Monday, January 24, 2011

Our Ultimate Responsibility

It’s Time for a Paradigm Shift

What Meditation Teaches Us about Facing Cancer

By Carl Jerome

We make decisions based on certain underlying assumptions we have about ourselves and our world. These notions, which are called paradigms, guide and in fact determine our every action. These are our habitual responses to the world. They are “the box” in the phrase “thinking outside of the box.”

We don’t start thinking outside of the box until we become convinced that the box isn’t working. When things don’t feel right, when they just don’t seem to make sense, when we can’t find the answer we’re looking for, we might search for another box, search for another paradigm that works or at least works a little better. When we make a change in our modus operandi, it’s called a paradigm shift.

It is important to realize that we don’t make changes until something significant seems to demand it, and even then, we are often slow to make paradigm shifts, sometimes in spite of the fact that our paradigm is debilitating. We tend to keep fighting to make the current paradigm work. Perhaps in the case of minor paradigms because we are stubborn or hard-headed.

In the case of major paradigms, like the two listed below, our attachment to the paradigm is often so deeply rooted that it is built into our biology. Our instinct for survival, for example, is such a strong paradigm that we don’t even sense that it can be changed, even though it can hinder us when we are attempting to save our lives. When our fight-flight paradigm is activated, we become tense and anxious. An anxious and stressed mind hinders us from seeing clearly and making the best choice under prevailing conditions.

Regardless of their magnitude, paradigms are all habits, and what we learn in meditation is that all habits can be changed.

Here are two of our major paradigms, both of which meditation suggests need to be shifted, especially in view of a cancer diagnosis:

1. If I get more of what I want and what I think I need or ought to have, then everything will be all right.
This is the biggest and baddest of all paradigms, for it leaves us always wanting and never satisfied. It says that we should base our lives on greed. It tells us to always be striving, never to be content.

2. I am healthy.
This paradigm  falsely deludes us into thinking we will always be healthy. It prevents us from recognizing that getting sick it is the natural process of life and that sickness is simply a part of aging. It makes it impossible for us to remain clear-headed and fearless when illnesses occur, which is unfortunate because when an illness is life-threatening, that’s when we need to be really calm and clear so we can make appropriate decisions about treatment.

Until we understand our false and faulty paradigms, and how misguided they are, we won’t search for new paradigms. And until we not only search for new paradigms but actually make a paradigm shift, we will remain unable to address our most serious challenges, medical or otherwise.

The Key Paradigm Shift

Here is the new paradigm suggested by meditation (and the bodhisattva vows):

Our responsibility to ourselves, our families, our friends, and the world, is to use each moment to be of benefit to ourselves, our families, our friends, and our world.

Whether we are having lunch or deciding on a chemotherapy strategy for a recent cancer diagnosis, the paradigm is the same: do what is least harmful and most benefit to oneself, others and the world. This is a giant paradigm shift. And perhaps the most important realization that comes from meditation. Because when we do what is most beneficial, we become peaceful and make the best decision, even in face great difficulties and hardships.

As our paradigm shifts in this direction, self dissolves and we deadhead toward liberation.