Thursday, July 29, 2010

Shifting to Right Paradigms

It’s Time for a Paradigm Shift

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 paradigms, 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 realize 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 outside another box, search for another paradigm that works 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 significantly wrong seems to demand it, and even then, we are often slow to make paradigm shifts, even when 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 strong-willed.

In the case of major paradigms, like the five listed below, our attachment to the paradigm is often so deeply rooted that it is built into our biology, our genes. Our instinct for survival, for example, is such a strong attachment that we don’t even sense that it can be changed, even though it obviously hinders 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 five of our major paradigms, all of which meditation suggests need to be shifted:

If I get more of what I want and what I think I need or ought to have, then everything will be alright.
This is the biggest and baddest of all the 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.

I am not responsible for my state of mind.
This paradigm blames others for how we feel. This allows us to blame the people and stuff around us for our states of mind, absolving us of responsibility for our anger and other unwholesome responses. It is, after all, the neighbor that makes us angry; the “lousy” weather that ruined our vacation.

I am always right.
Regardless of what we do or think, we know that we are always right. Which makes anyone who disagrees wrong. Consider that even when you did something you thought was wrong, you believe that “under the circumstances” it was the right thing to do.

The best way to live is to find fault in everything.
This is hard for us to recognize, but we are always looking to make things better, to find the fault in what is happening and correct it. Tis paradigm makes us perpetual fault-finders, never able to comfortable in our own skin.

I can multitask.
One of the early observations from meditation is that we can only have a single thought at a time. We can’t think two things simultaneously. Which means that when we are multitasking, we are actually jumping back and forth between tasks. That raises our anxiety level and prevents us from performing any of the tasks optimally. This paradigm tells us it’s ok to listen to music and drink coffee and drive at the same time. And that’s not a good thing.

Until we understand our false and faulty paradigms, and that they are a source of stress and anxiety rather than of peace, 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 suffering, our Big Dukkha.

Right Paradigms

Here are two right paradigm shifts suggested by meditation:

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 chemo-therapy treatment for cancer, 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 confident.

Our responsibility to ourselves, our families, our friends, and the world, is to use each moment to lessen our dependence on paradigms that create suffering and to act in ways that lead to longterm peace, happiness and well-being.

This means to walk the path. Regardless of your spiritual tradition, walking the path is being morally disciplined and doing what is needed to develop and act from wisdom.

For Buddhists, this means taking the road not taken, which is the Middle Path.