Saturday, October 03, 2009

The Allegory of the Cave

Do you remember the movie "The Shawshank Redemption"?

There was a very poignant part of the story where a man who had been in prison for most of his life finally gets released at the age of 70. But he has no way to live in the world outside of prison, and he ends up committing suicide.

That story reminds us of the difficulties of adjusting to a reality that differs from the world that's familiar and comfortable, even if that reality is one where we're "free" and aligns much more with what we truly value.

Our cultural domain is a kind of prison. It's about separation - from one another, from nature, and ultimately even from ourselves. In extraordinary moments, we break out of the story. We encounter a world of being one with ourselves, others, nature, and life in a very direct way. It shifts our awareness of our world and ourselves in radical ways. It brings a great sense of hope and possibility but also great emotional uncertainties. It can be hard suddenly finding ourselves outside the story that has organized our life up to that point. It may be wonderful to be free, but it is also terrifying.

More and more people are getting out of "prison" today. The situation is like what Plato described in the "Allegory of the Cave". If you have been living all your life in a cave, looking at shadows moving across the wall, suddenly finding yourself outside can be blinding.

Our cultural dominant story is also part of us, and the pressures to pull ourselves back into the cave or prison, to go back to our habitual ways of living, can be overwhelming sometimes.

It is one thing to have momentary transcendent experiences, to be outside the prison or cave, but it's another to stabilize the awareness they bring. But going back to the cave can also be painful, because you no longer quite fit there. We feel caught between both worlds. Part of us wants to flee the sunlight and return to the cave, but we are also more and more out of sync with life in the cave.

At the heart of our culture's dominant story sit core myths, and these myths shape how we make sense of the world. However, reductive science and redemptive religion are now breaking down and we can no longer simply wait around for a great leader to come along and lead us nor protect us. The economic myth we've been in for the past decade isn't serving us well either. People are waking up to the inadequacies of the economic myth and they are questioning whether it is all about short-term self-interest.

The important point is that in exploring the future, you aren't exploring a future someone else has written for you. It is instrumental of life itself, to accomplish what life wishes for you to accomplish. We had to use ourselves as an instrument for something better to emerge, being open to our larger purpose.

Everyone is born with a destiny or a purpose, and the journey of our life is to find it. The ultimate aim is to find the resources of character to meet your destiny, and to find the wisdom and power to serve life that way.

But without free choice or free will, that dance with destiny may not begin. Freedom and destiny are solemnly promised to us and linked together without meaning. When the sort of commitment we observe and see are happening, we feel as if we're freer than before and more free to be poor as well as more free to be further discriminated. It's a huge paradox.

People can no longer trust traditional institutional forms and structures, and if any one of institution sets itself up as the protector of such, it will backfire. Today the mysteries or the magical no longer take place in sanctuaries but in the main station, in the midst of everyday life.

We may not be able to change the larger systems overnight, but we can commit to the continual development of awareness and the capacity to choose. The capacity to choose is key, and that's always linked to our awareness.

Our fate is still very much in our hands. There must be profound transformation of our spirit and mind and of our relationships to each other and to the earth. We must be conscious and aware that every choice we make has the power to affect things one way or another. And those choices are a direct result of how deeply we're sensing.

We need to give ourselves to something larger than ourselves, and to become what we were meant to become. Then we can attain the goals that we're supposed to achieve.

Until the larger community start to master their thoughts, to pacify the minds, we won't be able to escape this prison of ours.

As Phil Lane says, "The longest road we will ever walk is the sacred journey from our head to our heart."


"Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies"

Extracted from: "Presence"
Peter Senge, C. Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski, Betty Sue Flowers
Nicholas Brealey, 2005

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