Most of us understand and are aware that on many levels we do not, as Anaïs Nin suggests, see reality as it is. Our personal perception clouds the way we interpret reality, how we interpret others’ behavior, confuses how we perceive communications of all sort, muddles how we interpret the intentions of others, and generally blinds us from seeing life clearly. Our personal perceptions further taint reality in that we mostly project our self-concept and our limitations onto others, our shadows, our internal shit, and our limited view of reality all onto other people. I realize that most of the people reading this already have an understanding of these mechanisms of projection etc., but I think these ideas are still important to explore in terms of our healing processes. Within our coaching practice these themes still surface often and when our clients can own these projections they not only become liberated in the process, but it also brings an immense amount of healing.
It is worth noting that that there is big difference between understanding a concept like projection or having blind spots, and actually putting that awareness into practice and doing the hard internal work. And then it’s a different understanding entirely to take responsibility for the ways you project onto others, and work on ceasing this behavior in your day to day life.
To illustrate a few of these issues regarding projection, denial, taking responsibility, and some solutions I am including a few examples:
Many years ago I attended a sweat lodge in the Midwest. At one point during the sweat lodge ceremony, the man pouring the lodge began pouring water on a young woman’s chest (it was her and her boyfriend’s first sweat lodge, and they did not know any of the other people in attendance)—telling her that he was healing her heart chakra. When this happened I said, “Hey what are you doing?” He responded, “Oh she needs healing on her heart chakra.” I replied, “Hey that’s bullshit, you shouldn’t be touching women you don’t know like that in a sweat lodge, especially without getting her consent.”
After the sweat lodge ceremony was over the woman was upset and was crying in the arms of her boyfriend a few feet away. I confronted the leader about his behavior. Even after rationally explaining in depth why this behavior was wrong, or even could be misconstrued as inappropriate, non-consensual, or possibly result in a woman feeling uncomfortable or unsafe, he was unable to see any other point of view. To him, it was not even possible that his shadow-self may have been operating in those moments, and that his behavior was indeed inappropriate. What is about some people in some situations than when presented actual concrete evidence they argue tooth and nail that the factual evidence is wrong?
We were leading an integration retreat with folks from the Southwest. We were helping people understand their psychedelic experiences and offering time for each person to share in the circle. Before one of the breaks someone sang a song as a prayer in the Algonquin language, that focused on the word “Manitou” as part of the song. On the break one of the participants confronted the woman who sang the song. This person said to her, “Why are you singing songs worshipping money?” The woman who sang the song responded, “What are you talking about?” The man said, “Why are you singing a song at this retreat about money.” The woman responded,” Oh you mean Manitou, or as some tribes say, ‘Gitchi Manitou.’ That word or phrase comes from the Anishinaabe, Ojibewe, Algonquin, and other Native Tribes, including the Lakota peoples.” The woman continued to explain, “We sing the Manitou song because it refers to the Great Spirit, the Sprit within all Things, the Spirit that Creates life.” The man replied again, “It sounds like money to me so you shouldn’t be singing that in a spiritual circle.” I intervened at that point. I said to the man, “It seems like have a problem with your own filter of reality, tainting a beautiful song with your own fears and concerns. I have heard that song sang in ceremonies for more than 15 years and you are the only person who has misunderstood the lyric and confused it be referring to money.” Even after the woman’s response and my intervention, the man again was unwilling to look at his own filter of reality. Even after all of the explanations, he wanted to dig his heels in even more deeply and argue that this song is about money.
The problem is that one’s projection of reality often does not fit what is actually happening and our unwillingness to explore this discrepancy creates a deeper sense of disharmony for ourselves and those around us.
I could keep going on with many other examples of a mismatch in perceived reality and actual reality. We see this when someone, for instance, attends and one ayahuasca and proclaims that they should now be an ayahuasca ceremony leader, without checking their ego, or their own lack of understanding of what goes into the training to do so. We see this when someone becomes afraid during a ceremony that somehow “dark” energy is attacking them and yet they are unwilling to look at the negativity they may be bringing to the situation. We also see this when people fall into a victim story, or anything else to defend their limitations or weaknesses.
LESSONS FROM THESE SITUATIONS
While these are all pretty extreme examples of denying reality within ceremonial situations, they are good real world illustrations of how people’s personal perceptions can often cloud them from seeing the larger picture of what is happening.
- EVERYONE HAS BLIND SPOTS – Knowing and recognizing that everyone, including you, have blind-spots and this means there are things about yourself and your behavior you cannot see or own up to inside of yourself. Furthermore, blind spots, like shadows, sometimes dictate our behavior in ways we are unaware of.
- MULTIPLE VIEWPOINTS – Being open to seeing a situation from multiple viewpoints at once is an important way to break out of our limiting view of reality. Just because someone sees something from a completely different viewpoint doe not make it necessarily invalid. For example, a situation in which a person shows romantic attraction may seem quite different to a woman than a man. A person leading a plant medicine ceremony may perceive those situations differently than you do. This does not make your perception “wrong” and theirs “right.” It means that there are things to learn from seeing things from a different perspective. Try on seeing things from different angles as part of the learning process.
- THE MAGIC WORD ‘NO’ – Sometimes when you make a request or ask for something the answer is ‘no.’ As adults we need to learn how to hear and accept ‘no’ as a valid answer. Accepting ‘no’ from another is part of learning how to respect people’s boundaries. When someone says ‘no’ to you, your job is not to argue, try to convince the they are wrong, pout or act like a kid, but to stay curious why and to be respectful of it. On the other side of the coin, if a person does not accept it when you say ‘no’ what are your options? Cave in—and do it anyway? Go into a rage? Your job is to just stay inside yourself and accept the ‘no’ within and not let them push you around or move you from your inner connection.
- OPEN TO DIALOGUE – Being willing to be in dialogue with others. This does not mean letting others influence you or succumbing to group-think or peer-pressure. Within an honest and rigorous dialogue you explore for yourself what may be “real”, “unreal”, and what makes sense and does not to you.