Column #10 Motherland magazine

I’m noticing shadows this week. Actual shadows. The delicate branches of trees silhouetted on the footpath. Iron fencing remade on bricks, elongated and askew. Shadows are beautiful. They seem other-worldly, a projection of something. Of course, they’re a projection of reality. I started to think about how I like some shadows better than the real thing. The iron fencing, for instance. Much nicer to look at in shadow-form.

There’s nothing wrong with that, in itself. But then I thought about Plato (please understand, this is not something I regularly do). He wrote a story called Allegory of a Cave. People lived in a cave, chained so they could only look directly at the wall. They saw shadows of people and animals passing by the entrance, but had never been able to turn around. For them, shadows were the real thing. And then one man escapes. He is nearly blinded by the sun.

Plato’s allegory, if I’m understanding it, is that we are conditioned to believe that what we see and touch is reality – but really, the material things are just shadows compared to how we think. If we change how we think, we can change how we see the world around us. That becomes the reality.

It is painful to stare at the sun. In Plato’s tale, the person who escaped had to adjust his eyes. First he managed to look at reflections, then the stars, the moon, and, finally, the sun. It is painful to look directly at what we know to be right: the philosophies, if you will, that cast the light by which we see.

The challenge: what am I regarding as reality that is just a shadow? For instance, I believe all people are equal. What does it look like if I really see that, and don’t just congratulate myself on gazing on a shadow? What would I do with my opinions, my finances, my time, my attitudes? Varying answers, but my environments would be influenced, that’s for sure.

The allegory ends with the escapee coming back to the cave to tell the others. He risks being killed, but also has a chance to change things. I hold with Emily Dickinson’s words: tell all the truth, but tell it slant. First, though, I have to get the seeing right. Then I can deal with the telling.

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