I love to travel, partly because I discover new facets of myself when I encounter different environments and communities. In Ecuador I feel part of a loving family, in Chile I laugh more, in China I experience an ancient familiarity and reverence, in India my heart spills open with devotion.
Travel has helped me realize how much we create one another by how we treat each other. To a certain degree, we become the projection that others have of us, and others become who we make them. The question becomes, who are you and who am I without these projections? Because I do a lot of teaching, people project “teacher” onto me. If I am a teacher, then those who learn from me are students. Are we not all teachers and students? Every projection carries a polarity and an expectation. If you project “mother” on to me, then you become a child wanting to be held. If I project father onto you, then I become a child looking for love and protection. What if we understood that projections are useful roles to fulfill a purpose, but otherwise are handicaps that separate us from one another and our wholeness?
Projections are inevitable, and can help us to elevate, heal, repair, educate or confront in a bidirectional manner. Projections are healthy when we are conscious of them and choose to wear them as a temporary garment, rather than as a permanent uniform. Ultimately projections are smashed when the clothing becomes restrictive, and something else bursts through to reveal and assert itself.
If we are not our projections, then who are we? The Christian monk, Thomas Merton, in Love and Living, said, “Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.” It’s so simple. Our true identity is love, and we discover this through loving relationships with one another. There is nothing else we need to be. Now knowing this and living it are not the same, and it is our projections and expectations of one another that get in the way. At a Compassionate Inquiry workshop in Toronto in 2017, Dr. Gabor Maté said, “It’s not that you don’t have compassion, it’s that something is blocking it. Love is just who we are. It is who we really are. We just need to see what’s in the way of it. When we get triggered by something in the other person, it’s because it is in us. To come back to unconditional love we need to deal with our stuff that is in the way. When you find yourself not feeling compassionate with somebody, ask yourself, what’s your pain? What pain in you has now just been triggered?”
When we acknowledge our own pain and hold a loving space for ourselves, we look less outside of ourselves for a fix – whether that is a person, a drug, sex, achievement or success.
Only then can we see ourselves and others clearly, as spiritual beings temporarily wounded by our human experience.
Here is a poem I wrote to help clear projections. Pick a person in your life you are close to, ask yourself these questions, read slowly, and notice what happens.
Who Are You and Who Am I?
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