A friend is by definition a person that is simultaneously intolerable and lovable. In fact, let us just admit that we are more or less disgusting — in the face of our divine potentiality that is — and therefore intolerable. The grace of a friend is that he/she can see beyond that and loves us deeply nonetheless.
Does this mean we should be self-loathing? Quite the contrary. Why not be best friends with ourselves, absolutely self loving, precisely because we, better than anybody, know how intolerable we really are.
Everybody in the twinkie new age movement speaks about self-love — at the same time nobody would say narcissism is a good thing. So what is the difference between self-love and narcissism? And can we question the truism that self-love is an absolute virtue and narcissism is by nature of the devil?
Narcissism is defined on google as ‘excessive interest in or admiration of oneself’. The key word here is excessive — but this doesn’t mean that admiration for oneself is an absolute sin for which we should burn in hell. Excessive self-love (which may seem like a contradiction) may be a defining characteristic of genius — and many an artist has been accused of being narcissistic (perhaps because we have a narrow vision of charity). We live in an age were we are forced to feign care for remote causes and be socially attuned all the time: and yet the genius is often the one who risks isolation and a love affair with his own subjectivity. The genius may have appeared to be intolerably selfish at times, while giving the greatest gifts to the world.
Don’t misunderstand me: I am not saying that we should build temples or monuments to our own ego, or be self-obsessed assholes. I’m just saying we could be more full bodied in our expression and less puritanical in our morals. The narcissistic person who gazes at his reflection in the pond and asks the question ‘Who am I?’ — may be the same person who finds infinity when he discovers that the personality is just a facade. When narcissus drowns in his own self-image, he may also shatters that image and finds the real. As William Blake put it: if a fool persists in his folly he becomes wise.
The standard religious position is one of self-denial and self-denigration and the endless confessions of ego. One must conquer and kill the ego to unite with God. The priest or spiritually oriented person often has had a distaste for the artist because the artist has a love affair with his or her own creations, rather than God. The extreme self-conscious artist, on the other hand, is self-obsessed and blind to others — a wretched soul to say the least. These are extreme polarities.
But what if these ‘archetypes’ were unified? What if the artist became more humble and priests sanctified full bodied enjoyment? This might collapse or even destroy our present ideas of what it means to be a priest or an artist; it might cause the temples of self and spirit to fall. But do we really need to be constantly renovating these temples all the time? Let them crumble I say. Ruins are more beautiful if the are allowed to rot instead of if being made into museums. And even if the priest and the artist become artefacts of an age of self-denial and self-puffery (which are more or less two sides of the same coin) then art would be considered sacred again and religion would become enjoyable and even hedonistic — as it should be.
Self-love, as I see it, means to be extremely open and curious about ones demons and angels, excessively so — it also includes being self-critical. Trying to be self-effacing and angelic in an artificial way, just leads to hypocrisies of all kinds. So, therefore, be a friend to oneself. After all, only one who is a great friend to himself, can really be a friend to others.