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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Healthy Schools

Last week, I had the privilege of being at Morecambe Bay Community Primary School. The school is a beacon of hope in this area. I found it extremely moving to walk round, with Siobhan Collingwood, the visionary and big-hearted headteacher and see the incredible love displayed by all staff towards the amazing children there. It made me realise again how centrally driven targets often make no sense for so many of our children and communities, especially when the base from which they start is so very different. Siobhan and her team are doing the most incredible job at caring holistically for the children here, dealing with complex behavioural issues with such kindness and brilliance that it brings tears to my eyes, even writing about it. Not only so, but the standard of teaching to then try and help these kids come up to the ‘required standards’, being creative with the resources available, is nothing short of miraculous. I would defy any school inspector to rate this school as anything else than ‘outstanding’.

 
Siobhan and I had a great discussion about the need for health, social care, the voluntary and faith sector, the police and education to work more closely together for the wellbeing of children and young people in our communities. This is already happening in part, through our health and wellbeing partnership and ‘better care together’, but there is far more we can do. We thought about what it might be like if we parachuted fresh into the community now and had to start from scratch, what we might do together…….

 

We would start with stories – we already have many, from the conversations we’ve had in the community, but we want to really listen and be changed by the responses that we hear. We’re so grateful for the work of the ‘poverty truth commission’, helping us to do just that. We would also definitely pool our resources and prioritise key services that would not be taken away once the community begins to thrive, such as parenting classes, cooking lessons, early support services, a radically caring housing sector, preventative policing strategies (now emerging powerfully in partnership with our town and city councils), social care, mental health champions (something Siobhan has already been part of recruiting 150 locally!), children’s centres and adult education centres as a starter for 10. We would overlay this with the things that are working now – there is so much goodness happening and we don’t negate this. We want to ensure that we could see the health inequality gaps close.

 

In order to build on this idea of ‘healthy schools’, we would see kids being active every day – despite, limited grounds space, this school, like many others locally are running a mile a day. There is a great scheme here in which all the kids are learning to cook healthy, nutritious food, building vital life skills needed now and in the future. The breakfast and after school clubs are providing many healthy meals each day for the kids and throughout the summer holidays the schools cook – another woman with an incredibly big heart, opens the hall to feed families, who cannot afford to eat during the long breaks. A huge amount of work is being done around gender equality (have you seen the amazing documentary series “No more boys and girls: can our kids go gender free?” On BBCiplayer?). Kids are also given a huge dose of self esteem and know that they are loved and belong. If only the same level of caring support could be afforded through the transition to high school…..

 

Over the coming months, we hope to co-host some conversations with the community, not on our terms but shaped together with them. Siobhan spent years trying to think of great ideas to get the parents to come into school and interact with her. It wasn’t until the parents set up their own coffee morning in the old garage of the school playground, that she went to meet with them on their terms and started to build some staggeringly life-changing relationships. We know we are changed every time these kind of conversations happen and it blows our world view up so that we can collaborate effectively and co-design services with them. We want to share data with them about health and educational outcomes in order to create a passion for change and do some appreciative enquiry about all the great stuff already embedded in the community. Through these conversations, we want to connect people together and see a social movement for positive change.

The future of Morecambe is bright and full of hope. The communities are strong, the place is beautiful and the people are amazing. Siobhan is just one of many incredible headteachers in this area, committed to one another and this geography through bonds of friendship. If a genuine partnership between health and education can develop here (and it’s part of my vision and ambition to see this done) then who knows what might be possible over the coming months and years?

 

It is time for Morecambe to find its joy again. It has been the joke for too long, but soon it will become the place where the joke is found and everyone will want to know what we’re laughing about.

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