Shifting paradigms

Have you been shiftless lately?

In Enneagram books and in conversation with Enneagram literati, one often hears the phrase, "paradigm shift." I'm three square in favor of Enneagram shifts. I hear people say, "Well, I have to access my Three wing, or my security point." They usually say this in the face of a problem they haven't solved yet or a situation that is novel and/or threatening. They usually don't say it with a lot of confidence, but rather with the same resolve they make New Year's resolutions. "This is the year I get organized."

An entire industry is built up around the ineffectiveness of good resolutions. Even with the Enneagram diagram staring at them, I still hear people resolve to be different than they are right now. How do you do that? If you are a shrinking violet Five, just how do you "access" your Eight security point and become fierce and powerful? If you're a critical one, how do you blithely "access" your light-hearted Seven security point?

If you're a Five, you probably do research on how to do it. For a long time. If you're a One, you probably take a dutiful vacation and keep records of what fun you had.

Thomas Kuhn, the man who invented the term "paradigm shifts", had some interesting scientific patterns of paradigm shifts in his book, The Nature of Scientific Revolution.

Everyone quotes Kuhn, but they usually leave out the part where he talks about something called "injunctions." You make a change in the way you think and explain the world by following the instructions. "Look down this microscope, up this telescope, shrink this, melt that, measure these" --all very scientific stuff.

In other words, you do what you have never done before following the instructions of someone who did it and it worked. If you want to see what they see, you must do what they do. Now, under ordinary circumstances, we don't need injunctions. We just figure out what needs to be done and do it. By the way, this can lead to incremental improvement. We make small changes, grow and even become a bit healthier, doing this.

But if you have to make a paradigm shift and really understand the world in a new way and act in a new way, you can not just grit your teeth, "screw your courage to the sticking point," and "just do it." That's why New Year's resolutions usually fail.

To make a paradigm shift, you have to do what you usually do not do. That feels crazy, because it is action not appropriate for the way you understand the world. So you have to trust a teacher (understood in a broad sense: teacher, mentor, therapist, spiritual director, sage, good friend). Aristotle said we have to begin any study by trusting the teacher. Believing is seeing.

We make the paradigm shift by taking action "counter-intuitively," that is we take action that we really don't understand, at least not fully. We try it out.

Here are some examples of how this has been understood traditionally. Religious communities always insisted on obedience. It was not just obedience to a single person, it was obedience to a way of life, a tradition. "Our tradition does it this way. If you don't like it, you have something to learn." The Eastern traditions talk about "family tree." A Swami will tell you who his master is. In the Jewish tradition, Paul talks about having "sat at the feet of" Gamaliel and absorbed his wisdom.

The rugged individualism of America considers learning from the older masters sort of silly, but the tradition sneaks back in through the wider door of science. Scientists don't re-invent the wheel, they learn from the tradition. They follow the injunctions as carefully as any religious novice. They do what they are told, even if it seems a bit weird. Notice the importance of outside forces and outside information. If we just work our will power into a lather, we try to change our Enneagram energy by exercising our Enneagram energy.

Then, notice the primacy of action. We change only by action, not by insight. I realize insight is important, but the jokes about 'understanding why I'm crazy' have some significance. Insight alone does not change behavior. The number of cigarette smokers who know the cancer statistics is remarkable. I don't care how important insight is. If we just keep gathering insight, we just shine brighter light on the world we already see.

The way insight is effective is only if it is in the form of an injunction. "Do this and watch what happens." If I still am depressed and I understand it is because my mother left me at kindergarten for three days, that is interesting. And it is insight. Now what?

Let me make a pitch for spiritual traditions. If you want to make changes, learn a spiritual tradition. A tradition always includes -- surprise! -- spiritual "practice." That means you DO stuff. You meditate like this, you eat like that, you work in his manner, you "do" all sorts of things. We can change the way we think and feel by changing what we do.