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The "Great Other" -- The Spiritual Quest for the Divine

A concept that emerges from the work of many great psychoanalysts of the 20th century is the concept of what Robert Moore calls "The Great Other". In Jungian psychoanalysis, perhaps the greatest body of evidence-backed scientific literature to map the inner depths of the human psyche, Jungians would refer to the "Great Other" as the Archetypal Self. Ancient tribal cultures knew about this aspect of us. Religion has been an attempt for humans to domesticate this part of the psyche and build a relationship to it. Essentially, they all describe the same thing -- existing within each human is an aspect of our consciousness that brings renewal, wisdom, regeneration, creativity, inspiration, and a sort of divine motivation to do and be good. A fully matured and psychologically "fit" mind is plugged into this dimension and possesses a regulated relationship to "It". Without a strong and agile connection to "It", our grip on Reality is tenuous, and the ego adapts control patterns, neuroses, and other psychological mechanisms to ensure that the human personality does its best to navigate the chaotic seas of life. The purpose of yoga sadhana and the teachings that emerge from these wisdom sciences of India and the East is to help us strengthen our connection to "It", and perhaps just as importantly install the necessary systems and inner architecture necessary for the energy to flow through from "It" and into our personalities and therefore the lives that we live.

This essay is my attempt to explore and explain these concepts in a way that helps ground a person onto their spiritual path with an understanding of the underlying psychological systems that are at play. Clarity of these topics can assist a person in understanding their spirituality but also why their mind does what it does. These are important distinctions to make for progress to be made. Much of what I will share can be intuitively felt; one's own conclusions must be drawn from the information that I will convey to you here.

No matter a person's background, caste or creed, a brief contemplation and inquiry might reveal that there is indeed a Source beyond the "I". There is a sort of Power (capital P) out of which the personality structurizes itself. This is apparent when we notice that when we are plugged into our inspiration, something propels us to improve our lives. To improve our patterns, our practices, our ways of thinking and being. We can notice this when we get the sense that "there is something more". Or we might feel that we are not living up to our potential. When we begin the spiritual quest to discover what we might do to begin manifesting a better life for ourselves, we start to search for this Source. We leave the island of "I" (the ego) and open ourselves up to be transformed.

The "I" is the center of the personality. This "I" is the locus around which all of our ideas and beliefs we have about ourselves and life revolves around. Everything must be referenced back to this place, and assimilated into the greater pattern we have carefully constructed over a lifetime. If information comes in that doesn't fit with our pattern, we either reject it outright OR we try to find a way to manipulate the information so that it can fit into our worldview. The purpose of this "I" is to give us an integrated sense of self and world. The more integrated and psychologically mature our "I" becomes, the more adaptable and flexible we are in the face of a changing world. We become more solid in ourselves and more relatable to diversity. When our "I" is not fully integrated, the world appears more chaotic and disorganized than it might actually be. The sense of overwhelming chaos around us is a hint that the "I" needs to find a way to plug into the dimension of Reality that brings order.

There are many dimensions of our life that need our attention. There are many dimensions of our personality that need to be integrated in order for life to have a sense of "flow" to it. When things are flowing -- we are inspired, creative, active, healthy -- energy is moving between the "I" and the world. But what does this energy come from? An unhealthy ego might think that it is coming from "I". The personality takes credit for all the goodness that is happening. The problem with this misidentification to Power is that this is a recipe for the "Fall from Grace". The story of Adam and Even from the Bible explains this metaphysical problem quite accurately. When we "eat from the fruit of knowledge", we suddenly believe that WE are the one from which the knowledge is emerging... Not realizing that there is a Power beyond the "I" which is where all the energy (knowledge) comes. The result? We are kicked out of the Garden of Eden. We lose our innocence and purity. Suddenly, the "I" is pitted in the great mythological battle of trying to figure out how to return to the Garden. This essentially describes a great deal of the spiritual path. If we tune into our lives, and notice that things aren't as great as they could be (whether that be in relationships, career, creative purpose, etc) we are in the beginning stage of humbling the ego and turning towards "The Great Other", the "It", or the "Archetypal Self" (these are synonyms).

As one begins to humble the ego, the "I", one realizes that there is in actuality a Center beyond the "center". The journey of all journeys begins. The purpose of pilgrimage is to depict this symbolically. One must leave their "known" world and embark upon a spiritual quest to strengthen their relationship to the "Center out there" . The psychology of this process is mapped quite beautifully with Joseph Campbells "Hero's Journey". Essentially, a human that is "awakening" identifies that there is something missing, and they begin to search for that missing thing. Even when life is outwardly perfect, if this connection to Source, to the "Great Other" is not well-established, nothing brings the ultimate satisfaction. Why? Because the ego can never have enough. There is a part of us, a nagging inner whisper that never goes away, that will constantly remind us, even if we did the best job, "you can do better." When the ego and the Great Other are not in well-established communion, and there is a way that we regulate and mediate the energy coming from the Great Other, this nagging inner voice can lead to despair, misery, confusion, and ultimately dissatisfaction.

To establish our communion with the Great Other is to first admit and acknowledge that there is indeed a Power beyond the "I". We can call it God, Spirit, Source, Great Mystery... all manner of names have been used to describe this Force. As we are speaking psychoanalytically, Jungians described this as the Archetypal Self. They believed that the blueprints for our most optimized life exist as potentials lying dormant in the human psyche and I would agree. This idea is confirmed in the Tantrik teachings which personify divine aspects of the personality as gods and goddesses and practitioners of Tantra will worship these deities to bring themselves into alignment with these forces. What these practitioners are trying to do is activate the dormant parts of their psyche and install the necessary software and psychic architecture for these energies to flow through them. The ego cannot do this; it is useful here to contemplate that the ego, or personality, is a composite of what we've learned in this lifetime through our experiences. Compare this to the fact that there is an evolutionary impetus of life that emerges through your DNA and has been propelling life along for generations. The personality only has the experience of this lifetime to draw from -- the DNA has the experience of many, many lifetimes. The forces that want life to evolve, coming into us through our genetic material, are stronger, wiser and older than the force of the personality. The problem arises when the personality is in conflict to these forces. Hence why we seek to build a relationship to them.

Even if we can intuit that there is a force beyond the ego, beyond the intellect, this doesn't mean that we have a clear relationship with it. The ego is very clever and can hijack the wisdom that emerges from the "Great Other" and assume that it, the ego, is the one in possession of the power. This leads to spiritual grandiosity -- an inflated sense that YOU are the one in control of your life and destiny. The problem with this way of thinking is that it disregards the fact that you didn't choose certain aspects of your reality -- when and where you were born, the family you were born into, etc. If the ego assumes that it is in complete control of its own destiny, then even when a person finds a way to plug into the Archetypal Self and download the energy needed for their life to prosper, there is a lack in the necessarily balancing force of humility and surrender. In the Yoga Sutras, it describes the importance of this balancing quality, which Patanjali aptly calls ishvara pranidhana -- "surrender to the Divine". Patanjali states quite plainly that for energy to flow in a favorable way (which he calls this unifiying energy flow kriya yoga), there is the required quality of surrender. Why would surrender be a necessary aspect of energy to flow in a balanced way?

The ego does not possess the Power -- or, more accurately, the ego is not the Source of the Power. It is merely a conglomeration of that power working through us. The ego is a bit like a computer program, but it is not the voltage running into the computer to make it work in the first place. The ego can change and re-write its code, but without the power supply, the program cannot function. People who are depressed are operating from a diminished connection to the power supply and have a sort of reduced RAM in their system. Even if they know what to do, they don't possess the energy to do it. Even people on the spiritual path experience this; it's not enough for the mind to have the right ideas -- there needs to a be a place where energy can flow into the system and give the power necessary for the ideas to be made manifest.

So how do we connect to this voltage? Well, for one, we are never not connected to It. It is the animating force in our lives. We wouldn't be alive without It. The Yogis called this Power by the name of Kundalini Shakti: the force of life that surges through every single one of our cells and wills us to live. Yes, there is a force that wants us to live and this is the same force that I'm describing here in this essay. However, our job is to regulate our connection to It and develop an ego & personality structure that can effectively channel this energy.

We must begin the life-long process of regulation. We learn how to regulate the movement of energy between The Great Other and into our lives. I use the word "regulate" here because if this energy is operating in an unregulated way, we experience further chaos and destruction. You can think of great artists or musicians who were clearly tapped into the Source, and yet didn't possess the appropriate structures in their psyche for this energy to move through safely and in a balanced way. On the other hand, we can develop a sort of fear where we avoid connecting to this energy because when it starts to move, it can be scary. Why is it scary? Because It wants to BECOME! Things might change in this process of becoming. Oftentimes, we'd rather keep things the same. More accurately, the ego and personality try to keep things the same. A part of us is not ready to embrace the fullness of who we might become if we were really plugged into Source and we surrendered enough to allow that energy to move through us. We keep ourselves small. The paradox is that our desire to keep ourselves small is intimately tied in with our desire to become what we might be. They are two sides of the same coin -- our smallness is the shadow of our Greatness. And because the ego hasn't fully accepted that it is not in control, it ends up controlling this whole situation. When the ego finally lets go, our greatness can manifest because then the Great Other can move through. But if the ego is gripping, it prevents this energy flow from occurring.

The key is in developing a psychologically mature sense of self as an ego, integrated in your personality, with a clear connection to the Source beyond the ego. We don't get rid of the ego, and we don't over-inflate the ego. We learn that the ego is the program and we download the right set of codes necessary for the Divine energy that wants to manifest. This process is a bit like the creation of a temple -- an inner temple, where the Divine can come to reside. We strengthen our vessel, so to speak, so that when we get hooked up to 220,000 volts of electricity we don't blow a fuse. This is the purpose of all the yoga practices like asana, pranayama, kriya, mantra, etc. We learn to develop a body-mind that can handle the tremendous currents of the life-force. Simultaneously, we purify the mind and our understanding of the Divine so that the ego doesn't get ahead of itself. The ego remains in supplication and respect towards the Great Other. An attitude of reverence and devotion emerges quite organically. The two -- the ego and the Great Other -- need each other... and a true relationship is formed. A sort of understanding.

We must learn how we plug into this Great Other, to the Archetypal Self. We must learn where in our psyche the energies are flowing and where they are not. By uncovering this process and understanding our spiritual path, our steps become more effective. We become more effective. And as we climb the ladder of our spiritual development, we reach a state of maturation where the natural by-product is generosity and service. Our needs are met and now all that life wants to do is to give back. You could say that a person has successfully individuated and now, in their fullness, they are bringing something new and authentic to the tribe. This is how innovation happens, how creation happens, and ultimately... evolution occurs.

Hari Om


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