“The world is an illusion” is a statement that gets tossed about in some quarters. It is my intention in this essay to share my understanding of the statement. An illusion is defined as “something that deceives by producing a false or misleading impression of reality.” Most people that I have talked to about the title statement take “illusion” to be equivalent to “mirage.” A mirage has no substance, function or meaning. There is a big difference between a distortion of or misleading impression of something and its total absence. I would include in the idea of illusion the revealing of an aspect or part of something rather than the whole. To take a simple example, think about what your impression might be if your first experience with a dog was only the tail. Your impression would surely result in a false or misleading perception of the actual nature of a dog. The word “world” in the title statement is probably better represented by the phrase, “your experience of and beliefs about reality.” Thus, we might translate the statement to read, “Your experience of reality provides a misleading impression,” while recognizing that “experience” begins as a perceptual phenomenon. This does not mean it has no substance, function or meaning. If someone uttering the title statement or someone hearing the title statement understands “illusion” as meaning “mirage,” I think the meaning of the statement is misunderstood. I think the original intent was to suggest that our perceived reality might seem to be true and correct but is in fact false or misleading. Hereafter, the word “illusion” is used to simply mean a distortion in our perception that results in a false or misleading impression of reality.
It is also likely that what you perceive is largely a cognitive construction. Neuroscientist Don DeGracia has pointed out that vision research shows that the visual cortex receives more input from the brain itself than from sensory input through the eyes. The eyes in turn are said to only take in about a fifth of the available sensory data. This appears to support the idea that we actually construct what we see. Persons who have been blind from birth and that medical science provides with an intact vision system still have to learn to see images that you take for granted. Some actually find the experience so confusing that they say they would prefer to be blind and wear dark glasses to block stimulus input. I will end this introduction with a quote from Albert Einstein that you might ponder, “Reality is an illusion, albeit a persistent one.”
In the following, I will discuss the translated title statement relative to four perspectives, where the fourth is the likely source of the title statement.
The first perspective is biological. I will briefly describe here a way of looking at perception from an evolutionary perspective. There is only one person that I am familiar with who has developed and conducted research on this evolutionary perspective. If you’re interested in the details, I recommend you read Donald Hoffman’s book, The Case Against Reality.
The research done by Hoffman and the resulting scientific theory views what we perceive as “fitness icons.” Hoffman’s research and theory suggests that evolution has shaped our perceptions to be finely tuned to those aspects of the world that have fitness implications for us as biological organisms. Fitness refers directly or indirectly to things important for survival and reproduction. One way to look at this is that anything we perceive, including our body, is an “object” in a field of energies (note, what we call matter is just concentrations of energy) that go well beyond what we can sense. Evolution has shaped our sensory organs to only recognize those characteristics of the energy field that have fitness implications for humans. Further, what we perceive in a fitness icon is a representation of its critical features for us presented in a form that is most meaningful to us. There are many aspects of our environment that don’t have fitness implications for us and to which we are essentially blind. The limited amount that we do perceive seems to us to be reality. The belief that we see reality as it is, is an illusion. It is only a particular take on a segment of the sensory field. Your personal perception of reality is not reality as it is. It just seems that way.
The second perspective is psychological. Almost all normal people have what might be called a personality, self-concept or ego with which they identify. Whatever you wish to call it, this is what most people think they are. Bill, for example, has a lot of characteristics that he would ascribe to himself, such as hardworking, fair–minded, charitable, shy, a poor public speaker, apolitical, good with animals, a victim of an abusive father, and so on. All of these things and more are woven into a personal narrative, and this narrative is based in large part on memories of past experience. This narrative gives Bill a road map that tells him where he fits in. It also provides a ready explanation for things that he thinks, feels or does. It shapes his life by determining what he believes he can and can’t do, what he expects from life and how he goes about being in the world.
The thing about personal narratives is that they are to a great extent a fiction. To begin with, the narrative is comprised of selected memories from the pool of all the memories available. These selected memories, like all memories, are subject to editing and revision. Research shows that memories are not stable though we like to think they are. Memories change over time in both subtle and dramatic ways. Even two or more people having a similar experience will create different memories of it. This is often apparent in conversations with siblings about experiences shared in the home while growing up. In the course of weaving the memories into a narrative some license is taken in order to create a cohesive story, which is believed without question. The narrative seems like who you are but it is just a psychological construct that is mentally active whenever you aren’t focused on a task. You frequently review, update, edit and reinforce this narrative to the exclusion of many other possible variations on the narrative. The psychological construct posing as you is a constructed fiction, which does have elements of truth in it. I would say it can also be thought of as an illusion because it is a distortion of your complete body of perceived experience. Usually, those experiences that have a strong emotional component are the ones selected to weave a story around. Your construed personal reality is who you believe you are. It seems like it is your true “self,” but it is an illusion in the sense that it is to some degree a distortion of your fully lived experience. I have discussed this further in a post (among others) titled The Natural Mind on my website and in Chapter Four of my ebook, Self-Agency and Beyond.
The third perspective is cultural. This is a much larger narrative than your personal narrative but a narrative nonetheless. Every culture and sub-culture has a story that explains to members who they are, what they should believe and how they should act. This narrative is embedded in history, literature, media, myths (e.g., self-reliant individualism) and other means of conveying and reinforcing the story. Cultural narratives often overlap a nation so we can, for example, talk about the American culture or the American story — albeit with sub-plots. In some cases, the culture is broader than a nation and may, for example, be tied to an ethnic group (e.g., the Kurds) spread across several countries. What seems to be true to you is but one of many stories that could be woven about your culture by making different assumptions and emphasizing different events, different people and different interpretations. In fact, for anyone who takes the trouble, it is often much easier to see the revisions, editing and modifications of a cultural narrative across historical time than to see it in one’s personal narrative. This first became apparent to me when, as an undergraduate, I took a three-term course in constitutional law. I completed this course seeing the U.S. Constitution as providing a foundation more like shifting sand than a rock solid foundation. Identification with a cultural narrative is belief in just one of many potential constructions. While it may seem to you to be correct and true, it is an illusion in the sense that it is a distortion of the total cultural experience. If you would like to explore this dimension in greater detail, I recommend Jeremy Lent’s book, The Patterning Instinct and an analysis based in neuroscience by Iain McGilchrist titled, The Master and His Emissary:The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. It is also not hard to find explications of alternate stories about cultures, especially from groups diminished by the prevailing story.
To summarize the first three perspectives, you have biologically imposed limitations and restrictions on what aspects of reality that you can perceive and how you construe them. You create a fictive-self as a tool for negotiating your way through life and explaining your thoughts, emotions and actions. You adopt a belief in a constructed cultural narrative in which to embed your personal narrative and try to sync the two to work together. All of these, in their own way, distort the deeper reality from which they are extracted. In short, relative to the deeper reality they are illusions. In most cases useful and also true in a superficial sense.
The fourth perspective is the really deep dive in this essay. There are a number of labels that might be used for the fourth perspective. I will call it the spiritual perspective, because that is a term commonly used these days for some of the things that will be discussed. This is a perspective recognized by many traditions, including Christian, Buddhist, Moslem and the Vedantic and Tantrik traditions in India.
When talking about religious and theistic philosophical systems, it can be said that they often have two faces. The exoteric face, which is the public face and is most visible through its churches, temples and so forth and by its practices, ceremonies and rituals. The exoteric face is most often associated with systems of belief. Then there is the esoteric face, which may be associated with monasteries, ashrams, and even ascetics and hermits. The esoteric face is most often associated with systems of practice (see the Introduction and Part II of my ebook Self-Agency and Beyond) and personal experience of gnosis (intuitive knowledge of spiritual truth). The esoteric is a side of Christianity that has largely been absent for some time, but is currently seeing something of a revival. This segment will draw on the esoteric face and the teachings of individuals referred to as sages, awakened, realized and enlightened among other labels. The presentation will be somewhat generic rather than tradition specific.
The view from this perspective asserts, on the basis of phenomenological knowing or gnosis, that the material cosmos, including all life forms, are epiphenomena that arise from a universal primordial awareness/consciousness that has no beginning nor end. I make a distinction between awareness and consciousness in the Introduction to my eBook Self-Agency and Beyond but will hereafter stay with the term consciousness. This primordial consciousness contains the material cosmos but is not limited to the material cosmos. In another essay, I describe the cosmos as like a cosmic egg, characterized by locality*, floating in a sea of primordial consciousness (characterized by non-locality*). A sea of consciousness that is inherently intelligent, creative, inquisitive and unconditionally accepting of its own being and everything that arises from it, This type of conception can be found in either a theistic version called panentheism (see Part III of my eBook SelfAgency and Beyond or one of several essays such as this one) or a philosophical version called monistic idealism (see the works of Bernardo Kastrup and in particular The Idea of the World, which is for most readers not the book of his to begin with. I suggest starting with A Rationalist Spirituality). You can find a list of most of Kastrup’s books along with an audio interview about each book on a page on my website.
This view further asserts that particularized consciousness in each biological organisms is simply a contracted kernel of primordial consciousness that in its particularized form is unaware of its roots in primordial consciousness. The material cosmos was “imagined” into being by primordial consciousness to serve as a basis for the evolution of life. Life serves as the vehicle for kernels of particularized consciousness and in a self-conscious life form that might be called personal consciousness. The purpose of particularized consciousness is to provide primordial consciousness with the opportunity to explore its own infinite potential through experience. Experience arises out of the tension that is created through complimentary pairs, such as, satiety and hunger, hot and cold, life and death, love and hate, good and evil, male and female, health and disease, and so on. Once set in motion, this system is independent and autonomous, allowing full expression of whatever it generates.
This is a complex perspective with many variations that all point to much the same conclusions. The paragraphs above hardly do justice to the perspective but that was not their intent. If you want to explore the fourth perspective further there are a number of reference links above. You might also read Part I of Tantra Illuminated by Christopher Wallis for the philosophical foundation for the yoga tradition based in Tantra. You can also find additional essays on my website by employing the search engine or looking at the titles page. Finally, you might get some idea of this from the poem Conundrum that I recently wrote and that can be found on this page.
Many persons who have realized their true nature as vehicles for primordial consciousness and have opened to consciously embodying primordial consciousness have made statements such as the title statement for this essay. Their intent seems to be to convey that there is a deeper reality beneath what seems to be reality to most humans. From their perspective, what most of humanity calls reality is in fact closer to a lucid dream in primordial consciousness. This does not make it any less real or meaningful to participants in the “dream” but what the “dreamers” perceive as reality is a false or misleading perception of the deeper reality underlying it and therefore can be called an illusion. A similar statement that is associated with this perspective is that “There Is No Doer” about which I have also written an essay titled Are We Merely Divine Puppets?.
* locality and non-locality are physics terms that essentially mean within space/time and beyond space/time respectively.
Recently, I heard a claim that there were only two authentic expressions of sex, i.e., the natural binary of male and female. The speaker argued that this binary and only this binary is natural and therefore authentic. As I considered this claim, my thoughts went back to the early history of life on this planet when sex evolved as a reproductive strategy. Biological evolution, as a process, produced two reproductively distinct sexes. The strategy has endured because it improved the odds of successful reproduction of any species using it. Sexes exist for a biologically functional purpose and only for that reason. Remove the biological advantages from sexual reproduction and sexes never would have evolved. This means in its most fundamental sense male and female reflect reproductive sexes. The majority of individuals are male or female in the reproductive meaning of the two categories. Any fundamental differences between the two reproductive sexes, whether in anatomy, physiology, affect, cognition or behavior appear of necessity to be tied to reproductive functions. This seems to be what the speaker mentioned above had in mind. In another piece on this site, I have argued that male and female represent a complimentary pair that anchor the points at either end of a spectrum lying between the pair. The speaker denied as authentic the spectrum and thus anyone representing it.
Evolution is not an invariant process and a minority of births result in atypical outcomes related to sex, as well as other characteristics. Some atypical sex related outcomes are more easily identified than others. There are variations in anatomical outcomes such as in the structure of the genitalia. There are also physiological variations such as Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, which result in a genetically XY individual who appears female but has no internal female reproductive organs. There also appear to be a range of atypical sex related outcomes, possibly due to physiological processes, that aren’t well understood. For example, there are likely atypical outcomes due to hormone exposure during development that is hypothesized to occur at the wrong time or persist for too long or too brief of a period or to involve the wrong hormone altogether. These are usually only identifiable through overt behavior and/or reports of covert psychological states such as thoughts, feelings and behavioral impulses arising in awareness and becoming objects of consciousness, which may or may not be overtly acted upon. Thus, in addition to anatomical variations, there can be outcomes resulting in variations in sexual orientation, sense of sexuality and gender identity or even a lack of one or more of these. These atypical variations can be manifest in various combinations and to varying degrees and will be stronger and more intense in some individuals than in others. I would say that any variation that is a product of nature is natural and any claim that it is unnatural is a false claim.
If you take the variations above, which arguably have a basis in biology and then insert them into the psycho-social context represented by culture, a whole new layer of considerations emerge. Culture represents a range of interpretative narratives about human nature and the role of people in the institutions and practices of society. These include such things as religion, politics, medicine and psychology among others. During development, we all begin to build up a narrative about how we fit into this many-faceted cultural matrix. For example, many would call this personal narrative ego or self. How we define our fit into this matrix or allow it to be defined for us can have far ranging implications. It is my assertion that it is a human right for each individual to define for themselves their relationship to the cultural matrix in which they live. That said, understand that there are components within the matrix that resist such a right in many of the variations within a population. Deniers of human rights tend to have rigid personalities and a need for certainty even if they are certainly wrong. Such people could be said to be lost in their mind.
What I mean by the mind is that scaffold of mental constructs that go by names such as ideas, concepts, beliefs and facts that are usually revealed in our use of language. Our experiences are encoded through images and words and are therefore linked to the scaffold. The development of the cultural mind is supported by the experiences of the body in the physical world. Experience is a critical contributor to the development of the cultural mind. Complimentary pairs, like male and female or good and evil, exist because they make experience possible through the tensions produced by the contrast between the end points – if no contrasts, then no experience. You can’t have the experience of temperature without the binary of hot and cold.
The cultural mind, in my view, might be thought of as a cognitive structure existing within memory and is active in awareness most of the time. By way of illustration, imagine a large grassy field (awareness) with a complex set of “monkey bars” (cultural mind) set up on part of it. Most of us spend most of our time “playing” on the monkey bars and are largely oblivious to the field (awareness). When an experience occurs, we usually interpret it through the structures comprising the cultural mind. This is what is known as top-down perception. Looking at an experience from the perspective of the field and excluding the monkey bars is called bottom up perception and is typical of young children and awakened adults. This is the perspective of the natural mind.
I would suggest that the self that resides in the cultural mind is a personal myth and is a story woven from memories, which are selective and ever changing. This self can never be authentic in any foundational sense. Authenticity in a person is, in my view, to be found only in the beingness from which awareness arises, not in the cultural mind. Thus, to legitimately characterize someone as authentic is to speak of them as an expression of that underlying beingness, a state that precedes mind and body. A state that resides in the source of awareness, which is Primordial Awareness or Universal Mind. The authentic Self shines through some individuals’ way of being in the world and is hidden by others’ way of being in the world. It is not that one has it and another lacks it, for both have it. It is just evident in one and not the other. Let us seek communion with our authentic Self and then let it shine into the world to be seen by all who have eyes with which to see it.
To follow the analysis that will be presented below, it is necessary to first briefly and broadly summarize two philosophical positions. The reader is asked to bear with me through these summaries. There are two opposed worldviews that one might take as a guide to understanding the nature of reality.
The first worldview is that of Western culture. Historically, this was a theological conception that saw the world as consisting of God and God’s creations, which included humanity (a dualistic view). This conception began to be challenged by naturalists, seeking to understand God’s creation, whose findings conflicted with the understanding adopted by religious authorities. The view adopted by religious leaders was not that of God; i.e., was not based in scripture, but largely borrowed from earlier Greek philosophers. However, this clash grew more intense until the “great compromise” offered by Rene Descartes. His compromise proposed that matters of the material world should be left to the naturalists (subsequently scientists) and that matters of the spiritual world should be left to theologians (also a dualistic view). The divide between science and religion grew until science largely dismissed religious views as irrelevant. This led to the evolution of a perspective that excluded anything non-material from reality.
Scientific materialism posits a point of initiation for matter that is called “the big bang.” When a renowned physicist, who supports this model, was asked where the big bang came from, he replied that its origin was spontaneous creation from nothing. In short, it was a random event with no known cause, though once set in motion, the result is a deterministic unfolding whose final outcome was built into the point of initiation. This view assumes that everything in the universe is composed of material elements and assembled from the bottom up. Thus, everything can be understood by breaking it down into the pieces that it was assembled from and studying the relationship of the pieces to one another. This is what is called reductionism. This view assumes that everything, including life and the universe itself, arose through a random event and has no purpose and therefore no fundamental meaning. Contemporary Western culture has been strongly influenced by the materialist perspective while retaining a dualistic view of how things are structured.
Scientific materialism is the current paradigm of science with the core assumption that matter is all that exists; i.e., monistic materialism. There are opponents to this view who root their opposition in the inability of a materialist paradigm to account for consciousness. Thus, the old dualist division persists to this day, though spirit has been largely replaced by consciousness. Some scientific materialist have attempted to resolve this problem by asserting that consciousness is an illusion. This solution has not been accepted very widely because it is at odds with personal experience. More importantly, there is considerable evidence that consciousness is a reality that must be dealt with, not the least of which is the role consciousness appears to play in the outcome of some quantum physics experiments. At root, these experiments clearly suggest that consciousness is required for matter to come into existence. In short, the collapse of a “wave of possibilities” into an outcome in the material world appears to require consciousness. In other words, consciousness is primary.
From the perspective of materialism, consciousness is an epiphenomenon or an emergent property of matter. It assumes that consciousness is individually generated by aggregates of matter that have achieved a sufficient level of complexity. Implicit in this view is the idea that complex order is the source of consciousness. How consciousness could arise from the combination of elements of matter is unknown. Faced with the inability to posit any explanation, short of magic, for how consciousness might arise from complex arrangements of matter, some “materialists” have hypothesized that every particle of matter contains a degree of consciousness. Thus, it is suggested that complex arrangements of elements of matter that already contain some degree of consciousness produce conscious awareness. This hypothesis fails to explain where any degree of consciousness, no matter how insignificant, came from in the first place. It also has no explanation for how the combination of elements of consciousness containing matter results in conscious awareness. This idea is somewhat analogous to suggesting that if one takes small units of biological matter, such as bacteria, and aggregate enough of them together, a living animal will emerge from the complexity.
There are many scientists, though still in a minority, who consider the current scientific paradigm, rooted in the belief that matter is primary, to be a “dead man walking.” This view is predicated upon an ever accumulating body of evidence that falsifies the paradigm’s assumptions. A noted physicist recently published a paper in a major physics journal in which he unequivocally stated that the evidence supports the view that reality is essentially mental. This doesn’t obviate the accomplishments of science under the current paradigm. It does, however, suggest that the new emerging view makes clear that the current paradigm has limits on what can be known and understood and that those limits are being reached.
The second worldview we’ll discuss is monistic idealism1 (see the referenced note for a fuller explanation), which is the view that everything exists within Consciousness2. This is one of the challenges to the current paradigm of scientific materialism. The core assumption of this view is that Consciousness is all that exists and that it is both infinite, eternal, inherently intelligent and creative. This view does not posit a point of origination for Consciousness. In short, it is assumed that it has always existed. This view assumes that the universe is at root an indivisible whole in which every particle of matter is entangled with every other particle. In this view, matter is a contraction or concentration of Consciousness. The apparent separate constituents of the universe are at root an “illusion.” This view posits that the “illusion” is created by the appearance of complementary pairs reflected within Consciousness. These pairs create contrast effects, which make possible experience. This view suggests that Consciousness created the possibility for experience for the purpose of self-examination, self-awareness and enrichment. This view implies that the universe did not arise by chance, has a purpose and a fundamental meaning.
The view of idealism is that matter is an epiphenomenon or an emergent property of Consciousness. It assumes that Consciousness is a ground state from which everything arises. Thus, everything that exists arises within Consciousness. The closest analogy to this process is probably a dream. Dreams arise in your consciousness and during the experience appear to be quite real. Thus, in a manner of speaking, monistic idealism would say that you are a “dream” character in Consciousness or in Universal Mind. For those familiar with virtual reality games, one might say that you are an “avatar” in a virtual reality3 created by Universal Mind or Consciousness (see the referenced note for a fuller explanation). Material “reality” could be thought of as being generated from a basic division of thought within Universal Mind into a complementary pair such as physical versus biological. From contrasting pairs, experience evolved ever more complex forms, which produced their own sets of complementary pairs. The biological or living forms became “receivers” for Consciousness, which was experienced as an individuated consciousness that is functionally independent from Consciousness. The more complex the life form the more “bandwidth” the “receiver” could accept. In the end, however, there is only one Consciousness (a nondual perspective). Traditionally, this view has been largely that of some Eastern traditions such as yoga. Many readers will immediately think of the Western version of Hatha Yoga with its emphasis on the body. What is referred to here are the traditions within yoga that emphasize a nondual philosophical view similar to monistic idealism and teach practices for the refinement of consciousness; i.e., mental yoga.
Now, let’s examine the implications for the above for one complementary pair that we all have some experience with — sex (male and female). Recall that complementary pairs make experience possible by the contrasts that they impose. To clarify, consider another pair associated with temperature: hot and cold. Without the contrast produced by the pair, temperature could not be experienced. It is also clear that the pair represents a range and does not represent dichotomous categories. In short, there are degrees of temperature along the continuum between the polar anchors for the complementary pair. The greater the points of difference along the continuum the richer the possibilities for experience. Without the experience of the full range of the continuum between the polar anchors for a complementary pair, one can not truly understand the unity from which the pair was derived. For those familiar with the Chinese yin and yang symbols, recall that those symbols for opposites are an abstract representation for complementary pairs. Each symbol contains a component of its opposite and both are contained within a circle representing the whole or unity of which each member of the pair is a partial reflection.
The continuum between the anchor points of male and female includes all sexual variation possible. For purposes of this discussion, the experiences placed under the umbrella term “transgender” (TG) will be considered. The view offered here is that gender is a socially constructed expression of sex and sexuality. While there is some limited variation in sex, there is more variation in the experienced sense of sexuality. The former is anatomical and the latter is probably due to atypical hormonal effects on a developing organism. Gender in this discussion is considered to be a social expression of sex and sexuality, which are convergent in the majority of people but divergent in a minority. Thus, gender is not an all-or-nothing phenomenon, though it may come close to that in many people’s experience. By way of analogy, consider the biological experience of hunger. The body generates this experience, which is variable in its intensity. However, the body does not dictate, except in the most general way, what should be eaten to satisfy hunger. How hunger is satisfied is socially constructed. Society determines what should be considered “food.” It also creates customs around how food is prepared, when it is eaten, how it is eaten, with whom it might be eaten, and so on. Likewise, societies have socially created ways in which sex and the experience of sexuality should be expressed — gender. Generally speaking, there is usually a very tight correlation between the appearance of anatomical sex, experienced sexuality and gender.
What are the implications of the above discussion for TG?
Lets look at the implications of taking the position of materialism. For our purposes, a TG individual is someone who experiences some degree of male sexuality while living through a female body or experiences some degree of female sexuality while living through a male body.
Consider a TG individual who is a materialist. Such an individual has to consider his/her experience to be the result of a random and meaningless biological variation — a victim of circumstance. There are some who would argue that their experience is a deliberate choice, not the result of a random biological variation. The choice is often justified on political and or social grounds, which probably serves to give the experience contextual meaning. I don’t doubt that there may be such individuals. I think that most TG individuals, however, feel that their experience was imposed, not chosen, and usually leaves them feeling like a victim, not an agent for social change. In fact, one could posit that taking the position that one’s experience results from a sociopolitical decision is a coping mechanism. A way of negating the feeling of being a victim and constructing some meaning from the experience. Second, scientific materialism is reductionist and therefore depends upon studying relationships between clearly defined elements, which are strictly controlled to minimize variation. The continuum of variation for sex is therefore, from a scientific perspective, a messy affair making well controlled studies of sex and sexuality only possible by focusing on the anchor points and excluding everything in between as confounding variation. It is no wonder that persons on the excluded portion of the continuum have been prone to being minimized, pathologized and criminalized. Fortunately, modern day society is not as tenacious about pathologizing and criminalizing personal expression as it has been in the past. This is not to suggest that it isn’t still a problem of significance.
Now, let’s look at the implications of taking the position of idealism.
Consider a TG individual who is an idealist and especially one who understands idealism through nondual philosophy4 rooted in some Eastern tradition or in one of the increasing number of Western expressions of nondualism. S/he does not view everything as due to blind chance. Such a person is considered to be an individuated manifestation of Consciousness. Such a consciousness is a vehicle through which Consciousness gains experience of its own potential and the unfolding of that potential. If one is a manifestation of Source Consciousness or of Universal Mind, then your experience is not random and one is certainly not a victim of circumstance. Usually, one’s personal condition is viewed as having its origins in a choice made by the meta-self 5 prior to individuated consciousness being expressed in material form. In short, there was an agreement to the current manifestation as a vehicle for the experience possible for that form. This is probably only one of many previous and different expressions and possibly of many more to come. Why this particular choice was made, in any specific case, lies within one’s consciousness but outside of awareness. There are ways of accessing such material but that is beyond the scope of this essay. From this perspective one does not have to take pathologizing and criminalizing by society of one’s being as a judgment of one’s personal worth. This is not to minimize the social injustice that such judgment produces or its impacts. However, if one views oneself as a unique expression of Consciousness and takes one’s sense of personal worth from that understanding, then one has a more positive basis for one’s sense of self and a degree of insulation from the injustices implicit in society.
Finally, let us turn to an analysis of some possible outcomes for a TG individual. There may be outcomes not covered here, but one should be able to work them out from this illustration. Some of the following options will probably only be open to someone who subscribes to a nondual worldview or will certainly be facilitated by such a worldview. As the progression unfolds, a nondual worldview increases in importance.
First, consider an individual on the continuum in unresolved conflict. This conflict comes down to a perceived dualistic choice between the two anchor points (male/female or masculine/feminine). The conflict between the dichotomous anchor points for the continuum is driven in large part by the social narrative about the continuum. The person in conflict is strongly drawn toward the anchor point in conflict with anatomy, which is nonconforming to the social narrative. Such an individual is strongly imbued with the social narrative. The stronger the social pressures the greater the conflict. The social pressure can come from external sources policing the social narrative but will also involve one’s enculturation and internalization of the social narrative. It is probably from this type of conflict that what is often referred to as gender dysphoria arises. Clearly, minimizing susceptibility to external policing efforts will help. Equally if not more important is deconstructing the internalized policing established through enculturation. Psychotherapy, drawing on narrative psychology, can be helpful with the latter.
Second, consider an individual on the continuum who is only moderately drawn to the anchor point in conflict with anatomy. Such a person often will resolve to end the conflict by choosing one anchor point and suppressing the other in this dualistic dance. If the person is male bodied and the choice is to suppress the intrusive sense of femaleness, the conflict is repressed and one’s focus becomes on living through the anatomical sex. There is still potential for negative psychological effects from employing repression, but the immediate conflict has been resolved. The same analysis would hold if the person was female bodied and chose to suppress an intrusive sense of maleness.
Third, consider an individual on the continuum similar to the person in the previous analysis, except the person is strongly drawn to the anchor point in conflict with anatomy. In this case, the decision may be to suppress and modify the anatomical sex and give full expression to the intrusive sense of sexuality. This is what is often referred to a transsexualism. This is a choice that may reduce the conflict one feels between anatomical sex and an intrusive sense of sexuality, but it is fraught with many new potential conflicts. It may also entail a lifetime of pursuing adjustments trying to achieve the perfect approximation to one’s idealized self-image.
Fourth, consider an individual who is a bit more psychologically sophisticated and makes the choice not to suppress but to simply witness and thereby neutralize a choice. In the case of a female bodied person, she lives through her anatomical sex and becomes simply an unresponsive observer (witness) to the arising and subsiding of her intrusive sense of male sexuality. The converse analysis would apply to a male bodied person with an intrusive sense of female sexuality. This approach has the potential to minimize the conflict without the potential problems associated with repression. However, witnessing is a learned skill that makes this a choice only for someone aware of the skill and willing to devote the time and effort to establish it.
Fifth, consider a person who is living through a nondual narrative about his or her life. Such an individual would reject the dualistic choice posed by the anchor points of the continuum. The decision in this individual might be to unify the apparent dualistic choice presented by the continuum. The individual neither vacillates between the apparent choices, employs repression, embarks on bodily modification or sets out to utilize neutralization. In this individual the choice is to integrate the conflicting demands and give expression to a blend of both, which may be made explicit to varying degrees. This might be thought of as a non-binary life-style. Such an individual would also be largely free of or at least largely indifferent to the dualistic demands of social presentation in forms dictated by society.
Finally, there is one additional option available from the nondual perspective but one probably chosen by very few. This is to shift identification from the body/mind to fully identifying with pure awareness. Through identification with pure awareness, there is a merger of the self with the meta-self, to as great an extent as is possible, and still live in the world, transcending duality. In such a state the dualistic world of complementary pairs is transformed into a holistic understanding and perspective. A view from which the pairs creating the potential for experience are seen as mere mirror reflections within the whole. Pure awareness is characterized by neither maleness nor femaleness but rather the whole from which they are reflected into the material world.
1. For an excellent video presentation by a leading proponent of monistic idealism click here.
2. Consciousness with a capital “C” is used to indicate a reference to the unified and infinite field of Consciousness or Source of all that is. The use of consciousness with a lower case “C” is used to indicate an individuated contraction of consciousness within Consciousness.
3. Tom Campbell’s metaphor of reality as a computer simulation
4. Below are links to some sources of teachings on nondualism:
The Metaphysical Writings of Bernardo Kastrup
Non-Duality Teachings of Rupert Spira
The Spiritual Enneagram with Eli Jaxon-Bear
New Dharma Yoga with Sat Shree
Living Non-Duality with Robert Wolf
Self-realization and Enlightenment with Jan Esmann
The Tantrik Yoga teachings of Hareesh Wallis
5. Meta-self refers to that which is beyond or behind the self. This is somewhat analogous to some people’s use of the terms soul and oversoul.
The fundamental assumption (a.k.a. ontological primitive) underlying the following comments is that of panentheism or monistic idealism. This assumption is that ALL That Is, is comprised of objects in Primordial Awareness. Consider Primordial Awareness to be an undifferentiated or unity state of potential Consciousness that is assumed to be omnipresent and have infinite intelligence, creativity and attentive capacity. Primordial Awareness, exercising its infinite intelligence and creativity, imagined a continuous process of Creation incorporating the principle of Evolution. This is not to be confused with Darwinian evolution, which is a superficial imitation of Primordial Evolution. The process of Creation then began generating objects of Consciousness in Primordial Awareness. When focus of Attention is active, then “objects” residing in Primordial Awareness are Perceived and become objects or evolving objects of Consciousness. In short, for Primordial Awareness to be Conscious of something means the “thing” becomes particularized within Primordial Awareness through focus of Attention, and thereby, there is Perception of it as individuated or separate from other “things.” Attention in Primordial Awareness is unlimited, and therefore, the objects of Consciousness are unlimited. Thus, Universal Mind comes into existence through activity in the field of Primordial Awareness. By way of analogy, one might think of Universal Mind as a movie playing out on a screen (Primordial Awareness). Some people might even say this is a description of the Mind of God. Call it what you will.
All That Is, is the content of Universal Mind and thus everything that exists is an object in Consciousness. Every object of Consciousness is an individuated subset of Primordial Awareness brought into Consciousness by the Attention given it. If you are made in the image of God, then that identity is due to you being an object of Consciousness in Primordial Awareness. An aspect of Primordial Awareness with biological potential can exist in a formless state within Consciousness or it can be expressed in a form. What you experience as a body is a biological form. The non-biological world that you experience is comprised of forms of varying densities (a.k.a. physical matter). Some physical matter will be denser than and some less dense than biological forms. All forms are objects of Consciousness and exist only in Universal Mind. All biological forms, as aspects of Universal Mind, have some degree of consciousness.
Since ALL That Is arises within Primordial Awareness and from its infinite intelligence and creativity, everything in Universal Mind is accepted unconditionally by Primordial Awareness. This unconditional acceptance, when experienced by a human form within Universal Mind, is experienced as Divine Love. Divine Love is always a fundamental characteristic of Universal Mind and therefore always applies to every object of Consciousness whether that object is aware of it or not. Unconditional acceptance or Divine Love cannot be judgmental, therefore, there is no “moral” hierarchy within Universal Mind — no good or evil, right or wrong, or other dualities necessary for experience.
Human forms can be thought of as attractors. A human form is too circumscribed to be the recipient of the infinite possibilities that exist within Universal Mind. Thus, each human form is like a receiver tuned to a limited set of content. In a human form, the receiver is defined by the initial conditions manifest in the biological form. Think of these initial conditions as genetic predispositions, epigenetic modifications, glandular configurations, neurological organizations, birth circumstances, etc. The initial conditions define and set certain limitations on the human form, which in turn determines what sort of content (thoughts, ideas, images, feelings, emotions, sensations, perceptions, impulses, etc.) that a human form initially attracts to itself from Universal Mind. These initial conditions in a human form are what I would equate with karma, which can be perceived as having both positive and negative aspects. Most elements comprising the initial conditions are prompts related to still unfolding development that would benefit from attention. A few elements comprising the initial conditions may be related to specific choices intended to provide entirely new conditions and an opportunity to learn from experiences related to those conditions. As long as you are identified with the body/mind, karma sets the agenda for your life. While the ‘blueprint” provided by karma can be and usually is followed, it can also be transcended.
Transcending karma requires a shift in identity. Almost everyone identifies with the body/mind, but the body/mind is only a vehicle, a means of providing Primordial Awareness access to an experiential dimension of its own creation. Your awareness is an aspect of Primordial Awareness. Interaction with the material dimension strongly focuses your awareness in the body/mind. Think of yourself as analogous to awareness and of an automobile as analogous to the body/mind. You use, appreciate and maintain the automobile but you do not identify with it; i.e., you do not confuse the automobile for yourself. Likewise, do not confuse your essential essence (awareness) with the vehicle (body/mind) that it employs. Identify “self” with awareness rather than with the body/mind and you may come to know the True Self and transcend your karma. Now, let’s return to ego.
Early in development, a human form perceives stimuli in its environment as neutral. This is what is known as bottom-up perception. Experience with environmental stimuli attracts content. There is a predisposition to react to that content according to initial conditions. A human form will then retain in memory some of the content, explore it, elaborate it and begin creating character traits or fundamental action patterns around it. Many of these patterns, along with core patterns (e.g., the survival pattern) that are preset, come to automatically produce interpretations, motivations, decisions and impulses to action. The more automatic they become the less awareness one has of their operation. These patterns, which I discuss as automatic programs (APs) a sub-section in Part I of the link, are eventually woven into a basic self-narrative. Part of the purpose of the self-narrative is to explain why one is thinking, feeling and doing things that are being driven by APs that operate outside of awareness.
With the emergence of the basic narrative, ego has begun forming and the process of top-down perception begins. Thus, the evolving ego structure becomes a framework for interpreting experience through the narrative-defining ego. Ego structure becomes a filter that both interprets experience and selects content attracted from Universal Mind. The ego structure is further elaborated by beliefs encountered in the environment that resonate with ego’s narrative. Especially important are cultural beliefs that are incorporated into the narrative supporting the ego process. The evolving structure is reinforced and strengthened by the resonant content recalled from memory or attracted from the Universal Mind. There is a neurological process called the default mode network (click here and here) that is closely tied to the maintenance and strengthening of ego. Anytime you are in a state of relaxed attention, it begins presenting you with material either drawn from memory or newly attracted from the Universal Mind. Attending to and engaging this material helps to refresh and elaborate the ego narrative.
As I pointed out in The Natural Mind, many spiritual traditions teach that one significant task, on the spiritual journey, is to regain the ability to return to using bottom-up perception. Both meditation and awareness in the moment (a.k.a. presence) practices are used to help meet this goal. In both cases, the objective is to quiet the mind, which means dampening the effect of the default mode network. Because content naturally arises from memory and is regularly attracted from Universal Mind, it is difficult, probably impossible, to stop this process entirely. However, it is sufficient to learn to not focus attention on this content in awareness and thereby avoid making the content objects of consciousness and thus become entangled in them.
Meditation helps you learn to maintain an attentive focus on a single stimulus such as the breath. While holding such a singular focus, it becomes possible to simply observe the flow of content in awareness as background rather than bringing it to the foreground and responding to it. Learning to simply observe content as a flow in the background will significantly reduce the amount of content arising in your awareness. In awareness practice, one focuses on a diffuse state of awareness where the field of awareness is usually external and may be full of content or potential objects of consciousness. However, none of the potential objects become true objects of consciousness. This is because nothing is singled out and established as a particular focus of attention. The focus of attention is on the field of awareness as a whole or a gestalt field and not on anything in particular within it. When awareness is holistic and no objects of consciousness are given focus, top-down perception is suspended.
Meditation and awareness practices are means of coming into a proper relationship with the ego process, which is a powerful process but still merely psychological. In the absence of disciplined attention, the ego process is unrestrained and dominant. Personal awareness identifies with the ego narrative, which is believed to arise from the body/mind. All experience is filtered through this narrative (top-down perception). Thus, top-down perception literally creates the reality that is experienced. A dominant ego interprets every thought, image or feeling that arises in awareness as being its thought, image or feeling and worthy of attention and thus as an object of consciousness.
A dominant ego process is the master of your life. Some narratives are largely functional, others largely dysfunctional and most somewhere in between. As one brings the ego process under control, making it a servant rather than a master, it is important that dysfunctional elements (entire sub-section of Part I in the link above) be addressed. If it is to become a useful tool (a servant), it needs to be a tool that is in good working order. Becoming a self-aware being that employs the ego narrative as a tool for negotiating the world, one uses top-down perception selectively. One becomes largely disentangled from individual and cultural narratives and thus in the world but not of the world. This does not mean disengaged from the world but rather being better at determining what to engage and what not to engage, knowing how to engage dispassionately and impeccably and accepting whatever the outcomes of engagement are with equanimity.
By way of analogy, imagine what it would be like to be an actor on stage with other actors, who are in a hypnotic trance, and thereby be the only one who is aware that a play is in progress and that everyone is merely preforming their part in the play. As is said in some spiritual circles, you would be the only one awake and the only one who actually understood what was going on. You could watch the play unfold, guided by its script, and understand that the actors are performing their parts while believing that they are engaged in reality. You, however, would have a choice whether or not to stay “in character” and perform as the other actors expect you to perform or deviate from the narrative (a.k.a. the script) controlling those expectations.
As an awake person or one grounded in the natural mind, there exists the possibility for unity with the unconditional acceptance or Divine Love that is the essence of Primordial Awareness. As discussed in a short essay, unification is not a causal event. That is, it is a response-independent event. Unity may happen and it may not. It is independent of anything you can do from within the “play.” However, being grounded in the natural mind is good preparation in the event of grace.
This essay begins with two assumptions; if you are uncomfortable with either one, this essay may be a challenge for you. The first assumption is that Awareness/Consciousness1 is the Source of All-That-Is. In this essay, idealism is the preferred perspective over materialism. I will begin with an excerpt adapted from another piece I wrote (see Chapter IX, p. 109) where this preference is addressed.
1. When capital letters are used to begin a word such as in “Consciousness,” the reference is to a primary state as opposed to a derived state (lower case) such as when the word “consciousness” is used. In other words, Consciousness is a universal state and consciousness is a personal or individuated state derived from Consciousness.
There are two dichotomous views on the ultimate nature of reality. One can be called the Primacy of Matter (a.k.a. materialism) and the other the Primacy of Consciousness (a.k.a. idealism). Classical physics and everyday experience support the former, and some interpretations of quantum physics and the experience of various mystics support the latter. The two views have significantly different implications. For example, materialists explain consciousness as an epiphenomenon (derivative) of matter, while idealists explain matter as an epiphenomenon of Consciousness. There is considerable contention around which view is correct. The likelihood is that neither conception will ever be conclusively demonstrated to the satisfaction of everyone.
Both views are faced with essentially the same conundrum, that is, initial origination. If you are of the Primacy of Matter persuasion, you must ask how did matter come about and from what? One hypothesis is the so-called “big bang” event or the near instantaneous expansion of an extremely dense concentration of energy (a.k.a. the primordial atom). Even assuming it is correct, there still remains the question of where did this “primordial atom” come from? The noted physicist Stephen Hawking, for example, suggests spontaneous creation or the creation of something from nothing. If you are of the Primacy of Consciousness persuasion, you must ask where did Boundless Consciousness (hereafter just Consciousness) come from? I know of no hypothesis about the origin of Consciousness. Some Primacy of Matter advocates might argue that matter has always existed and the material universe has cycled through endless re-generations. Likewise, some Primacy of Consciousness advocates might argue that Consciousness has always existed and always will exist. In the end, both camps reach a point where they really have no choice but to say that either matter just is or that Consciousness just is. Regardless of which hypothesis you find the most plausible, you are ultimately faced with a leap of faith.
I make the assumption that Consciousness is primary simply because it provides a model that is broader and deeper than materialism. However, one need not throw off materialism entirely when adopting idealism, because materialism can be subsumed under idealism as a secondary construct. In fact, the two models can be construed to be almost identical except with different root assumptions or starting points. The second assumption that I will make is that evolutionary biology is a valid and powerful process operative at many levels. This almost doesn’t need to be put forward as an assumption since the theory describing the process has pretty well been empirically established. There are, however, some points within the theory that can be argued on scientific grounds, such as the reliance upon random change to the exclusion of any other potential factors. The details of the debate around that issue or others are not necessary to this essay. There are also some who reject the theory out-of-hand, because it is inconsistent with their religious ideology. Such individuals will have to tentatively entertain this assumption for purposes of understanding this essay or stop reading now.
An idea related to the first assumption is that of the indivisible whole. If Consciousness is the source state of All-That-Is, then there is only one Consciousness albeit with many derivative consciousnesses. Thus, All-is-in-Unity becomes an unavoidable philosophical position. The indivisible whole hypothesis is supported by science within the limits of the “physical” universe. Experiments that have been replicated support the quantum state of entanglement by which two particles 2 become connected and share information. If the information is changed in one, it immediately changes in the other even if the second particle is on the other side of the universe. Since the exchange of information in the space/time universe is limited by the speed of light and the speed of light is too slow to account for this near instantaneous exchange of information, entanglement implies an underlying non-locality that is outside of space/time.
2. There is no such thing as a particle as the general public understands the word. The continued use of the term is a carry over from classical physics but it no longer has the “physical” characteristics it was thought to have in classical physics. In short, a particle is not made of matter as it was understood in the classical sense. Some now describe a particle as a concentration of energy and others as a packet of information.
One physicist who has described this entangled universe as an indivisible whole is Menas Kafatos. He further suggests that from our perspective this whole only seems to consist of parts. The perception of these parts or aspects arise from Niels Bohr’s Principle of Complementarity, which was originally proposed to explain the complementary pair of particle and wave but was extended by Bohr to go beyond applications in physics. A complementary pair consists of two aspects of one reality. Thus, hot and cold, male and female, wet and dry, life and death, chaos and order and so on are complementary pairs within the ordinary world. The world that we experience appears to express or manifest itself through such pairs. Thus, the relative world arises within an absolute — Consciousness. In a sense then, only the whole represented by these pairs is “real.” Each member of the pair arises from the whole. The apparent function of complementary pairs is to create a dynamic, dimensional condition that permits change, which is necessary for experience. Change is, for example, the driving force for the second assumption mentioned above.
In summary, we are living in a local world of flux that has arisen out of a Boundless Consciousness that is non-local. We are individuated derivatives of Consciousness that within a physical universe that is at root connected or entangled.
The Core Function of Evolution
While the point might be argued, I will present the core function of the evolutionary process to be reproductive success. I suggest this simply because lack of reproductive success brings the “game” to a halt. Thus, first and foremost, evolution must operate in ways that ensures that life thrives. The evolutionary process has been very successful in meeting its core function. The proof of this is evident in the overwhelming diversity of life and the numbers of people that populate this planet. Presently, there are around seven billion people, and projections are that it will likely peak at around ten billion people later in this century. This did not happen due to a failure of evolutionary driven reproductive success or even through marginally successful reproduction.
At root, human life appears to be about sexual reproduction. The strongest evolutionary motive seems to be the sex drive. Take that away and all the derivatives collapse like a house of cards: art, culture, science, politics, sports and so on. The complement of reproduction is extinction. One cognitive scientist, Donald Hoffman, has even run experiments that demonstrate that it is likely that the very way in which we perceive the world (Interface Theory of Reality) is designed to ensure reproductive success. His experiments suggest that our perception is finely tuned to show us what is important to reproductive success, not how “reality” is in any fundamental sense. As the philosopher Emmanuel Kant recognized in his discourses, we can never know a “thing” in itself. All we can know is what our senses present to us and how our minds interpret those sensory signals, which represent a very limited set from what is available. In a manner of speaking, we are framed by our biology and embedded within the matrix of our consciousness.
Very few of us recognize the degree to which we are driven by biological systems that operate outside of our awareness. At best, we often become aware of impulses and desires that arise from the operation of these systems. Acting on these impulses and desires usually generate immediate rewards, though our actions may have long-term consequences. For example, pleasure from sexual activity leads us to regularly engage in this behavior, and it can frequently lead to reproductive outcomes as evidenced by the size of the human population. If there is a reproductive outcome, other biological systems come into play with the purpose of facilitating a successful outcome long-term. For example, hormone-influenced behaviors toward a child and its care produce rewarding feelings and bonding effects. Further, these biological systems rooted in our early evolution have been incorporated into and articulated through culture. For example, culture creates social extensions of these biological systems that define relationships between the sexes and between parents and adult relatives and children that are generally accepted with little critical examination. We are to a great extent like puppets under the control of our biological systems and their cultural extensions. Most of us go through life more or less on script as if we are automatons. For a longer discussion of this topic click this link.
The complementary pair represented by sex plays a critical role in what we think of as reality. Recall that complementary pairs exist within the context of an indivisible whole. Thus, only the whole is “real” in an absolute sense. Neither party to a complementary pair embodies Reality. Any single aspect of such a complementary pair only has reality relative to its complement. Thus, male and female are somewhat like complements of one another. It would appear that a “male” person from his perspective cannot know the whole of which he is one aspect nor can a female person from her perspective know the whole of which she is one aspect.
The question then becomes, can a part ever know the whole? The whole, of course, is ultimately far more than the merged aspects of a single complementary pair. However, solving the riddle posed by a complementary pair can pull aside the veil that hides the indivisible whole. Perhaps sex is the Rosetta Stone that can lead to deciphering the puzzle posed by a reality comprised of a metaphorical dance between the complementary pair male and female. Hindu thought seems to support the idea of sex as a Rosetta Stone. This is evident in a picture I once saw of a statue depicting Brahman. Brahman, in Hindu thought, is the ultimate reality in the universe. Parabrahman is Absolute reality from which the universe arises. The picture of Brahman showed a statue with two faces. On one side of the head was the face of Shiva (representing the male principle) and on the other side was Shakti (representing the female principle). This same construct is also present in the West through the depth psychology of Carl Jung and his concept of the collective unconscious. The animus (male principle) and anima (female principle) are both archetypes in the collective unconscious. They are also aspects of the unconscious of each individual and both influence the psyche of every individual to varying degrees.
The Sexed Ego
How then might one know the whole? The only way to know the whole is to connect with the whole on a fundamental level. To do this one must see beyond the mask that temporarily permits an individuated self to develop and become entangled in the relative world. This mask is often called ego, where ego represents the narrative or story through which most people live. Perhaps the most basic mechanism involved in the development of an ego is sexing. Inculcation of the biological division of sex often begins prior to birth and certainly at birth. The importance of this biological division is given a critical role in virtually all cultures and is evident, in part, through cultural gender norms. Often this division by sex is insisted upon even in the face of the ambiguity often served up at the margins by the inevitable diversity resulting from biological variability. Neither the evolutionary process nor biological reproduction is rigidly precise, though most cultures prefer to pretend that it is invariant. In fact, it is somewhat like a continuum that is heavily weighted at the ends, while the middle supports a richness of diversity.
I said above that sex might be the Rosetta Stone that can lead to deciphering the puzzle posed by a reality grounded in complementary pairs. Anyone who seeks to dissolve relativity arising like a veiling mist from the Absolute must overcome a divided perspective. One’s entanglement in sex seems like a good place to start deconstructing this divided perspective. The Jungian anima and animus archetypes, according to Jung, exist in all of us with different degrees of emphasis and may even be in open conflict in people such as some transgendered individuals. Thus, if one can reconcile or balance these archetypes within one’s mind or psyche, it should be possible to acquire a perspective on the whole. To quote Joseph Chilton Pearce, “To become whole all parts must be left behind for a whole is not the sum of its parts but a different state altogether.” Understandably, almost everyone attempts to objectify one element of the complementary pair male/female to the exclusion of the other element. An alternative might be to integrate the elemental pair into a whole and become non-binary.
Knowing the universal whole through direct experience is sometimes referred to as union with the Absolute or the indivisible whole. This is probably only possible for those who have softened their relativistic conditioning. One cannot experience the whole while deeply entangled in relative thinking. Striving to exemplify one side or the other of a complementary pair simply perpetuates entanglement in a relative perspective. Thus, a likely first step is to bring into greater balance complementary pairs and for reasons already given, sex/gender seems like a good place to begin the work, though there are other possible starting points. Even if one achieves no more than a better balance between anima and animus within one’s personality, there should follow a better integrated psyche.
How might one go about such an undertaking. There are many possible methods that might be employed but perhaps the two most essential methods are first to identify and then pay close attention to those complementary pairs in which one is entangled. The goal here is to understand the tensions that drive your ego narrative (“Know thy self.”). For example, if you’re entangled in politics, stop reacting and start reflecting on how the tensions produced by politics engages your personal narrative and thereby affects your thoughts and feelings. Become an observer of the process rather than an unwitting participant.
No doubt, one of the complementary pairs that one will be entangled in will be sex and gender since this is almost a universal source of entanglement. The fundamental tensions here will derive from innate biological programs, culturally instilled programs and personal programs learned from experience. These programs usually operate outside of one’s conscious awareness. Thus, make a practice of trying to bring these programs into conscious awareness through your attention. When you become consciously aware of them, recognize how their influence operates through your body/mind but has no effect on the attentive awareness that is inspecting them. For example, when one of your sex/gender programs is aroused by a stimulus in the environment, try to follow this back to its fundamental source, that is, the program that drives it and then try to understand the underlying purpose of that program. Try to deconstruct it and stand back from it. Through understanding try to bring this reactive response under the control of your self-agency (Part I, p. 1). Follow this up by trying to imaginatively or intuitively bring the complement of this program into awareness and perform the same type of examination that you did on its inverse program. Persons on the transgender spectrum should find this easier to do since they probably have, to some degree, pairs of complementary sex/gender programs operating.
Having cleansed oneself of the illusions of a life grounded in relative programming, one settles into the natural mind. The journey of transformation doesn’t end at the natural mind. From the natural mind one can live a contented life, or one can seek intuitive knowledge of the Absolute. All complementary pairs are merely part reflections of fundamental aspects of the Absolute. To know directly the indivisible whole requires a critical shift in perspective. A shift that transcends one’s assumption that “I am a body/mind.” The use of the term “seek” implies that this is something to be found, but in fact it is a realization of a perspective that is always available. When the shift happens, it has profound implications for how one views the relative world and one’s place in it.
There are things that one can do to prepare for this shift in perspective. Many use meditation, cultivation of Presence or Self-inquiry (click here for elaboration) to “fertilize the ground,” but it can’t be made to happen (see Taken). The reason it can’t be made to happen is simply that it requires a perspective that originates outside of the psychological structure referred to as ego. Doing is the province of the ego and the ego can’t take a perspective that requires an awareness operating outside of ego’s structure any more than an eye can examine itself.
When this shift takes place, one realizes that one is not a body/mind but the awareness that inhabits the body/mind. This is not an intellectual understanding but a direct and intuitive knowing. The word “inhabits” is used in the same sense that one inhabits a dwelling. The person inhabiting a dwelling is not the dwelling, and should the dwelling be torn down, the person who inhabited the dwelling goes on. In the same sense, awareness and the individuated consciousness expressed through it arises from the indivisible whole and persists for as long as the Absolute persists. When one is taken by the realization that one is not a body/mind but pristine awareness itself, one also recognizes that pure awareness is devoid of all dualities. Awareness is not good or evil, not male or female, not life or death, not order or chaos. It just is. With this realization comes freedom from history and tradition, culture and words. Freedom from the past and from the future. Freedom to simply be. True perceptual liberation from entanglement in the illusion of complementarity and relativistic reality (see my poem Outlaw that tries to capture such a shift in perspective that happened to me in my late 20s).
This piece was adapted from a post by Fred Davis
You are always awake, but you are not always consciously awake.
What matters is simple recognition [that is, of when you’re consciously awake], because however you display yourself to yourself, you’re almost surely going to have to come back to fresh conscious recognition over and over again. This is the discipline part. This is the process part. Awareness colonizes the body one bit, one seeing, one unconscious pattern at a time.
In every moment that you ally yourself with thinking, which includes every activity of the mind, you are voting for thinking. It’ll take some work to shift that default position. It’ll take a lot of willingness. Thinking isn’t a bad thing, it is just that most of us do too much of it when it isn’t necessary. When your car is stuck in mud, you need to think about how to free it but when someone cuts you off in traffic there is nothing to think about.
Again and again, as you touch truth through actual experience–as you discover truth through continuous inquiry–that touch will bring a longer, stronger, more profound experience of what you always already are–that which knows what you are. Your true essence is pure awareness of what is now, not what you think about it.
Be relentlessly aware of and skeptical about your thoughts. You won’t always have to take your thoughts through a process of formal inquiry. In the beginning inquiry is necessary to purge your mind of pointless chatter. Ask yourself again and again, “Is what I’m thinking really true, or is it a belief, an opinion, a judgment or even a delusion? Even if what you’re thinking is true, do you really need to be engaged in this line of thought right now? The veil of thought arises, it’s questioned, penetrated, and it parts. Repetition is the mother of clarity. Eventually, the inquiry becomes less formal and more spontaneous. Life itself becomes constant inquiry. Like everything else, you don’t have to do a thing. It just happens effortlessly.
You may tell yourself, “It can’t be that simple.” It is.
Liberation is all about right now, this moment.
Freedom is now or never, here or nowhere.
[Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” Mark 4:9]
A simple demonstration exercise follows below:
This exercise based on a Buddhist meditation practice called rigpa (being aware of awareness).
Find a quiet relaxing spot where your visual awareness can be spacious. Examples of the type of setting that I have in mind might be sitting or standing on a peak gazing out across a beautiful wooded valley, sitting on a dock in the early evening gazing out across the waters of a quiet, undisturbed lake or whatever works for you. The essential feature is the relaxed mood the setting evokes, not the setting itself.
Now, just enjoy the feeling of relaxation that the scene evokes in your body, take in the spacious view before you, listen to the subtle sounds arising from the scene, feel the air move about your face and body, smell any odors carried by the air you breathe. Allow yourself to become fully immersed in the totality of the moment. When you are fully settled into the exercise you will be acutely aware but your awareness will be free of thoughts (i.e., words and images) but full of sensations and feelings — pure experience. Fully present.
This is you as an awake consciousness or in your natural mind. It is always available. It can be brought to any circumstance under any conditions. You merely need to learn to stay in this state of consciousness as your normal or habitual way of being. Practice the use of thinking as a tool for accomplishing a specific task and then put it away and become present with your immediate experience.
There is probably no end to the depths of this state of awakened awareness but you first have to learn to live in it before it can flower.
Adapted in part from the Introduction to: The End of Materialism by Charles Tart, PhD
Noted science writer Sharon Begley reported how His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the highest-ranking lama in Tibetan Buddhism and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, watched a brain operation while on a visit to an American medical school. He recalled scientists explaining with great conviction that consciousness is nothing more than a manifestation of brain activity. When the brain stops functioning, from injury or death, our mind vanishes—period, end of story.
Further, Begley reports, the Dalai Lama had always been bothered by the seeming certainty of this kind of “explaining away” of consciousness. Even if you accept the theory that our minds are what our brains do, that our emotions and thoughts are expressions of brain activity, isn’t there more? Isn’t some kind of two-way causation possible?
Could it be, as common sense seems to tell us, that mind might have an active reality of its own rather than just being a by-product of brain activity? His Holiness voiced this question to the chief surgeon.
Begley reports that the brain surgeon hardly paused before authoritatively answering no—period. What we call consciousness or mind is nothing but a product of the physical operation of the brain. The Dalai Lama is a very polite person, and he let the matter drop. He was used to hearing such absolute statements from people who consider themselves scientists.
But, as Begley quotes from the Dalai Lama’s 2005 book, The Universe in a Single Atom, “I thought then and still think that there is yet no scientific basis for such a categorical claim…The view that all mental processes are necessarily physical processes is a metaphysical assumption, not a scientific fact”
On Seeking the Spiritual as a Scientist
“Seeking” is a word commonly associated with spiritual pursuits, but “science” and “scientist” are usually associated with a materialistic view of the universe in which there’s nothing real to the “spiritual,” so how could a scientist seek the spiritual? Wouldn’t such seeking lead to intellectual and emotional conflicts that could be confusing and invalidating, as well as a waste of time?
Indeed, that’s how it is for a lot of people today. Something in them seeks, often desperately, something “spiritual” to make their lives authentic and worthwhile, yet no intelligent person can disregard modern science and its understandings without mentally harming themselves in various ways. But modern science, which has given us so much materially, tells “spiritual seekers” that they’re, at best, soft headed folks unwilling to be completely scientific and, at worst, superstitious fools, perhaps having a serious psychopathology that drives them to seek the “spiritual.”
It was probably simpler in the old days: one believed or disbelieved the one belief system available in your village and that was it. There wasn’t much in the way of competing views. Today we live in an environment rich with information! Tart says, here I am, for example, a constantly fluctuating mixture of scientist; father; husband; psychologist; parapsychologist; teacher; writer; carpenter; bulldozer operator; liberal; conservative; skeptic; and serious off-and-on student of Buddhism, Christianity, Sufism, Yoga, the Fourth Way, and Aikido, believing we have the potential of gods, believing we’re usually practically mindless robots, and so on. That’s a lot of information and roles to balance! And besides offering ideas, many of these spiritual paths say it’s not enough to just think about and believe or disbelieve their ideas—you can and should live your life so that you can have direct personal experience of the spiritual.
On Spirituality and Religion
There is an important distinction to make about science and spirituality, not about science and religion.
In reality, spirituality and religion can’t be totally separated because a categorical distinction oversimplifies a complex interaction. Tart and many other writers, however, do make following distinction. Spirituality is used to refer to life-changing, primary experiences that happen to individuals, while religion refers to social organizations based in beliefs that are relatively fixed and dogmatic. Such organizations and belief systems are usually initiated by the spiritual experiences and teachings of a founder. These organizations and belief systems incorporate and develop (with more or less fidelity) those basic experiences into ongoing social structures, relationships, beliefs, needs, and customs.
Tart argues that you can be scientifically oriented and yet seek and value personal spiritual experience and growth without the doubt and conflict generated by regarding yourself as “irrational,” “unscientific,” or “crazy.” Because there are many psychological and social factors, once spirituality becomes religion, the distinction isn’t quite as clear-cut as we might like it to be. We humans are social creatures, and this can affect, to some degree, the very spiritual experiences we have as well as our ongoing interpretation and understanding of them. Most of us need some ongoing social support in our spiritual lives, so I doubt we’ll ever have a “pure” spirituality unaffected by religion. It must also be the case that if a religion is to survive it must still satisfy at least some people’s spiritual needs.
For Tart, the word “religion” connotes the particular church he was raised in (Lutheran), its doctrines, and the effects on his personality or self that he can now recognize from a wiser (he hopes), adult perspective. On the one hand, there were many good effects: a concern for the welfare of others; a basic belief in some kind of wise, loving, and caring intelligence in the universe; and numerous instances of experiencing kindness and care from adults in the church that helped shape him.
Tart also thinks a lot of his neurotic shortcomings stem from or were reinforced by church doctrines, such as feelings of being inherently sinful, a nagging feeling that no matter how good he is it’ll never be enough, and a pervasive shame about his body and sexuality that has taken many years to overcome. In many ways, he thinks he was forcibly brainwashed by being taught religion when he was too young to really understand and make choices. So “religion,” for him, is a complicated category with conscious, semiconscious, and undoubtedly unconscious feelings, positive and negative, that can create conflict and tension. Perhaps, you recognize yourself in this description!
“Spirituality” Tart says has been a matter of a relatively conscious choice on his part as an adult. The aspects of it he’s chosen to make central in his life have given him goals and guidance that have added much meaning and satisfaction.
So the rational distinction between spirituality and religion — primary, life-changing experiences of the spiritual versus institutionalized, socialized doctrines and practices — is important to make. But lurking in the background are all these emotional elements, tending to make spirituality a “good” word and religion a “bad” word for many of us. At both physical and emotional levels, Tart says he tends to get a little tense and defensive when he hears the word religion. On the other hand, he says when he hears “spirituality,” he relaxes and opens up. He says that to the degree that he recognizes these complexities and work on healing the emotional component, he can be more rational and effective in what he does.
Tart doesn’t generalize further, because there are so many varieties of religion, and aside from their formal beliefs and structures, there are enormous variations in the way different individuals absorb and react to particular religions. By the time some of us reach adulthood, our childhood religions are a useful, and perhaps the best, vehicle for promoting and integrating our individual spiritual experiences, which in turn would further enliven our religions. For others of us, our childhood religions are the enemy of our spiritual growth. How it is for you is a matter for you to discover and work with.
The End of Materialism
The balance of Tart’s book provides an overview of the foundations for and the status of research in each of several different research areas of psi (shorthand for the phenomena studied by parapsychologists). Tart offers his opinion, as an experimental psychologist, on how convincing the evidence is for each psi phenomenon. Based on the evidence, he divides psi phenomena into two groups. Group One contains what he calls the “big five” and includes telepathy, clairvoyance, pre-cognition, psychokinesis and psychic healing. Tart concludes that each of these phenomena is supported by hundreds of rigorous scientific experiments. Group Two contains post-cognition, out-of-body experiences, near death experiences, after death communication and reincarnation. These phenomena Tart concludes don’t have the level of support found for phenomena in Group One. However, he thinks the amount of evidence is such that they can’t be dismissed out-of-hand and warrant continued investigation.
In an earlier review of the evidence for psi done by Dean Radin in his 1995 book, The Conscious Universe, Radin came to a similar conclusion. Radin indicates that the evidence spans 130 years of experiments, involves hundreds of experimenters, thousands of experiments and hundreds of replications. Radin goes into considerable detail about the types of experimental evidence, including the methodologies used and the types of data analyses applied. One cannot read Radin’s book with an open mind and not be convinced that the body of experimental evidence for psi phenomena clearly indicates that something worthy of serious consideration is going on. You can see the evidence for yourself by clicking here.
Least you dismiss Tart and Radin as mere advocates for their personal views, let me offer you a quote from Carl Sagan who examined a lot of the evidence for paranormal claims while writing his 1995 book The Demon Haunted World.
“At the time of this writing there are three claims in the ESP field which, in my opinion, deserve serious study: (1) that by thought alone humans can (barely) affect random number generators in computers, (2) that people under mild sensory deprivation can receive thoughts or images “projected” at them; and (3) that young children sometimes report the details of a previous life, which upon checking turn out to be accurate and which they could not have known about in any other way than reincarnation.”
Science is first and foremost a methodology for examining hypotheses derived from theory. Scientific theory is an explanation that attempts to account for demonstrated facts. Western science is grounded in a theoretical paradigm generally known as scientific materialism. The core assumption of scientific materialism is that matter is primary and all phenomena can be understood by reducing them to their material elements and understanding how those elements interact. The world according to scientific materialism is built of irreducible pieces of matter – a bottom up approach.
Scientific materialism has been the basic paradigm of science since the 17th century and is rooted in a Newtonian worldview. Scientific materialism has, in fact, been highly successful over a long period of time. Unfortunately, this has resulted in it producing scientific dogma and science for many has become scientism or science that ultimately rests upon faith in dogma.
The evidence for psi poses a significant threat to scientific materialism because if the evidence is accepted as factual then scientific theory must account for it but the very nature of the phenomena suggests that it is not and cannot be explained as a product of matter. In short, acceptance of psi phenomena is to accept the real possibility that the core assumptions of scientific materialism are not valid. Thus, the greater one’s faith in the core assumptions of scientific materialism the greater is one’s motivation to be blind to the evidence for and to deny the reality of psi phenomena. In short, to expose oneself as an adherent of scientism.
There are scientists willing to question the validity of the core assumptions of scientific materialism but they are in a minority and are often treated as heretics. Tart, Radin and Sagan clearly belong to that minority. There are other scientists who challenge scientific materialism on grounds other than psi. Physicist Bernard d’Espagnat writing in Scientific American stated, “The doctrine that the world is made up of objects whose existence is independent of human consciousness turns out to be in conflict with quantum mechanics and with facts established by experiments.”
Another physicist, Victor Mansfield, suggests that mind and matter may be part of “…a radically interconnected and interdependent world, one so essentially connected at a deep level that the interconnections are more fundamental, more real than the independent existence of the parts.”
The esteemed Sir James Jean, after pondering the implications of quantum physics, said as long ago as 1948, “The universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine.”
Within the physics community there is a recognition of what is often referred to as “the problem of consciousness” raised by experimental tests of quantum physics. The majority of physicists prefer to ignore the implications of this “problem” and dismiss it as either an “artifact of measurement” or not a scientific problem but a problem better left to philosophers. The minority who treat the problem as a scientific problem find that the evidence suggests that consciousness not matter may be primary. If consciousness is required to collapse a wave into a particle (i.e. to produce matter) then consciousness is an antecedent of matter and matter therefore cannot be primary. If consciousness is primary, the world is constructed from the top down. This reasoning is a significant challenge to the core assumptions of scientific materialism because this conception can potentially explain psi phenomena whereas they are inexplicable in a primacy of matter model.
One physicist who instead of denying that there is a problem has taken the challenge seriously. David Deutsch is an advocate for the multiverse or many worlds theory as a way of explaining away the apparent role of consciousness in quantum wave collapses. The multiverse theory would seem to provide continued support for the primacy of matter. Deutsch suggests that consciousness only appears to collapse a wave when observing it. He argues that when a wave of possibilities collapses ALL the possibilities manifest but each one in a different universe. The apparent single outcome observed is not the product of the observation but a random collapse associated with many outcomes of which only one is manifest in this universe. Thus, the apparent role of consciousness in wave collapse is an illusion.
It would appear that the primacy of consciousness is a simpler explanation than an infinite number of universes. Could there really be a universe where my wife decided, a few months ago, to buy a blue car and another where she decided to buy a red car? Perhaps, but the infinite possibilities this implies is mind boggling. Finally, as clever as Deutsch’s hypothesis is it seems to me that one could argue that the so called “random” collapse into multiple outcomes in multiple universes can still be attributed to observation since I know of no reported instances when observation isn’t associated with collapse. If the collapse was truly random, wouldn’t there be times when observation wasn’t accompanied by collapse? In any event, Deutsch’s explanation doesn’t seem to provide an accounting for psi phenomena.
There is another conception offered by the late David Bohm who proposed a reformulation of quantum theory. Bohm’s reformulation subsumes both top down causation and bottom up causation. To keep it simple, Bohm proposes an implicate order existing in the quantum field and an explicate order existing in the material world, which is an extension of the quantum field. The implicate order provides formative causation or top down causation by unfolding its forms into the explicate order. The explicate order provides feedback by enfolding information back into the implicate order potentially modifying its subsequent explication; i.e., bottom up causation. Consciousness and matter form an interacting unit or loop. I suppose consciousness is still primary over matter in this model but it offers a causative role for both. It seems clear that under this model an explanation for psi is also a possibility.
Regardless of the view taken, we are left with the mystery of mysteries — the origination of matter or consciousness, which remains unanswered and perhaps is unanswerable. A question before which the human mind stands in awe. To quote the late Albert Einstein, “The most beautiful and most profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical…without it [one] is as good as dead.”
I invite you to take an open-minded look at the evidence for psi for yourself and consider the implications of these phenomena for the assumption of the primacy of matter or of consciousness. I can think of no better places to start than with:
The End of Materialism: How Evidence of the Paranormal is Bringing Science and Spirit Together by Charles Tart, PhD