I know that I make up a lot of definitions, and I always encourage you to contact me with questions or clarifications. I think clarifying definitions is probably something we should all do a lot more of in general. It would go a long way towards clearing up potential misunderstandings. So often words do not carry the same meaning for different people, and that can lead to a lot of hurt feelings and frustrations.
But one term that I'd like to spend some time teasing out is the term "projection."
Projections: The Stories We Tell Ourselves About Others
I don't know where I first started hearing this term, and I can't remember when I first started using it. When I use it, I mean that you are projecting an idea or set of stories onto someone about what you think are or want them to be. It's a kind of box that we put people into, and then we expect all of them to fit in this box. You could also consider it a lens through which we see people, but the lens only shows certain parts and hues of others.
This happens the worst in romance, I think, but it is relevant to all of our relationships. You probably can think of an instance where you were dating someone, and they seemed absolutely awesome. They just glowed for you. You couldn't find anything wrong with him/her if you wanted to. Then one day, that person did something: ran a redlight, punched someone out, lied about something, or did something that otherwise stopped you dead in your tracks. You're like, "I never thought s/he'd do something like that."
Whoops. Your projection--your story about who that person is--just got broken.
The Wide Range of Projections
Of course, it doesn't mean someone did something bad to break your projection. Someone could do something very nice, and it would be just as jarring if your projected story on this person is that they're heartless and cruel. Then that person donates a million dollars to a charity, and you're floored. Of course, your ego is quick to rush in with a fix on the projection. You'll say, "Oh well, he's just using that as a tax write-off" or something to that nature. Because you wouldn't want to admit that you're the story-maker here or that you just might not see the whole picture, right?
Still it goes on to more benign situations. You see the kind, sweet 6th grade teacher to your son partying like a rock star out at bar. Your football star son suddenly professes an undying love of Emily Dickinson poetry. Your high school sweetheart who was a total ladies man suddenly becomes interested in men. I could write this list for a very long time, but you get the picture.
How Projections Inhibit Your Spiritual Growth
Projections are a problem because they aren't real. They're just stories. They're ways we categorize people and put them in boxes. It's how our egos make themselves feel safe in the world. Now, it's not to say that certain definitions aren't helpful, and a lot of people buy into their own categorizations. You're a stay-at-home mom, so you go and do things that other stay-at-home moms do to feel included. There's a lot of power in living within your categorization. Almost all of us saw this in high school with all the cliques that formed up: jocks, nerds, music geeks, skaters, and so on. Remember when it was a big deal for someone from one group to talk to someone in another? Ooo, the scandal!!!!!
Of course, it kinda sucked that there was this scrutiny to talk to someone in a different group. You probably didn't feel as free to connect with some people as you would have liked, and this is precisely the problem with projections. You're limiting and confining yourself to certain ways of being with others and with yourself. One of the greatest discoveries people can make is when they start to expand their own views of others and see more of what's right before them.
Discovering Your Projections and Breaking Them
Okay, so do you follow me now? You've got a lot of stories about others, which are built off of the big story you have about yourself. While I typically like to focus internally, let's deal with your outward view for now. You can pick a couple people in your life and journal out who you think they are. You may be right on a lot of points, but the idea here is not to get stuck on those points. We are all so much greater than any set of stories, ideas, or bullet points. As you go, it may be interesting to see what topics and conversations fill up the lion's portion of your conversations. Those are usually the ways that we further reinforce the projections and the story about the relationship that you're having.
I like to talk about how relationships have their own intelligence, but that intelligence can't really come forth until you get some of the projections out of the way. It's like in some of those romance movies where two people are absolutely in love, but one person has a projection about the other as being only a friend. The great revelation in the storyline is when the projection breaks, and that allows the two to join in a romantic relationship (which most likely is filled with a whole string of awful projections, but that's Hollywood).
Deepening Relationships on the Spiritual Path
It's always amazing what starts to step in to a relationship when we get these projections out of the way. In many respects, it allows both people to start to change. It may mean some relationships end, but others will evolve into deeper spaces because you're not trying to hold onto someone in some way that doesn't suit them. Parents often struggle with this as their children grow up. They try to hold onto their projection of their baby girl as a Starburst chewing, jump-rope-hopping 10 year old. But she's 18 now, and she's got a boyfriend. Other big milestones are on the way, and you'll want to be there for those. You have to let go of who she was to embrace who she now is.
In committed long-term relationships, this is a powerful tool as well, and you may be surprised what pain points surface. You may tell your partner (if your relationship is strong enough to handle it--I hope it is) some of the things that you see about them, and you may find out how wrong you are about a number of things. It may even be a relief for your partner to feel like s/he no longer has to be a certain way for you or that you can see that you were wrong about something. It makes space for more intimacy because it makes space for more of the fullness of a person to be present in a situation.
Don't Throw Out the Baby With the Bath-Water
Not all of our stories are useless, but they need to be put in their place. I have a story getting projected on to me by people--that of the teacher/coach. It's useful because people know what kind of advice and help I can offer, but it's also enormously problematic because people don't really know what a coach/teacher is because of a long history of abuses. So it's often one of the first projections I tackle with people to break down who they think I am. Heck, for some of you, you might be a little surprised at how loud, profane, and downright ridiculous I can be if you ever met me. You're like, "But her articles sound so serious and loving." Well, maybe not. I think I've sworn a couple times in past articles, but you get the picture. I am so much more than a term like "coach or teacher," and you and all your relationships are so much more than any set of words, stories, and ideas. As you come to know this and make space to see the broader context of the people around you, your whole vision of your world will start to shift. Undoubtedly, you'll see things you've never seen before. Prepare to be surprised.
Seeing Life Without Projections
In short, projections are our ideas about other people and how the world should act or interact with us. The term creates the idea that something is being projected out from us onto others. However, we also have our own projections about ourselves and how we choose to present ourselves to others and the responses we want to receive based on our identities. This projection ranges from the clothing we choose to create a specific illusion of who we are to the different traits we profess to have, i.e believing we are humble, loving, mean, intellectual, kind, tough, sweet, open, closed, and a whole variety of other things. In essence, our very lives are projections of all kinds of ideas, and when awakening knocks on your door, the whole house sometimes falls down.
And this is a good thing. Because when the ideas you have about yourself and others drop away, you begin to see yourself and life as they are. This is what I mean in the title of this spirituality post. Seeing life without your projections layered on top can be startling, reassuring, upsetting, or a whole number of other feelings depending on how much you're still functioning from the ego self. To your inner self, this is just seeing life as it is, which is neither good nor bad albeit life will still be full of pain and pleasure. The part of you labeling things has pretty much gone away.
Only Useful Labels Remain
If someone drops a hammer on your foot, you probably will feel pain. Labeling this as a painful situation is accurate. It doesn't mean that it's a good or bad occurrence. It simply creates an appropriate way of explaining what arose.
The hammer fell on my foot. I felt pain.
End of story.
The old ego would go into its storyification of the process, so the person who dropped it is labelled as an idiot. You're in agony, and so on and so on. The perpetuation of this story may grow from there as your ego decides to avoid similar incidents, chooses to never speak to that persona gain, and creates defense mechanisms on top of defense mechanisms. This is the state of most of the world. Everyone is trying to defend against every kind of uncertainty and discomfort, so all we end up doing is perpetuating pain and suffering in our attempts to avoid things we don't want. Then awakening arises, and you see through all these illusions. The lies and veils of illusion drop away, and you start to see things as they are.
This is a most unsettling thing for many people, and usually it's very unsettling for the people around you who are used to living in lies and listening to your lies. Becoming a truth-teller is not appreciated by most of society, so as you are starting to see the truth, you will also be learning how to tell the truth and not be afraid of the consequences.
Startling Revelations Abound
Seeing life as it is brings about a transitional time of startling revelations. The ego-self still functioning in you will be both in awe and terrified by the reality that you've concocted. It depends on how far afield you've been living from the truth. If you've been truly in pursuit of your heart and an honest life, awakening may not be quite so overwhelming. The change in direction for you may feel minimal. Conversely, if all you've cared about is money and appearances, you may feel like your world has imploded as you see the dismal state of your loveless and unhappy life. A dramatic change in your physical circumstances may be on the way. And there are still many more ways that awakening arises, and we all have different levels of ease and challenge as we go depending on what we are called to do. Hence, I like to remind people that there is no one way that any of us awaken or any particular path that we may take.
So as revelations percolate and pop up, it's important to find compassion for yourself and for others. Don't rush to change life; life is flowing as it should. But be very aware of what you've co-created in your life and listen to the calling within you if it is time for change.
The Ego Lens Gets Washed Clean
I like to remind people who read this article that we are not in the business of ego destruction. We are in the business of letting it be washed clean. The conscious ego that is clean of distorted ideas and projections on the world is simply a clear lens that sees life. It helps us to interpret things effectively. For instance, all the red taillights just flashed on in front of me. That means I should step on my brakes to slow down because the red taillights mean the cars ahead of me are slowing down. See? That's the ego and the mind working in tandem to create a healthy outcome. However, some of you may be awash in so much awakened energy that a new kind of spiritual projection overtakes you. Suddenly, you have the rose colored glasses, and everything is so beautiful and vast that you can't focus. If this is you, don't drive. Please don't let friends who are initially awakening drive cars.
Seriously though, many people get very ungrounded, and because we are so used to projecting our own selves onto others, we start to see this beautiful light within us shined upon everyone. So the pile of rotting garbage in the neighbor's lawn and the beautiful dancing two year-old in your living room all shine with light. This is not far from the truth as love resides within us all, but releasing projections of how we want to see the world allows us to see the light within all as well as how consciousness is expressing itself in this moment. A murderer has just as much light in him or her as any of us, but in the clarity of the awakened state, we can also see that this person is violently dangerous and requires a certain level of healing and rehabilitation. That is clear spiritual seeing in action.
No Naivete Left
Naivete is a function of an ignorant ego. Either it does not know and understand itself or it chooses to remain actively ignorant in some way. In any event, the ego self is committed to an idea about how life should be as opposed to seeing how things actually proceed. Many people are very naive about war, for example. They seem to think that war actually resolves disputes, but in truth in perpetuates pain and suffering for generations. I am pretty sure that we have not recovered from World War II. So much death and atrocity was committed, witnessed, and felt, and it was not addressed with anything other than a little counseling, a lot of alcohol and other substances, and a whole lot of silence. That scarring in that generation got passed on through unhealthy habits created to deal with the pain and suffering. Adults pass it to their children. Children pass them on to their friends, and a whole chain of pain and suffering is interlinked around us.
No, war does not solve anything. It just creates death and pain until one side is either wiped out or has lost their will to fight. This is not how peace is achieved, and in the clear space of awakening, you will see that.
You will see many things, and in that seeing, you will lose more and more naivete about a great deal of how life operates. It is both an amazing and terrifying place--terrifying in the sense that we have the capability to inflict so much pain. We have to honor and acknowledge that capacity; if we do not, then we are residing in a place of ignorance and naivete once more.
Layers of Illusions Wash Away
As I've mentioned before, illusion gets unraveled in layers. It seems to be how most of us can best integrate the truth and love and beauty of ourselves. Most of us can't handle the bright light at full power, so after an initial blast, many of us seem to turn it down before gradually turning it back up. And the beauty of it is that our own inner intelligence figures this out for us, so there isn't much thinking that needs to go into it. We simply return to the pure intention and aspiration to see life clearly and to live from the awakened oneness within us. In so doing (and it's hardly a doing at all), the light within continues to join with the light all around. More and more of ourselves and hidden darknesses get illuminated. We see more clearly. We release old wounds that have been binding and blinding us, and in so releasing, we see even more clearly what is going on around us.
Because we cannot behave appropriately with life if we cannot even see it, and people are very much deceived, deluded, and blinded right now. This is the problem many of you feel when you awakened. This is probably part of why you got online and went searching on the topic of spiritual awakening to land you at this article. You wanted to find someone who knows the truth because you are mostly surrounded by people who don't know the truth, who think they know it but actually don't, or who don't even give a shit about the truth. So you came here. Well, the truth is that you are seeing clearly. Life is a mess. Life is gorgeous. Life is simple. It's not a hard path, but the spiritual path will challenge you. You have everything you'll ever require within you, but you're still going to need some help. This is how it is.
Continuing to Trust What You See
At first, you may not trust what you see. Some things will seem too beautiful, and you will wonder how you never saw them before. Some things will seem so horrible, and you'll wonder how you could have participated or collaborated in certain kinds of horror, such as the horror of greed and trying to take people's money from them. As I said before, you will see many things, and then there will be moments where action is required so that you can align with the truth you feel and see. This is natural. It doesn't mean changing others, but you will have an influence on others. For instance, if you leave a circle of friends who just want to drink wine and gossip, that effect will be felt. Or you may decide to donate money to a charity that you'd always wanted to support but to which you had never donated. You may change how you run corporate meetings to do a better job of letting others feel heard. There are so many ways that this may manifest that I cannot count them all, but I can tell you that making these changes is immensely rewarding. We don't change because we want this carrot on a stick, but nonetheless, we still feel that wonderful gift of living in greater integrity. It's freer. Easier. More loving. More natural, and you'll wonder at some point why you never could see all of this in the first place.