By Archimandrite Iakovos Kanakis
Self-absorption is a cancer in the soul and has been so from the time of the first human beings until today. It can be defined simply as love for yourself. ‘Is that bad?’, it might be asked. The problem is that you love your ‘old’ self.
How do I know if I’m self-absorbed?
According to Saint Païsios, gluttony, egotism, stubbornness and jealousy all have self-absorption as their starting-point. More simply: ‘…out of self-absorption, some people seek their own comfort, their ease, and they don’t care about others. Some are very particular about their food or their sleep in case their health suffers. Others demand to be take seriously and if they don’t get just the right amount of recognition fall into dejection, reacting badly and protesting’.
How do people become self-absorbed?
It starts from a very young age. Customs, events even celebrations are at the bottom of the cultivation of self-love. The day a person was born is given a special place, rather than the day they were baptized, which is the really significant day. At childhood celebrations, the child is ‘deified’ and so, gradually and often against our wishes, becomes a child that wants everything for itself, who’s incapable of sharing emotion, moments of joy, and, naturally, material goods and pleasures. In Orthodox tradition in the old days, Christ was the center of the country, of our family and friends. This has certainly changed: Christ is no longer the center; his position has been moved. The center’s now occupied by all kinds of ‘egos’. The priorities in our personal pyramid have changed. So we now build our inter-personal relationships, our families and our country on sand. There’s no room for both Christ and the self at the center.
And does the rejection of Christ and the worship of the self have consequences?
Yes, people aren’t happy. They have a void, despite their efforts to fill their soul with other feelings of joy. They’ll never be happy, chasing as they do the pleasures of this world. Their joy is short-lived and is followed by pain. Even though they have everything, something’s missing, and this produces a void in their heart. They have everything and enjoy nothing.
How can I avoid a situation like that? What do I need to do?
Cast off so that you can fly. You need to stand back from your spiteful self. Get rid of the ballast so that you can fly high. If you cast off your former self, God will fill you in a miraculous way. This cleanout isn’t easy; it requires work and hard spiritual effort. The saints say: ‘Give blood, get spirit’. And this really is a great truth. Rooting out the passions, especially those of egotism and self-absorption, is one of the most difficult undertakings. Expelling these requires sweat and tears because they’ve burrowed into the human soul; they’re ‘enthroned’ there. We have within us wicked roots, which we call passions and evil fruit, which we call sin. Both shrivel and in the end disappear entirely, are cured, by the sacraments of the Church, or rather are converted into virtues. There’s a word that people avoid but it’s the answer to many issues and problems. It’s ‘humility’. Every day, God allows any number of things to happen, not fortuitously, so that we can acquire this precious ‘medication’. Often, though, we don’t see these things, or don’t want to see them or, if we do see them, we ignore them. The whole world is rigged differently, so humility doesn’t thrive, barely exists and is considered useless, outmoded and, to a large extent, inane. The key is thrown down before us and we don’t see it, or we trample on it or we throw it away. As Saint Païsios used to say: ‘Stripping off your former self doesn’t need bodily strength; it requires humility’.