Living and Working Between Paradigms

We hear a lot these days about “paradigm change” or old versus new paradigms. So what is a paradigm? What does this word mean that we toss about so freely these days? A paradigm is a set of beliefs, traditions, attitudes and structures that form the basis for the way we think, live and work in the world. Paradigm changes have historically been born out of some radical, sometimes off-the-wall theories while the rest of the world remained firmly set in a previously adapted paradigm. An example frequently used in science is the Copernican Revolution, where prior to the realization that the Earth revolved around the Sun, civilization deemed the reality to be the opposite. Some paradigm changes take centuries to gain legitimacy with the masses, some take only decades.

We are presently in the midst of a major paradigm shift in the way we human beings think, the way we think about each other and our world, the way we experience reality. Not what we think about but how we think. When paradigms change there is a period when the older one is losing credibility and legitimacy while a new one is being born. As the existing well-entrenched paradigm begins falling off in acceptance the new one is gaining legitimacy with growing numbers of the population. If you can imagine, one curve starting to drop while another is on the rise, following the same timeline. The gap between the descending path of the failing paradigm and the emerging new one is that valley between the old-tried-and-true and the yet-to-be-fully-revealed.

Paradigm shifts need not take centuries as many have through history. The length of time between one paradigm losing credibility entirely and the new one being completely accepted will vary depending upon how readily people let go of the old and adopt the new. This is where understanding what’s going on can facilitate more rapid adoption. After all, when you understand the nature of the changes underway you will be less inclined to fear the process, more trusting in allowing the new to be birthed. Instead of resisting the emerging paradigm people can become midwives, ushering it in under more welcome circumstances.

When one’s consciousness or thinking is tied to the paradigm that is losing legitimacy, one might panic, like when one is riding a roller coaster that starts its rapid fall after cresting at its peak. After all, the existing, established paradigm is what we have been living in for some time. It is familiar territory. We have learned how to function in it and how it works. We may have even developed some expertise in dealing with this paradigm so we are used to it and rely on it immensely.

In contrast, the new paradigm is completely unknown, unfamiliar and untested. No one has developed any mastery over it. Embracing a new paradigm can be very scary. Parts of the old paradigm may still apply in the new, but we don’t know which ones. Some things we learned in the past we will need to unlearn. What things, we do not yet know.

Compare the way we think to the operating system in your computer. It makes a huge difference which operating system runs your computer since all of its other functions are based upon the underlying system. Similarly, it makes a huge difference which “operating system” we use in the way we think. To continue the analogy, is the system architecture open or closed?

David Berenson, MD, is a theorist of fundamental change, based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In a recent conversation with him, he said, “our operating system is irreversibly contaminated from within itself.” He pointed out how we may have moments of realization, even powerful transcendent experiences when we suspend our thinking, like taking a short holiday from it, but so often we return to the primary system. In other words, sometimes we can temporarily override the operating system of our minds but we are rarely able to transcend it permanently.

I see this in my own life all too frequently. I have a peak experience and feel wonderful. I see joy and love as the true reality and recognize huge possibilities for us all as enlightened human beings, consciously evolving to exciting new levels of freedom with responsibility. Then I re-engage the world and all the systemic forces that accompany living and working in the consensus reality. I go to sleep again, going about my familiar routines and, before I know it, I’m back in the old mindset which is based upon separation, scarcity and fear. My transcendent experience becomes a mere memory like a holiday vacation rather than a new way of living my life.

Transcending the old paradigm – truly living moment to moment in the new one – requires that we humans give up something we think of as very precious. This treasured attachment is the way we have been thinking for all our lives, the old operating system. Thinking dominates our lives, the way we live together, the way we work and the way we relate to one another. The operating system for this thinking that we’re so attached to is based upon a context of fear, scarcity, materialism and separateness. As a result, all choices, behaviors and attitudes we hold are strongly influenced by this context.

Mystics and philosophers have told us for centuries that love is an absolute truth, a context for life on Earth, and the balance of life requires equal emphasis on both the material and spiritual. The founders of these United States applied this wisdom when they started a nation built on freedom to pursue material wealth as well as spiritual enlightenment. Social scientists tell us that there are ways for all of us to live together and have sufficient resources for everyone’s basic needs. Modern day physical scientists have demonstrated that we are indeed all connected, at a molecular and resonance level, all part of one whole. Yet, our old thinking refuses to accept this wisdom. Despite the evidence, we hold on for dear life to our outdated core beliefs and act accordingly every day.

How do we give this up? How do we let go of such deep-seated thinking? Continuing the computer analogy, we need to replace the operating system. The present system of thought is truly “outmoded” as Einstein pointed out decades ago. While people may know that he said this, we live each day as if he was either stupid or completely wrong. Closer to the truth might be that people simply don’t know what he meant by another way of thinking!

Please don’t assume that I have the blueprint for the new operating system. But people like David Berenson, German mystic Martin Buber, and certain other philosophers and mystics have a pretty good start on what’s required. Part of it includes being in dialogue with one another, not intellectual discussion or social conversation, but true dialogue. Part of it includes appreciating senses that we in the West may not be familiar with any longer. But some of these lost senses are quite natural. Animals and indigenous people can sense things we can’t. Senses for resonance, texture and subtle energies of all sorts have been deferred to the five physical senses over the centuries.

Another part of this new operating system includes accepting a direct relationship with Divinity, not a religious fundamentalism steeped in convictions and adamant points-of-view, but comfortable spiritual partnerships with whatever we call that “power greater than ourselves.” Part of it is getting up-to-date about what science is telling us now, not what we learned in school decades ago. Part of it is learning how to be more comfortable with paradox, without compulsively seeking to reconcile seeming contradictions and being more willing to live with questions. Part of it is allowing there to be a balance with both the masculine and feminine so that partnership exists in our collective approach to relating to one another in the world.

I struggle with my own thinking, often finding myself straddling the two paradigms, as if I have one foot on the dock and the other in an untied boat alongside. In times of challenge and stress, my habitual “default” has been to rely on the old system even though I “know” it is outmoded. I long to rely on the new paradigm, trusting it fully and engaging all those fears and other emotions in their full intensity. I may end up grasping the old familiar paradigm in desperation when it looks too scary and unfamiliar to rely on the new one.

On a societal level, many people are being challenged with this same straddle. If more people recognized this interim “between-ness” as a transition to a more appropriate paradigm for advanced human evolution, there would be less trepidation about this valley of uncertainty. Instead of fighting to maintain and shore up the old paradigm, there would be more embracing of the new. It is a time to let go of the old outmoded ways of being so we may take the next step in fulfilling our true potential. After all, this is hardly the peak for human development on Earth.

Can we achieve this transcendent shift to a new paradigm? Can we do so relatively soon, before the straddle becomes unbearable? Will the shift, once completed, allow us to create the better future that is eluding us right now? To all these questions, I answer a hearty “yes!”