He swerved into my lane as I was passing. Immediately I pulled the car further to the right to avoid him. The car wobbled and then stabilized. After this, a number of overwhelming body sensations flowed in – heart pounding, shakiness and weak knees.
This was immediately followed by projecting thoughts of; ‘stupid four wheel drives, poorly built cars, idiot of a driver, men, etc’. In that moment; ‘the car is a ridiculous car and the driver an idiot’. I am sure you to have experienced something like this.
This surge of projection is of course the reaction to a threat; it is the reaction that occurs when the human is at risk of losing itself, either literally, emotionally or mentally. The reaction is in service of surviving. It is not our fault that this is so, but it is our responsibility to manage it and to know it as our attention being high jacked by the survival drive. It happens when there is a physical threat, when I don’t feel seen, when I feel vulnerable, humiliated, disempowered or when someone is stopping me getting what I want.
Who or what might you be projecting onto? Your boss, your partner, your body or life in general? Whatever you are ‘hating’ is sponsored by you in a projection pattern. Also be careful, as the longer and more intense this is, the harder it is to see it for what it is – projection. The mind is a master in making your projection your truth, gathering further evidence for why this person or object is so wrong, so bad or so inadequate.
We can of course also be high jacked by our wanting drive. Rather than projecting onto the object as being horrible, it projects onto the object as it being wonderful, and once I get it I will feel oh so good.
From a Buddhist perspective all this projection is called delusion. Delusion brings with it suffering and it takes us a way from seeing the true nature of things. Projecting onto the car and the driver took me away from seeing the car as just a car and the driver as a fellow human being, who just like me, is also distracted in traffic at times. In my projection I miss the opportunity of seeing this. I miss this reminder to stay focused in traffic. I miss what the situation could teach me when I am consumed by projection.
From a neuroplasticity point of view, projection trains my brain for reactivity and the experience of being separate and others being stupid, different, annoying, not right, selfish or whatever!
It is our job to manage and supervise our ‘human’ drives with our ‘being’ with our presence or awareness. After all, what we share is our humanity. However more importantly, we share where we come from and where we are going. We share our essential ‘beingness’ and when caught in the survival drive, we lose our sense of that.
Mindfulness trains us to catch ourselves in our projections and to calm the body state when it gets triggered, without judgment, but simply in the knowing of the body’s deep commitment to keep itself safe. This is responding rather than reacting, and it sets me free of projection patterns that ultimately keep me in suffering.