Narcissus and the Narrow Path

Narcissus – The Ego Image of Ourselves

Do you know the story of Narcissus? Such a tragedy of a young man, who looked into a pool of water, seeing his image for the first time and found it so mesmerisingly beautiful that he could never bear to look away and died looking at his own reflection. Needless to say, in the world of selfies, it provides a stark warning to us! Its real meaning though is deeper and profoundly challenging.

I have written on this blog a few times about the enneagram and the power it holds in causing us to confront our root issues. In truth, each of us has an ego that we protect and project to the world around us. It is the image of ourselves that we want others to see, the things we would like others to believe of us. But it is only a narcissistic projection, a fake image that we portray, perhaps the image of ourselves that we are in love with or would, perhaps, like others to love. Our life’s work is to own up to the ego we have created and instead become our true selves, which enables us to become a gift to others. This is our deepest, spiritual healing.
My ego projection is that of a Type 7. I project to those around me that I am an enthusiast, an activator, a visionary, full of fresh and new thinking. I am fun and fun loving, I am an activator, a leader and generous. I so easily love this image of myself and what others think and say about me. But truthfully, I am and do those things because I am, for the most part, avoiding pain. There is, if you like, an inner child or shadow, I am trying to protect. A child who didn’t feel content and did not like pain I encountered early in life. So, in order not to feel that pain, I bury my true emotions and project to the world that “I am ok”. I may not be, but I want you to think that I am. And truthfully, I most likely think that I am ok, because I am a “head type” and so I process things very rationally. In any given moment it is often hard for me to know what I actually feel, because I bury my true emotions so that they do not overwhelm me and I do not have to feel any pain. And if you don’t ask me what I’m feeling I don’t have the language to tell you and even if you do, it will take me an enormous amount of energy and courage to really feel whatever it is that I am feeling. And so, in order to bury that pain further I encounter my root sin, which for a Type 7 is gluttony.

This gluttony does not have to be for food, though in my case it often is – I do love food! But it is also a gluttony for fresh or exciting or stimulating experiences – living life to the max. It can lead to such a rushing and business, so that life is never boring and I do not have to be still too long enough to encounter anything particularly negative. This can easily lead to addictive tendencies e.g. to social media, to creating a fantasy world or to always moving onto the next new thing, leaving those around me feeling caught up in the whirlwind or a bit used, abused and taken for granted, whilst the ‘Andy Show’ rolls on through town.

So, what do I do about my narcissistic ego projection that I want the world to believe of me and that I rather love? Well, I can stay as I am. I can continue to let everyone know that “I’m ok”; or I can fall over The Stumbling Stone and receive the invitation to accept just how overwhelmed I feel sometimes; that there is a deep dissatisfaction within me that drives my gluttonous behaviour to cover over my pain. And as difficult as it may be, there is no other salvation for me, no other way to find the simplicity and contentment I long for and to become the gift I can be. Does it mean if I accept that invitation that all my struggles stop, that my ego will die and that my sin will no longer trouble me? Well….yes and no!

There is a death of the ego, but it keeps rearing it’s ugly head and so needs a daily death and some days it dies more than others. And when I’m running from pain and feeling overwhelmed, gluttony of one sort or another will too easily take hold. But always in my path is The Stumbling Stone, inviting me, instead, to walk the narrow path, the path less trodden, the path less looked for because it means walking through a narrow gate in which the ego, I love too much is stripped off me. What I so easily forget is just how heavy and tiring that old ego is. To have it removed with surgical precision and find a way to walk that is so much lighter and less burdensome is pure joy. No more pretence, no more projection, just me, as I am, loved at the very core of my being.

No matter who you are, you too have an ego that you are projecting to the world. Your life’s work is to recognise that ego and choose which path you will walk. For a Type 2 you project that you are loving and helpful. For a Type 3 you project that you are successful and outstanding. For a Type 4 you project that you are sensitive and special. For a Type 5 you project that you are perceptive. For a Type 6 you project that you are reliable, a loyal skeptic. For a Type 7, like me you project that you are enthusiastic. For a Type 8 you project that you are strong. For a Type 9 you project that you are peaceful. For a Type 1, you project that you are honest, hardworking and orderly. The invitation to each of us to fall out of love with our ego and become our true self. Then we can say, like God, I am who I am.

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Embracing Weakness

imgresLast weekend, I spent the weekend with my wife and a bunch of close friends, immersing ourselves in the enneagram. It’s something I’ve done a bit of before and highly recommend it! The enneagram is an ancient way of understanding the human personality, our instincts, gifts, struggles and strengths. There are several different perspectives on it. There are similarities between the enneagram and various other approaches to understanding ourselves and each other better, like the Myers-Briggs, Strengths Finder etc, all of which I have found really helpful. On Myers-Briggs, I’m an ENFP. My core strengths are ‘believer’, ‘activator’, ‘communicator’, ‘achiever’  and ‘woo’ (the ability to win others over). I love knowing this stuff, especially in team dynamics because it allows each person to play to their strengths and to some extent, cover each others weaknesses.

 

enneagram-mapWhat I love about the enneagram is that it helps me, more than anything else I know, to face up to my struggles, my shadow, my ego and my unhealthy behaviour patterns without leaving me feeling ashamed or condemned. It helps me get to grips with my blind spots when it comes to my raw instincts and enables me to draw on others for support and help in making healthy changes. For those of you, who have never read anything about it, there are basically 9 personality types, each with 3 basic instinct types attached to them. Understanding your type and your instinct (especially your blind spot) can really help you on a journey towards freedom, wholeness and peace. It made me reflect so much on how I practice as a doctor and how often I might actually try and medicate someone or ‘therapy’ them, to try and soothe their pain when they might just be at a monumentally important moment of transition, discovery or realisation.

 

I am a type 7, with a wing in 8. The instinct types are either self-preservation (which isimgres actually my blind spot – I’m just not that great at being disciplined in taking care of my basic needs e.g. diet and exercise, or my motivation for doing these things is not self-care!), social adaptation or sexual attraction (that’s my prime driver – rather unfortunately termed, as it doesn’t mean I’m some kind of sex fiend!). Being a type 7 is actually awesome (of course). It means being an optimist, an activator, an enthusiast, a visionary and an adventurer. I see potential in people and possibilities and carry a strong belief that things can and will change for good. For me, life is fun and full of joy and I love to assimilate loads of interesting knowledge, being a generalist (suiting my work as a GP, rather than a specialist)……What’s not to love, right?! But here’s the thing…..

 

As a type 7, I have a basic need to avoid pain. So, being a doctor is actually one of the best things I could do, as I have to confront pain every day. But when things are painful, I have a tendency to bury things, rather than deal with them. I hate having difficult imgresconversations with people, as I hate causing pain in others. I love to find the next new thing, but this means I get easily distracted, my head is full of new ideas and lots of wonderful imaginings so I find it hard to focus, to stay in the present moment and be at peace. My visionary side can easily lead to idealism and when things don’t turn out the way I had imagined, I can verge towards anger or resentment. Even though I know this about myself, when I am not doing so well, when I am not as healthy as I could be, I see these patterns emerging. And my root struggle (and this is entirely true!) is gluttony! When life is painful, instead of embracing the pain, exploring it and confronting it, I take comfort in eating – (type 7’s often have yo-yo-ing weight or other addictions). I’m on a quest to lose a stone at the moment, but because self-preservation is my blind spot, this isn’t as straightforward as it sounds!

 

Thankfully, there is great hope – as there is for all of us, no matter what type we are. Part of this hope is found in having people of other types around me. My wife, for example, is a type 4 – someone with a creative and sensitive side. She feels pain, not just the pain she experiences, but of those around her, which makes the expression of her emotions very strong. This is an amazing gift for me – it makes me connect with reality. And I am a good gift to her, as I carry a lot of hope. Another beautiful truth in the enneagram, is that my ego, my desire to be self-centred, build the world around me, to remain strong, to be the imagesmost important person in my life, deliberately fools me into suppressing the vulnerable or shadow part of me, which if I embrace, can actually allow me to become a great deal more healed. If I can face up to the little person inside me, that I hide away and try to squash, who feels worried at times that I don’t have enough and that I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by the build of issues on the inside of me; if I can recognise when I have entered the realm of fake joy and anticipatory energy and instead of veering towards trying to control everything and make everything feel happy but rather admit where I’m really at…..then and only then can I find a place of true contentment, where simplicity is restored, where I can focus, be present and know things are ‘perfect just as they are’…..then I can let go of idealism and enter the realm of sober joy, where truth resonates with hope and allows me to be the very best version of me.

 

Many of us get stuck, because we’re so intent on preserving the ego projection of ourselves, that we never embrace the weakness inside us that will actually help us become the gift to the world we are really made to be……healing and wholeness is so much more than we allow it to be. What are your root struggles? What do you need to avoid? What are your blind spots? Find out, embrace them and be well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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