The other day, I found myself led to an ancient writing by Plato known as the Allegory Of The Cave. I have to say that I can’t remember the last time I read anything by Plato. To be completely honest, I am not sure I have ever read anything by Plato. Had it not been for a reference to it in a book I am currently reading, Spiritual Partnership by Gary Zukav, I probably would never have been inspired to read it.
Plato wrote it as a way of explaining to others what philosophers do. However, for me, it spoke to me about the process of liberation and enlightenment. In this cave, people are chained in a way they can only see the shadows on the wall. What they see on the wall, is a reflection of what those behind them are moving in and out of a bright fire. There is no way of knowing how long the prisoners have been there, but we are led to believe they have been there so long that they do not question what they see, what they know, the conditions of their life, the consequences of their staying, or even the notion of leaving. Their life is what it is and they go through their lives without questioning or reflection.
Plato’s story reminded me of a conversation I heard almost thirty years ago about the perfect form of slavery. One philosopher was saying that the perfect form of slavery was when you enjoyed being a slave. The other philosopher disagreed and said the perfect form of slavery was when you no longer realize you are even enslaved. It seemed to me that the prisoners in this cave were an example of the perfect form of slavery. They no longer realized they were even enslaved.
As Plato tells this story, one day one of the prisoners escapes from the cave. What is interesting about this escaped prisoner is that they leave the cave with their chains still around them. They do not take them off and then leave; they just leave. Sometimes we need to take a moment and stop and think about the chains we wear. What are the things we have agreed to that enable us to stay in this perfect form of slavery? How often do we think that we have to wait for the chains to be removed before we can evolve personally or spiritually? Reading this story reminded me of a man in a New Testament writing in John 5:1-9. This man had been sitting by the side of a pool for 38 years waiting for someone to help him into this pool of healing. When asked by Jesus if he wanted to be healed, he began offering excuses. Jesus then told him if he wanted to be healed, he needed to pick up his mat and walk, and he did.
Sometimes we talk about spiritual liberation as though it is something easy. Like poof, you make the decision to evolve spiritually and you have evolved. However, the writings of Plato and of John have reminded me that it really is all about the journey. I have been thinking about the changes this escaped prisoner would go through if after having lived in darkness for so long, they were exposed the light of the sun for the first time in perhaps decades. Think about this for a moment. How many of us need a moment to adjust to the light after we have been in a dark place for a long time? It may be true that the man by the side of the pool got up and walked. However, after having sat in one position for 38 years, I am sure he did not just get up and walk as if he had been doing so all his life. How many of us have had been stiff and had trouble moving after we have sat too long in one position? It is not that you cannot move, but it takes sometime for the body to reawaken.
Coming out of the caves in our lives can be scary. Plato describes how some people would immediately be frightened and want to return to the cave and the familiar dark existence. Others would look at the sun and finally see the world as it truly is. These people would know that the time they had spent in the cave was nothing more then a shadow of truth. They would come to understand that much of what they had been led to believe was what others wanted them to believe. A few would embrace the sun and the true life and have a far better understanding of “truth.” They would also want to return to the cave to free the others in bondage, and would be puzzled by people still in the cave who would not believe the now “enlightened” truth bearer. Many would refuse to acknowledge any truth beyond their current existence in the cave.
Not everyone will leave his or her cave. Some will spend their entire lives there. Even if the chains were removed, they would stay. Some of us will come out of our caves. For those of us who dare to journey out of our caves, we will go through a series of changes as we work to remove the shackles from our lives, adjust our vision, learn to see what is, have faith in what we know to be truth, and learn to live our lives unshackled and in the light. Coming out of the cave will be a time of developing a heightened awareness with our body, mind, spirit, and soul. Are you ready to come out of your cave?