“What’s your problem, anyways? If something bothers you so much, if something disgusts you so much, it’s inside you, man. You think it’s out there, but really it’s in you. You know, you can only really smell your own garbage.”
Sometimes you hear certain words that resonate so intensely, for good or for bad, that they stay with you forever. A sincere compliment. An ugly insult. A sharp insight. Even years later, you feel them with the same intensity as when they were first said. I was used to hearing such flaky New Age polemics from pseudo-ex-hippies and wannabe spiritualists around the campfire, which made it easy for my exceptionally healthy inner cynic to deflect and dismiss them. But this was different. This bit of wisdom was coming from a Chassid who I had come to admire for his intelligence and down-to-earth sensibilities, and he was paraphrasing the Baal Shem Tov, the Rebbe of all Rebbes. So, coming from there, it hit me hard, and it still does.
Projecting our inner daemons is probably the most popular game we humans play – at least it’s up there with some of our other favorite pastimes like drowning in denial, ping pong hypocrisy, and feigned righteousness. As a sweet and simple Russian Jew once demonstrated to me, pointing your finger outward at others is easy and natural, but pointing it at yourself is difficult and painful. (Try it – it actually physically hurts.)
“You can only smell your own garbage.” There is no question that there is garbage out there, and plenty of it. But what causes me to fixate on a particular issue or problem, and to dwell on it? Of all the types of garbage out there, why do I obsess only about certain varieties? I am attracted to it because, in one form or another, that particular garbage is inside me. I therefore have a specific proclivity, or even an affinity, for that garbage. Why else would I see it and smell it so readily, so easily, so often? I attract it like a magnet because it exists within my own thoughts. It penetrates my senses and my imagination so effortlessly because it is already within my sphere of awareness, a product of my own consciousness. It disturbs me and repulses me so violently because it troubles me to think that it is mine. And so I make a sport out of repelling it, deflecting it and projecting it, convincing myself it is not mine, taking whatever contorted position will allow me to escape it and the pain of acknowledging it is me. Instead of despising my own shortcomings, I project the image of my garbage, and its stench, onto objects upon which I can unleash my hatred.
Like an addict, I become hooked on the illusion of personal freedom created by deflecting and projecting my own garbage onto other things, and other people. Ironically, I am trapped by this false freedom, and it’s lack of accountability hampers my growth.
How do I overcome this addiction and break the cycle? The only way is to seek within myself whatever negativity I perceive around me – to turn the accusing finger and point it toward myself, and laugh. For though the process may seem painful and fraught with fear, there is no greater joy than the joy of uncovering something new. The true treasure of who I am is buried in there, beneath the garbage, if only I am courageous enough to seek it out.