(The following post was from 2005. Fun to look back on my thoughts…)
The most elusive quality of excellence, of peak performers worldwide and throughout history is that thing called “Mastery.” What is this thing, and is it possible for ordinary people, however committed, to touch this exalted state?
The answer is “yes,” but I’ve got good news, bad news, and more good news. The first good news is that the path is deceptively simple. The bad news is that it is hard, and can be painful. The last, good news is that those on the path have no real competition–very few people are actually willing to be excellent in life. They want to talk about it, and dream about it, but are unwilling to actually pay the price. And this, as I’ve said, is very good indeed for those of us who are.
The first thing we must do is devise a useful definition of “Mastery”, whether we are talking about this quality in the domain of writing and the arts, of interpersonal interactions, of intellectual pursuit. Then we must throw light on a pathway to this quality that will enable us to reach our peak potential.
Try this description: “Mastery is the ability to perfectly match energy and attention to the task at hand.” In other words, if every task has a perfect “profile” of attention and ability necessary to complete it, if you bring either less or more of yourself to the task, you may well complete it, but you will struggle and waste energy–or not perform properly at all.
Or try this description: “Mastery is the ability to perform instinctively and instantly in the manner you would perform had you a month to consider your actions.” In other words, to have instant access to your own deepest capacities.
In other words, Mastery is the place where intellectual or physical or emotional preparation meets pure instinct. The reflexes of an animal, the emotional purity of a child, the intellectual focus of a scholar. An incredible goal, designed to create incredible results.
And the achievement of that goal is exactly what I.D.E.A. is about.
Instinctive Designation of Energy and Attention. The deliberate cultivation of instinct, energy, and intellect to maximize your results as a writer, athlete, businesswoman, human being, whatever your goal. The theory is both childishly simple and devilishly difficult, but is your key to accessing your deepest wisdom.
Basically, I.D.E.A. says that you develop your instincts by giving yourself deep feedback about the way you are currently operating in the world. To strip away illusion, and operate in a “truth zone” about the person you are and the world you live in. As the ancient Samurai Musashi Miyamoto once put it, “Do not think dishonestly.” A commitment to total truth will tear the blinders from your eyes, possibly for the first time in your life.
Sounds simple? Just wait. Here’s the bad news. In order to be certain that you are accurate in your assessments, you must take responsibility for your life, and the results you have achieved (or occasionally endured!) in all three major arenas of your life: body, mind, and spirit.
1) Body is fitness and health. Your body should be in alignment with your own values, or you should be engaged in a daily process of cultivating the physical health and beauty and performance that WOULD reflect your values. Want to know if you are? Strip to your underwear and look in the mirror. If you are attracted to what you see, you are in alignment with your values. If you aren’t, you aren’t. It’s as simple as that.
2) Mind. Mind manifests most clearly in our education and career. Any worm will move away from pain, and toward pleasure. Believe me, if you aren’t working at a career you enjoy, it isn’t due to lack of intellect. In such a case you may have emotional conflicts, value confusion about safety, freedom, and responsibility, and it would behoove you to commit to healing them. The core question: if you won the lottery next week, would you still be at your job next year? If not, you should accept the challenge of crafting for yourself a career path that IS that attractive.
3) Spirit. Just as grass bending can signal the presence of wind, the relationships we have with other human beings in THIS world can help us understand our connection to the divine. The most important relationship to address is the one with our most significant other, our husband or wife, or lifemate. The history of this aspect of our lives tells us an enormous amount about our inner world. The most important question: If you viewed your partner (or the average of your partners, over your relationship history) as being your mirror image, what would that say about you? And don’t protest that they aren’t, that there’s no connection between you and the most important person in your life. What a joke! Our relationships measure our honesty, passion, intelligence, self-respect and general energy. Take responsibility here. If you’re happy with your relationship, pat yourself on the back! And if you’re not, you have work to do.
You need not tell another human being what you learn if you look at these three arenas, but YOU need to know. You need to come to some conclusions about how and why you are in the life space you are in. The answers to these questions must be consistent: in other words, you are willing to judge other people by the same standards you hold yourself to. In all likelihood, engaging in the I.D.E.A. process will give you vast compassion for other human beings: we are all battle-scarred, we are all magnificent, we have all failed, we have all succeeded.
And we move on, toward the light. For an artist, and we are all artists, this process opens the door to a level of understanding most human beings never approach. If you walk this path, it’s important to avoid guilt, blame, and shame–these emotions have no place in the evaluation of our lives. They merely cloud the issue. Meditation, dream diaries, therapy, or talking with good and supportive friends might be valuable to help move through the pain and confusion. What I promise you is that if you walk this path, you will be one of the very very few human beings on this planet who are actually committed to excellence. Mastery can be lonely, but as you climb that mountain, moving toward a more and more rarefied level of performance, you will begin to meet the other climbers. And they will extend their hands to you, and welcome you into an extraordinary family… one bonded not by blood, but by spirit.