I remember my dear friend Amara Charles had a spiritual teacher who she adored. A Chinese lady of great gifts and wisdom. The sort of teacher you would travel across the world and climb a mountain just to sit at her feet for an hour. Call her Madame, because I can’t remember her name.
Madame came to the U.S. to teach some workshops, and was staying at Amara’s house. While there, she didn’t seem to teach anything directly, but engaged with Amara’s life: cooking, cleaning, shopping…just “being there.” And somehow anyone around her began to change.
One day Amara asked her about the path of Mastery, how Madame had achieved her level of clarity and power, and just what it took to do this, how much Amara admired her, how far above–
And Madame interrupted her: “When YOU be master?” she asked. Amara had studied countless profound disciplines, done serious work on body, mind, and spirit for decades, raised up students and had her own precious insights into the process of human life…but had not yet taken her rightful place on the path.
And I turn this around and ask you: “When YOU be master?”
The subject of Mastery fascinates me. Why? Because there few other things worth spending your life for. I’m using a definition combined from Steve Muhammad (a man of “beyond Grandmaster” abilities) and George Leonard, Aikido master, men’s fitness columnist and author of the short, sharp book “Mastery”:
“Mastery is a verb, not a noun. A vector, not a position. And once you have learned your basics to the level of `unconscious competence’ and committed to your path for a lifetime, when you are on that path, you are on the `Path of Mastery’ as much as anyone else on that path, no matter how far ahead of you they may be.”
That I find a workable definition. It matches with the words and attitudes of every high-level expert of every discipline I’ve ever known or seen. They’re just writers, martial artists, artists, musicians. They just get up every day and get to work. Nothing special about it. And they are always, always “Just beginning to understand” what they are doing.
Masters? Hah! And yet…they also allow others to call them master, or Grandmaster, or Sijo, or sensei or sifu or Guro or Guru…because the new students need to believe in something. Need to believe that all of the sweat and blood and fear and doubt will be worth it. And what is worth it? TRANSFORMATION.
Don’t tell me I’ll be a better me. Tell me I’ll be a NEW me. When you get there, of course, in some sense you’ll be the same: Master Banzai said “no matter where you go, there you are.”
But in another sense, you WILL be new. At some point, you will have upgraded and upgraded your skills, replaced “pieces” of your psyche, until what remains is NOT the same as what began the journey. But if you changed 1% of your car’s pieces every day with new pieces, at what point is it no longer your car? Does its “car-ness” reside in the pieces, or the overall essence? Or something else?
Fear of loss of self can be as terrifying as fear of death. Or public speaking. Whichever scares you more.
We will literally cling to damaged, unfullfilling selves, rather than let it go and leap out into the unknown. I suspect that the process of Awakening can be violent if done “all at once” like smashing a car into a wall.
Or…it can be more gradual, if you replace the pieces as you go. And one day, you will realize you have examined, removed and either replaced or substituted most of what you are…and you know where the levers are inside your head and heart and that you know why you do most of what you do…and have chosen it. How long does this take?
For the sake of simplicity, let’s say ten thousand hours of focused work produces “mastery”, while one thousand produces “excellence.” If this is true, then “mastery” in any arena, once you really integrate that thing, WHATEVER IT IS, into the rest of your life…confers this level of awareness, on average.
A thousand hours should be enough to get “unconscious competence” in a wide variety of disciplines. So that may be the doorway to this state.
Choose something, anything that touches your heart that has an externally measurable aspect. If you don’t have “free time” to invest here, then study marketing and sales in addition, so that you can monetize this arena. Look at Youtube. People seem to be making a living at some of the strangest things imaginable. But they know how to monetize it. So if it is really strange, you’ll need a minimum of a thousand hours on the thing, PLUS a thousand hours on sales and marketing, to find a way for you to do what you want to do, and be rewarded for it enough that you don’t have to split attention.
This will be hard: the more intimate the arena you want to play in, the more Marketing will feel like prostitution. The more “Oh yuck!” you’ll feel about the simple process of creating value for your community, finding the people who need and want it and can afford to purchase it, and have the adult self-respect to negotiate your worth. It is stunningly difficult for many people to cross this divide.
Oh…back to FEAR, right? If you can admit the problem is FEAR, then you can clearly state: “I am afraid to be excellent. I am afraid to present myself to the world for rejection. I am afraid to demand a value-for-value transaction.”
That said, you can then examine the WHYS and commit to dealing with those core emotions. Google is your friend: there are infinite resources to improve skill at almost anything, and also to cope with negative emotions.
But you HAVE to admit you need it. Have to stop hiding from that.
The core is going to be daily, ceaseless work. Every day. “The Road of Trials”.
To master life, you must master some aspect of it.
Choose an aspect that you love and take pleasure in.
If you need to make money, also commit to mastering Marketing.
Define “excellence” and “mastery” in either or both by studying those who have excelled.
Define the “gap” between where you are and where they are.
Divide that gap into 1% “chunks”. Often these can be consumed within a year or two, with planning.
Then: how do you eat an elephant? A forkful at a time.
Every day. One step. One chunk. .1-1% down the throat. Chew well.
And if you have no idea what you want? My suggestion is to STUDY SALES AND MARKETING so that when you finally figure out what you want, you know how to make money at it. Many writers go for a teaching degree, to support themselves as they work to build a career. While this often works (removing financial fear from the equation) it can also be a comfort trap, so that you submit to the demons that distract. I dropped out of college because my favorite writing teacher couldn’t finish a novel he’d been working on for a decade. Yeah, that was dumb on my part, but its the truth
I’ve had financial instability (which could have been defeated if I’d saved 10% of what I earned, dammit) but with constant motivation to work, I never quit and reached that point of “unconscious competence” with the basic aspects of writing: I write the way I speak. Relate character to human psychology, and plot to core view of life itself. At that point, “art” or “self-expression” becomes a living thing.
Four areas of life: writing, family, martial arts, finances and business.
EVERY DAY CONNECT TO ALL FOUR. Five minutes minimum, no matter what. As a result…the territory I pass every day looks different, but the efforts are the same. Chop wood, carry water. Wake up, align myself, connect with the world, Morning Ritual, exercise, business, writing, family, fun. Scan my day: how did I do? What do I need to do tomorrow? Watch “Robot Chicken”. Go to bed and start over.
Day after day. There is always work. Always nurturing myself. Always rest. You cannot put me in a position where there is not something to learn, do, grow.
And the core of all of it is the “Morning Ritual”, and the doorway to the Morning Ritual is the 5MM, the notion of taking five sixty-second breaks during the day to focus and breathe.
The sad thing is that some of you are saying to yourself right now: “I don’t have five minutes” after having just taken five minutes to read this. You don’t even realize how you are lying to yourself because of fear, and how that fear is stealing your life from you.
One day at a time. Five minutes to begin with, working your way to 10-20 minutes. And your are on the path of mastery. No one you’ve ever marveled at every did more than just focus their time, day after day, until they were a couple of horizons ahead of you. That’s all there is.
Well…that, and getting the joke, and also sitting and just letting life come to you, because no matter how far and how fast you run, you’re always the same distance from the horizon. So…move every day.
But also enjoy the scenery.