ness, an unconscious identification with God, otherwise known as ‘inflation,’ which simply comes from the fact that we think we have invented everything psychical... that nothing would be done if we did not do it, for that is our basic idea and it is an extraordinary assumption. Then one is all alone in one’s psyche, exactly like the Creator before the creation. But through a certain training—contemplating the other within, for example—’something suddenly happens which one has not created—something objective— and then one is no longer alone. That is the object of (certain) initiations: to train people to experience something which is not their intention: something strange, something objective with which they cannot identify. This experience of the objective fact is all-important, because it denotes the presence of something which is not I, yet is still psychical. Such an experience can reach a climax where it becomes an experience of God.”

When we recognize and get in relationship with the dark other within us, we can potentially experience the numinosum directly. As Jung continually pointed out throughout his work, it is by making the darkness conscious that we become enlightened. Coming to terms with the dark other within us forces us to develop a strong sense of self, of who we are, of our innate wholeness and connection with the divine. Developing a strong sense of self enables us to sustain being in conscious relationship with and not become overwhelmed by, identified with, or possessed by, this more powerful transpersonal power. Paradoxically, though the other within us is ultimately an aspect of ourselves that we need to embrace, confronting the other within forces us to develop a viewpoint other than it. The other within teaches us how to say “No,” and set a boundary. Like a psychic nautilus machine that helps us to work out the very muscle we need to develop, engaging with the other within helps us to strengthen the part of ourselves that is weakest.

Relating to the other within us religiously is to participate in the transformation of this archetypal power into becoming our ally. As we become more engaged with this part of ourselves, we experience the sacred marriage of alchemy, which is to join and unify with ourselves. At this point the ‘other’ is no longer ‘other.’ We have become integrated, one with ourselves. By raising our darkness to the level of consciousness, we have taken away its autonomy and assimilated it into the wholeness of our being, which is what ‘Incarnation’ is all about.

Encoded in the Darkness is the Germ of a New Light

Paradoxically, recognizing our own darkness is an ‘illumination.’ Depending upon how we relate to it, this dark other we have found within ourselves can truly be Lucifer, the dark angel who is the bringer of the light. As Jung continually contemplated in his work, evil plays an incredibly important and mysterious role in the divine drama of incarnation, salvation and redemption. He said, “A glance at the Scriptures, however, is enough to show us the importance of the devil in the divine drama of redemption.” When the Christ event is viewed symbolically—as we would contemplate a dream—the Incarnation of God in, through, and as, humanity would not have been accomplished without the role of the devil. As if part of a deeper divine mystery, the figure of the devil, the embodiment of evil itself, is related to the coming of the light. Shadows are expressions that light is nearby. As Jung pointed out, “... a strong light is the best shadow projector, provided that there is something to cast a shadow.”

When the darkness seems to be at its most powerful is paradoxically when the light becomes available. Jung said, “... when one principle reaches the height of its power, the counter-principle is stirring within it like a germ, the apparently meaningless and hopeless collapse into a disorder without aim or purpose, which fills the onlooker with disgust and despair, nevertheless contains within its darkness the germ of a new light.”

Could, as Jung suggests, the darkness in our world contain within it ‘the germ of a new light,’ heralding a new era dawning for our species? Marie Louise von Franz, one of Jung’s closest colleagues, wrote, “Jung saw this present-day culmination of evil as typical of the historical catastrophes that tend to accompany the great transitions from one age to another.” In bringing the darkness within us to the light of conscious awareness, we are participating in an evolutionary and epochal expansion of consciousness that has been predicted by numerous wisdom based, prophetic traditions for centuries.

What is happening within us, the microcosm, is a reflection of the same process that is happening collectively, in the macrocosm. Just like the dark other within ourselves is the very figure that can awaken us to a greater and more comprehensive state of being, the darkness that is playing out on the world stage can potentially activate the light of consciousness in our species, thus serving as a catalyst for collective evolution. Jung said, “And so we can draw a parallel: just as in me, a single individual, the darkness calls forth a helpful light, so it does in the psychic life of a people.”

Becoming intimately acquainted with the dark other within us empowers us to relate with and effectively deal with the darkness in the outer world. The inner experience of getting into conscious relationship with and integrating the other within ourselves is reflected in the outside world, as the more we embrace the other within us, the more we are able to re-connect with others in the outside world, and vice-versa.

Any one person integrating the darkness within themselves could be, as Jung said, “... the makeweight that tips the scales,” precipitating a realization in the collective psyche of all humanity. Because we are all interconnected, we can co-relate, inter-act and hook up with each other to become the instruments through which our lucidity becomes collectively made real (materialized) in space and time. We are then able to intervene en masse and change the dynamics and direction of the waking dream we are sharing. We are being invited by the universe to be the engines of our own, as well as the universes’, evolution. It is an invitation we should not decline. Let us assent and say “Yes!” to what is being freely offered to us.

Paul Levy is an artist and a spiritually informed political co-activist. A pioneer in the field of spiritual awakening, he is a healer in private practice, assisting others who are awakening to the dreamlike nature of reality. He is a long-time Tibetan Buddhist practitioner and the author of The Madness of George Bush: A Reflection of Our Collective Psychosis, which is available at Please feel free to pass this article along to a friend if you feel so inspired.