What makes paradigm shifting so challenging is that a new paradigm cannot be built from inside the existing paradigm – and we all live inside the existing paradigm. We have experiences beyond the current paradigm, but we don’t live there because it’s not established enough to live in yet.
We cannot build a new paradigm, because we ourselves – our identity and our consciousness – are a construct of the existing paradigm. In fact, new paradigms are not built – they are born. When you give birth to something you allow it to come through you from some mysterious place beyond you. That is why the profound release of spiritual liberation is a necessary step in the emergence of a new paradigm. We have to give up control in order to become a vessel for the emergence of a new paradigm.
The first thing we must do to give birth to a new paradigm is change the habitual set- point of our consciousness. We have to shift where our attention habitually comes to rest when we are not actively using it.
In the current paradigm, our consciousness always wants to remain stable in the experience of knowing. When we feel uncertain about the things around us, we feel nervous and we can’t relax unless we figure things out. Even when we feel secure in our understanding, we find ourselves constantly checking to make sure things remain the way we think they should be. Imagine if you were sleeping in dark woods full of dangerous animals. You could never relax because you’re afraid to fall prey to an attack.
Because of our need to know, our consciousness is set so that it rests in some degree of nervous self-protection. This is why so much of us suffer from various degrees of anxiety. Of course, most of us don’t live in dangerous woods anymore, but still we have suffered enough to keep this survival instinct alive. Consciously and unconsciously we have developed an overwhelming mental habit of constantly wanting to know that we are safe and, therefore, constantly checking to make sure that we are.
From a personal point of view, this habit means that even in secure circumstances we remain locked in habits of fear, worry and excessive self-concern. These habits consume our precious human energy and severely limit what is possible in our lives.
Here is a common anecdote that illustrates the problem. This morning, for about ten minutes, I couldn’t find my wallet. I was pretty sure it wasn’t lost because I knew I had had it the night before, but I still found it impossible to go on with my day until I had found it. As I had assumed, it was simply misplaced and I found it fairly quickly, but for those few minutes it was impossible to do anything but search. Similarly, a great deal of our lives are consumed in search of an illusive sense of security that will never be found. While we remain locked in that existential predicament, we are not available for much else.
Our individual preoccupation with maintaining this illusory sense of security inhibits the emergence of a new paradigm. We are not available for the birth of something new because, as soon as we experience the inevitable insecurity of transformation, we feel compelled to focus all of our energy on returning to the security of knowing. We cannot give birth to a new paradigm unless we are comfortable in the unknown.
Our consciousness is currently set to always return to the security of knowing, and, when it comes to shifting into a new paradigm, it works against us because everything we know exists in the current paradigm. Any experiences beyond the current paradigm are unintelligible to us, and our habit is to immediately try to understand them by recasting these experiences into terms we can comprehend. This neutralizes their transformative power by wedding them to our current sensibilities.
To appreciate how subtle and profound the art of paradigm shifting is, we need to recognize that a paradigm isn’t just something we live in, it is something we are. Moving out of the current paradigm is like trying to remove yourself from your body. You simply can’t. In an essential way, you are your body. Even though your body is not the limit of who you are, you do not exist without it.
In the same way, even though the current paradigm is not the limit of who you are, you do not exist without it.
Paradigm shifting is like removing one side of a sheet of paper. You can’t remove one side of a sheet of paper because paper can’t exist with only one side. Or, it’s like removing an air bubble from water and trying to hold it in your hand. Once removed from the water that gave it shape, the air that was held in the bubble disappears. Similarly, you can’t be removed from the current paradigm because that paradigm is what shapes you.
In our deepest experiences of mystical insight and spiritual revelation, we discover that we are not limited by the current paradigm. In a mysterious way, we exist beyond it. We are more than what we can know.
These experiences can be frightening or delightful, but either way they take us beyond what we know and knock us far beyond the comfort zone of the known. When the experience subsides, we feel an overwhelming urge to try to understand it and return to the security of knowing.
Inevitably, that means explaining what we experienced, to ourselves or others, in terms that can be understood from within the current paradigm. More often than not, our journey into a new possibility ends up being reabsorbed back into the current paradigm through our attempt to understand it. Those of us who want to participate in the birth of a new paradigm need to shift our set-point from secure knowing, to open receptivity.
I teach meditation as a way of resetting our set-point. I ask people to sit in meditation and not make a problem out of anything that arises in their experience. Eventually, this leads to a deep state of open receptivity. In that state, we still want to discover more, but we don’t feel the compulsive need to nail down what we discover by understanding it. We are willing to pass through one experience after another, moving further and further beyond our current understanding of the world. We are not afraid to travel beyond the known. We have become fluid and free.
By resting in this state for prolonged periods of time, we become acclimated to it. It feels more and more comfortable to us, until it becomes our new set point.
As this becomes the consciousness that we naturally rest in, we begin to experience cascades of insight and intuition that come from a place beyond what we know.
Giving birth to a new paradigm means allowing these insights and intuitions to express themselves through us. This is not about understanding them. It is about allowing them to express themselves through us.
It is possible to get out of the way and allow our inner mystical revelations to emerge through us, in words, in art, in movement, even in theories and conceptions. When we do this, we are allowing the source of these revelations to have direct access to the world – free of the distorting influence of interpretation.
To do this, we must learn to act profoundly spontaneous, allowing things to come through us before we have any idea about them. We become empty vessels for a new way of being. We create things that even we do not understand.
These mysterious creations carry the energetic vibration of a new world of possibility, and as that energy gathers, it amplifies, and becomes available so that more of us can align with it and express it.
There are a few areas in my life where I experience this spontaneous creativity regularly. When I teach and write, the concepts and the metaphors I use stream through me and I only become aware of them as they emerge. When I paint and create art, I often don’t recognize the painting that appears through me. And finally, I’ve trained in an ancient Hawaiian form of spiritual massage called Ancient Lomi Lomi. While performing ceremonies, I feel myself guided through the massage; engaged in a delicate energetic transmission that seems to happen all by itself.
Sometimes, on my retreats, we explore discussion practices in which individuals gather in the space of open receptivity to share from a deep source of wisdom and compassion. It is similar to what I’ve seen in Quaker meetings. It seems that many people are ready for the tender vulnerability of sharing directly from Source together. What emerges as we speak is often utterly surprising and always illuminating.
My work is focused on supporting the birth of a new paradigm. That means empowering people to communicate their deepest realizations of a different possibility through whatever medium they choose – art, literature, entrepreneurship, science, technology, etc.
Our capacity to give birth to a new paradigm depends on our willingness to rest in open receptivity and then engage in spontaneous creation individually and together. This is the essence of what I teach.