On the surface of our lives, most of us build the hard shell to hide our fear and insecurity and win approval and success. When we get to the core of ourselves, we find a deep yearning to care and connect. David Brooks in The Second Mountain
Brooks wrote of transcendent joy: the brief moments when we feel at one with nature, the universe, or God. Such experiences may only last a few minutes but can alter our lives. “People have a sense that they see into the hidden reality of things, and afterward, they can never go back to their false selves.”
Brooks wrote of the highest layer of joy, which he called moral joy. Our daily actions align with our deepest commitments. People who experience moral joy are grateful for finding their core passion in life and for saying “NO” to soul-destroying pressures that surround them. Transcendent moments transform our lives: they are moments of metanoia, spiritual awakenings, and an expansion of our consciousness.
I wrote about this process of awakening on the way to higher consciousness in “The Allegory of Plato’s Cave.” In my 1996 essay, I quoted Gareth Morgan from Images of Organizations:
The allegory pictures an underground cave with its mouth open toward the light of a blazing fire. Within the cave are people chained so that they cannot move. They can see only the cave wall directly in front of them. This is illuminated by the light of the fire, which throws shadows of people and objects onto the wall. The cave dwellers equate the shadows with reality, naming them, talking about them, and even linking sounds from outside the cave with the movements on the wall. Truth and reality for the prisoners rest in this shadowy world, because they have no knowledge of any other.
However, as Socrates relates, if one of the inhabitants were allowed to leave the cave, he would realize that the shadows are but dark reflections of a more complex reality, and that the knowledge and perceptions of his fellow cave dwellers are distorted and flawed. If he were then to return to the cave, he would never be able to live in the old way, since for him the world would be a very different place. No doubt he would find difficulty in accepting his confinement, and would pity the plight of his fellows. However, if he were to try and share his new knowledge with them, he would probably be ridiculed for his views.
For the cave prisoners, the familiar images of the cave would be much more meaningful than any story about a world they had never seen. Moreover, since the person espousing this new knowledge would now no longer be able to function in the old way, since he would no longer be able to act with conviction in relation to the shadows, his fellow inmates would no doubt view his knowledge as being extremely dangerous. They would probably regard the world outside the cave as a potential source of danger, to be avoided rather than embraced as a source of wisdom and insight. The experience of the person who left the cave could thus actually lead the cave dwellers to tighten their grip on their familiar way of seeing.
The cave stands for the world of appearances and the journey outside stands for the ascent to knowledge. People in everyday life are trapped by illusions, hence the way they understand reality is limited and flawed. By appreciating this, and by making a determined effort to see beyond the superficial, people have an ability to free themselves from imperfect ways of seeing. However, as the allegory suggests, many of us often resist or ridicule efforts at enlightenment, preferring to remain in the dark rather than to risk exposure to a new world and its threat to the old ways.
Each of us has Plato’s Caves in our lives — places where fear, habits, wounds, denial, conformity, ignorance, delusions, manipulation, and even a cherished way of life blind us to greater insight, a more encompassing reality. We can choose to leave our caves. Many in America who deny climate change and believe Trump is making “America Great Again” live in Plato’s Cave. Their denial contributes to the destruction of our environment and the degradation of America’s Democracy.
Fakes and charlatans with venal and regressive visions that return us to a more primitive condition clamor for our trust. We look around and see people under high 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 caves for safety. Some deny the facts 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.
As I write this post, two transcendent events call those who live in delusions to open their eyes, awaken, and experience their transcendent moments.
A wise and courageous Greta Thunberg (16 years old) started the school-strike movement in Sweden, which has now spread to other countries. She and other activists give form to a political revolution to fight climate change. They became spokespersons for younger generations who suffer high anxiety and depression about what their futures may or may not be. Ms. Thunberg now offers them a purpose and a movement they can join. They will find that they are not alone in their suffering. Ms. Thunberg’s “How Dare You” speech at the United Nations is a must-watch for all. Her disdainful look at Trump spoke for the tens of millions around the world who feel as she does. What a courageous young woman!
Then a Whistle Blower filed a complaint against Trump. The Whistle Blower alleged that Trump had attempted to pressure (by withholding foreign aid) the President of Ukraine to dig up bogus dirt against presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden and his son. Biden is leading in the Democratic presidential primary. Trump’s goal was to damage Biden’s campaign to help himself win the 2020 election.
Fair elections are the bedrock of our democracy. Can you believe it? After the Russia involvement in 2016, encouraged by Trump, he tries to get another nation to help sway our 2020 election? What Trump did was immoral, unethical, and unconscionable. He would turn America into a banana republic, where the abuse of power, at all levels of authority, is normal.
The Whistle Blower also alleged that White House officials attempted to cover up the phone conversation and other earlier conversations with foreign leaders, including Putin. They knew Trump had gone too far. The House of Representatives began an impeachment inquiry. Finally, Democrats found their courage and stand true to their values regardless of the outcome.
Listen to Trump roar: what he says about others is true of him. His rants are his confessions and self-exposures.
I am stunned but not surprised by the darkness that has come to light in only two days. The complaint of the Whistle Blower is just the first of the secret dark side of Trump’s dystopian world to come into the light of day. After all, Trump is not a good man who made a big mistake; he is a monster being who he is. He cannot be someone else. Trump has been being himself since he took the office of the president. How much more is covered up and hidden away?
We have only one healthy choice: to leave the caves of our lives, to see reality clearly, and become more connected, conscious, courageous, discerning, intelligent, and compassionate. And more mature. We cannot go backward — unless we want the threats to our world to become realities. My life experiences taught me that it’s best to walk into the future with a clear vision, guided by my deepest values, and my purpose for my life. I find this approach better than following liars, blamers, crooks, con artists, and people only out for themselves–no vision, values, or purpose with them — just greed and selfishness. I know if I follow them, I’ll become like them.
Some believe Trump’s darkness will crush the investigation and lead to Trump’s re-election. Maybe, but no one knows what will happen over the next year. Predictions today mean little. I say: “Expect the unexpected.”
Former Vice-President Al Gore wrote about climate change this week in the New York Times. I think his words apply equally to the Whistle Blower’s complaint:
Are we really helpless and unwilling to respond to the gravest threat faced by civilization? Is it time, as some have begun to counsel, to despair, surrender, and focus on “adapting” to the progressive loss of the conditions that have supported the flourishing of humanity? Are we really moral cowards, easily manipulated into lethargic complacency by the huge continuing effort to deceive us into ignoring what we see with our own eyes?
Our Constitution, our uncorrupted legal system, and the hearts and minds of caring and courageous people will guide us. The purpose is clear: expand our awareness by coming out of our caves. The vision is simple: create a sustainable planet and a thriving democracy.
Al Gore again:
The political reconfiguration we have desperately needed has been excruciating slow in coming, but we now seem to be at an inflection point, when political change begins to unroll more rapidly than we thought was possible [Gore wrote this piece before the Whistle-Blower complaint becoming public].
The people, in their true function as the sovereign power, are quickly understanding the truth of the crisis, and they are the ones who must act, especially because the president is not on speaking terms with the truth and seems well beyond the reach of reason.
To address the climate crisis, we must address the democracy crisis so that the people themselves can reclaim control of their destiny.
Do not despair: get engaged. We must remove from office, at all levels of government, those who deny climate change and those who follow Trump.
We can then save the planet and renew our Democracy.
We do live in exciting times.