In Newlands forest this morning, I felt my usual vague mixture of paranoia and uneasiness. The forest was quiet – I was there just after eight – and I only had the seven-year-old with me. As I trudged wearily up the mountain, he chatted on about Clash of Clans, his current computer games obsession, and I observed my surroundings for any danger. Living in South Africa, you get used to that ‘anything can happen in an instant and change your life forever’ feeling. What can you do? Something bad could happen, but then again maybe nothing bad will happen.
So while Jacob went on about gems and elixir and witch battalions, I listened with less than half an ear, not even a quarter. It’s a good skill you pick up becoming a psychologist – the appearance of interest. In fact, one of my psychologist friends once admitted to dropping off to sleep during a session – it was a straight-after- lunch session and the patient was very dull. These things happen. Another psychologist friend told me she’d been doing couple counselling and all she imagined while the couple complained was what she would have liked the man to do with her. It was an exciting fantasy but she probably embellished it a little bit for my enjoyment.
Anyway. We were about half-way to the contour path when the child refused to walk any further. I had no choice but to turn around. He also refused to go down the alternative route, because that would take us right past the ‘tramp’s house’ – a derelict house in the forest that we’d taken him to when he was about four, and it still scared him. So we went down the way we’d come up.
The moment we started going downhill the forest no longer seemed dangerous. The change was practically instantaneous. My paranoia dissipated immediately and what had seemed shadowy and potentially dangerous, all those trees behind which people could hide, now appeared green and fresh and cheerful. I didn’t feel nervous at all.
It struck me then that I’d been projecting on my way up – the discomfort of the uphill walk had made the forest seem treacherous. The forest hadn’t changed on the way up from how it was now, on the way down – it was no more or less dangerous – but my perception of it had completely shifted. The external world had taken on my own unpleasant inner sensations. An excellent example of projection.