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Excerpted from I Had It All the Time by Alan Cohen. Copyright 1994 by Alan Cohen. Excerpted by permission of Alan Cohen 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.

"We may develop intricate dances between our masks and external roles, but behind all the images and appearances our inner self remains intact."

  Alan Cohen, I Had It All the Time, Part 7

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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