Let go of whom you’ve become and grasp what you can be.
What does it mean to live up to one’s fullest potential and highest conceivable good?
Life is constant change and if you float with it, the sailing is much, much smoother.
Inspired by Lao Tzu, the librarian sage priest of ancient, idyllic China, the ideas above express an invitation to answer the call of Self-Mastery. Mastery of one’s own “self” is a twist of words. The self, as we all think about it, is formless. Our concepts of our selves’ are more of “a feeling” or a “kind of sense” of who we are as individual people. When people call your name and you respond, a “self” somewhere in your mind wakes up and sends a message to your tongue. “Yes?” Your self responds. Self is a storm up in your head all over the place.
How Does One “Master” Something?
So, ok, how do we master something as formless as a self? It’s just an idea. Let that simmer a second or two, we will come back to it. Let’s ask a different question. How does one “master” something?
Ever see The Matrix? There is a scene where Neo, the main character, is quite literally “downloaded” entire styles of Martial Arts as well as complex languages and all other sorts of information and knowledge, with the push of a button. ZCHWERP! Done. You are a master, my son, in less that 2 seconds! Please exit through the gift shop! Huh, uh we wish mastery was that easy. I mean what would be the best way to make mastery a little easier and better and more…marketable? Shorten the amount of time it takes! Bingo, but wait a second, if we shorten the time it takes to master something doesn’t that contradict the definition of mastery? What is the definition of “master” since I just brought it up? As it turns out, there are a bunch:
A master is an original thing of which copies are made. Like a master key or a master file.
A master can also mean something that controls something else. Like a master cylinder or the master ring that controls all others.
To master can also mean to exhibit control over another person. Like a lord of a kingdom or a master of a ship.
One can master a skill by repeating it like a master carpenter or a master artist.
Time Is the Secret
Mastery seems to imply an ability to utilize something at the highest possible level of skill. Time affords us this blessing. Only time can provide us the moments we need to improve upon our selves. A therapist or martial arts master cannot whisper into someone’s ear the secret word and whoosh they are transformed. There is no secret code or secret knowledge that will transform you in the moment. Save but one. Time is the secret. Keep doing it and you will master it.
Wanna know how to get good at something? Do it.
What about how to be great? Do it more.
Wanna know how to be a master? Do it over and over and over.
Time seems to be the secret sauce here. To master something is to learn it thoroughly. Repeated exposures. Repetitions. Familiar ground.
The Real Meaning of Kung Fu
I swear, and I am biased toward all things Asian, but the Chinese always come up with the best words for this stuff. They call it kung fu. Most of us think this means martial arts. It doesn’t. It means “an accumulation of time and effort.” That’s it. Self-mastery in a nutshell. Time combined with where you place your effort. Where do you place your effort and what do you do all day? Do you repeat certain things day after day? What sort of stuff happens to you all day? What do you engage in and what do you seek? Which part of the day are you most happy and which parts are the worst?
Self-Mastery Is The Highest Calling You Can Aspire To
Having a clear sense of how your time in a day is spent is VERY, VERY important. It will add up to who you are. Your self. And that self will be the self we are referring to when we say self-mastery. You become an expert of you. You know you like the back of your hand. To be a master of self is the highest calling you can aspire to. Exploring who you are, what you like, what you love, what you live for, what you would die for, what you will do whether people pay you to do it or not. What do you do when no one is looking? What do you do when no one will know? One person will always know. You. Serving that master will never end poorly. All of your experiences…boons. Every moment…treasures.
“Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason, mastery demands all of a person.” – Albert Einstein
We like to play with threads here at Barn Life Recovery, which should have been evident from our Warp and Woof blog a while back. At the moment, we’ve been weaving with a couple of threads. The first one traces our steps through our inner world. The second concerns the people who surround us. This blog entwines the two as it deals with selfishness.
Selfishness: A Working Definition
To be selfish is to be inconsiderate of others. A selfish individual is primarily focused on personal profit or pleasure of any kind regardless of the impact on others. This behavior stems from ignorance of others and/or an intentional disregard of others. We call this self-absorbed and self-seeking behavior, respectively. It also includes a focus of how situations, environments, and events directly impact or are impacted by the individual (egocentrism), a focus on the importance of self, and a sense of superiority over others regardless of truth (egomania, i.e. narcissism).
The Roots of the Problem
Children often start developing empathy as early as age two and can soon begin to exhibit an understanding of empathy. They acknowledge that other people have thoughts and feelings of their own. Humans can naturally regulate empathy through competent parenting and healthy socialization. So, what happens? Why do people become selfish, self-absorbed, egocentric and narcissistic? A child brought up with excess often learn that they can get what they want through demands, which leads to entitlement. A selfish individual becomes limited in perception. This person is concerned with how much can be taken without sharing and how to give as little as possible back. Selfishness also manifests due to insecurity. This can develop from a myriad of sources such as an unstable home, abuse, mistrust, and a lack of development of empathy.
A Selfish Program?
The idea of selfishness can also come from a black or white perception which easily becomes muddled. Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step groups often use the phrase, “A.A./N.A. is a selfish program.” What this means is that there is a primary focus on a recovering individual who goes through a process of intense learning of self-awareness and personal responsibilities. This path requires a focus on self in order to be a better individual through actions that reflect adherence to a transpersonal commitment. These actions also include how an individual can utilize their strengths and experiences to be of service to others. This creates a loop of meaning which includes the importance of fellowship and consideration of others. So are these programs truly “selfish?” No, this course of action looks much more like self-care.
To challenge selfishness, we assist our clients in differentiating self-care from selfishness. As past or current patterns of selfishness come to awareness, we help to raise our clients’ perspectives to also account for how their actions will impact others. Furthermore, through empowerment, we encourage them to take advantage of their choices to engage in actions that reflect integrity. This includes learning to set healthy and assertive boundaries which allow for a healthy and sober lifestyle. By challenging underlying issues which allow for selfishness to occur, we can find the courage to become vulnerable and to pursue genuine and authentic relationships. This can open realities to discover the value in the compassion and company of others.
Last week we explored beginnings. This week we prepare for the end.
Some say that to start something new, you must first “let go” of what has become familiar. A new perspective sprouts from an old perspective. Like fertilizer, the old way nourishes the new way. Note: endings and beginnings are interchangeable points on the same circle. All beginnings are endings and all endings become new beginnings. Something new always sprouts from something decayed. It lives, comes to an end, and gives way to something new. It is no surprise that the Hindu goddess Kali is given credit as the great destroyer and the great creator. She is lovingly referred to as the Dark Mother and in the wake of utter annihilation, new possibilities spring forth. Kali provides liberation or release, called moksha in Hindu, from old ways and old thinking. Though liberation sounds liberating, most of us shun the crucial step that precedes it: uncertainty and fear.
Doing the Unstuck
Identifying habits and behaviors that merit an end is the first step. To make it a bit easier, we may even begin to think about some new habits and behaviors that get us excited about the forthcoming change. Endings are a little easier when something inspiring is in the near future. But look out, our old friend FEAR usually rears his scary head at this time. Fear of letting go or of change. Fear of a future that may be worse than now. What if my ending begets a difficult new beginning? These fears are a good starting point. Fear leaves us stuck. Helping clients get “unstuck” is the goal. Replacing fear with trust. Trust in ourselves. Trust in a future that we can look forward to despite the growing pains that come with change.
The Appointed Time
Kali literally means “appointed time” in Sanskrit. The appointed time is the time we select to make a change, to engage in the process of ending and beginning and to flow with this current of time. Preparing for this appointed time is our goal this week. The appointed time of our endings and new beginnings. That time is now.
Beginnings are rocky. In fact, beginnings are beset by difficulties. Easy beginnings are not beginnings at all by our definition. Want proof? From the ordeal of birth to those first unsteady steps to taking off the training wheels – there is nothing easy or amusing at birth. It’s bloody serious business entering the world. Not for the squeamish at all. Learning to walk ends in a high-speed bumbling face-plant most attempts (graceful and lovely are not adjectives that spring to mind). Riding a bike for the first time free is as amazing of a feeling as one could ask for. However, it’s often followed by a very abrupt and high-friction situation no one asked for. Riding a bike, in the beginning, is about as unsafe as you can be, perched up off the ground on two shaky wheels downhill…then the rock you never saw becomes starkly noticeable as you face-plant (remember walking?) into the pavement. A familiar feeling, the face-plant.
New Beginnings Are Not Without Hardships
The Chinese have a word we do not have. It’s called “chun.” Chun means “difficulties in the beginning.” Make special note to the fact that “difficulties” has an “s” at the end. There is not just one difficulty lurking ominously for the beginner, but many. So many. Makes a fellow not want to try new things, that’s for certain.
Chun’s Indomitable Spirit
Chun has a few secret meanings too. Chun is the image of a tiny green sprout popping up from the ground. This sprout was a seed just a few days ago and had to undergo the daunting task of being born. Now it is racing toward the sun whilst simultaneously grow roots to attach itself down to get water. Furthermore, the sprout has to dodge any obstructions that may be in its way as it pushes upward. But the sprout won’t know about the obstacle part until he gets there…and that’s just way the cookie crumbles. All that effort to get born could be all for nuttin’. Blam, obstacle. However, chun is not deterred by these obstacles. Chun just grows slowly and keeps moving around, over, or through the obstacle. One way or another. This is an old word with lots of secrets.
Bringing It Together
In closing, in the beginning of things, basic principles come before specific goals. We cannot head off in a direction before we establish our principles for heading off in the first place. Our principles are what we believe and practice. Once we have established our principles then we discuss goals and plans. So, the beginning is about setting up what we practice. Who we are. Which is never easy. Then goals. Then freedom.
“Beginnings are sudden, but also insidious. They creep up on you sideways, they keep to the shadows, they lurk unrecognized. Then, later, they spring.”
– Margaret Atwood
In previous blogs, we offered some techniques for dealing with some of the things life throws our way. From flowing to forgiveness, and from meditation to contemplation, these are strategies offer a path to a better way of life. However, these posts speak to the question of how to live life. This week, we want to address the why. What is the point in learning how to live if you don’t feel like you have something to live for? It is impossible to live a positive life if we just aimlessly wander through it. Inevitably, we need to address our search for meaning.
The Search for Meaning is a War
Meaning in our lives is a hard-fought spoil of war. The war rages between what others have deemed “meaningful” in your life and what the essential “you” has deemed meaningful. Often times, burdened by the meaning of others, we all trudge onto the field of life in a search for meaning of our own choosing. It is a search for something that “matters” to us. Something worth living for and fighting for. Something that makes each day a crusade to manifest what matters most to us. We are not settling. We are actively seeking.
Existence Precedes Essence
A clue in our search for meaning lies in what we do. A famous French philosopher once said that “existence precedes essence.” In other words, there is nothing extrinsic to us that will define us. Only our actions define us and it is through our actions that we find meaning. Poets find meaning in words and fashioning them to say what cannot be said. Similarly, the compassionate find meaning in helping others. Hedonists find pleasure in all that there is to enjoy and more. On the other hand, ascetics derive joy from less and less. To these folks, the meaning is found in reduction.
Get Out and Explore
The search for meaning and finding a meaningful path are essential to our development as human beings. This week at Barn Life, we are exploring all different kinds of meaningful lifestyles. The sky is truly the limit. There are endless examples of lives well lived. There are examples throughout history and right in our own backyards. People who have found their purpose and calling are everywhere if we look. This week we will open our senses to allow for the world to work its magic on us. Try on new hats. Go someplace different. Talk to someone you never talk to. Lift up a rock and see what’s underneath. Peel back the layers. The clues for a meaningful life are everywhere. The menu is full. Order something. Try it.
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