by Ernie Vecchio
In this tale, told by Roman poet Ovid and remembered for his verses on love, a young girl named Echo falls in love with a vain youth named Narcissus. He was the son of a woman that the river god had encircled with the windings of his streams, thus trapping and seducing her. Worried for her son’s welfare, she consulted a prophet regarding his future. The prophet reports: Narcissus “will live to a ripe old age, as long as he never knows himself.”
One day when Narcissus was out hunting, Echo follows the handsome youth through the woods, longing to address him but unable to speak first. When Narcissus finally heard her footsteps he shouted “Who goes there?” Echo answered “…goes there? …goes there?” And so it went, until finally Echo showed herself and rushed to embrace Narcissus. He pulled away and vainly told her to leave him alone. Narcissus left Echo heartbroken and she spent the rest of her life lonely and pining away for the love she never knew. Only her voice remained.
Eventually Narcissus became thirsty and went to drink from a stream. As he saw his reflection, he fell in love with it, not knowing that it was him. As he bent down to kiss it, it seemed to “run away” and he was heartbroken. He grew thirstier but he wouldn’t touch the water for fear of damaging his reflection, so he eventually died of thirst and staring at his own reflection. The narcissus flower is closely identified with the boy and was said to spring from the ground around the pool where Narcissus died. In the roman version it is suggested that Narcissus is transformed into the flower.
Its deeper meaning: Narcissus is the product of a seduction of a woman engulfed by her emotions. He is trapped from the beginning.
His life is tolerable but, only if he never learns the truth of his history. This is his curse.
In this context, the only love he will ever know is the echo of his own voice. Because of vanity and false pride, even this will fade. Ultimately, having a desire (thirst) to understand the emotions that surrounds him, he will attempt to connect with the source. It is then that he sees his reflection and falls in love. However, he thinks this reflection is ‘the other’ or God. Little does he know that – it is! (Narcissus is the son of a God in the Myth)
A single attempt to accept (kiss) what he sees…makes it disappear.
Each attempt to touch this illusive image of the self…disappears in the touching. Narcissus is heartbroken and alone…not realizing that it is his own divinity and self-acceptance that he longs for.
As life would have it, the desire for connection, understanding, and proximity to the other becomes so great…that the longing kills Narcissus.
In the end, Narcissus takes on his true form (and potential) – a flower. His true beauty occurs with the flowering (understanding) of his feelings.
Point: Narcissism is a pattern of traits and behaviors which signify infatuation and obsession with one’s self to the exclusion of all others and the egotistic and ruthless pursuit of one’s gratification, dominance and ambition. As a character disorder, the prognosis for change is poor. However, as an element of the culture and human condition knowing the myth offers hope.
Moral: Everyone has narcissistic traits… what to do?
Pursue understanding of your emotions and inner self. You are not cursed to never know yourself.
No one has the capacity to see their own reflection—other people are mirrors –- choose them wisely.
How you treat yourself internally will be mirrored externally. False pride is a disguise for shame. Rejection of others will not heal this hole.
Truly treat others as you wish to be treated. Compassion is a practice.
If you find others parroting your reflection back to you—this is but an echo. Truth comes from true mirrors. Learn to recognize who they are and hold them sacred.
True mirrors will sound different. They will advise and guide without an agenda.
Become a good mirror first. If yours is broken—fix it. If not, you will not recognize others who have.
Self-acceptance allows access to your divinity. Longing for it makes it possible.
Reaching for it causes it to be elusive. Understand the longing.
In the end, realize that you already have what you seek.
You are a reflection of divine character…but it is discovered from a life well-known…not a life denied or rejected.
This kind of suffering with oneself is transforming…and allows the true self to appear.