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The Cave I Feared to Enter

Examining the dark within me

Creeper-covered trees with distance view of sky
A cave of creepers at Evergreen.

I’m tentative when it comes to visiting caves. As I line up to buy a ticket to gain admittance to the Jewel Cave near Augusta, Western Australia, I think of other things I’d rather do than go into a gaping hole in the ground: cut my toenails; clean all the plugholes in the house; fly to Antarctica for a year.

But I pay and follow the tour guide. I clutch the handrail like it’s my lifeline, take shaky steps, and dart nervous glances at astounding stalactites that are only visible because electricity was discovered and tamed. If all the lights go out, or the earth shakes, or I slip off the path . . .

When we emerge into the sunlight, I fight the urge to fall on my knees and worship it.

Joseph Campbell, a world mythology expert and author of The Hero With a Thousand Faces, is accredited with a popular quote:

The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.

He wasn’t referring to tourist caves that have guides, rails, and lights, but to the cave inside me holding a jumbled collection of things I fear, deny, or refuse to examine.

Pema Chödrön, in her book, When Things Fall Apart, refers to things we keep in the dark as personal demons:

They are anything that makes us so uncomfortable that we continually run away.

For thirty years I ran away from a personal demon I’ll call arrogance. This arrogance was based around the belief that I was a member of the Chosen Ones. There were only 144,000 of us — that’s how arrogant I was. Of the four billion people in the world at the time, God had selected me to be one of His favourites. This was heady stuff. I believed that those who didn’t attend my church were going to experience a very nasty Apocalypse very soon.

I stored this arrogance in a cave I never visited, despite occasional mental promptings to do so, like when specific church prophecies about the end of the world failed to come to pass, when ministers shouted at me from the pulpit every Sabbath, when the church started falling apart as an organisation, when I was touched by the kindness of ordinary, wicked people God hadn’t called to be Chosen Ones.

I was vaguely aware that life wasn’t making sense, but I feared to enter the cave to examine the black shape of my warped, arrogant belief that a paradoxically loving but vindictive God was on my side. That belief needed to be dragged into the light of day to be looked at, poked, sliced open and discarded. Only then would I find the treasure I was subconsciously seeking.

I knew, at a deep level, that going into that cave and dismembering my arrogance would set me free.

Entering that cave to face up to years of false beliefs and my denial of reality wasn’t pleasant. I writhed more than the beast of arrogance did in its death throes. But when it was done, I found the treasure of total freedom.

Now I’m no one’s favourite.

I’m just me, walking the earth, avoiding tourist caves and organised religion, and doing as much good as I can until I die.

With love, Marlane

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