Reflections: Narcissus   8 comments


A single wild pony gazes at his reflection, at Shackleford Banks, Cape Lookout, North Carolina, NC

Narcissus

~

It’s been an interesting week. I’d like to thank all who came by to visit. I’m very happy that you’ve taken the time.

As we wind down a week of pony pics from both Shackleford Banks and Assateague Island, perhaps we can take a pause for “Philosophy Friday.”

For those who stop in briefly, this is the dominant male of a group of wild ponies encountered on Shackleford Banks near Cape Lookout, N.C. He’s the same pony featured earlier in Bad Hair Day. The ponies have been on the island ‘forever’; it’s believed that they swam ashore from distressed Spanish galleons in the 16th century. Not these particular ponies, of course, but their ancestors. 8)

If you’ve been following from earlier in the week, I mentioned this posture that the male was taking. As I very slowly and quietly (yeah, right) moved to get closer to the herd — which included a young foal — this male dropped his head and pawed the ground. Not aggressively, mind you, but enough for me to get the clear message that I shouldn’t get any closer.

I’m good with that.

My friend Mike “Saddleguy” Scott suggests that it was an accurate read of the horse’s behavior, so I feel good about my decision to back away slowly. Shortly after I backed off, the herd sauntered toward the beach, then up and over the dunes. Photo op over.

Now, on to the latest of the ‘Reflections’ series and why I called this “Narcissus.”

You might recall from Greek mythology the story of Narcissus, a young man of not inconsiderable good looks. He was exceptionally proud, and shunned the advances of those who would love him, including the nymph, Echo. Nemesis saw this action and attracted Narcissus to a pool where he saw his reflection in the water and fell in love with it, not realizing it was merely an image.

Any time that Narcissus tried to touch the beautiful image in the water, it vanished, only to return a short time later.

He brought his lips near to take a kiss; he plunged his arms in to embrace the beloved. It fled at the touch, but returned again after a moment and renewed the fascination.

“When I stretch forth my arms you do the same; and you smile upon me and answer my beckoning with the like.” His tears fell into the water and disturbed the image. As he saw it depart, he exclaimed, “Stay, I entreat you! Let me at least gaze upon you, if I may not touch you.”

By degrees Narcissus lost his color, his vigor, and the beauty which formerly had so charmed the nymph Echo. She kept near him, however, and when he exclaimed, “Alas! Alas!” she answered him with the same words.

Absorbed in his splendid isolation and unwilling to leave the beauty of his reflection, Narcissus withered and died. A flower named for him grew on that spot.

I’ve long believed that there is more to the story of Narcissus, a deeper meaning that we can take away from it. This is the nature of all good fables, myths, and parables: Read between the lines to find something much more than just an interesting story.

We are social animals. We are conditioned to be in contact with one another. To love, to grieve, to share, and to live in relationship with others. This can be seen everywhere among sentient beings — in our own circles of influence; in the way that groups of species move in the environment; in the herd of wild ponies that traveled together and worked carefully to protect the young foal. A pony doesn’t know what he looks like, but he well knows that he should stick together with other ponies instead of hanging with humans.

In our world and modern culture, we sometimes tend to lose that innate sense of contact. The current world environment that we’ve created seems to encourage distancing ourselves from one another. Nations quarrel with, and plot against, other nations. Leaders bark orders from their high places and people suffer as a result. Areas of the planet are now so toxic that we can’t walk near them, separating us from our very environment. Our media culture bifurcates opinion into left vs. right, liberal vs. conservative, ‘right’ vs. ‘wrong’, and focuses the little attention we still have to give on the friction between the poles. All of this causes a sense of separation between our internal notion of “I”, and the rest of the world. Is it ever more palpable than when contestants on ‘reality’ shows take the solo walk of shame off the set, are voted off the island, or are branded as “The Biggest Loser?”

Even if you care not to buy into that polarization, sometimes it seems we have to work so hard to keep up with life that we simply don’t have time to nurture relationships. Whereas front porches used to be the up-front feature of a house, those have been replaced by the up-front garage, which discourages casual, chance, nurturing discourse between neighbors and isolates us even further as we drive in, hit the zapper, and close the door behind us.

‘Social media’ venues, I think, are a reflection of our attempt to get beyond these influences and make contact with others, to develop relationships that are valuable and rewarding based on similar interests or ideologies. In a world where our culture serves to divide us one from another, it’s a way of reaching out to others to share something that might nurture us.

But perhaps too, I think, it’s our way of not hating ourselves for what we could become…

To go against the grain of what we are — social creatures — by living in the modern world, we sacrifice something very important to us. The singular focus on “I/me” and the exclusion of love killed Narcissus. An interesting interpretation of the story of Narcissus is not that he was so in love with himself that he couldn’t bear to leave his reflection, but that he hated himself for spurning the affections of others. In the self-created absence of healthy, loving relationships with men, women, and nymphs, he retreated to a place at the pool where each approach to his beloved was met with an equally loving response, and yet it was fleeting and unattainable. If he reached out to embrace, the reflection reached back. If he leaned over to kiss the reflection, it was right there for him. But he couldn’t actually make meaningful contact with it.

Without mutual contact and relationship, we suffer negative psychological effects and the brain is rewired. In extreme isolation — without feedback from others — we can begin to doubt that we even exist. We can’t ever see ourselves (physically), and in isolation, we can’t perceive our own sense of self (psychologically.) In a world that sometimes seems to encourage us to backpedal away from one another, we need even more the contact, love, and nurturing relationship that can only be found in healthy social interaction with others.

I think it’s best to do this in person, but sometimes sharing in online activity can bring us partway there.

Do you like what I’ve created here from my imagination? I love what you’ve done, and I’m remiss for not telling you that more often.

Are you a good person? So am I.

You’re trying your best to find your voice in creative work, sharing it with others? Yah… me, too.

Do you see me? I see you!

Can we band together like a herd of ponies — sharing, loving and nurturing one another in the face of a world that would have us attack one another?  God, I sure hope so, or else we might suffer the fate of Narcissus.

You can hit the Like button or ReTweet this if you wish, but I’d much rather hear from you directly. As I said in the first line, I’m so very glad you’ve taken the time to visit.

Love and Peace to you,
Rob

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8 responses to “Reflections: Narcissus

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  1. Wow, this totally got me thinking and in need to do a bit of self reflection. There is a lot of food for thought here, and that is a very good thing, and now I am happy we have an older house, with a porch and a welcoming feel to have people come up for a visit. Deeply thought provoking post man!

  2. I like the image! I like the thought you put into title and the effort you put into the image! I love what you wrote and could not agree more. I can almost see the words spilling from your fingertips onto the keyboard! Lots of powerful messages in your image and prose. Thank you for your art! Thank you for your friendship! Have a wonderful weekend!

  3. Chris and Mark: Thanks for taking the time to visit and comment. I’m really glad you read this, and I value your friendship very much.

  4. Rob, I find myself absolutely overwhelmed by your post today. How absolutely profound. I wish I had a stronger word to use for this, as there is so much more to be learned about ourselves, our neighbors and the world we live in within your words here. I am absolutely moved today. You have so inspired me since we met here, but this post really does not just speak volumes, it grabs life’s bullhorn and shouts it out. I can’t wait to retweet this to our followers with the hope that others discover this today and find something new about themselves and those around them.

    Profound beyond words.

  5. Pingback: Masnavi « Rob Hanson Photography Blog

  6. Hi Rob,
    I have been wanting to write response all week. I start and then realize you have already said it better above. Your post is complete and wonderful and if I do not say it enough either; to all my friends and those who inspire me — as you do — thank you and with peace and love to all of you and your families.
    Take care,
    Don

  7. Thank you so much, Don. I love having your sentiments here under the post for all to see. You’re a good friend, and I’m happy to know you.

  8. Pingback: Toad’s Penultimate Shot « Rob Hanson Photography Blog

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