When you look at the moon, what do you see? Some of us grew up seeing the image of the man in the moon, later we saw a pattern of craters and plains. If we had been from Asia, instead of a man in the moon, we might have seen a rabbit. And if we were Native American, we might have seen a frog up there. Much of life is ambiguous like that. We project meaning onto things and events based on our culture and personality.
It would be pointless to argue that it’s not really a man, but a frog in the moon, but how often do we do just that with our other projections? We look at the political party that we don’t belong to and project evil intent. We look at people from different cultures and project our fears onto them. We look at ourselves and see a particular kind of person for reasons such as:“I have trouble remembering people’s names.”None of these characteristics is unusual in the human species, but since they may seem to be our qualities, we may find them frightening and life limiting. We classify ourselves as that type of person who never wins anything, when we could just as easily view ourselves as in that class of people who has not yet won anything. The past need not predict the future, but if we expect the future to be just like the past, it may well turn out that way. If I’m a non-winner, I won’t bother with the raffle ticket. If I’m afraid of speaking in public, so I don’t do it, I never get the skill or confidence that good public speakers develop through the experience of speaking in public.
“I never win anything.”
“I’m scared to talk in front of people.”
“I’m not attractive to members of the opposite sex.”
“I have problems with money.”
We don’t know what our capacities are until we use them. We don’t know what the future will bring. We don’t serve ourselves well to call ourselves realists, when we mean pessimist. The world is a tough place. We all do some bad things. Some people do very bad things. Pain and death are unavoidable. Some people create more of these for others than we would prefer. If all we focus on is the horror of it, we must live in despair. We ought not miss out on the other side of the story. Along with the horror are opportunities for compassion, beauty and joy. Joy doesn’t come from eliminating awareness of pain and suffering. More likely, it comes from seeing circumstances in their fullness with their pain, and sorrow along with their love, beauty, and inherent rightness.
Life comes to us in surprising ways. When we let go of our fearful projections and look for opportunities to grow, to contribute, to share kindness, the unfolding of life’s journey takes on more meaning and we are the better for it.
Observe your thoughts. Notice how you classify people, things and experiences. Labels can be useful, but they can get in the way of direct experience. When you find yourself labeling or classifying, note to yourself that you are doing that. Then see what happens if you can let go of the urge to put something in a category and just experience it as it is.
Practice expanding your mind beyond your fears. When you notice yourself responding with fear or aversion, check yourself. See if your response is based on prejudice or pessimism. Notice the negative projection and see if you can give it up.
If you find yourself thinking too hard about all this, just sit, breathe, and allow your mind to relax. Just be quiet. Be in your body with a quiet mind.
© 2005 Tom Barrett