Tag Archives: sex

Is There Authentic Sexuality?

Recently, something I heard raised a question about what is authentic in terms of sexuality. This essay is the result of my contemplation of this question about sexuality and authenticity. To begin I want to make clear what I refer to by the term “sexuality.” In my view, one’s introceptively perceived states, feelings, thoughts and impulses are generally the basis for what becomes one’s sexual identity. Further, these states, feelings, thoughts and impulses can vary in clarity and intensity. As I’ve made clear in another piece on this site, I think that sex, sexuality, sexual orientation and gender are four separate variables that have a range of independent outcomes. The speaker that I heard made it clear that authenticity should be conferred only when all four of these variables were consistent with one another relative to one of the two biological sexes.

I have framed the essay in the language of dualism largely because the dominant worldview and the structure of language make it difficult to do otherwise. I have broken the phenomenon of sexuality up into categories and given them labels, for the same reasons just stated. I also suspect most readers are likely to be dualistic thinkers and subscribe to materialism and naive realism as their ontology or worldview. Personally, I subscribe to a nondual worldview in which the entire universe is an organic whole. The universe, as I see it, is an indivisible ecology that includes humanity. Most people, especially in the west, see the universe as a vast collection of separate, independent and at times interdependent parts that include living organisms such as ourselves. Nondualism in Western philosophy is known as monistic idealism. Links to the work of a contemporary advocate for monistic idealism can be found here.

As I considered the question raised, 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 viable members 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. 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.

Therefore, a male is capable of successfully fulfilling one part of the two-part process of reproduction and a female is capable of successfully fulfilling the other part of the reproductive process. To meet this criterion, one must not only have the requisite biological characteristics but must be either of an age suitable for reproduction or to have been able to meet it when of a suitable age. This describes in its most fundamental sense male and female or functional sexes (FS). The majority of individuals are male or female in the functional meaning of the labels. I think the speaker alluded to above would argue that this and only this is natural and therefore authentic. However, anything that is a product of nature is natural. There are a number of variations on the functional theme described above. These variations to a greater or lesser degree are socially influenced.

How might one understand the labels “boy/man” and “girl/woman”? Here it is necessary to shift focus from a functional biological frame-of-reference to a sociocultural frame-of-reference. Man and woman are labels applied in a sociocultural context and are typically based largely on observable characteristics related to physical appearance and behavior. Behavior characteristics are more closely related to gendered dress, speech, affect, language, attitudes, and mannerisms, etc. These characteristics are grouped to socioculturally (SC) define men and women. Any characteristic attributed to the SC categories of man or woman said to have a biological rather than a social basis must be shown to be linked to characteristics required by functional reproduction. The defining characteristics of men and women have varied somewhat both across cultures and history. Thus, there appears to be some purely sociocultural dimension to such definitions. While there is a high probability that a sociocultural classification (SC) of boy/man or girl/woman will prove to be strongly correlated with matching FS classifications of male or female, it is not a one-to-one correlation.

For example, a child who at birth is labeled as a girl and who identifies as a girl and is socialized as a girl can, as an adult, be classified as a woman. She will be so recognized in the sociocultural context as a girl/woman though she might not meet the definition for a FS classification. Under this analysis, for example, a person who is genetically XY and has Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (CAIS) could be socially classified as a woman. In such a case, the individual looks female, has been socialized in the feminine gender role and identifies as a woman. However, she would not be functionally female under the reproductive definition. This analysis could also be argued to apply to someone who is genetically XX but congenitally sterile for whatever reason.

Evolution is not an invariant process and a minority of births result in atypical outcomes. Some atypical 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 CAIS, mentioned earlier, which result in a female-appearing individual who internally has no female reproductive organs. There also appear to be a range of atypical outcomes, possibly related to physiological processes, that aren’t well understood. 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, which may or may not be overtly acted upon. These, for example, can be outcomes such as variations in sexual orientation, e.g., homosexuality and/or sexual identity, e.g., cross-sex identification. These atypical variations can be manifest to varying degrees and will be stronger and more intense in some individuals than in others. There also exists the possibility that some individuals might adopt what I’ve referred to as atypical sexuality by choice. Probably, a choice influenced by temperament, personality and experience. I suspect that if such individuals exist, they comprise a very small portion of the atypical population.

The most ambiguous group of outcomes are generally thought to arise from variations in physiology, such as atypical 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. There exists some evidence in support of this hypothesis, but the actual mechanisms have not been clearly identified and verified as the cause of these outcomes. Such individuals, strictly speaking, are classifiable as FS if they are capable of carrying out the reproductive function for which their body type evolved. Even a person with a strong sense of being in a wrongly sexed body but who has not undergone alteration of physiology and anatomy and is capable of reproduction could still be classified as FS. If they do reproduce, they are clearly FS.

A person may have engaged in reproductive behavior and produced progeny in the past and then undertaken physiological and/or anatomical alterations that now prevent carrying out a reproductive function. Such an individual has, in effect, chosen to remove her/himself from their previous FS classification. However, removing yourself from one FS classification (e.g., female) does not and cannot qualify you for the alternate FS classification (e.g., male). Such an individual now presents as a man or woman and lives through a masculine or feminine gender role. Clearly, on the basis of the above argument, they are not what has been termed female or male and have no FS status. I would also suggest that they are not what has been socially defined as a man or a woman and usually don’t achieve a SC status. Of course, the labels trans man or trans woman claim neither functional status nor sociocultural status but make a claim to have transitioned to a cross-sex status. This appears to constitutes a third category; i.e., transsexual (TS), which could also be argued to be a variant on the SC category.

A TS person has altered their body and adopted the social role that contrasts with the body they were born into and the gender role into which they were socialized. Thus, we have persons who have undergone a cross-sex transition and identify as trans women or trans men. Also, in recent years, there have been children who cross identify and are socialized in that cross role and make an early transition through hormone therapy and later surgical alteration. These children become trans women and trans men, though they may in some respects be more difficult to classify. They will usually represent a close approximation to someone in a SC classification. It could be argued that they should be classified in the SC category under the same reasoning that someone with CAIS can be classified as SC; i.e., for all practical purposes they are indistinguishable from SC men and women.

It could be argued that transsexualism as described above is not natural on the grounds that it requires human intervention through medical procedures. However, the underlying impetus for the medical procedures appears to occur as a natural variation of reproductive biology. Such individuals have existed and lived cross sexed lives long before there were any medical interventions available. Thus, the ability to reconfigure the body didn’t create TS individuals but merely gave them an option that wasn’t previously available. In other words, radical reconfiguration of the body has become possible through the evolution of human culture, especially through the expansion of medical science during the past one hundred years or so.

In my opinion, gender is part of a socially constructed role. I think that we can legitimately talk about feminine gender and masculine gender in terms of a range of presentations, attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and so forth. All of these can be and probably are commonly learned through developmental socialization. One could acquire such gender characteristics through more formal learning methods later in life, but they may not be as complete or as deeply programmed as when acquired developmentally through socialization. Some would argue that gender characteristics are biologically based but my opinion is that many of them arise from social convention and for social purposes. Making a biological connection for a gender characteristic requires showing a derivative relationship to a reproductive function. While gender is often employed as a stereotype, there is actually a fair amount of variability within a gender role in any given sociocultural context. In other words, it is possible for there to be some overlap in gender characteristics, so they aren’t as exclusive as some stereotypes seem to suggest.

There are many individuals with atypical sexuality who are not transsexuals in the sense of having reconfigured their bodies to conform in appearance to the anatomy of a man or woman. Such an individual may conform partially, e.g., is only on hormone therapy. It could be argued that partial conformity should qualify as TS and perhaps it should. It seems to me, however, that there should be a significant degree of irreversibility in whatever modifications are used to so qualify as TS.

Cross-identified individuals, who forego the option of body reconfiguration, simply limit their modification to cosmetic efforts. An individual who is not TS but is cross-gendered may identify with and learn the cross-gender role and socially present through cosmetic changes combined with gender role behaviors. Any individual who makes an effort to change their social presentation to that of a man or a woman and live through that gender role but who is not transsexual, as defined earlier, I would classify as cross-gendered (CG). Thus, providing a fourth category, which also could be argued to be a variation of the SC category. Cross-gender must also be considered as natural, if one accepts, as I do, that CG is highly likely to have its origins in developmental biology.

There still remains the possibility of someone who identifies, at least in part, with a gender role different from the one in which they were socialized but who continues to conduct their life through the role in which they were socialized. These individuals have not transitioned physically and socially nor do they make a social transition. I do not count, as social transitions, social presentations such as limited events like costume parties, special interest club events and presentations limited to the home. I would not classify such individuals as CG. However, I think for most such individuals their decision not to transition is due to a weaker impetus, though in some cases it may simply be social pressures that prevent them from transitioning. Nevertheless, I would again suggest that the impetus likely has its roots in developmental biology and is therefore natural.

I suppose one could think of these non-transitioning individuals as gender explorers (GE). A GE can be as limited as someone who sometimes engages in cross-gender fantasies and/or sometimes identifies with cross-gender characters in novels, television programs, movies, public personalities or acquaintances. A GE can further make a study of and learn parts of a cross-gender presentation such as dress, speech, mannerisms and so on. This group too could be argued to be a variation on the SC category since gender role appears to be heavily influenced by sociocultural factors.

However, the sociocultural factors in SC, as initially defined, are more fundamental and widespread in their application and acceptance for that classification relative to those classifications that follow it in this discussion. I am aware that there are many who would disagree with my choice of labels and their definition, but they make sense to me. I also tend to think about the “categories” described above as positions along a spectrum or dimension that represents a range of natural diversity. 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.

Based on the line of thought above, I would argue that all variations of sexual identity are natural and, if natural, must be authentic. The remarks made by the individual mentioned at the beginning of this piece expressed the opinion that most of the variations described above are not natural but are choices made by persons who suffer from psychological disorders. I have heard a number of such people expound this opinion and find in them two common characteristics. First, they live from a narrative about how the world should be or, as someone else has said, “are lost in their minds.” These people can’t or won’t make a distinction between their mental narrative about the world and reality as it presents to those who have eyes with which to see clearly. Second, the mental constructs from which their narrative is built are impervious to change and seldom susceptible to explanations or evidence that contradict their beliefs. In short, they tend to have rigid personalities and a need for certainty even if they are certainly wrong.

I would further argue that authenticity is a concept and not a part of the natural world. Concepts are the brick and mortar from which narratives are constructed. Thus, when an argument is made about someone not being authentic, what the argument entails is comparing the individual to an idea or set of ideas forming a belief integral to a narrative and finding them wanting. To put the matter differently, it is as if I were to compare someone to a fictional hero in a novel and find them unauthentic because they don’t meet the ideal set by the fictional hero. The concept of authenticity might be useful as in determining that a painting is an authentic Dali but it is useless for judging the inherent characteristics of people.

To fully understand human sexuality requires that one not focus on the end points but also take into account all the transitions along the spectrum, which no doubt are more varied than it was possible to cover in this piece. True understanding comes not from the parts but from the whole. I have also argued in another piece on this site that identifying fully with either end point limits one’s ability to gain an understanding of the whole. Those who fall onto the spectrum between the anchors are in the best position to blend the duality into an understanding of the whole. This, however, is only possible if one can rise above the motivation to make oneself conform as close as possible to one of the dimensional anchor points.

One way to approach the task of “rising above” is to consider the task from the point of view of monistic idealism. If asked who you are, you mostly likely will begin with a litany of role descriptions; e.g., I am a woman, a wife, a teacher, a Swede, an amateur athlete and so on. This is not who you are. This is a shorthand account of the narrative that you have created to establish an identity. You are not your identity. Your identity in and of itself does nothing and knows nothing. It is just a story, a story that depends entirely upon the conceptual mind and memory. This is not to say that an identity doesn’t have its uses especially as an interface with the web of the world.

What I mean by the mind is that scaffold of mental constructs that might be called ideas, concepts, beliefs, information, language, etc. The mind, in my view, might be thought of as a cognitive structure existing within awareness. By way of illustration, imagine a large grassy field (awareness) with a complex set of “monkey” bars (mind) set up on part of it. Most of us spend most of our time “playing” on the monkey bars and give scant attention to the field (awareness). When an experience occurs, we usually interpret it through the structures comprising the 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.

Our experiences are encoded through images and language and are therefore linked to the scaffold. The development of mind is supported by the experiences of the body in the physical world. Experience is a critical contributor to the development of mind. The complimentary pairs mentioned earlier exist because they make experience possible through the tensions produced by the contrast between the anchor points – if no contrasts, then no experience and no mind.

In nondual philosophy, the body exists to support our individuated awareness, which is but one “frequency” of awareness. Your frequency is generated by the Source field of awareness, which is the ground of all being. Think of Source as a carpet and your personal awareness is like a single thread running through the carpet. Further, the body comes equipped with many basic programs that drive its functions, and these are added to, expanded and extended through experience. Many of these programs are what I have called in other pieces on this site APs or automatic programs. These programs run outside of awareness and make a huge contribution to what you do both covertly and overtly. In fact, many of the beliefs that we hold are acquired as a means of explaining some of the automatic outcomes from our APs. In short, we spend a lot of time making up explanations for why we think, feel and behave in certain ways. This gives us the illusion of being causal actors in the world when in fact we may be much more like zombies than we’re willing to admit.

Thus, the body/mind moves us through the world according to its own programs and patterns. If you think that you are your thoughts, memories, impulses, feelings, sensations, etc., just sit quietly and experience them arising and subsiding (one objective of meditation). Are they coming and going of their own accord? Are you making them come and go? If you think that they are part of you and you are instigating them, I suggest you command them to stop and see what happens. If, as I suspect, you have little success in giving effective commands, consider this question: who is doing the observing of the body/mind and its activities? I would suggest that you consider that observer to be the much neglected and scaffold-free awareness. In other words, the large, flat, green field that you give little or no attention to as you swing happily through the maze of monkey bars.

I suggest that you adopt the perspective that you are pure awareness (what I’ve called the natural mind in another piece on this site) and not the body/mind. This is not as easy as it might seem because you have a great deal of practice in identifying with the body/mind. If you succeed in making this perceptual shift, you will find that identifying with pure awareness puts everything in a different light. Do understand that a perceptual shift is not the same thing as believing a new concept. One difference you will perceive is that pure awareness has no sex, sexuality, sexual orientation or gender. It is unencumbered being. You will have risen above the duality of sex (among other things) and are now in a position to understand the whole without being confused by attachment to some part of the whole.

This expansion in perspective does not remove you from planet earth. You still have a body/mind and you still have to get along in the everyday dualistic world (a.k.a. living life). You still need a body and you still need to take care of it. However, you will come to see and treat your body as a vehicle that has a lot of useful features, not unlike your car. You don’t confuse your identity with your car and should not confuse your identity with your body. The same applies to your mind, which can be a very useful tool, but one must be careful not to get so engrossed in thinking and thoughts that you become lost in your memories, stories about them, explanatory narratives and imagined future events. More on the above can be learned from various teachers and guides. A partial list of teachers is located at this link.

The late Franklin Merrill-Wolff was an American mystic who lived from awareness. There is a short piece on Merrell-Wolff on this site. He described his perspective as “the high indifference.” He was not using the word “indifference” in its common meaning of not caring. What he was trying to indicate was that one deals with life and the world as needed and with as much loving kindness as possible. In doing this, one acts without attachment to the outcome of the action. This requires avoiding emotional entanglement in the endless flux of the world of human creation or what I have called, in another piece on this site, “the web of the world.” Thus, one lives and acts from high indifference. From the perspective of pure awareness, a question about authenticity never arises.

Howling Wolf Interviews Jessie Christenson

It is my pleasure to present the first and long-awaited interview with Jessie Christenson, the world-renowned author and playwright. Jessie’s work is often acclaimed for its authenticity and remarkable insight into the dynamics of human personality and culture. In this interview, I’ll try to drill down and tap into the source of knowledge that allows him to create remarkable works of art that have garnered almost every literary award worth mentioning. For brevity, I’ll simply use initials to indicate who is speaking. The following is a transcript of the live interview done with Jessie over Zoom. Subscribers can watch the video of the interview on the Howling Wolf web site. Let’s dive in.

HW:     Jessie, can you fill us in a little on your background. I have heard that both of your parents were cultural anthropologists. Were you able to spend much time with them as you grew up?

JC:       Yes, both of my parents were anthropologists. They spent a lot of time in the field studying indigenous people and especially their language and culture. I was fortunate to be able to go along on all of their expeditions.

HW:     You obviously are educated, so how was this accomplished in the field?

JC:       Pretty much the way education took place for most of human history. You might think of it as a community effort. I was taught formal skills such as composition, grammar, mathematics and science by my parents. Most of my formal education was through independent study materials under the supervision of my parents. However, there was a much broader informal dimension to my education that came from immersion in the culture around me and guidance from members of the indigenous community.

HW:     Was there any informal component in particular that was, in your view, especially important to your development as a writer?

JC:       Yes. I think the experience that was most transformative for me was an extended expedition that my parents undertook to study a group of indigenous people who were very isolated and had had very limited contact with the world outside of their village.

HW:     How long did this extended expedition last?

JC:        We lived among The People for six years.

HW:      That is a long time for a kid. How old were you during this period?

JC:         I lived with The People between the ages of 12 and 18.

HW:      You refer to your hosts as The People. Do they have a name?

JC:         Of course, but their name for themselves, in their language, simply means The People. Thus, I just refer to them as The People because the word in their language is difficult for English speakers to pronounce and would be a meaningless sound in any case.

HW:      So, what was the nature of the transformative educational experience that you had while living with The People?

JC:         It was grounded in a relationship that developed between myself and a person that I will call the village shaman, though The People used a different name. Their shaman was a very old and very wise woman who served as a combination physician and spiritual guide. Before you ask her name, I’ll just say that I came to simply call her by the word in The People’s language for grandma.

HW:      Grandma?

JC:         Yes. Many of the young people in the tribe referred to her in that way, and I did as well. Also, she was certainly old enough to be my grandmother, and given our life style, I had little opportunity to cultivate a relationship with my actual grandmothers who were thousands of miles away for most of my life.

HW:      OK. So, Grandma it is. What did you learn from Grandma that gave you such a deep insight into people and their ways?

JC:         At first, I just hung around her some when I wasn’t doing schoolwork. After a year or so, I had picked up enough of the language for simple communication. She began to take an interest in me and helped me with the language. Eventually, I became adept enough with the language and the culture that I was able to question her about her activities. This is when she began to mentor me in her perspective on the world and when my true education began.

HW:      What did you learn from her that was so transformative?

JC:         To begin with, she began teaching me about the nature of the world as she understood it. She talked about what would translate into English as “spirits.” The basic system she taught was that all life is the manifestation of what I would describe as an energy field, though in her language it was called the spirit realm. In humans, she taught that we have seven major points of connection with this field. In her terms, we are potentially under the influence of seven spirits. Each connection links to what might be described as a drive or program. Again, Grandma talked in terms of the guidance or influence that flowed from each of these spirits. How you function depends on which of these connections (spirits) is dominant.

HW:      What was it about this system that she taught you that gave you such a solid grasp of human beings’ motivations and behaviors?

JC:         I learned from her that virtually all of humanity is dominated by one of three programs or drives.

HW:      So, pretty much everyone is driven by one of these three programs or drives?

JC:         That isn’t quite right. Everyone is dominated by one of the three, but the other two serve in a supporting role. Thus, the underlying dynamic is a triad. Think of a triangle where the focus is the apex of the triangle.

HW:      What are these three basic drives or programs?

JC:         Each of the core drives can be associated with a function. The first is safety. The second is sex. The third is status.

HW:      So, these three drives are all that one needs to understand human motivation and behavior?

JC:         Yes, or at least almost. There are other connections that can activate and come into play, but the vast majority of human beings and their cultures are entangled in these three core programs.

HW:      Okay, let’s take one of them and unpack it. Why not the first one — safety.

JC:         Fine. Safety is a biological imperative. If one isn’t safe then there is little if any hope for success at sexual reproduction or of achieving social status. The drive for safety leads to fear of anything that can be imagined to pose a threat. Most individuals and most cultures are strongly influenced by fear. From fear comes suspicion of others and their motives. This in turn leads to defensiveness, which can be no more than a psychological attitude or can progress to more overt forms. Fear- driven defensiveness leads to prejudgments about people, usually grounded in superficial characteristics such as race, ethnicity or class. The result is an “us” against “them” mentality.

HW:      I think I see how fear unfolds from a drive for safety in individuals. How does this translate into culture?

JC:         Fear at the cultural level is usually exhibited as aggressiveness, which can range from violent behavior to “friendly” competition. You know the old saying that the best defense is a good offense. Culturally, this aggressiveness will show up in some sports, movies, television and video games, to name a few. On another level, one can see it clearly in institutions such as police forces, Homeland Security and in military organizations. All of these institutions need an “enemy” to employ their protective mandates against. These can range from criminals, individuals from a cultural outgroup, terrorists who are acting out of their own safety drive and fear and finally, state actors who can be cast as a large scale evil that threatens the nation and are targets for major military campaigns, or at least preparation for one.

HW:      This drive appears to be almost fractal in the way that it grows and expands into evermore complex patterns that acquire all kinds of rationales as it evolves. But, if we understand this, isn’t that the key to deconstructing it?

JC:         You and I might be able to deconstruct it, but most people are totally oblivious to the underlying dynamics. They see only the surface manifestations without ever drilling down to the roots from which these surface manifestations spring. One might say they act as if they are blind or asleep.

HW:      I think I’m beginning to understand what some people mean by “waking up.” Let’s delve into another drive. What about the second drive? What about sex?

JC:         This one is much easier to observe because it has become ubiquitous, in Western life, through mass media. Evolution has given humans a strong sex drive that is largely motivated by pleasure, but there are some other factors such as a commonly experienced biological impetus in women for children. The underlying purpose of sex is reproduction, but pleasure is a potent reinforcing motivation for engaging in sex, which frequently results in conception whether intended or not.

HW:      Modern contraceptives seem to have undermined this drive to a large extent, as evidenced by falling birth rates around the globe.

JC:         That is true, and it may be a good thing given the pressures of over population. However, a decline in reproduction will have no impact on pleasure-driven sex as a major motivating drive. While reproduction was the primary evolutionary goal, the method used to achieve it continues to apply with or without reproduction.

HW:      So, with reproduction declining, what other role does the sex drive play in motivation and culture?

JC:         A very big role. Think about all the permutations that sexuality has undergone. If you examine the stories that surround biologically based sex-related behavior, what you see is an explanation generated by culture with individual adaptation to the cultural story about that behavior.

HW:      Could you give an example of what you mean by cultural explanations or cultural stories?

JC:         Sure. Take for example sexual attraction. The biology of sexual attraction is designed to direct one toward sexual partners that are likely to produce viable and successful offspring. This is a biological program that the individual and culture needs to explain. You have this set of preferences and behaviors that seem to mysteriously arise from outside of awareness. The individual experiencing them didn’t arrive at these preferences and related behaviors by any rational or thoughtful process. They just asserted themselves. The human ego evolved to mediate between our internal programs and the environment. The ego likes to feel it is in control of what is going on. A spontaneous arising of preferences and behaviors demands an explanation that rationalizes them. Early on in our species history, individual egos set out to generate a plausible explanation or story governing how these preferences and behaviors are actually “chosen” by an individual. Over time these individual stories aggregate into a cultural explanation and individuals acquire the story through enculturation.

Once the explanation or story is in place, it is dynamic. This means that it evolves and adapts over time and may become, to some degree, divorced from the biological program, which was its initial reason for being. Thus, we see different cultures employ somewhat different stories and different expectations based on those stories but almost never a variation that is contrary to the biological imperative for reproduction. The dynamic nature of these stories also results in all sorts of effects. Explanations for sexual attraction lead to effects on social behaviors, mannerisms, notions of attractiveness, clothing styles, hair styles, cosmetics and grooming in general, which in turn impacts businesses, entertainment and the economy. Thus, the fractal nature of the permutations referred to earlier.

HW:      Well, that is fascinating. I had never thought about how so much of what permeates everyday life is actually generated by a basic biological program. Can you give a couple of more examples?

JC:         OK. Another permutation with its origins in the basic biological program that motivates reproduction also impacts what culturally we often label “mother love.” There is a biological program that kicks in when the sex drive achieves reproduction. Hormonal changes are elicited in both sexes, but especially in the female, that has a bonding effect between the mother and the child. Along with this bonding effect comes a “halo effect” so that the child is viewed as “perfect or precious.” The hormonal changes also produce a strong positive affect toward the child. These feelings motivate nurturance and protection of the child so that it can develop into an adult and repeat the process. This whole process has been explained through the cultural stories concerning the “joys” of motherhood, the “gift” of children, the importance of family, and so on. However, to keep things brief, I’ll bring this example to a close. Based on the discussion above, I think you and your audience can work out any further details for yourself.

Briefly, I’ll mention one more cultural theme tied to the basic sex program embedded in our biology. This one relates to the cultural stories or rules that have evolved to manage marriage and family. The rules relating to marriage generally are tied to the story about sexual attraction. Under the best of conditions, the cultural story about who one should be attracted to and why are interfaced with who one should marry. For example, in some cultures, the story employs the notion of “romantic love” to tie together the rules of attraction and marriage. In other cultures, the story employs the notion that this is a matter for the family to decide based on the “better judgment” of the parents. In such cases, the role of economics and social status have become the dominant themes in the story. This can create conflict when the cultural story doesn’t interface very well with the “laws of attraction” grounded in the basic biological program. You can no doubt think of other stories.

HW:      Your mention of social status reminds me that status is the third program or drive that you mentioned as forming the basic motivational triangle. Let’s talk a little about this program.

JC:         OK. The next step in the base motivational triangle is social status. The drive for status within the social group has obvious ties to the other two programs, that is, safety and sex. Status is one way of enhancing one’s importance to the social group and thereby gain better control of resources needed for safety. Status also generally plays a role in determining one’s attractiveness as a sexual partner.

HW:      So, social status is basically a way enhance one’s position relative to safety and sex?

JC:         Yes. You can see the importance of status by looking at almost any social organization, whether it is a social class, professional, religious, business, political, military or some other type of social organization. All of these organizations have hierarchies based on the relative prestige of the levels in the hierarchy, usually based on the associated decision-making power, economic power or a combination of both.

HW:      Can you give us a couple of examples?

JC:         Sure. Take one of the most obvious such as a military organization. Almost everyone is already generally familiar with the ranking structure in a military organization. Clearly, as one’s rank rises, decision-making power increases as well as income. The relationship of military organizations to national safety or defense issues is obvious.

HW:      Yes, that one is pretty obvious. How about one less obvious?

JC:         How about a social institution such as academia. This is an institutional structure about which a lot of people have only a vague knowledge but is as complex or more complex than a military organization. I won’t bore you with a lot of detail, but there is hierarchy between institutions and specialty areas within institutions. This is further stratified by ranks within the teaching faculty and research faculty. Institutional administration is largely independent of faculty and has a hierarchy of its own. This could be explicated further, but I think you get the idea. You can drill down for the complete details easily enough, if motivated to do so. Decision-making power exists within these institutions, but the institutions as represented by individuals within them also can exercise power in the society at large. One example would be consultants to government, business and even the military, whose expertise and opinions are widely sought and respected.

HW:      Let’s see if I can summarize this for our viewers. Almost everyone is controlled by three basic biological drives or programs. These are safety, sex and status. The first ensures that one reaches sexual maturity and at least has a chance to become sexually active, which increases the probability of the second (reproduction). The third provides a method for improving one’s chances for safety and of becoming sexually active. All of this is to a large degree opaque due to the degree of cultural elaboration built up on these three basic programs. The cultural customs, taboos and formal rules are secondary to the basic programs but help explain, structure and justify the behavior motivated by the basic programs. Most of us are totally absorbed in playing out our lives within the cultural narrative that we live in and using that narrative to derive contextual meaning for our lives. Most people are “blinded” for their entire lives by their identification with cultural and personal narratives.

JC:         That seems like a fair summary. Keep in mind that the secondary elaboration on these three basic programs is very diverse and complex, which makes the basic processes less obvious than one might suppose. This complex is often what is meant when we invoke the concept of “world.” The world in this sense is a complex of ideas, concepts, beliefs and expectations that govern a drama called “human culture and civilization” performed on a stage called earth. Whatever aspect of the world you might have a question about, you could do worse than deconstructing it with the goal of finding the underlying biological programs and how they relate to the phenomenon motivating your question.

HW:      In your comments, you have hedged a bit here and there about just how pervasive is our entanglement in cultural and personal narratives. Do you wish to comment on that?

JC:         All right. I have hedged about pervasiveness because there are always a few people, during any period of time, who rise above cultural and personal narratives and see beyond them.

HW:      How do these people rise above narratives?

JC:         These people are known in some circles as awake. What they have awakened to is their narratives and their entanglement within them. Once awakened, the individual gains a new perspective on life that helps him or her sees through the filters imposed by personal and cultural narrative. One also becomes more aware of the basic drives or programs underlying the narratives and thereby less subject to their demands.

HW:       So they are no longer responsive to narratives and their underlying programs?

JC:         They may still respond to bio/social narratives with discernment when necessary. Just because one can see clearly that one is living in a complex drama doesn’t mean that it no longer can affect you. Thus, to live in the “world” is of necessity to play a part in the drama. However, even one who is aware of being an actor in a complex drama must be careful not to get lost in the drama. This is best avoided by acting only in situations where it is truly necessary, acting as impeccably as possible and having no expectations about the outcome. In short, not getting emotionally attached to any one possible outcome in the situation. One might described this approach as being in the world through a state of “compassionate indifference.”

HW:      I see how acquiring an objective perspective on learned personal and cultural narratives can be liberating. However, can one liberate oneself from biological programs?

JC:         Yes, however, I would like to point out that we are all threads of Consciousness making use of complex biological avatars that have evolved specifically to provide us a vehicle through which we can gain experience. Thus, one should not have as a goal to liberate oneself from biological programs just because such liberation is possible, at least in some cases. To be aware of biological programs and how they operate through you is desirable. To selectively choose, on a rational basis, not to be “driven” by a biological program is reasonable. Tinkering with a biological program, when such tinkering is possible, can be justified. This is clearly another case for the application of discernment.

I also would make a distinction between biological programs. There are what the researcher John Lilly called “death” programs that simply can’t be eliminated, for example, the program that lies behind thirst. Then there are all the other innate biological programs such as those related to sex and reproduction. Finally, there are acquired programs that have a biological substrate but aren’t in and of themselves innate, for example, addictions. Discernment can be applied to both biological and learned narratives. One does not have to respond to impulses arising from biological impulses, whether they are innate or acquired, as is the case with addictions. One can even choose not to respond to impulses from “death” programs but only for short periods of time.

HW:      I would imagine that it is difficult to choose not to respond to biological impulses.

JC:         Some impulses are, of course, more powerful than others, and this can vary across individuals. However, the first step is to inhibit an automatic reaction to the impulse. I should say here that a distinction needs to be made between impulses and reflexes. When you have an impulse to eat a piece of cake or smoke a cigarette, that is different from a reflex that pulls your hand back from something hot.

One probably should not try to inhibit a reflex unless it is clear that the reflex is dysfunctional. There are ways of “unlearning” or counterconditioning reflexes that have become associated with inappropriate eliciting antecedents. However, in the case of unwanted impulses, modification or even elimination is possible. One can sometimes inhibit emitting a response by “force of will,” which is a skill that is poorly developed in most people and may actually have the opposite result in any case. That is, trying to will the impulse away places intense attention on it and this can actually give it strength. But, if that works for you, then go with it.

Another approach is becoming present with something other than the impulse that is in the moment. Think of this as a diversionary tactic. For example, becoming absorbed in the smell of a flower, the sound of a bird chirping or watching your pet play with a toy. It doesn’t matter as long as it is available now. Of course, it is easy to be present with the impulse but becoming present with the impulse is a bit like unpacking a thought and becoming entangled in it. It takes over. Keep your attention off of the impulse even though you may still be aware of it. If not given attention, it will naturally subside just as it naturally arose — independent of your volition.

One caveat, if you have developed your ability to monitor your thoughts, emotions, impulses and so forth objectively as a mere observer or witness, then you can successfully give that form of attention to an impulse as a way of letting it run its course without responding to it. Many dedicated meditators have acquired this mode of self-monitoring but most people can’t do it.

HW: Does “waking up” imply arriving at some other level of motivation?

JC:         Yes, at least in a manner of speaking. There are “spiritual energies” that lie above the basic programs. One of these is compassion.

HW:      Could you elaborate a bit on compassion?

JC:         Yes. Compassion is a combination of empathy and a predisposition toward supportive actions. A deep feeling of compassion can lead to living a life rooted in unconditional acceptance of others and a willingness to help them, if possible. This means acting from Love, not to be confused with biological bonding or cultural notions of love, whether romantic, religious or familial.

HW:      How does the transformation from living through personal and cultural narratives to living through compassion come about?

JC:         The core levels are bio/social and mostly reactive. Spiritual unfolding takes one through Grace. One can, however, prepare oneself to be ready to best take advantage of Grace, if it happens. Compassion (a.k.a. the state of “I AM-ness”) is a midpoint between the core motives and true spiritual unfolding. I often refer to this state as the natural mind by which I mean one has reacquired the ability to enter unconditioned awareness.

HW:      What do you mean by reacquire?

JC:         Infants and very young children live in a state of unconditioned awareness. This is sometimes described as a state in which bottom-up perception dominates. This state is eroded as the core motives are activated and especially when these begin to elicit an evolving personal narrative and to engage the extant cultural narrative.

What begins to develop with narration is a large repertoire of conditioned or learned ways of seeing and responding to events within oneself and the environment. With this development there is a shift toward top-down perception. In short, perceptions are filtered through both personal and cultural constructs or, as some might say, through stories about the world and ourselves. Thus, if one learns to voluntarily shift from top-down perception into bottom-up perception, then one can be said to have reacquired a previous state of being.

HW:      Since you use the term “reacquire,” I assume that this is neither a reflexive state or a state of Grace?

JC:         Correct. This is something that one can directly influence.

HW:      How?

JC:         First, you need to carefully observe and consider the drama unfolding through your life and come to see and recognize when learned constructs are guiding your perceptions. When those constructs are recognized, especially as dysfunctional, you need to desensitize yourself to their control over your thoughts, emotions and behavior. Contemplative and meditative practices, among others, can be useful in initiating and working through this process.

Second, you need to work toward learning to make decisions and take actions using discernment. By this, I mean seeing situations as they actually are, not as they are construed through narrative filters, and then arriving at an appropriate response. In many cases, an appropriate response will be no response. In other cases, if your compassion arises, you take the most compassionate response available to you.

Third, your response should be performed with impeccability and followed with equanimity. The former means to the very best of your ability and the latter means without an emotional attachment to the outcome. Equanimity is especially important because it is your defense against becoming entangled in the narrative context that you have, of necessity, engaged.

HW:      What are the transformations beyond compassion?

JC:         There are three states beyond I Am-ness. The fifth state is Self-realization by which is meant that one experiences one’s higher Self or a state of pure being. After that comes what some might call God Consciousness or Christ Consciousness, in which one fully experiences non-duality and Divine Love. Finally, there is Unity Consciousness, in which one experiences merger with the whole and knows that ultimately there is nothing but Source, Consciousness or God, as you will. A state of Love-Bliss.

HW:      Wow. That takes us a long way from where we started. Would you care to elaborate on any of these?

JC:         Not really. These last three conditions, in particular, affect very, very few people and play little role in coming to see how I understand humanity and express that understanding in my work. However, if enough people were to work toward and reacquire their natural mind, civilization and humanity would be transformed for the better regardless of what transformations may lie beyond.

HW:      Thank you for sharing with us.

JC:         It has been my pleasure.

                

Sex, Sexuality and Philosophy

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 in trying to understand 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.

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. 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 in 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 analogous to a field of energy that is 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 and is eternal. 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 (energy) within the field 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 or a unified and infinite field 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 in 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 philosophical discussion for TG?

Lets look at the implications of taking the position of materialism. For our purposes, a TG experiencer 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 experiencers, 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 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 that is 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 worth 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 that 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.

Notes:

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.

 

Entangled in Duality

Introduction

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 ground state 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 Wholly Spirit sub-section) where this preference is addressed.

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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.

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          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/matter (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 the Universal Field of 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 ground or source state of All-That-Is, then there is only one Consciousness albeit with many derivative consciousnesses. Thus, All-is-One 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.

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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.

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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, good and bad, 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 from the absolute ground state of

Consciousness. In a sense then, only the whole represented by these pairs is “real.” Each member of the pair arises from the whole and is grounded or rooted in the whole.

The apparent function of complementary pairs is to create a dynamic that permits change, which is necessary for experience. Change is, for example, the driving force for the second assumption mentioned above. The relative world of change that arises from the absolute is the complement of its unchanging ground state.

In summary, we are living in a local world of flux that has arisen out of a virtually infinite and indivisible field of Consciousness that is non-local. We are individuated derivatives within a universe that is an indivisible whole in which everything 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.

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 mirror images 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 mirror reflections posing as 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.

Unity

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. 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 Outlaw).

Sex, Gender and Language

          One of my personal peeves is the regular substitution of the word “Gender” for “Sex” on forms and in conversation. While the choice “Sex: Male or Female” when strictly referring to biological or external morphological characteristics is not always accurate, the choice “Gender: Male or Female,”  in my opinion, marginalizes, if not pathologizes everyone outside the normative range (statistically speaking). Below I will outline the understanding of these terms that leads me to see absurdity in the way that they are frequently used.

To keep this relatively simple I will limit myself to sex as one can perceive it from a visual inspection of external morphology or physical appearance. This leaves out the confounds of internal morphology, which includes internal sex organs, and genetic sex or what pair of chromosomes one carries in one’s cells. These two confounds are most clearly illustrated in cases of CAIS (complete androgen insensitivity syndrome). In this condition, an individual would be classified as female by the external morphological criterion above. This individual would most likely self-identify as female and would be almost universally seen by others as female. However, this individual will not have internal female organs and will have an XY genotype. A third confound is the growing evidence for the possibility of “sexed” brain structures, which can occur independently of the sexing of external morphology during gestation. This sexing of the brain is probably responsible for one’s “sense” of sexuality. The sexing of the brain may also be related to sexual orientation independently of one’s sex and sense of sexuality. Given the imposed limitation, there are three discernible possibilities:

 1,              Sex:

              a.           Male

              b.          Female

              c.          Intersex (ambiguous)

Gender is a more complex term and has far more social, cultural and behavioral components to it than physical sex but probably has an underlying biological component affecting one’s sense of sexuality. Gender is often used as if it had a one-to-one correspondence with physical sex, which is clearly not the case. The most common gender terms are masculine and feminine but these are not all-or-nothing categories and includes several possibilities:

2.              Gender:

              a.              Masculine

                            1.          Hyper  (More masculine than the norm)

                            2.          Modal (Normal range of variation, the norm)

                            3.          Hypo   (Less masculine than the norm)

              b.          Feminine

                            1.          Hyper  (More feminine than the norm)

                            2.          Modal (Normal range of variation, the norm)

                            3.          Hypo  (Less feminine than the norm)

While sex can be treated as categorical without grossly distorting reality, especially if three categories are used, gender is clearly dimensional. Gender can significantly vary along a somewhat normal (or bell shaped) distribution curve that has tails anchored by hyper and hypo and a modal center. Clearly, there are numerous potential positions all along this continuum that aren’t being given labels. If conventional classification of someone by gender is the goal one might do better to use a numeric scale where 1 is hyper masculine, 4 is neutral and 7 is hyper feminine.

There is one further complication to gender that must be introduced to make this discussion somewhat complete. The concept of transgender is important to this discussion as well. Presentation of transgenderism can be either overt, covert or both and along both behavioral (doing) and cognitive dimensions (imagining). Overt behavioral presentations can be either public or private. Some variations of transgenderism would not be observable and would only be known through self-identification. The following outline for the range encompassed by transgenderism is taken from the work of British sociologists Richard Ekins and Dave King.

              c.              Transgender

                            1.          Oscillating                    (Switching)*          

                            2.          Migrating                    (Shifting)**

                            3.          Negating                      (Neutralizing)

                            4.          Transcending              (Blending)

  *              Episodic switching between masculine and feminine.

**              Permanent shifting from masculine to feminine or feminine to masculine and may, in some individuals, include changing external morphology as well.

The use of sex and gender as interchangeable terms implies that reality conforms to the following structure:

 1.              Sex:                    Male &                    Female &

2.          Gender:                 Masculine               Feminine

A more accurate, if incomplete, structure would resemble the following:

1,              Sex:          Male

2.          Gender:

              a.          Masculine

                            1.          Hyper          

                            2.          Modal

                            3.          Hypo

              b.          Feminine

                            1.          Hyper          

                            2.          Modal

                            3.          Hypo

              c.          Transgender

                            1.          Oscillating

                                      a.          Masculine

                                                1.          Hyper          

                                                2.          Modal

                                                3.          Hypo

                                      b.          Feminine

                                                1.          Hyper          

                                                2.          Modal

                                                3.          Hypo

                            2.          Migrating

                                      a.          Masculine

                                                1.          Hyper          

                                                2.          Modal

                                                3.          Hypo

                                      b.          Feminine

                                                1.          Hyper          

                                                2.          Modal

                                                3.          Hypo

                            3.          Negating

                            4.          Transcending

 

1.              Sex:          Female

2.          Gender:

              a.              Masculine

                            1.          Hyper          

                            2.          Modal

                            3.          Hypo

              b.              Feminine

                            1.          Hyper          

                            2.          Modal

                            3.          Hypo

              c.              Transgender

                            1.          Oscillating

                                      a.          Masculine

                                                1.          Hyper          

                                                2.          Modal

                                                3.          Hypo

                                      b.          Feminine

                                                1.          Hyper          

                                                2.          Modal

                                                3.          Hypo

                            2.          Migrating

                                      a.          Masculine

                                                1.          Hyper          

                                                2.          Modal

                                                3.          Hypo

                                      b.          Feminine

                                                1.          Hyper          

                                                2.          Modal

                                                3.          Hypo

                            3.          Negating

                            4.          Transcending

1.              Sex:          Intersex

2.              Gender:

              a.              Masculine

                            1.          Hyper          

                            2.          Modal

                            3.          Hypo

              b.              Feminine

                            1.          Hyper

                            2.          Modal

                            3.          Hypo

              c.              Transgender

                            1.          Oscillating

                                      a.          Masculine

                                                1.          Hyper          

                                                2.          Modal

                                                3.          Hypo

                                      b.          Feminine

                                                1.          Hyper          

                                                2.          Modal

                                                3.          Hypo

                            2.          Migrating

                                      a.          Masculine

                                                1.          Hyper          

                                                2.          Modal

                                                3.          Hypo

                                      b.          Feminine

                                                1.          Hyper          

                                                2.          Modal

                                                3.          Hypo

                            3.          Negating

                            4.          Transcending

 

The above is not intended to be definitive and is certainly open to alternative arrangement. The purpose is not to delineate but to illustrate. What is being illustrated is that sex and gender and especially gender is a complex topic and one that is grossly over simplified in the ordinary use of language. Add to this an individual’s sense of sexuality and sexual orientation and the complexity grows exponentially.

If I had to take a stand on the collection of public information from individuals, I would suggest that in almost all cases a three category, self-identification for sex would be adequate for public purposes. In ordinary verbal or written reference to people by sex, I would favor limiting labels to male or female, by appearance, except in cases where individuals have publicly self-identified otherwise. I would be opposed to asking about gender because the meaning of the term is far too complex to be easily queried and would seldom be relevant information for most public purposes, including conversational use of the term. I would definitely favor disassociating the terms male and female from the concept of gender because not to do so confuses two different concepts: sex (biological) and gender (social).

The equating of gender with sex in common language usage is in fact an example of how the modal majority “democratically” attempts to define a public, social reality and marginalize and at worst imply pathology in anyone not fitting the majority stereotype. As Milton Diamond founder of the Pacific Center for Sex and Society has said, “Nature loves variety. Unfortunately, society hates it.” Language is the primary tool for creating socio-cultural reality and how it is used has important implications that should not be taken lightly.