I have a subscription to a magazine called Parabola: Tradition, Myth and the Search for Meaning. It is a lovely, peaceful magazine with a largely Eastern sensibility—and in general shows how expanded interpretations of the Christian, Jewish and Islamic traditions can feel comfortable in that space.

In the Spring 2008 issue, I read an article called The Deepest Silence, by John Roger Barrie. The piece was sweet, and finished with a phrase that I often hear in contemplative or New Age circles.

Here’s the paragraph:

“The successful inner voyager treks to the precipice, and then, having encountered the Unknowable, brazenly discards maps and compass and boldly treads onward. The yearning heart echoes the cry that seized the Psalmist: “Be still and know that I am God.” The knowing mystic, seized with a searing nondual vision, confidently answers back, “Be silent and know that you, too, are God.”

I’ve never understood the point of saying ‘I am God.’ In fact I’ve always found the phrase sort of pointless. But perhaps I just wasn’t ready. And then one day, with searing clarity, the truth finally hit: “Yes, that phrase really is pointless.”

For if in the essay the term ‘God’ is semantic, I’m not sure what it means, being so far from any known definition of the term.

Perhaps it’s said to help us feel less impotent in a domineering world. Perhaps shouting “I am God!” enough times is a sort of spiritual Viagra, a covert “Go fuck yourself!” to those Big Forces that never seem to listen. Either way, saying “I am God and that’s final!” sure doesn’t stop famine in Africa—although the birth rate in Africa is soaring, which may be related.


On the other hand, and speaking as one who is mystically-inclined, if what is meant is “Be silent and know that you, too, are a fragment of God/a divine spark of God/an aspect of God,” or something along those lines, I can at least play with that. Not to mention, it’s good to have friends in high places.

But if that is what is meant, I wonder why they just don’t say it.

Then again, perhaps “Know that you, too, are God” is truly meant to mean: “You are God.”

But if that is the case, and I am the Good Lord, why can I not find the key to the back shed, let alone prevent a fellow human being from being tortured?

And why can’t I pervade someone else’s consciousness? Heck, I can only pervade a few parts of my own.

Truth is, if I hadn’t recently read Reader’s Digest while in the doctor’s office for undisclosed reasons related to my testicles, I’d have had no idea that there are something like a trillion cells that aren’t even a part of me, working full-time in my bowel, making shit. That’s right, shit—and evidently they too shall pass (by this definition, are they God, too?).

And my troubles as God don’t end there—no, not by a long shot. I’m short on change for the bus, my lower back requires constant attention, I can’t guide the planets worth a damn and don’t tell anybody, but I don’t know any of the grand “whys” of existence—which I guess is okay, because in a nondual existence there can’t be any grand “whys” anyway.

Still, seeing as I’m God I should at least have what’s commonly known as “a clue.”


Oh yeah, here’s another concern. The ‘I am God’ phrase is almost always tied to the idea of nonduality. Unfortunately, even in a “searing nondual vision,” as it was described by the author, it turns out there can be neither an illusion nor a vision, for an illusion implies there is something else that is real, and a vision implies something being seen by another.

Thus, neither scenario is remotely nondual. They are partnerships that may one day even require a legal team just to keep the boundaries clean.

Further, if I am an illusion, as nonduality implies, why is an illusion writing this piece, and why should anyone believe an illusion—least of all an illusion who says, unequivocally, but in the same sentence, “I am God” and “could I get a lift if you’re going downtown”?


On yet another hand (for Gods have many hands), let’s just say that I am God. First of all, you will pick up my dry-cleaning. Secondly, how is it this “illusion” hanging around is so deluding that it repressed my awareness of the fact that I am God (at least until Parabola came along)?

And how did this illusion arise in the first place? If it arose out of ignorance, why did ignorance arise, and why is she often so pretty? And why was ignorance tricky enough to cloud reality, confuse God and invent small weapons and commercial jingles?


So what is this nondual experience that so many find addicting?

I don’t know. But I will say, after years of chanting in a foreign language, there is surely some experience that feels nondual. The fact is, however, it always feels nondual to someone, not to no one, which again is contradictory.

I’d guess this: somewhere along the inner journey to outer space, to paraphrase Joe Campbell, there is a nondual experience so profound that it befuddles the beholder into believing it is the entire experience—whatever that entire experience may be.

From there, logic and the naming of objects melt away, allowing liberation and an eight-country speaking tour to take over. Hey, being a nonduality isn’t cheap. In fact, it turns out it's just as expensive as really being here.

Also, when it’s men who have this nondual experience, and they’re able to explain it with juicy metaphors—and this may be coincidence—they tend to end up with the best-looking women in the ashram.


So what if nonduality as the ultimate experience turns out to be the actual illusion? Well, my love, all is not lost—no, not by a long shot.

The beauty of this dance need not yet be abandoned to the desperately untenable “I am God and I think I need to use your toilet.”

Indeed, it can never be abandoned—until, of course, it is.

The miraculous marriage of individuality and oneness is the ongoing tension that is life—the unstoppable force arising from the scientific predictability of entropy and the utter mystery of the organization that led to us. Organization makes no sense whatsoever in an expanding universe, or in my upstairs office. Yet here we are.

The fact is we are individual beings—inconceivably being—mysteriously piercing the material world with a series of unanswerable questions and disconcerting twitches.

Temporary? Yes, we appear to be—but who knows? And who knows for how long? And who knows why?

We may even be fragments of some utterly transcendent divine being who possesses an intelligence even slightly greater than Richard Dawkins’. That would be terrific, because I really enjoy being, and given my druthers, I’d rather it continued, minus the entropy and taxes.

Deluded? Perhaps. An illusion? Sure I’ve got some sleight-of-hand tricks up my sleeve, but who doesn’t? 

But am I God? Well, not as far as I know. Then again, as any nondualist worth her illusory self will tell you:

“He who knows, knows nothing; and he who knows nothing, is unemployed.”

Love on—with really big love. If that’s an illusion, I swear to God, I’ll eat my ego.

Pete xo


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copyright 2006 Pete McCormack