The man, the cave and the question…

A man goes into a cave, alone, with a question.  After a period of time in solitude, the man emerges from the cave with an answer.

Question: if the man went into the cave alone, spent his time alone in the cave, and emerged alone, by what means did the answer to the man’s question become realized?

In this post, I hope to teach myself a lesson, and perhaps share what I learn with you, dear reader, as you read along.  One thing you might ask yourself, is, what kind of lesson could I be possibly trying to teach myself with such a seemingly simple question?  After all, isn’t it obvious that the only source of an answer in a cave with a single man in it, is the man himself?  Well, let’s find out.

Let’s call the cave that the man goes into “the cave of answers”, simply because the man goes in with a question and comes out with an answer.  What magical property of the cave gave the man the answer?  What was the question – and was it so simple that the man simply figured out the answer within the cave?  Was the cave what gave the man the answer, or was it the man himself who materialized the answer within the cave?

The cave is an ordinary, quiet cave, with a sandy, packed-dirt floor and solid, rocky walls.  Inside the cave, only a small amount of yellow-white sunlight pours in during the day, and pale moonlight by night, through a small opening in the roof of the cave.  No life makes itself  present in the cave – no plants, no animals, and no insects.  It is nothing more than rock, stone, sand and dirt.

The man enters the cave alone.  In a way, the man in the cave alone is much like the question in the man’s head – a lone question in a cave seeking an answer.  Of course, in the man’s head are all kinds of things that might provide an answer, but, sometimes the answer is not there.  The answer is not in the man’s head, just like the answer is not in the cave.

Or is it?  In the end, does the answer come from the fact that when the man entered the cave, the swath of light cut out of the dirt floor formed a shape that the man recognized as familiar, a shape that would later turn out to be part of the answer to his question of geometry?

Or could the color of the sand be the answer to the question about the shade of brown with which to paint?

Could it very well be that entering such a quiet ordinary cave as this could in fact provide an answer to any question?  Well, it might be difficult, but the neat thing about the “cave of answers” is that it always has an answer, even if one is not obvious.  The “cave of answers” always provides an answer dependent on he who enters it.

We know this – a cave, such as the one described above, does not itself provide the answer to the question.  The cave simply exists and it is the man’s experience within the cave, whether prompted by the man himself or his presence in the cave, which provides the answer.  Sometimes, the cave may not even provide the answer at all – which is, annoyingly, kind of an answer in and of itself.

I think we are all very much like this man in the cave.  We have one or many questions locked away in our heads, and the only answers we will ever truly know come from ourselves and our experiences.  We can fill our caves with knowledge from study, exposure, discussion.  But ultimately, perhaps, the answers we seek come from ourselves.  We may receive input and stimulus from people, or things, but the answers we find are like the decisions we make – generated from understanding which is formed within.

So the man goes into the cave, and it does not matter whether the man answers his own question or the “cave of answers” provides it to him.  He goes in with a question, and emerges with an answer, or an answer in the lacking of a specific answer.

It was the experience of going into the cave with a question that leads the man to the next step – to the next question or to the answer he sought.  Without going into the “cave of answers” seeking one, the question might never have been asked, the experience never had, the progress never made.

To end, I have heard it said before that “the answer is the question”.  Perhaps the lesson that I learned from this thought exercise tonight is, to not ask the question – to not, in fact, live the question by entering the cave and seeking the answer – to not, in fact, have the experience – is not to live at all.

Better that we should ask the question and seek the answer by living the experience.  We must take care not to enter the cave and never be heard from again.  Better that we should enter the cave with care with our question than to persist with the question unanswered in our heads for eternity.  No question that enters the “cave of answers” ever goes unanswered.  Remember – even the lack of a specific answer is a kind of answer too.

Our head is like that cave – we fill it with questions, and the answers are in there somewhere.  Sometimes we need to look inwards to find the answer.  Sometimes, we can’t answer our own questions directly – so we keep looking and keep living.

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