When we believe lots of stories, such as I am a separate self, I am this human self, I have these preferences, characteristics, identities, and so on, then it doesn’t help much to say that any story is “just a story”. Since all the more basic beliefs are still there, and seem very much real and substantial, there is a yes – but response at best.
I really am this human self with this life, in this situation, so then lots of other stories seem real as well. Telling myself, or others, that it is just a story, makes no sense at all. I may hear it from a teacher or someone I respect, I may try to believe it, but it doesn’t work.
It is only when these more basic stories are seen as just stories, including the one of a separate self, that there is a release from stories in general. Now, I can say that a story is just a story, because it is alive in immediate awareness. It is directly seen, here now. Yet, it may be alive for me but not for others, so even here, it makes little sense to tell others that whatever is up for them is just a story. It may still be real to them. As usual, the advice, or pointer, is for myself.
There is the story I am sick, or maybe more specifically I am sick and shouldn’t be. If I recognize stories as just stories, even to some extent, through having explored and investigated many of them, then I can see this too as a story. It is a thought arising as content of awareness, along with sensations, sights, sounds, smells and tastes. Nowhere in all of this can I find illness, and nowhere can I find that it should be any different. All of that is just from the inside of thoughts.
[And I can, of course, still go to the doctor. This human self if sick, from a conventional view, so it makes good sense to go to the doctor and do whatever is possible to help it. The story is recognized as just a story. At the same time, there is often very useful and practical information there for this human self, in how it operates and navigates in the world, even if there is no ultimate or absolute truth in it.]
If I don’t recognize stories as just stories, then the illness is very real, and that it happens to me is very real. As Byron Katie says, when we believe a story, it is the job of the mind to make it appear real, and it does a very good job at it as well. In this situation, it doesn’t help to tell myself that it is just a story, because it seems far more real and substantial than that. And if it is happening to someone else, it doesn’t help telling them that either, even if I can see it as just a story.
What I can do is recognize that story – it is just a story – as a question. If I take it as a statement, it becomes yet another belief, fueling more stress. If I take it as a question, it becomes a pointer, something to investigate. It is really true that it is just a story? If I explore it for myself, what do I find? What is already more true for me than the initial belief?