Q. I resonate instinctively, at least on an intellectual level, with the truth that I am not my story. I even get a sense at times that I am, as you say, the clear, unchanging awareness or consciousness behind the story, whatever the story is. Yet what else is there but our stories? The history of humanity is one, vast, interwoven story.

The history of humanity is indeed one interwoven story, as you put it. The theologian, Ann Foerst, described us as a story-telling people—homo narrandus. There are as many stories as there are people, and it is natural and human to share our stories with each other.

A story is simply anything we think or believe, or tell to others, to explain what has happened, is happening, or is going to happen in our lives. It is how we derive a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives, until we tap into a deeper level of being, and no longer depend on any story for our identity.

There are stories of need and desire, abundance and lack, contentment and dissatisfaction, success and failure, justice and chaos, wealth and poverty, health and disease, hope and despair. Sometimes our stories are mundane and ordinary; sometimes they are fun and even exciting, or inspiring; and sometimes they are painful or sad. Stories or parables also serve as teaching devices. We learn from them. We use them as teaching tools to illustrate certain lessons. But whatever emotion they evoke or lessons they teach us, the fact remains that our stories are not who or what we are. They are only expressions of who we are.

Those who are in the process of awakening to truth and inner freedom understand this at some level. They learn from the story but they don’t get lost in the drama of it. Instead, they derive their identity from simply being alert and present in each moment, from the flow of energy and fullness that can be felt right now.

However, most people are still identified with some kind of story at the personal, self-defining level. It is the attachment to these stories that creates the emotional experience of either heaven or hell, or something in between the two, in our bodies, minds, and hearts. Strong emotions are always the result of being identified with a story. When we are simply present as the awareness that we are, not identified with any story, our emotional state is always one of ease, harmony, and flow.

Until we go through this shift in identity and as long as we don’t know ourselves at the level of pure, primordial consciousness, we are doomed to a life of uncertainty, anxiety, and suffering.

Q. How do you define suffering?

Suffering is the personal response, through the creation of a story in one’s mind, to pain or unwanted experience. For suffering to arise there has to be someone—a “person,” an “I,” a “me”—who suffers. And that person always has a story around his or her suffering. Or, to put it another way, pain plus a story equals suffering.

As you become freer inwardly, however, pain or unwanted experience is just that—pain or unwanted experience. You may get upset about an event initially, but then you remember who and what you are—pure consciousness, expressing in this body, mind, and personality called “you”—and you just deal with it. You do not create a story around it—or, if you do, it is a functional, factual story. It is a story which describes what actually happened, or is happening.

Almost all the human suffering in the world is due to the identification with a story of some kind—from people taking their stories to be reality. It may be a personal story of abandonment, loneliness, guilt, or fear. It may be a story of power and control. It may be due to a state-imposed religious story with its own harsh or restrictive edicts and subsequent denial of human rights. It may be a self-imposed religious story with a whole set of beliefs and dogmas that you then feel compelled to embrace.

The more entrenched you are in your own story, your own version of “truth,” the more you will likely resist what I am sharing. Whether it’s some personal story of insecurity, pride, or fear, a cultural story that causes you to be identified with a particular ethnic group or custom, or one of the many religious stories that have always been promoted as the “truth and the way” to humankind, you will tend to cling even more tightly to it. A lot of fear can come up as you contemplate the letting go of a story, any story, with which you have previously been identified.

Q. If I am not my story, then who or what am I?

Ah, that is the big question. When you know, in the depths of your being, the answer to that one, then you’ll be free and your search for yourself will be over. It is my intention is to guide you gently and skillfully toward the answer, but I can tell you this right now: you will find it on virtually every page of this book.

Author's Bio: 

Jim Dreaver was a student of European nondual master Jean Klein for many years before finally awakening to the freedom that is his true nature. His gift is being able to deeply connect with people and transmit, through the power of his presence, the authentic taste of that freedom. He lives in Sebastopol, California, and travels widely to share his message. His new book, End Your Story, Begin Your Life, which contains the essence of his teaching, is available online at www.endyourstory.com. He is teaching at Esalen Institute August 26-31, 2007. Call 831-667-300 to register, or visit http://www.esalen.org .