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.