The first half of life is of crucial importance. You need boundaries, identity, safety, and some degree of order and consistency to get started personally and culturally. (Conservatives are much better here, but the trouble is that they stay here!) You have to have boundaries to move beyond boundaries, without dropping the boundaries! This is paradox. It’s both-and. You have to have a home to which you can return. In other words, you need to know who you are.
You also need to feel “special”; you need your “narcissistic fix.” By that I mean we all need some successes, response, and positive feedback early in life, or we will spend the rest of our lives demanding it, or bemoaning the lack of it, from others. There is a good and needed “narcissism,” if you want to call it that. You have to first have an ego structure to then let go of it and move beyond it. Only people who have internalized some impulse control tend to be successful in life, jobs, and relationships.
If you are mirrored well by others early in life you do not have to spend the rest of your life looking in Narcissus’ mirror or begging for the attention of others. You have already been “attended to” and now feel basically good—and always will—and can now attend to others instead of yourself. If you were properly mirrored when you were young, you are now free to mirror others and to see yourself honestly and helpfully.
I can see why a number of saints spoke of prayer itself as simply receiving the ever-benevolent gaze of God, returning it in kind, mutually gazing, and finally recognizing that it is one single gaze received and bounced back. And I do believe some people receive this loving gaze from God, even though they never got it from either of their parents. Their longing and their need is so great, and grace is always there to fill the vacuum.
Adapted from Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, pp. 4-5
and The Two Major Tasks of the Spiritual Life (CD, MP3 download)
Gateway to Silence:
Receive and reflect