Yet another dimension of practice is exploring on the inside and outside of stories.
Again, if we over-simplify, we can find benefits and drawbacks for each.
Working on the inside of stories tends to help who we are directly. It helps reorganize the stories it uses to navigate in the world, and also the stories it uses for exploring who and what it really is. But if this is all we do, it can also just reinforce the tendency to identify with stories, to go to stories for the ultimate answers, and to – inadvertently – confuse the map with the terrain.
Working on the outside of stories helps us see thoughts as thoughts, see what arises in each sense field here and now, and how thoughts combine with them to create gestalts, and much more. It gives us an immediate insight into what we are, and what is going on, which is outside of thought. Of course, the exploration is guided by thought, and later reflected in thought, but the exploration itself is outside of thought. (At least discursive thought, and as we get more familiar with it, outside the layers of thought that creates a sense of continuity and extent, and I with an Other.)
Together, we can find that our exploration within thought – of maps, guidelines for life and practice, finding the truth in reversals of our habitual stories and so on – helps our human self, and also in guiding our practice outside of thought. Our explorations outside of thought helps us see thoughts as thoughts, with relative truth only, each one a question more than a statement, and with value only as temporary guides for our human self. And this exploration outside of stories also helps us notice what we are, which in turn reorganizes our human self, and relieves it of the burden of taking itself as the end station of what it really is, and having an I with an Other.
There are some topics that can be especially helpful to explore inside and outside of stories, such as impermanence, one/many/noneness, who + what we are, where we find an I with an Other, and so on.
For instance, exploring impermanence within stories, we see how everything is impermanent: from what is happening right here now, to our relationships, roles, life in the world, the life of this human self, the life of everyone who ever knew us, the life of everyone who ever heard about us, the life of civilizations, the life of humanity, the life of the living earth, the solar system, the galaxy, the universe. It all has a beginning, so it all has an end. Investigating this, with some sincerity, and inviting in a bodily felt sense of it, does reorganize us. After a taste of despair and sadness, it invites in appreciation, gratitude, and a wish to make the most out of what is here now.
Yet, all of it is thought made, so it is helpful to explore impermanence here now, as it shows up outside of stories. The easiest way to do this may be to explore the different sense fields, and notice how everything comes and goes within each. Even that which seems stable over time comes and goes at several different time scales, from much less than seconds and up. This exploration is partly outside of stories, noticing directly what is happening in each sense field, but it is also inside of stories, since the sense of continuity and time needed for it to register as “impermanence” happens only through thought. Thought is what ties it all together to make the appearance of continuity and impermanence.
Exploring one/manyness through stories, we can go to The Universe Story, systems views, integral models and more, and each of these can have a profound impact on our human self and its experience of and life in the world.
And exploring it outside of stories, we may notice how everything arising in the sense fields are many, yet each one awareness itself so one, and each one also insubstantial, ephemeral, so also none. When we reflect it back into thought, we can say it is many, one and none at the same time.