Turning Old Paradigms Upside Down and Inside Out

Turning Old Paradigms Upside Down and Inside Out

By framing my retirement as leaning into Renaissance (re-birth) I have created an opportunity – even a requirement – to review and challenge old paradigms, old ways of thinking – my “standard perspectives or set of ideas” – and allow new ways of understanding the world and my place in it to emerge.

Paradigm shifts, – “a fundamental change in perception, approach, or underlying assumptions” – for an individual or an entire culture, are not always a playful walk in the park. I remember reading once, but I can’t find the exact quote now, something like, “The old school will mightily resist, even denounce, new ways of thinking until the preponderance of evidence shifts the balance to the new. Then suddenly everyone will claim that we knew this all along.”

My recent Wilderness Travel trip to Glacier Bay, Alaska  [see The Perspective of Long, Deep Time] has evoked such a paradigm shift in my own thinking about our natural world and the role of human beings, like me, in it for good or harm.

Our naturalist guides, besides being experts themselves at helping us experience the interconnection of oceans and mountains and glaciers and grizzly bears and salmon and eagles and Sitka spruce and sea otters and humpback whales and native Alaskans and moderns Alaskans all in one vast ecosystem dependent on each other for the shape of the landscape and survival in it, recommended two books to deepen the understanding of these experiences even more, The Invention of Nature and Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants.

Sigh. Ten years ago I would have written 12 page newsletters recommending a great book with reflections, poetry and quotes to inspire, stories to learn from, exercise to practices and recommendations of books and websites for further learning.

But this post is not so much about the content of these paradigm shifting books but the process of paradigm shifting itself, how we can invite these major shifts into our lives and benefit from them.

The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf tells the story of Alexander von Humboldt, one of the greatest scientists-explorers who ever lived (and when he lived was more famous around the world than anyone at the time except Napoleon.) I knew something about Humboldt’s signficance already because I live on Humboldt Street. (Humboldt has more places on the planet named after him than any other person who ever lived on the planet.)

But the book mostly traces how Humboldt’s discoveries in the Amazon so deeply influenced and revolutionized the thinking of his day (roughly 1800-1860). Humboldt “invented” the realization that all of nature, all life on the planet, is interconnected in one living system, and he correctly predicted the impact of modern agriculture and industrial production on that system through climate change.

Darwin kept Humboldt’s books on a shelf by his bunk on the HMS Beagle and credited Humboldt with shaping his theories of evolution. John Muir, at the beginning of his adventures in Yosemite and Alaska, said ‘I want to be a Humboldt!”

We take Humboldt’s realization – that all of nature is interconnected and interdependent and that we are part of that nature, not separate from it – for granted now. Understanding the interconnection within and among ecosystems is what drives our sense of responsibility for caring about our impact on these living systems that sustain us, all of us.

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants explores the paradigm shift of reciprocity and responsibility in caring for our Earth several major steps deeper, with the integration of the traditional wisdom of indigenous people who always knew the “original instructions” and dedicatedly lived that responsibility. Who acknowledge all of our relatives in wind and water and forests and fellow creatures, never taking more than half of any resource, never taking more than needed. Living in gratitude and giving in return.  Robin Wall Kimmerer, PhD, a native Potawatomie and western-trained environmental biologist, integrates the wisdom of indigenous people who live in inter-connection  with all of the Earth and gently but firmly challenges the waste and destruction of our current practices of resource extraction and exploitation.

Awe-gratitude-equanimity have always been the foundation of my AGE-ing process. Even more so now as my understanding about my role in preserving and protecting the beauty and resources we have  becomes paramount.

This deeper understanding leads already to the next paradigm shift. I’m already into Mark Nepo’s More Together than Alone: Discovering the Power and Spirit of Community in Our Lives and in the World. Integrating what we know about healing the self in relationship with relationships to others to heal the world. This will help me “crack the code” of how life works, how human beings work, and how my life work might fit into all of that.


[taking an example from Mark’s book:]

With two or three friends, identify moments when you recognized an opportunity to evolve your accustomed way of thinking into a new perspective, a new paradigm. Share with each other what happened when you did allow your thinking to change. Share another moment when you didn’t. What were the results of each decision?