Other-ness is a real thing.
For me, other-ness first appeared as I was entering high school. I was small still, prepubescent, and noticeably less physically mature then my peers.
I first internalized this sense of being different when I was cut from the high school varsity soccer team as a freshman, despite the fact that I was clearly qualified to be a part of the team. Making that team meant everything to me, and I remember sobbing later that night alone, unconsolable. It’s probably when I first began to say to myself, ‘I’m different from others, and I’m lacking in some way.”
Later, when my cool, popular older brother and his friends took me under their wing, teaching me how to drink at the bonfire parties out in the desert, I remember other people looking at me and chuckling, entertained by the little fella drinking. I noticed myself bracing, posturing defensively, a serious face with eyebrows furrowed. I’m no one to be laughed at. These were again the seeds of defensiveness, or other-ness, being planted. I must defend myself against being vulnerable, being hurt.
On the flip side, as I grew into my own, and even now as an adult, there are times when I see myself as smarter, cooler, or better off in some way than someone else. Other-ness manifesting in self-righteousness and feeling superior.
Other-ness needs a defended heart to survive. We are all too often vigilant and hyper-vigilant to perceived personal insults, threats, and anything else that might bruise our self-image. We are in a state of readiness to defend ourselves against whomever or whatever offends the ego. We are constantly in self protection mode, interpreting and misinterpreting. What ensues is defending one’s views, attacking others, and confrontation.
It’s this feeling separate, and acting separate that leads to so much turmoil and conflict. On the political stage, we’ve always seen it, and it’s on full display these days with Trump and the rest of ’em. It’s black and white, right and wrong, and us versus them. Divisiveness. Separateness. Other-ness.
Obviously, we reside in our individual bodies, our respective communities, and different countries. In that sense we are separate. However, what parts of our collective humanity, and what commonalities do we all have, that we forget about in our daily interactions?
Who was it that said, “Be kind to everyone you meet, for they are fighting a battle you know nothing about.” The Buddha said we all have an essence of goodness and love that has been clouded over and hidden by our conditioning. Our Buddha nature. I love the word namaste, commonly translated as “the divine light in me honors the divine light in you.”
Thomas Merton said, “If only they could see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time, there would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed… I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.”
I’m of the belief that if we knew how to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and intimate with each other, we’d see parts of ourselves in the other, and parts of them in us.
Society has increasingly gotten so mean, in person and especially online; things are said with no accountability. When did it become okay to say something to someone online that you wouldn’t say to their face?
We all grew up hearing our elders telling us that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Is it finally coming to fruition? Has there always been this much senseless killing? Has there always been this much greed and hatred? I know the actual planet hasn’t always been in critical condition like it is now.
So what is the antidote for other-ness?
Well, if you believe that being more about we as opposed to me is a value that would be of benefit to the world, then setting an intention to make decisions that are in alignment with this value is a good first step.
I think it’s important to reflect on if we are living our lives according to our values. Are we making daily decisions that reflect our deepest intentions? Are we attuned to what our values actually are?
For me, one thing that has made a noticeable positive impact on my life has been intention setting. Setting an intention is a reminder to yourself to respond to life’s difficulties (or pleasures) in ways that are more indicative of who you truly are, or want to become.
An important first step is connecting with a value, intention, or personal challenge—something that resonates with you and what’s going on in your life. To stay with the theme of this article, we can choose the intention to move towards love and connection, and move away from fear and separation, or other-ness.
Having an idea of an area in life where we react instinctively instead of respond thoughtfully is a good starting point. Reacting is our conditioned mind’s way of relating to a person or event that is no longer benefitting us or others. Responding is pausing, and in a mindful and spacious way, choosing a response that is more guided by spirit, and less guided by ego.
Choose a person, a situation, or an area in your life where you get triggered and your habit is to react instead of respond. Imagine, instead of reacting as you’re accustomed to, what a response might look like that entails a spirit of connection, and to whatever degree, a dissolving of this sense of other-ness? Notice if this is difficult or easy. What comes up for you?
When someone approaches us on the street and asks for money, what is our conditioned way of reacting? Do we look away, ignoring him/her, and speed up? If so, what is underneath this reaction? Do we not want to be bothered? Are we afraid for our safety? Are we worried about not having enough to give? I’m not suggesting that we need to give every time, but if we take a deeper look at our reactions, we are likely to find an insight into our own conditioning. Our sense of ‘other-ness.’
What would a thoughtful response in this situation look like? Maybe an honest acknowledgement of the person’s existence and struggle might feel better to him/her then receiving a dollar. How can we withhold less, and give more, in whatever situation, so that we may slightly dissolve other-ness and increase connection? Can we begin to notice when we withhold praise, acknowledgement, or compassion? Perhaps we can even become more open to not only giving, but also in receiving. In receiving, we are part of creating the conditions for the giver to feel good.
So here is what I suggest. Each morning, sit quietly for a period of time that you feel comfortable with, and connect with your breath and your body. Let your awareness descend into your body, and allow the thoughts that will inevitably arise be blown away by an imaginary breeze. These are a precious few minutes when you don’t need to plan, rehearse, remember, or fantasize. Once you’ve sustained your awareness in your body to a certain degree, set your intentions for the day. Or just one intention: more about we, less about me.
Some examples are:
May I move towards love and connection, and away from fear and separation.
May I be more about we than me.
May I let go of outcomes and expectations.
May I give and receive lots of love.
May I respond to life’s joys and sorrows with tenderness and wisdom.
May I have an undefended heart, letting go of who I think I should be, in order to be who I really am.
May I notice fear when it arises, and respond with compassion.
May I lead with my heart today (guided by spirit, not ego).
These are some of my favorites.
So, intention setting is like gratitude, in that not only is it important to be grateful, but we have to remember to be grateful. So with intention setting, it’s important to come back to your intentions periodically throughout the day. You can even create some reminders, like when your phone rings, or whenever you touch a doorknob to remember your intention. Or when you see your trigger person or encounter your trigger situation, remind yourself of your intention.
A main ingredient of the work in this case is self-compassion, or an attitude of friendliness and forgiveness towards one’s imperfections and foibles. We are not going to get it right every time. A light, playful attitude goes a long way. In fact, being more light and playful is a great intention too.
Author: Robert Oleskevich
Editor: Travis May