Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Coping With Stress: Stress Relief According To Socrates (Part 2)

Bust of Socrates in the Vatican MuseumBust of Socrates in the Vatican Museum - Image via WikipediaBy Doc Orman M.D.

Question: What's on your wall?

No, I'm not talking about your Facebook wall. I'm talking about the wall otherwise known as your mind.

Plato's Cave

I'm talking about "your wall" in the sense of Socrates' famous allegory known as "The Cave" or sometimes as "Plato's Cave."

In this famous story, as documented by Plato in the "Republic," Socrates describes a hypothetical civilization where all the inhabitants lived their entire lives within a large underground cave, with no exposure to the outside world. All the inhabitants were chained so they couldn't escape and so that they could only face forwards and not look behind, around, or above them. All they could see (and experience) in their lives was the back wall of the cave which was directly in front of them.

Unknown to them, there were other people in the cave behind them who maintained a big, perpetual fire that both illuminated the cave and cast shadows on the cave wall in front of the prisoners. From time to time, these people would hold up various statues and figures of animals made of wood that would cast moving shadows, in addition to the ones created by the captives themselves, on the back wall of the cave for all the imprisoned inhabitants to see.

Over time, these shadows became the only "reality" the chained inhabitants knew, and they became comforting and accepted as "real" by the group.

What Would Happen?

The question Socrates posed after describing this hypothetical community was this: what would happen if one day, a member of the community escaped from his chains, ventured outside the cave, experienced the real world, and returned to share what he had learned with those who remained trapped within the cave?

What would happen if this individual explained to the group that a light source had been present behind them and that the objects on the wall of the cave were not "real things" themselves, but were only shadows of objects that were being displayed behind them by other individuals?

Socrates' conclusion was that the prisoners within the cave would not welcome this new information. It would be so disturbing to their established beliefs about "reality," that no matter how accurate and truthful the new information might be, emotionally and psychologically they could not embrace it.

In fact, Socrates maintained that if the "escapee" continued to challenge the group's shared illusions, eventually the group would turn upon him, ostracize him, or perhaps even kill him.

What "Shadows" Do You Take As Real?

Now the story of Plato's Cave might seem like a very extreme and unrealistic situation, but people actually do function this way more than we like to admit. Whatever "realities" we strongly believe about life, we protect fiercely, even in the face of logic or evidence that reveals them to be incorrect.

So once again I ask you, what's on your wall? What beliefs do you hold so dearly that you would emotionally find difficult to question? What beliefs about stress do you hold that you would be reluctant to surrender? What beliefs about relationships have you formed that you would be reluctant to examine?

What beliefs about yourself do you hold very dear? What beliefs do you have about your potential in life? Or the possibilities for happiness and success that are open or closed to you? What beliefs do you have about health and about sickness? What beliefs do you have about money, about investing, about the opposite sex, about the human race, about different ethnic groups, about truth, about integrity, about romance?

You see, we all are more or less prisoners within our own Plato's Caves. We've got lots of outdated, incorrect theories, opinions, beliefs, strategies, etc. that we may be reluctant to question. And even if we run across better ideas and strategies, we are often reluctant to explore them because we know, deep down inside, that if we do, the chances may be good that we will have to relinquish our pet belief or theory that has become so much a comforting part of our view of the world.

Now, why did I choose this topic for a blog about stress relief? Well, depending upon what's on your wall, this will determine, in large part, how much or how little stress you have in your life.

Now I know you might not believe this, but that's just because you have other things on your wall about what causes stress to occur. All I can do is invite you to consider that what I am telling you is true, and then I will leave it to you to explore the implications (or not).

Mort (Doc) Orman, M.D., is a physician, author, and stress coach who has been helping people eliminate stress, without managing it, for more than 30 years. He is author of "The 14 Day Stress Cure" and the sponsor of National Stress Awareness Month, every April since 1991.

You can follow his unique and innovative stress relief blog at You can also download his free, 30-page, PDF stress mastery training "Common Myths About Stress" at (no email or registration is required).

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