Our paradigm is how we see all of life – a worldview, if you like. When it shifts, it’s like being turned upside down and shaken.
It might be tempting to describe any paradigm shift as a once-in-a-lifetime event, and therefore a revelation of truth. Yet if we hold each shift lightly, we find it’s simply one step on a path (progressive, direct or pathless).
One marker for major shifts is the person you believe yourself to be.
Level 1: Paradoxically, the ‘second person’. Now, in this paradigm, the language may still be “I”, not “you” – but look more at the content of the self-talk and mental chatter: Whether the word is used or not, the implication is “YOU should have done better, YOU are a failure, YOU are a hero, YOU need to speak your truth, he was mean to YOU, she was friendly to YOU.” A lot of the chatter at this level is based around blame, guilt or self-promotion. Everything is a comparison: worse, better, bigger, small, more valid, less valid. The mental voice is the cheerleader, the abuser, the comrade in misery. This is the level of the victim or the zealot.
Level 2a: The ‘first person’. The realisation of “I”, rather than “you”. A vast reduction in mental chatter. Ironically, much less comparison. This level can equally be lived in concepts of duality, nonduality, or mysticism – each one slightly deeper than the last. It’s a happy place to be, and the target of good psychological intervention, and much religious or spiritual teaching. The most useful thing to understand is that this is a progression, not a destination, but it might be where we hang out for a lifetime. This is the level of the contented activist, the happy human, or the channel.
Level 2b: The ‘third person’. The witness. The pinnacle of some religious or spiritual traditions. This comes with a sense of distance from the person, like watching a movie. There may still be a person, but the person is “she/he/they”. This level is characterised by much less emotion and a high sense of freedom. It also comes with a vastly reduced or non-existent sense of self and sense of humanity – if there is no self, there is no one to feel anything, so nothing really matters, beyond the witnessing. This is the level of the observer, and can deepen forever.
I’m calling this 2b, because while most who move along the path experience it at least briefly, there are a number of possible next steps:
- in fear of the dwindling sense of humanity, a reactive kick to level 1;
- in recognising this is not a very integrated space, back to level 2a;
- in enjoying the freedom and distance from emotion, a settling into level 2b;
- in choosing not to go back, a step into level 3.
Level 3: The ‘zero person” perspective. This is a content-less perspective. The only direct experience is seen as such. There is no movie to watch, and no one to watch it. And the wonder of this level is that deepening into it often leads us to live ‘as though’ level 2a.
This level is the fulness of the nondual teaching. To see the wholeness of all experience, because all there ever is, is THIS. In seeing the completeness of experience, using one apparent part to battle another apparent part becomes nonsensical – because each apparent part is the whole.
That is important: each apparent part IS the whole.
There is no paradox in living an emotionally rich, integrated and engaged life at this level, because THAT is all there is. This is, clearly, the level of wholeness.
There are many other ways to describe the path of paradigm shifts, but this is simple in its clarity: our paradigm, the apparent reality we live in, will show up in the perspective of self.
Are you living from the second person, the first person, the third person, or the zero person perspective?