PLATO’S CAVE

PLATO’S CAVE:Imagine that for your entire life you have been sitting in a chair in a movie theater. The place is dark, like all movie theaters; but you can feel… No… wait! Before we go there… There’s  a famous  allegory called  “Plato’s Cave,”  written  of course by Plato.  It’s a fictional  conversation  between  Plato’s  teacher,  Socrates,  and  Plato’s  brother,  Glaucon; and, essentially, the first part of the allegory goes like this… Socrates  asks  Glaucon  to  imagine  a  cave  inhabited  by  prisoners  who  have  been chained  and  held  immobile  since  childhood.  Not  only  are  their  arms  and  legs  held  in place, but their heads are also fixed so all they can see is a wall directly in front of them. Behind the prisoners is a large fire, and between the fire and the backs of the prisoners is a raised walkway. As people and animals travel over the walkway between the fire and the backs of the prisoners, the light from the fire casts their shadows on the wall in front of the prisoners. The prisoners can only see the shadows, but they don’t know they are shadows. There  are also echoes  off the wall from the noises produced  on the walkway.  The prisoners can only hear the echoes, but they don’t know they are echoes. Socrates  asks  Glaucon  if  it  is  not  reasonable  that  the  prisoners  would  think  the shadows were real things, and the echoes were real sounds, not just reflections of reality, since they are all the prisoners had ever seen or heard. Socrates  next  introduces  something  new  into  this  scenario.  Suppose,  Socrates surmises, a prisoner is freed and permitted to stand up and move around. If someone were to show him the actual things that had cast the shadows and caused the echoes – the fire, and the people and animals on the walkway – he would not know what they were and not recognize  them  as  the  cause  of  the  shadows  and  sound;  he  would  still  believe  the shadows on the wall to be more real than what he sees.1 The allegory goes on, but I want to stop here. (If you are interested, you can watch a three-minute animated video at PlatosAllegory.com). Now… Imagine that for your entire life you have been sitting in a chair in a movie theater. The place is dark, like all movie theaters; but you can feel there are restraints – shackles – over your wrists and ankles, making it difficult to move your arms or legs. The back of your chair is high, rising above your head so it is impossible to look behind you. All you can see is the movie screen in front of you and the people sitting next to you in the same  condition. In front of you, sweeping around on all sides of the theater as far as you can see, is a gigantic IMAX 3D screen. You sit there watching movie after movie, and it seems as if

you’re  part  of  the  movie  itself,  fully  immersed  in  it.  (Click  here for  Woody  Allen’s example of a total immersion movie, from The Purple Rose of Cairo.) Like  the  shadows  and  echoes  in  Plato’s  Cave,  these  movies  are  all  you  have  ever known. They are, in fact, your only reality, your life. The actors are good and the scripts well-written, and you get emotionally involved in these movies, feeling anger, pain, sadness, regret, joy, enthusiasm, antagonism, fear, and a  wide  range  of  other  emotions  depending  on  the  storyline.  You  have  your  favorite characters – family members and friends, for example – who show up often, and others you despise and wish would not appear at all. Some  movies  are  pleasurable  to  watch,  even  beautiful  at  times  –  happy,  poignant, satisfying,  enjoyable.  Others  are  dark  and  ominous,  disturbing,  painful,  producing reactions inside you which aren’t very comfortable. You resist watching those and wish you didn’t feel what you were feeling. You close your eyes at times, wanting the script to change. But  you’re  content  to  stay  there  and  watch,  because  you’ve  been  told  –  and  have come to believe from experience – this is the only reality there is, and you have to accept it. The vast majority of people – 95% of the Earth’s population, if I had to guess, maybe  more – will die sitting in that movie chair. For the others, something interesting will happen one day. In a particularly uncomfortable movie, you might scream “No!” and forcefully twist your  body in the chair.  Suddenly you’re  aware that you  no longer feel  the shackles on your wrists and ankles, and you realize you can now move your arms and legs. You use your hands to feel around and discover the shackles had no locks on them – ever – and your  panicked  movements  simply  pried  them  open.  All  along  you  had  just  assumed  – believed – you were a prisoner, like a dog who stays clear of an invisible fence. You wonder what to do next. You realize you no longer have to sit there and watch the movies if you don’t want to. You could get up; but you  don’t, not right away.  You might lean over to the person next to you and start telling them there are no locks on the shackles, but all you get is a “Sshhhh” in response. The  fear  of  standing  up  is  enormous;  the  thought  of  walking  away  goes  against everything you have been taught. Finally –  maybe it’s curiosity, maybe it’s anger, maybe it’s just that you can no longer stand to feel what you’re feeling – you decide “to hell with the fear.” You get up. Nothing happens. No sirens go off, no one comes to make you sit down again, and you begin to think maybe there was nothing to be afraid of. So you decide to walk. As you move down the row toward the aisle, saying “Excuse me, excuse me,” people look at you in astonishment and wonder and dismay. Some even tell you to sit back down, get out of the way, behave. It’s clear they all think you’re crazy. But there’s something inside of you that feels excited despite the fear and urges you on. Finally you make it to the aisle, turn and see that it leads up between the seats; but you  can’t  yet  see  the  rear  of the  theater.  What  is clearer  now is  that  the  movie  screen continues  all  the  way  around  the  building,  360  degrees;  and  hanging  down  from  the ceiling in the middle of the theater is a large black ball. Out of the ball very bright light is streaming toward the screen on all sides. You have no idea what it is, or what it means. As  you  walk  up  the  aisle,  you  bump  into  a  couple  other  people  going  in  your direction, and some others returning to their seats. The ones heading back to their seats

give you a dirty look, almost hateful, mainly terrified, and someone warns you not to go any further. But you’ve gone this far, you think, and decide you want to find out what’s at the end of the aisle. When you finally make it to the back, you can see the entire design of the circular theater. In one half are the seats from where you came, all facing in one direction, filled with people staring  straight ahead at the movie  screens; and behind  the seats is a large space where people like you are walking around. You also see a door in the middle of the far wall with a sign saying, “Do Not Enter – Extremely dangerous.” Since  the  IMAX  3D  screen  continues  all  the  way  around  the  structure,  there’s  no way to escape the movies that are playing. In other words, your reality, your life follows you  everywhere.  But something’s  different,  even  if  you  can’t  say what  at  the  moment. The  movies  haven’t  changed,  but  you  have,  in  some  way  you  can  feel  but  don’t  yet understand. There seem to be little groups of people gathering here and there – others like you who had gotten out of their chairs and made  it to the back – discussing something  that sounds important.  It’s all  so new, so strange,  so difficult  to understand,  so frightening, so… “unreal.” You think for a minute about going back to your seat, back to the reality you know so well. Then you decide not to, to stay a little longer, at least for now. You stop for a moment at the back of one group and ask, “What’s going on?” “We’re trying to change things,” is the answer. “What do you mean?” you ask. “We  don’t  like  the  movies  that  are  playing.  We  want  different  ones,”  the  voice clarifies. While  seated  in  the  movie  theater,  you  never  considered  the  idea  of  changing  the movies. You didn’t know it was possible.  But now it’s an interesting  thought, and you admit there were movies you wish you hadn’t had to be part of, aspects of your life you would have preferred not to watch and experience. You eavesdrop on another group in time to hear a man say, “Yes, this is reality. But there’s a better place we will all go to when we die, if you just have faith and follow a few simple rules….” There’s a Guru in the next group admonishing his followers, “Yes, we can leave this reality,  but  we  must  all  go  together.  Have  compassion  for  those  left  watching  the movies….” As you continue your trek around the back of the movie theater, you catch bits and pieces of other comments, like “This doesn’t have to be your reality. You have the power to change it, and I can show you how;” and “Love is all there is;” and “Quiet your mind.” In all the confusion, it finally occurs to you for the first time that you have the choice of what to do next, and it feels exciting as well as scary, because you’ve just taken the first step toward self-responsibility and self-realization. * * Once again, let’s stop here for a minute. In  Books  Two  and  Three  of  his  Enlightenment  Trilogy,  Jed  McKenna  makes  the distinction between a “Human Child” and a “Human Adult.” This idea is worth playing with, especially in light of our Movie Theater Metaphor.

PLATO’S CAVE:First of all, being a Human Child or a Human Adult has virtually no relationship to physical age. The vast majority of the world’s population are Human Children, most of them older than twenty. “Most  human  beings  cease  to  develop  at  around  the  age  of  ten  or  twelve.  The  average  seventy  year-old  is  often  a  ten  year-old  with  sixty  years  time-in-grade….  We  must learn to see the difference between a Human Adult and a Human Child as easily  and unmistakably as we see the difference between a sixty year-old and a six year-old. …  Our societies are of, by, and for Human Children, which explains the self-perpetuating  nature of this ghoulish malady, as well as most of the silliness we see in the world.”2 Human Children are the ones sitting in their chairs in the movie theater. They might complain  a  lot  about  the  movies  they’re  watching,  but  they  continue  to  watch  without doing anything about it. They’re convinced they are kept in their seats by some powerful, external  force,  and  that  they  are  helpless  to  change  anything.  In  fact,  they  believe  the thing that needs to change is “out there” – someone or something they have no control over. Even voting is an act of a Human Child, a statement that change is only possible by changing “them.” They’re convinced the movies they’re watching are “reality,” life as it has to be; and they take no responsibility for their condition. Some  Human  Children  might  actually  have  discovered  their  shackles  were  not locked  and they were free  to stand up and walk  whenever  they wanted. Perhaps a few might  have  stood,  even  fewer  took  a  few  steps  toward  the  aisle.  But  the  fear  soon becomes  overwhelming,  and back  they go to their  seats to put  their  shackles  on again, comforted by the fact they are in such good and plentiful company. “Human  Childhood  is  the  ego-bound  state.  It  is,  in  [actual]  human  children,  a  healthy and natural state. In human adults, however, it’s a hideous affliction. The only  way such an affliction could go undetected and unremedied is if everyone were equally  afflicted,  which  is  exactly  the  case.  No  problem  is  recognized  and  no  alternative  is  known, so no solution is sought and no hope for change exists.”3 Many people are happy to spend their entire  lives as Human  Children, PLATO’S CAVE: settled into their  chairs,  immersed  in  their  movies;  and  I’m  not trying  to suggest  there  is  anything “wrong”  with  that.  There  isn’t.  It’s exactly  how it  should  be  for them,  and there  is no reason at all to try to change their minds or make them into Human Adults, as we will discuss later. But I assume you’re not one of them, or you wouldn’t be reading this book. You’ve stood up, made your way to the back of the movie theater, and started to behave like a Human Adult. This book is for you – about you – not them. * * In Plato’s Cave, the Human Adult is the freed prisoner who now stands behind the rest,  sees  the  fire  and  the  men  walking,  casting  shadows  on  the  wall.  But,  as  Socrates points out, the shadows still represent “reality,” and the fire and men and animals on the walkway remain some kind of unexplained mystery. At a minimum, a Human Adult has become aware there is something “wrong” with the life it has been experiencing through the total immersion movies and is not willing to accept  that “reality”  at face value any more. In the classic 1976 movie  Network, news- anchor Howard Beale expresses what a number of new Human Adults feel when he rants, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more!”

PLATO’S CAVE:A  Human  Child  lives  in  ignorance,  thinking  they  are  awake  with  their  eyes  open when in fact they are sound asleep with their eyes closed. A new Human Adult has taken the  first  step  of  opening  their  eyes,  even  though  they  are  still  asleep  and  do  not understand what they are now seeing. Just  so  no  one  gets  confused,  Human  Adulthood  is  not  the  state  of  so-called “spiritual enlightenment,” although it’s what most “seekers” are actually looking for and most “gurus” are actually selling. (We’ll talk more about this later as well.) “The  difference  between  Adulthood  and  Enlightenment  is  that  the  former  is  awakening  within the dreamstate and the latter is awakening  from it…. Shallow, early- stage Adulthood is often mistaken for, and sold as, Spiritual Enlightenment, but it’s not.  It’s just the first real glimpse of life.”4 Have you ever had a dream in which you wake up and realize it’s just a dream, but you’re actually still dreaming and never really woke up, that waking up in the dream was part of the dream itself? That’s what Jed is talking about. PLATO’S CAVE:A Human Child is asleep and dreaming, but thinks it’s awake and thinks the dreams are real. A Human Adult is asleep and dreaming  and wakes up as part of the dream,  but doesn’t wake up from the dream itself. Like a Human Child, it thinks it’s awake, but it’s really not. The next step – actually waking up from the dream – is what this book is about. Being  a  Human  Adult  is  not  a  “bad”  way  to  spend  your  life,  especially  if  you compare it to Human Childhood. But it does have its limits. As  a  Human  Adult,  you  might  be  able  to  figure  out  how  to  better  cope  with  the movies coming at you that define your life. There are all kinds of groups in the back of the theater claiming to be able to teach you various methods of filtering or improving or avoiding or denying or processing or dealing with the emotions that arise as a result of your immersion in your reality.  We’re going to look closely at some of these groups in the next chapter. But becoming a Human Adult is not the end; it’s really just the beginning. * * I don’t know whether it’s helpful to remember when you transitioned from a Human Child to a Human Adult, getting up from your chair in the movie theater. Stories abound about  life-changing  car  accidents,  sudden  and  unexpected  divorces,  the  loss of a loved one, a near-death experience, drug-induced glimpses of another world, and the like. For me, it was very clear. I was in my second semester at a small southern college, saying I wanted to become a doctor, but actually more interested in philosophy and religion. Two years prior a friend of mine in high school had recommended a book called  There is a River: The Story of  Edgar  Cayce,  by  Thomas  Sugrue.5 One  day  during  the  semester  break  at  college, PLATO’S CAVE: I suddenly remembered it while browsing through a bookstore in New York City. Back at school I cut classes for a week and read and re-read that book. It blew my mind. Until then, I had been asleep – sound asleep. My childhood and teenage years were spent  being  “normal,”  like  everyone  else.  Well,  maybe  my  family  was  slightly  more dysfunctional  than  most;  but  still,  I  was  seated  in  my  chair,  watching  the  movies, experiencing all the discomfort, wishing things “out there” would change, and trying to find as much pleasure as I could to compensate for the pain.

PLATO’S CAVE:There  is  a  River ended  with  about  30  pages  of  philosophy  from  what  are  called Cayce’s “Life Readings.” It talked about  the origin and destiny of humanity  (“All souls  were created in the beginning, and are finding their way back to whence they came.”); about reincarnation and astrology; about universal laws (“As ye judge others, so shall ye  be judged.”); about meditation and extrasensory perception; about body, mind and spirit (“Spirit is the life. Mind is the builder. Physical is the result.”); about Atlantis and Earth changes; and about the unknown life of Jesus, whom Cayce called our “elder brother.” My  life  changed  overnight,  in  the  same  way  Cayce  predicted  one  day  northern Europe would change “as in the twinkling of an eye.” My fraternity brothers didn’t know what to do with me.  For one thing, I stopped eating pork, which had been my favorite meal and I would literally live for Wednesdays when pork chops were served for lunch at the frat house. I also spent the next summer working for Cayce’s son, Hugh Lynn, at the Association for Research and Enlightenment in Virginia Beach. I stayed  in school another year  after reading the book, although I stopped going to classes. As one cleaning woman once told me, “Don’t worry about it none! What they’re teaching  you  here ain’t  right  anyway.”PLATO’S CAVE:  I was a now a Human  Adult, although  I would need time to adjust to my new surroundings. The consequences of getting up and walking to the back of the movie theater seemed overwhelming  for  me.  My  mother,  of  course,  was  against  it.  So  was  my  girlfriend.  I would be wasting a lot of money already spent on an education and maybe  never get a diploma. I would most certainly never become a doctor. I had no idea of what I would do next,  no  prospects  on  the  horizon.  I  would  be  leaving  all  my  friends  and  a  life  that contained some moments of joy and pleasure for… what? And perhaps most critically at the time, I would lose my college deferment and be subject to the draft, most likely ending up as a soldier in Vietnam, a war I opposed from the beginning. In  the  end,  however,  my  discontent  and  discomfort  with  sitting  in  my chair  in  the movie theater won out over the fear of leaving it.

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