I have mentioned Plato many times on this blog, for several reasons first, as Alfred North Whitehead puts it, “All western philosophy consists of footnotes to Plato“ (also if you haven’t seen my friend Matt’s blog Footnotes to Plato you are missing out) and second, because on a personal level he should have been my boyfriend. I’m taking a really amazing class this semester on the creative imagination and our first session dove into how Plato was very anti-artist and poets for many reasons explained and unexplained. While I have now found one topic I don’t necessarily agree with him on (all couples do have places of tension and disagreement), I was simultaneously reminded of several pieces of his work that I am continuously deeply moved by.
Truth, goodness, and beauty seem the fundamental values recognized for ages as the intrinsic qualities from which all others derive and it was Plato who first noted them. I appreciate the way Steve McIntosh describes them as, “…a million shades of color can be mixed from three primaries, so too can a million shades of quality be traced back to these primary values.”
Plato’s appreciation of “the trio” can even be found in the Encyclopedia Britannica stating:
“Truth, goodness, and beauty form a triad of terms which have been discussed together throughout the tradition of Western thought. They have been called “transcendental” on the ground that everything which is, is in some measure or manner subject to denomination as true or false, good or evil, beautiful, or ugly.”
Plato’s Cave Allegory from The Republic speaks to another kind of truth, of the transcendental and human kind. It depicts a group of people chained to a wall seeing shadows created by a fire (which they believe to be real) of things passing by. In this way he describes human life as out of touch with reality and names our experience of catching glimpses of divinity in moments and then going back to the dark. In this way our relationship to spirituality becomes a forgotten dream and our reality as the dark cave. He describes the philosopher as a prisoner who is freed from the cave and then understands the shadows on the wall as false images of reality. In that moment the she can perceive the “true” (there’s one of those words again) form of reality rather than the mere shadows seen by the prisoners.
Why do we live in this cave and why do we not know our true nature? And is it really philosophers who are free or all spiritual seekers?For this I love the Greek myth of the River of Lethe in the underworld. According to the legend, the dead are required to drink from the waters in order to forget their Earthly lives. (Lethe literally means “oblivion”, “forgetfulness,” or “concealment”and related to the Greek word for “truth” aletheia, meaning “un-forgetfulness” or “un-concealment.”) Plato speaks of the “plain of Lethe” in the Republic and some ancient Greeks believed that souls were made to drink from the river before being reincarnated, so they would not remember their past lives. The myth goes that some people drank more or less and my modern-day consciousness studies mind believes this would be how some people become enlightened or not knowing the beauty of their true being.
Lately I have been intrigued by what keeps us away from knowing our truth and experiencing goodness and beauty. For me it is when I start thinking too much. So far (bear with me as this is a new inquiry) I agree and realize that with Plato’s pursuit of truth, beauty, and goodness these are all qualities that we can recognize. I believe all of my most spiritual experiences have life occurred when I recognized something falling into these categories. I don’t feel particularly emotional, except for when I come into contact with something true, beautiful, or good…I can’t help but cry. Something in me becomes so moved by these “concepts” that it is a direct channel/line to my soul. As if my soul remembers where it comes from and for a brief moment I return to that place. We are taken beyond our cave and small selves with these ultimate recognitions.
We experience these values in a purest form during moments of moving beyond thoughts creating emotions. While this post sounds incredibly Greek-oriented I acknowledge this wisdom is also found in many of the Eastern traditions, for now I am focused by the way in which these sorts of experiences transcend culture and religion. As humans we seem to know intuitively the importance of these values. Plato’s philosophy (along with other spiritual truths) puts me in touch with the goodness, beauty, and truth residing within myself. Even more interesting to me is noticing my mind’s inability to do this. One of my favorite authors David Hawkins, who wrote “Power Versus Force” and “I of the Eye,” speaks about the problem of this false idea that intellect can somehow put us in touch with truth.
Philosophy has this assumption at its core (just like science), that by thinking and questioning something we can find out the truth about it. It has been a frustration of mine for as long as I can remember (I must disagree with my BF Plato here), I don’t believe that debating or pondering what is true or about beauty brings us any closer to the answers. The mind can determine things to be logical — it cannot help us know what to believe for the sake of truth, that’s the job of the soul. As an individual expression of a larger divinity, our soul acts as a compass guiding us towards truth, goodness, and beauty. By listening to our inner guidance we can find the answers unavailable to us through our minds.
You may already “know” everything in this post, and I thought I did too. How different it feels to “know” something with your soul and not your mind. This seems to be the current path of my philosophical journey — navigating my truth using my soul as a guide continually bringing me closer and closer to the true, good, and BEautiful within myself.