May 24

Self-Authoring a Paradigm Shift

We live inside of a paradigm based on an assumption of separation and division. We have been trained to believe that we live in reality and we have been taught that the reality we live in is a universe of empty space populated by things that are inherently isolated from one another. And because this is what we believe about the universe, it becomes how we perceive the universe.

A paradigm is a set of beliefs and assumptions, often unconscious, that tell us about the nature of reality and in turn shape our perception of reality so that we see things the way we believe them to be. This is what makes shifting paradigms so difficult. The paradigm we’re in shapes our experience so that our perception continually reinforces what we believe to be true.

A paradigm is a story about the way things are that influences our perception so that it always matches the storyline of the existing paradigm. Just about every experience we have is inevitably absorbed into the storyline of the existing paradigm and that allows our experience to feel continuous and predictable.

Emotionally it is important to the human psyche that our experience of reality remains continuous. We have an existential allergic reaction to discontinuity. We want the present to be aligned with the past. We want to think that reality is ordered and predictable so that the past feels like an accurate indicator of what will happen in the future. If reality is discontinuous then there is no way for us to predict or control what happens next.

This emotional need for continuity helps explain why paradigm-busting insights and ideas have historically met with fervent opposition. In his classic book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn points out that the image of science as a progressive accumulation of increasingly accurate ideas about reality is a myth.

The true history of science is a succession of paradigms that are dominant for a time while they get filled out to greater and greater completion by the scientists of the day. Every paradigm is eventually challenged and replaced by a new set of foundational ideas about reality that are profoundly different than those they replace. Only in retrospect do authors of science texts construct a view of the history of science that makes the current paradigm look like the inevitable outcome of progress.

Science develops through revolutionary leaps in understanding that leave discontinuous gaps between what is and what came before. This is emotionally challenging for us because it implies that the reality of tomorrow may have nothing or little to do with the reality of today. It introduces an existential level of insecurity that is all but impossible for most of us to bear for longer than a few moments.

Those of us who are recognizing the limitations of our current paradigm and aspire to play a part in manifesting a new one must find the inner strength and emotional fortitude to face the existential insecurity of not knowing what tomorrow may bring. How terrifying and how exhilarating at the same time.

A paradigm shift is a discontinuous leap in logic and perception. The world before the shift is different from the world after. How is that possible? How can the world shift in an instant? The idea of it doesn’t make any sense, but that is only because it contradicts the idea of progressive ordered growth that our current paradigm insists on.

A new paradigm is coming, in fact its intimations have been felt in the hearts and minds of many people for hundreds of years. Many of us today have had intimations of a different possibility and we also know about the new ideas that are associated with the new paradigm. Of course what we know about a new paradigm often doesn’t help us inhabit it, because our ideas, as new and exciting as they may be, are always expressed in language, and the language we use is always intimately tied into the story of the current paradigm. Inevitably as soon as we explain even the most radical and revolutionary concept in words the language we use to describe it has already encoded the description with the assumptions of the current paradigm.

Those of us who are committed to playing a role in the effort of inhabiting the space of a new paradigm must find a way to face existential insecurity and open to unlimited possibility. There is a miraculous inner space that we can access when we open to the possibility of a future that is not limited by the past. In this space we realize that we honestly don’t know what is possible and so in a sense anything is.

The inner landscape that we must enter into is a non-conceptual space of pure experience. It is a space of experience without story where we come into direct contact with raw uninterpreted reality. Here we find ourselves in direct contact with the sensual ‘stuff’ from which reality is made. It is like walking into a well-stocked art room and realizing you can create anything from the materials you find.

Once we have entered this space of unlimited possibility we will be tempted to start creating right away, but if we, do our creations will inevitably be circumscribed by the existing paradigm. We will at best be able to create better versions of what already exists. We cannot create a new paradigm, because we are part of the story of the existing paradigm.

The self that we know ourselves to be is a subplot of the existing story of reality. We are a subroutine of the programming that runs the current paradigm. We cannot, from the vantage point of the self that we know ourselves to be, usher in a new paradigm, because we are an inseparable part of the current paradigm.

We cannot write the story of a new paradigm, but the new paradigm can write its own story through us if we let it. Once we enter into the non-conceptual space of raw possibility it is not our job to create. It is our sacred work to allow creation to happen through us. Whether it be in words, images or any other creative act, the most important thing is that we let ourselves be moved by something beyond who we think we are. We must tune into the energy of a different paradigm that is trying to find its way into this world and let it move us. Let it speak with our voice, dance with our bodies, love with our hearts, and think with our minds.

If we can do this, if we can allow something that truly abides outside of the current paradigm to live through us, then we can become the medium through which a new paradigm gets articulated. We are not the authors of a new paradigm. We are the medium. The author is the beingness of the paradigm itself. The story of a new paradigm will be autobiographical because the new paradigm must write itself into existence.