It is all projection……..
There’s a word for this out of the Hindu/Buddhist/yoga tradition – Maya. Illusion. That is, we cannot really know something/someone/anything/Truth, because the world as we see it and understand it is created in our mind; it is projection.
We project onto everything – our own traumas, histories, culture, identities, biases and ways of understanding, thinking, and conceptualizing. This projection is our ego and influences what we notice, how we interpret something, how we interact and engage with the world.
It goes both ways – others project onto us, and when their projections don’t align with our self-concepts, we find their misunderstandings or assumptions abrasive at best. But we do not as readily notice the projections we cast out.
Why does projection matter? Maya can teach us lessons. For example:
- By remembering that the world as we understand it is filtered through our own illusions/biases/projections/ego, we are offered the opportunity to cultivate humility.
- Are we certain we know the thing we are so certain about?
- Can we get a bit more curious, ask more questions, assume less, learn more, and grow more?
- How much responsibility are you willing to take for your own projections?
- What areas might we lack self-awareness that need developed? And how might these areas of limited self-awareness impact our worldview?
- Can we remain unattached to our views?
- Attachment is called aparigraha (a discipline or ethical practice from the 8 limb path of yoga, see https://ignitewell-being.com/what-is-yoga/ ). Our ego loves to attach and cling to things. But that clinging limits us in all the ways already mentioned – by creating certainty when there isn’t any, by assuming, by limiting curiosity, by limiting growth
- From humility, can we move forward in the world with a practice of discernment? That is, can we slow down our quick categorizations and judgements (projections) to shift toward a broader understanding of ourselves, each other, and the world?
For my interests, personally and professionally, projection tends to be problematic in our personal relationships. We think we know someone, like a partner, our child, a parent, and as we get familiar with these people and comfortable in our relationships, we also get lazy. We get less curious. We make assumptions more than we ask questions. This projection can make our relationships feel stale, disconnected, and/or frustrating (as a projector as well as on the receiving end).
A pop culture example of projection in relationship gone poorly? – the song Escape (the Pina Colada song) by Rupert Holmes. A man puts out a personal ad looking for a partner that enjoys things like pina coladas and dancing in the rain, only to find that his own partner answers the ad. What they were both looking for was in front of them the entire time, they just couldn’t see it through their own projection (lack of curiosity).
Another, almost perfect was of considering projection, our ideas around Truth, and how limiting it can all be is the parable of the blind men and the elephant (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blind_men_and_an_elephant ) Several blind men have ahold of a different part of an elephant and are describing what they are touching to each other. They get exasperated by the dissimilarity between the descriptions and each other’s entrenched commitment to their own understanding of the elephant. We are all like these men: at best, we each only have a piece of the puzzle, a glimpse into the understanding of anything, even ourselves.
How well can we truly know someone? Something? Ourselves? We can’t Truly, with a capital T, know anything fully. That unknowing creates mystery, and the mystery breed curiosity and motivation to continue to learn about someone, something, and the world, all balanced by the understanding that we can’t see far beyond the veil of our own projection.
Questions for the reader:
- How do you practice awareness and responsibility around your own biases and projections? If you don’t address this at the moment, what is a small way that you can start?
- How can an understanding of projection improve your own well-being (mental, spiritual, physical, relational)?
- Do projections impact your relationships in positive ways?, negative ways?, how so?
- Are there other myths or philosophic traditions that explore illusion and projection in a way that is meaningful for you?
The above content is written by Dr. Allison Mitch, PT (DPT), RYT500; sex-positive/affirming, trauma-informed sexuality counselor and educator (she/they); copyright protected, please cite accordingly. The picture is from Pexels
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