Two folks with punk hair-do’s, face-to-face, playing patty-cake. Perhaps engaging in something a little racier! Two sultans high-fiving. Bug ‘blood’ on the windshield. The whole idea is that the picture be sufficiently vague as to allow one to project onto it (hence the naming of Rorschach’s famous ink blot series as a ‘projective test’); but sufficiently suggestive as to not simply elicit blank stares. Maybe as a meaningful pipeline into one’s psychological soul, this and other projective techniques left a bit to be desired – after all, are not the interpretations of one’s responses just as subject to the practitioner’s own projections? (Rather like looking into the mirror on the box of Pot o’ Gold chocolates as the woman’s image is reflected in the reflection. . . to infinity). But the concept of projection itself remains as a most useful awareness for one to ‘reflect’ upon.
My weekly source of inspiration seems to be narrowing – once again from Larkrise. Alf’s ballad, composed as a thank you to the community that has supported him, on the surface appears to be little more than a catchy tune about a wandering gypsy stealing the heart of a land owner’s daughter, with things ending badly for the latter as her wild thing moves on, leaving her with a collection of burned bridges and few prospects. The intention is innocent and well-meant; the meanings attached as varied and unanticipated as the individuals who hear it. An endorsement to risk breaking out of the mold of ‘service’; an invitation to breach boundaries and orchestrate (or try) the future of others; permission to challenge one’s parent; literal instructions in the niceties of catching a man. The tune becomes a template, a screen upon which one is able to project one’s current situation, to which to assign meaning, and in which to read direction and ‘truth’.
The trick of all this is to recognize the process as it happens. Freudian in its origin, projection is defined as a ‘defense mechanism’ – an (unconscious) strategy for dealing with emotions, experiences, etc. that are perhaps a bit too potent for the individual themselves to manage; more comfortably and less disturbingly dealt with at a ‘safe distance’ – perhaps happily assigned to someone else. The pitfall is in seeing this projected image as universally singular – the only ‘interpretation’ – and losing sight of its point of origin: ourselves. The person upon whom we project is generally only that – the screen.
The recognition process should be simple – and obvious. But what’s that expression: ‘simple, not easy’. In many cases, being the ‘projectee’ (i.e., the ‘screen’) is the simpler role. Oftentimes, in (heated or deep) conversation, one is left with the distinct impression that this exchange is just not making sense. That which is being ‘assigned’ to us simply ‘doesn’t fit’. Good chance we’ve just been projected upon. For the ‘projector’, the task can be a little more challenging, the ‘truth’ a little more elusive. A clue can be the goodness of fit between the intensity with which one finds oneself engaging in an exchange and the actual ‘facts’ of the case. OTT (over the top) is typically a good indicator of some measure of projection. Our old friend, attachment, accompanied by our other, by now familiar neighbour, ego, both (and for a change) may be helpful in identifying the projection process. Our ‘need’ to have our interpretation accepted, bought into by our ‘screen’ (often accompanied by little catch phrases as ‘don’t you see’) suggests this is more our issue than that of our ‘target’. Once we’ve become ‘suspicious’ of our intensity, motives, interpretations, a useful question to ask of oneself is ‘what’s being touched or triggered – in me?’ This is quite a different perspective than staying focused on the ‘screen’ and continuing to react to (real or imagined) elements we’re convinced we see in the ‘other’. In one sense, we’re reversing our vision – to that of self-examination and from that of fault-finding, etc. outside of self.
Mindfulness practice is able to provide tools both for ‘catching’ projection and for dealing with our awarenesses, once identified. Zindel Segal outlines a four-step sequence in aid of this process:
Awareness of present experience. “What’s the pull?” Once we’ve ‘reversed’ our vision, take a gentle awareness to the spot, thought, feeling, or place which predominates in our immediate attention. Gently shift the attention away from the stimulus (the ‘screen, as it were) . . . and back to self: “What am I feeling, experiencing; what’s arising in me?”
Notice how one is relating to that spot, thought, or feeling. Am I attaching to it? Becoming entrenched in it? Hanging on to it? OR are you avoiding it, judging it, resenting it?
Stop trying to make things different. Let it be. Notice and observe what is there. Practicing non-reaction, acceptance. A little visual trick at this point: Set a chair immediately in front of and facing you. On that chair, sit the person or issue that is triggering you and gently observe him / her / it. Develop a benign tolerance of its presence – without engaging. As with any strong feeling, we humans are programmed to maintain maximum intensity for a finite time – with that feeling’s strength diminishing gradually as we allow it to be in our presence.
Process: Bring a gentle attention to the spot, thought, or feeling. Breathing into it; and out from it. Accepting what is there (“It’s OK”). Inviting the experience (“Let me feel it”) – using breath in and breath out to ‘soften’ and ‘open to’ the spot, thought, or feeling.
Critical to this sequence is the recognition that we are, in fact projecting.
OK, OK, so it was Mother’s Day last Sunday!