Radical Thinking and Dramatic Shifts in Perception

May 3, 2024

I use the phrase paradigm shifting to refer to the cultivation of radical thinking. The word radical comes from the Latin word radic, which means root, and so radical thinking means thinking below the roots. Our thinking, and as a result our entire perception of reality is built on a vast network of unconscious assumptions that shape what we experience.

We often, somewhat naively, believe that reality exists more or less the way we experience it, but this is not true. The combination of deep spiritual work and existential inquiry has the power to liberate our awareness from the influence of unconscious assumptions. When the doors of perception open we can be thrust into a vision of reality so vast that it leaves us in a state of awe and wonder. We realize that our previous experience of reality was only a very small part of the whole, and we are inspired by the promise of unlimited potential.

What keeps us from seeing beyond the veil of the familiar is the fact that everything we think rests on a host of mostly unconscious assumptions. In order to know that the sky is blue, you have to know what blue is, and what a color is, and what the sky is. Each of the thoughts that we have is the very tip of a mountain of ideas that we hold as true.

Some of the ideas that underlie our thinking appear to be so obviously true that it never occurs to us to even look at them, never mind question them. These are exactly the assumptions we need to examine if we want to open the door to radical thinking and paradigm shifting.

There are depths at which ideas about how the world is put together, are so integrated into life that they have become invisible. These are the ones to watch out for.
– Nora Bateson

Humans have a powerful capacity for abstract thinking. We create ideas in our minds that represent things in the world outside. Unfortunately, we often confuse our ideas about reality for reality itself. We end up being afraid of things that only exist in our minds, wanting things we can’t have, and at the deepest level of our psyche, creating a self-concept that we think is the sum total of who we are.

Spiritual enlightenment is a paradigm shift ignited by the most radical inquiry of all, the questioning of our own existence. The fact that we exist is so obvious that we never question it, but this is exactly the depth of radical thinking that leads to enlightenment.

Over the last thirty years I’ve experimented with forms of inquiry that question our existence in ways that can lead to dramatic shifts in perception. We can start by asking a simple but highly unusual question like, Who is thinking my thoughts? If you look closely into questions like this something amazing happens. You don’t get an answer, but you begin to shift into the state of consciousness where that question is an obvious one to ask.

I used to refer to these kinds of contemplations as wormhole inquiries, but more recently I prefer to call them attunements because you are using the question as a tuning instrument to enable you to move into the place where the question feels natural.

For instance, one would only ask, Who is thinking my thoughts? in the consciousness where one recognizes that they are not the one thinking them. This depth of detachment is radical because the assumption that we are thinking our thoughts underlies all of our experience. Now you see that your mind is an unending stream of thoughts and you don't actually know where they come from. They just appear in front of your mind’s eye. They are not your thoughts, they are just thoughts, and you are the awareness that is aware of them. This is the dawning of enlightenment.

Another example of a breakthrough in perception that I experienced through radical thinking happened when I was exploring the nature of the fourth dimension a few years ago. I learned that our three-dimensional reality is the surface of a fourth dimension in the same way that three-dimensional objects have two-dimensional surfaces. I was walking around attuning to the question, What if this were all the surface of the fourth dimension? when suddenly everything around me seemed to become translucent and I saw the infinity that existed just beyond this world. I walked around in that state of expanded consciousness for hours and it permanently altered my perception of reality so that now I feel aware of infinity even though I seldom see it as directly as I did that day.

In a retreat environment we have the time and space to engage in radical inquiries by asking questions that upend our most fundamental assumptions about reality. In this way we can release habitual patterns of thinking and perceiving and ignite an inner revolution that awakens us to a larger reality.

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