(Originally published August 16, 2015 at Mythosophy.org)
Contemplative Practices: Let’s Think Mythically
Part 2: Thinking Mythically about Narcissus
Today’s quote: “Life is a mirror. Life unerringly reflects back to us our states of consciousness and what we place our attention upon.”
Quote #2: “Avoid the possessions of the ego so that you are not possessed by the ego.”
Quote #3: “Our Ideals are messengers of Total Consciousness.”
Life gives; life takes away, but we always have the contents of our consciousness. How then shall we spend this inner wealth? On what shall we put our attention?
The spiritual riches of myth may be unlocked by the practice of thinking mythically as introduced last month here. An earlier reference to this contemplative practice is last year’s “Let’s Jump into Mythosophy” here.
Let us think mythically about a story from Greek myth: “Echo and Narcissus”
Narcissus, an extremely handsome young man, was enamored with his great beauty. Others were attracted, but he rebuffed all comers leaving many broken hearts in his wake. He even rejected the embrace of a beautiful goddess, a mountain nymph named Echo, stating “no, I would sooner be dead than let you touch me.” Heartbroken, Echo wasted away until nothing was left of her body except her voice which even now “echoes” in the mountains. (She had previously offended Zeus’ wife Hera, Queen of the Gods, who cursed Echo with only being able to repeat the words of others).
After another suitor is rejected, a prayer was offered up: “Let Narcissus love and suffer as he has made us suffer. Let him, like us, love and know it is hopeless. And let him, like Echo, perish of anguish.” Someone was listening, a goddess, one named Nemesis. Nemesis, “the corrector,” acted when things go too far in one direction. Nemesis granted the prayer and set a trap.
Deep in a glade on Mt. Helicon there was a pristine crystal clear spring never sullied by animal or man. Thirsty, Narcissus leaned over the pure pool’s edge for a drink and saw a lovely visage looking up at him. He began gazing at this image’s great beauty. Intrigued, he wondered who this person was. He spoke to this image and its lips silently moved in response. Leaning over in hopes for an embrace and a kiss, the image seemed to respond, but then cruelly vanished at the last moment in a shimmer of watery ripples. He fell in love and only then realized he had succumbed to an illusion. Compelled by this great beauty, his beauty, he could not look away. Transfixed, Narcissus wasted away (like Echo) and eventually died gazing at his reflection. (Tales From Ovid, Ted Hughes, summary of pps. 69-78; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York: 1997)
What does thinking mythically (contemplation) reveal?
Life gives; life takes away, but we always have the contents of our consciousness. What then shall we choose to contemplate? Taking a few deep clearing breaths and perceiving with our whole being; not just our minds, let us look and see.
Life is a mirror. Life unerringly reflects back to us our states of consciousness and what we place our attention upon.
What does Narcissus choose to contemplate? He puts his attention on his physical image. Narcissus is enraptured with his reflection; not his real self. Rather than looking within toward the Ideals of Soul, Narcissus looks outwardly at his surface image whose personality is the ego. In the story he is literally taken with his physical appearance. Falling in love with the lowest aspect of himself leads to his undoing and death. His physical death is preceded by the death of his consciousness: his immobility in the face of his reflection. Narcissus represents the exact opposite of consciousness which has the water-like qualities of fluidity and flexibility. Rather it is water (consciousness) that is the backdrop for Narcissus’ frozen image. Narcissus has narrowly focused on one small part of Total Consciousness to the exclusion of all else.
Narcissus has tunnel vision. The reflection of his truth is excessive self-love. He is the source of our word narcissism.
When we muse upon our higher Ideals, we allow our consciousness to flow creatively. When we place our attention upon lower objects, we become transfixed by those images and stop our creative flow.
The satisfaction of the ego is not possible because it always wants more. It is never satisfied. To pursue the way of the ego is to stumble along a winding, tortuous path that will lead to the land of shadows and echoes. It is a path by which one can easily get lost.
“Midway upon the journey of life I found that I was in a dusky wood; For the right path, whence I had strayed, was lost.” –opening verse of Dante’s Inferno
The theme of self-love directly applies to us today because, more often than not, it is in the glassy reflections of our smart phones and tablets that we see our egotistical reflections.
We live in an era of insufferable narcissism.
So attached are we to our “smart devices” that it is now common to see people walking, heads down, into walls and other objects or persons. Once while I was driving, a young woman walked off the curb directly into the street in front of me. Her head was down looking into her phone oblivious to her surroundings. Only quick braking saved her from injury.
These devices may be “smart,” but we sometimes are not. Mythosophy is about looking, seeing and finding our inner path through the stories and words of myth.
Just like Narcissus, we see our images reflected in the mirrored, glassy surfaces of our computerized screens. Poignantly, like him, we are unable to look away. As Narcissus gazed into the glassy pool surface, transfixed unto death; so, too, do we stare into the glass surface of a technological device oblivious to all else.
Narcissism isn’t awareness; it is loss of awareness.
What truths reflect back to you in your internet searches? Let us wisely and carefully choose what we place our attention upon. For that which we contemplate we move toward and gradually become. If our attention is on the little self, we become small. If it is upon the Soul, then we can become spiritually great. Shall we step into lesser or greater versions of ourselves?
Let us not seek the narcissistic ways of the ego. Rather, let us seek the realization of a Divine Image whose riches flow from Ideals such as Truth, Beauty, Justice, Honesty, Courage, Nobility or their other sibling spirits.
Avoid the possessions of the ego so that you are not possessed by the ego.
The result of thinking mythically is to illuminate the transcendental image or ideal of a story. This is important because when we resonate with ideals, they become the stepping-stones of our spiritual path; of what we really honor and revere in our lives.
Our Ideals are messengers of Total Consciousness.