In the story of Narcissus as told by Ovid in the Metamorphoses; One day Narcissus was walking in the woods when Echo, an Oread (mountain nymph) saw him, fell deeply in love, and followed him. Narcissus sensed he was being followed and shouted "Who's there?". Echo repeated "Who's there?" She eventually revealed her identity and attempted to embrace him. He stepped away and told her to leave him alone. She was heartbroken and spent the rest of her life in lonely glens until nothing but an echo sound remained of her. Nemesis (as an aspect of Aphrodite), the goddess of revenge, noticed this behaviour after learning the story and decided to punish Narcissus. Once, during the summer, he was getting thirsty after hunting, and the goddess lured him to a pool where he leaned upon the water and saw himself in the bloom of youth. Narcissus did not realize it was merely his own reflection and fell deeply in love with it, as if it were somebody else. Unable to leave the allure of his image, he eventually realized that his love could not be reciprocated and he melted away from the fire of passion burning inside him, eventually turning into a gold and white flower.
This story contains a lot of meaning and lessons, particularly for the being on the spiritual path. It is not quite what it appears to be on the surface. There is a deep paradox and duality present that mirrors literally and metaphorically the love of self vs other, and the path of the hermit vs the human experience.
On the one hand, Narcissus is seen as a cruel and selfish being. Because of him, Echo withers away into nothing but a repeating sound (merging into the void). The echo represents the remaining karmic loop of action that he chooses not to engage with. One could say that he abandons or leaves the aspect of Other, and rather than choosing selflessness has chosen to be selfish and walk the path of the Self.
Narcissus is simply walking down his own path and decides to reject an interested lover, and because of this the goddess Nemesis seeks revenge on him. This mirrors the human disdain for the being on the spiritual path who seeks to opt out of giving to another person. Narcissus looks deeply into his own reflection, his own Self and while it is seen as a tragedy that he melts away into his own reflection, the flower is actually seen as a symbol of reincarnation and rebirth and the merging with the mirror is the merging with Self and All.
This story is hugely significant as many people play the role of Echo, looking outside the Self for love and validation. Society itself has created a phenomenon of hating people deemed as narcissists and blaming them for dysfunction and wounding.
Yet Narcissus was simply minding his own business and his right to say no to another person. The lesson Narcissus teaches is that one must not look outside for love but look towards the mirror of self and merge into oneself.
There are too many codependent beings trying to help others, rather than looking into a mirror. Society brainwashed people into thinking they must be selfless (slave programming) when really they must be fully Selfish, because the Self is All.
Rather than vilifying Narcissus, one must learn the lesson not to be an Echo, a reflection of sound that mirrors the void of not being. Dualistically both Echo and Narcissus transcend reality, one through the void, and one with Allness (all paths lead to the same destiny). However, Narcissus enjoys his own reflection and feels love while Echo goes in longing and pain, leaving behind the karmic attachment in the symbol of sound.