Have you seen The Truman Show?
It’s a film about a guy named Truman who lives in a simulated life that is completely predetermined and broadcasted to a TV audience. Truman has no idea his life is inside a TV set… and no idea that the reality he sees is not the reality that thousands of people watch from their couch.
The thought experiment here is that each of us lives in a ‘Truman Show’ of our own making. We relate to our perception of our lives as if it is objective, as if the events and circumstances are the furniture in a room.
Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is a pre-modern version of The Truman Show.
To deconstruct the bondage of our own perception, let’s look at the anatomy of the “cave” we live in our lives.
Cave 2: Personal Outer Experience
This is the area of our lives that we’d call our life story or path. If you’ve ever heard someone say, “I didn’t expect my life to go this way” or “I’ve been unhappy for so long,” there’s a good chance they’ve been stuck in a cave here too.
Here’s the anatomy of this cave as an allegory for our own lives:
- The Shadowson the wall: The shadows we see and relate to as reality are your perceptions of your life and what’s possible for you. They also represent your experience of your present circumstances.
- The Objects Casting the Shadows: Your circumstances – the events, people, and geography of your life.
- The Light Behind the Objects: This is why you see your environment the way that you see it. Often, our fears and previous life experiences color our perception. Sometimes our desires determine how we see our circumstances, and sometimes our beliefs.
- Outside the Cave: Outside the Cave there are life paths that seem extraordinary, unusual, mythic, or ‘beyond you,’ an open field of potential in any direction.
Ashton Bingham for Unsplash
Here’s an example. Take Joe, he’s 35. His daily thoughts and actions have been hardwired as automatic habits by this age. He works at a cellphone company in Chicago and has 2 kids and a wife. They live in a suburban middle class home.
Joe perceives that his life is in order, he would say he is successful. He’s done “all the right things.” He has ‘normal problems’ like insomnia and occasional anxiety, he feels very busy and he’s not very close with his wife anymore. He had a dream of living on a houseboat and teaching fly fishing from home with his kids close by, while his wife sells the cakes she likes to make so much. But the kids need to go to a good school to get into a good college, and that requires a good income, so, it wasn’t ever available for Joe.
Seems like a familiar story, right?
- Shadows: Joe’s suburban American life, and what he sees as available.
- Objects casting the shadows: The job, the wife, the kids, their school, etc.
- Light behind the shadows: Joe’s beliefs about what success looks like, his fears of challenging conversations, his beliefs about money, etc.
- Outside the Cave: What Joe doesn’t know is, one of his kids won’t attend college at all, and the other one will get a full ride scholarship for e-sports gaming. He knows 4 people who want to learn to fly fish, and there’s a tea shoppe looking for 2-3 cakes a week with occasional special orders. On and on. It’s all available, but he doesn’t see it.
Navigating Outside Your Own Cave
As you well know, us westerners have a very specific box of what it looks like to fill our basic needs. Go to school, get a job, get married, have 2.5 kids, get a bigger house, retire after working an hourly equivalent of 9-10 years doing whatever there is that pays you (and is respectable).
The shadows on this cave wall have been seen and believed by so many people that they seem exceptionally real. Which means… The pull of this path is extremely strong. Exiting this cave is hard unless you have someone in your life – a real person or a legend you hear of – who went rogue.
These are artists, inventors, geniuses, and free spirits on the fringes who seem to pull new experiences out of nowhere and have a bigger horizon than can fit inside a cave.
MR TT for Unsplash
The Practice of Getting to Overland… And What’s Up There
Here are a few great questions to start seeing the limitations of your own life path:
- Am I genuinely happy in my work, relationships, health, and life direction?
- Am I excited about the way my life is going?
- What would my ideal scenario look like?
- What’s stopping me from moving toward it?
- What am I sure is not possible? Who do I know that has made something like that possible before?
- What’s the worst case scenario of exploring something else?
- Am I ashamed or afraid of wanting something other than the way my life has turned out? Where did that come from?
- What are my values? Are they clear in my choices with my time, career, family, social life, and health?
The idea here is to go to the edge of your constructed reality and see if “the way things are” is the only way things are. Just like Truman at the end of The Truman Show (spoiler alert)… bust a hole in the cardboard blue sky caging you in, and look outside at the freedom of choice available to you.
• • •
To continue this journey, check out Cave 3: The Final Frontier. It’s about the western civilisation machine we’ve created, where it comes from, and how to start making one that makes us (and the planet) happy.
- Cave 1: The Cave of Your Mind
- Cave 2: The Cave of the Life You’ve Lived So Far
- Cave 3: The Cave of a Society Ready to Change
What resources have helped you to leave the cave of a predictable life? Comment / Reply
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