Confronting Goliath Exploring the Link Between Projection and Mass Oppression by Maria Todisco
I was recently on the phone with a good friend, involved in one of our usual lively discussions about the fate of conscious beings in a largely unconscious world. We were in that kind of limbo space charged with potential that often emerges when months of agonized, murky thinking are about to explode into an alchemical synthesis.
Information and experience from several years of consciousness research and study were piled in disorganized files in my brain, periodically setting off erratic neuronal impulses. I was trying to grasp the birthing-place of conscious awareness. Specifically, I was probing for the matrix by which the spiritual path blips into reality for an individual and winds upward like an umbilical cord. Then, in a flash of insight, I suddenly understood: the collective unconscious is that matrix, and it is mainly unhealthy forms of projection that keep us from the most profound parts of ourselves, the archetypes, the life force of the soul. The collective unconscious is the David that can ultimately vanquish the Goliath of mass oppression. And this is how.
Projection is a fact of the psyche. It is the primary mechanism by which the psyche intakes and processes information; how it learns and grows. Projection is what is happening the majority of times you have a strong emotion linked to someone or something in your environment. It is how you learn about yourself and grow from experience. Chances are, if you are uncannily frightened of a police officer, or “fall in love” with Harrison Ford, you are projecting.
Archetypes, according to Carl Jung, are numinous images, or energetic patterns of God that have taken form. These energy patterns can assume many faces. For example, the Mother archetype can be seen as the serene and radiant Mother Mary icon of Christianity or as Ripley, Sigourney Weaver’s brave and intense character in the Alien series. Each of these images portrays a different feeling-tone, but both are aspects of feminine love, devotion, will and strength. When an archetype is portrayed clearly in a film, we often identify with it and gain inspiration from it. Something deep within us cannot help but connect to it because it recognizes itself. These archetypes are latent but accessible to the psyche of every human being. This “latent storage ground” of the archetypes is called the collective unconscious.
What seems to happen is that we are constantly projecting onto our environment our own unconscious drama of the psyche. This is fine and natural, except we are never taught how to project, or, rather, how to discern which of our projections are empowering, which are disempowering, and how to foster and process empowering projections. Consequently, we do not know how to use the innate, empowering drives within us to become more conscious and enact that consciousness in the world. I believe that this faculty of discernment is a key to effective psychological and spiritual growth.
My passionate nature makes me a prime victim for lack of discernment, and has taught me, painfully, how important it really is. I remember arriving at the California Institute of Integral Studies, where I recently earned my Ph.D. I was so thrilled to be at a learning institution that valued the knowledge and wisdom of multiple cultures after completing two traditional degrees, that I projected wildly onto everything in my environment. I signed up for my first class in consciousness studies, and there I discovered the language I was looking for to express my soul. I formed a bond with my professor, who was, to my mind, my “savior and bringer of light and clarity.” In my manic joy, I did not clearly see his weaknesses and blocks. This same professor was to later endanger my chances for graduation. Through this and other experiences I eventually learned that some of the most important teachings are not listed in the course schedule each semester.
Projection is occurring every time you experience an emotional or psychological charge on a person, object, quality, event or situation. Projection can be classified into two main categories: healthy (empowering) projection and unhealthy (disempowering) projection. Disempowering projections, or projections with an external locus of power, are those that act as a screen to our environment; those that shut us off from others and from the world. For example, feeling jealous that your best friend bought a house and you have not is an example of disempowering projection. This destructive emotion is being experienced because the locus of the projection resides outside of your psyche’s range of power. You are giving your power away, feeling you cannot attain a house of your own and, thus, reacting negatively to someone who has achieved this. The fact that your friend bought a house is a neutral event; how you react to it reveals the dynamics of your psyche in that particular moment.
An empowering perspective on the same projection would be to turn the force of the projection inward into a feeling of motivation to attain that which you want also, to be open to inspiration and advice from your friend on how they accomplished their goal, and to hold goodwill towards their hard-earned achievements. The locus here resides inside your psyche’s range of influence and is empowering you to take steps toward your goal, rather than expending energy resenting someone else’s. Projection, in this positive sense, is a mirror to your inner dynamics; a way of using your psyche’s innate ability to reflect itself in your environment to increase awareness and improve the quality of your life.
It is my belief that unhealthy projection is a major obstacle to basic human freedom. Unhealthy projection operates on the premise that the source of how you should feel, think and act lies outside of you. In other words, as long as you remain in an unconscious, automatic mode of unhealthy projection, you have surrendered your own psychological power and freedom to the designs or whims of external sources and events.
Perhaps the most influential of these external sources is what we call the “media.” An example from the past year of the profoundly castrating effect that unhealthy projection has on our basic human rights to creative expression and freedom of thought can be found in the intensity of the emotional charge centered around the release of the movie “Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace.” Please understand, I have long been an avid fan of the Star Wars epic, which emulates Joseph Campbell’s work on archetypes and the “Hero’s Journey.” But when I learned that people were camping out five weeks in advance waiting for tickets to the premiere, I was deeply upset. These people obviously experienced the archetypal charge that I do from these films, but they did not know how to use it productively. They were structuring their lives around an external source rather than using this external input to strengthen their own internal passion. I realized that the media encourages this shamelessly through advertising and propaganda, and that the result is a deeply effective subliminal form of manipulation. The media can be such a profound tool for inspiration and education (as the Star Wars epic itself has proven to be) that its lack of discretion saddens me greatly.[Thankfully, there are media makers who refrain from such excess. I am grateful that my brother, Paul Todisco, an independent film director, uses the media’s influence positively in his feature film, “Freak Talks About Sex,” a touching, masterful story of a young man finding himself and clearing out his life so that he can follow his inner passion to become a writer. The main character portrays emotions, doubts and insecuri-ties we all experience and relate to.]
The media is a constant manipulative force in our lives these days. The increasing depersonalization of a contemporary life filled with automated telephone menus and a steady stream of invasive advertisements bombarding our consciousness from all directions continuously directs our awareness out-ward, claiming that fulfillment lies outside ourselves in commercial products.
This leaves very little room for the creative inner being, the archetypal core that is the truth of who we really are. I submit that we are fulfilled when we are the “archetypal hero,” and the rest of the time is spent trying to get there through whatever means are available, internal or external, whether we acknowledge it or not. The media provides potentially useful external outlets, such as Star Wars, that let us have archetypal experiences, and then irresponsibly injects propaganda that immediately diffuses the internal motivation and feeling of being alive that we get from these experiences. They then dissipate impotently and serve no benefit to our own individuality and creativity. This masterful form of oppression is more effective than attempting to squash the archetypal impulse altogether, because such severe oppression without outlet would never escape eventual outright rebellion.
As all this became clear to me, I sat up that night and cried. It bruised everything I believe and hold dear to my heart, and I felt the energetic tearing of souls separating from their matrix of archetypes and giving up their freedom illegitimately. And out of this place of sad-ness and spiritual violation came words, and the words began to form patterns.
So I realized that the first tool instrumental in making a difference is the awareness that this media distortion is happening at all. The second tool is some form of psychological strategy to counteract this archetypal diffusion so that we can use our inspiration to benefit ourselves, our causes, and the welfare of all beings. This strategy must initially center around psychologically converting “short-term movie-time” into “long-term real-life time.” It must bring the unconscious dynamics of projection into conscious awareness. Through these two practices, we can better use our many sources of inspiration (film, books, music, spiritual workshops, hobbies, sports, other people) in more effective ways.
Whenever I need a media derived boost of inspiration, I like to watch one of the Star Wars films, Star Trek, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, or The Lion King. For me, these are marvelous depictions of the spiritual awakening process delightfully packaged in a fantasy context that revives the uninhibited child, the intrepid adventurer, and the transpersonal spokesperson (three of my most beloved and powerful archetypes) within me without fail.
Yet even as I watch and enjoy, I stay aware of the formula behind such media. This formula has infused in us a familiarity with short clips of life in which the prince wins the princess and eternal happiness in an hour and a half. Or, in another tried and true media formula, the solution to all our dissatisfactions are flashed by us in a ten second, subliminally effective advertisement for, say, a new car. We identify first with the characters in the commercial, then go out and buy the hot new car, only to discover, in a flurry of bills, that our inspirational “high” wasn’t permanent. We’ve been had . . . again. The locus of our projection was misdirected.
Those neat formulaic media packages work so well because they seductively substitute a feel-good fiction for real life. The conflict and resolution in movie-time are built into a compact, invented experience. The promises in the commercial are hollow. But, subliminally and emotionally, we identify with this short-term pattern, and become increasingly frustrated and incapable of sustaining the long-term goal-setting of real life.
The solution is to consciously take the moment of inspiration from external sources and continuously translate it into our own real life and work.
The first step towards accomplishing this is to reject the propaganda that tries to redirect that moment of inspiration in ways ineffective for the transformation of self and society. For example, if you find interest and pleasure in collecting Star Wars action figures, there is no need to discontinue this practice per se. The key is not to allow the propaganda to be the psychological carrier of the inspiration. In this case, it is possible to collect action figures and still use the inspiration from the Star Wars series to help keep up a long-term study of the martial arts.
The second step is to use your external sources rather than allow them to use you. This involves continuously translating external stimuli into internal significance. In other words, external sources of inspiration such as movies, books, activities and other people can be repetitively sought out for an extra boost of inspiration. But you must be certain to take this inspirational feeling home with you and apply it to your own life and work, rather than to just “ride the high” until it dissipates, only to seek it out again from another external source. This type of unhealthy projection is the dynamic behind the strength and success of authoritarian oppression, including guru worship and many varieties of “spiritual healing” events that foster dependence on the source rather than prime the individual for greater independence. I always keep in mind that the spiritual field is much less regulated than the mental health professions, which demand degrees and licenses for legitimate practice. I also make sure that my freedom to think, question authority, and come and go as I please is left unhindered when I seek out spiritual sources to cultivate my own inner growth.
Retraining self awareness so that the locus of psychological power resides within is the third step in the process of converting short-term inspiration into long-term accomplishment. This happens naturally, by degrees, as consciousness evolution (movement from a less spiritually based to a more spiritually based awareness) unfolds. While this evolution is occurring, there are a few practices that can aid in bringing this inner empowerment about. You can make it a point to be extra aware of your emotions so as to catch the projections as they naturally occur. Then you can examine each emotion to determine whether the locus of the projection is internal or external. If the projection serves to motivate you to accomplish a goal or to clarify something about your view of yourself, your belief systems, or the world, then it is a healthy projection.
For example, admiring a boss or professor and consciously modeling the qualities you want to strengthen in yourself is healthy projection. On the other hand, idolizing a boss or professor to the extent that you give up your will to question them and become dependent on them to feel good about yourself is unhealthy projection. This is basic, but crucial stuff.
It is also important to learn to bring the unconscious dynamics of projection into conscious awareness. You can retrieve your psychological power by educating yourself about the ways that sources of power manipulate your awareness. Learning and practicing critical thinking, as well as understanding the influence of mantric repetition, trance, subliminal suggestion, catch phrases/rhyming in advertising, and neuro-linguistic programming can greatly increase your independence from psychological manipulation and allow the freedom to clearly feel, act and live the archetypes that you, in essence, are. I found it helpful to explore books by Claude M. Bristol, a self-made millionaire who used the techniques of neuro-linguistic programming to achieve success. If you want a straightforward introduction to the system as a science, O’Connor and Seymour’s Introducing Neuro-Linguistic Programming is a good place to start.
I have discovered that I am beginning to naturally acquire some of the NLP tools and faculties through my own lengthy training in psychology and in my continuous strivings for higher consciousness. I understand their power to influence and I have been somewhat blocked and afraid to use them. As I rigorously purify my inclinations for power, I am finding that the blocks are just beginning to erode and let the voice of truth underneath come through. I believe it is better to be cautious with these treasures and to stress self-examination so that we do not fall prey to the “dark side” of the Force, letting them erupt unchecked in a geyser of selfish gain.
Healthy projection uses the external world as a mirror to foster intimacy with yourself, the world and all beings. Unhealthy projection serves as a screen, blocking a full experience of self and world. Striving for a greater, more functional intimacy will allow us a deeper, more permanent fulfillment. Intimacy is that inspirational feeling of being alive and fully you, a conscious being that is interdependent with every other conscious being in existence. Intimacy is real strength; the strength of vulnerability in which every interaction takes place in a heightened and meaningful way.
The world of embodied archetypes is drenched with meaning. Our identities draw their water of life from this well, and it is our birthright to preserve and express this identity. It is possible to confront, demystify and detoxify the giant web of distracting influences beckoning us into an anonymous, meaningless mass of media psychosis. It is possible to see through its seemingly impenetrable shell to the naked workings of its gears, like the false wizard in the Wizard of Oz. Intimacy and authoritarianism are incompatible. Consciousness and oppression are incompatible. When David emerged from the masses, Goliath fell.
Maria A. Todisco, Ph.D., is an educator, transper-sonal psychologist, writer, and researcher/editor for Balthazar Productions. She holds a Ph.D. in Transpersonal Psychology (East-West Psychology) and a traditional MS in Counseling and Human Services, which reflect her versatile knowledge of human psychology. She has taught at the California Institute of Integral Studies and John F. Kennedy University, and has studied closely with renowned mystical author Dr. Andrew Harvey for several years. She has recently relocated to Los Angeles, and will also be teaching psycho-spiritual critical thinking classes and workshops in area colleges while she writes and continues her exploration of consciousness evolution. Dr. Todisco can be contacted at (213) 387-0272 for scholarly research and writing help, tutoring appointments, or psycho-spiritual consultation.