“Look, I bear a wound that is not yet healed, my ambition to make an impression.” — C.G. Jung, Black Book 2
Most of us have a need for attention or acknowledgment We want to be seen and welcomed into the perceptual fields of others. We may want to light up the back rows with our sparkling and radiant presence. But admiring attention is not always available. Others may be wrapped up in their own need for attention, the hardships of their lives, their depressions, anxieties, and obsessions, and so there isn’t always a surfeit of attention to be focused on us. Wanting to be the center of attention is a want, probably not a need. We are the star of our movie, and it is so easy to forget that other people are the stars of their movies.
There is value sometimes in being seen, and at other times in being cloaked. The desire for attention can cause us to seek to be more visible than is good for us. We forget the advantages of invisibility because we experience the invisibility as a wound.
Deng Ming-Dao, a modern Taoist sage writes,
“Useful trees are cut down. Useless ones survive. The same is true of people. The strong are conscripted. The beautiful are exploited. Those who are too plain to be noticed are the ones who survive. They are left alone and safe.
But what if we ourselves are among such plain persons? Though others may neglect us, we should not think of ourselves as being without value. We must not accept the judgment of others as the measure of our own self-worth… Thus, to be considered useless is not a reason for despair, but an opportunity. It is the chance to live without interference and to express one’s own individuality.”
There can be authentic suffering involved with not being seen, and narcissistic longing for attention may be a necessary part of human incarnation. We are social mammals, and scarcity of attention can be as much of a hardship as the scarcity of other primal needs. But it may also be up to us to choose our perception of invisibility, and there are many ways to perceive and interpret it. We can experience it as a wound, as victimizing circumstance, as a mixed blessing, as a useful power of cloaking…
As a narcissistic personality type myself (though I have never had narcissistic personality disorder, a much more serious condition), I often find myself reaching for more attention, and if I get it, the heightened attention can be the caffeinated stimulant of enhanced self-importance, or it can be the deep fulfillment of mutual and authentic acknowledgment, or a mixture of both and of still other things. Many assume that narcissism is always pathological, and, indeed, it can be. It has been for me the most difficult of pitfalls, an enemy with a million slippery masks and guises, a manic-depressive trickster leading me into endless mirror worlds. Some of these mirror worlds are concave and magnify my grandiosity, while other mirror worlds are convex and shrink my sense of self-worth.
When I enter the mirror worlds, I tend to forget the distortions and optical illusions; I forget that being visible to others means also being bound up in their state of consciousness, their moods, projections and obsessions. I forget that I am often at my most empowered when I am most invisible. When I purposefully wake up in the early hours of morning before dawn to do creative work in complete seclusion, I often rediscover magical invisibility. The early hours of the morning can be a time of maximal invisibility, as the attention of others in your community slumbers and travels in the dreamtime. More distant from the field of mundane attention, emerging from the dreamtime while it is still dark, the pre-dawn hours can be a time of magical and fertile invisibility.
But I have also found an evolutionary core within the pathologized scar tissue of narcissism. Narcissism is a primary organismic urge toward the glorified body, toward an expanded ability to enter the welcoming perceptual field of others, an urge toward new telepathies, a species-wide urge that expresses itself in so many ways — from evermore advanced communication technologies to the neurotic longing to be a celebrity.
Invisible wounds and wounds of invisibility may become visible. But be careful about what meets your eye, because invisibility is not always what it seems.
Heard something on the Lex Fridman podcast that directly addressed my feelings of disappointment about Parallel Journeys recognition while at the same time noticing that it doesn’t affect my high vitality daily relationship to the muse.
Lex Fridman Podcast #318 with biologist Nick Lane (3:31):
Nick: “Live in the moment and try to enjoy what you’re doing and that means try to go to the themes that you are most interested in and try and follow them as well as you can, and that tends to pay back in surprising ways . . . people will help you often if they see some light shining in (your eyes). . . . you’ve got to be obsessive, but if you’re doing what you really love doing, it’s not work anymore, it’s what you do.
Lex: “. . . Careful how you define success.
Nick: “You’ll never find happiness in success. There’s a lovely quote from Robert Louis Stevenson, I think, who said, ‘Nothing in life is as disenchanting as attainment.’
Lex: “. . . the true definition of success is getting to do today what your really enjoy doing, just what fills you with joy, that’s ultimately success. Success isn’t the thing beyond the horizon, the big trophy . . .”
Nick: “I think that’s as close as we can get to happiness. That’s not to say you’re full of joy all the time, but it’s as close as we can get to a sustained human happiness is by getting some fulfillment from what you’re doing on a daily basis. If what you’re looking for is the world giving you the stamp of approval with a Noble Prize or a fellowship or whatever it is . . . I’ve known people like this who (are) eaten away by the anger, the caustic resentment that they’ve not been awarded this prize they deserve.”
Lex: “And the other way — if you put too much value into those kinds of prizes and you win them—I’ve gotten the chance to see that it also—the more you’re quote/unquote successful you are in that sense, the more you run the danger of growing an ego so big that you don’t get to actually enjoy the beauty of this life. You start to believe that you’ve figured it all out as opposed to-–I think ultimately the most fun thing is being curious about everything around you, being constantly surprised and these little moments of discovery of enjoying –enjoying beauty in small and big ways all around you, and I think the bigger your ego grows, the more you take yourself seriously, the less you are able to enjoy that.”
Nick: “Amen to that, I couldn’t agree more.”
The podcast had me thinking about a quote about fame I heard from a major celebrity who said,
“Fame is just an empty bag.”
I couldn’t find which celebrity said this when I searched, but there was an interesting search return:
“Fame, that’s an empty purse,
Count it, go broke,
Eat it, go hungry
Seek it and go mad.”
(Attributed to Krull, I’m assuming the movie, but it could be a non-famous person named Krull.)
Another quote I’ve heard attributed to William Blake (but couldn’t verify): “Fortune is a whore, ready to kiss anyone’s ass. I labour upward into futurity.”