My Explanation For The Sensation Of “Otherness”
By Alan D. Griffin
When I am discussing religion with people a major factor which gets brought up often concerning their belief in God is the feeling of a presence, a sense of “otherness.” So I am going to give you my explanation for what this sensation is and where it comes from.
The sense of the presence of “otherness” to me is simply a mislabeling of the self.
We from birth get our sense of self only through the words and reactions of others. So we identify ourselves by the perceptions and expectations others placed upon us. Even our experiences no matter how unique are perceived through this identity placed upon us. This is the foundation for which your ego is built. This is not your true self but simply your ego mistaking “otherness” for self. So only when we are with our self apart from our ego or our concept of self given to us by others can we catch a glimpse of our true “selfness.” But the ego has already correlated “otherness” as self so when we are confronted by our actually self our ego correlates it with “otherness.”
When you through the ego have a glimpse or a sense of “otherness” it is actually a glimpse or a sense, of “selfness.” So you see we are like dogs chasing our own tails. We run around and around searching for ourselves in other people, other ideas, in something which lies beyond us, and this becomes our normal state of being and perception. Just as the dog that is able to catch his own tail, for that brief moment he realizes the thing he was trying to catch was himself the whole time. He has mistaken himself as other and when he finally catches his tail , it was him catching himself but gets the sense that he has actually caught the “other.” Then he goes about trying to catch his tail again. And around and around we go.
So I hypothesize that actual “otherness” is the mundane, the everyday, the status quo, the normal way in which we view our individual self through the ego. When we have the sense of actual “selfness” this is the extraordinary moments, this is where the sense of awe comes from, where the sense of the divine upon us arises. We are so accustomed to correlating “otherness” with self that when we experience “selfness” we correlate it with “the other”.
This is why those training to become a Shaman has no profound insights within the village. In the presence of others he can only see his ego’s perception of self. When he goes out alone in the Wilderness where he can escape his ego’s perception of self can he catch a glimpse of his true “selfness” but mislabels it as “otherness.” The same is true of the Shishya or Buddhist alone in their meditations is when they become most aware of “the other.” You can say the same of the Christian, Jew, or Muslim who after being alone in prayer can be convinced that “God has spoke to me!”
This is hard to comprehend and harder to accept because it is direct opposition to the ego.
This is why gurus exist, this is what Buddha, Jesus, and others were trying to convey. What these teachers attempt to do is subtlety over come your ego so that the correct perception can be realized that what we think of as self is actually a culmination of our perception of other people’s perceptions and expectations placed upon us.
The realizaton that what our ego labels as self is “otherness” and what the ego labels as “otherness” is the self is the essence of enlightenment. If we can circumvent the ego we can finally perceive our “selfness” correctly by overcoming what our ego has been programmed to perceive as self.
Overcoming the ego in this way is so hard it has to be done subtlety and covertly. This is done normally by a teacher or guru through a system of benevolent trickery or game play.
There is another way we get a sense of “otherness.” That is the glimpsing of someone else experiencing their “selfness”. It is similar in certain ways to your experience of “selfness” but not quite because their “selfness” is not the same as your “selfness”.
Also you don’t have to overcome your own ego to see this in others. This is where we get notions of angels as men or men as angels. This is how we take notice of the Buddha, the Guru, the Christ.
This other aspect of the feeling of the presence of “otherness” comes from other individuals acting on their unique and individual perception of their personification of what they find as virtuous and them being aware of their own “selfness” if only for a brief moment.
We can sense this because we are all similar in the fact that we are all humans, we respond to similar environments and similar stimuli and all have similar anxieties. We can relate to the fact that this is what we are seeing demonstrated in others and we take notice of it.
We also realize that this is not stemming from us or our actions but something wholly separate from us. This gives us the sense or feeling of ” otherness” or God being present.
The personification of perceived ultimate virtue expressed in others and their “selfness” is completely “other” to me and my personification of my perceived concept of ultimate virtue and my “selfness” is completely “other” to them.
Out of all the definitions of God there are 2 general ways God is talked about. The immanent and the transcendent God.
The “Transcendent” God is the idea of God as wholly other, existing independently, the ground of all being which has intentionality.
The “immanent” God is the idea that God exists within us and flows through us. A personification of an abstract concept which embodies the behaviors and ways of thinking perceived to be virtuous and true that is unique to each individual.
My “immanent” God seems to have transcendent qualities to you and your “immanent” God seems to have transcendent qualities to me.
But, this is just a misunderstanding of the difference between other than me and something separate from us as human beings.
My abstract concept of an immanent God which I have created based on my personal notion of ultimate virtue can only be seen in reality or effecting reality if and only if I myself personify my own abstract concept of God which is really just my concept of ultimate virtue. This concept of a immanent God is really a self imposed game, a benevolent trickery to overcome your own ego.
I would be the embodiment of this God, the one who is derived from this God just as this notion of God is derived from me. So realizing ” I Am the otherness” is synonymous with realizing ” I Am God.”
From this perspective claiming you don’t believe in God is claiming your own notions of what it means to be virtuous and your own experience with your “selfness” cannot be personified or expressed in yourself. This seems a rather odd claim.
But, if our ego is labeling “otherness” as self and self as “otherness” incorrectly. Then maybe we are doing the same with the concepts of immanent and transcendent. If transcendent means existing apart from us or independently of us. That is the ego self formed by perceptions and expectations of us placed upon us by others then what we normally see as self is what is transcendent. This self exists independent of us, apart from us and will continue to exist after we are dead an gone because it is an amalgamation of other people’s perceptions and expectations of us.
So, if what we thought of as immanent is actually transcendent then what we think of as being transcendent is then immanent. If the feeling of “otherness” is actually “selfness”. Then what we think is separate from us and independent is actual dependent and must flow through us and from no where else but from us.
Someone who can over come the ego and rightly perceive the ego’s perception of self as “other” and the perception of “other” as self is the one who can finally live a truly unique and authentic life.
This is the difference in being Christ-like and being a Christian, being a Buddha and being a Buddhist, a shamanic master and a shamanic practitioner, being a Guru and being the Shishya, etc.
This admittedly is a very Eastern philosophical view of this phenomena of having a sense of “otherness.” But, this conclusion to me seems to be the most reasonable and simple explanation for the sense of “otherness” we experience and a conclusion I have drawn from the ideas and concepts of Joseph Campbell, Alan Watts, Carl Jung, Terrence McKenna, and Friedrich Nietzsche.