I Had It All the Time

by Alan Cohen


The story is told of the Persian rascal-sage Nasrudin, who found himself on the bow of a ferry boat with a pompous intellectual. Bloated with his own erudition, the scholar began to quiz and criticize Nasrudin's education.

"Have you ever studied astronomy?" asked the professor.

"I can't say that I have," answered the mystic.

"Then you have wasted much of your life. By knowing the constellations, a skilled captain can navigate a boat around the entire globe."

A few minutes later the learned one asked, "Have you ever studied meteorology?"

"No, I haven't"

"Well, then, you have wasted most of your life," the academician chided. "Methodically capturing the wind can propel a sailing ship at astounding speeds."

After a while the fellow inquired, "Have you ever studied oceanography?"

"Not at all."

"Ah! What a waste of your time! Awareness of the currents helped many ancient peoples find food and shelter."

A few minutes later Nasrudin began to make his way toward the stem of the ship. On his way he nonchalantly asked the fellow, "Have you ever studied swimming?"

"Haven't had the time," the professor haughtily responded.

"Then you have wasted all of your life - the boat is sinking."

Sooner or later we reach the point where living the truth becomes more important than seeking it. Knowledge, techniques, and experiences pale in the face of the riches of the heart.

Learning must give way to being.

Recently I invited the members of a lecture audience to "bid" on the amount of money they have spent on fixing themselves.

I asked the participants to estimate their investment in self-help books, self-improvement seminars, consciousness trainings, meditation techniques, counseling and therapy, vitamins and dietary supplements, health spa memberships, cosmetic surgeries, psychic consultations, sundry crystals and amulets, travel to exotic lands in search of truth, and any other quest proceeding from the thought, "This will really do the trick for me."

Responses ranged from "Every penny I have ever earned," to "more than my husband can afford" to over a hundred thousand dollars - the cost of a home in many parts of the U.S., or the gross national product of some South American nations.

Many of us have been amassing information, techniques, and personal growth programs for many years. Some of us have become so addicted to the process of seeking that we would not know what to do if we actually found what we were looking for.

In the film The Princess Bride there is a character named Inigo Montoya who spends most of his life searching for the man who killed his father. When he finally finds the man and does him in, a friend asks Inigo, "So, now that you have avenged your father's assassin, what will you be doing?" Inigo stops in his tracks, a blank look washes over his face, and he admits, "I don't know - I have been in the revenge business for so long, I don't think I will know what to do without it!"

Like Inigo, many of us have built an identity around searching for the truth. We have become professional patients, clients, students, seekers, and disciples.

Two contemporary gurus, Calvin and Hobbes, sum up our situation:

Hobbes: Whatcha doin?

Calvin: Getting rich

Hobbes: Really?

Calvin: Yep. I'm writing a self-help book! There's a huge market for this stuff. First, you convince people there's something wrong with them. That's easy, because advertising has already conditioned people to feel insecure about their weight, looks, social status, sex appeal, and so on. Next, you convince them that the problem is not their fault and that they're victims of larger forces. That's easy, because it's what people believe anyway. Nobody wants to be responsible for his own situation. Finally, you convince them that with your advice and encouragement, they can conquer their problem and be happy!

Hobbes: Ingenious. What problem will you help people solve?

Calvin: Their addiction to self-help books! My book is called, "Shut Up and Stop Whining: How to Do Something with Your Life besides Think About Yourself."

Hobbes: You should probably wait for the advance before you buy anything.

Calvin: The trouble is, if my program works, I won't be able to write a sequel.

Like the reader for whom Calvin intends to write, many of us have been fixing ourselves for a long time. Every season there emerges a new and revolutionary volume or method that really gets to the core of why we are so screwed up. But how many of these books really do penetrate to the heart of our wholeness?

This could be the last self-help book you will ever read. If you grasp its principles, you will not need to fix yourself again. In contrast to many self-help techniques which play on the reader's sense of inadequacy, this volume makes a clear and uncompromising stand for your innate strength.

I do not purport to add to the truth you know; everything you need to know is already within you. Instead I shall remind you that you have simply been looking for answers in the wrong place out there instead of within you.

This book will not have a sequel; to the contrary, it heralds the end of a long and self-diminishing train of thought the notion that you need to be something other than you are. It will not introduce you to a revolutionary technique; but it will introduce you to yourself. This book will not direct you to a mystical master or exotic gems but it will assist you to unearth your own hidden treasures and awaken the master within you.

This book has one message which will be presented from many different angles, until you are so sure of its dynamic truth that you will swear you wrote it yourself. You are not a black hole that needs to be filled; you are a light that needs to be shined. The days of self-improvement are gone, and the era of self-affirmation is upon us. It is time to quit improving yourself and start living.

I Had It All the Time is a refresher course. It will refresh your memory of who you are and what you came here to do. It will awaken your heart with a new courage to follow your dreams and put your deepest intuitions and inclinations into action. And it will restore your soul as you remember that you are greater than any circumstances you may encounter.

The Spirit within you is greater than anything in the outer world. The power of your life is now returned to your own hands, where it has always been.

You had it all the time.

Always Had It, Always Will

Not this crude leather; luminous beings are we! - Yoda

What would you do if someone swore that you knew the secret of life and put you on a stage to tell it? The Totally Hidden Video television show set up a hysterical prank on precisely this theme. For the gag, a Federal Express driver was asked to deliver a package to a religious temple (fabricated by the television show). Unknown to the driver, the pranksters had taken a photo of him and replicated it as a painted portrait, depicting the young man dressed in the royal regalia of the fictitious sect.

When the delivery man arrived, the disciples (actors hired by the program) took one look at him and began buzzing excitedly.

They ushered him to the front of the sanctuary and invited him to sit on a plush cushion of honor. Then they revealed to him that he was the chosen one, the long-awaited prophet foretold in their scriptures. To allay any doubts, a servant parted the altar curtain where, lo and behold, hung the majestic portrait of the deliverer, "painted by a visionary centuries ago."

"Please," begged a disciple, "give us some words of wisdom."

The driver surveyed the portrait and looked over the throng of expectant devotees. A hush fell over the assembly. He sat down on the pillow, took a deep breath, and spoke: "Life," the sage explained, "is like a river."

The disciples "oohed" and "aahed" on the heels of his utterance, hanging fervently on every sacred word.

"Sometimes life flows easily, and sometimes you encounter rocks and rapids," the guru illustrated, "but if you hang in there and have faith, you will arrive at the ocean of your dreams."

Again the students swooned with ecstasy. More "oohs" and "aahs." This was indeed the day they had been waiting for!

"Well, that's about it," Swami Fedex curtly concluded, "I have to go now and make some more deliveries."

Reluctantly the devotees rose, bowed reverently, and sheepishly cleared the way for the anointed one. Amid profuse veneration he made his way to the door.

Now here is the amazing postscript to the story: the program played the same trick on several Fedex drivers, each of whom found profound words the moment he sat on the cushion. The invitation to wax profound brought forth the inner wisdom in these unassuming fellows. Deep within our heart, each of us knows the truth. The answers we seek, the power we strive for, and the acknowledgement we attempt to gain, abide inside us. Given the opportunity (being placed on the cushion) or the challenge (being pushed against a wall) we know what we need to know, to do what we need to do.

Who are you?

Perhaps you have come to the point in your life where you are asking this all-important question. Be careful how you answer, for in your response lies your destiny. If you think you are small, oppressed, or worthless, your world will confirm your belief. If you see yourself as a whole, creative being, here to express joy, give and receive love, and make a contribution to life on the planet, so will your self-image be affirmed. As Henry Ford noted, "Think you can, or think you can't, and either way you'll be correct"

Master Key: We Are Spiritual Beings Going Through a Material Experience.

You and I are more than our bodies, emotions, thoughts, and experiences. We lived in spirit before we arrived on earth, and we will live in spirit after we depart this world. While we are here, we live in spirit, too - but if we believe we are limited, we will not enjoy our magnitude. Our noblest purpose in life is to remember our spiritual nature in the face of suggestions and appearances that we are material only.

Our spiritual nature is the only thing the world cannot tamper with or take from us. No matter what experiences we pass through, what we gain or lose in the drama of earth, and what people enter or leave our life, our true self remains whole, intact, and perfect. We always had it, and always will.

Oh, God

Let's handle the God thing right now. The word elicits all kinds of reactions. Like many people in our culture, you may be turned off to anything that has to do with God or religion. Many religions, especially in the Judeo-Christian tradition, have painted a picture of a fierce, angry, and vengeful God, an old man with a white beard sitting on a distant cloud, ready, willing, and able to mow down sinners who don't toe the line.

Sound familiar?

The God referred to in this book is not the one you most likely learned about in Sunday school or church. The God I name is a God of only love. He/She/It lives inside of you, expressing through you, as you. The God of only love abides within your own heart, speaking to you through your deepest inclinations, leading you to greater fulfillment. The Spirit I know is not a dealer of pain, but a remover of it.

If you don't like the word God, then skim right past it. I don't care if you do, and neither does God. If you would rather substitute "Love," "Spirit," or "Uncle Louie," please go right ahead. Fortunately, God is not as attached to that particular name as some of the religions that have grown up around it. Let's face it - misguided representatives of religions have given God a bad name. Now it's time to restore the beauty and dignity of the power of love, by whatever name you know it. Let's also get clear on the relationship between spirituality and religion. All religions began with spirituality, an exuberance and enthusiasm for the wonder of life. At some point, however, many religions became bogged down with institutionalism, which put a serious damper on the spirit in which the organization was founded. (Most prophets and luminaries would be quite disappointed with the religions that grew in their wake.) In spite of this, most religions still harbor (relatively small) sects that maintain the original spirit of the religion.

The spiritual path is based on the spirit of an endeavor rather than its form, the essence more than the appearance, the heart before the dogma. While religion tends to be narrow and competitive, the spiritual path is all-embracing. It is said that religion teaches obedience, while spirituality teaches self-discipline. It is also said that religion is for those who are afraid of hell, and spirituality is for those who have already been there.

Many on the spiritual path have gone through religion, and find themselves declaring, "There must be more to life than what I see practiced here." At that point the spiritual adventure begins.

The journey we take together does not exclude religion (indeed it embraces the highest that religion has to offer) but neither is it limited to any particular creed. Our odyssey will not bind us with more labels; it will free us from the limiting identities we have accepted. We seek not more self-recrimination, but self-discovery. We are not attempting to get rid of anything we are; we are learning to celebrate everything we are.

This journey invites you to look at who you are and how you are living your life. Such self-scrutiny may at first seem frightening, but don't stop here. To the contrary, if you fear to look within, this book was written for you; it will demonstrate to you that you are entirely lovable.

Now let's get on with our adventure...

Don't Shoot the Screen

When motion pictures first became popular, a group of cowboys went into a Montana town to watch their first movie.

The film came to a scene in which a band of Indians was kidnapping a young pioneer woman and dragging her back to their camp. Upon viewing this abduction, a cowboy in the back of the theater stood up and furiously fired a barrel of bullets at the screen. The film stopped, the lights came on, and the audience laughed to behold but a blank screen with six bullet holes in it.

We are equally fooled if we use the movie of life (playing on the screen of our mind) to gauge our identity or measure our worth. If you believe that you are who your parents, teachers, minister, or Tylenol ads tell you that you are, you may shrink to feeling very small and helpless. If you fight, hurt, or retaliate against those who do not affirm your worth, you are wasting bullets. Your efforts to prove yourself to others are as useless as shooting the screen.

If you know your worth, you do not need anyone else to confirm it, and if you do not recognize your value, you will not gain it by getting others to approve. If you don't like the movie you are watching, don't bother shooting the screen; instead, change the movie - or better yet, turn on he light.

This world is like a tunnel of movies through which we pass. You have probably gone to a dramatic or frightening movie with which you became emotionally involved. You may have cried, screamed, laughed, white-knuckled your armrest, or even wet your pants. You might have felt excited, depressed, fearful, angry, romanced, or sexually stimulated by the images on the screen. Yet when the last credit rolled and the lights came on, you remembered that it was just a movie. Although you were temporarily immersed in the drama, the real you remained undaunted by the pictures before you.

While experiences seem real as we pass through them, we emerge with ourself intact. The proof of this is that you are still here. Consider all of the wild and crazy escapades you have had, the dangers you have overcome, and the fears you have surpassed. Still you sit reading this today. You are here. You have your self. You have always had it - your true self - and you always will. After all is said and done, there remains an "I am" that lives beyond the character portrayed on the screen. We are spiritual beings going through a material experience.

Ships Passing in the Night

In junior high school I developed an industrial-strength crush on a girl named Kathy MacKenzie. I was in seventh grade, Kathy was in eighth, and her locker was just down the hall from mine.

From the moment I saw Kathy, I was a basket case. She was gorgeous, gleamed a sparkling Pepsodent Smile, and was a living incarnation of the All American Girl Next Door Cheerleader Miss Popularity Prom Queen Barbie Perfect Dream Girl. My days revolved around seeing Kathy in the hall and fantasizing that one day she might be mine. I wrote sonnets to her dancing eyes, drew sketches of her golden tresses, and walked past her house in the evenings to see if she was home. Cupid had me nailed, big time.

Unfortunately, I never read Kathy the poems, showed her my sketches, or knocked on her door. I never even talked to her.

Every time I got near Kathy, you see, I became a quivering blob of knocking knees, throbbing heart, and knotted tongue. I became so self-conscious that I could not even approach Kathy. I held such severe self-doubts and fears that she would reject me, that it seemed a lot safer to love her from a distance. So seventh grade came and went and the girl of my dreams went on to high school without me. (Kathy, if you read this, give me a call.)

Looking back on this teen drama, I am reconsidering the idea of being "self-conscious." Now I realize that for all my anxious embarrassment, I was not self-conscious at all. I was conscious of my fears, my self-judgments, my fantasies of rejection, and a whole cobwebbed batcave of dark beliefs about who I was - none of which had anything to do with the self I have since discovered myself to be.

What we call self-consciousness is a terrible misnomer. To truly be Self-conscious is to be God-realized. For millennia, mystics have echoed, "I am being, awareness, and bliss." Jesus proclaimed, "I and the Father are one." Our real identity is founded in Spirit; everything else is a fleeting story. Our passage is like a great steamship moving through a foggy night at sea. Steadily the boat cuts through the mist, while all the boat's activities carry on unimpeded. Morning will come, and the fog will lift. Meanwhile, the boat moves on toward its chosen port.

Behind the Mask

Science fiction master Ray Bradbury made a tongue-in-cheek assessment of William Styron, a critic whom Bradbury felt was a little too full of himself. Bradbury noted, "His only problem is that he thinks he's William Styron."

My self-concept is not who I am. There is much more to me than my personality. The word "personality" comes from the Greek word persona, meaning "mask."

I may present a mask to the world, and look upon the masks of others, but the actor is not the costume. I may fool others (and myself) into believing that I am the image I present, but that does not make the illusion a reality. We may develop intricate dances between our masks and external roles, but behind all the images and appearances our inner self remains intact.

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