Plato, in his allegory of the cave, gives a perfect illustration of how we can become captive by illusions. As a result of believing the shadows on the wall to be true reality, the world becomes a fabrication, like the old tale of the Emperor’s invisible clothes. Like the fundamental assumptions that society believes often without question or in many instances fails to even notice, the world’s illusions seem to have snuck up on us slowly, so much so that it appears that we have lost the ability to distinguish between is real and what is simply a shadow on the wall. What is most frightening, though, is the level of ferocity (even violence) with which we as individuals and as a society have chosen to hold on to illusions, rather than recognize, grieve, and surrender the deceptions we believed and then move upward and outward into the light.
It may appear to be the greatest of arrogance for me to tell you that you’ve been staring at shadows your whole life. So I won’t say it. Of course if your life is not hunky dory then you’ll have to draw your own conclusions as to the reason why, and let me suggest that the list begin with the primary source…yourself. The only claim of expertise made here will be from what I’ve learned as a fellow observer, one with the added vantage point of standing in the middle. Not only is there an equidistant view from where I stand, if I’ve been lulled into believing in shadows, the chances are pretty good that others have been lulled into believing them too. So if you see room for improvement in your life, then take a chance and read on. I won’t even attempt to tell you what illusions you may be staring at in shadow form. The starting point is to simply admit that you may have them. It will be your job to figure out what those shadows are. And let me tell you that when you do that, the chains dissolve away. There is no trick to escape, no enormous locks; it all centers on personal choice. Those first few steps in relative darkness are the hardest because it demands that you have faith in something that isn’t known yet. It’s after you take those first steps and go outside that you will understand the difference; the light makes it impossible to transfer one shadow for another, they are lost forever. But take heed to this warning: the process of escape usually really sucks. The pain is a necessary part, but like a painkiller I’ll try to dull it a bit. If you were able to accept the challenge and let go of all the rules you live by and live in cosmic anarchy for a while, then you’re already 10 steps ahead of everyone else.
One of the rules that I’ve adopted (post cleaning my own cosmic closet) is that things are not always what they appear to be, so making rigid judgments about any given situation doesn’t even factor into the movie in my head; when I have done so in the past, the result is most often catastrophic. Most people are aware on some level that what they see is often colored by who they are and what has happened to them thus far in life. What trips me up most often is not that things are something other than what they appear to be, but that I hold on to the judgments that I create about them (often rigidly) even in the face of knowing better. A shadow is a shadow, regardless of how articulate or insightful modern commentary is in trying to justify the truth of its existence. Real change happens in the heart. Any person can say they believe in something over and over, but if their heart isn’t willing to follow along, especially in terms of their behavior, then the chains will never be let loose making it impossible to move out of the darkness.
As an observer, besides using my native good judgment in determining at any given time when I’m living in the land of illusion, there is also a process I use taken from the rules of Evidence in the American Judicial System. One of the most basic rules of evidence is that only evidence that is relevant may be permitted, that is only that material which has the tendency to help prove the truth of the issue at hand. The most obvious relevant evidence would be something like a murder weapon or an eye witness to a crime. Even when evidence is relevant, though, it may still be excluded if the value of the evidence is outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues or misleading the jury. Other forms of evidence like hearsay: a statement made outside of the courtroom but is offered in court to prove the truth of the matter asserted; or character evidence: using a person’s character to prove that person acted in conformity to that character, may not be allowed because of the risk of unfair prejudice. The bottom line is that the rules of evidence are very restrictive because those who decide the case whether it be the judge or a jury deserve the kind of evidence that best leads to the truth.
Unfortunately, this kind of filtering isn’t necessarily applied when it comes to dispelling many of the illusions our culture lives by today. Look at how most of us receive information, especially from television. It is common to utilize deeply biased and second and third hand information to inform the public about an issue. It is also more and more common to attack someone’s character as a means of uncovering “the truth,” or to diminish the validity of their perspective. It appears that the means by which we prove the truth in our lives would never hold muster in a court room. Is it because the truth by which we live is less important than the truth that will prove us guilty or innocent?
There are three things that I have found helpful in destroying the illusions that pop up in my life: 1) coming to terms with the judgments of my heart, 2) steering away from that kind of evidence that distracts me from the truth and 3) refusing to engage in “king of the hill” behavior, meaning defending with such vigor those judgments/illusions I have that truth is forced to take the back seat to winning the argument. Have you ever had an argument with someone and fought to the death even though you knew full well that you were wrong? Just wanting to be right never got me anywhere, whereas shifting my thinking from a win/lose mentality to an exploration of what new information I may gain, has usually gotten me everywhere. Take a moment to listen to your innate good judgment and see if there is truth in what others are saying. Feeling super defensive is a sure sign that it is a crucial time to listen. Ego thrives on illusion. I’ve also learned, the hard way, that truth never prevails when the impetus to present an idea is rooted in fear (even if the fear is as simple as not wanting to lose the upper hand).
Although chances are also great that the other person doesn’t know what they are talking about either and are also just trying to win, when you remove the competitive element either the wind will completely blow out of the conversation (being there is nothing left for the other person to conquer) or you will find out the other person is really trying to make a point. There may even be the not so rare occasion when they weren’t listening to you anyway and just like to hear themselves talk. Even in these situations discovery may happen. The focus should not be on the other person, but on what your heart tells you in response to them. Face it change is hard…in Plato’s allegory, there were plenty of people who wanted to kill the messenger, the one who escaped the chains and wanted to share his expanded frame of reference. We often shoot down new information if it requires us to shift beyond what we believe at any given point. Holding onto shadows may be easier, but then one must accept the kind of darkness that will forever shield one from true illumination. Faith in light beyond the darkness is the only escape.