A dear young woman named Abby recently attended my Mastery Training in Hawaii, and reported that her parents had sent her as a birthday present. At the age of 17, Abby had been hospitalized for an eating disorder, force-fed daily by loving attendants. She did not expect she would live long, let alone ever feed herself again. Now, just four years later, she was taking charge of her life and opening to receive love and support from people, life, and God. While Abby’s illness had been painful, she had grown immensely through facing it. She was mature far beyond her years, bright, and beautiful.

At the end of the seminar I noticed that Abby had a tattoo of a forward-pointing arrow on each of her feet. “What made you get those tattoos?” I asked her. Abby smiled and answered, “They remind me that I am always headed in the right direction.”

Painful experiences are steppingstones to right direction. Rather than considering them curses or crosses to bear, regard them as wake-up calls or course corrections. While you may have gone through a difficult ordeal you wish had never happened, the only thing worse may have been to go on as you were.

A fellow came to my teacher Hilda Charlton and complained that he had been ripped off by an auto mechanic. “The guy charged me $500 for poor work and then refused to remedy it,” he explained. “I had a bad feeling about this mechanic before he started the work. Now I wish I had listened to it.”

Hilda responded, “If I were offering you a week-long course on following your intuition, and I guaranteed you that after this course you would be better able to hear your inner guidance and more willing to follow it, would you take the class?”

“Why, sure!” answered the fellow without hesitation.

“And if the tuition for the course was $500, would you pay it?”

“That would be a bargain.”

“Then consider yourself lucky,” Hilda told him. “You got the entire course from your mechanic in one day.”

Which direction is the right one for you? The one you are headed in now. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, you are in the perfect position to discover your right next step. No matter what you do, you will receive feedback from the universe about how what you are doing matches your true intentions. If it feels good, you have learned, and if it feels bad, you have learned. What you do is far less important than what you learn. Everything you experience leads to waking up.

Trust is the key. A Course in Miracles tells us that trust is the bedrock of the spiritual journey. The Course goes on to explain that “it takes great learning to understand that all things, events, encounters and circumstances are helpful.” Everything serves. If you believe that an experience is outside of the plan for your awakening, it is only because you have yet to see how this piece fits into the puzzle. When the time is right, you will recognize the Big Picture.

A Zen master noted, “Wherever I go, I keep finding myself.” Ultimately, there is nothing else to do. The world you see is a stage you have constructed with your thoughts and everyone you meet is an actor you have hired to play out the script you have written. And you scribed it in brilliance. Every person and experience mirrors your beliefs about yourself and life. Rather than trying to get rid of them, thank them for the reflection, and move on to rewrite the script in a way that honors you.

Now before you go out and seek pain to learn, hear this: Pain happens, but suffering is optional. When pain comes, make use of the experience, but do not wallow in it. When you accidentally place your finger in a flame, it is supposed to hurt just long enough for you to pull it out. If you think there is value in keeping it there, you will be a crispy critter. Pain is a minor element of life, unless you are indulging it. Then it becomes suffering. Get the message and then get on with your life, which is far more about joy than sorrow.

All experiences in life can be sorted into two categories: (1) Experiences to be enjoyed; and (2) Experiences to be learned from. There is no slot in between. Nothing random. Figure out which experiences fall into which category, and you are well on your way home.

A character in the film Joe Versus the Volcano uttered this profound truth: “Almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know, everyone you see, everyone you talk to. Only a few people are awake and they live in constant total amazement.” If an experience, painful though it may have been, leaves you closer to living in constant, total amazement, would it not be a blessing? If you’re not sure, just ask Abby. She has walked through hell and come out on the other side. She knows she is headed in the right direction.

By Alan Cohen


  • Alan Cohen is the author of many popular inspirational books, including the best-selling Why Your Life Sucks and What You Can Do About It, the award-winning A Deep Breath of Life and his newest is the prosperity guide Relax into Wealth.

    Alan is an Empowering Caregivers featured expert, learn more about Alan

    Or visit his website at: alancohen.com.