Sometimes a question becomes its own answer and clears up all confusion in an instant. I recently had such an experience with my partner when we sent to visit a wise septuagenerian from India, who teaches non-dualism through provocative questions and art. We sat down to chat, and I wove a story about how childhood experiences still create specters of anxiety, self-doubt and over-functioning. After listening carefully, he explained that most of our conscious energy goes toward modifying our stories or replacing them with better stories.
Our stories, however, are illusions; they are mental constructs without permanent substance. There's nothing wrong with having stories about our lives. We can choose to enter into and enjoy our stories, but unless we realize them for the illusions that they are, we will be trapped in their web.
Of course, I wanted to know how to break free of my illusions. He mentioned the usual prescription: meditation. Focusing on a candle, the breath, a chant, or a word can break the addictive trance of our thoughts/stories. We can then take a step back and be the witness of all that comes and goes without becoming identified with what comes and goes.
He hinted, however, that there was something more, something beyond the witness. What was he talking about? I got that I'm not my stories. I understood that there was something more to me than these mental constructs, but in that moment, I couldn't seem to get past the web of my stories. And I admitted that although I meditate daily, the effect doesn't seem to last throughout the day. That's when everything shifted.
He looked at me and said, "I have a question for you: 'Are you?' I'm not asking, 'Who are you?' or 'What are you?' but 'Are you?'"
We let the question linger in the air. Within me I felt this crystal clear, potent answer surface: "Yes, I AM!"
He said, "That which answered your question is The Answer itself. It is Self knowing Self. God knowing God. That which answers the question, 'Are you?' is the pure Essence, Being Itself. It is the creative intensity from which all stories arise and into which they all subside. This is what drew people to Jesus. He mirrored the divine within people back to them."
In that moment I felt I AM. I could neither describe nor grasp what was happening, nor did I want to. I was Being!
My stories, once frozen in my mind, seemed fluid, no longer solid. I realized this Presence/Being is who I am. I knew it in a way that was beyond forgetting. This knowing grew in intensity through art he showed us, living canvases which seemed to exist on the border between inanimate and animate.
I left feeling free and grounded. Of course, the stories have come flooding back, but in their liquid state, they tend to flow through me more readily. If they start to solidify, I realize what is happening and ask myself one question, "Am I?" The Answer to that question answers everything else.