Nothing is certain. It’s a common expression, and when you start looking at the basis of all life, there’s energy. There are probably quite a few interpretations of the phrase ‘nothing is certain’. I can think of one while I type.
The Limits of our World
The first is we are limited. We have senses, and a language. Beyond that is all just a guess. Jeanette Winterson said, “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.” We can’t put a finger on what is out there, or even inside of ourselves.
Now a question arises. Assuming we have limited experiences in this world, then what are we missing? Is there an alternate reality that we cannot ‘see’? I can’t help but think back to Plato’s Cave. This was an allegory he used to explain the world of the Forms. This is how it goes…
There are prisoners (chained) sided by sided in a dark cave. Far behind them is a fire, and just in front of that are clay pots and figurines raised up that project above the heads of the prisoners (the roadway in the illustration below). So all the prisoners see their whole lives are the shadows in front of themselves. They see the shadows that belong to them and the pots. This is all they believe, and all they know.
I’ve added two drawings of the cave, the first is 3D, and the second is two dimensional. Hopefully one of them will help 😉
You could relate this to our lives. We initially see it on a very simple, superficial level. We see things for what they are. We believe and accept them. Then you get a brave prisoner who breaks free from the others. He turns around to face the fire and is temporarily blinded. His eyes have become accustomed to the dark. Slowly his eyes adapt to the fire and he begins to see things for what they are inside the cave.
One could see this as a person adopting a religion for a first time. Their eyes are ‘opened’ and they begin to experience things they haven’t before. Their lives change, and the way they see life changes. This allegory can also be seen as the stages in someone’s spiritual development.
The allegory continues. The prisoner learns more about the cave, and decides at last to step out side of the cave to journey into a new realm. Harsh sunlight blinds the prisoner more than ever now. A flame is one thing, but facing an illuminating ball of burning gas, has got to do something awful to your retinas. So our hero here staggers out in the sunlight blinded again, but in the Real world for the first time.
(Although the sense of sight is primarily used in this illustration, let’s not forget that this prisoner is stumbling into new smells, sensations and tastes. There’ll be fresh air and the scent of flowers, the sun will warm his skin and he might even feel the wind for the first time.)
Once this guy can see, I assume his immediate response will be “WTF (What the f**k) I never knew a place so awesome existed!” This is a pretty idealistic allegory so try think of this stage as the prisoner in one of those romance movies. The sunlight warms his smile and he frolics in the meadow, with butterflies around him, and the distant sound of stringed instruments accompany his laughter. All is perfect when he stumbles on a pond, and looks into it. He sees who he really is now. The prisoner not only sees his own face, but the detail, his blue eyes, brown hair, etc. He is overcome by tears. Think Orlando Bloom in a romantic drama…
This drawing I find more informative in its verbal detail. The bottom caption is very helpful.
Plato would now say that the prisoner has reached and experienced the true world of the Forms. He is in the ultimate perfect world. Plato believed that there was a place where everything was perfect. Not so much a tangible place, but more of a state in which true Forms (that we would experience on earth) existed.
Take a butterfly for example, somewhere in the world of the Forms there is the ultimate ‘butterfly-ness’. The thing is we can tell what a butterfly is even though they don’t all look the same. So there is a state (outside of our normal senses) in which a perfect blueprint of everything exists. This goes for everything including emotions, thoughts and desires.
Unfortunately, this nursery rhyme does not have a happy ending. Once outside of the Cave, the now enlightened prisoner goes back to tell the other prisoners what they need to experience. This is meant with fierce hostility. This guy seems not only crazed, but arrogant and most definitely delusional. The initial prisoners freak out and beat him to death.
Why? Well, he was so far advanced; that what he said had not even entered their frame of reference. The reason there are stages in the development, is because that adjustment in itself is so massive. Skipping a step would be like jumping from diapers into the adult world. You’re simply not ready, and would either become traumatized, angry, or both.
In a Nutshell
I know that people aren’t always good with long explanations, so I’ll give a short one. The second illustration I found is very succinct. Here’s a quick four part tutorial to sum up.
1 We haven’t even learnt to believe. We simply accept way we see with no argument. We see the illusion for what it is, and base our understanding on what is there.
2 There is evidence behind the unknown. We now believe the facts (since skepticism has stopped us from simply accepting).
3 This more in-depth question that was used to counter the illusions. We start to ask…Is believing enough? Surely we’re just emotionally accepting what evidence we see? We now start to rationally battle concepts, we previously listened to with irrational responses.
4 We have integrated rationality with spirituality. We don’t accept what we feel because we ‘sense’ there is something greater. This is beyond sensing to be frank. We Know (intuitively) what is there, and have the courage to face the ‘true’ world…The World of the Forms.
Why the Steps?
The steps are a guideline. They are a symbol of spiritual growth and our progress from not understanding all the way to intuitively ‘Knowing’. If the prisoner that had broken free from the pack was taken into direct sunlight…he would’ve been permanently blinded. This explains that criticism of fundamentalist faith systems (from a superior source) turns on the aggression since they do not ‘know’ the true world.
So what is my point after all of this?
“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
– Teilhard de Chardin (French geologist 1881-1955)