Every day repulsive Donald Trump shocks us with his malicious and bottomless dark side, his lack of a rational thought process and his lust for love, cruel behavior, overall incompetence and deceitful and self-delusional promotion of himself. Every word and deed services a limitless and unrestrained ego spewed on the world from the most powerful and esteemed office in the world. How did we end up with this vile reality TV charlatan as President?
Almost more painful to watch than Trump are the sycophants who fawn over and enable him: smart people who have sold their souls and don’t seem to care about the harm they inflict on the world if they get their reward whether it be money or celebrity or momentary power.
A prerequisite for being in relationship with Trump is a willingness to be diminished as a human being. Those who refuse to be made smaller quit or get expelled from Trump world. Perhaps a few brave souls choose to stay and suffer the indignity of Trump to help the nation. They too will reach their limit.
Worst of all may be the repugnant Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and those who follow them in our Congress who seem willing to sacrifice our democracy and hurt our people for tax cuts for the richest Americans who do not need the money–all at the expense of poor, working and middle class Americans.
The election of Trump was a national expression of poor judgement. I no longer believe that there is wisdom in the electorate. I fear for our democracy when fake news and alternative facts go mainstream and replace truth, reason and science for many people who don’t care or take the time to recognize and separate truth from fiction. Did many voters choose distraction and entertainment over thinking and discernment? I think so.
Spiritual writers tell us that a spiritual awakening is spreading across the planet. I believe they are right. But others have said the same thing for decades. I wonder if the movement grows fast and large enough to bring light to the darkness in time. Many people choose to live in the shadows of a fake reality and to be distracted and entertained instead of doing the hard work of seeing reality accurately. I have little hope for them.
This essay is for those who want to wake up and evolve as people.
My edited 2002 version of The Allegory of Plato’s Cave. I believe it fits today’s world in which many do not see reality accurately.
The allegory describes a scenario in which what people believe to be real is, in fact, an illusion.
Imagine a cave inhabited by prisoners who are chained and cannot move. They can only look at the wall directly in front of them. Behind the prisoners an enormous fire blazes continually, and between the fire and the prisoners is a raised walkway, along which people walk carrying things on their heads. Sounds made by the people on the walkway echo off the walls of the cave and make new noises. The prisoners cannot see the raised walkway or the people walking, but they watch and talk about the shadows cast on the wall by the people, not knowing they are shadows. The prisoners believe the shadows to be real and the sounds to be coming from the figures on the walkway, not just reflections of a different reality, since the shadows are all they had ever seen.
Imagine that a prisoner is freed and permitted to go outside of the cave and look around. The prisoner would be shocked to see that the shadows are only reflections of a more encompassing reality and that everything he thought he and his fellow prisoners knew about reality was wrong. If the prisoner returned to the cave, he would return as a changed person who could never again believe or act in the old way because the world was now a different place. The changed person would want to act on his new understanding, could not bear to be confined in the cave any longer, and would pity his fellow prisoners. He would want to share his new wisdom with the other prisoners, but they would reject his new knowledge and would make fun of him because the reality they understood had not changed.
The cave prisoners know nothing but the shadowy reality of their limited world. They could not relate to a world they have never seen. The more aware prisoner would be seen as a threat to the established ways of seeing the world. The prisoners would not embrace the new world but would deny it, fear it, and cling more tightly to the old world.
Each of us has Plato’s Caves of our lives—places where ego, fear, greed, habits, wounds, denial, addiction, conformity, ignorance, manipulation, and even a cherished way of life blind us to greater insight, awareness, perspective, authenticity and possibilities. Caves are places where we mistake false appearances for reality. We can’t see what we are blind to.
But every once in a while, we get pushed, dragged—or even venture willingly—out of one of our caves. For example, the alcoholic on his deathbed is forced to make a choice of life or death. If he chooses to stay in his cave, he will die. If he chooses life, he must then see himself as he is—always the first step of change— not as his delusions and self-deception tell him he is. At first he is as mad as can be at this forced change. It is always painful to be confronted with our false realities. But he slowly becomes acclimated to a new reality. Increased self-awareness and new knowledge bring forth new ways to live with meaning and purpose. This transformation is often called a spiritual awakening.
Like drunks, everyday people have their caves too. Some never leave the caves of their lives and live what Thoreau called “lives of quiet desperation.” Others may leave a cave or two and then stop—content with their lives. Still others understand that our worlds have many caves in them. They know they’ll never run out of caves to abandon in search of greater aliveness. They are determined to seek out the caves of their lives and leave them proactively because caves always eventually confine or threaten their spirits.
Despite the loss and fear of change, these seekers choose intentionally to jump into new situations, new learning, and diverse adventures to expand their empathy, experience, and understanding. These people don’t stop leaving the caves of their lives until they die and no one knows what happens after death; perhaps the adventures continue. Whatever the circumstances, leaving a cave involves an inner shift that brings forth a deep examination and change of values, beliefs, and assumptions that evolve life.
The spiritual awakening of the alcoholic, the insights of everyday people, the enlightenment of the seeker, and the moment of metanoia — a change of the inner person–are similar, as each requires a temporary surrender of the ego, a re-ordering of the psyche, and a fundamental shift of perception.
No one who experiences this transformation will ever see the world in the same ways again. We should not be too proud of our initial inner expansion for we will be called over and over again to leave cave after cave, and journeys always humble the traveler. Of course we can choose at any time to refuse the summons of change and stay back.
Leaving a cave can be dangerous. Some cave-mates feel threatened when others change; they prefer the comfort of distraction and self-deception. They work hard to lure the courageous one back into the status-quo. The fearful might try to bribe or threaten the adventurer. They might lie or manipulate. They may say bad things. Those who dare to venture into the unknown are sure to become alienated from some long-time cave-mates.
We live in times of danger and difficulty. New threats loom over every horizon. Our planet is threatened and our way of life in peril–threatened from within. Fakes and charlatans with venal and regressive visions that return us to a more primitive condition clamor for our trust. We can look around and see how people under great stress—from our national leaders to everyday people in organizations, to the fringes of our political parties—become small, petty, and greedy and try to return to their old caves for safety. Some deny fact and truth. Others can feel strongly about every side of an issue depending on the audience. Some reject science for self-serving opinion. Many substitute intellectual honesty with black, white, and senseless beliefs grounded in fear and their inability to cope with the uncertainty and ambiguity of life. Their fear consumes them, and they live in darkness. In dangerous times, we need to be our best selves, not our worst.
We have only one healthy choice: to find the caves of our lives, to see reality clearly—even when it is painful—and to do what we can to become more wise, conscious, discerning and compassionate. There is no going backwards unless we want the dangers of our world to become realities.