Prisoner in a Cave

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.


Life and Work in Israel and Japan

I was in Japan between October 2 and 18 (that's why I couldn't update my blog-shmog for three weeks). The main purpose of this trip was to work at the library of the Faculty of Letters at Kyoto University, one of my almae matres in Japan. I also used this occasion to see my parents, my sister and her husband, some relatives, and a number of close friends and colleagues there, and have some rest from an OCPD-unfriendly country.

It's really ironical that the more I visit Japan, where I was born and brought up, as an Israeli, the more enthusiastic I become about it, including its cleanliness and order as well as its sensitive and civilized people and its rich book culture. This time I've also found Japan far more OCPD-friendly. During this almost three-week stay there I never got irritated and angry as I do even several times a day in Israel with too many egocentric and insensitive people.

I even started thinking of returning to Japan for good, though as an Israeli, but by the end of this trip I concluded it would be better for me to remain in Israel and visit Japan at least once a year as Japan lacks one important thing Israel has in abundance - joy of life. Israel, especially Jerusalem, is also one of the world centers of Jewish learning. These two things compensate for me for the higher price I pay for living in Israel than in Japan.

Meeting the above mentioned close people and watching others in Japan have given me a lot of material for thought about most fundamental questions about life in Israel and Japan in general and work in these two countries in particular.

Before this trip I was in the middle of updating or upgrading my vision of life and work. This trip has sharpened this new vision. Now I have a much clearer vision about what I want to accomplish in life in general and work in particular as a kind of bridge between Israel, or to be more precise, Jewish tradition and its wisdom, and Japan and its perplexed people with little or no joy of life.