Humans have conquered the world thanks to their ability to create and believe in fictional stories, which bring them together under one imaginative umbrella and motivate them to act in support of the story. Our stories make it possible for thousands of people to rally behind them. That is how we identify ourselves as Canadians, pray in church, vote for a political party, enjoy the theater, apply a legal system and organize parades and festivals. That’s how all human movements work, from religions and political parties to the pursuit of causes and the way we live our daily lives.
Through stories we find meaning, and build our identity and collective institutions. This is why we have to believe in them, and doubting our stories is very frightening. Our brain contributes to this state of affairs by locating beliefs in its main sensory areas and not in more intellectual thought-based areas, causing beliefs to acquire a particularly strong sense of being real, even though they are not.
We are inescapably embedded in our story worlds, which are worlds of human invention, not reality. On this level of invention, our stories can be more or less coherent, more or less attuned to reality, and therefore more or less beneficial and healthy. It is therefore very important to have access to solid tools that allow us to make coherent sense of these stories.
But stories they always remain, and all stories, without exception, are human inventions. They are fictional and simply constructions for being a story, not reality itself. Being as deeply embedded in our stories as we are, we are very bad at knowing the difference between fiction and reality. Reality and the universe just do not work like stories – as far as we know, there are no cosmic dramas and no stories in the universe, and when we look deeply at who we are – ephemeral energy vibrations that appear and disappear – the inner dramas of human creation are just that: Fictional creations, not reality. Outside the bubble of our stories, there is neither meaning nor purpose to be found.
To understand death, we have to understand life, and to understand life, learning how to distinguish direct experience of reality from indirect interpretations of reality through stories is crucial. To understand experience, we need to examine the body, because between us and the world there are always somatic sensations. We never react to events in the outside world – only to sensations in our own body and experiences in our minds.
And then we will discover what Buddha discovered 2500 years ago: That everything is impermanent and constantly changing, nothing lasts and has any enduring essence, and nothing can create lasting happiness and is completely satisfying. Period. No imaginable story will ever change that, although stories delude us into beliefs that bury that truth. We are so deeply embedded in the stories we create that we don’t even notice anymore that the ‘reality’ we see is a construction.
So how can we touch the truth beyond the stories we concoct? By getting to know our bodies that never lie, our pain and pleasure, and the optional suffering we create from pain and pleasure through the stories we weave. The tangible truth of reality lies in human suffering, and its exploration leads to the discovery of truth about the universe. Spinning webs of stories is not a suitable place to start taking on the big questions facing humans about the universe, the meaning of life, our own identity and the nature of existence – instead, invest the time, energy and effort into examining human suffering and observing what it is all about. What we then discover aren’t stories.
Copyright © 2019 by Dr. Stéphane Treyvaud. All rights reserved.