Last week I took part in an amazing online meditative class with my teacher, in which the preparation for meditation was very breath focused. And the reason it was SO amazing was that during the fifteen minutes in which I executed the Prāṇāyāma technique there was no other thought infiltrating my mind except the sound of my breath. My thoughts were one hundred percent focused towards the technique; I felt the rise and fall of my belly, the expansion and contraction of my chest. And I felt truly present.
Such moments occur rarely because usually when sitting for a meditative practice the mind starts to race from one thought to another, thus the practitioner is not attentive to the meditative process and is removed from the present moment.
In the online class, I experienced a moment of stillness, which afterwards gave rise to the thought of Plato’s Cave. I have been studying the Allegory of the Cave at the London School of Economic Science as part of a course on practical philosophy. Each week we take famous passages from Western and Eastern philosophy and we dive in to see them from a practical angle.
I have attached a video which describes Plato’s Allegory of the Cave in detail. In summary, imagine a group of people in a cave, chained such that they are immobile and are only able to see the rear wall; a fire behind them reflects shadows on to the wall in front of them. Thus the limits of their vision and the boundaries of their reality are those shadows. Then one individual is released, he sees the objects which produce the shadows, further ascends beyond the confines of the cave and sees the Sun. He is initially blinded by the intensity of the Sun’s light and it takes a while to transition to the new world, but once accustomed to it, he experiences beauty, and he sees an alternative reality to that which he previously knew. When he attempts to help his fellow cave dwellers, he is ridiculed and they resist being helped.
I realised after my meditative practice that we spend so much time thinking within the confines of our own perceptions and often these do not reflect reality; and we hesitate when presented with an alternative – ‘real’ – view, wavering in the face of present moment. We resist helping ourselves to see true reality … by ourselves!
Human beings experience the external world through senses; scientifically, we know from a physiological perspective that electrical signals are passed from sensory organs to the brain. Everything we see, hear, feel, smell and taste is assessed by the brain after receiving electrical impulses – even the room you are sitting in is actually your perception of the room based on the analysis of your brain. So actually the room exists inside your mind rather than outside it.
It’s one of the quintessential questions on reality that has been discussed by philosophers throughout the ages, is the world we perceive the result of what we analyse of what we perceive and, if so, what do we perceive in the first place and what do we analyse? To what degree is our analysis biased?
And this is what I think Plato was trying to address in his Allegory of the Cave … the shadows are perceptions created by our conditioning, which might have been seeded at an early age; the men inside the cave saw what they believed to be true because that was the limit of their experience. When one was released from his chains and made to see another reality, it was both painful and epiphanous – although it took time to accept the new reality. The light of the Sun is analogous to knowledge, which is sometimes painful to accept. So much so, that when he sees the truth and tries to help his former cave dwellers his reality mocked and resisted because humans do not like change, they prefer to remain within the confines of their preconceived notions – their shadows are their realities.
Back to my amazing meditative class: through concentrated focus on my breathing I managed to break the barriers of my preconditioning, to start to experience the objects behind the shadows in my mind, by seeing an alternate and more truthful representation of reality. I felt the present moment by exiting my cave and basking in the sunlight.
Plato was a student of Socrates and both often used the Socratic Method, a series of questions to inspire insight into a problem or philosophy, and in that vein, I ask …
What is true reality and why do we waste so much time trusting only in our own shadows thus missing the true reality of the present moment? How do we transcend the limits of our cave and bask in the light of true knowledge?
To create your own experiences of meditation where I provide you with tools to be fully present or atleast attempt to be fully present, try some of the Online or in person classes that mi-yogaḥ offers. Who knows what you might discover underneath those circling thoughts!!!