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Projection Makes Perception

The belief that by seeing it outside you have excluded it from within is a complete distortion of the power of extension. (T-7.VIII.3)

God knows only how to extend himself. (Please don’t get hung up on the word “himself.” Words only point to the meaning, which is always beyond words.) By this extension is how we (Christ) were created. To understand this better, let’s substitute the word God for the word love: Love grows when it is extended, and love only knows how to extend itself because extension is its nature. To connect this idea to an experience in your own life, just remember how expansive you feel when you give love to someone. And when you give love, you feel love in you. Every time you give love to someone else, you also give it to yourself: this is how love grows when it is extended.

In reality, which is beyond duality, we are nothing but love and we can only extend ourselves as love. And in this world of duality, when we perceive from the right mind (Holy Spirit), we use the power of extension properly and therefore see God in everything and everyone. In other words, we see ourselves in everything and everyone.

When we perceive the world from the wrong mind (ego), we have distorted that power of extension and replaced it with projection. To understand projection, we have to understand that we have a split mind: the higher Self, or Holy Spirit, and the lower self, or ego. The higher Self can also be called true Self, while the lower self is the false self. The true Self is unalterable, and was created by extension of God and is therefore one with God. You are still as God created you, even though you forgot that and instead have identified yourself with the lower self, which is just a fearful idea that you are separated from God. You never could have separated from God, which is why the ego is called the false self. In this world of duality (birth/death, you/me, black/white), we identify ourselves with the lower self, or ego, and we do so out of ignorance of our true nature. Our mind is split, and we suffer because we know somewhere deep inside that the false self, with which we identify most of the time, is not our true Self.

The split mind is the result of oneness seemingly becoming partitioned into many parts (non-duality seemingly became duality, and one seemingly became many). When there is only one, there can’t be a within and without, an inside and outside. But when the one becomes more than one, there is suddenly a within and a without because there is you and there is me, and they seem to be vastly different. This is the basis for the ego’s worldview, which is projection: what is inside of me is different from that which is outside of me.

No one really sees anything. He sees only his thoughts projected outward. (W-8.1)

The ego looks outward and sees the world happening out there, independently of its thoughts. When we perceive from the view of the ego, we believe that the world made us, rather than seeing that we made the world. This is how the ego shifts responsibility from itself onto the seeming other: this “other” can be one person or a group of people (a family, a sports team, a political party, a country). It doesn’t matter whether the “other” is one person or the whole planet — the fact that there is an “other” allows the ego to project outward whatever it doesn’t want to see within.

But learn and do not let your mind forget this law of seeing: You will look upon that which you feel within. If hatred finds a place within your heart, you will perceive a fearful world, held cruelly in death’s sharp-pointed, bony fingers. If you feel the Love of God within you, you will look out on a world of mercy and of love. (W-189.5)

The terms projection and extension are describing the same law, the only law that exists: as within, so without; as above, so below. Both projection and extension imply that there is more of something that already exists. It’s really important not to overlook the “something that already exists” part. But this overlooking is exactly what the ego does. The ego looks at the world and sees violence, hatred, greed, death, but it would never occur to the ego that whatever it sees out there is only a reflection of that something that already exists in here.

When we judge a murderer, we should ask ourselves whether we ever had a murderous thought. This may seem ridiculous because to think you want to murder someone and to actually murder someone are two different things, right? The Course tells us, however, that there are no degrees of insanity: we either have sane thoughts (love) or insane thoughts (fear). You’re sane when you align with the true Self, spirit, and you’re insane when you align with the false self, ego. And everything that is not love, whether it’s “just” a thought or an act, is fear. Fear may manifest as hatred, greed, ignorance, violence, depression, anxiety, specialness…If it’s not love, it’s fear, the Course teaches. And since only love is real, fear is just an illusion, a projection of our own untrue thoughts. This is an important point: fear, in whatever form it appears, is always a result of our own thoughts about ourselves projected outward.

Just like the word projection invokes an image of something being expelled or ejected (as in throwing up!), so does the ego try to get rid of something by seeing it in someone else. Yes, it is an ugly image, but a helpful one: When we judge others, we throw up our beliefs about ourselves on them. But unlike in the act of physical throwing up, we don’t get rid of our beliefs by ejecting them. And we continue to suffer because those scary (though untrue) beliefs we hold within keep controlling us. The suffering is unbearable, so we keep trying to get rid of those beliefs by projecting them. We keep seeing out there whatever we’re afraid to face in here. This is how the world looks like according to the ego, or the false self. Do you think a true world view can come from a false self? If I see myself through a filter, I will keep seeing everyone else through that filter.

When we project, we try to get rid of something that we think is within us and that causes us suffering. But when we extend — and only love can be extended — we’re not trying to get rid of anything. We feel more love in us the more love we give to others. The more we give, the more we keep for ourselves. This is a law that’s totally contrary to the ego’s thought system. But don’t forget that the ego was made not by extension, but by projection. It can only do the tasks it was made to do, and underneath the seeming myriad of ego’s tasks (success, individuality, specialness, conflict, war) lies only one goal: sustaining the illusion of separation. What better way to keep up the illusion of separation than making many out of one, and seeing in the other something that you never want to see in yourself?

Regarding the split mind, it is also very helpful to remember that you have two teachers: the ego and the Holy Spirit. One teaches you that there is no loving God and that you are a helpless victim of the world. The other one teaches you that God is all there is, and that you, therefore, must be an extension of God. The way you see the world depends on what teacher you listen to:

You cannot learn simultaneously from two teachers who are in total disagreement about everything. (T-8.I)
Yet it is surely the mind that judges what the eyes behold. It is the mind that interprets the eyes’ messages and gives them “meaning.” And this meaning does not exist in the world outside at all. (M-8.3)

If you see yourself as separate from God, and therefore deserving punishment and having been condemned to a life of fear, you will look at a world that reflects those thoughts back to you. The murderer in our example sees the world and himself that way. When I, who has never murdered anyone, condemn you for anything, even if I do so “only” in my thoughts, I see the world not unlike the murderer does. I see a lack of love, and I choose fear, just like the murderer does. The murderer probably doesn’t see love at all, ever, and chooses fear by default, while I see love sometimes and selectively and choose fear only 90 percent of the time. We appear to be different on the surface (for one, I’m adjusted to society and the murderer is not) but we both suffer greatly because we see the world through our respective filters of fear.

If you see yourself as one with God, never having left your true state of undivided spirit, you will look at a forgiven world: you will see the hatred, ignorance, violence, oppression and injustice as a reflection of the thoughts of separation we collectively have, and you will be able to see past that veil and recognize the light of God in everyone and everything. You will see that anything that isn’t love is just a call for love. This is exactly what Jesus realized. It is why he was able to give love and forgiveness even while his body was being nailed to the cross. The message Jesus tried to teach us then and is teaching us again through A Course in Miracles is that only love is real and that we are love. Everything else we seem to see is just a projection of our fearful thoughts; a dream we are collectively dreaming, all the while the oneness that we are remains undisturbed.

When the thought of separation has been changed to one of true forgiveness, will the world be seen in quite another light; and one which leads to truth, where all the world must disappear and all its errors vanish. (W-pII.3.1)

But we can’t change our view of the world and our view of other people unless we have changed our minds about ourselves. As long as I subconsciously believe that I am a horrible sinner and that I have done something terribly wrong, I will keep attracting relationships and circumstances that will prove to me what I already think of myself, no matter how false my beliefs are. If I believe I deserve punishment of any kind, I will see a world wanting to punish me. Whatever I believe about myself, I will keep “throwing up” on the world, and whatever I project will stay with me, controlling me. I will continue to repress those fear thoughts in myself and see them in others instead.

Projection makes perception. The world you see is what you gave it, nothing more than that. But though it is no more than that, it is not less. Therefore, to you it is important. It is the witness to your state of mind, the outside picture of an inward condition. As a man thinketh, so does he perceive. Therefore, seek not to change the world, but choose to change your mind about the world. Perception is a result and not a cause. (T-21.I)

This metaphor may help you understand that perception is a result and not a cause; meaning that whatever we see (perception) is a reflection of our thoughts (cause): If you went to the movies and were unhappy with what you see on the screen, would you go to the screen and try to change and manipulate it in any way? Even if you ripped off the screen, the movie would keep playing on whatever surface is behind the screen. Of course, you say, to change what’s playing you’d have to go to the projector. Exactly. Think of everything you see as a movie that’s being projected from your mind, which is your projector. To change what you see, you have to go to your own mind and change it first. This idea is at the heart of A Course in Miracles: seek not to change the world because the world is an effect; change your mind about the world because your mind is the cause of what you see.