Columnist Richard Bogartz reflects on ‘pure awareness’

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Throckmorton came bopping in the front door before I could lock it. Immediately that special gleam in his eyes revealed he had recently had another of his illuminations and was here to shine his newfound light on me.

“Okay,” I said, “Let me have it.”

“Stupid,” he said.

“Uh oh,” thought I. “This is going to be a long extraction.” Then I begged. “Throckmorton, will you please get to it.”

“We have elected a stupid president.”

I knew this could not be his illumination. Even Throckmorton would not have taken this long to figure that out. I saw no alternative but to play this out with him.

“Stupid how?”

“Well, according to the OnPolitics newsletter, even though 56, or 560, or maybe it was 5,600, retired generals and flag officers said stopping transgender troops from serving in the military would cause ‘significant disruptions’ and would deprive the military of ‘mission-critical talent,’ Trump ordered that no more transgender people be admitted into military service.”

I waited. Then I said, “So?”

“So. So! So it is ridiculous. This whole fuss over gender, what gender you are, can you change it, should you change it. I have recently realized that I do not have a gender and I’m pretty sure that no one else does either.”

“How so? I thought you were a guy.”

“No, I am not a guy. I am not my thoughts. And I am not my body.”

Now I thought we might be getting to the illumination of the week.

“Say more.”

“There is awareness of thoughts. There is awareness of body. But those thoughts change and that body changes. The content of awareness changes but the awareness continues to be. Thoughts come, thoughts go. Notions of what I am come and go. But the awareness itself has no attributes. It is like a mirror. The mirror reflects what comes in front of it but remains unchanged by what it reflects. The analogy is limited because actual mirrors do change, but you get the idea. Awareness is what I am. That is my self. That is me.”

“Throckmorton, do you really believe this?”

“I do. And I am not alone. Down through the ages, in every major religion there have been mystics who discovered and reported that they are pure consciousness, the void, pure being, pure awareness, ayin, and so on.”

“So what does this have to do with transgender people and their admission to military service?”

“Transgender people are people. Their true nature is awareness. Like me. They happen to have thoughts about their gender identity that are, or have been, inconsistent with their thoughts about their body. They think, perhaps, that ‘I am a woman but my body is that of a man. What to do?’ But it is a mistake to think that you have a real gender identity with which your body structure can be consistent or inconsistent. Awareness doesn’t have a gender.”

“Throckmorton, I think you are serious. But do you believe that any transgender person who may have been struggling all their life to be accepted for what they take themselves to really be is going to be in any mood to accept these notions?”

“Probably not. At least not until they are accepted as people, fundamentally just like other people. Could take a while. But that doesn’t make what I am saying less true. And because it’s true, and because the folks at the top of the military, both active and retired, assure us that transgender folks do not degrade military functioning and in fact are important and necessary, our president is being stupid.”

“Throckmorton, shouldn’t you be denying you have a race?”

“Yep. Got that. Awareness has no attributes. So it has no color … Not white. Not black.

“Now Bogie, a puzzle for you. If your awareness has no attributes, and likewise my awareness, what distinguishes yours from mine?”

Richard S. Bogartz is a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.