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Making A Good Impression

Douglas Harding   

Nowadays one hears so much about the need to become fully aware of how one strikes other people, and one even meets groups deliberately practising the art of self-presentation or projection. In my own experience, however, the need is all the other way round, and concern about self-projection is our main trouble.

Certainly as a child I had to learn how my behaviour looked to others, and how it required constant adjustments in the light of their reactions. Even more certainly, I had to discover that whereas, for myself as 1st person, I wasn't so much in the world as the world was in me, this was not at all how the world viewed me. As 3rd person, I was very small and local and unimportant. Indeed my growing up was really my cutting down to size, my inevitable shrinkage from cosmic dimensions to merely human ones, as I learned slowly and painfully to see myself as others saw me – or as I feared or hoped they did.  But the tragedy was that I learned this necessary lesson only too well, and by the time I approached manhood I had altogether lost sight of what it was like being myself here at home, unprojected from this Centre. I had become truly eccentric and Self-alienated, and this gave me hell. Agreeing with society that I was that little, solid, opaque, boxed-up thing they saw and nothing else, I virtually became my appearance at (say) 6 feet; and What this was an appearance of, at 0 feet, the central Reality from which my myriad appearances stem, I was determined to overlook. I was sick, with a sickness that is all the more serious because it is practically universal, and all the more insidious because it is practically un-noticed.

When I don't see What I really am here to myself, I inevitably waste much time imagining how I appear to be over there to others, what they are making of me, how I'm going over, the face I'm presenting to them. And my self-concern, my lack of genuine interest in them, my anxiety to make a favourable impression, are enough to ruin that impression. Moreover my behaviour follows suit: my reactions grow bungling and nervy, and the self I present is worsened further. I'm very aware that I'm projecting badly. The whole enterprise is miserably self-defeating.

But when I do see What I really am here to myself, I find myself ceasing to care how I look over there. All that interests me now is what I actually find instead of what I imagine: I take myself exactly as given – as mere capacity or empty room – and others exactly as given – as filling this room with their fascinating shapes and colours and movements and speech. Now my new-found attention to and enjoyment of these others, along with my lack of anxiety about myself, ensure that my responses shall be much more sensitive, swift, spontaneous, and (in the long run) appropriate. No doubt the others are better served now, but how I'm going down with them is none of my business. My business is what impression they are making here, and upon Whom.

The problem of social relationships is solved by seeing Who I really am. Satisfactory projection goes on out there only when it's allowed to look after itself, and I look after its infinitely resourceful Source right here. Such is my own experience, and I doubt whether I'm exceptional.

(Written in December 1970)
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