Once upon a time a monk was walking in the forest. Suddenly, a tiger springs at him. The monk fled, the tiger right behind. He came to a cliff, and climbed down until he was out of reach of the tiger. He heard a hiss, and looked down to see a cobra coiled and ready to strike on a rock beneath his heel. He tried to climb back up, and the tiger swiped at him, barely missing his head. Below him, the cobra hissed and flared its hood.
Then the vine he was holding onto began to fray. He looked far below, hundreds of feet to jagged rocks.
The monk looked to his left, and there in the crack of a rock grew a wild strawberry. He plucked it and took a bite.
“Delicious,” the monk said.
I’ve been blessed to know, or be in the close presence, of many extraordinary people, some famous, some known only to their friends. But there is an amazing commonality to them. If that extraordinary aspect is their single focus, they are “imbalanced” in a way, but playing a very different game–they are happy when they are in the flow of their skill, but sometimes unhappy in the other arenas.
But if they are at least relatively balanced, there is a common quality I can best call “sweetness” about them. The deadliest martial artists or wealthiest men melt in the presence of their wives or children or grandchildren. The most spiritual men and women break into toothy smiles thinking of an ice cream cone they ate fifty years ago. It really is amazing to see.
The ability to access joy at will is one of the most critical things in life, for ANYONE. The capacity to access joy, or calm, or passion under stress is one of the keys to that thing called “Mastery.” Why?
Because “Mastery” is a matter of focused daily actions. Remember Steve Muhammad’s definition: once you have your basics at unconscious competence, and have committed to your path for a lifetime, you are on the path of Mastery. A Master. There will be others ahead of you, some horizons distant. And others behind you. But there is just the Path.
You find the Path by being specific about your goals, and finding men and women who have accomplished those goals with honor and dignity. Then do what they did. The more of them you study, the more you will be able to discount the trivial differences to see the common core.
They all walk the path. Their excellence is found in their daily rituals. What is your real goal, the real meaning of your life? To be happy.
What you do in the world to reach or express this happiness is up to you, but it should be both long and short term. It should cover your survival, sexual needs, security and expression of power, emotion, and capacity to speak your truth without fear. A model of the world that guides your actions and thoughts. A commitment to align with BOTH your childhood dreams and ultimate deathbed values.
To be the micro of the macro. To be the change you wish to see in the world.
Whew. Take a deep breath. How can you stay on that path? Do you grasp that the world will do EVERYTHING in its power to keep you asleep? To force you to function from fear rather than love?
If you don’t make “Emotional Mastery” one of your arenas of mastery, you can commit to all the positive change you want, and you’ll be able to stick to the path AS LONG AS YOU CAN KEEP CONSCIOUS ATTENTION ON THE GOAL. The instant you are overloaded, however, your core programming will take over. You will “snap back” to your normal state.
Under stress, people:
Start smoking again
Revert to tribal thinking
Break promises to themselves
Bark at their loved ones
Stop balancing their checkbook
And on and on. They focus on what is “imperative” rather than what is important and generative.
Show me your morning/daily ritual of action and emotion, and you’re showing me where you are going in life. In “Hero’s Journey” terms, this is THE ROAD OF TRIALS.
What wood are you chopping? What water carrying?
The meaning of life is to be happy. Even if the tiger is about to spring. Even if the cobra is about to bite. When you have done all there is to do, best enjoy the moments left. And…if you stay positive, IF there is a way out, you are more likely to find it. Remember the “Dark Night of the Soul”? It is the time when it seems that all is lost. And the way through it is Faith. The reason is that a stressed out mind sees only paleness, only hopelessness, only defeat. Stay positive and you can make connections, attract allies, see new possibilities.
Eating that strawberry reminds you that life is worth living.
Under stress, we revert to core programming. One is, as mentioned, tribalism. “We” are better than “them.” It is one of the most basic and protective mechanisms, but also capable of fantastic damage. It is child-programming, “my dog is better, my mommy prettier, my daddy stronger.”
It requires ENERGY to achieve escape velocity. As people age or tire, if they have merely orbited this programming rather than escaping its gravity, they crash back down. Joy is energy.
The most common Tribes are things like race, religion, country, gender. The ones I focus on the most are race and gender, as they have affected those closest to me, those I love, the people who anchor me to the world. Take care of what is right around you, with both love and strength, and encourage others to do the same, and the world will heal.
That child self tells a story that places it as central to existence. Perfectly natural. Cultures do it too: whites give Jesus blue eyes and blond hair, the Chinese make Buddha a chubby Chinese, blacks argue that Cleopatra VII Philopator was sub-Saharan African. Then, of course, they pretend that its everyone ELSE who does this shit.
That’s what humans do.
White people who haven’t achieved escape velocity are terrified that the world is browning. Believing in the “Great Man/Great Race” hypothesis rather than the flowing forces of history, they see the world ending. Men who are more attached to their masculinity than to their humanity fear the shifting gender roles.
Both are afraid of being treated as they’ve treated others, so if there is guilt and fear in their hearts, these changes feel like death. The flip side is the poor souls so battered by guilt that they are ashamed of themselves or their tribe. That’s actually sicker than tribalism. And bigots feed right into either imbalance, trust me.
Blacks are as racist as whites, they just don’t have the power to make it matter much. Women are as sexist and flawed as guys, and its entertaining watching them guilt-trip guys into being ashamed of their testicles. Over-emphasizing the value of Yin is precisely as imbalanced as over-emphasizing the value of Yang.
The answer to all of this is joy, and love, combined with strength and balance.
While this illustration is about “White supremacy” in my own “Lion’s Blood” universe you’d be able to flip the script to “Black supremacy” 100%. No problem.
It would be interesting to see someone do the same thing for “Toxic Masculinity.” I’m sure such a thing is out there. But the real trick would be doing one for “Toxic Femininity” because if you can’t, you’re caught in the Matrix, and the demons are dancing with joy.
Start with joy and you can deal with the stress without it becoming strain. Do that, and you connect to the love and strength within you, and stop needing other people’s approval. Which frees you to ask “who am I?” without fearing that you’ll find something hideous within, or that you may have to walk alone for a while as you figure it out.
All it takes to get everything you want is everything you’ve got. Being willing to abandon your illusions. To do that, you have to know you’ll be fine, no matter what, and you CANNOT do that if your emotional well-being is externally focused.
Control your story. And teach others to do the same.