Questions and Answers
with Alan Cohen
Alan Cohen, author of such spiritual classics as The Dragon Doesn't Live Here Anymore and I Had It All the Time, offers many excellent insights in this series of Questions and Answers.
Q&A On Inner Guidance
Question: How can I know if the guidance I am feeling is coming from my spirit, rather than ego or fear or past conditioning?
Alan Cohen: When you have a choice before you, try all the alternatives on for size and discover which one feels like it best expresses you. This process is like going to a clothing store and trying on different dresses or suits on front of a mirror. Suddenly you find an item that inspires you to exclaim, "Now this is really me!" The article of clothing matches who you are and makes your cells vibrate with a sense of familiar delight. The only true measure of success is joy.
Take the affirmation, "Joy is my compass," and for a day or a week or a month or a year or a lifetime, practice making choices on the basis of which alternative brings you the most life force. Where does the deepest "yes!" in you live?
Q: But if everyone just went around following their bliss, weíd live in a world of selfish people and nothing would get done.
AC: Quite to the contraryó weíd live in a world of happy people and everything would get done. Joy, passion, and delight are Godís way of inspiring you to fulfill your soulís purpose and serve others in the process. Jesus said, "You are the light of the world. Do not stifle your light with a basket." People who feel happy and self-fulfilled are the most creative and productive in our society, and ultimately contribute to the world, spiritually and materially, far more than those who are unhappy, depressed, or doubt and second-guess themselves. Great inventors, artists, musicians, scientists, and healers follow their passion, not their fear. The best things in life come from trusting and moving with the flow of delight.
Q: How can I get in touch with my bliss so I can make joy-filled decisions?
AC: Trust the messages your feelings are giving you as feedback on how well your current choice matches your well-being. Living from joy is like building a muscle; the more you trust and act on your intuition, the louder, stronger, and more real it becomes. If you donít live from your truth, your ability to access it will atrophy, and you will not know who you are, what you want, or what you are doing here.
I met a woman who had lost touch with her truth. She joined me and another friend on a day trip, and when we asked her, "would you like to stop to get something to eat?" or "what do you feel like doing now?" or "are you ready to go home?" she would answer, "if you do," or "whatever you like," or a resigned "thatís all right, donít worry about me." This dear woman had been married for over forty years to a man who made all the decisions for the family; that was their unspoken agreement. Over those years her ability to be in touch with her truth and speak it, had atrophied to the point where she didnít really know what she wanted.
The good news is that we can never totally lose our ability to get in touch with what we know; the voice of God never disappears, even if we choose not to listen to it. We can rediscover it at any moment, and restore our life force quickly by speaking from our heart.
Q: How do I deal with people who try to dissuade me from following my heart? Every time I tell my (boss, mother, partner) about something I feel excited about, they shoot me down.
AC: The only person who has the power to shoot you down is yourself. No one outside you can take away your good. No one else can create your experience, and you cannot create the experience of another. Any antagonist reflects the part of you that antagonizes yourself. It is said that "you cannot defeat an enemy who has an outpost in your head."
Donít blame such a person; thank him or her. Bless and appreciate those who challenge you, as reflections of the parts of your mind and heart calling to be healed. If someoneís criticism disturbs you, you already agree with them. If you didnít, their criticism would not even show up in your experience, or if it did, you wouldnít even hear it or give it a second thought. That fact that they disturbed to you, means that you have already disturbed yourself on that issue; they are pointing to your next step of self-love, acceptance, and healing.
You can look upon someone who annoys you as your best friend, for they help you to grow. There is a story about a man in ancient Greece who paid someone fifty dollars a day to walk around and insult him, so he would become strong in the face of criticism. And you may remember Kato, the Chinese houseboy of the Pink Panther. Kato would jump out of the closet at random moments and assault the Pink Panther with expert karate moves. The Pink Panther hired Kato to keep him on his toes.
Q: What about "no pain, no gain"? I donít want to just gloss over pain and live in denial.
AC: "No pain, no gain" is a half-truth. While we learn from pain, we also learn from joy. When you are learning to ride a bicycle, you find that when you lean too far to the side, you lose your balance, you fall down, and it hurts. The next time you are less likely to lean so far to the side. But when you balance well and you stay upright and you feel exhilarated as you sail along with a newfound sense of freedom, you learn from that, tooójust as more powerfully, if not more so.
What kind of God would create a universe in which His/Her children could learn and grow only through pain? God is not a sadist; God is a loving parent who delights in our happiness and well being.
Q: What if I follow what I believe is my guidance or joy or intuition, and discover I have made a mistake?
AC: Welcome to life on the planet! We learn by doing, risking, stretching, and trying things out. Observe little children learning to walk; not one of them gets up the first time and keeps walking. They fall down plenty, but eventually they learn. And they have fun in the process. Children do not say, "I fell down six times in a row, now I give up." Children remind us that the adventure of learning and the thrill of ultimately succeeding are far greater than momentary setbacks. Obstacles are what you see when you take your eye off the goal.
Everything serves. Sometimes the information we gain by making what we judge to be a mistake is so important that we find ourselves in a much better place than we would have been if we had not taken that courseó so it is not a mistake at all. A Gallup poll asked people what was the worst thing that ever happened to them. Then they asked the same people what was the best thing that ever happened to them. You can guess the results: the pollsters found that 84% of the people said that the worst thing that ever happened to them turned out to be the best thing!
As you practice following your bliss, you will discover a particular quality or vibration associated with the inner voice which gets the best results. The more familiar you become with that voice, the easier you will be able to tap into it quickly, with minimal effort. You are learning the language of the spirit.
Q&A On Finding Joy
Why do you say that struggle is not required? Are you preaching laziness?
AC: Struggle is born of resistance, which disempowers us. When we fight against anything, inside or outside of us, we generate more of it. Jesus said, "turn the other cheek," encouraging us to focus on what we want rather than resist what we do not want. Imagine for a moment how wonderful your life would be without struggling! Proceeding from a sense of ease is far more effective than trying to push against something. Struggle is not required by God, and we do not need to require it of ourselves. Attention is required. Intention is required. Focus is required. A purposeful attitude is required. Energy is required. Love is required. Action may be required. Persistence may be required. None of these activities imply struggle.
Set your internal emotional barometer to make you aware the moment you begin to step into a sense of struggle. As soon as you realize you are starting to lose your peace, ask yourself, "How would I being doing this differently if I were willing to approach this without struggle?" The path of ease offers many viable and effective alternatives to emotional warfare.
How can I find joy or follow my bliss if I feel depressed?
AC: The quickest and surest way out of depression is to start expressing yourself. You cannot express and depress at the same time. Depression is life force turned inward against yourself, and expression is life force moving out into the world. If you start to feel depressed, do anything creative ó play music, write poetry, work in your garden, dance, draw or paint ó anything to move your energy outward. Express your feelings to a friend, a therapist, or in a journal. Life force is always moving, even in depression, and if you can get a handle on it and express it in ways that empower, rather than debilitate you, you are on the road to greater joy.
How do I overcome negative core programming? When I was young I was imprinted with many limiting beliefs by my parents, teachers, religion, and society. Now when I set out to have a good job or a healthy relationship, I seem to sabotage myself.
AC: Who you are is far greater than what you have learned. Your negative beliefs were adopted from outside authorities, and you can return to internal authority at any time. As a spiritual being, you run far deeper than anything you have learned, and while you may be influenced by your past, you are not determined by it. Your history is not your destiny.
I learned of a new birthing technique in which the placenta is frozen and stored. If, later in the childís life, he or she needs a blood transfusion, blood cells are taken from the placenta that lived with the child in the womb. They are pure, untainted cells that match the personís exact original blueprint for well-being. Similarly, on a spiritual level, we can access our pure Source at any moment, and heal our hearts, minds, and bodies.
We may get so involved in trying to recall, analyze, and understand our core negative programs that our very attention to them perpetuates them. Letís remember that we get more of whatever we pay attention to. If we concentrate on what limits us, we remain imprisoned. If we concentrate on what brings us joy and freedom, we invite more of that into our experience. I would pay little attention to what went wrong, and as much attention as possible to how I would like or choose it to be now.
How does prayer or meditation or visualization fit into following my joy?
AC: For many years I have started my days with time to connect with God. This practice has made a huge difference in my life, and I highly recommend it. Before you do anything, align your thoughts and feelings with Spirit. Connect with the loving energy that animates you and all living things, and feel how blessed you are. Open your heart in appreciation of the good in your life, and send kind thoughts to everyone you can think of. Set the tone for your day, and you will become a magnetic force field that draws unto you health, prosperity, love, and well-being.
Prayer should not be approached simply as a religious ritual, but a practical exercise to tap into our infinite reservoir of good, and align with universal forces to fulfill our highest purpose.
Is it advisable to pray that a particular situation turn out a particular way, such as to get a certain job or marry a certain person?
AC: It is much more advisable to pray for qualities of experience. Rather than trying to manipulate the universe to land you a certain position, pray for a job that brings you reward, delight, creativity, right business relationships, and whatever else your heart desires. Then let the universe take care of the details. If you get too specific, you can set your situation up to backfire. I know a woman who prayed, affirmed, and visualized receiving checks in the mail. After a few days she received two checks in the mail ó unfortunately, they were social security checks addressed to the previous occupants of her apartment. She got hung up on the form, rather than the essence. She would have done better to pray or know that she was in the flow of great abundance, and the universe was providing her with everything she needed to have everything she wanted.
If you find yourself fixated on a particular car or mate, enjoy visualizing being with the car or person, but end your prayer with "this or better," indicating that you are not trying to dictate the form. If God has a bigger or better idea for your well-being, you are open and receptive to it. This way you are assured of results in your highest interest.
I feel stuck about money. I have enough to think about just trying to pay my bills. How can I follow my joy when I have obligations?
AC: There are many forms of prosperity other than money. If you can develop your sense of prosperity independent of money, doors will open. Begin to notice and appreciate the many blessings and forms of abundance you already have: good health, beloved family, dear friends, rich green trees, the vast expanse of ocean and sky, the internet which offers infinite information and connection at your fingertips, a wealth of ideas, etc. As you shift your attention from what is lacking to what is overflowing, your whole energy field becomes lighter, your body chemistry changes, and an entirely more powerful level of manifestation becomes available to you.
A number of years ago I found myself in a financial pinch and I felt restricted. I asked myself what I would do if I had the money to have whatever I wanted. My answer was to buy a new Mazda Miata. But I didnít have the money to buy one. So I went to the Mazda dealership and acted as if I was going to buy one. I poked around the showroom, took a Miata for a test drive, and talked options and prices with the salesman ó all the while knowing that there was no way I was going to buy a car that day. I came home feeling exhilarated; just playing in the field of ideas surrounding having that car lifted me into a sense of abundance.
That was a turning point for me. As I reconnected with my joy simply by exploring delicious possibilities, money started to flow, and before long I remembered that I live in a prosperous universe. Within a year I bought a car ó a Mazda RX-7, the top of the Mazda line, far more attractive to me than the Miata.
The point here is not that I got a car; the point is that I regained a sense of prosperity, which paved the way for the car. Attention is intention. Hold thoughts on vision, and vision manifests.
Why do so many people have so much difficulty in relationships? Is there something wrong with us?
AC: Maybe there is something right with us. You and I came into a culture which offered us many dysfunctional models of relationship, and we are learning through our experience, painful though it may be at times, how to create healthy relationships.
I have certainly had my share of lessons in relationships, both joyful and difficult. Yet with each experience I have come closer to knowing myself better, to loving more deeply, to telling a bigger truth, to finding God in my partner. I am far ahead of where I started (although sometimes I go unconscious), and now I realize that this path has led me to much greater understanding, love, and acceptance of myself and others.
Everyone has their cutting edge of growth, their area of greatest fear or darkness or challenge. For some it is physical health, others money, and others relationship. It is the chunk of darkness that you chose to figure out how to bring more light to. Every time you peel away another layer of illusion, the entire universe becomes lighter and freer. Let us congratulate ourselves for being willing learners and, in the truest sense of the word, healers.
How do I know when to hang in there in a relationship, or a job, or a friendship, and when to let go? How joyful is the journey?
AC: Every job, relationship, or friendship offers both flowers and weeds, things we love, and things we do not. Everything may not be wonderful all of the time. The question is, what is the balance between what is wonderful and what is not?
Consider your relationship like a cup. If the foundation of the cup is good and strong and glued together with love, challenges can come up and occupy space in the cup, but they will not have the power to crack the cup; in fact, moving through the challenges strengthens the cup. If, on the other hand, the cup is cracked or weak, even little things can shatter the cup. Is the basis of your connection joyful and rewarding, and do the challenges come and go? Or is your foundation one of pain and difficulty and separateness and bitterness, with a few occasional bright moments? If there is more joy than pain, you are ahead of the game. If there is more pain than joy and things are not getting better, but worse, it is time to question what you are doing.
Even the best of relationships have difficult moments. What is the overall trend of the relationship? Are you growing and discovering more about yourself and your partner and Spirit, or is the relationship sucking life force from you? The purpose of relationship is to grow in love. Evaluate it from that perspective, and you will have your answer.
How can I know my lifeís purpose?
AC: Use everyday situations to build your intuition and authenticity. The mundane is a magnificent springboard to the divine (that is its whole purpose!). You can find yourself through everyday life by finding God in everyday life. If you feel drawn to go to a particular seminar, go, even if you are not sure why. If you feel moved to take one plane flight instead of another, go with the energy. If you feel like calling a friend you havenít called in a long time, do it immediately; you might discover that person has been thinking about you, or needs help, or can offer you help. As you use "little" experiences to find and express your truth, you will discover they are not so little at all. After a while you will start to see patterns and discover the big picture.
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