Darkness and Light

Plato's Allegory of the Cave - a Key to Understanding also Our Time? - Part 1: Body and Mind

In his much-cited "Allegory of the Cave", the Greek philosopher Plato describes a cave-like shelter from which only a steep and rocky footpath leads back to the surface of the earth.

In this cave sit prisoners who are chained in such a way that they can only look at the wall in front of them and are unable to perceive each other.

They also cannot see the exit and a medium-height wall behind their backs, nor do they know of their existence. They do, however, perceive the light of a fire shining from afar beyond the wall behind them, but they don't know anything about its origin.

Behind the wall, various objects are carried back and forth, e.g. replicas of human figures and other living beings made of stone and wood, without their bearers being perceptible in any way to the prisoners.

They see the shadows of the objects projected onto the wall and also attribute occasional voices to them, thus perceiving the shadows as living beings. Whatever happens they interpret as the actions of these “living beings” and regard it as reality.

However, it is a reality deliberately created by others, in the light of their consciousness, and from which there seems to be no escape for the prisoners.

Unless they manage to break the shackles of their "internal prison of beliefs ", turn around, step out of the cave and start to perceive the real circumstances that formed the basis of their worldview.

Of course, anyone achieving this would first be severely confused and dazzled and might also feel the urge to rather turn back to the well-known and to reject the new and unfamiliar as unreal. Also, well-meant explanations of a possible liberator would rather be rejected as "nonsense" and perhaps even fiercely dismissed.

The underlying process is called "cognitive dissonance" in terms of contemporary psychology.

This is actually a quite natural process which protects us human beings from literally "losing our minds" when we are suddenly confronted with an overload of new information a/o sensory impressions.

As we have meanwhile learned from neurobiology, it is that only those areas in our brains which are frequently used are accessible for smooth reception and processing of information. In this case, for instance, someone who had suddenly left the cave would not be able to perceive and "process" the light of the fire in all its power, i.e. to integrate it into his previous world view. And so he would likely (have to) first turn away in irritation and perhaps also full of fear and in more than one respect only.

He would first have to get gradually used to the new conditions of his environment, i.e. as much as his body was able to form new synaptic connections in his brain. This may take different periods of time for everyone, based on a variety of factors. The keyword here is "neuroplasticity".

To me, this is a wonderful example of the close interconnectedness between body and mind.

So, are we able to do anything ourselves to enhance our own neuroplasticity, i.e. are we able to increase our flexibility to adapt to new environmental conditions by own means?

The good news here is a clear and strong "yes"!

And we may begin to do so by paying attention in our daily lives to whenever we feel a kind of "defensive reflex" within ourselves, i.e. whenever we encounter any inner resistance. And then granting ourselves the time and the space to feel more closely into where our discomfort might be deriving from.
This we are best able to do in a state of relaxation, maybe during a walk in nature or taking a wellness-bath in the evening or on the weekend, whatever feels good for us.

And maybe we discover that it is an innately irrational fear of something that we had simply not known before. Or we discover an aspect of ourselves that we did not yet know.

So let's turn to our own shadows and perceive and embrace them for what they are. Thus also turning more and more consciously towards our own light by bringing our body and mind into increasing harmony!