Friday, October 15, 2010

Out of darkness into light . . .

When a house guest and I arrived at my home last Tuesday evening, the first of the Chilean miners had already come up to the surface. As we watched the second emerge from the capsule, our guest asked "Why are they wearing sunglasses? It's the middle of the night?" My wife, who had been watching, told us the reason: to protect their eyes after so many weeks underground. Their eyesight had adjusted to low levels of light. The brightness of even the artificial illumination surrounding the work site would be painful. And then, of course, there'd be the issue the next day of actual sunlight! (The front page of the Denver Post today carried a photo of the men still wearing sunglasses in the hospital!)

I was reminded of the story of Plato's cave (from The Republic, 514a-520a). In the story (my rough paraphrase!), prisoners are chained to the floor of a cave, unable to turn and look at the entry. They are only able to look at the back wall. Behind them, puppeteers are controlling the "reality" the prisoners are able to see. Finally one prisoner is freed, and is able to face the mouth of the cave. He is no longer looking at shadows but light. He has to relearn everything! And eventually the painful process or education is accomplished. And he can do new things!

The miners will have to re-acclimate. Those sunglasses will come off. And the world that they knew three months ago will be long past, as they deal with book offers, opportunities for interviews and trips to Graceland (now THERE's reality!). And my suspicion is that the miners will want to take those glasses off; they will want to enter into in the changed world. Some have already spoken of the good they wish to do.

On the other hand, there are many of us who are reluctant to remove our shades. The blurred reality to which we've become accustomed is safe as it is. In a conversation with some parents this morning we talked about the vicious nature of expectations at colleges and universities like DU. Whether those expectations have to do with relationships between students, or the level of involvement that needs to be reflected on resumes once college is done, the pressures are intense. And, we noted, they begin in secondary schools (or even before!). We talked about how we all are , as members of this pressure-ridden society, complicit in perpetuating the situation. We don't feel we can take of the glasses and see-and confront-an oppressive reality. And we and our students suffer.

The Chilean president has had his "glasses" forcibly taken off by this disaster turned miracle. The global spotlight has challenged him to make some changes in regulating the mines and other industries. I wish him well, as do those folks in Chile who are currently giving him an 80% approval rate. If he is forced (by politics and the market, for example) to put back on the "glasses" that led to these kinds of disasters, a major opportunity will have been missed and justice perverted.

Enlightenment is what I'm really talking about here, I suppose. Enlightenment, for Buddhists, is that recognition of the Truth that most of us never sense. Other religious traditions have the same concept, but may not call it "enlightenment". The biblical character Job, for example, at the end of God's self-disclosure and questioning, proclaims "I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you" (Job 42.5). That's enlightenment! In that process for us, our glasses are removed and a new, hopefully better, reality confronts us, and compels us to act.

It is a spiritual exercise of major significance to labor to remove our own glasses. It is risking pain and dislocation as we seek to find a more just, humane, and stable place to reside. It is also a spiritual exercise to refuse to hang on to those glasses when situations (like the Chilean mine disaster or a relationship breakup) force them off. The light comes on. We are turned to the mouth of the cave. From darkness to light. May we have the strength to walk to that light!



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