February 2

The Land of the Blind

February 2, 2011

Personal Growth

For years I was a Boy Scout leader, and I took groups of young men all over the country as we hiked, camped, canoed, climbed, rappelled, and explored caves. Before each caving trip, every boy was told to bring a flashlight and extra batteries, but inevitably somebody would show up unprepared.

One afternoon Sean, fourteen, came to the cave entrance without a flashlight. When we were deep in the cave, I suggested that Sean and I walk ahead to explore one of the branches of the cave. After walking for some distance, I turned off my flashlight and muttered something about it being broken. Sean expressed his concern about the darkness that enveloped us.

I told him to sit down and wait while I returned to the group for a light source. Intentionally, I began to walk in the wrong direction—away from the main group of boys—and Sean began to speak, "Hey you're going—"

He would have finished the sentence with something like "—the wrong way," but before he could say that, I made a loud scraping noise with my boots as I flopped to the ground and screamed something unintelligible.

For several moments Sean was shocked into silence, assuming that I had fallen into a deep crevasse or hole, and his mind was racing. He couldn't see anything, he was in a strange place, and he was afraid to move. Then he remembered the stories I had told about people who had taken a wrong turn in a cave and were never seen again. There were other tales of wild animals that had wandered into the caves and gotten lost. You might have to be a guy to get the twisted humor of this.

Sean began to call out—softly at first for me and then louder for help. To his credit, he did not panic. He remembered my other stories, about fear being the greatest danger for people who were lost. Sean remained calm.

In the depths of a cave, the silence is absolute—no wind, no passing cars, no music in the distance. You begin to hear the blood moving in your head and the air stirring in your lungs. When you add the silence to the darkness, the result can be quite unsettling.

After several minutes I tossed a small pebble beyond Sean in the direction of the group, and I heard him looking in every direction for the cause. I threw another pebble, and he called out.

Silence. I waited. We both waited. I twitched my boot slightly on the ground, making a scratching sound. He jerked his body around in my direction, again remembering the stories of wild animals. Silence. I felt his fear, like a palpable vibration, even an odor, that fill our cavern.

Having no wish to scar him for life—though not hesitant to play with him a bit—I switched on my flashlight and spoke his name. In an instant, Sean knew there were no wild animals, he knew I wasn't dead, and he knew there was nothing to fear. With a single flash of light, his relief was complete, his confidence restored.

Finally, he smiled broadly and said, "You tricked me."

I put my arms around him and said, "This is why we bring flashlights into a cave."

"I think I'll remember next time."

When we returned to the group, Sean was eager to tell everyone his story, smiling and actually flattered that he had been the object of such an elaborate ruse.

We're all in the dark about many things. When it comes to the purpose of life and the workings of relationships, most of us are completely in the dark. We don't understand ourselves or other people, a darkness every bit as profound as that found deep in a cave.

In the dark, every "bump in the night" is a terror. Every sound—every experience with another human being—provokes fear. When we don't feel sufficiently loved—and when we're not sufficiently loving—we tend to see every action and every word as a possible source of harm to us. Every pebble thrown and every scratch on the floor becomes a wild animal or life-sucking monster. We even make up threats in our minds, creating sounds and sights that do not exist.

In the presence of Real Love, the lights come on, and immediately we see that all those frightening "sounds" were just illusions resulting from our blindness. We realize that the real problem was the darkness. We see that when people behave badly, they're just thrashing blindly in a cave, making noises that we interpret as threatening. In the light, we see that we have misinterpreted nearly all the sounds we've heard. And now we can react much more productively to these sounds, as opposed to being imprisoned by the fear and insanity that reign in the darkness.

Real Love lights the way. It reveals the truth of every situation. It frees us from the darkness and illuminates our way to genuine happiness. And the effects can be as immediately profound as the switching on of a light. Oh sure, we still have to use the light. We still have to walk the path, but how much easier it is—and more fun—to walk in the light, even if the way is twisted and sometimes difficult. We do not need to sit alone in our caves, suffocating and frightened in the dark. There is always enough light available. All we have to do is switch it on.

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