Plato's Allegory of the Cave: Plato imagines a group of people who have lived chained in a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall by things passing in front of a fire behind them, and begin to ascribe forms to these shadows. According to Plato, the shadows are as close as the prisoners get to seeing reality. He then explains how the philosopher is like a prisoner who is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall are not constitutive of reality at all, as he can perceive the true form of reality rather than the mere shadows seen by the prisoners. (Wikipedia)
Over the weekend, I headed down to the Grand Canyon to run Rim to Rim to Rim with my friends Krissy, Monica and Ellen. A nice quick girls weekend that included tons of laughs, photos, fun and running. We were there only briefly but I experienced a nice feeling that has eluded me for a while. I had a sense of reality. What I mean is that unlike most of the year where I have felt like the things I do were aberrations, exceptions, not my real life, I realized over the weekend this is my life. And that is pretty cool. My "real life", not the shadows on the wall include kick ass girls trips to the Grand Canyon and weekday runs & trips to the bakery. For most of the year, while being a wanderer/vagabond, I always had a sense that I was knowingly looking at my shadow and believing it was reality. Better put, I always felt that the things I was doing, experiencing and living were outside of my "normal" "reality". I felt uncomfortable accepting that what I was looking at was not in fact a shadow at all of my reality, it was the real thing. My life is pretty cool and when I accept where I am, embrace where I am it becomes even cooler because I am not racking myself over the coals with guilt that I should be living a different life. I feel less anxious now that I have started to accept where I am. Its a beginning.
It is a gradual process working through the brambles and weeds that come with forging a new path for yourself. I feel like I am undoing slowly but surely alot of the defense mechanisms (self-defeating as they are) that kept me in the confused limbo/existential crisis state for a while. First, I had to decide on a home. I needed grounding. I decided I had roots and thus, now I feel as if I have them. Disappeared is the anxiety at the end of a trip/travel, where I feel like I want to hurry on to the next thing instead of just lingering at the end of the last. It was ironic that as we flew back from Flagstaff that my flight was extremely delayed. It caused me no anxiety, I found myself just able to pass the extra hours in a neutral mind and not be thinking about the next thing and the next thing and the next. I knew I would be home and life would kicking sweep me up so quickly, that I would be begging for quiet moments like the ones spent sitting on an airport floor eating kale salad from the co-op with friends. I am embracing where I am. It is funny that I have spent so much time not doing that, since one of my fundamental mottos to live by is "Here and Now". I have spent much time not being in that space, we all have. I accept that, forgive that and move on. Much too much to do, trying to undo those things.
Once I decided on home and roots, I moved on to working on accepting where I am. Embracing where I am. For me, it has been hard to accept that what I was looking at was not in fact shadows on the wall. This is my life, my reality. I think there is some fear involved in really facing our lives and giving up the shadow life. For when we give up staring at shadows, we are faced with the reality that we can create our lives and our journey, instead of being resigned to be pushed along by the forces of life.
Acceptance and resignation are such fundamentally different things. When we accept things, we are allowing them to be as they really are. We can work to make it better or different, but in the end when a healthy (i.e. when we use good boundaries) amount of work has been done or cultivated, we take it as it is at that moment. For instance, I am learning to accept where I am in life, does that mean I won't continue to improve my life and cultivate the things on my journey? Of course not. It is a journey after all. I know that right now I have to keep myself open, work on accepting things, people and life but proceed unafraid.
Resignation is different. Resignation is trying to push water up hill in vain and then succumbing unwillingly to the reality of the situation. We try to change what fundamentally is far past the point of being healthy. We waste so much time and life not accepting things and resignation is inherently painful in the end. I have done that, we all have. There are things in this life that are really really hard to accept like loving someone who doesn't love you. We fight tooth and nail for it not to be our reality, resist acceptance and ultimately wound ourselves so throughly that when we finally resign ourselves to it, we have not only wasted time and energy, we have scars to carry with us potentially for a long time. Ironically, I did not accept my life for a long time. I was keeping myself from feeling comfortable in something that is, in fact, hugely positive and good for me. Now immerseing myself in it, it is like wadding into an ice cold creek after a race to ice. At first it is shocking a bit, but then as you slid under the surface you adjust, you find out its not that bad, and sometimes, you even find that you like it. You accept it. You don't resist it.
I find it intensely interesting to examine what things in my life I am accepting and what if anything I am resigning myself to. What shadows am I looking at and calling it reality? What shadows am I looking at knowing they are not reality and pretending they are anyways? What at this very moment can I work on accepting instead of resisting? What is a small step I can take to be more fully present? I like where I am, here and now, I am accepting this moment. And that is a huge small step. I accept that forward progress cannot always be made, that sometimes I will go in circles. But to let go of some fears, move something off of my plate that didn't need to be there in the first place, feels really amazing. The shadows of life playing on the wall can hold us in rapt attention for a while, but ultimately life with it light, shadows and shades in between is a much sweeter thing.