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Painting: Tsong-kha-pa, Nicholas Roerich

Painting: Tsong-kha-pa, Nicholas Roerich

“I am consciousness” or “I am awareness” are often emphasized in the nondual teachings, as nouns. Like a trophy you win, you are considered awakened if you realize that you are THAT. Although the words seem to point to some sort of impersonal recognition of Oneness, they easily have the effect of creating a sense of separation when they become owned by a person in any way.

That kind of stance has at least the possibility of becoming another mental identity, where being freshly aware in each moment, is no longer valued. Instead, taking the stance of “I AM THAT” becomes important, as if there is a person behind the statement that has arrived. Any time we say “I am THAT” are we not speaking of the past, just as someone who called himself a victim would be speaking of the past? You are THAT? What are you? Notice that you can never answer the question without placing a noun there and all nouns are of the past. This is how thought usurps some sort of impersonal recognition and makes it about the person speaking it.

But simply being conscious or aware, like a verb, allows a fresh look in each moment, without needing to identify with past nouns. When we are all looking freshly, we are on equal ground. No one is claiming enlightenment. It is no longer necessary. We are all merely investigating our present experience as it appears anew in the moment. I have met individuals through the years who are very aware moment by moment.  By most accounts, they would be deemed “awakened.” However, far from speaking from a mountaintop or proclaiming anything for themselves, they displayed, instead, a loving, compassionate way of being open to investigating anything they believed, even about their own teachings or their own viewpoints. 

Identifying with these nouns is fraught with several pitfalls. For example, believing that we have attained anything or have somehow taken out insurance against all future suffering comes back to haunt us in the next moment when an old pattern of suffering re-emerges. The newly-arising suffering feels like a regression only because we have tried to conceptualize our experience as “done” or “fully realized.” Taking the mental stance that “you are consciousness” can feel very privileged and divisive to those around us also, as if we speak from a mountaintop or have more value than our friends or neighbors who haven’t realized that they are consciousness. How is this different than valuing ourselves better than other people based on material wealth or social status? It creates division, no matter how we slice it. It creates a culture of haves versus have nots, which is the very antithesis of awakening, which–according to most traditions–is all about not buying into such separation. This kind of religious or spiritual, ego-based superiority is the cause of untold suffering throughout human history, from the random Facebook debate about who is enlightened and who is not, to the planes flown into large buildings based on “superior” religious ideas. I’m not proposing the eradication of differences. Uniqueness can still be celebrated. But this is a question of identity. Are we REALLY these words that we say we are?

Do you want a trophy symbolizing some past recognition, a way of dividing yourself off from other people or do you want to live life aware freshly in each moment?

I ask that question not to judge or pick on anyone or any teaching, but rather to invite a change in the conversation around consciousness. Consider this not a view from a mountaintop but more like a conversation starter. The words “consciousness,” “awareness,” and “Oneness” appear to point to something prior to language or to a nonconceptual realization. They appear to wrap reality up into one final statement. But when we speak these concepts, we find ourselves already caught in the web of language.  And language is something important only to a self.  Selves defend their own language, to the exclusion of other languages.  In our modern era, we now have many languages and world views online for us (for example, science, psychology, various philosophies and spiritual/religious traditions) that were previously unknown or undeveloped on the world’s stage.  In short, the world can be seen to be made of many views. The more we wall ourselves off into our own view and defend it against anything that speaks differently, the more we strengthen and maintain a self around the view. We become defenders of views rather than awake to the many views of the world. We become fixed in our stance rather than open to investigating beyond what we already think we know. The phrase “I am awareness” is not, in and of itself, problematic. It becomes problematic when it is used as a stance taken against everything else. It becomes divisive, even as it proclaims to point beyond separation. It becomes the past, unable to see something freshly in the moment. 

Don’t we owe it to ourselves to redefine these teachings, to turn away from old definitions that no longer work in our modern era?
….To stop having to decide whether we are seekers or finders and just be open in each moment to look again?




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Scott Kiloby is the author of Love’s Quiet Revolution: The End of the Spiritual Search, Reflections of the One Life: Daily Pointers to Enlightenment, Living Realization: Your Present Experience As It Is, Living Relationship: Finding Harmony with Others. Scott has developed the “Living Inquiries”, which are tools for seeing the emptiness of self as it shows up in relationships. He is also the creator of a new addiction/recovery approach called Natural Rest for Addiction. Scott has recently opened the Kiloby Center for Recovery in Palm Springs, California, an addiction/anxiety/depression treatment center certified by the State of California. Scott’s main website is This site contains writings, videos, and audio interviews with a wide diversity of teachers, authors, scientists, and psychologists as well as information about the Facilitators of Scott's work. The Natural Rest website is To learn more about the Kiloby Center, visit

10 Responses to “‘I AM THAT’ as Mental Identity”

  1. September 08, 2014 at 9:52 pm, mit said:

    I don’t believe the expression “I AM That” relates to a noun or anything you could point to and I don’t believe it refers to a verb which would imply action. I think the expression came about for lack of better words, my understanding or what I choose to believe is that “I AM THAT” refers to what can not be described in words. There is a feeling that something Is
    lost when names and labels are associated with the experience.

    Awareness is our natural state, I am not saying being aware is our natural state for being aware requires someone to be, Awareness without “I”

    “I” is a subject of the mind, the personal “I” is an object in the material world. “I AM That” does not refer to the physical world.

    • September 09, 2014 at 3:44 am, Georgina Yael Johnson said:

      The physical world matters. It could be that as humans, it matters most of all. Out of it, the highest miracles are being revealed. It is not separate.

      • September 09, 2014 at 7:38 pm, mit said:

        I agree the physical world does matter, in regards to telling the story but IMHO it is not relevant in reference to the statement “ I AM THAT” .

        The world we experience is an illusion, thoughts, ideas and concepts are not a part of our physical world, but they are the raw materials we have chosen to create it. The Human being is a thought construct, we are actors upon this stage or we are the observer of the play.

        As for the miracle of creation, it is by grace that we are privileged to witness it. Again IMHO.
        love always

    • September 12, 2014 at 4:21 pm, Barbara Schaefer said:

      As I read it this comes close to my experience/thinking. For instance I hear/read the Jesus quotes on the gospels “I Am the Way…” indeed as aiming to circumscribe something that cannot be put into words and as echoing/resonating beyond the identification with…

  2. September 09, 2014 at 3:34 am, Georgina Yael Johnson said:

    Even perception does not define who we are. It defines where we are limited, and where we are not yet free.
    Freedom means that we are free within all forms. It doesn’t mean we are free in exclusion of form.
    Scott, please check an article I posted yesterday before seeing this (to share a beauty of synchronicity)

  3. September 10, 2014 at 2:27 pm, Charles Imbimbo said:

    Nicely put! I guess divisions (duality) will always arise given that we have separate bodies and identities in social reality, but what we do with those divisions is of the utmost importance. I believe learning to let go of our thoughts and mental constructions will give us glimpses into non-duality and help us realize more supportive environments.

  4. September 11, 2014 at 12:01 am, mit said:

    What is a thought within a dream, how can I know, it’s what it seems
    Spirit said you can not know, thoughts are chains, you must let go
    These thoughts are who you think you are, letting go is very hard
    I asked Spirit to tell me more, about this world, unknown before

    Thoughts are a form of energy that flows in consciousness. The sensory being attracts this energy it is then processed and then archived in memory. While processing, memory makes judgments based on our conditioning. We then retrieve the mixture by way of idea or concept, combine it with your sensory perception to realize our customized experience. We do not initiate the original thought, even the intent to observe the thought originated somewhere in the past, you had no control of when or where. A thought comes from a continuous line of energy. When we identify with it, we
    sever that line and limit the possibilities. Thoughts have unlimited dimensions. How they are processed forms your view of your universe, but more importantly they define who you think you are and how you fit in that universe.

    A thought reflects the possibility of a future experience. The possibility of that experience will exist without identifying with the thought, The word “thought” is misleading since it implies a singular and a singular thought would be incomprehensible. A thought requires analysis which requires thought. We have learned to think in a single line of thought, so we think of events as complete things. The fact is there are no complete things in a thought, there are only possibilities.
    Each possible outcome of an event is a dimension of a single action. Once
    an action has occurred all other possibilities must be available to be experienced; we experience only what you identify with. All other possibilities still exist and can be experienced as other dimensions of the same action.

    We don’t realize that what you perceive is only a fraction of our own multidimensional
    existence. We are blocked from an external point of view by the limitations of your sensors, and you are impaired from an internal point of view, by your focus on your external point of view, our “identities”: Who we think you are. We are not separate from the whole you are isolated by ideas and identities.

    We have been conditioned to think through memory which is a program for the part you play and a subconscious state of mind. Our memory is controlled by your social conditioning and what you falsely refer to as knowledge. We live in an illusion created by our own thought construct, guided by your perception of and outside world. Our perception is developed through a history presented to you as a competition, there is always a right and wrong, good and evil, war and peace these are our accepted lines of thought, these are your prison walls.

    You see through the eyes of the characters you create. In a universe of unlimited possibility the human being has hoisted his flag on a speck of dust and declared himself king. He like to believe he is a human being, inspired by imagination and guided by free will. He is not. He is an actor upon a stage. He likes to believe he is the director of the play; it pumps up his identity and creates another layer to the illusion. He is
    continually planning new layers or retrieving old ones from memory. Each layer adds a richness to the experience, but there is price we pay. Each layer draws him deeper into
    the illusion until he become lost and he forgets who he is. The physical world around him then defines who he is, but there are many things about the human being that can not be defined in this manner.

    I hope that wasn’t to long this is simply my understanding from years of observation.

    take care

  5. September 13, 2014 at 2:22 am, Kelly said:

    Good Lord Scott, you nailed it! Thank you for articulating this tricky mental phenomenon. It’s like the elephant in the room in the nondual arena. Merci bien!

  6. August 11, 2018 at 6:17 pm, Jake kenner said:

    Who or What Am I?

    Do not try to bend the spoon. That is impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth.
    What truth?
    There is no spoon. Then you’ll see it’s not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.
    The Matrix

    What is that really bends? Relativity theory tells us that the odd answer is that only space can bend. Not the holographic space we perceive, but the empty background space within which the holographic universe and its observer arise. That empty space of non-dual awareness is what we really are.

    That which permeates all, which nothing transcends, and which like the universal space around us fills everything completely from within and without, that Supreme Non-dual Brahman
    -That thou art.

    For a scientific/conceptual/holographic answer that points to the truth see the science and nonduality wordpress website:

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