Paradigm Shift

The discovery of my gift after facing my personal wound, as life changing and liberating as it was, placed before me a new set of challenges. As time passed, I continued experiencing an increasing  number of things that I could not rationally explain. This was particularly difficult for me because through high school and college I had excelled in the sciences. I worked in a research lab as an undergraduate on a project that would eventually be submitted for publication, landed a my first job post-college as a laboratory manager/research assistant at a prestigious medical school, and had it not been for my illness and drug addiction, may have had a promising career in science. As odd events and synchronicities befell me, none of my prior educational background or training had prepared me to understand or cope with what was happening to me. I was confronted with the possibility of a weakening grip on reality; yet, such a notion proved a difficult pill to swallow. Day by day, I was becoming more functional and effective than I had ever been before. I realized that to begin to understand a paradigm shift was needed.

A paradigm is a mental construct or system that serves as a lens; we perceive ourselves, other human beings, and the world through them. The development of our own personal paradigms is a function of the way we interact with our environment and the beliefs, habits, and values we acquire or are “programmed” with through our experiences. The people we interact with, subcultures and cultures we are a part of, and the societies we live in are also integral to our paradigms. Most people are so deeply embedded in their way of seeing things that when confronted with anything in conflict with that viewpoint a common reaction is complete rejection of the idea by labeling it as false (cue Gollum voice), malignant, or both. A paradigm shift typically occurs when, in a short span of time, the lens we see through is bombarded with so many assaults that we are left looking at the cracks and questioning if it was the most accurate way of viewing things to begin with. Then begins a question, answer, and exploration process where we finally face the inconsistencies that we had been previously ignorant to and our understanding of reality and truth starts to expand and shift.

As my old paradigm began to crumble due to the deviation of my experienced reality from the things that I have previously been taught and learned, I launched myself into seeking answers from places that I had not examined before. One by one, I began acquiring and studying spiritual and religious texts from different cultures and time periods. The Bhagavad Gita, The Holy Bible, Tao Te Ching, The Guide for the Perplexed by Moses Maimonides, Buddhist Sutras, The Secret of the Golden Flower, and The Tibetan Book of the Dead were among those on my list. Keeping the concept of paradigms in mind, I tried to read these texts with an open mind, heart, and with an unbiased opinion. My goal was to focus on concepts and themes instead of details and, as I did this, I began to notice something fascinating. It didn’t matter what I was reading, it became clear to me that everybody was saying pretty much the same damned thing only from different perspectives. Think of a group of people in a large dark room. There’s a dimly lit object at a distance and everyone is trying to make sense of what they are seeing by attempting to characterize and define the object but because they are all observing it from different vantage points no one can agree on what they are seeing! In reality, they all see different facets of the same thing but become entrenched in the details only seen from their particular point of view, thus creating restrictive paradigms.

At the same time that the hidden threads connecting various spiritual traditions revealed themselves to me I was also reading about quantum mechanics and physics. Without pretending to be well versed in such a complex and convoluted area of science, what I took from it was that the laws of the universe and “reality” aren’t quite as concrete as we would like to believe. I read about extraordinarily clever experiments in which scientists teased out the inconsistencies and paradoxes inherent in the universe around us and showed that reality is not easily reduced to the kind of black and white thinking that most of humanity is so comfortable with. For example, it has long since been established that a photon behaves as both a particle and a wave simultaneously yet the behavior and qualities of waves and particles are so vastly different that the idea of something acting as both at the same time is in itself a paradox. Another even more thought provoking experiment performed at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN demonstrated that certain subatomic particles behave differently depending on whether they were directly or indirectly observed. This opens up the floor for a HUGE question: to what degree does consciousness influence the nature of reality?

None of what I read, spiritual or scientific, divulged to me the secrets of the universe and I cannot say that I have yet attained self-realization, certainly not enlightenment. What I did learn; however, was that science and spirituality aren’t as incompatible as history would have us believe. The field of quantum physics is where the boundaries seemingly segregating those two areas begin to blur and overlap. The most illuminating part for me was identifying particular passages in texts thousands of years old (most notably The Bhagavad Gita) defining theories that are now mainstays in quantum theory. As my mind continued to open and the restrictive walls of my old paradigms began to topple, I found it easier to understand my own experience of reality in a much more loving, accepting, and inclusive way. As terrifying and disconcerting releasing the restrictively dualistic ways I had been taught to view the world initially was…I have come to realize that the less I believe I know for certain, the happier I am.

The Shadow

If you have ever taken a psychology class or stumbled across the work of C.G. Jung, you have most likely heard the term “shadow” or “shadow-self”. The connotation of  “shadow” often leads people into misunderstanding its psychological significance.

In Jungian psychology, the shadow or “shadow aspect” may refer to (1) an unconscious aspect of the personality which the conscious ego does not identify in itself. Because one tends to reject or remain ignorant of the least desirable aspects of one’s personality, the shadow is largely negative, or (2) the entirety of the unconscious, i.e., everything of which a person is not fully conscious. There are, however, positive aspects which may also remain hidden in one’s shadow (especially in people with low self-esteem).[1]

As you can tell from the technical definition, the function of the shadow is transcendent of the concept of good vs. bad; it really only serves to house the parts of ourselves that we cannot consciously accept. It just so happens that, often, these are things that we reject about ourselves or that society does not accept but are truly qualities within us, and within each person for that matter. The ability to do both good and evil rests in us all. In my own case, when I was waist deep in the behavioral patterns of BPD and using drugs, my shadow contained the positive parts of myself that I could not express. At the time, I was not aware that I could be strong, reliable, responsible, patient, giving, loyal, faithful etc, because my conscious mind was too immersed in my vices and wounds to perceive such things.

Now that my frame of consciousness has shifted, I have been able to bring to the surface the positive facets of my personality. As all things must be balanced, that means my darker parts have shifted inward, into my shadow. I am fortunate to have been able to remain mindful during this shift, as many people choose to ignore the contents of the shadow and, if we ignore any part of ourselves, it will make itself heard in one way or another. When that happens, you have situations where you might feel shock and awe after seeing someone you looked up to or admired exhibiting uncharacteristically bad behavior.

The real challenge is to integrate the higher self with the shadow and, in fact, all the parts of our psyche to stop the seesaw effect their often conflicting dynamics have on our lives. It’s not as simple as refusing to let the shadow affect you. Of course it affects you, it is a part of you.  The key is to open a dialogue so that all parties feel heard and somewhat satisfied. How do we do this?

First, be sure to understand that the shadow isn’t necessarily bad or negative. It’s just different than the conscious part of you and, thus, has different needs. Using my own experience as an example, these days my shadow is often trying to get me to do things my conscious self views as “bad” or “wrong” such as having casual sex or smoking and having a drink after work. It would be easy for me to fall into the trap of siding with my conscious self, utterly rejecting such desires only to be totally stunned and ashamed when I finally broke down and did something I might regret. Instead, I try to listen to what my shadow is saying from the context of my higher consciousness.

From the things I mentioned, I understand that my shadow is reminding me that intimacy and physical touch as well as making time for relaxation and recreation are important to me in some way. It is my job to then take what I have learned from the shadow and find ways to satisfy its needs while still staying in line with my higher goals and values. If I manage to do that, everyone wins and I feel balanced with nothing to regret. Any person who is overly influenced by their shadow is simply heavily repressing or ignoring its attempts to communicate its needs in the only way it knows how: by sneaking in the back door because it gets booted swiftly out the front without getting a word in. The shadow is one of the several important constituents of our psyche. Without it, we cannot be whole.

Love and Logic

People often misconstrue the difference between thinking with emotions and following the heart. Letting emotion serve as the primary guiding force in decision making is, more often than not, reactionary and ego-based. Some event internal or external to you occurs; you feel something, and then you respond with an action to either enhance, maintain, or avoid what you feel. There is a stigma that thinking with your feelings is illogical. I tend to agree (I admit I was once the worst offender I could name). Following your heart is not reactionary, instead; it submits us to a kind of higher principle for guidance whose only criterion is always to found somewhere hidden within ourselves: love.

Following the heart does not mean that life will always be sunshine and roses. There are times when the direction our hearts take us are unpleasant, uncomfortable, and painful. Understand, we have the greatest aversion to the lessons we need to learn most, to facing the dark parts of our souls that demand to be recognized so the self can grow. Following a path of love always means growth but, at times, the process of growing is painful as we cast aside the parts of ourselves that no longer serve us and ascend into unfamiliar territory. In my own experience, there is no better catalyst for getting the ego to withdraw its pride and take a look at what needs fixing than genuine love. When you truly love someone or something, the object of your love becomes a mirror to the self and as you see the beauty in the thing that you love you, simultaneously, also see the less palatable parts of yourself.

It seems to me that to follow the heart and fearlessly go wherever it leads us is the highest form of logic because, though the road is difficult at times, it allows us to manifest one of the most positive and defining aspects of our humanity: a desire to improve who we are in relation to ourselves and each other. I believe that the human heart, untainted by trauma, is inherently kind, compassionate, patient, forgiving, and selfless. These are the seeds for good and, in following our hearts, we sow them, thereby doing our part to secure a future for our race. What could be more logical than that?

7.1 Billion Candles

The same basic issues and struggles have reoccurred throughout the entirety of human history, each time, dressed up differently. Most people, caught up in the seemingly unique current of their era, fail to see the pattern. I believe the collective solutions to the profound trials our race faces are to be found deep within the souls of each individual, not the external world. It is by looking within that we start to see we are connected. Change starts with each of us. I’ve said this many times before: we are one tribe; we go forward together or not at all. Do not let borders, race, or religion convince you otherwise. We find ourselves blindly subject to one of the oldest control methods that exists: divide and conquer. By encouraging us to focus on our differences instead of what connects us, the powers that be trick us into subjugating ourselves while the corporate world profits off of all the unique niches that arise from our differences. The only real sustainable solution starts with the individual. You, me, our friends, family, and coworkers must find the fire within and then use it to help light the fire in others, person by person, until the whole world is illuminated. This will take patience, tremendous strength, and understanding because we need to take responsibility for not only ourselves but each other so that no one gets left behind. We must show the greatest compassion to our weakest and most troubled links. It’s truly as simple as making small acts of kindness a part of your everyday routine. All it takes is being adding a little more humanity to everything you do. That’s it. There are no quick and easy solutions. There are no short cuts. There is no fast track. You cannot cut corners in this task. Let’s work tirelessly, together, and get it done.

How to Save the World Working Retail

As children, most of us had the innocent yet firm conviction that we would grow up to be something super cool like a fireman, astronaut, marine biologist, doctor, or even the President. Regardless of the profession, I am sure we all imagined that we would be making a difference in our communities, maybe even the world. My own youthful aspirations were grounded in a desire to help other living things. First, I wanted to be a veterinarian, then a doctor, then a psychotherapist. Sadly, a string of poor life choices took me far off the path towards cultivating what I thought at the time would be a respectable, rewarding, and well paying career. I eventually found my way out of my own metaphorical forest with the desire to help others still intact, however; the journey out meant that I had to rebuild my life from the ground up.

Far removed from the world of science academia that I had spent most of my education and first job post-college in, I sought work in retail to get back on my feet. I now work as a salesperson selling loose leaf tea and tea paraphernalia. Tea happens to be my biggest hobby so, I will admit, it is a bit of a niche job but it is certainly not where I thought I would be at the age of twenty seven with a great education under my belt. The store I work in is located in a busy mall. One day, I passed by a young couple sitting together in one of the lounge chairs. The girl was sitting in her boyfriend’s lap, his hand on her thigh, her arm around his neck, and in each of their other hands was a smartphone to which their faces were glued. It struck me as both sad and disturbing; even though they were physically close to one another, their attention and minds looked worlds apart. When I passed them again on the way back, not much had changed.

By just watching people, I have come to know the root cause of most of humanity’s suffering to be the systematic degradation of human connection. The worst part is, we are allowing it to happen. To illustrate my point, let me ask a simple question. How many people do you know who would rather text message than pick up the phone and talk to you? Are you one of them? Sure, technology offers us the ability to do things more quickly and to “multitask” but at what cost does it come? I often wonder if we are trading meaningful connection for convenience. It’s true that an increasing number of people prefer texting to talking. Many people choose online shopping, where you can pick out your desired item and have it delivered right to your front door with a few clicks, instead of having to visit a local store. You never have to talk to a salesperson. Now, most fast-food restaurants have apps where you can place your order ahead of time and pick it right up when you arrive, with minimal customer-employee contact. Social media allows you to stay in contact with many people but do you ever wonder if staying so “connected” and “social” is actually decreasing the quality of the relationships you have? Do you REALLY have that many friends? What does “friend” even mean anymore? What happened to quality over quantity?

I don’t think technology is inherently evil. It is allowing me to write this blog post online for others to read and (hopefully) benefit from, after all. It doesn’t seem to me that we are using it with the discretion we should be though. There is no emogi that delivers the same experience as actually seeing another person smile. Texting should never be a sufficient proxy for hearing the warmth in someone’s voice when they tell you “I miss you”. Seeing an LOL on your message screen will NEVER be as gratifying as hearing that you have ACTUALLY made someone laugh. In our attempt to go faster and faster and get more done, it dawns on me that we are leaving something behind: our humanity. Connecting with others in simple and meaningful ways is a concept that is becoming increasingly aversive and strange to people. As human connection becomes more foreign, it is easier to discriminate; it is easier to judge; it is easier to ignore suffering; it is easier to commit acts of violence; it is easier to take a human life.

We as a society can’t just do away with technology. We cannot move backwards, only forwards. Barring some cataclysm, we will never be separated from the technology that has become so deeply embedded in our culture as a species, however; I like to think that there is a solution to every problem and this one is no exception. Back in the 1960’s and 70’s it was easy for a movement to have a single figurehead or vanguard but that is in the past; we now live in the age of social networking. It is easy to think that, unless you are in a profession that is known for helping people, you can’t do much to change the world. I used to be one of those people but now have a different view. I think the only way to reinstate genuine and regular moments of human connection into our lives is to simply keep that as a conscious goal no matter what we are doing. That means making small acts of kindness a mainstay in our daily routines. That means we can do our part to “save the world” no matter what we do. That means everyone makes a difference.

Now, instead of seeing my work in retail as just a sales job that pays the bills; I try to use it as an opportunity to make a small difference in other peoples lives as well. No matter what kind of day I am having, I work hard to remind myself with each and every person I see that I have no idea how easy or difficult their lives are; I can’t possibly know what they are going through, and I just might be the kindest face they see all day so I better make it count. I try to not only perform my job duties but engage them in a memorable conversation, educate them about a product I am passionate about (tea), and send them out the door smiling and having laughed a few times whether they purchase something or not. I have found that this practice is not just the greatest contributing factor to my success as a salesperson but also the reason why I love to go to work. I feel like I do more than just earn a paycheck; I am doing what I can to make difference. No matter what you do, try to look at it not in terms of why you do it for yourself but why you do it for others. You never know, one day, you could save a life simply by smiling, saying hello, and doing your job.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Some of you may be familiar with Aesop’s fables. For those of you who aren’t, Aesop is believed to have been a slave and story teller from ancient Greece. His fables all have two things in common. The first is that they are fictional, with the main characters often being animals. The second is that they all contain some sort of a lesson that is meant to teach the reader about living an honest and moral life. One of Aesop’s best known fables is titled: The Tortoise and The Hare.

The Tortoise and The Hare

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There once was a speedy hare who bragged about how fast he could run. Tired of hearing him boast, Slow and Steady, the tortoise, challenged him to a race. All the animals in the forest gathered to watch.

Hare ran down the road for a while and then and paused to rest. He looked back at Slow and Steady and cried out, “How do you expect to win this race when you are walking along at your slow, slow pace?”

Hare stretched himself out alongside the road and fell asleep, thinking, “There is plenty of time to relax.”

Slow and Steady walked and walked. He never, ever stopped until he came to the finish line.

The animals who were watching cheered so loudly for Tortoise, they woke up Hare.

Hare stretched and yawned and began to run again, but it was too late. Tortoise was over the line.

After that, Hare always reminded himself, “Don’t brag about your lightning pace, for Slow and Steady won the race!”

Credit: https://www.storyarts.org/library/aesops/stories/tortoise.htm

“Slow and stead wins the race”, has become one of my personal mantras. Before I go into why, I want to talk about walking trees. No, not Ents. Walking trees. Growing deep within the jungles of Ecuador is an amazing species of palm tree. These trees rest several feet to meters off the surface of the jungle, standing on stalk-like roots that grow into the ground. As the soil in the jungle erodes, it is rumored that the roots lift out of the soil over time and grow back into solid ground. This can result in the trees to move up to 20m in a year. There is debate in the scientific community around whether or not this phenomenon actually exists or if it is simply the jungle floor shifting from massive amounts of rain and soil corrosion but “walking trees” is still a fun concept! I wonder if Tree Beard’s latin-american cousin speaks a Spanish dialect of Entish?

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If you look around you, so many people are preoccupied with where they want to be instead of focusing on where they are. This often results in them cutting corners, taking shortcuts, or trying to fast track themselves to where they want to be. Sadly, this often ends with a short-lived enjoyment of success before falling back down to where they started. You all know someone who has experienced this or maybe this describes you but why does it happen? It’s because those people did a shoddy job at building what I like to call their “personal pyramid”. What is the most stable structure in the natural or man-made world? A pyramid. Why are they so stable? It’s due to several factors. The first is that, no matter where in the world you find them, they are built out of high quality and structurally stable material that is very resistant to change: stone. The other factor is that each successive layer is build upon a previous layer that is already stable and can appropriately support the next layer. Most of you probably think of the pyramids of Giza (below) when you think of pyramids. These structures have been standing for well over 4,000 years. Pyramids are stable. Enough said.

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Whether you are building a physical structure or simply trying to accomplish a goal, keeping a pyramid in mind and the principles that make one so sturdy is useful. Most people, thinking that they will get to where they want to be faster, build towers instead of pyramids but towers aren’t NEARLY as stable. Building a pyramid sucks. It’s hard work, it’s painstaking, and it takes time. But once it is built it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon unless you drop a bomb on the thing. In terms of our own lives, making them as steadfast as a pyramid is often difficult because to do so involves healing. Most of you will agree, the greatest obstacle between us and our goals is often lurking in our own minds and egos. In an attempt to deny or ignore our personal wounds, shortcomings and character defects many of us hastily try to get to where we want to be without much thought of how we are going to stay there once we arrive. The drive to rush things is often born out of comparison. We see Suzy, who we graduated with and seems to be doing so much better than us, has a great job, nice things, and has her sh*t together. Then we ask ourselves, “Why can’t I be like Suzy?” or “Why don’t I have what Suzy has?” and we proceed to concoct a plan to achieve a life that is comparable to Suzy’s as quickly as possible. More often than not, our plans don’t pan out how we had envisioned.

We spend so much time thinking about where we want to be that we lose track of where we are. How can we construct a stable foundation for the next level in our pyramid if our minds are all the way at a peak that doesn’t even exist yet? The fact is, and I have seen this time and time again in my own life, we are where we are for a reason. It is because there is something we need to learn about ourselves that will help us grow into better, stronger people. Many never realize this, they want what they want and they want it now. If you just focus on where you, instead of where you want to be, you will ensure that you will take every moment needed to heal, learn, and grow so you can build a firm foundation for the next level of your life. Once you reach it, having put in the necessary work to make it as stable as possible, you don’t have to go back. If you are like the walking trees of Ecuador, with branches reaching towards the light and roots towards ever more solid ground and keep telling yourself “slow and steady wins the race” then one day you will look back on the life you have constructed and you will see that you have built a pyramid instead of a tower.