For many mystical traditions, spiritual growth comes in seeing all things as different expressions of a singular and unitary "I." Here, all beings, all species, all landscapes, all cultures, all religions are really "I." This is a wonderful insight insofar as it reveals the Oneness of all things. However, I have never experienced the spiritual journey in quite this way. For me, every being - including my own self, my own "I" - is really "Thou." I find this insight highlighted especially when I'm out exploring a beautiful landscape. Here, something in me is "grasped" and "held" by beauty, and I become a kind of "Thou." However - and here's the intriguing and fascinating part - as it turns out, there is actually no "I" who would speak the Thou that I am. For that "I" - in both God and Goddess forms - is completely emptied out in joyful bliss - emptied out into my Thou-I, as Raimon Panikkar puts it. Thus, not even the Divine Source has an "I," but can be known only in the Second-Person as a "Thou."
But what about our obvious experience of "I," one might ask? Isn't THAT real? Perhaps, but what occurred to me during my desert quest was the fact that even in this case, we are actually GRASPED and ABSORBED by our own sense of "I," which is thereby given to us by an Other - by a self-emptied Other. As Rabbi Lawrence Kushner says, "GOD is my self-awareness, and I correctly intuit that this sense of 'I' created me." And the same could be said of the Goddess. Thus, "I" am really God's (or the Goddess') "Thou," just as God is actually MY "Thou." Amazingly, "I" am the thou of a Thou, just as God is the Thou of a thou. And there is no original "I" to speak either of these "T / thou"s, but only an echo - "Thou," occurring in both its Divine and Human forms - endlessly resounding back and forth between what appear to be two cosmic canyon walls! It seems, in fact, that we are continually given our sense of "I" by God so we - and God - can experience a delightful sense of SURPRISE when it turns out - wonder of all wonders - that this "I" is really a supremely loved "Thou"! And the same is true of God, who we first seem to experience as an "I," but who turns out actually to be a "Thou." As Panikkar puts it, "God only knows Godself in the Second-Person, through us - as a THOU!"
Photo: Mesa Arch at sunrise, Canyonlands National Park, UT, November 30, 2015
Stephen Hatch, M.A. is a spiritual teacher and photographer from Fort Collins, Colorado. His approach is contemplative, inter-spiritual, and Earth-based.