confessions of a projectionist

Who among us has not been terrorized?

Who among us has not also been a terrorist?

I’m talking about minor acts of terror.  Under my definition, even a petty snipe can be a terrorist act.  Even a petty snipe is an attempt to instill fear in a fellow human.

The minor or major terrorist feels small.  The attack is his attempt to feel big.  And it does boost his ego—for a moment anyway.  But the truth is: he still feels small.

So, as if addicted, he may repeat the behavior and keeping on repeating it.  Keep on throwing stones.  Keep trying to inflate himself.

The terrorist usually justifies these acts by demonizing the other.  But the demon he sees in the other is actually an aspect of himself.  An aspect he’s rejected.  The aspects we reject become the aspects we project…

…project onto other people, other groups, other nations.

I know of what I speak—I have been (and still am) quite a projectionist.

Yes, I try to keep a watch on myself…

But I fall asleep so easily.  And once asleep, I may be slow to wake.  When I finally realize how I’m projecting, I’m humbled—disappointed in myself…

Yet at the same time, I feel a little more hopeful about my prospects.  After all, I’ve gained in awareness.  I can break the cycle.

We know this behavior cycle—we know about rejection/projection.  We’ve told ourselves this story in countless books and movies.  In folktales, fables, and songs.  This story might be as old as we are.

So if we know the story, why can’t we change?

Here’s what I’ve realized:

Though I can see your bad behavior in those fictional characters, I can’t see my own.  That’s because I’m projecting my own bad behavior onto you.  Ironic, yes.

I believe stories are usually the best way to communicate an idea…

…but in this case, maybe not.  Maybe it’s better if we state these twin ideas plainly, simply, unequivocally.  Repeatedly.  A quotable quote—something catchy, something clever.  A hook that will stay in the mouth.

Or rather: an expression that ring with a clear bell sound—a clear bell sound that can awaken the wise bell within us.

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say: our survival depends on this understanding.

© 2017, Michael R. Patton
Searching for My Best Beliefs: a poetry book

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Victory.  Failure.
After the battle is won
The wise ruler behaves
As though at a funeral.
     — from Tao Te Ching, Cloud Hands Edition

Memorial Day seems to have become another holiday of celebration in my country.

For years, I’ve heard people say: “we’ve lost the true meaning of Christmas”.  Perhaps we’ve lost the true meaning of Memorial Day.

my war for peace: a poetry book

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freedom fighter

As most children do, I dreamed of being free…

Finally (a century later, it seemed), I got my freedom.  At the age of eighteen, I left home and over the years, moved here and there, to one city after another, in these United States.

I enjoyed a freedom of mobility not available to most humans in most ages.

But perhaps “enjoyed” isn’t the best word to describe my experience.  I was traveling on a shoestring…and that shoestring often got awfully thin…sometimes, so thin that it broke.

Some thought I was free as a bird.  But they didn’t consider the cost of my choices.  For that matter, neither did I—until afterwards.

That’s not to say I didn’t gain.  In fact, I’d say the gain was worth the cost, because I learned so much.  By trying to be free, I learned about freedom.  I learned about the shackles.

We’ve all seen this story: the hero bursts free from the shackles of his prison and emerges into the bright sunlight of freedom.

That’s the one we want to be.  The problem is: in order to be free, we must give up some degree of security.

I’m not saying security is evil.  Security is necessary for our survival.  The trick is: not to overvalue it—nor, for that matter, undervalue it.  We all deal with that dilemma, that question of balance.  And on a daily basis, as I see it—regarding issues large and small.

As for myself…

I’ve both overvalued and undervalued security…

I’ve made many high-flying leaps…some of which ended with me limping back to more secure confines…

I could fly the coop, but I had trouble remaining aloft…

…because the shackles were still hanging from my back.  Those shackles are made of fear.

So then, what do I do about that fear?  Well, you can’t simply talk yourself out of it.  It’s useless to say: “I shouldn’t be afraid—I won’t be afraid.”  I know because I’ve tried.  Many, many times…

At least now, I’m semi-aware of the fear.  Aware enough to be able to control it, instead of being controlled by it.  That’s true freedom.  But let’s be honest: I’m not there yet.  Not by a long shot.

It’s a helluva fight: to defy my fear is to defy a basic instinct.  An impulse necessary for my survival.

So here’s my ideal: to listen to that instinct—and then make a conscious decision.  Maybe I leap, maybe I hop, maybe I stop, maybe I step back…

…but as long as I’m making a conscious choice, I’m acting with freedom.

However, I realize the equation is often not so simple.  We have commitments and responsibilities to consider.  We may be limited by circumstances over which we have little or no control…

But here’s what else I’ve learned: “freedom” doesn’t mean being free from all restraints.  There will always be limitations.  Our freedom depends on our ability to expand within whatever limitations we face.

Maybe there’s no way out of prison for our hero.  Nevertheless, he finds ways to expand.  They can’t shackle his mind.  He expands by giving up the security of old habits of thought, of being.

As I see it, I’ve been struggling for freedom since birth: I’ve been trying to find ways to expand—to grow—within the limits of this life, this world.

But I think we all fight that fight—to some degree.  Don’t we all struggle against our environment—and ourselves—in an effort to be free?  In that sense, aren’t we’re all at least a little heroic?

© 2017, Michael R. Patton
Common Courage: a poetry book

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ride on!

Derivative trading, doing business in Siberia, and using bitcoin have all been dubbed “a new Wild West”.

We stick that label on many risky endeavors these days.  Endeavors free of the usual restrictions–and so, frequently of dubious legality.  Nonetheless, the label has positive connotations for us…

A new Wild West offers us the chance to recapture something of the old Wild West.  A sense of freedom and grand possibility.  We can live large…

I understand that desire.  I can understand the frustration of those who feel a loss of opportunity…who feel diminished.

But I say: we need not wish for a new version of the old Wild West…

I say: it’s already here!  As a nation, as a world, we’ve entered a gray borderland…

…with a dark shadowy forest up ahead.  Our new Wild West.

But whereas our Old West ancestors ventured into the unknown filled with hope…

…we shake in the saddle with doubt and dread.  We’d like to stop the horse—or at least, slow it down.  But we know we can’t.  This sense of powerlessness just adds to our anxiety.

A paradox: we want a new Wild West and yet we don’t.  As I see it, we’re struggling with a basic dilemma of human history…

Like any other animal, we desire safety.  Yet, as humans, we also want to know what’s over the next hill.  To complicate matters, sometimes we need to go over that hill for safety’s sake.  To remain safe, we must go beyond our safety limits.  Over the hill—or into the dark forest.

Sometimes we make a conscious choice to go there.  Other times, we’re forced.  We’re dragged by a horse.  A horse that is us.  A horse that is our own unconscious force.

Yes, we’re dragging ourselves into a new Wild West.  But I can understand our resistance.  After all, this Wild West seems to be lacking in both freedom and grand possibility.

However, I think it actually offers us both…

Though tied to this horse, we do have freedom of choice…

We can choose to expand or we can choose to contract.

If we expand, we can realize the grand possibilities of our new Wild West.  But if we contract…

…sooner or later, we’ll be forced open.  So we might as well choose to expand now.

You want to live large?  Here’s your chance.  As for myself, I’m tired of feeling so small.

© 2017, Michael R. Patton
Survival: a poetry book

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in favor of the braveheart chicken

In 1959, Allen Ginsberg said America was having a nervous breakdown…

Maybe he was exaggerating for effect.

However, it’s no exaggeration to say, that in 2017, we’re a very very nervous nation…

No breakdown yet, but our condition is indeed serious.  Nervous citizens and nervous nations can act erratically, impulsively—sometimes violently.

Though I don’t have a cure for our nervousness, I do have a helpful suggestion…

A suggestion based on my own experience as a nervous person:

I think it’s best if we finally admit how afraid we are.  And when I say “we” I mean everyone—yes, that includes all you pumped-up, testosterone-driven ninja-commando hyper-warriors.  Admit it–you’re just as scared as the rest of us.

Yes, I realize I’m asking you to go against an American ideal.  When dealing with a threat, we’re supposed to show cold-face composure based on a snake-like inner calm.  Think of Dirty Harry chewing a hot dog while preparing to blow some punk away.

But trying to maintain that facade can actually create what we’re trying to avoid.  If we deny our fear, we may erupt when the inner tension becomes much too much.  Would-be Dirty Harrys often end up running amok.

On the other hand…

…by being aware of our fear, we learn how to deal with the tension.  We’re able to control our fear, instead of being controlled by it.  We can act with courage when the situation requires—no matter how nervous we may be.

To help with this shift in attitude, I say we need different stories, different models.  Less Predator, and more The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.  We need nervous heroes who are painfully aware of how nervous they are.

This new-ideal hero will have learned to live with his high anxiety.  So, he’s able to keep his head as tension mounts—which means, he keeps his heart too.  He’ll “do the right thing”.

Yes, such braveheart chickens would be good models…but I’m realistic…

I don’t expect audiences to reject the cold-hell heroes any time soon…

We won’t, because that’s who we wish we could be.

Here’s the secret: that’s actually who we are—at least, in part.  I believe we all have that aspect—that archetype—within ourselves.  It may be deeply buried, but it’s there somewhere.

To me, the trick is: to find both the negative and positive sides of that aspect…

…then activate the positive.

But to stay on the positive side, I believe we must remain aware of our fear—our inner Mr. Chicken.

Unless we develop that awareness, I think our nation may indeed have a breakdown—a breakdown expressed in an eruption.

© 2017, Michael R. Patton
Common Courage: a poetry book

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the naked truth

We haven’t forgotten the wisdom of The Emperor’s New Clothes

I often hear that story referenced after a leader states a naked lie as fact.

Good—but let’s not lose this important detail…

No one dared to mention the emperor’s nakedness, because if he did, he’d be declared unfit for his job…

Yes—people kept quiet for financial reasons.

A cynic might say: the child who spoke the truth had nothing to lose.  Okay, point taken.  However, plenty of modern-day whistleblowers are willing to speak up, though they know they might lose their jobs, their careers, their houses.  Often, they end up filing for bankruptcy.  They receive death threats.  Whistleblowing is hazardous to your health and well-being.  And yet people still accept the risk.

Ironically, our whistleblowers often start out as “true believers”…

They believe in the integrity of their company, their organization, their governmental agency.  They believe in the righteousness of a cause.  They believe in their work…

So when they discover an ugly truth, they can’t just shrug and say, “that’s the way of the world—everyone does it”, as a cynic would.  No, they feel the wrong must be righted.  Integrity must be restored.  So they speak up…

And as a result, often get nailed to a cross—to borrow a symbol from another well-known story.  Another whistleblower story.  Like whistleblowers of other eras, Jesus spoke truth to power and paid the price.

I like to imagine, if faced with a choice, I’d speak out—no matter the risk.  Maybe I could surmount my fear by reminding myself: Jesus rose from the dead.

Which is to say: I could emerge from the ordeal a better man.

A cynic might claim: whistleblowers are foolishly naive.  But I say naiveté has its place—it can open our eyes or it can blind us.  Because she was naive, the little girl spoke the truth and thus, freed the townspeople from their pretense.

That’s what I call “good naive”.

Of course, not all who claim to speak the truth speak truthfully.  Unlike the child, they often have a secret agenda, or else, they’re driven by neurotic fear.  That’s bad naive.

Such folk are lost.  But they can find their way again—if they’ll allow a child to lead them.  That is: their own clear-eyed inner child.

Some may say that’s a fool’s hope…

But I’ve seen it happen.  I’ve seen people reverse course.  So I don’t think I’m being naive.  But if I am, it’s good naive.

© 2017, Michael R. Patton
myth steps: a poetry book

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the SMOTH’s Bull

The concept of The Man on Horseback (see last post)…

…reminds me of a story from many years ago.  A story involving an actual man on horseback…

…as well as a rather arrogant bull, and two teenage farmhands—Bates and me.

This simple story speaks to a key human dilemma.

The story has me confronting this dilemma while standing in an open Arkansas farm field, ankle deep in soft powdery dirt….

Bates stood a few feet from me.

Above us, sat a short man on a tall horse (SMOTH).  He’d just purchased the arrogant bull from our employer.   The bull stood about forty yards away, staring at us

The SMOTH said he’d maneuver the bull our way.  We were to stand our ground and guide it sideways, towards the back of his truck.

The SMOTH then rode away, leaving Bates and me alone in the empty field.

We looked at each other.  We didn’t speak—we didn’t need to speak.  We both knew that SMOTH was delusional.  Two scrawny teenage boys against a bull?  No way.

I‘d seen the SMOTH before, on different occasions, and he’d seemed reasonable enough.  What’d happened to him?

Well on those occasions, he’d not been in the saddle.  He’d not been atop a big powerful horse.  Perhaps the change in altitude had affected his mental state.

Whatever the case, when the bull charged our way, Bates and I did not hesitate—we turned tail and sprinted toward a barb-wire fence a hundred feet away.

Though never much of an athlete, I sailed over that fence—as did Bates.  We didn’t get as much as a scratch.

As for the bull…

…the bull ran hard to the fence, then pulled up short.  It stood there scowling for a moment—at least, it seemed to be scowling—then wandered away.

As for the SMOTH…

…he rode up to us and yelled, “What’s a-matter with you boys!”

We held our tongues as that man challenged our courage, our manhood, our testicles.

The SMOTH was a big landholder.  So we didn’t tell him how crazy he was.  We didn’t say, “You’d see things differently, if you weren’t on that horse.”

But that was okay—we’d achieved our primary objective: we were still alive…and released from further bull ushering duty.

Since that time, I’ve witnessed many other SMOTHs in action, in many other areas of life…

…issuing commands from atop their mounts.

Often, they tell us to buck up, toughen up, and stop whining.

Of course, it can be argued that someone needs to be on the horse.

In the U.S., we’re told we should aspire to be that someone.  But of course, we can’t all be leaders.  Furthermore, I think “following” has been given a bad name in our culture.  Our survival depends just as much on following as it does on leadership.  Our survival, to some degree, depends on obedience.  On sacrificing for the common good.

As for where that sacrifice should begin and end…

…that’s often a tough question to answer.  Though Bates and I arrived at the right answer without any deliberation…

…I think our story might still be of help when the question arises.

The story presents the dilemma in basic real-life terms…and lets us all laugh at the pain of an unavoidable human dilemma.

I think it’s pertinent to add: both Bates and I worked hard from dawn to dusk—and sometimes even after dark.  For very low wages.  We did what we were told to do, 99% of the time.  We were good farmhands.

I think if you’re willing to make that kind of sacrifice, perhaps you’ve earned the right to say “no” once in awhile…

…especially when common sense sounds an alarm.

© 2017, Michael R. Patton
dream steps: a blog

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