Perception and Projection

The Paradox

We are constantly perceiving what is around us, while simultaneously projecting our own self-composed narratives onto what we see. It’s difficult to know the difference. Is there one? Or are we talking about two sides of the same coin?

The Snapshot View

What do you see in the image above? A cropped section of a stone path or driveway… or something else? Since we are only seeing a snapshot, it’s difficult to know for sure.

Our natural tendency is to recognize images as things we have seen previously…the same is true of how we perceive people, situations, interactions, and even ourselves. We scan our stored memory files for similarities, and make instantaneous assessments and conclusions based on this ‘data’.

The line between perception and projection is so fine that it takes a significant amount of self-awareness to differentiate our authentic intuition from our ego projection. Are we perceiving ‘reality’?…or simply projecting what we want or need to see? The answer is ‘yes’ to both. Our perception is our reality, and therefore it must be constantly scanned for pesky projections.

Don’t Blink Too Fast

“Blink” reactions/responses, as coined by Malcolm Gladwell in his book by that name, can be highly accurate when they arise from our intuition. The challenge is to know what is an intuitive or “gut” reaction, and what is a projection. While it might be difficult (or even impossible) for some people to decipher between their conscious and unconscious judge, I have personally embraced the challenge of recognizing and monitoring my reactions in order to better understand my own behavior, and the behavior of others.

Projections tend to be inaccurate and may lead to misunderstanding, miscommunication and misdirection. So when any of the latter misfortunate scenarios arise, I look for the projection. It can be mine…it can be someone else’s, and occasionally reciprocal projections are at play.

Beginners Mind and The Boy Who Cried Wolf

In 2008, I attended the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course at Duke Integrative Medicine. There I learned the Buddhist practice of Beginners Mind, the way of looking at every situation as if it is happening for the very first time. This made me think of the old story of the Boy who Cried Wolf.

As a child that story had a way of scaring me straight. I never wanted to lie for fear of the consequences. What I later learned as an adult is that we don’t just tell lies, we create them in our minds as a way of dispelling fears we have about ourselves. If we fear we are flawed, we project faults onto others. If we fear we are too old, we project that others are too young. If we do not know something, we will project that others know less. If we love someone, we may even project that they should love us back. It is endless.

The Bigger Picture

There is always more to us, other people and situation…than we perceive.

When in doubt……reserve judgement; ask a lot of questions…starting with yourself! Pay attention…not just to your thoughts, but to your feelings. Intuitive responses are typically experienced viscerally first, and mentally second. Give others a chance to ask their questions. And, most importantly, BE AUTHENTIC!

These pictures show the full version of the snapshot above. The rocks are part of Newgrange in Ireland, an ancient tomb built somewhere between 3100 and 2900 BC. I chose these pictures to illustrate my point because we need to be reminded that our prompt perceptions are so minuscule, specific and time-restricted…compared to the endless and timeless learning there is to experience.