Journeying Out of the Cave

“This process of the good life is not, I am convinced, a life for the faint-fainthearted. It involves the stretching and growing of becoming more and more of one's potentialities. It involves the courage to be. It means launching oneself fully into the stream of life. Yet the deeply exciting thing about human beings is that when the individual is inwardly free, he chooses as the good life this process of becoming.”   - Carl R. Rogers

We humans have the power to heal ourselves! This phenomenon hit me when I was in my first psychology class at San Francisco City College. I was eighteen and felt like I had just discovered an exotic jewel. I realized for the first time in my life that I was more than what I thought I was - I had the power to change my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and in turn, these changes could alter the events in my life. This sounds like a superpower, right? So with this new superpower, I embarked on what would become a lifelong journey into self- improvement. As I was learning all about family dynamics that semester, I enlisted in psychotherapy bootcamp. Doing mental and emotional push-ups each day with the new tidbits of knowledge I learned in class, I was able to stretch these concepts during my weekly sessions with my therapist. His name was Bo. This gentle, humorous, and empathetic man created a space in which I could quench my craving for a deeper understanding of how my childhood experiences had shaped me.

This newfound information was a gift and a burden. Suddenly I realized that everyone, including the people I loved, also had the same superpower. I was in class one day when this realization dawned on me. Through moist eyes, I could barely make out the overhead slide in front of me. Were my fellow classmates in on this discovery? If everyone had the potential within them to develop and become a better human, why wouldn't they want to try? Wasn't this at the top of everyone's priority list?

That is the question. I now understand just how much more is involved than simply wanting to change. Some truly don't have the emotional or mental capacity, and countless others prefer the comfort of numbness and complacency rather than face the pain, uncertainty, fear and even joy that accompanies journeying upward. I was one of them.

As I shared with a dear friend recently, I never thought I could be a happy person. The forever bubbly and upbeat person that people saw on the outside was filled with a mountain of doubt, sadness, and a lot of fear. I was afraid of the unknown, afraid of what other people thought of me, afraid of not being in control. I was comforted by the tight grip of anxiety. A blanket that shut me in and shut out new experiences. But, like that lone prisoner in Plato's Allegory of the Cave, I doubted my perception of reality. I believed there was a different way - a way into the light.

After twenty years of going through the spin cycle and hanging myself out to dry, I was beginning to feel different. It wasn't necessarily better, but different. With each passing moment, I was inching toward the light. Some days, a hair forward, others days a great leap. Some days there would just be stillness where I could feel the soft glow of a distant sun on my face. And then, two years ago - in a small, quiet moment of not looking ahead or behind me - I was catapulted out of the cave. Just as I wasn't looking, a miracle happened.

At first, the light was blinding. My life went from black and white to Technicolor. The vivid reality of being outside the cave that had served as my trusty protector was both wondrous and frightening. Could I survive? Could I learn a new language? Could I learn a new way of being here? What if I'm fully exposed and there's nowhere to hide?

The journey continues for me, but I've certainly learned a new way of being. Each day it changes in some small or big way, and for this I'm eternally grateful. How lucky am I to have been gifted with this human experience?! I fully accept my charge - to choose happiness, to face my fears, to love fully, to carry compassion always in my heart for others, and most of all to continue launching exploratory (and sometimes downright silly) expeditions in search of a better me.

Most of all I believe in this - that miracles are possible. They don't have to be felt by others. They are happening within us each and every day. I believe that we all have a light we are looking towards. Some of us can see it clearly. For others, it is still dim. Don't be afraid to search for the path that leads to your light for fear off the rough terrain or what lies waiting for you on the outside.

I wouldn't want to be any other species on this earth because as a human, I have the opportunity and privilege to reach out to another being every day. When two souls touch, magic unfolds. A fire ignites that is impossible to extinguish. There in this flame are the electrons of higher energy - hope, trust, and forgiveness. This interactive dance, this positive interaction - is what leads us to real freedom. Freedom from whatever cave we may be hiding out in. A freedom that give us permission to accept ourselves and others as works in progress.

Feeling true happiness for the blossoming of another person is perhaps the best aspect of the human experience. It requires abandoning the feelings of self-doubt and judgment that we harbor in ourselves.  In this space, we set the stage to truly see others as they are and through this act, compassion mirrored back to us, giving us the self-love and understanding we need.

Open up your heart, reach out and take the hand of a friend or family member inching their way through the cave. In this process, we have an opportunity to leave ourselves for the moment and witness the miracle of another human being growing and changing before our eyes. From this, we too are changed. We walk on separate paths but in the same direction - towards the light.