Yoga and the allegory of the cave
When I first studied the allegory of the cave in high school, I thought it was silly story; I didn’t understand it. Humans are chained in a cave with a fire behind them. They face away from the fire towards a wall. Between them and the fire is a walkway. People march back and forth with objects. The chained people see only the flickering shadows and hear only footsteps and the crackling fire. This is their reality.
If a prisoner were to break free from the chains, he would see that his reality represents but a sliver of what exists, what is possible. The initial experience of seeing things beyond the cave could be stressful, scary and even painful. His first glance into the fire would probably blind him. His first foray outside the cave would challenge everything he knew to be true and real. However, after some time, the man would adjust to the new reality. He would learn that the sun is the “source of the seasons and the years, and is the steward of all things in the visible place, and is in a certain way the cause of all those things he and his companions had been seeing.” (Source: Plato’s The Republic. New York: The Modern Library) If later the man were to return to the cave, he would be unaccustomed to his original conditions. He would not be able to see the shadows clearly. He would tell ridiculous stories about the sun and objects making the shadows on the wall. His fellow prisoners would say that the man returned with worsened vision and logic. They would not want to be freed and the man would suffer.
Sound a bit like yoga? This is not about asana practice, but rather the iceberg that lies beneath. What started as a way to exercise has revealed itself to be so so much more. At this point in my journey, I have broken free from some chains; I can see that I’ve been looking at shadows. How much more do I want to see? How important is it for me to be accepted by my fellow prisoners? How important is it for me to see the sun?
To be honest, these are questions that I have not answered yet. Maybe I have studied enough; maybe I will pursue more; maybe a trip to India. The thing I do know is that yoga has shown me how little I know and how much I can be (in every sense of everything). And that has made all the difference.