What is Self-Mastery?
"One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself."
~ Leonardo Da Vinci
Leonardo was a really smart guy. So why do you think he said 'smaller or greater'? How can something be both?
Here is one possibility:
From the moment we arrive on this planet as a blob of pure, innocent potential, we start developing protective personality structures that help us navigate toward reward and away from pain. As a child faced with a perceived threat, our innate temperament may have caused us to surge forward with a powerful anger or, if we were wired differently, we may have pulled away in submissive retreat. When we wanted attention, we may have learned to be funny or act cute or scream at a certain decibel level, whatever worked with our particular caregivers is what we stuck with. We were fully indoctrinated into the beliefs and norms of our culture, many of which are complete nonsense. These patterns became what we call our ego and because we developed these strategies and beliefs before we can remember, we think this is who we are.
On this level of ego, most people believe they know and have mastered themselves. Until I was 40 I did too. To me, mastery meant staying busy. Mastery meant fitting in. Mastery meant that when I felt depressed or anxious, I could feel better by having a glass (or three) of wine. This is a small sort of mastery, when we stay on the surface and delude ourselves into thinking we've got it licked. But all we are really doing is distracting ourselves or numbing out so we can stay reasonably comfortable ... and behave in ways that make other people comfortable. That's okay with us because we look around and see lots of other people doing it too. We don't know any different. We're normal.
But there is more. If you're lucky, you figure this out on your own and start looking deeper into the well of all that you are. Most of us need a shock, however. For me this came in the form of my father dying, my husband having an affair, the tragedy of 9/11, and my dog and cat dying all within a few short months. Indeed, 2001 was a crazy year and I tried to keep up with it all by frenetically filling my days with tasks, mind-numbing television, and yet another glass of wine. I woke up to myself one day when I realized that I had developed several mild yet chronic ailments and felt my bitter sarcasm squirting out all over the people I loved. The long to-do list and wine weren't working anymore. Was there a better way to be? I had an urgent need to find out.
I asked my more mature younger brother for help and he immediately sent me an audio book by Wayne Dyer. I started learning from Wayne and other teachers like Eckhart Tolle and Byron Katie who helped me become aware of the churning negative thoughts that ran around in my head. When I focused upon these stressful thoughts, I discovered that they triggered emotions that included melancholy, rage, and everything in between. The big news was that these debilitating thoughts were optional. It had always seemed to me that they were non-negotiable; it was as if my mind were a cruel master jerking me around like a dog on the end of a leash.
Armed with this empowering insight, I got busy practicing and learning how to master my mind. At first this took tremendous effort — thoughts are very slippery things! — but I slowly rewired my brain, shedding old beliefs and habits of emotion until I could cultivate feelings of genuine peace, joy, and contentment for longer periods of time. Free from the chronic stress of my own making, my body began to heal itself, my emotions flowed with acceptance and ease, and this big brain of mine learned to be quiet until I give it a problem to solve.
Accomplishing mastery of my smallest thoughts in each tiny instant is the hardest thing I've ever done, but these small choices have led to ever greater Mastery of my entire life. My process continues because we're never done exploring what's within — we are each a universe of undiscovered potential.
In fact, my moments of greatest mastery come when I am smallest, after I have stumbled and realized I how little I know ... then I can return to the innocence of a small child who simply delights in the questions.
Where are you on your journey to Self-Mastery? I hope you are able to have a good chuckle at yourself when you catch yourself on the small side now and then.
Feel free to send a note or share your thoughts in the comments. We all learn from each other.