How long will it take to bring our Narcissus off the cross?

As I promised in my previous post, I am going to share passages from Stephen Levine’s spiritual autobiography, Turning Toward the Mystery. See:

Everyone is Just Trying to Get Born Before They Die

I found these passages very helpful in understanding how we identify with our pain and suffering and how letting go liberates our hearts.

“Turning Toward the Mystery” by Stephen Levine

“Shut away alone in an upstairs in those early years and feeling sorry for myself tend to make one rather narcissistic. The whole world shrinks to the size of your pain, a very tight fit. Only you alone are left to protect yourself and the world from catching fire…

With the theology of ego-as-center-of-the-universe numbing my pain, I became indifferent to the pain of others. With my heart so often like a stone, I acted in such a hurtful manner that considerable apology is due.

When I came to see from a place other than the pained consciousness, I knew that somehow I had to heal this narcissistic pain and complete my birth. I had to find out who I was beneath all the fear and confusion, to heal the mind into the heart, to find peace.

At times in meditation that confused child that I was would crawl into my arms and tremble with feelings of abandonment, until meditation floated away the fear that no one could love him.

Indeed, that child might have stayed submerged in a kind of emaciated self-pity if I had not cared so much for him, nurtured him, and begun slowly to unwrap his cocoon.

Releasing a child’d grief from its binding is a work of self-mercy so tender and subtle it purifies the air you and your loved ones breathe. But we need to be very mindful, because we are so attached to our suffering. It makes up a large part of our identity. Narcissus often uses pain to define, even outline, the image he find reflected on the murky surface of the mind…”


“There are ten thousand stepping-stones on the path of healing. They gloat like galaxies in the mind. Each takes us one step farther into the mystery. None tell what’s next. We honor the mystery with trust in the process.

We are mesmerized by our wounds and unfulfilled desires. We find it difficult to define ourselves without them. They are among the first often-repeated confidences we share.

We will not let go of fear and hatred, no matter how badly they make us feel, because we just don’t believe we could ‘be ourselves’ without them. We identify so with our suffering that it is difficult for us to imagine who we would be without it.

Letting go of our suffering is the hardest work we will ever do, and among the most fruitful and gratifying….The heart become restored when we surrender our pain and begin to release the grasping that turns the open palm to a closed fist.

When the heart peels back those once supple fingers that have gradually become frozen into a fist around its fears and attachments, it is at first surprisingly painful to open that cramped closeness. But it is, as the teachers say, ‘the pain that ends pain.’

When the mind sinks into the heart, the common ordinary grief that misdirects and limits us daily beings to let go of its holding, and lifelong tension in the belly is noticed to be softening. The armoring melts to plowshares, and peace at last becomes possible.

These are Herculean labors of love to be accomplished in order to break free of the ordinarily lost, small, and grieving mind.

As our personal pain eventually gets our attention, we awaken to the universal pain as well and gradually begin to participate in the hurt and healing of all sentient beings.

Slowly we begin sending compassion into our frightened Narcissus. How long will it take to bring our Narcissus off the cross?”

Stephen Levine


About Steven Goodheart

"I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." Spinoza

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