Another tool from the field of psychology is the identification and analysis of human defense mechanisms. The terms that psychologists use to describe these mechanisms are now so common that they are easily, and often accurately, used by lay people. We speak of denial, rationalization, and displacement in our ordinary language, but the terms originated in psychology. The most significant defense mechanism, in my opinion, is projection. A well known discussion of this psychic mechanism is described by Jungians who discuss it as the shadow. The shadow side of a person is his dark side. He may project this side onto another person. Hence the animosity one may feel towards someone who exhibits one’s own flaws. The 1940’s fictional character, the Shadow, was inspired by the Jungian discussion. Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?
Projection plays a role in all of our relationships. In Jungian psychology the discovery of and analysis of these projections is key to psychic health. We project psychic meanings onto others. The goal of analysis is to help the person reintegrate the aspect they have projected. Bringing back into oneself what one has projected precipitates an internal conflict. Where previously the individual attempted to work out contradictory traits and interests through projection, the reintegration of projections shifts the conflict from the interpersonal realm to an internal one. This is true whether one loves or hates one's projected aspect.
Archetype refers to universal human qualities. For example, there are feminine and masculine archetypes. The warrior, or the nurturing mother may reach the elevation of archetype. An individual person may represent an archetype to us, and this picturing of a meaning in an individual is another sort of projection. The failure of actual person to carry the value of the archetype can be a source of unhappiness. Take ‘mother’ for example. There is the particular person who is our mother, but there is also the archetype, mother. Relative to the archetype mother; the great nurturer, many mere human beings don’t measure up.
The artist works intuitively with imagery. The images that the artist chooses can, with care, be traced back to psychic meaning that concern the artist. Even the abstract artist who attempts to use only color and not image cannot escape psychic picturing. Color itself relays meaning. Rarely would the artist undertake an analysis of their imagery, perhaps even eschewing such an effort as an obstacle to the dream like lure of the muse. For me, though, reflections on projections illuminate the dream and lead me further along my spiritual path.
It is also inevitable that we project our own visions and thoughts onto a landscape, or scenes in nature. This is as common as projections onto a person. Take, for example, a small tree growing ‘bravely’ on a precarious precipice. We have all seen those miracles of nature. Perhaps you have been as struck as I by the lone pine tree at a cliff’s edge, or the hardy mountain laurel nestled in a tiny crevice surrounded by wind and rock. What do these real life images say to you? Do you momentarily project human attributes onto these plants? Do they seem ‘lonely,’ ‘strong,’ or ‘frightened’? They do to me.
My extensive exploration of orchid pots in my work as a potter was stimulated by a projection. How brave the little orchid, needing so little, offering so much in its luscious and subtle blooms seemed to me. I spent months devising the perfect orchid pot. I left openings for the ariel roots that would extend and intwine. I patterned my hand built pieces with impressions from Indian wooden print blocks. I fired them in a raku kiln so that they would suggest the rustic environment that the wild orchid thrives in.
I felt that I myself was a kind of orchid. Raised with little, I learned to be self-sufficient and imaginative. Living on air and the micronutrients that travel by air, I am content in a small place. Like a cat, I can make a home anywhere. Sturdy, self-reliant and, with my words, or in my youth, lovely. In a way, the orchid is both showy and hidden. I am like that, too. The orchid seems to do so well what I aspire to do: thrive on nothing, bring beauty to those with the patience to seek it.
Natural scenery offers an infinite number of opportunities for discovering one’s mind-because that’s what it is to clarify one’s projections. Imagine yourself at an overlook in the Blue Ridge Mountains. From where you stand you see an ocean of space with waves of silent, still mountains fading into the distance. You see the gradations of color; first deep green, then blue green and finally a whisper of gray fading into cloud. Are you not yourself as wide and as expansive as space when you see such a scene? Don’t you, by the magic of projection, imagine the freedom of soaring through the skies, unlimited by the hundred contingencies of your daily life? For a moment, with your inhale, aren’t you yourself space?
What if this spaciousness that you feel were an aspect of who you truly are? Better yet, what if spaciousness is the visual representation of yourself as free awareness? We know the mystics use that word when describing their consciousness.
We can inquire into our projections onto scenes in nature for the health of our own spirit. The expansiveness of a vista might call on us to experience a loving expansiveness toward others. Discovering the direction our muse wants to take us might also be understood as coming to understand our own spirit voice, or inner teacher. For psychic health and self-clarification, we can learn to identify and then internalize our projections. As I suggest this, please don’t recoil into an intellectual stance. If you do, you will be disappointed. Remain with the imagery alive. Then notice, no, recognize yourself in the imagery. Doing so will galvanize both your spiritual and artistic energies.
turning my eyes
to my shoes
from the mountain vista
I notice I’m pretending
to be a woman and not the sky