What’s Controlling You?

Projection: the mental process by which people attribute to others what is in their own minds.

Projection is a bad idea but everyone does it – often. We’re the sum of our experiences. A few we recognize. Others, buried in our subconscious, are all the more damaging because we’re ignorant of them. Our forgotten memories determine how we respond to life.

Here’s an example of projection.

I walk into a café and see someone I know. He looks up and scowls in my direction. I assume he’s reacting to seeing me and I think, “OMG! I’ve just ruined his day. I had no idea he felt that way about me. He hates me.” I do a hasty about-face and exit the café.

The person who looked up just then has a throbbing headache. He notices me and thinks, “I haven’t seen Sherry in ages…” He’s unaware that his pain shows so openly on his face and begins to stand to greet me. As I turn and flee he thinks, “What the…? Why’s she avoiding me? I’m sure she saw me…”

Mine is the only head I can be in – the only thoughts I can access. Anything else is pure imagination. Both of us assumed we knew what the other was thinking. Things like this happen all the time and cause misunderstandings, ruin friendships, parent/child relationships, and marriages.

There’s another way projection can warp our perceptions.

Today I opened my curtains and saw lopped-off branches heaped in the garden.

My heart did a vertical plunge and landed near my feet. I had to muster every ounce of self-control to keep from dashing outside, wrestling Ketut to the ground, and tying his saw-wielding hands behind his back.

Wouldn’t you think by now I’d know he’s a master gardener; that his pruning is essential or the well-groomed landscape would become an impenetrable jungle gobbling up everything in its path?

And yet I have the same visceral response every single time.

After the first surge of adrenaline, I was able to breathe, unclench my fists, retrieve my heart, and appreciate the fact I have a brilliant helper to tend my yard. Granted, for one day after he’s hacked it back it looks like a bad haircut. But thunderheads roll in, rain streams down and in less time than it takes to mourn the loss of the trumpet vine, there are ten new ones covered with flowers.

I’m projecting on Bali my experience growing up in northern Minnesota where a garden, if we were lucky, lasted two months. Buds were holy. Blossoms, revered. A flowering tree was immortalized by hundreds of photos so we could remember through the nine months of winter that life did exist and would return.

On the left, it’s 1965. I’m 15. My younger siblings and I made a snow horse and behind us is the snow fort. Missy, our black lab, never figured out she wasn’t human. On the right it’s 1951. The family’s been out for a walk with Mr. Chips, our collie. Dad took the photo.

That was the past I was stuck in when I looked out my window.

* * *

I define projection as a need to control a situation by basing it on a familiar remembered experience and acting accordingly.

If we can stop at any point before action is taken and ask, Where is this coming from, and honestly assess what might be at the root of our assumptions, how many heartaches would we avoid?

That’s what I managed to do this morning. I stopped before making a seventy-year-old fool of myself thinking I could win any kind of wrestling match with Ketut.

I ditched the bitter Minnesota memories and drew on recent experience where, in Bali, a wildly luscious garden is an everyday fact of life not a mirage that disappears under frigid mounds of white.

I hurried outside, my pores oozing gratitude, and thanked Ketut for being such a magnificent steward of my treasured tropical surroundings. Then I promised to make him famous by featuring him once again in my blog. “And put it on Facebook,” he said, like the true, attention-loving Leo he is.

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. sageblessings
    Jul 15, 2020 @ 21:20:12

    Great reminder to take some deep breaths and ask deeper questions.

    Liked by 1 person


  2. stevecastley
    Jul 16, 2020 @ 00:41:01

    Thanks for sharing Sherry. The winter photos look soooooo cold. Steve

    Liked by 1 person


    • writingforselfdiscovery
      Jul 16, 2020 @ 21:43:47

      The one taken in March, 1965 was MARCH for heaven’s sake! You should have seen us outside in January…icicles hanging off our eyelashes, nose and mouth covered with scarves a lot thicker than these little masks we’re wearing these days!



  3. Carol
    Jul 16, 2020 @ 01:51:22

    Great memories and current stories. I really like your writing.

    Liked by 1 person


  4. gr8ful_collette
    Jul 16, 2020 @ 05:15:13

    So true. It reminds me of the Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, the one that says Don’t Take Anything Personally. Other people’s actions/words/behaviors stem from their own moods thoughts and experiences and it’s not about you. What a treasure to have a master gardener tend to your little piece of paradise! 💕🌴

    Liked by 1 person


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