Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Caravaggio, Narcissus 1599Image via Wikipedia

We live in a country where the word "Master" has a lot of selling power. You have people calling themselves Reiki "Ma$ters", Qigong "Ma$ters", all kinds of martial arts "Ma$ters". What does this word really mean? Can anyone truly call his or herself a "master" and be truthful about it?

The Mistake of Mastery
I believe we Americans have a cultural obsession with being "good" at things. I know I have had this for a long time. In the past, I have gotten a lot of my feeling of self-worth from how "good" I was at one thing or another. This is something that starts early: "Oh, you're such a good pooper!" Is something that all children hear. We learn that we get love when other people see that we're accomplishing something to their standards. Later, we adopt these standards for our own, and feel good when we are living up to them.This is why Narcissism is so rampant in our society. Narcissus fell in love with his image, and that's what killed him. He stared into that pool for his whole life, and never was able to really move and be alive. Our culture is obsessed with images in much the same way. We have our models, ideal image of beauty, We have the image of what it means to be successful, all kinds of images that people strive for. Unfortunately, this tends to leak over into areas where it is not appropriate.

What happens when you, deep down, NEED to be good at something that, by definition, you can never be good at? We have a saying in Wujifa "There is no end to feeling, understanding, and being aware." The Buddhists talk about "Beginner's Mind." Both of these are warnings about putting stock in achievement. Both of these statements suggest that there is always more to learn, and that "mastery" is a concept that may not hold a lot of water.

We tend to hold up achievement as a guiding light. The formula goes like this: study, achievement, retirement. Once you say "I'm good at this" (achievement) there is a danger of ceasing to be curious about it, to explore it, and to realize that what one understands is merely only a certain level of awareness.

What it means to be a Master
When someone says "I'm a master at this or that" it is meaningless. Since there is no end to feeling, understanding, and being aware, there is no point at which it's beneficial to say "I've got this! I understand this!" because it's always just a point in development, never an ending.

For me, each person is a master. We are masters of our own destiny, and we can choose how we will live our lives. A master is not someone who has reached a certain level of skill, or of understanding. A master is not someone who takes a weekend class and pays $400. I believe a master is a person who has put time into something, who maintains their fascination with that thing, and who always sees how far they still have to go down the path. I don't believe this kind of person would ever say "I have mastered my skill!" But they may look at someone who is learning and say "I remember when I was there too, let me help you a little further down the road."
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