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On Inner Guidance Q&A with Alan Cohen is Copyright © 2001 by Alan Cohen. Excerpted by permission of Alan Cohen Programs and Publications.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.

"Trust the messages your feelings are giving you as feedback on how well your current choice matches your well-being."

  "On Inner Guidance" Q&A 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 on listening to inner guidance. - Eds.

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, we’d live in a world of selfish people and nothing would get done.

AC: Quite to the contrary— we’d live in a world of happy people and everything would get done. Joy, passion, and delight are God’s way of inspiring you to fulfill your soul’s 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 don’t 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 "that’s all right, don’t 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 didn’t 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."

Don’t 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 someone’s criticism disturbs you, you already agree with them. If you didn’t, their criticism would not even show up in your experience, or if it did, you wouldn’t 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 don’t 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, too—just 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 course— 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.

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