Coming Awake to Your Projections and Loving Yourself

    —
September 5, 2019

Coming Awake Loving Yourself Header Image

When I was in my twenties, I noticed something odd.

Hanging out with my more conservative friends often meant that I’d be called out for my hippie tendencies. What was more, I found myself being swept along by the current of their opinion; I felt like a hippie around them. Because of that, I wound up falling into more “hippie-like” behavior.

With my more bohemian friends, though, I was referred to as The Conservative. And with them, I felt and acted more conventional. It was simply easy to fulfill their expectations. “What gives?” I thought. “I’ve been the same person this whole time!”

I wanted so much for everyone to just see me. What a painful and lonely feeling.

I wanted so much for everyone to just see me.

This phenomenon—being mistakenly and reductively typecast­—wasn’t just happening with my friends. It was happening with my husband. It was happening with my family members. And, it was happening within my own mind.

This kind of thing can make knowing and loving yourself a bit confusing.

WHAT IS PROJECTION?

Over time, I’ve come to realize that humans are constantly projecting. People I don’t know very well, my closest friends, my family members, co-workers… everybody does it. This can include assumptions, expectations, stereotypes, attributes, simplifications, unrealistic positives and negatives, and so on.

Have you ever noticed something like that happening to you?

Perhaps, as a woman, you’ve been treated like you’re not as smart or capable as you actually are. Maybe you’ve been feared as a man, seen as more aggressive than you actually are.

Perhaps someone treated you as a doormat when you’re not. Maybe someone thought you had more patience or expertise than you do. It’s possible and common to experience different—even opposite—projections coming from different people.

I’m uncomfortable with negative projections, but I’m uncomfortable with the positive ones, too. Because neither are the real me. At least, not what I believe to be the real me. And they certainly don’t include the whole picture.

Another thing: I’ve noticed that when someone makes a strong projection on me, no matter what I do, I just seem to confirm what they’re already projecting.

Through it all, I still just want to be seen.

By now I’m thinking of that famous saying, “Everyone’s crazy but thee and me. And sometimes I wonder about thee!” We’re thinking it’s everyone else who’s projecting like mad. Um, how about you and me?

Yuck. Is there a way out of this?

COMING AWAKE IN WESTERN THOUGHT

Coming Awake Loving Yourself Western

Let’s start with a look at how some in the West work with projection.

Psychoanalyst and spiritual explorer Carl Jung (1875-1961) had some very helpful things to say on this. He explored the idea that we all have some version of all characteristics and characters—both positive and negative—floating around inside of us, somewhere. And, for one reason or another, there are some we aren’t able to see in ourselves.

As our personalities form, we take some of those characters and consciously identify with them: I’m a savior/warrior. I’m the class cut-up. I’m a geek. I’m a bad boy. I’m the nurturing father. I’m the dependable one.

The qualities we’ve set out in the sunshine, for all others to see, get the chance to develop nicely. How lovely for them. But what about all of the other qualities and characters that we aren’t claiming with our conscious mind?

They’re underground—in the basement.

The ones we really don’t want to claim, we do our best to keep in that dank, dark basement.

Instead of getting a chance to develop and mature, our unclaimed characteristics just kind of… fester. They get frustrated and funky. And trust me—they don’t stay obediently in the basement forever.

COMMUNICATING WITH OUR UNCONSCIOUS

We’re the last to be conscious of our own unconscious. There’s a bumper sticker for you! 

Jung popularized the concepts of dream interpretation and something called active imagination to try to coax our unclaimed natures into our conscious mind.

I was lucky enough to go to a Jungian Analyst who, borrowing from Fritz Perls’ Gestalt work, had me sit in another chair and become some disowned part of myself. I then went back and forth between the two chairs, having a conversation.

I found this approach extremely clarifying and helpful. I immediately tried it out with a client who had a terrible procrastination problem.

I had her go back and forth between two chairs: one was like her older sister, whom she saw as overbearing, and the other was like her more childish self. The two had a rousing debate over what she should do with her weekend—party or study. Each of them passionately insisted they had her best interests at heart. They were both right.

Then, I had her sit in the middle and be the peacemaker. She got her dissonant selves to forge a deal to alternate between partying and studying.

All of this was a revelation to her. She had identified only with the fun-loving gal. Then, in desperate moments, her other side would come out of the basement and become a crazed slavedriver. Through this conversation, she found that she could make a clear plan to have a balanced, happy weekend that didn’t jeopardize either her happiness or her grade point average. And it expanded her identity, her sense of herself. Her view of her older sister changed, too.

COMMUNICATING WITH OUR LOVED ONES

Here’s another idea. It goes something like this: We admit that we’re all projecting on each other all the time, and we’re each the last to know we’re doing it.

Usually, the projectee knows way sooner than the projector. So let’s make a deal: If you gently tell me what you’re perceiving (hopefully with specific examples, because I’ll probably be clueless), I’ll do the same for you.

We both give each other permission to do this. We both learn how to do it with skill and kindness.

Note that this approach works for both parties. The projector can let us know what they’re seeing; the projectee can share what they think the projector might be inaccurately (or incompletely, and certainly unintentionally) projecting onto them. And vice versa.

Imagine if, alongside doing the inner work, we all helped one another, too. We might get better and better at knowing ourselves—both the good and bad—and begin to take back our natures as a simple consequence of self-love and acceptance.

COMING AWAKE IN EASTERN THOUGHT

Coming Awake Loving Yourself EasternThe array of Tibetan practices offer a myriad of profound tools. These help us take our characters out of the basement and bring them into their fullest, most highly developed forms.

There are, for example, the One Hundred Peaceful and Wrathful Deities, as well as practices involving various enlightened masters. Each is an image of an archetype—a facet or principle of reality. Being principles of reality, these archetypes are all everywhere, including in each of us.

An archetype is like one of those snowflake stencils many of us created as kids by making little cuts in a piece of paper. You spray paint through it and when you take it away, voilá, a snowflake you can make again and again.

Once you use the stencil, you just see the painted snowflake. Jungians like to use the metaphor of a magnet hidden under a piece of paper that has iron filings on it. As you move the hidden magnet, it draws the filings into different shapes. We see only the shapes of the filings, not the magnet.

COMMUNICATING WITH ARCHETYPES: THE GREAT MOTHER

Let’s take the Great Mother archetype. 

In Tibetan practice, both men and women practice Green Tara. They invoke that principle from outside, and evoke it from the inside.

Since we have trouble relating to the pure unseen principle/archetype, we use image (a beautiful green lady), archetypal sound (mantra), and even smell (incense).

Coming Awake Green Tara

Image courtesy of Osel Shen Phen Ling: www.fpmt-osel.org.

We all tend to have internal conversations and dramas with people. But in this case, the setup for our connection with Green Tara is perfectly designed to give us a much more profound, powerful, and enlightened experience than, say, imagining calling our earthly mom on the phone.

Though our mom is just a human being, with faults and foibles, Green Tara is the image that naturally evokes the perfect facet of enlightened mind that is the essence of the mother principle.

The classic progression is that we consciously project Tara out from our hearts, where Tibetan Buddhists believe our mind mainly resides. We project her above us, seeing her clearly in our mind’s eye. 

We do this by inviting her, welcoming her, asking her to sit, offering her water, flowers. Then we say the mantra associated with her: Om tarey tuttarey turey soha.

Often we then imagine her descending into us, dissolving into us, becoming indistinguishable from us. We emerge as Tara ourselves, grounding ever more strongly in the owning of that pure archetype.

COMMUNICATING WITH ARCHETYPES: HAYAGRIVA

Let’s take Fred, for an imaginary example. He thinks of himself as a Mr. Nice Guy.

This means that when people want to walk all over him, he doesn’t have the wherewithal, in his conscious array of characters, to assert himself. His Tough Guy or Warrior is in the basement. It’s been lurking there all his life, and isn’t very presentable, as a result.

Whenever Fred gets cornered he suddenly bites the person’s head off … then regrets it later, and may not even get what he needs. Martha Beck refers to this as an “exploding doormat.”

Fred might do well to practice Hayagriva, a fierce, enlightened being of a class known as protectors. They can act with great ferocity, but always with wisdom and compassion.

Coming Awake Hayagriva 2

Magdalena Rehova / Alamy Stock Photo

If Fred were to inhabit Hayagriva the way we talked of inhabiting/owning Tara, he would find his way to the pure essence of that murky, funky character who popped out when he exploded. Once he’d spent time owning and inhabiting Hayagriva Fred is much more likely to skillfully, kindly, and firmly ward off people walking all over him.

Whether it’s a peaceful one like Tara or a more wrathful one like Hayagriva, we must fully own the archetype. It has gone from something we can’t see or feel, to a pure presence that we fully identify with.

COMMUNICATING WITH OURSELVES

Over time, as we get used to owning these presences consciously, we have little need to project it onto someone else. And in owning this purer form, we can often bring forth those qualities in everyday life. They’re much more at our fingertips.

In Tibetan Buddhist deity practice, the goal is to take us from our usual, banal and confused state, to dak-nang, or pure vision—seeing things as they really are.

Imagine if everyone did such well-honed practices, on a lot of different deities. I believe we would then be able to take the various characters out of our basements, develop them, and “play” them in various moments in life.

Playing with a full deck, you might say!

A CULTURE COMING AWAKE

Coming Awake Ocean Culture

Reality is a vast, perfect ocean that loves to create ever-changing waves and play with them. This ocean is bursting, overflowing with love and joy. But most of us waves don’t see it that way.

The essential intent of the Buddha is to use practices to wake ourselves from the dream/trance we find ourselves in. “Buddha” means one who is awake.

We don’t realize that we’re not just a wave, but made of ocean. We are all both wave and ocean.

COMMUNICATING WITH LIKE-MINDED PEOPLE

Imagine if a critical mass of people became fluent in these skills and capacities, bringing us closer together in camaraderie rather than causing us to build walls of protection and projection against each other.

Imagine less of a need to blame others for our own issues. Less excuses to act snotty and selfish and ignorant and even rageful. How different this world would be.

I believe this is something we all must do to solve the problems that now threaten our happiness and our very existence. We must progress from the swarm of projections, both societal and personal, which cause such pain, to really seeing each other.

Then we could all relax our defenses—because those projections feel terrible—and we could work together to solve the dire problems we’re all actually facing together.

Beyond even that, we’d find that human relations can be much simpler than we thought! They can feel deeply connected, warm, and delicious. We can be seen in our full light.

* * *

In our Namchak Learning Circles, we encourage people to awaken to their unconscious selves. We offer a weekend training in working on projections, in which we learn not only about projections but about how to work compassionately and skillfully to talk about them with each other. As you have probably gathered, that last part is important!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lama Tsomo Author Photo

Lama Tsomo is a spiritual teacher, author and co-founder of the Namchak Foundation and Namchak Retreat Ranch

Born Linda Pritzker, Lama Tsomo followed a path of spiritual inquiry and study that ultimately led to her ordination as one of the few female American lamas in Tibetan Buddhism. 

Today, she works to share the teachings of the Namchak tradition, a branch of Tibetan Buddhism. Utilizing her psychology background, Lama Tsomo works to make it easier for Westerners to bridge contemplative practice and modern life. She is particularly passionate about reaching young people and supporting those working for positive social change. 

Fascinated by science from an early age, Lama Tsomo’s teachings often reference the science behind meditation and the proven neurological impact. She holds an M.A. in Counseling Psychology and is the author of Why Is the Dalai Lama Always Smiling? An Introduction and Guide to Tibetan Buddhist Practice and co-author of The Lotus & the Rose: A Conversation Between Tibetan Buddhism & Mystical Christianity.

Author Info for Lama Tsomo Coming Soon

Also By Author

Coming Awake to Your Projections and Loving Yourself

Coming Awake Loving Yourself Header Image

When I was in my twenties, I noticed something odd.

Hanging out with my more conservative friends often meant that I’d be called out for my hippie tendencies. What was more, I found myself being swept along by the current of their opinion; I felt like a hippie around them. Because of that, I wound up falling into more “hippie-like” behavior.

With my more bohemian friends, though, I was referred to as The Conservative. And with them, I felt and acted more conventional. It was simply easy to fulfill their expectations. “What gives?” I thought. “I’ve been the same person this whole time!”

I wanted so much for everyone to just see me. What a painful and lonely feeling.

I wanted so much for everyone to just see me.

This phenomenon—being mistakenly and reductively typecast­—wasn’t just happening with my friends. It was happening with my husband. It was happening with my family members. And, it was happening within my own mind.

This kind of thing can make knowing and loving yourself a bit confusing.

WHAT IS PROJECTION?

Over time, I’ve come to realize that humans are constantly projecting. People I don’t know very well, my closest friends, my family members, co-workers… everybody does it. This can include assumptions, expectations, stereotypes, attributes, simplifications, unrealistic positives and negatives, and so on.

Have you ever noticed something like that happening to you?

Perhaps, as a woman, you’ve been treated like you’re not as smart or capable as you actually are. Maybe you’ve been feared as a man, seen as more aggressive than you actually are.

Perhaps someone treated you as a doormat when you’re not. Maybe someone thought you had more patience or expertise than you do. It’s possible and common to experience different—even opposite—projections coming from different people.

I’m uncomfortable with negative projections, but I’m uncomfortable with the positive ones, too. Because neither are the real me. At least, not what I believe to be the real me. And they certainly don’t include the whole picture.

Another thing: I’ve noticed that when someone makes a strong projection on me, no matter what I do, I just seem to confirm what they’re already projecting.

Through it all, I still just want to be seen.

By now I’m thinking of that famous saying, “Everyone’s crazy but thee and me. And sometimes I wonder about thee!” We’re thinking it’s everyone else who’s projecting like mad. Um, how about you and me?

Yuck. Is there a way out of this?

COMING AWAKE IN WESTERN THOUGHT

Coming Awake Loving Yourself Western

Let’s start with a look at how some in the West work with projection.

Psychoanalyst and spiritual explorer Carl Jung (1875-1961) had some very helpful things to say on this. He explored the idea that we all have some version of all characteristics and characters—both positive and negative—floating around inside of us, somewhere. And, for one reason or another, there are some we aren’t able to see in ourselves.

As our personalities form, we take some of those characters and consciously identify with them: I’m a savior/warrior. I’m the class cut-up. I’m a geek. I’m a bad boy. I’m the nurturing father. I’m the dependable one.

The qualities we’ve set out in the sunshine, for all others to see, get the chance to develop nicely. How lovely for them. But what about all of the other qualities and characters that we aren’t claiming with our conscious mind?

They’re underground—in the basement.

The ones we really don’t want to claim, we do our best to keep in that dank, dark basement.

Instead of getting a chance to develop and mature, our unclaimed characteristics just kind of… fester. They get frustrated and funky. And trust me—they don’t stay obediently in the basement forever.

COMMUNICATING WITH OUR UNCONSCIOUS

We’re the last to be conscious of our own unconscious. There’s a bumper sticker for you! 

Jung popularized the concepts of dream interpretation and something called active imagination to try to coax our unclaimed natures into our conscious mind.

I was lucky enough to go to a Jungian Analyst who, borrowing from Fritz Perls’ Gestalt work, had me sit in another chair and become some disowned part of myself. I then went back and forth between the two chairs, having a conversation.

I found this approach extremely clarifying and helpful. I immediately tried it out with a client who had a terrible procrastination problem.

I had her go back and forth between two chairs: one was like her older sister, whom she saw as overbearing, and the other was like her more childish self. The two had a rousing debate over what she should do with her weekend—party or study. Each of them passionately insisted they had her best interests at heart. They were both right.

Then, I had her sit in the middle and be the peacemaker. She got her dissonant selves to forge a deal to alternate between partying and studying.

All of this was a revelation to her. She had identified only with the fun-loving gal. Then, in desperate moments, her other side would come out of the basement and become a crazed slavedriver. Through this conversation, she found that she could make a clear plan to have a balanced, happy weekend that didn’t jeopardize either her happiness or her grade point average. And it expanded her identity, her sense of herself. Her view of her older sister changed, too.

COMMUNICATING WITH OUR LOVED ONES

Here’s another idea. It goes something like this: We admit that we’re all projecting on each other all the time, and we’re each the last to know we’re doing it.

Usually, the projectee knows way sooner than the projector. So let’s make a deal: If you gently tell me what you’re perceiving (hopefully with specific examples, because I’ll probably be clueless), I’ll do the same for you.

We both give each other permission to do this. We both learn how to do it with skill and kindness.

Note that this approach works for both parties. The projector can let us know what they’re seeing; the projectee can share what they think the projector might be inaccurately (or incompletely, and certainly unintentionally) projecting onto them. And vice versa.

Imagine if, alongside doing the inner work, we all helped one another, too. We might get better and better at knowing ourselves—both the good and bad—and begin to take back our natures as a simple consequence of self-love and acceptance.

COMING AWAKE IN EASTERN THOUGHT

Coming Awake Loving Yourself EasternThe array of Tibetan practices offer a myriad of profound tools. These help us take our characters out of the basement and bring them into their fullest, most highly developed forms.

There are, for example, the One Hundred Peaceful and Wrathful Deities, as well as practices involving various enlightened masters. Each is an image of an archetype—a facet or principle of reality. Being principles of reality, these archetypes are all everywhere, including in each of us.

An archetype is like one of those snowflake stencils many of us created as kids by making little cuts in a piece of paper. You spray paint through it and when you take it away, voilá, a snowflake you can make again and again.

Once you use the stencil, you just see the painted snowflake. Jungians like to use the metaphor of a magnet hidden under a piece of paper that has iron filings on it. As you move the hidden magnet, it draws the filings into different shapes. We see only the shapes of the filings, not the magnet.

COMMUNICATING WITH ARCHETYPES: THE GREAT MOTHER

Let’s take the Great Mother archetype. 

In Tibetan practice, both men and women practice Green Tara. They invoke that principle from outside, and evoke it from the inside.

Since we have trouble relating to the pure unseen principle/archetype, we use image (a beautiful green lady), archetypal sound (mantra), and even smell (incense).

Coming Awake Green Tara

Image courtesy of Osel Shen Phen Ling: www.fpmt-osel.org.

We all tend to have internal conversations and dramas with people. But in this case, the setup for our connection with Green Tara is perfectly designed to give us a much more profound, powerful, and enlightened experience than, say, imagining calling our earthly mom on the phone.

Though our mom is just a human being, with faults and foibles, Green Tara is the image that naturally evokes the perfect facet of enlightened mind that is the essence of the mother principle.

The classic progression is that we consciously project Tara out from our hearts, where Tibetan Buddhists believe our mind mainly resides. We project her above us, seeing her clearly in our mind’s eye. 

We do this by inviting her, welcoming her, asking her to sit, offering her water, flowers. Then we say the mantra associated with her: Om tarey tuttarey turey soha.

Often we then imagine her descending into us, dissolving into us, becoming indistinguishable from us. We emerge as Tara ourselves, grounding ever more strongly in the owning of that pure archetype.

COMMUNICATING WITH ARCHETYPES: HAYAGRIVA

Let’s take Fred, for an imaginary example. He thinks of himself as a Mr. Nice Guy.

This means that when people want to walk all over him, he doesn’t have the wherewithal, in his conscious array of characters, to assert himself. His Tough Guy or Warrior is in the basement. It’s been lurking there all his life, and isn’t very presentable, as a result.

Whenever Fred gets cornered he suddenly bites the person’s head off … then regrets it later, and may not even get what he needs. Martha Beck refers to this as an “exploding doormat.”

Fred might do well to practice Hayagriva, a fierce, enlightened being of a class known as protectors. They can act with great ferocity, but always with wisdom and compassion.

Coming Awake Hayagriva 2

Magdalena Rehova / Alamy Stock Photo

If Fred were to inhabit Hayagriva the way we talked of inhabiting/owning Tara, he would find his way to the pure essence of that murky, funky character who popped out when he exploded. Once he’d spent time owning and inhabiting Hayagriva Fred is much more likely to skillfully, kindly, and firmly ward off people walking all over him.

Whether it’s a peaceful one like Tara or a more wrathful one like Hayagriva, we must fully own the archetype. It has gone from something we can’t see or feel, to a pure presence that we fully identify with.

COMMUNICATING WITH OURSELVES

Over time, as we get used to owning these presences consciously, we have little need to project it onto someone else. And in owning this purer form, we can often bring forth those qualities in everyday life. They’re much more at our fingertips.

In Tibetan Buddhist deity practice, the goal is to take us from our usual, banal and confused state, to dak-nang, or pure vision—seeing things as they really are.

Imagine if everyone did such well-honed practices, on a lot of different deities. I believe we would then be able to take the various characters out of our basements, develop them, and “play” them in various moments in life.

Playing with a full deck, you might say!

A CULTURE COMING AWAKE

Coming Awake Ocean Culture

Reality is a vast, perfect ocean that loves to create ever-changing waves and play with them. This ocean is bursting, overflowing with love and joy. But most of us waves don’t see it that way.

The essential intent of the Buddha is to use practices to wake ourselves from the dream/trance we find ourselves in. “Buddha” means one who is awake.

We don’t realize that we’re not just a wave, but made of ocean. We are all both wave and ocean.

COMMUNICATING WITH LIKE-MINDED PEOPLE

Imagine if a critical mass of people became fluent in these skills and capacities, bringing us closer together in camaraderie rather than causing us to build walls of protection and projection against each other.

Imagine less of a need to blame others for our own issues. Less excuses to act snotty and selfish and ignorant and even rageful. How different this world would be.

I believe this is something we all must do to solve the problems that now threaten our happiness and our very existence. We must progress from the swarm of projections, both societal and personal, which cause such pain, to really seeing each other.

Then we could all relax our defenses—because those projections feel terrible—and we could work together to solve the dire problems we’re all actually facing together.

Beyond even that, we’d find that human relations can be much simpler than we thought! They can feel deeply connected, warm, and delicious. We can be seen in our full light.

* * *

In our Namchak Learning Circles, we encourage people to awaken to their unconscious selves. We offer a weekend training in working on projections, in which we learn not only about projections but about how to work compassionately and skillfully to talk about them with each other. As you have probably gathered, that last part is important!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lama Tsomo Author Photo

Lama Tsomo is a spiritual teacher, author and co-founder of the Namchak Foundation and Namchak Retreat Ranch

Born Linda Pritzker, Lama Tsomo followed a path of spiritual inquiry and study that ultimately led to her ordination as one of the few female American lamas in Tibetan Buddhism. 

Today, she works to share the teachings of the Namchak tradition, a branch of Tibetan Buddhism. Utilizing her psychology background, Lama Tsomo works to make it easier for Westerners to bridge contemplative practice and modern life. She is particularly passionate about reaching young people and supporting those working for positive social change. 

Fascinated by science from an early age, Lama Tsomo’s teachings often reference the science behind meditation and the proven neurological impact. She holds an M.A. in Counseling Psychology and is the author of Why Is the Dalai Lama Always Smiling? An Introduction and Guide to Tibetan Buddhist Practice and co-author of The Lotus & the Rose: A Conversation Between Tibetan Buddhism & Mystical Christianity.

Lama Tsomo: Finding the Ocean of Joy: Tibetan Buddhist...

Lama Tsomo—born Linda Pritzker—is an author, teacher, and ordained holder of the Namchak Buddhist lineage of Tibet. She’s the cofounder of the Namchak Foundation and the author of two books: The Princess Who Wept Pearls: The Feminine Journey in Fairytales and Why Is the Dalai Lama Always Smiling?: A Westerner’s Introduction and Guide to Tibetan Buddhist Practice. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Lama Tsomo and Tami Simon speak about her teacher Gochen Tulku Sangak Rinpoche and what he has to say about karma, taking responsibility for our lives, and transforming resentment. They also discuss the science of visualization practice and how recent discoveries in quantum physics support key aspects of Buddhist philosophy. Finally, Tami and Lama Tsomo talk about motivation on the spiritual path and how clarifying that motivation can lead to lasting happiness.
(67 minutes)

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Perry Garfinkel: Experimenting with Becoming Gandhi

In a confessional reflection on writing his new book, Becoming Gandhi, acclaimed journalist and bestselling author Perry Garfinkel says, “It was so difficult I almost gave up twice. I thought, ‘I can’t write this book. It’s too big a subject. Who am I to try to become Gandhi?’” Garfinkel persevered, and in this podcast Tami Simon speaks with him about what he discovered along the journey—and how practicing (not perfecting) six universal principles of the Mahatma can transform each one of us. 

Tune in to this highly aspirational yet very down-to-earth conversation on the poignance of the human condition and the elixir of laughter; the Tao of Gandhi; satyagraha, an insistence on and holding firm to the truth; considering “how to Gandhi” a situation you’re faced with; the notion of “good enough”; nonviolence in thought, word, and deed; the connection between words and feelings, and the step-by-step process of personal transformation; simplicity; faith as the driver of our moral compass; celibacy and making love; Gandhi’s life as his message—and making peace with his imperfections; and more.

What does it take to “Be the change you want to see ...

Excerpted from Becoming Gandhi: My Experiment Living the Mahatma’s 6 Moral Truths in Immoral Times by Perry Garfinkel.

Let the Journey Begin

By reading this preface, you have just joined what will hopefully be the experiment of a lifetime that will change both of our lives.

Let me set the ground rules, parameters, frameworks, timelines, caveats, excuses, permissions, and other details that will help you navigate your way—if not to be Gandhi, then to become a person who leads a more ethical, principled, spiritually and morally based, truth-full life.

As you will read in chapter 1, I first thought to undertake this effort more than a decade ago. It took me another twelve years to build up the confidence, belief in my commitment, and, frankly, the funding to actually begin this arduous journey, both inner and outer, including travel to three countries plus my own US. Little did I know how much it would change me, how many miles I would travel, how many inspirational people I would meet, and how many disappointments I would encounter, both in the world and in myself.

I began to take it seriously in the summer of 2019. That was when I started finding and  contacting knowledgeable sources in each country. As a dogged reporter who prides himself in finding the email and phone number for anyone anywhere in the world, that deep dive, which necessarily required a lot of reading and googling, was a relatively easy and very enjoyable and informative exercise. You may also want to research anything additional to what I write here and experiment with your own ways to follow the six principles. I can’t speak for Gandhi, but you have my wholehearted permission and encouragement to think outside the box and off this page.

The Big Goal here was to see if, in the face of a sociocultural climate that appears bereft of moral integrity, one could follow Gandhi’s moral compass, on the one hand, and on the other, to travel to countries where he spent considerable time to see how much had changed in the years since he left them. In other words, did he leave an enduring footprint that others followed or were Gandhi’s tracks swept away and forgotten by time and human nature? In these times of questionable ethical values, of increased violence and rampant lying, I was prepared to admit such evidence might be hard to find. In fact, one too-current example of the failure of the nonviolent movement, which was one of Gandhi’s primary pillars, is occurring as I’m writing this: CNN is reporting that thirty-nine mass shootings have taken place in the United States in the first three weeks of 2023 alone, killing more than sixty people, per the Gun Violence Archives.

I knew the hard part of this goal would be living these principles day in and day out on a personal level. There would be a lot of inner work, mental adjustments, a veritable paradigmatic shift of attitude. I would have to change my mind in the most fundamental ways. Change my habits, modes of thinking, daily actions.

The ground rules were simple: try to rigorously follow the six principles on a daily basis, keeping them in mind through the day, whether hanging out with friends and family, alone in my apartment, or out there in the world. But also to give myself some slack. If I “fell off the wagon,” I would forgive myself quickly and get right back on it. The latter would happen with frequency, as you will read. But I realized very soon that once engaged in this experiment, even when I fell off, there would be no turning back. Once the veil is lifted, it’s hard not to see the world for what it is, and see yourself for who you are, who you are not, and who you aspire to be.

People started wondering how long this experiment would last and asking me when or if I would drop vegetarianism and return to eating meat as soon as it ended. I had planned to dedicate one full year to this project. It expanded to some eighteen months of strict adherence 

to all of the principles, and even some that Gandhi didn’t consider in the course of things. I admit I slacked after that but, as I said, once you know which way the compass is pointing, you can’t completely turn back; you always return to your true north. You find the balance that suits you best, or at least better than before you started.

I frame this journey and this book around the six principles. Some sources list up to eleven Gandhi principles. I chose only six; already you can call me lazy.

Truth. In practice, truth is simply telling the truth, but Gandhi meant it to mean more. He said, “God is Truth,” later changing it to “Truth is God.” He coined the term satyagraha—loosely translated as “insistence on and holding firm to truth”—as a form of nonviolent resistance. I take this on, first focusing on practicing truth in thoughts, words, and actions, with particular attention to lies I tell myself. I look at how society views truth now.

Nonviolence. Although Gandhi was not the originator of nonviolence, he was the first to apply it as a strategy to move the dial in the direction of justice, as a peaceful weapon to protest social wrongdoings. His motto: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Taking it from the political to the personal, I look at how we all act out psychological violence—in passive-aggressive behaviors, in road rage, in clenched jaws, in couched (and not-so-couched) language—that sabotages our best interests. I myself am guilty: I was once a featured guest on The Phil Donahue Show, speaking about my own passive-aggressive behavior in my previous marriage.

Vegetarianism. Vegetarianism is deeply ingrained in Hindu and Jain traditions, the setting in which Gandhi was raised. In his London years as a law student, he embraced it more seriously to not only satisfy the requirements of the body and his religious beliefs but also to save money by not buying expensive meats. His book The Moral Basis of Vegetarianism, along with articles he wrote for the London Vegetarian Society’s publication, became my personal diet book. I was a meat-and-potatoes kind of kid, just like my father. I became a macrobiotic many years ago, had defaulted to meat in recent years, but an Ayurvedic diet I went on last fall convinced me I need to clean up my eating habits. Don’t we all?

Simplicity. Giving up unnecessary spending is the simple maxim Gandhi had in mind, and because this concept flies in the face of conspicuous consumers on spending sprees in shopping malls, it also has ramifications for our gluttonous nature, which thinks that more of anything automatically provides more satisfaction. But Gandhi also had a political motive in his so-called Swadeshi movement: by making their own clothes using a spinning wheel (charkha), Indians would deal an economic blow to the British establishment in India. These days consumers boycott various brands and stores to protest their company policy, a Gandhian spin. The contemporary “voluntary simplicity movement” draws directly from this Gandhian principle. I will closely examine my spending patterns and make budget slashes. Gandhi called it “reducing himself to zero.”

Faith. Gandhi meant belief in a higher power, no matter what religion. He wrote, “Mine is a broad faith which does not oppose Christians . . . not even the most fanatical Mussalman. I refuse to abuse a man for his fanatical deeds, because I try to see them from his point of view.” It’s the ability to see things from the point of view of someone from another faith that tests the faith of mankind. How are we doing with that? Not so good. The majority of wars in the world are religious wars. My challenge will be to find some balance between my practice of Buddhism, the religion of no God, and Judaism, the religion that invented the One God. I will test the boundaries of my acceptance of faiths I don’t believe in.

Celibacy. Called brahmacharya in Hindi, sexual abstinence was a spiritual path to achieving purity, according to Gandhi, who took the vow of chastity at the age of thirty-eight. Some people question whether Gandhi himself actually adhered to this, with stories and allegations he slept next to teenage girls to test his restraint. Celibacy is not for everyone. Is it for me? I will endeavor to find out, keeping copious notes on my fallings in and out. With my luck, the woman of my dreams will walk into my life and fall in love with me. What will I do . . . or, more precisely, not do?

I never intended this book to be categorized in the how-to or self help genre. I think or hope you can help yourself without my telling you how. Nonetheless, as I made my way around the world, around my mind, and finally around this book, I realized it would be helpful to at least sum up each chapter with what I learned, some tips for your (and my own) benefit. I call these end-of-chapter sections “How to Gandhi.”

With these guidelines and to-dos and with no further ado, here we go. Next stop: becoming the change.

Perry Garfinkel is a veteran journalist, editor, frequent speaker, and author of the bestselling Buddha or Bust. He has contributed to many sections of the New York Times since 1986 and has written for National Geographic magazine, AARP The Magazine, the Huffington Post, the LA Times, and others. He has appeared on CNN and CBS This Morning. He is a frequent guest on WCBS-NY radio’s Health & Well-Being Report.

Tsultrim Allione: Turning Towards What’s Difficu...

What if instead of trying to avoid or attack the people or situations in life that we don’t like, we chose to “invite them all to dinner”? In Tibetan Buddhism, this counterintuitive approach is known as “feeding our demons.” In this podcast, Tami Simon speaks with Lama Tsultrim Allione about making the choice to turn toward what we usually avoid—and the healing and integration this choice can lead to. 

Give a listen to this inspiring conversation on the need to reclaim the sacred feminine at this time in history; the dakini principle in Tibetan Buddhism; balancing the energies of the masculine and feminine; the courage to stand up to authority; cultivating self-trust; the Great Mother of pure potential; the union of wisdom and skillful means; becoming an emanation of an ever-evolving mind stream; the legendary yogini, Machig Labdrön, and learning to move toward what we usually avoid; the practice of “feeding your demons”; creating wholeness by integrating the shadow; working with grief and loss; and more.

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