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.