Tootsie Rolls, Projection, and a Stream I Had Been Missing

There is this old tootsie roll commercial.  In wonderful, 1970’s style these animated ragamuffins sing a sort-of ode to the candy.  The commercial-kids are clearly big fans of tootsie rolls.  As they look around, they see all kinds of random stuff like airplane bodies, trees, and trains suddenly turn into tootsie rolls.  Given that they maintain their shiny smiles through out, I gather that we are not meant to infer that this is some sort-of psychotic break from reality or bad acid trip.

I am perhaps overthinking things here, but to whatever extent we are supposed to think about it at all, it seems like the point is that these kids are projecting their much-loved candy into places that it simply isn’t there.

This commercial, in a silly and pop culture way, gets at a real thing that happens.  Sometimes, we get really into something, and suddenly that thing seems to be everywhere.  Perhaps it is a word or a phrase or an idea; a brand of clothing, a phrase, a little piece of body language.

When we see something recurring over and over again, it is an important question: are we projecting something that isn’t there?  Or is this pattern, whatever it is, something that really is there, and was there all along, and we just never noticed it.

I once had this great book on writing.  It included a bunch of really interesting exercises to help writers notice the world in new ways.  One of them was to pick a color or a shape.  Close your eyes, relax, and breathe for a while.  When you are ready, open your eyes and look around– or better yet, go for a walk.  And notice the color, or notice the shape.

As I am writing this now, I am thinking you ought to try this reader.  Will you humor me on that?  And maybe write a little something about what it was like in the comments below?  Don’t worry.  I will wait.

Done already?  Cool.  So, the thing is, that when you choose a color or a shape, you do notice that color or shape everywhere.  This is clearly not a case of projection.

Of course, there are these self-fufilling prophecies we create.  There are these stories that we tell ourselves that are not true.  But we cherry pick the evidence, and only grab on to stuff that confirms them.  The success of magic tricks and psychics can be built on this.  Also, this is the foundation of racism, sexism, homophobia.  It is no small thing.

Which brings us back to this question: When we stuff everywhere, is it actually lurking around, everywhere?  Or did we project it out?

The relevance to my life now is that I am looking at where I am spiritually.  I am discovering all these amazing ideas.  Some people are claiming that they have been sitting around, in holy books I am quite familiar with, but all this time I didn’t know what to look for, and I simply missed them.

More specifically, there are these ideas around a mature, second-half-of-life spirituality.  Ideas about embracing paradox, grey areas, and difficult truths.  Folks who identify themselves as Christians (like myself) point at our bible as a source for these beliefs.  Before now, I would have said Buddhism has lots to offer in these areas, secular philosophy or psychology.

But I am on this crazy journey where I am learning that these people might turn out to be right, after all.  My own Christian tradition has this really valuable knowledge about contemplation, embracing both sides of complicated reality, agnowodging that death sucks and life is hard.

I am growing increasingly convinced that I am not like one of those hippie kids, who projected the tootsie roll into places it clearly didn’t exist.  There is lots I want to write.  (And reader, there is so much I want to hear from you, so please please please leave a comment or thought below)  But this post is running long as it is, so I am thinking for now, I ought to take a little break.




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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

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