Printed in the Winter 2018 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Grasse, Ray, "A Glimpse of Gnosis" Quest 106:1, pg 24-25
By Ray Grasse
During the 1960s, the Beatles and Beach Boys were making highly publicized pilgrimages to India, just as a flood of volumes on mystical and metaphysical topics began appearing on bookstore shelves almost everywhere. One could turn on a nighttime talk show and see Maharishi Mahesh Yogi talking to host Johnny Carson about the benefits of meditation, or watch a movie star demonstrating some exotic yoga pose or even speaking favorably about the value of astrology in their life. So it really wasn’t all that unusual for a Midwestern teenager like me to start turning away from my conventional religious upbringing and start looking to faraway sources for the answers to many of life’s pressing questions.
I frankly found it hard breaking loose from the moorings of those conservative beliefs I was exposed to in Lutheran grade school, with their surreal notions of heaven and hell, let alone the notion of original sin. Ideas like that branded me with a sense of guilt regarding anything having to do with personal pleasure or happiness, and discouraged me from entertaining any thoughts about the possibility that divinity might reside inside me.
But as those strange new ideas began flooding in from the East, I slowly began shedding those old beliefs, and that seismic shift came to a climax while I was walking down the street through my local neighborhood one day, as I mused over some of the Big Ideas I’d been exposed to recently. I was just eighteen, and I’d just finished glancing through Paramahansa Yogananda’s book Autobiography of a Yogi, which set me thinking afresh about spirituality, meditation, and, last but not least, God. As a budding artist, I was already convinced there must be a divinity of some sort orchestrating the cosmos, since there was too much beauty and order in the world for there not to be, I thought.
Following along on that line of thinking, a chain of insights began unfolding for me.
First of all, if God exists, then by definition there can’t be anything outside of God. That is, if he or she is truly all-encompassing, then by definition everything must be an expression of God. As that idea began to sink in, everything around me slowly seemed to look brighter, as though it was infused with an inner luminosity. That was because God must be everywhere I looked.
That in turn led to another critical shift—namely, if it’s all God, then I, too, must be God. Not in some exclusive, megalomaniacal way, but in the sense that every point in existence must be an expression of the Divine. In short, I am God! But so are you, and so is every other creature!
It was like a quiet bomb going off in my mind. From stories like those I’d just finished reading, I knew that what I was experiencing wasn’t full-blown enlightenment, but it was full-blown enough to shift my worldview and pry my mind open to a different way of thinking about the Divine, as well as myself. Up to that point, I’d always regarded God as something out there. But now I realized that this reality I’m experiencing right now—this very being, this very consciousness—is an expression of God, of life, of reality—no less than anything else. There was even something humorous about all of this, because it suggested that what I’d been looking for all along was the very thing doing the looking!
So what started out simply as an intellectual exercise eventually shifted into something more visceral, more experiential. And with it came an almost intoxicating sense of empowerment. Why? Because I knew that if I am indeed God, then I am privy to all the powers, potentials, and knowledge of God. But that’s true for everyone else as well, of course. Nothing really seemed impossible to me anymore. I almost felt compelled to run up to people on the street and shake them by the shoulders and say, “Hey! Wake up! You are God!”
Afterwards I felt it was nearly impossible to explain the experience to others, since there was something so inherently paradoxical about it. But years later I stumbled across a mythological image from the East that captured one essential part of it, and that was the notion of Indra’s Net. In Hindu lore this is described as a cosmic net of jewels where every jewel at every nodal point reflects the entire net—thus expressing that quality of both wholeness and individuality at once. Each of us is a jewel in that net; every one of us is a microcosm of the entirety. It was around that same time I came across a similar idea from ancient texts, which suggested that God could be symbolized by a circle whose center was everywhere but whose circumference was nowhere. That made no sense to me at first; but the more I reflected on it, the more I realized how closely it resonated with my own experience that day, since I also had the sense that every point in existence was the center of all existence.
There is nowhere that God isn’t, you could say.
Several years later, I asked a spiritual teacher about my experience, and he confirmed that it was legitimate, but said it was just a tiny glimpse. While many people experience the seed insight that they are God, it’s another thing to grasp entirely what that truly means, or experience its full magnitude. Said a little differently, there’s a difference between knowing a drop of water and knowing the larger ocean. Yet I realize that experiencing that drop is valuable, since it cracks open the door that makes a larger awakening possible.
Alas, the larger awakening never really happened, or not to the degree I hoped, anyway. The vividness of that initial experience faded in intensity for me over the following weeks. Sad as that was for me, I never completely lost touch with its essential message, which was that the Truth always lies close to home.
RAY GRASSE worked on the editorial staffs of Quest Books and Quest magazine for ten years, and is author of such books as The Waking Dream, Signs of the Times, and most recently, An Infinity of Gods: Conversations with an Unconventional Mystic; The Teachings of Shelly Trimmer, excerpted in the fall 2017 Quest. He is a consulting astrologer, and his website is www.raygrasse.com.