The morning my life changed forever was like many other mornings. I went on an early morning jog in Central Park with my German shepherd. It was a pleasant spring day.
Midway through our run, we came upon a little crowd grouped in a semi-circle about three meters from the trunk of an oak tree. I soon saw what attracted them: A squirrel sat perfectly still, immobilized, at the base of the tree. A pointer dog, three feet from the squirrel, intense and poised, focused his entire energy at the tiny, gray creature.
I joined the crowd, enveloped in the drama. Of course, no one knew what would happen next, but unlike the suspense involved in a sports event, no one rooted for either side. In spite of the tension around me, a sense of calmness overcame me as if time had stopped, and all of life was contained here, in this moment.
I had an insight: The world doesn't revolve around you, Jane. You are a very, very small part of the world that immerses you.
Suddenly, the pointer leaped toward the tree and the squirrel dashed up the trunk. The moment broke; the crowd collectively sighed, then dispersed and scattered.
But I had changed. Now, envisioning myself like a newly hatched chick perceiving the light for the first time, I sensed my place as a tiny being, born to imbibe and attempt to understand the world, in contrast to experiencing myself at the center of it.
I hadn't experienced the "here and now" with this degree of intensity before. Since I knew that a goal of Buddhism is to be fully present in the moment, I shared this incident with a Buddhist colleague. She defined my experience as satori, a Japanese Buddhist term for awakening, or seeing into one's true nature, also referred to as enlightenment.
As a psychiatrist acquainted with the definition of narcissism, I realized that I hadn't been aware of the extent of my own narcissism -- that is, experiencing the world as revolving around me. Now liberated from this grandiose self that had placed a self-conscious me at the center, I viewed myself and the world in a new and wonderful perspective.
The narcissistic self constantly measures and asks: Am I OK? Am I superior or inferior? The sense of self fluctuates between an "ideal" self, which fails to live up to impossible standards, and then seeps into the stance of "despised" self -- wallowing in self-hatred. Breaking free of this construct allowed me to process circumstances in the moment, free to become engrossed in life.
Later, I realized this narcissistic self lies at the root of many creative and/or writer's blocks. (I think of the child prodigy, the great Canadian musician Glenn Gould, who in spite of enormous achievements suffered from self-criticism that most likely curtailed his performing career.)
Free of narcissism, we can be grounded in the "real," the so-called here and now, recognizing our place as an experiment of Nature, each of us one-of-a-kind. When we aspire to be the best of our unique nature, no one, including ourselves, can ask more of us.
Discarding the confining equation of the two selves is equivalent to soaring unfettered into the stratosphere. No self or beyond self, is the truly free self, able to experience boundless gratitude.