While reading The Inner Matrix - the most impressive book I've encountered at least in the past ten years - several months ago, I got acquainted for the first time with the idea of Plato's Allegory of the Cave. The author likened our mind to a prisoner in a cave by paraphrasing this idea as follows (the quote is rather long as I can't find any word to leave out):
Imagine you were born in a prison cell. This cell is all you have known your entire life. Food and water are brought to you in your cell, as is everything else that is necessary to survive. Because this cell is all you have ever known, you have no awareness of the larger prison confines beyond your cell's walls. You don't even realize that the walls are confining you. One day, you awake from your sleep and notice something is different: a door that you did not even know existed in the wall of your prison is now open.
At first, you feel strange and awkward, because something has changed. After a while, curiosity fills you and you begin to peer through the cell door. For the first time, you see a hallway and hundreds of other cells just like yours. At first, you do not dare to step through the open door. You are gripped by fear. Instead of venturing out, you stay in the familiar safety of your cell. As time passes, food and water cease to arrive in your cell, and you experience the intolerable pain of thirst and hunger, which increases your yearning to venture outside. Finally, when the discomfort becomes too great, you step out into the unknown and begin to explore the inside of the greater prison.
Time and time again, this experience repeats itself, and you venture farther and farther out. Eventually, you discover a door leading outside the prison, and one day, you step through it and begin to wander the prison grounds. Next, you go through the prison gate, stepping outside the prison grounds and into the nearby town. Finally, you step foot outside of the town and begin to explore the vast world that is available to you. You wander the beaches, the mountains, and the forests. You discover cities and ancient ruins. You sail the seas to faraway lands. This new world is so vast. You see that it is impossible to know all the nooks and crannies of your new home as you once did your prison cell.
Over time, you gain awareness that this world is ever-changing and that nothing remains the same for long. As time passes, you learn to build houses, bridges, and roads. You learn to find your own food. One day you realize that there is no longer a yearning inside of you for anything. You become aware that you were actually the architect of the prison that once held you. For the first time, you know that you are truly free of its confines.
Although you are continuously expanding in this new world, something draws you back to the prison from which you escaped. It is compassion for the inmates who are still imprisoned and unaware of the world outside of their confinement. Seeing your former self in the current prison inmates, you return to the prison out of a sense of love and a desire that everyone know the freedom you experience in the world outside of the prison.
When I read these passages for the first time several months ago, I suddenly realized that I was a prisoner in a cave, and quite a comfortable one at that in many respects. This realization has made me take the first bold steps toward getting out of this cave where I'm still confined - first, making for myself a resolution to leave the cave, then telling this resolution to some of my inmates. Naturally, many of them have tried to dissuade me from leaving the cave, stressing its comfort and possible dangers outside of it. But my mind has already been set. Having become aware that I'm nothing but a prisoner in a cave, and having had a fleeting glimpse of the world outside of it, this cave has started to look so foreign to me. I'm ready to run the risk of facing possible dangers in the world outside of the cave instead of being imprisoned there for the rest of my life.