Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Projections Aren't the End...Welcoming Them Home is the Way

Today I received the ‘bookend teaching’ to a question I have carried for well over three years now. I know I project my own pain into the world, and I am the focal point of other people’s projections; what is the wisdom teaching to break the cycle? To compost the pain? 

Multiple psychological perspectives upon the complexity of the human condition show a typical human response to discomfort, pain, overwhelming emotion is the projection of that pain beyond the body’s sensation. This requires dissociation of the pain from the body--usually a mental operation--and then the projection of this pain-ugliness-aversion onto another person, race, institution, community. All of us do this, though of course some more than others. All of us are creative in our projections too. When things get really tough, we can project most of our pain onto just about anyone in order to relieve the pain.


The bookend teaching I name above is a practice called the shadow bag, given marvelous contour and example, illustration and practice by Chameli Ardagh, founder of Awakening Women, an online (now) community of women’s empowerment and embodied mythology. It is not a practice that I can invite you into through these simple words--it needs context, preambles of other practices, a community of practitioners in which to allow the descent into repressed pains, forgotten sensations. But I can share with you the fruit of my practice this afternoon. If you’re interested and willing, you can be in touch with Chameli Ardagh via the linked website here for what she might offer you.


The instructions that led me to the journey I want to share? 

  • Drop down into your belly, your body, and identify a story or image in which you feel judgement of another. Feel the judgment. Describe it out loud, in your own voice, if you can.

  • Using your arms, in a scooping motion, bring your projection back to you. Release the object of your judgment from your projection, bringing it back into your body. Do this several times to feel the energy returning home to your own body.

  • Feel what you feel, back in your own body. Make space for it, in all its ugliness or pain or aversion. Let whatever images or memories that come arise into your awareness. Listen to your body for where the judgment-pain-aversion comes from. Where does it come from? Look into the Shadow Bag, to see what you learn...

  • Let the emotions-sensations expand. Feel everything that comes--tears, pain, shame, guilt, etc. Let your body hold it, release it, hold some more, release some more.

  • Perhaps using some music with a bit of a beat, a repetitive beat or lyrics, let your body move...gentle swaying...shaking...release… More may come...let it come…

  • Ease out of the practice gently, letting yourself transition from the depth spaces back into consciousness that communicates, might use words…

  • Sit with what you’ve learned...


My first exercise of this was a 'simple' domestic thing: my increased irritation and judgment of my husband’s way of eating at the dinner table. As our pandemic bubble has shrunk and we’ve had more and more extensive time together, I have been getting irritable about how he eats, the sound of him eating. It can become all I can think of when we sit there, sharing a meal. My stuff, not his. My judgment lands on him, unsuspecting and undeserving, but wow does it land. Sharing breakfast or dinner has become painful and distracting for me.


The fruit of the practice? I was led, viscerally, to a deep sadness I carry within me all the time, how often my own body as a woman gets judged...assessed… measured...even if it is to offer a compliment. I struggle to receive compliments from him, from many others, because to ‘succeed’ in beauty, the way beauty functions in our society, means others ‘fail’ at beauty. For a long time, I failed at beauty simply for self-protection in a world idolizing and abusing ‘attractive women.’ This was an unconscious choice, of course, so the judgments of my body by others and then internalized by me would cut me inside, for not being feminine enough, as ‘he’ defines ‘feminine’ (or as our society defines feminine, he has often retorted, like that would help). I shunned girly-girls or those ‘caving to society’s feminine’ as weak and uninteresting. And now today, this pandemic season, I’ve lost a ready source of seeing myself mirrored as beautiful in feminine eyes, nonjudgmental, curious, welcoming. I’ve lost the ability to be in loving and tactile ways of women being with women in circle time. Naturally, this old pain has arisen in me, projected onto him, at the dinner table. [Editorial note, 12 hours later: projection completely gone. Breakfast was delightful and free...].


Simple, right?


So let’s lean into a larger field of judgment, easy at hand. President (for now) Donald Trump. There is little in our social media worlds today that will trigger judgment in me as quickly as hearing his voice in a soundbite (yes, on NPR, not Fox), or watching a clip of him at a pre-election rally, or seeing a picture of him sitting in a golf-cart with the presidential seal plastered to the front. I literally and physically clench by body, reactively, instinctively. My throat gets a lump in it. My stomach aches and sometimes, tears will come from a deeper place in my belly. I feel anger, rage, and I can wind up with an evening completely distracted and wasted in a futile sense of anxiety. I find him a reprehensible man, repulsive and painful to look at. (Uranus consciousness, AW would say, without the unified-unifying consciousness of Gaia who loves all of her children, even the most ugly/averse, mythically speaking).


What would it be like--what fruit might come--if I were to look into the shadow bag with this overflowing cauldron of judgment and condemnation?


First of all, the judgment being so plentiful and multifaceted, I’ll probably have to do this practice for days or weeks to get to even a portion of the strands of all of it. But I was surprised and quite moved by just the first strand of it, with a brief practice of it this afternoon, in the ‘online half-day retreat’ I’d registered for a couple weeks back. I dropped down into my belly… I felt the violence of the judgments in me, against him. My womb and stomach clenched, going into paroxysms of pain, tears, deep belly weeping. Part of me held the ground beneath me and invited it some more. As I ‘wept myself out,’ I breathed into the space opening up within my body, waiting for images or words or memories…


He is incapable of feeling, were the words that bubbled up. My heart has broken into a thousand pieces in these four+ years, seemingly again and again as he bluffs and postures, exacts suffering on a whim of his tweet, divides and accuses seemingly at random but ultimately, at the ‘other’ to himself, be that by economics (most important to him), status, race, ethnicity, ability, etc. As much as I condemn his actions to be inappropriate for presidential leadership and care, the source of my judgment is not these obvious rationalizations or arguments from within leadership studies. 


It is excruciating for me to see him living a life incapable of feeling…and it is excruciating because I know a bit of what that is now, from the inside. I have deep grief, rage, and sadness at my own achingly slow recovery of feeling in my own body. I have relatively recently awakened to my own body as a woman from the inside, having been reared in a devout, faithful loving family whose Protestant heritage was to rationalize feeling more than feel it, experience it. It wasn’t until I was 45 years old that I was finally strong enough to ‘retrieve this part of my soul’ or ‘break open’ to the abandonment of feeling that happened to all of us in my ancestral lineage upon our birth(s). I have slowly been regaining my capacity for feelings that have always been there but that I have dissociated, avoided, repressed, denied, projected onto… It is excruciating for me to listen to a man with as much power as he has had, seeing him so incapable of feeling...concern for another, love for a perceived ‘enemy,’ compassion for those suffering and dying (whether from COVID or in our armed services), even curiosity or wonder. I will react immediately with all my rage, grief, sadness when I see the unbearable suffering of so many I know, and don't even know, that could have been stopped if he was capable of feeling.


I can use political language and leadership studies to make a persuasive argument (to liberals and non-Trump Republicans) against Donald Trump, with logical reasons for the legitimate judgments I have made for years. But the source of my judgment, my projection, is me...my own journey back to deep feeling, the fears of being strong enough to withstand all that would arise, the pain of so much dissociated and separated from me, myself, and I.


What might our country become if instead of making arguments within the hallowed (and legitimate) halls of Reason, each of us was willing to really look into the Shadow Bag for where these judgments come from, for each of us? Every one of them would be different, for one thing, because no one's story is the same as another's. More importantly, however, this practice shifts the grief, rage, sadness in the body... I am more freed from my immediate triggers because the energy is different now in my body. He doesn't need to change in order for me to be free, in other words. I need to do this practice with judgment, opening space for compassionate listening to my rage, grief, sadness...releasing the feelings I've prevented myself from feeling for years, if not (often) decades. And then I don't get hooked into the liberal rage(s)...or the Trumpist rage(s)...


I've been gifted with a bookend practice to a question I have been asking for well over three years. In the fall of 2017, I became the lightning rod attractor of vicious projections from a participant in the Conscious Feminine Leadership Academy I led, co-facilitated. She wrote an excoriating several page review, spewing her pain onto me (mostly), and no one in the leadership circle could (or would?) protect or defend me in it. I knew everything she was spewing had more to do with her than with me, but I had no method or practice to move us to the next step (even if she would have wanted to be free of her pain, projected onto me). Our community line was "I refuse your projection," but that doesn't do any work with it, which is what we needed to learn how to do. But the leadership in our women's community didn't have the body-wisdom or the willingness...


Yet this is the wisdom of women committed to continual awakening. It is not to be done lightheartedly or haphazardly. It takes a strong container, a wise guide well versed in attachment and release of ego, a community of practice, and a willingness to descend with a trust that ascension will follow in its time.


Most Americans I know don’t have the preamble or patience for this kind of journey…so there's that...there's invitational and gentling work to be done to even open the portal(s)...


...but when enough of us are dead and dying...when the earth is even nearer her breaking point...then there will be more of us to hold the space for the rest of us to do this Work. This deeply Sacred Work of the Feminine awakening in women and men being readied for co-creation, new stories, better horizons...



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