Projection happens when we feel feelings, and instead of owning them ourselves, we push them outwards (project them) onto other people. For example, Geoff lost all his money on a poker game, and, as he left the room, kicked a cat. Usually, with projection, there is a felt loss, and there is a third party whom the loss-feeler attacks as a diversion from that felt loss.
A common domestic example is a person in a relationship who finds fault with their partner when they feel under pressure themselves. A boiling saucepan spits hot water. This is often interpreted by psychologists as a failure of containment. The idea is that we should all be able to contain our own pain inside ourselves, and process it without hassling other people.
Why is it considered good to contain our negative emotions (those related to loss)? The answer comes in two parts. Firstly, other people are happier and safer if they are free from the threat of our attacks. Secondly, attacking other people ultimately hurts ourselves. It causes a boomerang effect, whereby the bad feeling generated by our vindictive actions eventually returns to us in the form of other people’s actions, or unfortunate circumstances.
How can we contain our own emotions, keeping ourselves and other people safe. One valuable practice is meditation. Meditation is to the mind what nutrition is to the body. Just as a good diet can help keep us healthy, good mental training keeps us mentally healthy, and better able to process our own emotions.
How does meditation work? In simple terms, we first prepare ourselves by setting an intention. Our intention should be to attain a period of quiet focus. Secondly, we sit or stand in a comfortable, balanced way, and let our minds be quietly aware of ourselves, and of the world. We stay like that for as long as we can reasonably manage, learning to deal with distractions as they arise, and return to a calm awareness.
After a period of meditation, we should feel more mentally centred, and better able to cope with what life throws at us. Gradually, over the years, meditation practice turns us from reactive animals into masterful and responsive individuals. Instead of projecting our losses onto others, we don’t even fear losses any more. We have found a way to process our own stuff, without loading it onto others by blaming them or getting irritated by them.
Just for today, I will notice when I get angry with other people. I will let go of that anger, and instead redirect my actions to a period of quiet focus. Instead of participating in a big circle of boomeranging spite, I will take responsibility for my own emotions, and try to train myself to manage those emotions quietly when they arise.
Life is loss, and so we will always experience the pressure of loss. Our natural tendency is to project that loss outwards onto others, spilling our negative feelings into the atmosphere. Ultimately, this hurts both us and others.
Instead of making life miserable, we have a second option. That second option is to learn to process our own negative emotions, dissolving them in a flow of quiet focus. If we can achieve this, then we can emerge unhurt from the endless round of suffering, and not be hurt by it any more.
In this way, meditation practice acts as an answer to the pain of projection in behaviour and relationships. Instead of turning everything into a painful battle, we can achieve a peaceful serenity.