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What Is the Relationship Between: "I CAN" and "I AM"?

Section Introduction
by Andrew Cohen

section introduction

I can't tell you how many times over the years I have been teaching that the same thing has happened: A person comes to one of my retreats who at first appears to be a sensitive, intelligent, thoughtful, caring individual with deep spiritual aspirations. They proceed to experience profound and moving insights about the nature of reality. Inspired, they describe with great passion how the Absolute dimension of life has touched their heart and soul like never before. Time passes. I get to know them. I find that while all of the above is true, there's another side to the story. They're selfish and self-centered, they lack self-discipline and moral fortitude, and they seem to have an incredibly hard time making ends meet. "Spiritually," they may shine, but practically, in the real world, they're barely functional . . . Which brings us to a very intriguing question . . .

What is the relationship between self-mastery and enlightenment? Or, in other words: What is the relationship between "I CAN" and "I AM"? This is the question that we explored in depth in Issue 15, "The Self Masters: Are They Enlightened?"

So what is a Self Master? A Self Master is someone like the peak performance coach Anthony Robbins or the eighty-six-years-young fitness guru Jack LaLanne. I call them "Self Masters" because they seem to have supreme control over their minds, their emotions, and their bodies. They exude unshakable CONFIDENCE, explosive ENERGY, unusual CHARISMA, and infectious POSITIVITY.

They raise very pertinent questions for all of us who are seriously interested in transformation. Questions that boldly challenge our relationship to the physical, psychological, and emotional arenas of our lives in ways that are immediate and PRACTICAL, ways that strictly "spiritual" disciplines often do not. And they seem to be refreshingly straightforward: Ethics and integrity are the bottom line if you want to change your life, they insist. Self Master and renowned author of Way of the Peaceful Warrior Dan Millman made the insightful comment: "I know people who are seriously, earnestly working on the Eastern [enlightenment] solution, which is going inside, meditating, doing spiritual practices. Their brows are knitted, they're working, so that one day, maybe in this lifetime or in another lifetime, they might achieve that state. Meanwhile, they're not paying attention to their kids, their finances are down the toilet, and they're not functioning very well in life."

While it may lack the all-important depth of profound philosophical inquiry, the world of the Self Masters, in its character-challenging simplicity, seems to be remarkably free from the incredible confusion and mind-bending complexity of the modern spiritual marketplace. No time here for "navel-gazing" or the endless journey of self-discovery. "JUST DO IT!" the Self Masters boldly exhort us all. "Just do it, now!" "Change! Transform! Realize your potential!" For the Self Masters, contemplation and meditation take a backseat to ACTION, ACTION, ACTION. DO IT NOW, they passionately remind us over and over and over again. Contemplation and meditation only go so far.

The message of teachers of Enlightenment, however, is the very opposite of that of the Self Masters. The Enlightened Masters tell us that in order to experience real freedom, we have to stop doing and just BE. They tell us to stop all this striving to become and just ALLOW. SURRENDER to the will of God, to the Tao, to Being itself, they say, and you will know who you really ARE. The Enlightened Masters call us to a mysterious leap beyond the known—to a spiritual death and rebirth.

Both the Enlightened Masters and the Self Masters speak about extraordinary transformation, but the transformation they speak of is definitely not the same. The Self Masters encourage the strengthening and building up of the self. The Enlightened Masters encourage its destruction and describe a liberating bliss that is its death.

Simply put, the Self Masters help us to liberate the "I CAN"; the Enlightened Masters show us the way to experience the "I AM." What is the relationship between self-mastery and enlightenment? What is the relationship between "I CAN" and "I AM"?

The following interviews with Self Master and living embodiment of pure inspiration Jack LaLanne and Self Master/Spiritual Master/martial artist Vernon Kitabu Turner explore this fascinating dichotomy.


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This article is from
Our Anniversary Issue