I have written about this before, starting from my old paper journals in my teens. And, for whatever reason, I am drawn to revisit it.
There are several layers to projections.
The world is my mirror
The world is my mirror. What I see out there is something I know from myself, whether I acknowledge it or not.
Whatever story I have about someone or something, I can turn it around to myself and find concrete examples of how it’s true.
Through working on this, I get to see something in myself wherever I look in the world. The fundamental separation of “you are that and I am not” or “I am this and you are not” goes away.
This reduces the reactivity that comes from the “you are that, I am not” perception, and we are more free to act from whatever clarity and kindness is here.
It helps me discover a far richer sense of myself, less constrained by ideas of what I am not.
It makes it more difficult to dehumanize others, no matter the species.
The world becomes a rich mirror and it’s an endless adventure to explore and actively make use of this mirror.
We can have blind or conscious projections. If they are blind, it means I see something out there and not in myself or the reverse. If it’s conscious, I am still projecting – I am seeing something out there that I know from myself – but I recognize it’s a projection.
That also means that I hold my projections more lightly since I am more aware of it as a projection. I know it’s here, and I know it may or may not be out there as I see it.
Mental field overlay
Another kind of projection is our mental field overlay.
Our mental images and words create an overlay on the other sense fields and make sense of these. They provide labels, interpretations, stories, interpretations, and so, and this helps us function in the world. I see a candle, and instantly have associations to flickering light, winter evenings, past experiences here and other places, the label “candle”, the thought that it will burn out within a few hours, images of more candles in the corner closet, and so on. My senses take in their impressions, and my mental field makes sense of it and helps me orient and navigate.
This mental field maintains our world even in the absence of the other senses. Right now, I can easily imagine the rest of the house I am in, the other people here, the outside, town, country, world, and so on. This is the exact same mental field as the one I described in the previous paragraph, it’s just that now it functions in the absence of other sense impressions. We can notice this mental field activity by closing our eyes and imagine what’s around us, this body, and so on.
Why do I include this in this description of projections?
Because we can say this mental field is an overlay on the world. We project it out onto the world to make sense of the world.
Here too, it can be blind or conscious. We can project out this mental field overlay and take what it tells us as true and how the world “in itself” is. Or we can be conscious of what’s happening as it happens, which allows us to hold what this mental field tells much more lightly.
The first tends to create struggle and discomfort. The second gives us more flexibility and receptivity, and can help us navigate the world with a little more ease.
While the “overlay” description works well and isn’t completely wrong, it may be more accurate to say that this mental field is what creates our world in the sense of anything we imagine and have thoughts and stories about. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to make any sense of the impressions from our senses, and we wouldn’t have any notion of a world beyond what’s here in immediacy.
All happening within and as what I am
These types of projections, and all my other experiences, happen within and as what I am.
I am capacity for my world. I am what my world happens within and as.
And this is the context for both of the previous types of projections.
To the extent I notice what I am, it’s easier to notice the two types of projections and hold it all more lightly.
How can we explore this for ourselves?
This can sound abstract and esoteric until we start exploring it for ourselves, in our immediate experience.
So how can we explore this for ourselves?
For the first type of projections, The Work of Byron Katie is excellent.
For the second type of projections, traditional Buddhist sense-field exploration is helpful, as is the modern version of Living Inquiries.
For discovering what we are, Headless experiments and the Big Mind process often work well.
Why would we explore this?
For me, this is fascinating, it enriches my life immensely, and to the extent I live from it I find it brings a bit of ease into my life.
We can say it’s up to each one of us if we want to explore this, although, in reality, it’s not really up to us. It’s something we are drawn to or not.
And although it can be helpful to share some experiences of what happens when we explore these things, these descriptions can also become a kind of goal and a distraction. It’s more interesting if we discover it for ourselves and allow ourselves to be surprised.