This is the cave in which doubt, fear, and inhibition speak in whispers lightly amplified, echoing faintly off thick walls, filling your ears with the sensible nonsense of less. The voice is familiar, what it speaks is familiar, its tone and content the wearisome comfort of conventional mediocrity, repetition, and limitation in the face of more, much more—the more you know, even in your darkest, most troubled moments, is truly out there. You’ve seen it, felt it, touched it, barely.
You see more when you relinquish your lazy grip on the mundane and its attendant hesitancy, when you remember to let yourself look and imagine, trusting your eye, gazing wishfully, hopefully, with the longing vision of your too silent, sometimes near-dormant dream sense. You also see it quite accidentally at times, just by chance, when it catches your attention from the periphery and surprises you with its proximity and presence. It was there all along, it seems, just beyond your daily routine, right outside, illuminating your little world. It is sublimity, truth, beauty, and love. They’re intertwined, these ephemeral, life-sustaining and life-defining elements, reciprocally nourishing each other in the beautiful, natural balance of the possible and meant.
For much of my life I wished, hoped, and to an extent believed on rather limited evidence that such truth was real, possible, believed that, embroiled in it, deep within it, people could see themselves and each other with a clarity, understanding, and openness as shrewd and purely transcendent as a fundamental principle should be. I had a sense that purposes, desires, and indeed complete beings could be perfectly and fully intertwined, that pure, unqualified understanding, seeing self and other with a penetrating lucidity that simply knew, with an openness inspired by thoughts simultaneously encompassing past, present, and future, was not merely the product of some received or conjured romantic fancy, just one of my silly, unrealistic idealisms. It would be boundless, serene, purposive, simple, and accepting, I thought—it had to be.
Turns out it is. In the strangest way, true love was always right there, just a few paces away, but I was too obstinate and confused to fully believe it, too lost, too distracted with searching and performing and too affixed to the notion that I’d find it without rather than within. It was a more or less constant presence, guiding me, inspiring me, leading me sometimes toward and sometimes away from what I knew I needed and needed to be and do and give. I would even linger with it on occasion, commiserating here and there, enjoying, noticing, wondering, and letting go just enough to know it was real but never enough to let it be. And so it would creep into silences, and I, still unsure of the implications of giving myself over to the full bore of its influences, would inevitably withdraw, receding into the cave’s familiar confines.
Yet as I grew through the troubles and trials of life, just life, I thought, I became more accustomed to the idea of truth’s existence, in spite of me, in spite of anything, and for and through it all. A kind of desperation pushed me through the errors and incongruities and through something that seems like a process of elimination led me to trust in the possibility of more. Just the possibility, and that in itself felt like enough. It was a place to start; right where you’ve been and with what you’ve always somehow known is as good a place to start as any, and might be the best. How else could I know what was wrong without some conception, however vague and uncertain, of what was right, even if I lost sight of right sometimes and buried myself in wrong?
And so bits of clarity began to show at the edges of my central murk, breaking down the absurd distinction I had so long maintained between in here and out there, this inner darkness and the spectacular light and openness beyond, allowing me to detect outlines of what was happening and why, why it seemed all else lacked what I had so long hoped, wished, and imagined was not only generally possible in the broadest metaphysical sense but perhaps even mine to attain and live by. The amalgamation had begun, a brightness lengthening across the floor, reaching to my toes as I stood in the cool dark, advancing over my feet and up my legs like afternoon sun. Emboldened, I instinctively shuffled a few small, tentative steps forward to speed its progress, completely infatuated with the simple, natural resplendence of the everything just outside, desperately curious to know if it was for me after all.
But that was it, those tiny steps were as far as I’d let myself go; I remained hesitant, pensive, disbelieving, resistant, afraid to just step out. Out there was life, whatever and everything that needs to mean, and in here was its poor approximation—deep down I knew that. Yet irresolution still held me to useless wondering about what unexpected obstacles I might encounter out there, worrying about how I might (mis)handle them, imagining how difficult it would be to step boldly into the open, into the clear light and pure air and acknowledge the limits I had become so adept at placing on myself and my expectations as each little glimpse of truth, my truth, in fact, turned in on itself and turned on me to say don’t even think about it, it’s not yours, not you, and never will be.
Becoming so accustomed to this push and pull, I considered settling indefinitely for fragments of life, beauty on the fringes, sublimity in moments stolen here and there from just existing, as if such a partiality were possible. You can convince yourself of almost anything in the cave.
What lunacy, to say goodbye to all that makes life worth living as though you’ll simply see those things later, some other time, and maybe, if things change (somehow magically on their own, without your effort and dedication), something more might come of it. I had gone so far as to accept the false contentedness of a life in tragi-comic segregation from sublimity, quarantined behind a silly, flimsy little wall that conveniently concealed the very self-pity, fear, and doubt that kept me stuck in what my stuckness would insist was my rightful place. But of course it wasn’t, I just put myself there, put myself there and walled myself in.
* * *
There’s room out there, nothing but space, space to live and grow and be, not like in here. Isn’t that the point, to live? How could I possibly prefer this, to waste away my brief existence in the temperate, predictable comfort of an affected dystopia? I wondered if I was trying too hard, needing too much, imagining things, being impractical, if what I sought was entirely too ethereal, that the world wasn’t big enough or beautiful enough for such a thing. So I found ways to remain entirely too sure that what I saw out there in the light wouldn’t last, wasn’t as pure as I wished to think, or both.
At one point I had all but given up—and it is not easy to recover from acquiescence. But, just when I had reached those depths and begun to wonder if in fact I was truly meant to experience nothing else, nothing more than this (and if such an experience was even worth continuing), I saw it in a dream, as silly as it may sound, and it was as beautiful, real, full, easy, simple, and serene as I had ever found the strength to imagine it should be. It came to me, truth came to me, a personified ideal and personal need, with the truest, deepest connection and affinity. We said not a single word but only gazed, embraced, floating together in a shimmering pool, her lovely long hair wet, arms on my shoulders, hands clasped behind my neck under some impossibly glorious dream sunset.
I know a dream is a dream, but I also know some dreams are different. That dream awakened something in me at precisely the time when I had sunk to one of my lowest lows and I could not smooth over the impression it made on my consciousness. The wall crumbled a little and so I would occasionally extend myself out into the light, sometimes just an arm or a leg, soaking it up and hoping it might enter my bloodstream and eventually reach my detached, troubled frame of mind to alter its constitution altogether. Relieved in the way only truth can authorize, I felt the utter impossibility of maintaining that false pretense of partiality and fragmentation in the face of such a magnificent and strange thing. I couldn’t hide, couldn’t pretend, couldn’t resist. It’s hard to remain in darkness once you’ve seen and felt even a little of that light. That’s all your soul speaks. Truth told me that in silence, with nothing but a look.
Devoid of all context and inhibition, that sheer, stunning, elegant fullness, that beautiful presence persists in demanding a participation I can no longer resist. The lightly rustling leaves, the warm breeze that enters, the sun shining down on me and a truth that is and has always been my own—I cannot deny them as I once could. Doubt has become powerless before the thought of life, real, actual, living life, freely and openly pursued under those pure, unconstrained influences, and, trance-like, I sit and imagine the feel of a near-mythically lovely hand reaching back if I happen to lag behind somehow preoccupied or frozen in the moment to pull me along, adoringly, excitedly, sometimes even wildly to the next thing, around the next corner.