Monday, December 29, 2014

Plato's Cave

It's a story that I'm sure you know,  but would you mind if we recall it in the lead-up to the New Year?

I'm thinking of 'Plato's Cave'.  The tale of the prisoners who were fooled by shadows.  The prisoners, chained to the cave wall, who truly believed that the flickering shadows cast on the walls in front of them were all that there was . . . that they were reality.

With their backs to the fire that was casting the shadows, and unable to see the people passing behind them, the captives had no idea as to what was creating the moving spectacle.  For them the world was one-dimensional . . .  insubstantial shadows were all that existed.

Do you remember how that the story continues?
It tells of a prisoner who broke free from his chains and rushed out into the sunlight?  Overjoyed by his discovery, he then returned to his fellow prisoners to try to explain, in the face of their incredulity and disbelief, the vibrant, three-dimensional world that awaited them outside.

It's a haunting story.
But what is Plato trying to tell us?  That we're lucky to be free?
No, surely he's suggesting that we are the prisoners . . . the self-incarcerated prisoners, captives mesmerised by shadows.

Wouldn't you agree that there's an over-riding sense of captivity at the present time . . .  we're all held captive by fear.  Be it fear of terrorism, of economics, of epidemics . . . fears specific, fears non-specific.  Fears which cast large and distorted reflections and affect us all.

We're held captive in a world reduced to intimidating shadows.
As for the chains that bind us, we've crafted them ourselves.  It isn't hard to recognise which ones bear our own personal hallmark.

I'm recalling Plato's story because it seems to hold particular significance at the start of a new cycle.

The year that's passing created many frenzied and distorted images.  Rather than carry them with us into the New Year, surely it's time to reject their power and leave the cave in search of the light?

But we're inclined to forget the all-important need for trust when stepping forward.  We look for excuses as we huddle together in the dark.
Is January, we wonder, the right time to make such a move?  The low winter sun produces a dazzling light, wouldn't it obscure the path ahead?

Then there's something else. Whilst we're attracted to the light, what it reveals can be disturbing and painful . . . there have been many such revelations in 2014.
Life may be grim and uncomfortable watching shadows, but it can offer the illusion of security.  We are seduced and beguiled by the false world we've created, we've grown attached to our chains.

In all this uncertainty, one fact is undeniable, we are more likely to step out of our cave if we do it together . . . more likely to accept the invitation of the beckoning sunlight if we move as a group rather than try to move forward on our own.  More likely to succeed if we discard past judgements and maintain the vital ingredients of love, gratitude and hope.

'Snowflakes,' wrote Vesta Kelly, 'are one of nature's most fragile things, but just look what they can do when they stick together'.

I wonder what guise we'll choose as we enter the year ahead.
Will we choose to remain as isolated prisoners, ensnared by the shadows of the past?  Or will we be part of a sparkling blanket of snow, heading unfettered into the promise of the future . . . ?

Let's compare notes in a year's time and see if we made it!

Happy New Year!