Lately I’ve noticed how eager people are to associate self-love with obnoxious behavior. I’ve heard a few people criticize ‘this perverse celebration of self-love’ as the reason there’s so little compassion in the world. They blame self-love for the open hubris and selfishness on display everywhere around us.
Meanwhile, there’s a lot of public talk about the ‘narcissistic’ qualities demonstrated by public personalities. How narcissism is defined seems to depend on the particular science: philosophers view it as a personality type that exhibits extreme self-centered behavior. Psychologists may go farther, defining a narcissistic person as being unable to distinguish himself from external things. And let’s face it, we’ve all seen people we know exhibit similar behavior. We’ve seen it in ourselves. But, does any of it have to do with self-love?
There are many levels of meaning behind the myth about Narcissus, the beautiful boy who became mesmerized at the sight of his own reflection. Oddly, I see the story as a lesson about real love, not psychosis. Not that interpretations matter– unless you’re genuinely interested in becoming a more loving human being. Assuming you are, let’s take a moment to reflect on the difference between mental illness and self-love!
It’s not that hard to do. Love is life-energy, surging through our veins and making all realties possible. Love is the combined force of all emotions, not a mental obsession. In fact, love isn’t about the mind at all. Yes, we tend to become obsessed with the mental image we have of ourselves, but our devotion to ‘me’ is conditional and unreliable. It comes and goes, according to the way other people respond to it. And, while we’re busy defending the reputation of ‘me,’ we barely acknowledge the life within us and around us. We miss the truth entirely, unable to distinguish love from lunacy. If you feel that’s happened to you, then you may want to look more closely now at an ancient and deceptively simple story:
Narcissus saw the face of a boy reflected in the water and was struck by its beauty. Marveling at this reflection, he was able to perceive as life perceives, falling in love with its own creation– with all creation. In that moment, the boy drowned in a pool of realization. All his previous notions about love were submerged, becoming irrelevant. From the point of view of someone who’s penetrated the surface of a dream, there is only love…enduring and unconditional.
At any time, we may submit to the power of absolute love. Regardless of our cynicism, love is what made us. Every story we tell can reflect that truth. In today’s world, the story of Narcissus reads as a cautionary tale, showing the dangers of vanity and self-absorption. However, the tale of a boy who drowned in love can just as easily offer a timeless lesson about humility and surrender. Confronted by truth, the mind gives up. Love washes in. The rest is wonder. The rest is silence.