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  • 1. ALSO BY GEORGE LEONARD The Way of Aikido The Decline of the American Male(with William Attwood and J. Robert Moskin) Shoulder the Sky Education and Ecstasy The Man & Woman Thing and Other Provocations The Transformation The Ultimate Athlete The Silent Pulse Adventures in Monogamy (originally published as The End of Sex) Walking on the Edge of the World
  • 2. MASTERY The Keys to Successand Long-Term Fulfillment George Leonard A PLUME BOOK
  • 3. PLUMEPublished by the Penguin GroupPenguin Books USA Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.Penguin Books Ltd, 27 Wrights Lane, London W8 5TZ, EnglandPenguin Books Australia Ltd, Ringwood, Victoria, AustraliaPenguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2Penguin Books (N.Z.) Ltd, 182-190 Wairau Road, Auckland 10, New ZealandPenguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: Harmondsworth, Middlesex, EnglandPublished by Plume, an imprint of Dutton Signet, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc.Previously published in a Dutton edition.First Plume Printing, February, 199230 29 28 27 26Copyright © George Leonard, 1991All rights reserved. REGISTERED TRADEMARK MARCA REGISTRADAPrinted in the United States of AmericaOriginal hardcover design by Eve L. KirchWithout limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publica-tion may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmit-ted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording,or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright ownerand the above publisher of this book.BOOKS ARE AVAILABLE AT QUANTITY DISCOUNTS WHEN USED TO PROMOTE PRODUCTS OR SERVICES.FOR INFORMATION PLEASE WRITE TO PREMIUM MARKETING DIVISION, PENGUIN BOOKS USA INC., 3 7 5HUDSON STREET, NEW YORK, NEW YORK 1 0 0 1 4 .
  • 4. For John and Julia Poppy
  • 5. CONTENTSIntroduction xiPART ONE: THE MASTERS JOURNEY 1Introduction 3 1. What Is Mastery? 5 2. Meet the Dabbler, the Obsessive, and the Hacker 19 3. Americas War Against Mastery 27 4. Loving the Plateau 39PART TWO: THE FIVE MASTER KEYS 51Introduction 53 5. Key 1: Instruction 55 6. Key 2: Practice 73 7. Key 3: Surrender 81 8. Key 4: Intentionality 89 9. Key 5: The Edge 97 vii
  • 6. viii ContentsPART THREE: TOOLS FOR MASTERY 103Introduction 10510. Why Resolutions Fail— and What to Do About It 10711. Getting Energy for Mastery 11912. Pitfalls Along the Path 13313. Mastering the Commonplace 14114. Packing for the Journey 151Epilogue: The Master and the Fool 169
  • 7. ACKNOWLEDGMENTSHeartfelt appreciation goes to Esquires editor emer-itus Phillip Moffitt for his wise counsel and generoussupport, and for his empassioned and enduring ad-vocacy of this book; he speaks with the authority ofone who is himself on the path of mastery. I owe a great deal to my aikido teachers, FrankDoran, Robert Nadeau, and Bill Witt, and especiallyto Nadeau, who introduced me to the idea of pre-senting exercises based on aikido principles to awider, non-martial arts constituency. Richard StrozziHeckler, Wendy Palmer, and I have been doing ai-kido together for eighteen years—first as students,then as teachers and co-owners of Aikido of Tamal-pais: But we are more than fellow martial artists, forour lives touch in many ways; Richard and Wendyare part of this book. Annie Styron Leonard has onceagain been a loving critic and a perceptive editor. Thanks to master tennis teacher Pat Blaskower for ix
  • 8. x Acknowledgmentsher eloquence on the particulars of the mastery pro-cess, as presented in Chapter One, and to Joe Flower,who conducted interviews on the subject of masterywith leading sports figures. Im grateful, as always, toSterling Lord, an intrepid pathfinder for twenty-fiveyears. A special word of thanks goes to John and JuliaPoppy, to whom this book is dedicated. John and Ihave been colleagues and friends for twenty-eightyears—at Look magazine, at Esquire, and actually inall things. He has contributed immeasurably to eachof the Ultimate Fitness features, bringing a rare intel-ligence, elegance, and clarity to the most difficultsubjects. The light that is Julia Poppy, my sister, hasilluminated my path for a lifetime, and her spirit hastouched everything Ive done. This book would notbe possible without them both.
  • 9. INTRODUCTIONIn 1987, for the fourth straight year, the May issue ofEsquire magazine featured a special section on whatit called Ultimate Fitness. These special sectionsclaimed a broader charter than is usual for such asubject. "Ultimately," I wrote in the first of the se-ries, "fitness and health are related to everything wedo, think and feel. Thus . . . what we are calling Ul-timate Fitness has less to do with running a 2:30 mar-athon than with living a good life." The previous Ultimate Fitness specials had enjoyedexceptionally high reader interest, but the May 1987number was something else again. The subject thistime was mastery, "the mysterious process duringwhich what is at first difficult becomes progressivelyeasier and more pleasurable through practice." Thepurpose of the feature was to describe the path thatbest led to mastery, not just in sports but in all oflife, and to warn against the prevailing bottom-line xi
  • 10. xii Introductionmentality that puts quick, easy results ahead of long-term dedication to the journey itself. The response was immediate and extravagant. Re-quests for extra copies, tearsheets, and reprintspoured in. Management newsletters requested per-mission to reprint portions of the Esquire feature.Corporate CEOs gave photocopies to their officers.Training groups of a wide variety spent hours dis-cussing the mastery principles. Letters to the editorwere numerous and eloquent. A navy carrier pilot,for instance, wrote that he had been having troublelanding the F-14 Tomcat on an aircraft carrier. "I . . .was in the process of making a second and perhapsfinal attempt when I bought the May issue. Insightsthat I gained from Mr. Leonards outline of the mas-ters journey gave me the extra 10 percent of mentaldiscipline that I needed to make the trek down thisportion of my path a relatively easy one." I knew a book was needed to provide a full un-derstanding of how to get on and stay on the path ofmastery, but at the time, I was working on a memoirof the 1960s. I thought interest in the subject mightwane, but it hasnt. The many comments and inqui-ries that I continue to receive have convinced memore than ever that the quick-fix, fast-temporary-relief, bottom-line mentality doesnt work in the longrun, and is eventually destructive to the individualand the society. If there is any sure route to success
  • 11. Introduction xiiiand fulfillment in life, it is to be found in the long-term, essentially goalless process of mastery. This istrue, it appears, in personal as well as professionallife, in economics as well as ice skating, in medicineas well as martial arts. It was the martial arts, in fact, that gave me theoriginal idea for the Esquire feature and for this book.I have practiced aikido since 1970, and have taughtit regularly since 1976. With its sophisticated blend-ing moves and full repertory of rolls and falls, aikidois generally known as the most difficult of the martialarts to master. On the training mat, every attempt atcircumvention or overreaching is revealed; flaws aremade manifest; the quick fix is impossible. At thesame time, the pleasures of practice are intensified.The mat, I often tell my students, is the world, but itis the world under a magnifying glass. An aikido school is therefore an ideal laboratoryfor studying the factors that work for and againstlong-term learning. As hundreds of students passedthrough our school, I began to recognize distinctivepatterns in the way they approached the art. Thetypes of learners I would later characterize as thedabbler, the obsessive, and the hacker (see ChapterTwo) revealed themselves, in most cases, after onlya few classes. I was surprised to discover that itwasnt necessarily the most talented who would per-severe on the long road to black belt and beyond. I
  • 12. xiv Introductionbegan to realize that although different people mighttake different paths to mastery, all of the paths led inthe same general direction—one that could be clearlymapped. But would my findings at the aikido school applyto other skills? Interviews conducted at the time ofthe Esquire special and since then, along with theextraordinary response to the magazine feature itself,have shown me that what is true for aikidoists is alsotrue for learners in any nontrivial skill: managers, art-ists, pilots, schoolchildren, college students, carpen-ters, athletes, parents, religious devotees, and evenentire cultures in the process of change. Bottom-line thinking might now prevail, but themasters journey has deep roots. It also has deep res-onance. One might say, in fact, that its not so muchan idea whose time has come as an idea that has al-ways been with us—its just that we need to be re-minded. Im pleased that so many peoples lives havealready been changed for the better through this re-minder, and I hope the book will add to the numberof those who are on the path.
  • 14. IntroductionStart with something simple. Try touching your fore-head with your hand. Ah, thats easy, automatic. Nothing to it. But therewas a time when you were as far removed from themastery of that simple skill as a nonpianist is fromplaying a Beethoven sonata. First, you had to learn to control the movements ofyour hands (you were just a baby then) and somehowget them to move where you wanted them to. You hadto develop some sort of kinesthetic "image" of yourbody so that you could know the relationship betweenyour forehead and other parts of your body. You hadto learn to match this image with the visual image ofan adults body. You had to learn how to mimic yourmothers actions. Momentous stuff, make no mistakeabout it. And we havent yet considered the matter oflanguage—learning to decode sounds shaped as wordsand to match them to our own actions. 3
  • 15. 4 MASTERY Only after all this could you play the learning game that parents everywhere play with their children: "Wheres your nose? Where are your ears? Wheresyour forehead?" As with all significant learning, this learning was measured not in a straight line but in stages: brief spurts of progress separated by periods during which you seemed to be getting nowhere. Still, you learned an essential skill. Whats more im-portant, you learned about learning. You started with something difficult and made it easy and pleasurable through instruction and practice. You took a mastersjourney. And if you could learn to touch your fore- head, you can learn to play a Beethoven sonata or fly a jet plane, to be a better manager or improve your relationships. Our current society works in many ways to lead us astray, but the path of mastery is always there, waiting for us.
  • 16. Chapter 1 What Is Mastery?It resists definition yet can be instantly recognized.It comes in many varieties, yet follows certain un-changing laws. It brings rich rewards, yet is not reallya goal or a destination but rather a process, a journey.We call this journey mastery, and tend to assumethat it requires a special ticket available only to thoseborn with exceptional abilities. But mastery isnt re-served for the supertalented or even for those whoare fortunate enough to have gotten an early start.Its available to anyone who is willing to get on thepath and stay on it—regardless of age, sex, or previ-ous experience. The trouble is that we have few, if any, maps toguide us on the journey or even to show us how tofind the path. The modern world, in fact, can beviewed as a prodigious conspiracy against mastery.Were continually bombarded with promises of im- 5
  • 17. 6 MASTERYmediate gratification, instant success, and fast, tem-porary relief, all of which lead in exactly the wrongdirection. Later, well take a look at the quick-fix,antimastery mentality that pervades our society, andsee how it not only prevents us from developing ourpotential skills but threatens our health, education,career, relationships, and perhaps even our nationaleconomic viability. But first lets examine mastery it-self. The masters journey can begin whenever you de-cide to learn any new skill—how to touch-type, howto cook, how to become a lawyer or doctor or ac-countant. But it achieves a special poignancy, a qual-ity akin to poetry or drama, in the field of sports,where muscles, mind, and spirit come together ingraceful and purposive movements through time andspace. Sports provide a good starting point for thisexploration, in that results of training in the physicalrealm are rather quickly and clearly visible. So letstake a familiar sport, tennis, as a hypothetical casethrough which we can derive the principles under-lying the mastery of all skills, physical or otherwise. Say youre in fairly good physical shape but by nomeans a highly conditioned, skilled athlete. Youveplayed around with movement sports such as volley-ball and softball, which involve hand-eye coordina-tion, and youve played a little tennis, but notmuch—which might be a good thing. If youre going
  • 18. The Masters Journey 7to go for mastery, its better to start with a clean slaterather than have to unlearn bad habits you picked upwhile hacking around. Now youve found a teacher,a pro with a reputation for grounding players in thefundamentals, and youve committed yourself to atleast three visits a week to the tennis court. Youreon the path to mastery. It starts with baby steps. The teacher shows youhow to hold the racket so that it will hit the ball atthe correct moment in time. She has you bring theracket forward in a forehand swing until you find theposition of maximum strength of the wrist. Shestands in front of you on the same side of the netand tosses balls to your forehand, and after each hit,she asks you to tell her if you hit it early or late. Sheshows you how to move your shoulders and hipstogether with the motion of the arm, and to strideinto the ball. She makes corrections, gives encour-agement. You feel terribly clumsy and disjointed.You have to think to keep the parts of your bodysynchronized, and thinking gets in the way of grace-ful, spontaneous movement. You find yourself becoming impatient. You werehoping to get exercise, but this practice doesnt giveyou enough even to break a sweat. You like to seethe ball go across the net and into the dark green partof the court, but your teacher says you shouldnteven be thinking about that at this stage. Youre the
  • 19. 8 MASTERYtype of person who cares a lot about results, and youseem to be getting hardly any results at all. The prac-tice just goes on and on: hold the racket correctly;know where the racket makes contact with the ball;move shoulders, hips, and arm together; stride intothe ball—you seem to be getting exactly nowhere. Then, after about five weeks of frustration, a lightgoes on. The various components of the tennis strokebegin to come together, almost as if your musclesknow what they should do; you dont have to thinkabout every little thing. In your conscious awareness,theres more room to see the ball, to meet it cleanlyin a stroke that starts low and ends high. You feel theitch to hit the ball harder, to start playing competi-tively. No chance. Until now your teacher has been feed-ing balls to you. You havent had to move. But nowyoure going to have to learn to move side to side,back and forth, and on the diagonal, and then set upand swing. Again, you feel clumsy, disjointed. Youredismayed to find that youre losing some of whatyoud gained. Just before youre ready to call it quits,you stop getting worse. But youre not getting anybetter, either. Days and weeks pass with no apparentprogress. There you are on that damned plateau. For most people brought up in this society, theplateau can be a form of purgatory. It triggers dis-owned emotions. It flushes out hidden motivations.
  • 20. The Masters Journey 9You realize you came to tennis not only to get ex-ercise but also to look good, to play with yourfriends, to beat your friends. You decide to have atalk with your teacher. How long, you ask, will ittake you to master this thing? Your instructor responds, "Do you mean how longwould it take for you to automatically get into posi-tion and hit a forehand effectively to a target?" "Yes." She pauses. Its a question she always dreads."Well, for someone like you, who starts tennis as anadult, if you practice an hour three times a week, itwould take, on average, five years." Five years! Your heart sinks. "Ideally, about half of that would be instruction.Of course, if youre particularly motivated, it couldbe less than that." You decide to try another question. "How longwill it be before I can play competitively?" "Competitively? Thats a loaded term." "I mean playing to try to beat a friend." "I would say you could probably start playing afterabout six months. But you shouldnt start playingwith winning as a major consideration until you havereasonable control of forehand, backhand, and serve.And that would be about a year or a year and a half. Another bitter dose of reality. The teacher goes on to explain. The problem with
  • 21. 10 MASTERYtennis isnt just that the ball moves and the racketmoves, and you have to master all of that, but alsothat you have to move. In addition, unless yourehitting with a pro who can put the ball in the correctplace, a lot of practice time on the court is spentpicking up balls. Backboards are helpful. Ball ma-chines are helpful. But playing for points, trying tobeat a friend, really comes down to who gets theserve in the court and who misses the ball first. Pointslast only about three hits over the net. You dont getmuch practice. What you really need is to hit thou-sands of balls under fairly controlled circumstancesat every step along the way: forehand, backhand,footwork, serve, spin, net play, placement, strategy.And the process is generally incremental. You cantskip stages. You cant really work on strategy, forexample, until youve got placement pretty well un-der control. With the introduction of each new stage,youre going to have to start thinking again, whichmeans things will temporarily fall apart. The truth begins to sink in. Going for mastery inthis sport isnt going to bring you the quick rewardsyou had hoped for. Theres a seemingly endless roadahead of you with numerous setbacks along the wayand—most important—plenty of time on the plateau,where long hours of diligent practice gain you noapparent progress at all. Not a happy situation forone who is highly goal-oriented.
  • 22. The Masters Journey 11 You realize that you have a decision to make atsome point along the journey, if not now. Youretempted to drop tennis and go out looking for an-other, easier sport. Or you might try twice as hard,insist on extra lessons, practice day and night. Oryou could quit your lessons and take whateveryouve learned out on the court; you could forgetabout improving your game and just have fun withfriends who dont play much better than you. Ofcourse, you could also do what your teachers sug-gests, and stay on the long road to mastery. Whatwill you choose? This question, this moment of choice, comes upcountless times in each of our lives, not just abouttennis or some other sport, but about everything thathas to do with learning, development, change. Some-times we choose after careful deliberation, but fre-quently the choice is careless—a barely consciousone. Seduced by the siren song of a consumerist,quick-fix society, we sometimes choose a course ofaction that brings only the illusion of accomplish-ment, the shadow of satisfaction. And sometimes,knowing little or nothing about the process that leadsto mastery, we dont even realize a choice is beingoffered. Yet even our failures to choose consciouslyoperate as choices, adding to or subtracting from theamount of our potential that we will eventually re-alize.
  • 23. 12 MASTERY The evidence is clear: all of us who are born with-out serious genetic defects are born geniuses. With-out an iota of formal instruction, we can master theoverarching symbolic system of spoken language—and not just one language but several. We can deci-pher the complex code of facial expressions—a featto paralyze the circuitry of even the most powerfulcomputer. We can decode and in one way or anotherexpress the subtleties of emotional nuance. Evenwithout formal schooling, we can make associations,create abstract categories, and construct meaningfulhierarchies. Whats more, we can invent things neverbefore seen, ask questions never before asked, andseek answers from out beyond the stars. Unlike com-puters, we can fall in love. What we call intelligence comes in many varieties.Howard Gardner of Harvard University and the Bos-ton University School of Medicine has identifiedseven of them: linguistic, musical, logical/mathemat-ical, spatial, bodily/kinesthetic, and two types of per-sonal intelligences that might be described asintrapersonal and interpersonal. We vary in our gift-edness in these seven at least. Still, each of us comesequipped with enough raw ability across the boardto achieve that seemingly rare and mysterious statewe call mastery in some mode of thought and ex-pression, some interpersonal and entrepreneurial en-terprise, some art or craft.
  • 24. The Masters Journey 13 This is also true in the physical realm. It was oncebelieved that our primitive ancestors were rather piti-able creatures compared with the other animals ofthe jungles and savannahs. Lacking the fangs, claws,and specialized physical abilities of the predators, ourforefathers supposedly prevailed only because oftheir large brains and their ability to use tools. Thissupposition has downplayed the prodigious humanability to create complex, well-knit social groupings,a challenge which, more than toolmaking, accountsfor the development of the large brain. It also downplays the human body. Much has been made of the blazing sprint-speed ofthe cheetah, the prodigious leaps of the kangaroo,the underwater skills of the dolphin, and the gym-nastic prowess of the chimpanzee. But the fact of thematter is that no animal can match the human animalin all-around athletic ability. If we were to hold amammal decathlon with events in sprinting, endur-ance running, long jumping, high jumping, swim-ming, deep diving, gymnastics, striking, kicking, andburrowing, other animals would win most of the in-dividual events. But a well-trained human wouldcome up with the best overall score. And in oneevent—endurance running—the human would out-perform all other animals of comparable size, as wellas some quite a bit larger. If we are born geniuses ofthought and feeling, we are also geniuses in potentia
  • 25. 14 MASTERYof the body, and there is undoubtedly some sport,some physical pursuit in which each of us can excel. But genius, no matter how bright, will come tonaught or swiftly burn out if you dont choose themasters journey. This journey will take you along apath that is both arduous and exhilarating. It willbring you unexpected heartaches and unexpected re-wards, and you will never reach a final destination.(It would be a paltry skill indeed that could be fi-nally, completely mastered.) Youll probably end uplearning as much about yourself as about the skillyoure pursuing. And although youll often be sur-prised at what and how you learn, your progress to-wards mastery will almost always take on acharacteristic rhythm that looks something like this:The Mastery Curve Theres really no way around it. Learning any newskill involves relatively brief spurts of progress, eachof which is followed by a slight decline to a plateausomewhat higher in most cases than that which pre-ceded it. The curve above is necessarily idealized. Inthe actual learning experience, progress is less regu-
  • 26. The Masters Journey 15lar; the upward spurts vary; the plateaus have theirown dips and rises along the way. But the generalprogression is almost always the same. To take themasters journey, you have to practice diligently,striving to hone your skills, to attain new levels ofcompetence. But while doing so—and this is the in-exorable fact of the journey—you also have to bewilling to spend most of your time on a plateau, tokeep practicing even when you seem to be gettingnowhere. Why does learning take place in spurts? Why cantwe make steady upward progress on our way towardmastery? As we saw in the case of tennis, we have tokeep practicing an unfamiliar movement again andagain until we "get it in the muscle memory" or"program it into the autopilot." The specific mech-anism through which this takes place is not com-pletely known, but it probably matches up fairly wellwith these informal descriptions. Karl Pribram, pro-fessor of neuroscience and a pioneering brain re-searcher at Stanford University, explains it in termsof hypothetical brain-body systems. He starts with a"habitual behavior system" that operates at a leveldeeper than conscious thought. This system involvesthe reflex circuit in the spinal cord as well as in var-ious parts of the brain to which it is connected. Thishabitual system makes it possible for you to dothings—return a scorching tennis serve, play a guitar
  • 27. 16 MASTERYchord, ask directions in a new language—withoutworrying just how you do them. When you start tolearn a new skill, however, you do have to thinkabout it, and you have to make an effort to replaceold patterns of sensing, movement, and cognitionwith new. This brings into play what might be called a cog-nitive system, associated with the habitual system,and an effort system, associated with the hippocam-pus (situated at the base of the brain). The cognitiveand effort systems become subsets of the habitualsystem long enough to modify it, to teach it a newbehavior. To put it another way, the cognitive andeffort systems "click into" the habitual system andreprogram it. When the job is done, both systemswithdraw. Then you dont have to stop and thinkabout, say, the right grip every time you shift yourracket. In this light, you can see that those upward surgeson the mastery curve are by no means the only timeanything significant or exciting is happening. Learn-ing generally occurs in stages. A stage ends when thehabitual system has been programmed to the newtask, and the cognitive and effort systems have with-drawn. This means you can perform the task withoutmaking a special effort to think of its separate parts.At this point, theres an apparent spurt of learning.But this learning has been going on all along.
  • 28. The Masters Journey 17 How do you best move toward mastery? To put itsimply, you practice diligently, but you practice pri-marily for the sake of the practice itself. Rather thanbeing frustrated while on the plateau, you learn toappreciate and enjoy it just as much as you do theupward surges. But learning to love the plateau is getting ahead ofour story. First, lets meet three characters—the Dab-bler, the Obsessive, and the Hacker—who go throughlife, each in his or her own way, choosing not to takethe masters journey. Who knows?—we might bemeeting ourselves.
  • 29. Chapter 2 Meet the Dabbler, the Obsessive, and the hackerWe all aspire to mastery, but the path is always longand sometimes rocky, and it promises no quick andeasy payoffs. So we look for other paths, each ofwhich attracts a certain type of person. Can you rec-ognize yourself in any of the following three graphs?The Dabbler The Dabbler approaches each new sport, careeropportunity, or relationship with enormous enthusi-asm. He or she loves the rituals involved in getting 19
  • 30. 20 MASTERYstarted, the spiffy equipment, the lingo, the shine ofnewness. When he makes his first spurt of progress in a newsport, for example, the Dabbler is overjoyed. Hedemonstrates his form to family, friends, and peoplehe meets on the street. He cant wait for the nextlesson. The falloff from his first peak comes as ashock. The plateau that follows is unacceptable if notincomprehensible. His enthusiasm quickly wanes. Hestarts missing lessons. His mind fills up with ration-alizations. This really isnt the right sport for him. Itstoo competitive, noncompetitive, aggressive, non-aggressive, boring, dangerous, whatever. He tells ev-eryone that it just doesnt fulfill his unique needs.Starting another sport gives the Dabbler a chance toreplay the scenario of starting up. Maybe hell makeit to the second plateau this time, maybe not. Thenits on to something else. The same thing applies to a career. The Dabblerloves new jobs, new offices, new colleagues. He seesopportunities at every turn. He salivates over pro-jected earnings. He delights in signs of progress, eachof which he reports to his family and friends. Uh oh,theres that plateau again. Maybe this job isnt rightfor him after all. Its time to start looking around. TheDabbler has a long resume. In love relationships (perhaps an unexpected placeto look for the signs of mastery, but a good one), the
  • 31. The Masters Journey 21Dabbler specializes in honeymoons. He revels in se-duction and surrender, the telling of life stories, thedisplay of loves tricks and trappings: the ego on pa-rade. When the initial ardor starts to cool, he startslooking around. To stay on the path of masterywould mean changing himself. How much easier it isto jump into another bed and start the process allover again. The Dabbler might think of himself as anadventurer, a connoisseur of novelty, but hes prob-ably closer to being what Carl Jung calls the pueraeternus, the eternal kid. Though partners change,he or she stays just the same.The Obsessive The Obsessive is a bottom-line type of person, notone to settle for second best. He or she knows resultsare what count, and it doesnt matter how you getthem, just so you get them fast. In fact, he wants toget the stroke just right during the very first lesson.He stays after class talking to the instructor. He askswhat books and tapes he can buy to help him make
  • 32. 22 MASTERYprogress faster. (He leans toward the listener whenhe talks. His energy is up front when he walks.) The Obsessive starts out by making robust prog-ress. His first spurt is just what he expected. Butwhen he inevitably regresses and finds himself on aplateau, he simply wont accept it. He redoubles hiseffort. He pushes himself mercilessly. He refuses toaccept his bosss and colleagues counsel of moder-ation. He works all night at the office, hes temptedto take shortcuts for the sake of quick results. American corporate managers by and large havejoined the cult of the bottom line; their profile isoften that of the Obsessive. They strive mightily tokeep the profit curve angled upward, even if thatmeans sacrificing research and development, long-term planning, patient product development, andplant investment. In relationships, the Obsessive lives for the upwardsurge, the swelling background music, the trip to thestars. Hes not like the Dabbler. When ardor cools,he doesnt look elsewhere. He tries to keep the star-ship going by every means at his command: extrav-agant gifts, erotic escalation, melodramaticrendezvous. He doesnt understand the necessity forperiods of development on the plateau. The relation-ship becomes a rollercoaster ride, with stormy sepa-rations and passionate reconciliations. The inevitablebreakup involves a great deal of pain for both part-
  • 33. The Masters Journey 23ners, with very little in the way of learning or self-development to show for it. Somehow, in whatever he is doing, the Obsessivemanages for a while to keep making brief spurts ofupward progress, followed by sharp declines—a jag-ged ride toward a sure fall. When the fall occurs, theObsessive is likely to get hurt. And so are friends,colleagues, stockholders, and lovers.The Hacker The Hacker has a different attitude. After sort ofgetting the hang of a thing, he or she is willing tostay on the plateau indefinitely. He doesnt mindskipping stages essential to the development of mas-tery if he can just go out and hack around with fellowhackers. Hes the physician or teacher who doesntbother going to professional meetings, the tennisplayer who develops a solid forehand and figures hecan make do with a ragged backhand. At work, hedoes only enough to get by, leaves on time or early,takes every break, talks instead of doing his job, andwonders why he doesnt get promoted. The Hacker looks at marriage or living together not
  • 34. 24 MASTERYas an opportunity for learning and development, butas a comfortable refuge from the uncertainties of theoutside world. He or she is willing to settle for staticmonogamy, an arrangement in which both partnershave clearly defined and unchanging roles, and inwhich marriage is primarily an economic and domes-tic institution. This traditional arrangement some-times works well enough, but in todays world twopartners are rarely willing to live indefinitely on anunchanging plateau. When your tennis partner startsimproving his or her game and you dont, the gameeventually breaks up. The same thing applies to re-lationships. The categories are obviously not quite this neat.You can be a Dabbler in love and a master in art.You can be on the path of mastery on your job anda Hacker on the golf course—or vice versa. Even inthe same field, you can be sometimes on the path ofmastery, sometimes an Obsessive, and so on. But thebasic patterns tend to prevail, both reflecting andshaping your performance, your character, your des-tiny. At some of my lectures and workshop sessions, Idescribe the Master, the Dabbler, the Obsessive, andthe Hacker. I then ask the people in the audience toindicate by a show of hands (leaving the Master out)which of the other three would best describe them-
  • 35. The Masters Journey 25selves. In almost every case, the response breaksdown into nearly even thirds, and the discussion thatfollows shows how easily most people can identifywith the three types who are the subject of this chap-ter. These characters, then, have proven useful in help-ing us see why were not on the path of mastery. Butthe real point is to get on that path and start moving.The first challenge well meet, as well see in the nextchapter, is posed by our society.
  • 36. Chapter 3 Americas War Against MasteryIf youre planning to embark on a masters journey,you might find yourself bucking current trends inAmerican life. Our hyped-up consumerist society isengaged, in fact, in an all-out war on mastery. We seethis most plainly in our value system. Values wereonce inculcated through the extended family, tribalor village elders, sports and games, the apprentice-ship system or traditional schooling, religious train-ing and practice, and spiritual and secular ceremony.With the weakening or withering away of most ofthese agencies, value-giving in America has taken astrange new turn. Our society is now organized around an economicsystem that seemingly demands a continuing highlevel of consumer spending. We are offered an un-precedented number of choices as to how we spendour money. We have to have food, clothing, hous- 27
  • 37. 28 MASTERYing, transportation, and medical care, but within cer-tain limits we can choose among many alternatives.We are also enticed by a dazzling array of appealingnonnecessities—VCRs, vacation cruises, speedboats,microwave ovens. Every time we spend money, wemake a statement about what we value; theres noclearer or more direct indication. Thus, all induce-ments to spend money—print advertisements, radioand television commercials, mailers, and the like—are primarily concerned with the inculcation of val-ues. They have become, in fact, the chief value-giversof this age. Try paying close attention to television commer-cials. What values do they espouse? Some appeal tofear (buy our travelers checks because youre likelyto be robbed on your next trip), some to logic, evento thrift (our car compares favorably to its chief com-petitors in the following ways, and is cheaper), someto snobbery (at an elegant country house, fashion-ably dressed people are drinking a certain brand ofsparkling water), some to pure hedonism (on a mis-erable winter day in the city a young couple chancesupon a travel agency; their eyes focus on a replica ofa credit card on the window and they are instantlytransported to a dreamy tropical paradise). Keep watching, and an underlying pattern willemerge. About half of the commercials, whatever thesubject matter, are based on a climactic moment: The
  • 38. The Masters Journey 29cake has already been baked; the family and guests,their faces all aglow, are gathered around to watchan adorable three-year-old blow out the candles. Therace is run and won; beautiful young people jump upand down in ecstasy as they reach for frosted cans ofdiet cola. Men are shown working at their jobs forall of a second and a half, then its Miller time. Lifeat its best, these commercials teach, is an endless se-ries of climactic moments. And the sitcoms and soaps, the crime shows, andMTV all run on the same hyped-up schedule: (1) Ifyou make smart-assed one-liners for a half hour,everything will work out fine in time for the closingcommercials. (2) People are quite nasty, dont workhard, and get rich quickly. (3) No problem is so se-rious that it cant be resolved in the wink of an eyeas soon as the gleaming barrel of a handgun appears.(4) The weirdest fantasy you can think of can be re-alized instantly and without effort. In all of this, the specific content isnt nearly asdestructive to mastery as is the rhythm. One epiph-any follows another. One fantasy is crowded out bythe next. Climax is piled upon climax. Theres noplateau.
  • 39. 30 MASTERYThe Path of Endless Climax Two generations of Americans have grown up inthe television age, during which consumerism hasachieved unprecedented dominance over our valuesystem. It should come as no great surprise that manyof us have the idea that our lives by all rights shouldconsist of one climax after another. So what do wedo when our own day-to-day existence doesnt matchup? How do we keep those climactic moments com-ing without instruction or discipline or practice? Itseasy. Take a drug. Of course, it doesnt work. In the long run it de-stroys you. But who in the popular and commercialculture has much to say about the long run? Whowould be willing to warn in their commercial mes-sages that every attempt to achieve an endless seriesof climactic moments, whether drug-powered or not,ends like this?
  • 40. The Masters Journey 31 The epidemic of gambling currently sweepingacross the nation shows how explicit and blatant thecampaign against any long-term effort has become.An ad for the Illinois lottery pictured a man scoffingat people buying savings bonds, and insisting that theonly way an ordinary person could become a mil-lionaire was by playing the lottery. The very firstcommercial seen during an ABC special on the crisisin our high schools showed a bull session among agroup of attractive young people. The models for thiscommercial were probably over twenty-one, butcould easily have passed for high schoolers. "Im go-ing for the Trans-Am," one of them said. Anotherinformed her friends that she would take the Hawai-ian vacation, and a third said he was going to win thecash prize of $50,000. While there seemed no doubtin these happy youths minds, that they were goingto win the sweepstakes in question, they were statis-
  • 41. 32 MASTERYtically more likely to die by drowning in a cistern,cesspool, or well. A radio commercial for another sweepstakes dra-matized the story of a young man who was ashamedto be seen by his brother while cooking hamburgersin a fast food restaurant. He explains that hes work-ing to buy tickets to a pro football game. The brotherasks why hes doing that when he could try for thetickets in a sweepstakes. The young man is immedi-ately convinced. He then burns the hamburger hescooking and serves the french fries still frozen. "Idont care," he says happily. "I can win tickets. Idont need this job." If you could impute some type of central intelli-gence to all of these commercial messages, you wouldhave to conclude that the nation is bent on self-destruction. In any case, you might suspect that thedisproportionate incidence of drug abuse in theUnited States, especially of drugs that give you aquick high, springs not so much from immoral orcriminal impulses as from a perfectly understandableimpulse to replicate the most visible, most compel-ling American vision of the good life—an endless se-ries of climactic moments. This vision isnt just aninvention of television. It resonates in the rhetoricabout scoring ("I dont care how you win, just win"),about effortless learning, instant celebrities, instantmillionaires, and the "number one" finger raised in
  • 42. The Masters Journey 33the air when you score just once. It is the ruling en-trepreneurial vision of America, even among youngghetto drug dealers. "Based on my experience,"writes anthropologist Philippe Bourgois, who spentfive years of living in and studying the culture of EastHarlem, "I believe the assertion of the culture-of-poverty theorists that the poor have been badly so-cialized and do not share mainstream values is wrong.On the contrary, ambitious, energetic, inner-cityyouths are attracted to the underground economyprecisely because they believe in the rags-to-richesAmerican dream. Like many in the mainstream, theyare frantically trying to get their piece of the pie asfast as possible." The quick-fix, antimastery mentality touches al-most everything in our lives. Look at modern medi-cine and pharmacology. "Fast, temporary relief" isthe battle cry. Symptoms receive immediate atten-tion; underlying causes remain in the shadows. Moreand more research studies show that most illnessesare caused by environmental factors or way of life.The typical twelve-minute office visit doesnt give thedoctor time to get to know the patients face, muchless his or her way of life. It does give time for writ-ing a prescription. A pioneering study by Dr. Dean Ornish and hisassociates in San Francisco has proven conclusivelythat coronary artery disease, our number one cause
  • 43. 34 MASTERYof death, can be reversed by a long-term regimen ofdiet, moderate exercise, yoga, meditation, and groupsupport. No drugs, no operations. This program hasbeen criticized by some doctors as "too radical." Ifthis is radical, then what do these doctors consider"conservative"? Is it a bypass operation that will splityour chest wide open, that has a 5-percent chance ofcausing death, a 30-percent chance of causing neu-rological damage, a 50-percent chance of being un-necessary; an operation which might have to berepeated after a few years and which costs $30,000.But all that doesnt seem to matter. At least its a quickfix. Business and industry? Perhaps no other area ofAmerican life is more in need of the principles ofmastery. "Gone is talk of balanced, long-termgrowth," writes Ralph E. Winter in a Wall StreetJournal article on the current fad of streamlining. "Impatient shareholders and well-heeled corporateraiders have seen to that. Now anxious executives,fearing for their jobs or their companies, are focusingtheir efforts on trimming operations and shuffling as-sets to improve near-term profits, often at the ex-pense of both balance and growth." The leveragedbuyout sums it all up. Theres an enormous climax.Certain people make a lot of money in a short time.Very little if any real value is added to the corpora-
  • 44. The Masters Journey 35tion, or to the national economy. And the corporateraider becomes a culture hero. But todays hero can become tomorrows pariah.Already there are signs of a massive and growing dis-illusionment with our instant billionaires, and alsowith crash diets, miracle drugs both legal and illegal,lotteries, sweepstakes, and all the flash and clutterthat accrues from the worship of quick, effortlesssuccess and fulfillment. If we need a reminder of justhow disastrous the war against mastery can be, wehave the S&L crisis, which brought quick rewards toa few and is bringing prolonged hardship to many.Make no mistake; its all connected. The same climateof thought that would lead some people to the prom-ise that they can learn a new skill or lose weight with-out patient, long-term effort leads others to thepromise of great riches without the production ofvalue in return.A War That Cant Be Won Im aware that this critique of certain American val-ues comes at a moment of great triumph for Americaand the West. Throughout the world, even in nationswhose leaders revile us, theres a rising desire for theAmerican way of life. Totalitarian governments arestanding on very shaky ground these days. The hun-ger for free democratic governance has never been
  • 45. 36 MASTERYstronger. Communism, with its centralized economicplanning and control, is in full retreat. Freedom isdoubtless the way to go. And throughout most of theworld its growing clear that nations need the systemof feedback and individual incentive that obtains ina free market economy. The victory is real and celebration is in order. Butso is some cautious self-examination, for theres per-haps no more dangerous time for any society than itsmoment of greatest triumph. It would be truly fool-ish to let the decline of communism blind us to thelong-term contradictions in a free market economyunrestrained by considerations of the environmentand social justice, and driven by heedless consum-erism, instant gratification, and the quick fix. Ourdedication to growth at all costs puts us on a collisioncourse with the environment. Our dedication to theillusion of endless climaxes puts us on a collisioncourse with the human psyche. Mastery applies to nations as well as to individuals.Our present national prosperity is built on a hugedeficit and trillions of dollars worth of overdue ex-penditures on environmental cleanup, infrastructurerepair, education, and social services—the quick-fixmentality. The failure to deal with the deficit goesalong with easy credit and the continuing encourage-ment of individual consumption at the expense ofsaving and longer term gain. The celebration of re-
  • 46. The Masters Journey 37suits over process is reflected in shoddy workman-ship and the ascendency of imported products. Theurgent commercial appeals that paint life as a seriesof climactic moments are not unrelated to the cur-rent epidemics of drug abuse and gambling. Fullshelves in the supermarkets and full lanes on the su-perhighways dont make up for the pitiful cries ofcrack babies, the breakdown of learning in and outof the schools, and the growing disparity betweenthe rich and the poor. America is still the most exciting of nations. Itsfreedom, its energy, its talent for innovation still in-spire the world. But our time of grace might be run-ning out. In the long run, the war against mastery,the path of patient, dedicated effort without attach-ment to immediate results, is a war that cant be won.
  • 47. Chapter 4 Loving the PlateauEarly in life, we are urged to study hard, so that wellget good grades. We are told to get good grades sothat well graduate from high school and get into col-lege. We are told to graduate from high school andget into college so that well get a good job. We aretold to get a good job so that we can buy a houseand a car. Again and again we are told to do one thingonly so that we can get something else. We spendour lives stretched on an iron rack of contingencies. Contingencies, no question about it, are important.The achievement of goals is important. But the realjuice of life, whether it be sweet or bitter, is to befound not nearly so much in the products of our ef-forts as in the process of living itself, in how it feelsto be alive. We are taught in countless ways to valuethe product, the prize, the climactic moment. Buteven after weve just caught the winning pass in the 39
  • 48. 40 MASTERYSuperbowl, theres always tomorrow and tomorrowand tomorrow. If our life is a good one, a life ofmastery, most of it will be spent on the plateau. Ifnot, a large part of it may well be spent in restless,distracted, ultimately self-destructive attempts to es-cape the plateau. The question remains: Where in ourupbringing, our schooling, our career are we explic-itly taught to value, to enjoy, even to love the pla-teau, the long stretch of diligent effort with noseeming progress? I was fortunate in my middle years to have foundaikido, a discipline so difficult and resistant to thequick fix that it showed me the plateau in sharp, boldrelief. When I first started, I simply assumed that Iwould steadily improve. My first plateaus were rela-tively short and I could ignore them. After about ayear and a half, however, I was forced to recognizethat I was on a plateau of formidable proportions.This recognition brought a certain shock and disap-pointment, but somehow I persevered and finally ex-perienced an apparent spurt of learning. The nexttime my outward progress stopped, I said to myself,"Oh damn. Another plateau." After a few moremonths there was another spurt of progress, andthen, of course, the inevitable plateau. This time,something marvelous happened. I found myselfthinking, "Oh boy. Another plateau. Good. I can juststay on it and keep practicing. Sooner or later, therell
  • 49. The Masters Journey 41be another spurt." It was one of the warmest mo-ments on my journey.The Joy of Regular Practice At that time, the aikido school I attended was onlyeighteen months old, and there were no regular stu-dents above blue belt. Our teachers, the only blackbelts around, seemed to exist in an entirely differentplane from the one on which we moved. I never evenconsidered the possibility that I would rise to thatrarefied plane. So there I was—an impatient, ratherdriven person who had always gone for the quickest,most direct route to a given goal—practicing regu-larly and hard for no particular goal at all, just for itsown sake. Months would pass with no break in thesteady rhythm of my practice. It was something newin my life, a revelation. The endless succession ofclasses was rewarding precisely because it was, in theZen sense, "nothing special." I went to class three or four times a week, fromseven to nine P.M. When it was time to drive to thedojo (practice hall) in the city, the problems and dis-tractions of the day began falling away. Just foldingthe quilted white cotton gi practice uniform softenedmy breathing and brought me a feeling of peace. Thedrive took about a half hour, across the bridge intothe city, over a long hill that taxed my cars lowest
  • 50. 42 MASTERYgear, then finally down to a broad and noisy avenuenoted for row upon row of car dealerships. Despitethe noise outside, climbing the stairs to the second-story dojo was like entering a sanctuary, a place bothalien to my customary existence and altogether fa-miliar. I loved everything about it, the ritual that wasalways the same yet always new: bowing upon en-tering, pulling my membership card from the rack onthe front desk, changing to my gi in the dressingroom. I loved the comforting smell of sweat, the sub-dued talk. I loved coming out of the dressing roomand checking to see which other students were al-ready warming up. I loved bowing again as I steppedon the mat, feeling the cool firm surface on the solesof my feet. I loved taking my place in the long rowof aikidoists all sitting in seiza, the Japanese medita-tion position. I loved the entry of our teacher, theritual bows, the warm-up techniques, and then myheart pounding, my breath rushing as the training in-creased in speed and power. It wasnt always like that. Sometimes, when themoment came to go to class, I would be feeling par-ticularly lazy. On those occasions I would be temptedto do almost anything rather than face myself onceagain on the mat. And sometimes I would give in tothat inevitable human resistance against doing whatsbest for us, and waste an evening distracting myself.
  • 51. The Masters Journey 43I knew quite well, however, that when I did over-come my lethargy, I would be rewarded with a littlemiracle: I knew that, no matter how I felt on climb-ing the dojo stairs, two hours later—after hundredsof throws and falls—I would walk out tingling andfully alive, feeling so good, in fact, that the night it-self would seem to sparkle and gleam. This joy, I repeat, had little to do with progress orthe achievement of goals. I was taken totally by sur-prise, in fact, when one of my teachers called a fel-low student and me into his office after a weekendof marathon training and handed us brown belts, therank next to black belt. One night about a year later,the four most advanced brown belts in the schoolhappened to have a conversation during which weobliquely touched upon the possibility that we our-selves might someday achieve the rank of black belt.The idea was both exciting and troubling, and whenI next came to class I was aware of something new:the worm of ambition was eating stealthily away atthe center of my belly. Maybe it was coincidence, but within three weeksof that conversation all four of us suffered seriousinjuries—a broken toe, torn ligaments in the elbow,a dislocated shoulder (mine), and an arm broken inthree places. These injuries were effective teachers.After recovering, we settled back into steady, goal-
  • 52. 44 MASTERYless practice. Another year and a half was to pass be-fore the four of us made black belt. This isnt to say that we didnt practice hard. TheHacker gets on a plateau and doesnt keep working.As I think back on that period, I realize that in spiteof our many flaws we were definitely on the pathof mastery. Unlike the Hacker, we were workinghard, doing the best we could to improve our skills.But we had learned the perils of getting ahead ofourselves, and now were willing to stay on the pla-teau for as long as was necessary. Ambition still wasthere, but it was tamed. Once again we enjoyed ourtraining. We loved the plateau. And we made prog-ress. This essential paradox becomes especially clear ina martial art that is exceptionally demanding, unfor-giving, and rewarding. But it holds true, I think, inevery human activity that involves significant learn-ing—mental, physical, emotional, or spiritual. Anddespite our societys urgent and effective war againstmastery, there are still millions of people who, whileachieving great things in their work, are dedicated tothe process as well as to the product—people wholove the plateau. Life for these people is especiallyvivid and satisfying. "Its my truest happiness," a writer friend told me."Its the time when all the crap goes away. As soonas I walk into my study, I start getting cues of plea-
  • 53. The Masters Journey 45sure—my books on the shelves, the particular odorof the room. These cues begin to tie into what Ivewritten and what Im going to write. Even if Ivestayed up all night, my fatigue disappears, just likethat. Theres a whole range of pleasure waiting forme, from making one sentence work to getting a newinsight." "A lot of people go for things only because ateacher told them they should, or their parents," saidOlympic gymnast Peter Vidmar. "People who getinto something for the money, the fame, or the medalcant be effective. When you discover you own de-sire, youre not going to wait for other people to findsolutions to your problems. Youre going to find yourown. I set goals for myself, but underlying all thegoals and the work was the fact that I enjoyed it. Ithought gymnastics was fun. And I had no idea thatI might someday be an Olympian." "The routine is important to me," said a successfulpainter who works in her studio for four hours fivetimes a week. "When I get started, theres a wonder-ful sense of well-being. I like to feel myself ploddingalong. I specifically choose that word, plod. Whenits going good, I feel this is the essential me. Itsthe routine itself that feeds me. If I didnt do it, Idbe betraying the essential me." When I was a boy, my father would let me go tohis office with him on Saturday mornings. I dont
  • 54. 46 MASTERYthink he had to go. He was simply drawn there; itwas his place of practice. He was in the fire insurancebusiness, and while he went through his mail, hewould let me wander through the office, free to playwith the marvelous mechanical contrivances of thosedays—the stately upright typewriters, the hand-operated adding machines, the staplers and paperpunches, and the old dictaphone on which I couldrecord a thin facsimile of my voice. I loved the Saturday morning silence and the smellsof glue and ink, rubber erasers and well-worn wood.I would play with the machines and make paper air-planes for a while but then, more likely than not, Iwould go into my fathers office and just sit therewatching him, fascinated by the depth of his concen-tration. He was in a world of his own, entirely re-laxed and at the same time entirely focused as heopened the envelopes of various sizes and shapes,sorted the contents into piles, and made notes to hissecretary. And all the time he worked, his lips wereslightly parted, his breath steady and calm, his eyessoft, and his hands moving steadily, almost hypnoti-cally. I remember wondering even then, when I wasnot more than ten years old, if I would ever havesuch a power of concentration or take such pleasurein my work. Certainly not at school, certainly notduring my scattered, abortive attempts to do home-work. I knew even then that he was an ambitious
  • 55. The Masters Journey 47man with a burning desire for the extrinsic rewardsof his work, including public recognition and evenfame. But I also knew that he loved his work—thefeel, the rhythm, the texture of it. My fathers col-leagues later told me that he was among the best inhis field. Still, the public recognition he might havewished for never materialized, nor did the fame. Butrecognition is often unsatisfying and fame is like sea-water for the thirsty. Love of your work, willingnessto stay with it even in the absence of extrinsic re-ward, is good food and good drink.The Face of Mastery The look of deep concentration on my fathers faceas he did the work he loved is not unlike the expres-sion that can be seen on the face of almost anyoneon the path of mastery—even in the throes of phys-ical exertion. Sports photography as we know it hasbeen captured by the "thrill of victory/agony of de-feat" school. Again and again were shown climacticmoments (prodigious exertion, faces contorted withpain or triumph), almost to the exclusion of anythingelse. But it seems to me that masterys true face isrelaxed and serene, sometimes faintly smiling. In fact,those we most admire in sports seem at times to en-ter another dimension. Besieged by opposing play-ers, battered by the screams of the crowd, they make
  • 56. 48 MASTERYthe difficult, even the supernatural, seem easy, andmanage somehow to create harmony where chaosmight otherwise prevail. In preparing the Esquire special on mastery, I de-cided to see if I could find a series of pictures thatwould illustrate The Face of Mastery. I went throughhundreds of prints and transparencies from the majorphoto agencies, and there, scattered among the "thrillof victory/agony of defeat" shots, was just what Iwas looking for: Steven Scott making the last turn ina mile race, his face serene, his body relaxed; GregLouganis at the edge of the diving board, his face astudy in calm concentration; Peter Vidmar doingfloor exercises, his body in an impossibly strenuousposition, his face reflective and composed; KareemAbdul-Jabbar launching his "sky-hook" basketballshot over the hand of an opposing player, his face arevelation of inner delight. Abdul-Jabbar is not a manof small ego. Im sure he loved the money, the fame,the privileges his career brought him. But he lovedthe sky-hook more. Goals and contingencies, as Ive said, are impor-tant. But they exist in the future and the past, be-yond the pale of the sensory realm. Practice, thepath of mastery, exists only in the present. You cansee it, hear it, smell it, feel it. To love the plateau isto love the eternal now, to enjoy the inevitablespurts of progress and the fruits of accomplish-
  • 57. The Masters Journey 49ment, then serenely to accept the new plateau thatwaits just beyond them. To love the plateau is tolove what is most essential and enduring in yourlife.
  • 59. Introduction The human individual is equipped to learn and go on learning prodigiously from birth to death, and this isprecisely what sets him or her apart from all otherknown forms of life. Man has at various times beendefined as a building animal, a working animal, and a fighting animal, but all of these definitions are in- complete and finally false. Man is a learning animal,and the essence of the species is encoded in that simple term. In this light, the mastery of skills that are not genet- ically programmed is the most characteristically hu- man of all activities. The first and best of this learning involves no formal arrangements whatever; the world itself is school enough. We all participate in a mastersjourney in early childhood when we learn to talk or to walk. Every adult or older child around us is a teacher of language—the type of teacher who smiles at success,permits approximations, and isn t likely to indulge in 53
  • 60. 54 MASTERY lectures (i.e., the best type). We achieve an upright stance and bipedal locomotion with the help of the same encouraging, permissive instructors, along with the immediate and decisive assistance of gravity—a master teacher if ever there was one. Then, too, hu- mans are genetically predisposed toward language and bipedal locomotion. Later, however, we face the task of learning skillsfor which theres no cooperative surrounding environ- ment, skills for which we aren t as genetically predis-posed to develop. (Neither jet planes nor grand pianos were involved in the early evolution of homo sapiens.) More and more as we emerge into the teen and adultyears, we must find our own doors to mastery. Chap- ters Five through Nine present five keys to opening those doors.
  • 61. Chapter 5 Key 1: InstructionThere are some skills you can learn on your own,and some you can try to learn, but if you intend totake the journey of mastery, the best thing you cando is to arrange for first-rate instruction. The self-taught person is on a chancy path. There are advan-tages: you enjoy the license of not knowing whatcant be done; you might wander into fertile terri-tory previously ruled out by mainline explorers.Some of those who have taught themselves—Edisonfor one, Buckminster Fuller for another—have madeit work. Most, however, have spent their lives rein-venting the wheel, then refusing to concede that itsout of round. Even those who will some day over-throw conventional ways of thinking or doing needto know what it is they are overthrowing. Instruction comes in many forms. For masteringmost skills, theres nothing better than being in the 55
  • 62. 56 MASTERYhands of a master teacher, either one-to-one or in asmall group. But there are also books, films, tapes,computer learning programs, computerized simula-tors (flight simulators, for example), group instruc-tion, the classroom, knowledgeable friends,counselors, business associates, even "the street."Still, the individual teacher or coach can serve as astandard for all forms of instruction, the first andbrightest beacon on the journey of mastery. The search for good instruction starts with a lookat credentials and lineage. Who was your teachersteacher? Who was that teachers teacher? And so onback to the timeless time when individual identitydisappears in the myth of first beginnings. These areperhaps quaint questions in an age that has let thecord of lineage come almost completely unravelled,but good questions nonetheless. (Even tapes andbooks and computer learning programs have an an-cestry.) Respect for credentials, however, shouldnt blindyou to other considerations. The instructor who ad-vertises as an eighth-degree black belt in one martialart, ninth-degree in another, and light-middleweightchampion of the world in both could be a lousyteacher. John McEnroe might turn up in later yearsas a superb tennis coach—but he might not. Theteaching tactics of a Nobel laureate could turn out tobe poison for the mind of a neophyte physicist. Its
  • 63. The Five Master Keys 57particularly challenging, in fact, for a top performerto become a first-rate teacher. Instruction demands acertain humility; at best, the teacher takes delight inbeing surpassed by his or her students. Gymnasticscoach Bela Karole would have a very hard time per-forming the moves he has taught to both Nadia Com-aneci of Romania and Mary Lou Retton of the USA. To see the teacher clearly, look at the students.They are his work of art. If at all possible, attend aninstructional session before choosing your teacher.Focus your attention on the students. Even more, onthe interaction. Does the instructor proceed throughpraise or through damnation? There is the brand ofteacher, often celebrated in myth if not in reality,who is famous for giving an absolute minimum ofpraise. When this teaching tactic works, its throughan economic principle, praise becoming so scarce acommodity that even a curt nod of grudging ap-proval is taken to be highly rewarding. What doesntwork, despite a certain macho attitude to the con-trary, is scorn, excoriation, humiliation—anythingthat destroys the students confidence and self-esteem. Even the praise-stingy teacher must in someway show respect for the student in order to get long-term positive results. The best teacher generallystrives to point out what the student is doing right atleast as frequently as what she or he is doing wrong,which is just what UCLA coach John Wooden, per-
  • 64. 58 MASTERYhaps the greatest basketball mentor of all time, man-aged to do all through his long, winning career.Wooden was observed to maintain approximately afifty-fifty ratio between reinforcement and correc-tion, with exceptional enthusiasm on both sides ofthe equation. Look again at the students, the interaction. Do themore talented, more advanced students get all thegoodies? How about the klutzes, the beginners?Maybe youre looking for the type of instructor whoscomfortable only with the best, only with potentialchampions. There are such teachers, and they servea useful function, but for me the essence of the in-structors art lies in the ability to work effectivelyand enthusiastically with beginners and to serve as aguide on the path of mastery for those who are nei-ther as fast nor as talented as the norm. This servicecan be listed under altruism, but its more than that.For to participate with a beginner in the first falteringmental and physical moves involved in learning anew skill is to penetrate the inner structure not onlyof that skill but also of the process of mastery itself.Knowledge, expertise, technical skill, and credentialsare important, but without the patience and empathythat go with teaching beginners, these merits are asnothing.
  • 65. The Five Master Keys 59The Best of Instructors, the Worst of Instructors It was at the high-water mark of a war that hadsurged all the way around the globe that I first foundmyself in the instructors role. The top six graduatesof Class 44-C of the advanced flight school at TurnerField in Albany, Georgia—brand new second lieuten-ants with silver pilots wings—were kept back andmade flight instructors while the other 304 graduateswere sent on to combat. Far from being pleased withour assignments, the six of us professed a burningdesire for immediate combat duty, a sentiment thatbecame maudlin after a few drinks at the officers clubon our nights off. I was twenty years old. The otherfive new instructors were about the same age. In March of 1944, despite our lack of experience,we were assigned students, and, without a word ofadvice, sent up to teach them to fly the B-25, a high-performance medium bomber of the time. The in-vasion of Fortress Europe was imminent. The Pacificcampaign, it was predicted, would last for years. Pi-lots, like the planes they would fly, had to be pro-duced by the tens of thousands, never mind suchniceties as stringent safety procedures. Flying conditions would have caused a major scan-dal in peacetime. Even on the darkest nights, withgiant thunderstorms closing in, some hundred B-25swould jockey for position in the landing pattern at
  • 66. 60 MASTERYthe end of each instructional period. There was noth-ing like a radar traffic control system; our lives hungon visual acuity, flying skill, and fast reflexes. Duringthe summer of 1944, two spectacular midair colli-sions at Turner Field resulted in the destruction offour planes and the tragic loss of the instructors andcadets flying them. The crashes never made thenewspapers. There was no time for sympathy or sec-ond chances. Student pilots who didnt measure upwere washed out, discarded like defective compo-nents coming off a production line. The six months I spent at Turner Field proved tobe more challenging, and actually more dangerous,than the combat tour in the South Pacific that fol-lowed. After logging 600 hours as a flight instructorunder the most demanding of conditions, I hadgained a sure sense of the mastery of flight that hasnever left me. And what about my students? Ah, thats anotherstory. Time provides no replays. But I am left, after all ofthese years, with crystalline memories of preternat-urally white clouds soaring over deep green fields ofcotton and corn, of the insistent engine sound thatfinally became no sound at all, of smoking enginesand failed hydraulic systems, of illegal flights out overthe Atlantic to play vertiginous games of follow-the-leader with other planes while our students held their
  • 67. The Five Master Keys 61breaths. But more than anything, I am left with a mo-rality tale on the subject of instructing, in which Iplay the leading role. Theres nothing 1 can do tochange it. I was the best of instructors. I was theworst of instructors. The first does not justify thesecond. Each of us was given four students to guidethrough the entire two months of advanced training.I quickly discovered that two of my students—cadetsby the name of Stull and Thatcher—were quite tal-ented. The other two—call them Brewster and Ed-mundson—were, at best, mediocre. This discrepancysuggested a plan: I would keep Stull and Thatchertogether. Id never let them fly with anyone else; theywould be safe from contamination by lesser talents.This would allow me to initiate the two of them intoa mode of flying a fellow instructor and I had devel-oped while still cadets. We called it maximum per-formance, and it simply meant that we would fly asclose as possible to perfection at all times, even whenregulations didnt call for it, even when no one waswatching. And so, without mentioning the words maximumperformance, I set standards for Stull and Thatcherapproximately ten times more stringent than whatwas called for. Normally, while flying on instru-ments, pilots were given a leeway of 200 feet aboveor below the prescribed altitude, but I led Stull and
  • 68. 62 MASTERYThatcher to believe they had only a 20-foot marginof error. I insisted they hold their gyro compassheading right on the money at all times. I taughtthem, even when landing on a 10,000-foot runway,to touch down on the first hundred feet. I gave Stull and Thatcher my very best, and theyresponded just as I had hoped they would. Eventhough I never let them fly with other cadets, theymust have compared notes and figured out what Iwas up to. Sometimes, when I described a particu-larly unreasonable standard of performance with astraight face, they were unable to keep from smiling.After the first few weeks, I too couldnt keep a smileoff my face. We were joined in a delicious conspiracyof excellence. On the days I was scheduled to flywith them, I awakened with a feeling of excitementand anticipation. I can still see Stull and Thatcher with incredibleclarity, one of them in the pilots seat, the otherstanding in back and leaning down between thepilots and copilots seats to watch yet another per-fect approach and landing. The pure, prophetic lightof another time still pours in through the Plexiglascanopy—the towering clouds, the impossible blue ofthe sky—and the two cadets faces still glow with theincomparable happiness that comes when you firstembark on the journey of mastery. Now for the hard part of the story.
  • 69. The Five Master Keys 63 After my first few flights with the cadets Im callingBrewster and Edmundson, I simply lost interest. I wastoo young, too impatient, too arrogant in my es-pousal of maximum performance to endure theirrather inept efforts at flying the B-25. Brewster wasslim, patrician, and shy. Edmundson was heavy-setand confident, the squadron jokester. On one flightI thought he made a snide remark at my expense. Itook the controls, climbed to 10,000 feet, and rackedthe plane around in maneuvers it was never meant toperform, leaving Edmundson and Brewster pale andshaken. I went through the motions. Now and then I madean effort to bring them along, to discover what wasblocking their progress, to develop their potential toits fullest extent. But my enthusiasms were short-lived. Some particularly blatant display of crudity onthe controls by Edmundson or tentativeness on thepart of Brewster would cause me to shake my headin despair and disgust, and either turn away andslump in my seat or take the controls and show themexactly how the maneuver should be done. As it turned out, Brewster and Edmundson gradu-ated along with Stull and Thatcher, but just barely.After the war, I happened to run into Brewster at adance in Atlanta. He took the opportunity (the forceof his resentment overcoming any shyness he mighthave felt) to let me know exactly what he thought
  • 70. 64 MASTERYabout his experiences with me at Turner Field. I hadno adequate reply. Long before that time, I had be-gun to feel guilty about the way I had handled myfirst assignment as an instructor. In fact, I never againsegregated my students as I had done the first time.I graduated two more groups of pilots before leavingfor combat, experiencing neither the exhilaration Ihad felt with Stull and Thatcher nor the despair I hadfelt with Brewster and Edmundson. I worked to con-trol my impatience, to do the best I could with theslower students. Still, a continuing preoccupationwith maximum performance, along with an extrem-ity of youth, tended to frustrate my own perfor-mance as a teacher of the less talented.The Magic of Teaching Beginners Many years later, I found myself once again in theinstructors role, engaged this time in an art far moresubtle and complex and difficult to learn than flying.I was forty-seven when a friend invited me to jointhe aikido class he was organizing. I had never heardof aikido, nor had I ever dreamed of becoming a mar-tial artist. That was twenty years ago, and I can nowsay that practicing aikido has been the second mostprofound learning experience of my life. Teachingaikido has been the most profound. Even before getting my first-degree black belt, I
  • 71. The Five Master Keys 65was enlisted by my teacher as an assistant instructor.My job: teaching the basics of the art to beginners.Six years later, in October 1976, shortly after gettingour black belts, two of my fellow aikidoists and Istarted our own dojo. From rather questionable be-ginnings fourteen years ago (its not customary forfirst-degree black belts to start their own school), Ai-kido of Tamalpais has become a respected and happydojo. We three founders have continued developingour skills, and have advanced to higher ranks. Fromthe thousands of students who have practiced at ourschool for varying lengths of time have come twenty-eight black belts—not an insignificant number in adifficult art that offers no cheap degrees. At this point, Id like to be able to tell you that bynow Ive mastered the art of teaching slow studentsand beginners. But that wouldnt be true; I still haveto work at it. I listen carefully when Wendy Palmer,one of my partners, tells me that teaching beginnersand slow students is not only fascinating but pleasur-able. The talented student, she believes, is likely tolearn so fast that small stages in the learning processare glossed over, creating an opaque surface thathides the secrets of the art from view. With the slowstudent, though, the teacher is forced to deal withsmall, incremental steps that penetrate like X rays thevery essence of the art, and clearly reveal the process
  • 72. 66 MASTERYthrough which the art becomes manifest in move-ment. Gradually the mystery has unfolded. My experi-ence as an instructor has shown me, for one thing,that the most talented students dont necessarilymake the best martial artists. Sometimes, strangelyenough, those with exceptional talent have troublestaying on the path of mastery. In 1987, my col-leagues at Esquire and I conducted a series of inter-views with athletes known as masters of their sports,which tended to confirm this paradoxical finding.Most of the athletes we interviewed stressed hardwork and experience over raw talent. "I have seenso many baseball players with God-given ability whojust didnt want to work," Rod Carew said. "Theywere soon gone. Ive seen others with no ability tospeak of who stayed in the big leagues for fourteenor fifteen years."Good Horse, Bad Horse In his book Zen Mind, Beginners Mind, Zen mas-ter Shunryu Suzuki approaches the question of fastand slow learners in terms of horses. "In our scrip-tures, it is said that there are four kinds of horses:excellent ones, good ones, poor ones, and bad ones.The best horse will run slow and fast, right and left,at the drivers will, before it sees the shadow of the
  • 73. The Five Master Keys 67whip; the second best will run as well as the first one,just before the whip reaches its skin; the third onewill run when it feels pain on its body; the fourthwill run after the pain penetrates to the marrow ofits bones. You can imagine how difficult it is for thefourth one to learn to run. "When we hear this story, almost all of us want tobe the best horse. If it is impossible to be the bestone, we want to be the second best." But this is amistake, Master Suzuki says. When you learn too eas-ily, youre tempted not to work hard, not to pene-trate to the marrow of a practice. "If you study calligraphy, you will find that thosewho are not so clever usually become the best callig-raphers. Those who are very clever with their handsoften encounter great difficulty after they havereached a certain stage. This is also true in art, andin life." The best horse, according to Suzuki, may bethe worst horse. And the worst horse can be the best,for if it perseveres, it will have learned whatever it ispracticing all the way to the marrow of its bones. Suzukis parable of the four horses has haunted meever since I first heard it. For one thing, it poses aclear challenge for the person with exceptional tal-ent: to achieve his or her full potential, this personwill have to work just as diligently as those with lessinnate ability. The parable has made me realize thatif Im the first or second horse as an instructor of fast
  • 74. 68 MASTERYlearners, Im the third or fourth horse as an instructorof slow learners. But there is hope. If I persevere anddedicate my efforts to bringing along every Brewsterand Edmundson who shows up at our aikido school,Ill someday know this aspect of instructing all theway to the marrow of my bones. So when you look for your instructor, in whateverskill or art, spend a moment celebrating it when youdiscover one who pursues maximum performance.But also make sure that he or she is paying exquisiteattention to the slowest student on the mat.Comparing Various Modes of Instruction How about the other modes of instruction? In mostcases, audio and video tapes have only limited effec-tiveness. Learning eventually involves interaction be-tween the learner and the learning environment, andits effectiveness relates to the frequency, quality, va-riety, and intensity of the interaction. With tapes,theres no real interaction at all; information flows inone direction only. A videotape can show you anideal golf swing to copy, and thats certainly betterthan nothing, but the tape has no way of observingyour swing and telling you how well youre replicat-ing the ideal. With remote control, the tape can beeasily stopped, reversed, repeated, and in some casesplayed in slow motion—all of which makes it much
  • 75. The Five Master Keys 69better than instructional films or television programs,which march along at a steady rate, regardless of thelearners progress or understanding. A book is also self-paced, and its portable andhandy. Like tape, its suffers from lack of feedbackcapability. Still, in spite of the marvels of the com-puter age, the book remains a major tool for learningespecially in skills that are primarily cognitive. If apicture is sometimes worth a thousand words, thenperhaps a moving picture is worth 10,000 words. Butits also true that one good paragraph sometimes hasmore power to change the individual and the worldthan any number of pictures. The typical school or college classroom, unhap-pily, is not a very good place to learn. "Frontal teach-ing," with one instructor sitting or standing in frontof twenty to thirty-five students who are sitting atfixed desks, is primarily an administrative expedi-ency, a way of parceling out and keeping track of theflood of students in mass education. Its sad that overthe past hundred years almost every aspect of ournational life—industry, transportation, communica-tion, computation, entertainment—has changed al-most beyond recognition, while our schools remainessentially the same. Take a look. There it is: one teacher giving out thesame information at the same rate to a group ofmostly passive students regardless of their individual
  • 76. 70 MASTERYabilities, cultural backgrounds, or learning styles. Ivewritten at some length on this subject and on thetype of reform that could remedy the situationthrough the self-pacing and individualizing capabili-ties of the computer and other new instructionalmodes. I believe that within ten or fifteen years atthe most some sort of school reform along these linesis inevitable. Meanwhile, there are still good teachers and badteachers. Visits to hundreds of schools have con-vinced me that the teacher who can make the presentsystem work is undoubtedly a master. He or she isnot necessarily the one who gives the most polishedlectures, but rather the one who has discovered howto involve each student actively in the process oflearning. One award-winning mathematician at a ma-jor university was famous for intentionally makingsmall mistakes when he wrote formulas on the chalk-board. Students sat on the edge of their chairs vyingto be the first to catch the mistake and rush up tocorrect their professor—truly a master of the instruc-tors art.Knowing When to Say Good-bye Fortunate is the person who can find such ateacher, especially at the beginning of the learningprocess. Students at school up to and including col-
  • 77. The Five Master Keys 71lege often dont have much choice. Even those of uswho do have a choice sometimes make a bad one. Ifyou should end up with a teacher who doesnt seemright for you, first look inside. You might well beexpecting more than any teacher can give. But teach-ers as well as students can be lazy, excessively goaloriented, indifferent, psychologically seductive, orjust plain inept. Its important to keep the properpsychological distance. If youre too far removed,theres no chance for the surrender thats part of themasters journey (see Chapter Seven); if you cometoo close, you lose all perspective and become a dis-ciple rather than a student. The responsibility forgood balance lies with student as well as teacher.When irreconcilable differences do occur, rememberthat the better part of wisdom is knowing when tosay good-bye. Bear in mind that on the path of mastery learningnever ends. In the words of the great Japaneseswordmaster Yamaoka Tesshu: Do not think that This is all there is. More and more Wonderful teachings exist— The sword is unfathomable.
  • 78. Chapter 6 Key 2: PracticeIts an old joke that appears in many versions butalways sends the same message. In one version, acouple of Texans in a Cadillac on their way to a con-cert are lost in New Yorks Lower East Side. Theystop to question a bearded elder. "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" they ask. "Practice!" he tells them. That usage of the word—practice as a verb—is clearto all of us. You practice your trumpet, your danceroutine, your multiplication tables, your combat mis-sion. To practice in this sense implies something sep-arate from the rest of your life. You practice in orderto learn a skill, in order to improve yourself, in orderto get ahead, achieve goals, make money. This wayof thinking about practice is useful in our society;you obviously have to practice to get to CarnegieHall. 73
  • 79. 74 MASTERY For one who is on the masters journey, however,the word is best conceived of as a noun, not as some-thing you do, but as something you have, somethingyou are. In this sense, the word is akin to the Chi-nese word tao and the Japanese word do, both ofwhich mean, literally, road or path. Practice is thepath upon which you travel, just that. A practice (as a noun) can be anything you practiceon a regular basis as an integral part of your life—notin order to gain something else, but for its own sake.It might be a sport or a martial art. It might be gar-dening or bridge or yoga or meditation or commu-nity service. A doctor practices medicine and anattorney practices law, and each of them also has apractice. But if that practice is only a collection ofpatients or clients, a way of making a living, it isnta masters practice. For a master, the rewards gainedalong the way are fine, but they are not the mainreason for the journey. Ultimately, the master andthe masters path are one. And if the traveler is for-tunate—that is, if the path is complex and profoundenough—the destination is two miles farther awayfor every mile he or she travels. A woman in one of our workshops asked my wife,Annie, why she was still going to aikido classes. "Ithought youd already gotten your black belt," shesaid. It took Annie a few minutes to explain that ablack belt is only one more step along an endless
  • 80. The Five Master Keys 75path, a license to go on learning for as long as youlive. In a nation obsessed with the achievement of goals("It doesnt matter how you score; the score is allthat counts." "Dont tell me how you are going tosell the ad, just sell it." "Winning isnt everything;its the only thing."), devotion to the goalless jour-ney might seem incomprehensible if not bizarre. Butbehind the slogans you read on the sports page andin the business section theres a deeper reality: themaster goes along with the rhetoric about scoring andwinning (in todays media climate, who would listento anything else?), but secretly cherishes those gamesfilled with delicious twists and turns of fortune, greatplays, close calls, and magical finishes—regardless ofwho wins. Theres another secret: The people we know asmasters dont devote themselves to their particularskill just to get better at it. The truth is, they love topractice—and because of this they do get better. Andthen, to complete the circle, the better they get themore they enjoy performing the basic moves overand over again. Beginners at the basics classes at our aikido schoolwill do a simple blending move about eight or tentimes, then start looking around restlessly for some-thing new to distract them. Black belts at the basicsclasses have the knowledge and experience—the
  • 81. 76 MASTERYfeel—necessary to appreciate the subtleties and end- less possibilities contained within even the most ru- dimentary technique. I remember an aikido class years ago when I was a brown belt, the rank just below black belt. Our teacher started us doing a tech- nique called shiho-nage (four-way throw), then con- tinued with the same variation of the same technique for the entire two-hour class. After the first half hour, I began wondering what was coming next. (Our school rarely practiced the same technique for so long a time.) By the end of the first hour, however, I had settled into a steady, trancelike rhythm that obliterated all considerations of time or repetition. My perceptions expanded. The barely noticeable variations from one throw to the next became signif- icant and revealing. By the end of the second hour, I was hoping that the class would go on until mid- night, that it would never end.Staying on the Mat "The master," an old martial arts saying goes, "isthe one who stays on the mat five minutes longerevery day than anybody else." And not just in aikido.In August 1988, I visited the Seattle Seahawks train-ing camp as a guest of the teams offensive coordi-nator. When the morning practice session was over,the players shambled off the field to the dressing
  • 82. The Five Master Keys 77room—all of the players except two, that is. One ofthe two kept running out, then wheeling suddenly totake a pass from the other. Again and again, he ranthe same pattern, caught the same pass. The field wasempty; the other players were inside taking theirshowers, getting dressed. The coaches, too, weregone and the spectators had drifted away. I remainedthere on the sidelines, fascinated. Who was this eagerpass receiver? Surely, it was some brand new rookie,someone trying to get good enough to make theteam. No, it was Steve Largent, not only the premierpass receiver of the Seattle Seahawks but the leadingreceiver in the history of the National FootballLeague. The master of any game is generally a master ofpractice. In his prime, Larry Bird of the Boston Celt-ics was perhaps the most complete basketball playerof all time. Unable to jump as high or run as fast asmany other players, he was named National Basket-ball Association Rookie of the Year for 1980, MostValuable Player in two championship series, and theleague MVP for three years in a row. Bird began de-veloping his basketball practice at age four, and neverstopped practicing. After the Celtics won the NBAchampionship in June 1986, reporters asked Birdwhat he planned to do next. "Ive still got somethings I want to work on," he was quoted as saying."Ill start my off-season training next week. Two
  • 83. 78 MASTERYhours a day, with at least a hundred free throws."Many professionals take some of the summer off, butnot Larry Bird. He runs for conditioning, up anddown the steepest hills he can find. On the blacktopcourt with glass backboard at home in French Lick,Indiana, he practices. During the season, in the Hel-lenic College gym in Brookline, he practices. On roadtrips, in arenas all around the country, before everygame, he practices. During his years with the Celtics, Bird was knownfor getting on the court an hour or two before ev-eryone else to practice his shots—foul shots, fall-awayshots, three-pointers, shots from all sorts of angles.Sometimes, just for fun, he would sit on the sidelineand pop them in, or find a seat in the first row andfloat them in. No question, Bird likes to win. Still,according to his agent Bob Woolf, thats not the mainreason he practices so diligently and plays so whole-heartedly. "He does it just to enjoy himself. Not tomake money, to get acclaim, to gain stature. He justloves to play basketball." Explicit skills such as those found in martial arts,sports, dance, music, and the like provide explicitexamples of practice. But this second key to masteryundergirds a wide variety of human endeavors. Goodbusiness practice demands that managers keep themechanics of their operations current at all times, be-ing especially diligent and disciplined in such basic
  • 84. The Five Master Keys 79matters as budget, order fulfillment, and quality con-trol. Families that stay together hold fast to certainrituals regardless of the haste and distractions of dailylife; this might mean having one full, sit-down mealevery day with every family member present. Nationsalso have their practice, as seen, for example, in theregular and heartfelt observance of national festivalsand sacred days. This nation indulges in a question-able experiment in casually changing the dates of itsholidays ("holy days") for the sake of commerce andfour-day weekends. To practice regularly, even when you seem to begetting nowhere, might at first seem onerous. But theday eventually comes when practicing becomes atreasured part of your life. You settle into it as if intoyour favorite easy chair, unaware of time and the tur-bulence of the world. It will still be there for youtomorrow. It will never go away. "How long will it take me to master aikido?" aprospective student asks. "How long do you expectto live?" is the only respectable response. Ultimately,practice is the path of mastery. If you stay on it longenough, youll find it to be a vivid place, with its upsand downs, its challenges and comforts, its surprises,disappointments, and unconditional joys. Youll takeyour share of bumps and bruises while traveling—bruises of the ego as well as of the body, mind, andspirit—but it might well turn out to be the most re-
  • 85. 80 MASTERYliable thing in your life. Then, too, it might eventu-ally make you a winner in your chosen field, if thatswhat youre looking for, and then people will referto you as a master. But thats not really the point. What is mastery? Atthe heart of it, mastery is practice. Mastery is stayingon the path.
  • 86. Chapter 7 Key 3: SurrenderThe courage of a master is measured by his or herwillingness to surrender. This means surrendering toyour teacher and to the demands of your discipline.It also means surrendering your own hard-won pro-ficiency from time to time in order to reach a higheror different level of proficiency. The early stages of any significant new learning in-voke the spirit of the fool (see the Epilogue). Its al-most inevitable that youll feel clumsy, that youlltake literal or figurative pratfalls. Theres no wayaround it. The beginner who stands on his or herdignity becomes rigid, armored; the learning cant getthrough. This doesnt mean that you should surren-der your own physical and moral center or passivelyaccept teachings that would be bad for you. Butyouve already checked out your instructor (see Key1). Nows the time for a certain suspension of disbe- 81
  • 87. 82 MASTERYlief. So your teacher asks you to begin by puttingyour finger on your nose and standing on one foot.Unless theres some compelling reason to the con-trary, just surrender. Give it a try. After all, learning almost any significant skill in-volves certain indignities. Your first few dives arelikely to be belly flops—and theyll draw the atten-tion of almost everyone at the pool. Are you willingto accept that? If not, forget diving. The face youdraw in your first art class looks more like Mr. PotatoHead than the Mona Lisa. Is that a good reason forgiving up art? And how about those fluttering anklesthe first few times you try ice skating? And the im-pact of the hard, cold ice on the part of the bodynormally reserved for spankings? Punishment of thissort isnt limited to beginners; it happens in theOlympics. If you want to get there, be prepared totake it. And then there are the endless repetitions, thedrudgery, the basic moves practiced over and overagain. Who but a fool would embark on a musicalcareer in the full knowledge that he or she might endup repeating all the major and minor scales perhapsa hundred thousand times each? To some people thatprospect alone might seem to justify resisting anysurrender. About halfway through my third aikido class, my teacher demonstrated tai no henko, the most basic blending movement in the art. Without a
  • 88. The Five Master Keys 83moments thought, I heard myself saying, "Weve al-ready done that technique." That remark didnt evenelicit a reply, just a faintly amused smile. My surren-der was definitive: since then, Ive practiced tai nohenko at least 50,000 times. Actually, the essence of boredom is to be found inthe obsessive search for novelty. Satisfaction lies inmindful repetition, the discovery of endless richnessin subtle variations on familiar themes.Swordmaster Stories The literature of the East is loaded withswordmaster-and-apprentice stories. All have thesame general drift. A young man learns of a masterof the sword who lives in a far province. After a longand difficult journey, he presents himself at the mas-ters door and asks to become his student. The mas-ter closes the door in the young mans face. Everyday thereafter, the young man comes to sit on themasters doorstep, simply waiting. A year passes, andthe master grudgingly allows the young man to dochores around the house—chop wood, carry water.Months more go by, maybe years. One morning,without warning, the master attacks the young manfrom behind and whacks him on the shoulder with abamboo sword, a shinai. The master has begun toteach alertness. At length, the master gives his ap-
  • 89. 84 MASTERYprentice his own shinai and continues teaching himthe art of the sword, to which the student has beensurrendering all along. In a nation that has made a book entitled TotalFitness in 12 Minutes a Week into a national be-stseller, such stories might tend to have little mean-ing. Still, the swordmaster myth has the power topenetrate our popular culture, if only in an Ameri-canized version. The first, and best, Karate Kidmovie condenses the years of the myth into a fewmonths, having the apprentice painting the karatemasters fence and waxing his car rather than chop-ping wood and carrying water. Surrendering to your teacher and to the fundamen-tals of the art are only the beginning. There are timesin almost every masters journey when it becomesnecessary to give up some hard-won competence inorder to advance to the next stage. This is especiallytrue when youre stuck at a familiar and comfortableskill level. The parable of the cup and the quart ap-plies here. Theres a quart of milk on the table—within your reach. But youre holding a cup of milkin your hand and youre afraid to let go of the cupin order to get the quart. Your fear isnt without foundation. If youve beenshooting in the nineties for quite a while on the golflinks and want to get your score down into the eight-ies or even the seventies, you might well have to give
  • 90. The Five Master Keys 85up the nineties for a while; you might have to takeyour game apart before putting it back together. Thisis true of almost any skill. For many years I hadplayed jazz piano for my own amusement. I had de-veloped a small repertory in a limited set of keys us-ing rather unadventurous chording. Every time Iwrote or spoke about the character I call the Hackeror looked at the curve describing the Hackers prog-ress, I thought about my own piano playing and saidto myself, "Thats me!" About a year ago, egged on by my aikido partner,Wendy, a talented singer and guitarist, I found myselfplaying with a small jazz group, learning new songsin new keys, changing all of my chord voicing, and,in general, shooting for a level of play I had neverdreamed of. At first everything started falling apart.Where was my comfortable old solo style? I had letgo the cup and hadnt yet grasped the quart. I wasfloundering in the scary, slippery space betweencompetencies. Just then, we were given the opportunity of play-ing at a local jazz spot. Someone—could it have beenme?—said, "Seize the day," and I found myself goingstraight from the land of the Hacker to the land ofthe Obsessive without even a side trip through thelarger country of mastery, practicing so strenuouslythat I developed an inflamed tendon in my right littlefinger and had to ice my hand each time I played.
  • 91. 86 MASTERYSomehow the performance passed without disaster,and now Im groping my way toward the slow laneon the path of mastery in this skill.A Tale of Two Experts How do you respond when offered the chance ofrenouncing a present competency for a higher or dif-ferent one? The story of two karate experts—callthem Russell and Tony—trying to learn aikido mightserve as a guide. Both of them were participants inan eight-week certification program that required ai-kido training five days a week. It was my job to teachthe class. Russell was small, wiry, intense, and scholarly—anexceptionally gracious person who went out of hisway to be helpful to his fellow students. He held adoctorate, and was director of professional trainingin a large organization. In addition, he had a first-degree black belt in karate. Tonys schooling hadbeen accomplished mostly on the streets of JerseyCity. He had come to the martial arts early in life andnow, at 31, he held a fourth-degree karate black beltand was owner of two karate schools. From the moment Russell stepped on the trainingmat, he revealed that he was a trained martial artist.His individual warm-up routine included several ka-rate moves. When called upon to deliver a punch
  • 92. The Five Master Keys 87during class, he resorted to the specialized style ofhis previous discipline. Once, on a two-hand grabattack, I noticed him moving purposefully to keep amaximum distance between his body and that of theperson he was attacking. I suggested he stay closerand let himself flow with the attack. "Surely youjest," he said with a laugh. I told him that in orderto learn the basic moves, it would be better just fornow to forget defensive possibilities; we would learnto cover any openings later. I could see that Russellwas finding it hard to let go of his expertise, andbecause of this failing to get the most out if his aikidotraining. After the first four weeks, he was falling be-hind some of those who had never done any martialart, and it was only at this point that he finally sur-rendered his prior competence and got on the pathof mastery. Tonys approach was different. From the begin-ning, he never made a move, not even a gesture, thatmight reveal he was an expert in another art. Withouta hint of ostentation, he showed more respect thandid any of the other students for his teachers—thisin spite of his high rank. He carried himself with anair of calm sincerity and was unfailingly aware of ev-erything going on around him. Along with this wasa powerful presence that could be quickly recog-nized by any trained martial artist. Just by the way
  • 93. 88 MASTERYhe sat, stood, and walked, Tony revealed himself asa fellow traveler on the path of mastery. During a class at the end of the first four weeks, Ihad all the students sit at the edge of the mat, thenasked Tony if he would show us one of his karatekata (predetermined sequence of movements). Hebowed, walked to the center of the mat, and breatheddeeply for a few moments. What followed brought asharp intake of breath from almost all of us. Movinggracefully and faster than the eye could fully com-prehend, Tony launched one swift and deadly strikeand kick after another, leaping, spinning, emitting re-sounding kiai shouts as he dispatched imaginary foesat every point of the compass. When it was over, heonce again bowed humbly and returned to the edgeof the mat to take his place with the others—the mostthoroughgoing beginner of them all. Perhaps the best you can hope for on the mastersjourney—whether your art be management or mar-riage, badminton or ballet—is to cultivate the mindand heart of the beginning at every stage along theway. For the master, surrender means there are noexperts. There are only learners.
  • 94. Chapter 8 Key 4: IntentionalityIt joins old words with new—character, willpower,attitude, imaging, the mental game—but what Imcalling intentionality, however you look at it, is anessential to take along on the masters journey. The power of the mental game came to publicawareness in the 1970s through the revelations ofsome of the nations most notable sports figures.Golfer Jack Nicklaus, for example, let it be knownthat he never hit a shot without first clearly visualiz-ing the balls perfect flight and its triumphant desti-nation, "sitting up there high and white and prettyon the green." A successful shot, Nicklaus told us,was 50 percent visualization, 40 percent setup, andonly 10 percent swing. Premiere pro runningbacksdescribed imaging each of their plays again and againthe night before a game; they felt that their successon the field the next day was closely related to the 89
  • 95. 90 MASTERYvividness of their mental practice. Body builders andweightlifters testified to the value of intentionality.Arnold Schwarzenneger argued that pumping aweight one time with full consciousness was worthten without mental awareness. He was joined byFrank Zane and others in vouching for the effect ofthe mind on such physical qualities as muscle andiron. What had happened was that sports training andtechnique had reached an extremely high level of de-velopment—so high that further improvements alongthis line could come only in tiny increments. WhenJack Nicklaus attributed only 10 percent of the suc-cess of a shot to the swing, it was perhaps becausehis swing was already nearly perfect. The realm ofmind and spirit was the undiscovered land, the placewhere pioneers in sports performance could makethe greatest gains. To exploit this opportunity, a number of top-ranking teams and individuals have hired sports psy-chologists to teach relaxation, confidence, and themental rehearsal of specific plays or moves. This hasled to audiotapes and videotapes purported to honethe mental game for sports aspirants who cant affordtheir own psychologists. The messages on some ofthese tapes are less than sophisticated. Mind Com-munications, Inc., for example, puts out subliminalaffirmations on audiotape. Beneath the sound of
  • 96. The Five Master Keys 91waves or "pink sound," certain words or phrases arespoken just below the level of ordinary awareness.The tape for football contains these phrases: "I knowmy plays. I am important. I can do it. I love to run.I relax. I use weights for strength. I get off the ballfirst. I avoid sugar, coffee, alcohol, tobacco. I lovecontact. I set a goal. I love exercise. I have goodhands. I can beat my man. Drive, drive, drive. Ibreathe deeply and evenly. I am a winner." No re-search has yet been conducted to see if these mes-sages make better football players. Dr. Richard M. Suinn at Colorado State Universityhas come up with a more sophisticated methodcalled viseo-motor behavior rehearsal (VMBR),which combines exercises in deep relaxation withvivid mental imaging of the skill to be learned. Inone study of VMBR, researchers at North Texas StateUniversity divided thirty-two students in a begin-ning karate class into four groups. They assignedeach group a different practice to do at home duringa six-week period in which they would meet twicea week for karate lessons. At the start, they gaveeach student baseline anxiety and skills tests, thenlaunched them on their various types of practice: (1)deep muscle relaxation only; (2) imaging only—closing their eyes and doing karate moves in theirminds eye; (3) VMBR—relaxation exercises fol-
  • 97. 92 MASTERYlowed by imaging; and (4) no home practice. All thegroups received traditional karate instruction. At the end of the six weeks, the researchers againtested the students for anxiety, and the karate schoolgave its customary skill tests in basic moves and spar-ring. The VMBR and relaxation-only groups recordedlower levels of anxiety than the others. In sparring,the VMBR group clearly outscored the other three. This test and others along the same line show re-sults that are statistically significant but not spectac-ular. For one thing, the time period of most of thesestudies is relatively short; for another, the peopleused in the experiments are mostly beginners. Theselimitations make such studies less compelling thanthe numerous anecdotal reports of master athletes. For me, the most compelling evidence of thepower of imaging comes from direct experience onthe aikido mat. Our particular lineage of the art em-ploys many metaphors and images to go along withthe mechanics of movement, and it is from the un-substantial realm of mind or spirit that the most pow-erful physical results flow. For example, one versionof nikkyo (a wrist lock) involves being grabbed at thewrist by an attacker, then holding the attackers handon your wrist while bringing your hand around andover his wrist and pressing downward at a certainangle. When performed properly, this subtle man-
  • 98. The Five Master Keys 93uever can bring a much larger and stronger attackerto his or her knees. A purely mechanical application of nikkyo mightwork, but only through the application of consider-able muscular force. There are certain imaging strat-egies, however, that increase its effectiveness to adegree that isnt just "statistically significant," buttruly startling. I ask my students to bring their hand,fingers extended, over the attackers wrist as usual,then not to think of the wrist at all but rather "cre-ate" long extensions of these fingers to go rightthrough the attackers face like laser beams and touchthe base of the skull. From this point, they simplestroke gently downward on the attackers spine withtheir imaged finger extensions. All other things beingequal, the effectiveness of the technique depends onthe vividness of the image. In my own aikido prac-tice, the imaged technique seems considerably moreeffective than muscular force alone; sometimes, anattacker goes down like a shot with a startled lookon his face while I am unaware of using any muscularforce at all.What Is Really Real? How do we explain the discrepancy between themechanical and the imaged application? Are the mag-ically extended fingers mere figments of the imagi-
  • 99. 94 MASTERYnation or are they in some way "real"? The easiestexplanation derives from mechanics alone: Perhapsthe image of extended fingers stroking down the at-tackers spine simply provides guidance for bringingthe aikidoist into the proper alignment for the appli-cation of nikkyo. It certainly does that. But manyyears of experience have convinced me that morethan alignment is involved. My logical mind tells meI dont really have fingers three feet long that canpenetrate through another persons body to his orher spine. Still, the truly effortless, seemingly mirac-ulous applications of the technique occur only whenthe mental image is vividly clear and when I cansomehow "feel" my fingers moving down the attack-ers spine. Which brings us to the question of what is really"real." Is consciousness a mere epiphenomenon, asbehaviorist B. F. Skinner would have it? Or is thepoet William Blake right in suggesting that mentalthings alone are real? Or, if mental constructs and thestuff of the objective world are both real, though oc-cupying different classes of reality, then what is thenature of the interaction between the two classes?These are large questions for a short book—even fora long one. Still, its possible to say rather briefly (andobviously) that thought, images, feelings, and the likeare quite real and that they do have a great influenceon the world of matter and energy. Indeed, its pos-
  • 100. The Five Master Keys 95sible to argue that pure information is more persis-tent than what we class as substantial—or perhapsthat both are at essence the same thing. "More andmore, the universe looks like a great thought ratherthan a great machine," says astronomer Sir JamesJeans. Solomons temple, for example, no longer exists inthe form of wood, stone, and gold; you cant find itanywhere. Yet it bursts into graphic, detailed exis-tence in your minds eye when you read First Kings6 and 7 of the Bible. Neither Scarlett OHara nor AnnaKarenina were ever made flesh, yet it might be thecase that you know them better than your next-doorneighbor. Your portable transistor radio is certainlyreal; you can feel it in your hands. But so is the wir-ing diagram for that radio, and so is that diagram asit evolved in the mind of the inventor. Which is morereal? Its hard to say. While the underlying structure,the abstract relationship among the parts, is the samein all three forms, it can be argued that what is mostabstract is most fundamental and often most persis-tent over time. The diagram or the mental picturewill probably outlast the radio you hold in yourhands. And these insubstantial forms have an addi-tional advantage: if you want to make changes in therelationships of the parts, its easier to do so in thediagram or the mind than in the three-dimensionalradio.
  • 101. 96 MASTERY Whats the role of intentionality here? Its certainlyinvolved in the creation of the structure-as-idea. Itsalso involved in the transformation of that structurefrom one of its forms to another. This sort of trans-formation, in fact, is what the process of mastery isall about. Sometimes I have my students hold thevision or the feeling of a certain throw in their mind,and then practice it over and over for an hour ormore until they are drenched with sweat and wipedclean of their previous thoughts or feelings about thethrow. This use of intentionality often produces fa-vorable results in the palpable, three-dimensionalworld of the martial arts. Thoughts, images, and feelings are indeed quitereal. Einsteins thought that energy is equal to masstimes the speed of light squared (E = MC2) eventuallyunleashed awesome power. The transformation ofthat thought into heat and percussion was a long andarduous process. Still, the thought, the vision, theintentionality, was primary. "All I know," said Arnold Schwarzenneger, "is thatthe first step is to create the vision, because whenyou see the vision there—the beautiful vision—thatcreates the want power. For example, my wantingto be Mr. Universe came about because I saw myselfso clearly, being up there on the stage and winning." Intentionality fuels the masters journey. Everymaster is a master of vision.
  • 102. Chapter 9 Key 5: The EdgeNow we come, as come we must in anything of realconsequence, to a seeming contradiction, a paradox.Almost without exception, those we know as mastersare dedicated to the fundamentals of their calling.They are zealots of practice, connoisseurs of thesmall, incremental step. At the same time—and heresthe paradox—these people, these masters, are pre-cisely the ones who are likely to challenge previouslimits, to take risks for the sake of higher perfor-mance, and even to become obsessive at times in thatpursuit. Clearly, for them the key is not either/or, itsboth/and. Chuck Yeager, the hero of Tom Wolfes book TheRight Stuff, is considered by many to be the bestpilot who ever lived. Near the end of his autobiog-raphy, Yeager, he sums up what it means to be agreat pilot, to have the "right stuff." In the first two 91
  • 103. 98 MASTERYpages of this summary, he cites "experience" threetimes. "If there is such a thing as the right stuff inpiloting," Yeager tells us, "then it is experience." And yet, this proponent of the plateau, this traveleron the endless path, is also a man who speaks withwicked delight about "exploring the edges of the en-velope." The night before he was scheduled to makea faster-than-sound flight for the first time in history,Yeager fell off a horse during a wild twilight ride andseriously sprained his shoulder. This injury wouldmake it impossible for him to close the hatch on theX-1 rocket plane in the normal manner after he wasloaded into it from the mother ship at 20,000 feet.Undaunted, he took along a broom handle so that hecould close the door with his other hand—then wenton to push through the sound barrier despite his in-jury. The trick here is not only to test the edges of theenvelope, but also to walk the fine line between end-less, goalless practice and those alluring goals thatappear along the way. At our dojo, we present ai-kido, first of all, as an endless path. But we also haveperiodic examinations that are rigorous, challenging,and sometimes quite dramatic. The exam for first-degree black belt is, in particular, a rite of passage.The candidate faces a three- to six-months-long pe-riod leading up to the exam, which becomes not onlyan intensive cram course in advanced techniques but
  • 104. The Five Master Keys 99also a physical and psychological trial by fire. Duringthis ordeal, no personal flaw, no secret idiosyncracy,is likely to remain hidden. If all goes well, the examitself becomes an expression not of ego but of es-sence, a climactic and transcendent moment in a longjourney. But the journey is what counts. In the wordsof the ancient Eastern adage: "Before enlightenment,chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment,chop wood and carry water." The new black belt isexpected to be on the mat the next day, ready to takethe first fall. Playing the edge is a balancing act. It demands theawareness to know when youre pushing yourselfbeyond safe limits. In this awareness, the man orwoman on the path of mastery sometimes makes aconscious decision to do just that. We see thisclearly in running, a sport so pure, so explicit thateverything is likely to come quickly into full view.Running fast and hard almost always demands play-ing the edge, and it cant be denied that runners andwould-be runners should be offered safe and sensi-ble programs and warned against the dangers andpitfalls of their practice. Those who wish to run forspecific, practical benefits—weight control, stressreduction, a healthy heart—must be given their due,but to limit the dialogue to such practical consider-ations is to demean the human spirit. Many peoplerun not to lose weight but to loosen the chains of a
  • 105. 100 MASTERYmechanized culture, not to postpone death but tosavor life. For those runners, the admonitions ofcritics who warn against the dangers of the sport aremoot; they run quite consciously, as informed, con-senting adults, to exceed their previous limits andto press the edges of the possible, whether thismeans completing their first circuit of a four-hundred-meter track without walking, or fighting forvictory in a triathlon, as in an episode recounted inAmerican Medical News. Few moments in sports history have so poi- gnantly captured the agony of defeat as when twenty-three-year-old Julie Moss was leading the womens division of the twenty-six-mile mara- thon on Hawaiis Ironman Triathlon World Championship. With only one hundred yards left between her and the finish, Moss fell to her knees. She then rose, ran a few more yards, and collapsed again. As TV cameras rolled, she lost control of her bodily functions. She got up again, ran, fell, and then started crawling. Passed by the second- place runner, she crawled across the finish line, stretched out her arm, and passed out. Jim McKay of ABC Sports called it "heroic . . . one of the greatest moments in the history of televised sport." Gilbert Lang, M.D., an ortho- pedic surgeon at Roseville (California) Commu-
  • 106. The Five Master Keys 101 nity Hospital and a longtime endurance runner, calls it "stupid—very nearly fatal." Both Lang and McKay are right: it was stupid andheroic. Surely no runner should be encouraged to goso near the edge of death. But what type of worldwould it be, how meager and pale, without such he-roics? Perhaps there would be no human world atall, for there must have been countless times beforethe dawn of history when primitive hunters in pur-suit of prey gave all of themselves in this way so thatmembers of their bands, our distant ancestors, couldlive. People such as Julie Moss run for all of us, re-affirming our humanity, our very existence. Andthere is reason to believe that most of the people weknow as masters share her stupid, heroic desire touse herself to the limit, to finish at all cost, to attainthe unattainable. But before you can even consider playing thisedge, there must be many years of instruction, prac-tice, surrender, and intentionality. And afterwards?More training, more time on the plateau: the never-ending path again.
  • 108. IntroductionAs the moment of departure draws near, its time toget down to some specifics. How can you avoid back-sliding? Where will you get the energy for your jour-ney? What pitfalls will you encounter along the path?How can you apply mastery to the commonplace thingsof life? What should you pack for the journey? Here are some travelers tips, some parting gifts, andthen—bon voyage! 105
  • 109. Chapter 10 Why Resolutions Fail—and What to Do About ItYou resolve to make a change for the better in yourlife. It could be any significant change, but lets sayit involves getting on the path of mastery, developinga regular practice. You tell your friends about it. Youput your resolution in writing. You actually make thechange. It works. It feels good. Youre happy aboutit. Your friends are happy about it. Your life is better.Then you backslide. Why? Are you some kind of slob who has no will-power? Not necessarily. Backsliding is a universal ex-perience. Every one of us resists significant change,no matter whether its for the worse or for the better.Our body, brain, and behavior have a built-in ten-dency to stay the same within rather narrow limits,and to snap back when changed—and its a very goodthing they do. Just think about it: if your body temperature 107
  • 110. 108 MASTERYmoved up or down by 10 percent, youd be in bigtrouble. The same thing applies to your blood-sugarlevel and to any number of other functions of yourbody. This condition of equilibrium, this resistanceto change, is called homeostasis. It characterizes allself-regulating systems, from a bacterium to a frog toa human individual to a family to an organization toan entire culture—and it applies to psychologicalstates and behavior as well as to physical functioning. The simplest example of homeostasis can be foundin your home heating system. The thermostat on thewall senses the room temperature; when the temper-ature on a winters day drops below the level youveset, the thermostat sends an electrical signal that turnsthe heater on. The heater completes the loop bysending heat to the room in which the thermostat islocated. When the room temperature reaches thelevel youve set, the thermostat sends an electricalsignal back to the heater, turning it off, thus main-taining homeostasis. Keeping a room at the right temperature takes onlyone feedback loop. Keeping even the simplest single-celled organism alive and well takes thousands. Andmaintaining a human being in a state of homeostasistakes billions of interweaving electrochemical signalspulsing in the brain, rushing along nerve fibers,coursing through the bloodstream. One example: each of us has about 150,000 tiny
  • 111. Tools For Mastery 109thermostats in the form of nerve endings close to thesurface of the skin that are sensitive to the loss ofheat from our bodies, and another sixteen thousandor so a little deeper in the skin that alert us to theentry of heat from without. An even more sensitivethermostat resides in the hypothaiamus at the base ofthe brain, close to branches of the main artery thatbrings blood from the heart to the head. This ther-mostat can pick up even the tiniest change of tem-perature in the blood. When you start getting cold,these thermostats signal the sweat glands, pores, andsmall blood vessels near the surface of the body toclose down. Glandular activity and muscle tensioncause you to shiver in order to produce more heat,and your senses send a very clear message to yourbrain, leading you to keep moving, to put on moreclothes, to cuddle closer to someone, to seek shelter,or to build a fire. Homeostasis in social groups brings additionalfeedback loops into play. Families stay stable bymeans of instruction, exhortation, punishment, priv-ileges, gifts, favors, signs of approval and affection,and even by means of extremely subtle body lan-guage and facial expressions. Social groups largerthan the family add various types of feedback sys-tems. A national culture, for example, is held to-gether by the legislative process, law enforcement,education, the popular arts, sports and games, eco-
  • 112. 110 MASTERYnomic rewards that favor certain types of activity,and by a complex web of mores, prestige markers,celebrity role modeling, and style that relies largelyon the media as a national nervous system. Althoughwe might think that our culture is mad for the new,the predominant function of all this—as with thefeedback loops in your body—is the survival ofthings as they are. The problem is, homeostasis works to keep thingsas they are even if they arent very good. Lets say,for instance, that for the last twenty years—ever sincehigh school, in fact—youve been almost entirelysedentary. Now most of your friends are working out,and you figure that if you cant beat the fitness rev-olution, youll join it. Buying the tights and runningshoes is fun, and so are the first few steps as you startjogging on the high school track near your house.Then, about a third of the way around the first lap,something terrible happens. Maybe youre suddenlysick to your stomach. Maybe youre dizzy. Maybetheres a strange, panicky feeling in your chest.Maybe youre going to die. No, youre going to die. Whats more, the partic-ular sensations youre feeling probably arent signif-icant in themselves. What youre really getting is ahomeostatic alarm signal—bells clanging, lights flash-ing. Warning! Warning! Significant changes in res-
  • 113. Tools For Mastery 111piration, heart rate, metabolism. Whatever youredoing, stop doing it immediately. Homeostasis, remember, doesnt distinguish be-tween what you would call change for the better andchange for the worse. It resists all change. Aftertwenty years without exercise, your body regards asedentary style of life as "normal"; the beginning ofa change for the better is interpreted as a threat. Soyou walk slowly back to your car, figuring youll lookaround for some other revolution to join. Take another case, involving a family of five. Thefather happens to be an alcoholic who goes on abinge every six to eight weeks. During the time hesdrinking, and for several days afterward, the familyis in an uproar. Its nothing new. These periodicuproars have become, in fact, the normal state ofthings. Then, for one reason or another, the fatherstops drinking. Youd think that everyone in the fam-ily would be happy, and they are—for a while. Buthomeostasis has strange and sneaky ways of strikingback. Theres a pretty good chance that within a veryfew months some other family member (say, a teen-age son) will do something (say, get caught dealingdrugs) to create just the type of uproar the fathersbinges previously triggered. Without wise profes-sional counsel, the members of this family wont re-alize that the son, unknowingly, has simply taken the
  • 114. 112 MASTERYfathers place to keep the family system in the con-dition that has become stable and "normal." No need here to count the ways that organizationsand cultures resist change and backslide when changedoes occur. Just let it be said that the resistance here(as in other cases) is proportionate to the size andspeed of the change, not to whether the change is afavorable or unfavorable one. If an organizational orcultural reform meets tremendous resistance, it is be-cause its either a tremendously bad idea or a tre-mendously good idea. Trivial change, bureaucraticmeddling, is much easier to accept, and thats onereason why you see so much of it. In the same way,the talkier forms of psychotherapy are acceptable, atleast to some degree, perhaps because they some-times change nothing very much except the patientsability to talk about his or her problems. But none ofthis is meant to condemn homeostasis. We want ourminds and bodies and organizations to hold together.We want that paycheck to arrive on schedule. In or-der to survive, we need stability. Still, change does occur. Individuals change. Fam-ilies change. Organizations and entire cultureschange. Homeostats are reset, even though the pro-cess might cause a certain amount of anxiety, pain,and upset. The questions are: How do you deal withhomeostasis? How do you make change for the bet-ter easier? How do you make it last?
  • 115. Tools For Mastery 113 These questions rise to great importance when youembark on the path of mastery. Say that after yearsof hacking around in your career, you decide to ap-proach it in terms of the principles of mastery. Yourwhole life obviously will change, and thus youll haveto deal with homeostasis. But even if you should be-gin applying mastery to pursuits such as gardening ortennis, which might seem less than central to yourexistence, the effects of the change might ripple outto touch almost everything you do. Realizing signifi-cantly more of your potential in almost anything canchange you in many ways. And however much youenjoy and profit from the change, youll probablymeet with homeostasis sooner or later. You mightexperience homeostatic alarm signals in the form ofphysical or psychological symptoms. You might un-knowingly sabotage your own best efforts. You mightget resistance from family, friends, and co-workers.And you can consider yourself fortunate indeed ifyou dont find yourself on that old, familiar slide backto the ways of the Dabbler, or the Obsessive, or theHacker. Ultimately, youll have to decide if you really dowant to spend the time and effort it takes to get onand stay on the path. If you do, here are five guide-lines that might help. While these guidelines are fo-cused on mastery, they could also be applied to anychange in your life.
  • 116. 114 MASTERY 1. Be aware of the way homeostasis works. Thismight be the most important guideline of all. Expectresistance and backlash. Realize that when the alarmbells start ringing, it doesnt necessarily mean youresick or crazy or lazy or that youve made a bad de-cision in embarking on the journey of mastery. Infact, you might take these signals as an indication thatyour life is definitely changing—just what youvewanted. Of course, it might be that you have startedsomething thats not right for you; only you can de-cide. But in any case, dont panic and give up at thefirst sign of trouble. You might also expect resistance from friends andfamily and co-workers. (Homeostasis, as weve seen,applies to social systems as well as individuals.) Sayyou used to struggle out of bed at 7:30 and barelydrag yourself to work at 9:00. Now that youre on apath of mastery, youre up at 6:00 for a three-milerun, and in the office, charged with energy, at 8:30.You might figure that your co-workers would beoverjoyed, but dont be too sure. And when you gethome, still raring to go, do you think that your familywill welcome the change? Maybe. Bear in mind thatan entire system has to change when any part of itchanges. So dont be surprised if some of the peopleyou love start covertly or overtly undermining your
  • 117. Tools For Mastery 115self-improvement. Its not that they wish you harm,its just homeostasis at work. 2. Be willing to negotiate with your resistance tochange. So what should you do when you run intoresistance, when the red lights flash and the alarmbells ring? Well, you dont back off, and you dontbull your way through. Negotiation is the ticket tosuccessful long-term change in everything from in-creasing your running speed to transforming your or-ganization. The long-distance runner working for afaster time on a measured course negotiates with ho-meostasis by using pain not as an adversary but asthe best possible guide to performance. The change-oriented manager keeps his or her eyes and ears openfor signs of dissatisfaction or dislocation, then playsthe edge of discontent, the inevitable escort of trans-formation. The fine art of playing the edge in this case in-volves a willingness to take one step back for everytwo forward, sometimes vice versa. It also demandsa determination to keep pushing, but not withoutawareness. Simply turning off your awareness to thewarnings deprives you of guidance and risks damag-ing the system. Simply pushing your way throughdespite the warning signals increases the possibilityof backsliding. You can never be sure exactly where the resistance
  • 118. 116 MASTERYwill pop up. A feeling of anxiety? Psychosomaticcomplaints? A tendency toward self-sabotage? Squab-bles with family, friends, or fellow workers? None ofthe above? Stay alert. Be prepared for serious nego-tiations. 3. Develop a support system. You can do it alone,but it helps a great deal to have other people withwhom you can share the joys and perils of the changeyoure making. The best support system would in-volve people who have gone through or are goingthrough a similar process, people who can tell theirown stories of change and listen to yours, peoplewho will brace you up when you start to backslideand encourage you when you dont. The path ofmastery, fortunately, almost always fosters socialgroupings. In his seminal book Homo Ludens: AStudy of the Play Element in Culture, Johan Huizingacomments upon the tendency of sports and games tobring people together. The play community, hepoints out, is likely to continue even after the gameis over, inspired by "the feeling of being apart to-gether in an exceptional situation, of sharing some-thing important, of mutually withdrawing from therest of the world and rejecting the usual norms." Thesame can be said about many other pursuits, whetheror not they are formally known as sports—arts and
  • 119. Tools For Mastery 117crafts, hunting, fishing, yoga, Zen, the professions,"the office." And what if your quest for mastery is a lonely one?What if you can find no fellow voyagers on that par-ticular path? At the least, you can let the people closeto you know what youre doing, and ask for theirsupport. 4. Follow a regular practice. People embarking onany type of change can gain stability and comfortthrough practicing some worthwhile activity on a moreor less regular basis, not so much for the sake of achiev-ing an external goal as simply for its own sake. A trav-eler on the path of mastery is again fortunate, forpractice in this sense (as Ive said more than once) is thefoundation of the path itself. The circumstances are par-ticularly happy in case youve already established a reg-ular practice in something else before facing thechallenge and change of beginning a new one. Its easierto start applying the principles of mastery to your pro-fession or your primary relationship if youve alreadyestablished a regular morning exercise program. Prac-tice is a habit, and any regular practice provides a sortof underlying homeostasis, a stable base during the in-stability of change. 5. Dedicate yourself to lifelong learning. We tendto forget that learning is much more than book learn-
  • 120. 118 MASTERYing. To learn is to change. Education, whether it in-volves books, body, or behavior, is a process thatchanges the learner. It doesnt have to end at collegegraduation or at age forty or sixty or eighty, and thebest learning of all involves learning how to learn—that is, to change. The lifelong learner is essentiallyone who has learned to deal with homeostasis, sim-ply because he or she is doing it all the time. TheDabbler, Obsessive, and Hacker are all learners intheir own fashion, but lifelong learning is the specialprovince of those who travel the path of mastery, thepath that never ends.
  • 121. Chapter 11 Getting Energy for MasteryIf you think you simply dont have the time or theenergy to dedicate yourself to mastery, consider theold adage that if you want to get something done,ask a busy person to do it. Most of us know at leastone of those prodigies of energy who get far morethan their share of the worlds work and play accom-plished. When we stop to think about it, in fact, al-most all of us can bring to mind periods when we,too, were bursting with energy; when no mountainseemed too high for us; when the boundaries be-tween work and play blurred and finally disap-peared. Remember when you could barely keep youreyes open in class, yet were totally awake and alertduring hours of tough after-school sports practice?And how about that rush of energy at the beginningof a love affair, or during a challenging job situation,or at the approach of danger? 119
  • 122. 120 MASTERY A human being is the kind of machine that wearsout from lack of use. There are limits, of course, andwe do need healthful rest and relaxation, but for themost part we gain energy by using energy. Often thebest remedy for physical weariness is thirty minutesof aerobic exercise. In the same way, mental andspiritual lassitude is often cured by decisive action orthe clear intention to act. We learn in high schoolphysics that kinetic energy is measured in terms ofmotion. The same thing is true of human energy: itcomes into existence through use. You cant hoardit. As Frederich S. (Fritz) Perls, founder of Gestalttherapy, used to say, "I dont want to be saved, Iwant to be spent. " It might well be that all of uspossess enormous stores of potential energy, morethan we could ever hope to use. If this is so, then why do we so often feel drained,unable to drag ourselves to the simplest task? Whydo we leave those letters unanswered, that leaky fau-cet unrepaired? Why do we resist our own most con-structive and creative impulses and squander our bestenergy on busywork? Why do we sit for hours in thebabbling bath of television while lifes abundant op-portunities drift past unseen? It starts in earliest childhood. Watch an unfetteredeighteen-month-old for a couple of hours. This min-iature prodigy of energy has an important job (call itraw, unadulterated learning), and he ruthlessly ex-
  • 123. Tools For Mastery 121ploits everything in his environment, that he can see,hear, taste, smell, and feel to get that job done. Somerestraints must be imposed, but we tend to imposefar more than safety requires. After all, we adults havealready forfeited much of our energy and are easilyexhausted. So we might say, "Why cant you bestill?" or "I cant stand that yammering for one moresecond." We might try angry commands, physical re-straint, or—God help us—physical punishment. Morelikely, well put the learning process on hold by park-ing the learner in front of the television set, no mat-ter whats on. There! Thats better! Now the kids aslethargic as we are. In school the child gets even worse news: learningis dull. Theres only one right answer to every ques-tion, and youd better learn that answer by sittingstill and listening passively, not doing anything. Theconventional classroom setup, with twenty to thirty-five kids forced to do the same thing at the sametime, makes individual initiative and explorationnearly impossible. Theres certainly little space forthe playful exuberance that accompanies high en-ergy. Six-year-old Johnny wants to sing a song to theclass. "Not now, Johnny. We have work to do." Orworse: "Dont be silly, Johnny." That teachers voicestill resonates in forty-year-old Johnnys subcon-scious whenever hes tempted to be spontaneous. With maddening inefficiency, conventional
  • 124. 122 MASTERYschooling finally manages to teach reading and writ-ing and figuring and a smattering of facts, but theoperative words are too often dont, no, and wrong.The fundamental learning is negative. "It is in factnothing short of a miracle," Albert Einstein wrote,"that the modern methods of instruction have notyet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of in-quiry. . . . It is a very grave mistake to think that theenjoyment of seeing and searching can be promotedby means of coercion and sense of duty." But it isnt just school. Peer groups at every stageof life exert a leveling influence. Conformity is val-ued. High energy is feared as a threat to conformity.And, of course, it often is. Theres something fright-ening about the unbridled release of human energy.The psychopath, for example, is one who has failedto internalize societys restraints. Sometimes possess-ing unusual charm and persuasiveness, always lack-ing conscience and remorse, he is able to directseemingly superhuman amounts of energy to hisgoals, which tend to the short-term and self-serving. This dark energy both dismays and fascinates us.We find ourselves strangely attracted to the man inthe black hat, to villains and rogues of all types, pre-cisely because they so blatantly express what wewont even acknowledge in ourselves. And look atthe daily news, at the rapacious preachers, the phonygurus, the larcenous financiers, the organizers of
  • 125. Tools For Mastery 123shadowy armies and arms deals—all of them short onscruples and long on passionate intensity. We havereason to be wary of the driven personality, thezealot. No wonder society wants to "socialize" us, tosquash our energy. Thats the downside, but theres also that legion ofthoughtful and responsible people who have some-how retained their native energy and know how toput it to work for their benefit and ours. The energythey manifest is to a large extent available to all ofus. If we could tap as little as an added 10 percent ofthis vast resource, our lives would be significantlyaltered. Heres how to get started: 1. Maintain physical fitness. We all know physi-cally fit people who sit around shuffling papers allday. And we also know those energy demons whostill maintain that when the urge to exercise comesover them, they simply lie down until it passes. But,all things being equal, physical fitness contributesenormously to energy in every aspect of our lives.We might also suspect that, all things again beingequal, those people who feel good about themselves,who are in touch with nature and their own bodies,are more likely to use their energy for the good ofthis planet and its people than those who live sed-entary, unhealthy lives.
  • 126. 124 MASTERY 2. Acknowledge the negative and accentuate thepositive. The power of positive thinking informs ev-erything from pop-preacher Norman Vincent Peaksbook of the same name to Skinnerian psychology tothe newest management-training seminars. Optimismgets regularly trashed by intellectuals as well as byself-proclaimed "tough-minded" journalists andcommentators, but numerous studies show that peo-ple with a positive outlook on life suffer far less sick-ness than those who see the world in negative terms. They also have more energy. Tom Peters, author of In Search of Excellence, andperhaps the nations top management consultant,speaks of "an almost spooky similarity of language"among the managers of Americas most successfulcompanies. To a man and a woman, they stress thevalue of a positive attitude and the effectiveness ofpraise and other forms of positive feedback. "Themost successful managers," Peters told me, "arethose who are unwilling to tolerate the negativestuff." Peters cites one studys findings that very suc-cessful people had had "an obnoxiously high levelof praise piled on them in childhood—praise to thepoint of embarrassment. It seems you can hardlyoverdo it." Is it possible to be too positive? Only if you denythe existence of negative factors, of situations in yourlife and in the world at large that need correcting.
  • 127. Tools For Mastery 125Some Eastern philosophies as well as certain Westernreligions and quasi-religions do just that. Their insis-tence that evils and ills are nothing more than illusioncomforts the converted but often leads to a harmfuldenial of personal reality and a callousness towardthe injustices in the world. Generally, denial inhibitsenergy, while realistic acknowledgment of the truthreleases it. Even serious blows in life can give you extra en-ergy by knocking you off dead center, shaking youout of your lethargy—but not if you deny the blowsare real. Acknowledging the negative doesnt meansniveling; it means facing the truth and then movingon. Simply describing whats wrong with your life toa good friend is likely to make you feel better andmore energetic. Once youve dealt with the negative, youre free toconcentrate on the best in yourself. Whenever possible,avoid teachers and supervisors who are highly criticalin a negative sense. Telling people what theyre doingwrong while ignoring what theyre doing right reducestheir energy. When its your turn to teach or superviseor give advice, you might try the following approach:"Heres what I like about what youre doing, and hereshow you might improve it." 3. Try telling the truth. "Theres nothing moreenergizing to a corporation than for people to start
  • 128. 126 MASTERYtelling one another truth," says Dr. Will Schutz, whopopularized truth-telling encounter groups in the1960s and is now a corporate consultant. "One ofthe first results we got after our sessions with cor-porate executives was that their meetings wereshorter than before. One company reported thathour-and-a-half meetings now take twenty minutes.We just say what we want to say. We dont haveto spend a lot of time and energy not saying some-thing. Lies and secrets are poison in organizations—peoples energy is devoted to deceiving and hidingand remembering who it is you dont want to tellwhat to. When people start telling the truth, you seealmost immediate reductions in mistakes and in-creases in productivity." Truth-telling works best when it involves revealingyour own feelings, not when used to insult othersand to get your own way. All in all, it has a lot goingfor it—risk, challenge, excitement, and the release ofall of that energy. 4. Honor but dont indulge your own dark side.God knows how much energy we have locked up inthe submerged part of our personality, in what CarlJung calls the shadow. Poet and storyteller RobertBly gives a modern setting to Jungs ideas in his bookA Little Book on the Human Shadow. The young
  • 129. Tools For Mastery 127child, Bly tells us, can be visualized as a lively ball ofenergy that radiates in all directions. But the parentsdont like certain parts of the ball. In order to keepthe parents love, the child puts the parts of him thatthey dont like in an invisible bag that he drags be-hind him. "By the time we go to school," Bly writes,"the bag is quite large. Then our teachers have theirsay: Good children dont get angry over such littlethings. So we take our anger and put it in the bag."By age twenty, he maintains, only a thin slice of ouroriginal energy is left. But the energy weve hidden away can still beavailable to us. And putting those forbidden parts ofour personality to work doesnt involve indulgingourselves and literally acting out the submerged part.Anger, for instance, contains a great deal of energy.If weve repressed that emotion so effectively thatwe cant even feel it, we obviously cant use the en-ergy that goes along with it in any conscious, con-structive way. But if we take our anger out of the bagsimply to indulge it, if we let anger become a knee-jerk response, we dissipate its considerable power.There are times when its appropriate to express an-ger, but theres also the possibility of taking the fer-vid energy of indignation, even of rage, and puttingit to work for positive purposes. In other words,when you feel your anger rising, you can choose togo and work furiously on a favorite project, or to
  • 130. 128 MASTERYtransmute the energy beneath your anger to fuel thatyou can use on your journey of mastery. Well enjoy a much more energetic world whensociety stops forcing us to put so much of ourselvesinto that invisible bag. Until then, we can note thatthe prodigies of energy whom we admire are pre-cisely those people who know how to utilize theblazing energy that flows from that which has beencalled dark. 5. Set your priorities. Before you can use your po-tential energy, you have to decide what youre goingto do with it. And in making any choice, you face amonstrous fact: to move in one direction, you mustforgo all others. To choose one goal is to forsake avery large number of other possible goals. A friendof mine, twenty-nine and still looking for a cause, apurpose in life, said, "Our generation has been raisedon the idea of keeping your options open. But if youkeep all your options open, you cant do a damnedthing." Its a problem: How can any one option, anyone goal, match up to the possibilities contained inall others? This troubling equation applies to everything fromlifetime goals to what youre going to do in the nextten minutes. Should you clean out that messy closetor start reading that new book or write that letter?An affluent, consumer-oriented way of life multiplies
  • 131. Tools For Mastery 129the choices that face you. Television makes it evenmore complicated. By offering endless possibilities,it tempts you to choose none, to sit staring in endlesswonder, to become comatose. Indecision leads to in-action, which leads to low energy, depression, de-spair. Ultimately, liberation comes through the accep-tance of limits. You cant do everything, but you cando one thing, and then another and another. In termsof energy, its better to make a wrong choice thannone at all. You might begin by listing your priori-ties—for the day, for the week, for the month, for alifetime. Start modestly. List everything you want todo today or tomorrow. Set priorities by dividing theitems into A, B, and C categories. At the least, accom-plish the A items. Try the same thing with long-termgoals. Priorities do shift, and you can change them atany time, but simply getting them down in black andwhite adds clarity to your life, and clarity creates en-ergy. 6. Make commitments. Take action. The journeyof mastery is ultimately goalless; you take the jour-ney for the sake of the journey itself. But, as Ivepointed out, there are interim goals along the way,the first of which is simply starting the journey. Andtheres nothing quite so immediately energizing onany journey as the intermediate goal of a tough, firm
  • 132. 130 MASTERYdeadline—as is well known to anyone who has facedan opening-night curtain, a business-deal closing date,or a definite press time for an article or book. At ouraikido school, a notice is placed on the bulletin boardfour times a year asking qualified students to sign upfor ranking exams. Some students sign immediately,while others wait until a few days before the exam.Its instructive to watch the immediate surge of clar-ity and energy during training that comes from thesimplest act of writing ones name on a notice. Thosewho sign late suffer from having less time in whichto enjoy the energy that flows from commitment. The gift of an externally imposed deadline isnt al-ways available. Sometimes you need to set your own.But you have to take it seriously. One way to do thisis to make it public. Tell people who are importantin your life. The firmer the deadline, the harder it isto break, and the more energy it confers. Above allelse, move and keep moving. Dont go off halfcocked. Take time for wise planning, but dont takeforever. "Whatever you can do, or dream you can—begin it," Goethe wrote. "Boldness has genius,power, and magic in it." 7. Get on the path of mastery and stay on it. Overthe long haul, theres nothing like the path of mas-tery to lead you to an energetic life. A regular prac-tice not only elicits energy but tames it. Without the
  • 133. Tools For Mastery 131firm underpinnings of a practice, deadlines can pro-duce violent swings between frantic activity and col-lapse. On the masters journey, you can learn to putthings in perspective, to keep the flow of energy go-ing during low moments as well as high. You alsolearn that you cant hoard energy; you cant build itup by not using it. Adequate rest is, of course, a partof the masters journey, but, unaccompanied by pos-itive action, rest may only depress you. It might well be, in fact, that much of the worldsdepression and discontent, and perhaps even a goodshare of the pervasive malaise that leads to crime andwar, can ultimately be traced to our unused energy,our untapped potential. People whose energy isflowing dont need to take a drug, commit a crime,or go to war in order to feel fully awake and alive.Theres enough constructive, creative work for ev-erybody, with plenty left over. All of us can increaseour energy, starting now.
  • 134. Chapter 12 Pitfalls Along the PathIts easy to get on the path of mastery. The real chal-lenge lies in staying on it. The most dedicated trav-eler will find pitfalls as well as rewards along the way.You probably cant avoid them all, but it helps toknow theyre there. Here are thirteen you might runinto on your journey. 1. Conflicting way of life. The path of masterydoesnt exist in a vacuum. It wends its way througha landscape of other obligations, pleasures, relation-ships. The traveler whose main path of mastery co-incides with career and livelihood is fortunate; othersmust find space and time outside regular workinghours for a preferred practice that brings mastery butnot a living wage. The trick here is to be realistic:will you actually be able to balance job and path? Butdont despair, we all possess great stores of unused 133
  • 135. 134 MASTERYenergy (see Chapter Eleven). And as for time, howabout those seven hours a day (the national average)spent watching television. Theres also the matter offamily and friends. Do you have their support forwhat youre doing? Especially, do you have yourspouses support? "Never marry a person," psychol-ogist Nathaniel Brandon tells his clients, "who is nota friend of your excitement." The point is, whenthings arent going well on your path of mastery,dont forget to check out the rest of your life. Thenconsider the possibility that the rest of your life canbe lived in terms of mastery principles. 2. Obsessive goal orientation. As pointed out nu-merous times in this book, the desire of most peopletoday for quick, sure, and highly visible results is per-haps the deadliest enemy of mastery. Its fine to haveambitious goals, but the best way of reaching themis to cultivate modest expectations at every step alongthe way. When youre climbing a mountain, in otherwords, be aware that the peak is ahead, but dontkeep looking up at it. Keep your eyes on the path.And when you reach the top of the mountain, as theZen saying goes, keep on climbing. 3. Poor instruction. Youve already read about theimportance of good instruction and how to recog-nize bad instruction (see Chapter Five). To repeat a
  • 136. Tools For Mastery 135couple of points: surrender to your teacher, but onlyas a teacher, not as a guru. Dont bounce from oneteacher to another, but dont stick with a situationthats not working, just out of inertia. And remem-ber: the ultimate responsibility for your getting goodinstruction lies not with your teacher but with you. 4. Lack of competitiveness. Competition providesspice in life as well as in sports; its only when thespice becomes the entire diet that the player gets sick.Competition can provide motivation. It can also helphold games and other enterprises together; to com-pete with someone, you have to agree to run on thesame track. Take competition as an opportunity tohone your hard-won skills to a fine edge. Failing toplay wholeheartedly with a will to win degrades thegame and insults the opponent. Winning is an essen-tial element in the journey, but it isnt the only thing.Winning graciously and losing with equal grace arethe marks of a master. 5. Overcompetitiveness. The would-be master whothinks about nothing but winning is sure to lose inthe long run. The statement "Winning isnt every-thing, its the only thing" is one of the greatest ofhoaxes. Think about it: if winning is the only thing,then practice, discipline, conditioning, and characterare nothing. Its said that winning is a habit—but so
  • 137. 136 MASTERYis losing. The "number one" criterion, with its atten-dant overcompetitiveness, creates far more losersthan winners. Who knows how many potentialOlympic medalists have turned away from sports be-cause of youth-league coaches who preach that thepurpose of life lies in beating the school on the otherside of town, and that it doesnt matter how you playthe game, just so you win. 6. Laziness. Laziness can be analyzed in psychiat-ric terms—such as resistance and dependence—butit might be more useful just to get right down to theword itself, which is defined as "Disinclined to ac-tion or exertion; averse to labor, indolent; idle; sloth-ful." The bad news is that laziness will knock you offthe path. The good news is that the path is the bestpossible cure for laziness. Courage. 7. Injuries. If your path is a physical one, and ifyoure like most of us, youll probably encounter in-juries somewhere along the way. Minor ones comewith the territory. There are also serious injuries,which can take you off the path temporarily or evenpermanently. Except in heavy-contact sports, mostof these serious injuries are probably avoidable. Peo-ple get hurt because of obsessive goal orientation,because they get ahead of themselves, because theylose consciousness of whats going on in their own
  • 138. Tools For Mastery 137bodies, in the here and now. The best way of achiev-ing a goal is to be fully present. Surpassing previouslimits involves negotiating with your body, not ig-noring or overriding its messages. Negotiation in-volves awareness. Avoiding serious injury is less amatter of being cautious than of being conscious. Allof this is also true to some extent of mental and emo-tional as well as physical injuries. 8. Drugs. Drugs can give you the illusion of gettingthe immediate success this culture is always promis-ing you. Travelers on the fast track can use drugs toexperience climactic upward surges without spend-ing any time on the plateau. At first, it might seem towork, but regular use leads inevitably to disaster. Ifyoure on drugs, youre not on the path. 9. Prizes and medals. Excessive use of externalmotivation can slow and even stop your journey tomastery. Studies show that rewarding schoolchildrenby giving them gold stars initially speeds up theirlearning, but their progress soon levels off, even ifyou increase the number of stars. When you stopgiving stars, their progress falls to a level lower thanthat of matched groups of children who got no starsin the first place. A report on the physiological limitsof running speed shows that the major factor stop-ping the improvement of a champion runners speed
  • 139. 138 MASTERYis setting a record or winning an important medal."The champions stop not at a given speed but whenthey set a record," authors Henry W. Ryder, HarryJay Carr, and Paul Herget wrote in the June 1976 Sci-entific American. "Succeeding champions do thesame. They telescope in their relatively short racinglives all the achievements of the great runners of thepast and then stop with a gold medal just as theirpredecessors did. Since it is the medal and not thespeed that stops them, the speeds they reach cannotbe considered in any way the ultimate physiologicallimit." Perhaps well never know how far the pathcan go, how much a human being can truly achieve,until we realize that the ultimate reward is not a goldmedal but the path itself. 10. Vanity. Its possible that one of the reasonsyou got on the path of mastery was to look good.But to learn something new of any significance, youhave to be willing to look foolish. Even after yearsof practice, you still take pratfalls. When a Most Valu-able Player candidate misjudges a ball and falls on hisduff, he does it in the sight of millions. You shouldbe willing to do it before your teacher and a fewfriends or fellow students. If youre always thinkingabout appearances, you can never attain the state ofconcentration thats necessary for effective learningand top performance.
  • 140. Tools For Mastery 139 11. Dead seriousness. Without laughter, the roughand rocky places on the path might be too painful tobear. Humor not only lightens your load, it alsobroadens your perspective. To be deadly serious isto suffer tunnel vision. To be able to laugh at yourselfclears the vision. When choosing fellow voyagers,beware of grimness, self-importance, and the solemneye. 12. Inconsistency. Consistency of practice is themark of the master. Continuity of time and place(where this is feasible) can establish a rhythm thatbuoys you up, carries you along. There is even valuein repeating favorite rituals before, during, and afterpractice. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, whohas studied a state of happy concentration called"flow," points out that some surgeons wash theirhands and put on their gowns in precisely the sameway before each operation, thus stripping their mindsof outside concerns and focusing their attention fullyon the task at hand. Inconsistency not only loses youpractice time, but makes everything more difficultwhen you do get around to practicing. But if youshould happen to miss a few sessions, dont use thatas an excuse to quit entirely. The path of masterytakes many twists and turns and calls for a certainflexibility of strategy and action. Consistency is of
  • 141. 140 MASTERYthe essence, but a foolish consistency, as RalphWaldo Emerson tells us, "is the hobgoblin of littleminds." 13. Perfectionism. In a way, its a pity that tech-nology has brought so many masterful performancesinto our homes. "Twenty-four hours of world-classorchestras" is what the local classical music stationpromises me. And these performances are not onlymeticulously rehearsed, but recorded repeatedly,with the very best passages spliced together, and theentire recording electronically enhanced. Travelingexhibits bring the works of Van Gogh, Degas, Gau-guin, and Manet to our local art museums. And ontelevision we can watch top athletes, dancers, iceskaters, singers, actors, comics, and pundits, all giv-ing us their best. Compared to this, how can we eventalk about mastery? Then there are those of us whoare simply self-critical. Even without comparing our-selves to the worlds greatest, we set such high stan-dards for ourselves that neither we nor anyone elsecould ever meet them—and nothing is more destruc-tive to creativity than this. We fail to realize that mas-tery is not about perfection. Its about a process, ajourney. The master is the one who stays on the pathday after day, year after year. The master is the onewho is willing to try, and fail, and try again, for aslong as he or she lives.
  • 142. Chapter 13 Mastering the CommonplaceOur preoccupation with goals, results, and the quickfix has separated us from our own experiences. Toput it more starkly, it has robbed us of countlesshours of the time of our lives. We awaken in themorning and hurry to get dressed. (Getting dresseddoesnt count.) We hurry to eat breakfast so that wecan leave for work. (Eating breakfast doesnt count.)We hurry to get to work. (Getting to work doesntcount.) Maybe work will be interesting and satisfyingand we wont have to simply endure it while waitingfor lunchtime to come. And maybe lunch will bringa warm, intimate meeting, with fascinating conver-sation. But maybe not. In any case, there are all of those chores that mostof us cant avoid: cleaning, straightening, rakingleaves, shopping for groceries, driving the childrento various activities, preparing food, washing dishes, 141
  • 143. 142 MASTERYwashing the car, commuting, performing the routine,repetitive aspects of our jobs. This is the "in-betweentime," the stuff we have to take care of before gettingon to the things that count. But if you stop to thinkabout it, most of life is "in between." When goalorientation comes to dominate our thoughts, littlethat seems to really count is left. During the usualnonplayoff year, the actual playing time for a Na-tional Football League team is sixteen hours. For theplayers, does this mean that the other 8,744 hours ofthe year are "in between"? Does all time take its sig-nificance only in terms of the product, the bottomline? And if winning, as the saying goes, is the onlything, does that mean that even the climactic hoursachieve their worth merely through victory? Theres another way of thinking about it. Zen prac-tice is ostensibly organized around periods of sittingin meditation and chanting. Yet every Zen master willtell you that building a stone wall or washing dishesis essentially no different from formal meditation.The quality of a Zen students practice is defined justas much by how he or she sweeps the courtyard asby how he or she sits in meditation. Could we applythis way of thinking to less esoteric situations? Couldall of us reclaim the lost hours of our lives by makingeverything—the commonplace along with the ex-traordinary—a part of our practice?
  • 144. Tools For Mastery 143Driving as High Art Take driving, for instance. Say you need to driveten miles to visit a friend. You might consider thetrip itself as in-between time, something to get overwith. Or you could take it as an opportunity for thepractice of mastery. In that case, you would ap-proach your car in a state of full awareness, con-scious of the time of day, the temperature, the windspeed and direction, the angle of the sun, or the pres-ence of rain, snow, or sleet. Let this awareness ex-tend to your own mental, physical, and emotionalcondition. Take a moment to walk around the carand check its external condition, especially that ofthe tires. Make sure the windshield and windows areclean enough to provide good visibility. Check theoil and other fluid levels if its time to do so. Open the door and get in the drivers seat, per-forming the next series of actions as a ritual: fasteningthe seat belt, adjusting the seat and the rearview mir-rors, checking the pressure on the brake pedal andthe play of the steering wheel. Then, before startingthe engine, relax and take a deep breath. Pay specialattention to releasing any tension in your neck,shoulders, and abdomen. Lean back so that your backmakes firm contact with the seat back, as if youresinking into it. Become aware of the pressure of yourbuttocks and legs on the seat itself; feel yourself
  • 145. 144 MASTERYmerging with the seat, becoming one with the entirecar. Start the engine and attend carefully to its soundsand vibrations. Check all of the gauges; make suretheres plenty of fuel. Bring to mind any problemsyouve been having with the car lately and considerhow this might affect your trip. As you begin mov-ing, make a silent affirmation that youll take respon-sibility for the space all around your vehicle at alltimes—the back and sides as well as the front—andthat, insofar as possible, youll drive in such a way asto avoid an accident, no matter what other cars mightdo. Taking this short trip will afford you many oppor-tunities for practicing mastery. We tend to down-grade driving as a skill simply because its socommon. Actually, maneuvering a car through vary-ing conditions of weather, traffic, and road surfacecalls for an extremely high level of perception, con-centration, coordination, and judgment. In the 1960s,UCLA brain researchers measured the brainwave ac-tivity of astronaut candidates practicing a moon land-ing in a simulator and also driving on a Los Angelesfreeway. As it turned out, driving on the freeway oc-casioned more brain activity. These are a few of the particularly exquisite skillsoffered every driver: anticipating the possible movesof all the cars in your field of action; entering a curve
  • 146. Tools For Mastery 145at the correct speed and accelerating slightly duringthe turn; braking smoothly and with a feeling of con-tinuity rather than rushing up behind another car andslamming on the brakes; engaging the clutch on astick shift with perfect synchrony; changing lanes ona busy freeway without discomforting other drivers;dealing gracefully with the unexpected. Driving can be high art, finely balanced betweenlong periods of seeming routine and brief momentsof terrifying challenge, with the possibility of injuryor death always waiting around the next corner.These considerations lend added weight to the needfor mastery in driving. But your practice of far hum-bler skills can also gain from an application of mas-tery principles.Household Rhythm Take dishwashing, for example. You can performthat chore in a hurried and haphazard way, with yourmain goal being to get it behind you as quickly aspossible. Or you can do it as a meditation, a dance.If you choose this option, take a moment to composeyourself before beginning. Briefly balance and centeryourself (see Chapter Fourteen). Decide on the gen-eral sequence of your work, then begin. Maintain fullawareness of each of your movements. Even thoughyour hands are most directly involved, pay attention
  • 147. 146 MASTERYto the rest of your body, especially the feet, abdo-men, shoulders, and back. Imagine that all of yourmovements are emanating from your physical centerof mass, a point about an inch below your navel. Gofor efficiency, elegance, and grace in your motions;avoid hasty shortcuts. Rather than thinking aboutgetting the job finished and going on to somethingelse, stay wholly focused on the moment, on the taskat hand. Above all, dont hurry. You might discoverthat by not hurrying youll finish the dishes soonerthan would ordinarily be the case. The odds are goodthat youll feel better at the end. Life is filled with opportunities for practicing theinexorable, unhurried rhythm of mastery, which fo-cuses on process rather than product, yet which, par-adoxically, often ends up creating more and betterproducts in a shorter time than does the hurried, ex-cessively goal-oriented rhythm that has become stan-dard in our society. Making this rhythm habitual takespractice. The canister vacuum cleaner is a particu-larly fiendish teacher in the quest for mastery of thecommonplace. The snakelike vacuum tube and longpower cord seem specifically designed to snag onevery available object in the room. The canisterseems obstinately determined either to bump into orget hung up on every piece of furniture. The attach-ment connected to the vacuum tube invariably seemsthe wrong one for the next task at hand. The power
  • 148. Tools For Mastery 147cord reaches its limit and has to be replugged at themost inconvenient moments. Those of you who have managed to avoid vacu-uming dont know what youre missing: an onerouschore, yes, but also a fine opportunity—no less tax-ing than balancing your books or getting the foot-notes straight on your dissertation or working out akink in your golf swing—for practicing some of theskills youll need on the path. The person who canvacuum an entire house without once losing his orher composure, staying balanced, centered, and fo-cused on the process rather than pressing impatientlyfor completion, is a person who knows somethingabout mastery.The Challenge of Relationships On the level of personal experience, all of life isseamless, despite societys untiring efforts to break itup into compartments. The way we walk, talk to ourchildren, and make love bears a significant relation-ship to the way we ski, study for a profession, or doour jobs. Its truly bizarre, when you stop to thinkabout it, that we are sometimes quite willing to givefull attention to developing our tennis game whileleaving such "commonplace" things as relationshipslargely to chance. The truth of the matter is that if you have to work
  • 149. 148 MASTERYat a sport to achieve mastery, you also have to work,and generally work even more diligently, to achievemastery in relationships. In both, there will be upsand downs and long periods on the plateau. Andyoull eventually discover, in every significant areaof your life, that the most important learning and de-velopment takes place during your time on the pla-teau. The same principles apply here as elsewhere.Note in the following paragraphs, for example, howthe five keys to mastery can be applied to relation-ships. Instruction. Some people sneer at the notion ofcounseling for couples, or books and tapes aboutbetter relationships. Its true that some of the coun-seling is vapid, and the language in some of the booksand tapes can make you gag, but an intimate relation-ship can become insular before either partner knowsit, and its hard to solve every problem alone. Ifyoure on the path of mastery, whether in sports orrelationships or anything else, youll invariably seekthe best guidance available, whether its a counselor,a book, or a sympathetic, unbiased friend. But shoparound, choose carefully, get recommendations. Practice. The sportsperson is willing to devoteseveral concentrated sessions a week to a sport. Cou-ples on the path of mastery might do at least that
  • 150. Tools For Mastery 149much, setting aside specific times just for the rela-tionship, apart from children, friends, work, and theusual entertainments. But practice, as weve seen,goes beyond that, involving a certain steadfastness,an ability to take pleasure in the endless repetition ofordinary acts. Surrender. The ability to surrender to your art is amark of the master, whether the art is martial or mari-tal. Can you let go of an outworn behavior patternwithout knowing exactly what will replace it? Are youwilling at times to yield totally on some long-standingdispute for the sake of growth and change in your re-lationship? The tricky part is learning to lose your egowithout losing your balance. The stronger you are themore you can give of yourself. The more you give ofyourself, the stronger you can be. Intentionality. To cultivate a positive attitude is totake a large step on the path of mastery in relation-ships. In addition, mental toughness (the ability tofocus on a problem or a long-term goal) combinedwith openness and imagination (the ability to see op-tions and visualize desired states) can be applied torelationships as well as to sports, or anything else. The Edge. The path of mastery is built on unre-lenting practice, but its also a place of adventure. A
  • 151. 150 MASTERYcouple on the path stays open to experience and iswilling to play new games, dance new dances to-gether. Perhaps the greatest adventure of all is inti-macy: the willingness to strip away one layer ofreticence after another, and on certain occasions tolive entirely in the moment, revealing everything andexpecting nothing in return. The point of this chapter is that the principles ofmastery can guide you, whatever skill you seek todevelop, whatever path you choose to walk. In thewords of Chinese Zen master Layman Pang (c. 740-808 A.D.): My daily affairs are quite ordinary; but Im in total harmony with them. I dont hold on to anything, dont reject any- thing; nowhere an obstacle or conflict. Who cares about wealth and honor? Even the poorest thing shines. My miraculous power and spiritual activity: drawing water and carrying wood. Ultimately, nothing in this life is "commonplace,"nothing is "in between." The threads that join yourevery act, your every thought, are infinite. All pathsof mastery eventually merge.
  • 152. Chapter 14 Packing for the JourneyEnough delay. Its time to get packed and get on thepath. Maybe youre starting something new, a jour-ney into an unfamiliar realm of mastery. Maybeyouve decided to get on the path, at long last, insome old skill youve been dabbling in, obsessingover, or hacking at for months or years. Or maybeyouve vowed to treat your entire life, to the best ofyour ability, as a process of mastery. In any case, heres a checklist of what youll betaking along from this guidebook, followed by a fewparting gifts for your knapsack to make your journeymore pleasant and to use on those inevitable occa-sions when the path seems steep and rocky and hardto bear. Start with the checklist. Take a look at theseitems as you put them in your traveling bag and referback to them at any time during your trip. 151
  • 153. 152 MASTERYThe Five Master Keys Key 1: Instruction 55 Key 2: Practice 73 Key 3: Surrender 81 Key 4: Intentionality 89 Key 5: The Edge 97Dealing with Change and Homeostasis Be aware of the way homeostasis works. 113 Be willing to negotiate with your resistance to change. 115 Develop a support system. 116 Follow a regular practice. 117 Dedicate yourself to lifelong learning. 117Getting Energy for Mastery Maintain physical fitness. 123 Acknowledge the negative and accentuate the positive. 124 Try telling the truth. 125 Honor but dont indulge your own dark side. 126 Set your priorities. 128 Make commitments. Take action. 129 Get on the path of mastery and stay on it. 130Pitfalls Along the Path Conflicting way of life 133 Obsessive goal orientation 134
  • 154. Tools For Mastery 153 Poor instruction 134 Lack of competitiveness 135 Overcompetitiveness 135 Laziness 136 Injuries . 136 Drugs 137 Prizes and medals 137 Vanity 138 Dead seriousness 139 Inconsistency 139 Perfectionism 140 Now for a few parting gifts. The following mind-body exercises are taken from Leonard Energy Train-ing (LET), a discipline inspired by my practice of ai-kido. This work has been introduced, since 1973, toaround 50,000 people, ranging from athletes to cor-porate executives to couples interested in improvingtheir relationships. LET uses the body as a metaphorfor the way you deal with the problems of daily life,and as a learning facility for changing the way you dealwith those problems, whether the problems are phys-ical, mental, or emotional. It can be especially usefulfor those embarked on the journey of mastery. Balancing and centering. To be balanced meansthat the weight of your body is distributed evenly,right and left, forward and back, all the way from the
  • 155. 154 MASTERYhead to the toes. To be centered means that bodilyawareness is concentrated in the center of the abdo-men rather than, say, the head or shoulders, and thatmovement is initiated from this center. The impor-tant point to bear in mind here is that to be psycho-logically balanced and centered depends to a greatextent on being physically balanced and centered. For most of us top-heavy, forward-pushing West-erners, something as simple as focusing our attentionon the abdomen can sometimes bring extraordinaryresults. During a moment of crisis, for example, justtouching yourself lightly at the physical center (apoint in the abdomen an inch or two below the na-vel) can significantly alter your attitude and your abil-ity to deal with whatever situation you face. Try this:stand normally and draw your attention to the top ofyour body by tapping yourself a couple of times onthe forehead. Then have a partner push you frombehind at the shoulder blades just hard enough tomake you lose your balance and take a step forward.Next, stand exactly the same way and draw your at-tention to your center by tapping yourself a coupleof times about an inch or two below the navel. Thenhave your partner push you exactly the same waywith exactly the same force as before. Most peoplefind they are more stable with their attention on theircenters. Youll need someone to read these instructions
  • 156. Tools For Mastery 155while one or more people go through the full bal-ancing and centering procedure. Read slowly andclearly, pausing for a while wherever there are el-lipses. "Please stand with your feet slightly farther apartthan your shoulders, eyes open, knees not lockedand not bent, trunk upright, arms relaxed by yoursides. . . . Now take the fingers of your right handand touch them to a spot an inch or two below yournavel. Press in firmly toward the center of your ab-domen. . . . Now drop your right hand to yourside. . . . Breathe normally. Let the breath movedownward through your body as if it were going di-rectly to your center. Let your abdomen expand withthe incoming breath, from the center outward to thefront, to the rear, to the sides of the pelvis, and tothe floor of the pelvis. . . . "As your breathing continues in a relaxed manner,lift your arms in front of you, with the wrists entirelylimp. Shake your hands so hard that your entire bodyvibrates. . . . Now lower your arms slowly to yoursides. As soon as they touch your legs, let them startrising very slowly, directly in front of you, just as ifyou were standing up to your neck in warm salt wa-ter and as if your arms were floating up to the sur-face. As the arms rise, lower your body by bendingthe knees slightly. Let your hands hang loosely, palms
  • 157. 156 MASTERYdown, just as they would if floating in salt water.Keep the trunk upright. When your arms reach thehorizontal, put the palms forward into the positionyou would use if gently pushing a beach ball on thesurface of the water—shoulders relaxed. Now sweepyour arms from left to right and right to left as if youcould sense or see things around you through youropen palms. . . . "Shake out your hands and repeat the process.Lower your arms to your sides and let them float upagain. As the arms rise, the body lowers slightly.Knees bent, trunk upright. Now put the palms for-ward and sweep your arms from side to side as ifsensing the world through your palms. . . . "All right. Drop your hands, and this time leavethem hanging by your sides naturally, in a totally re-laxed manner. . . . Close your eyes. Knees not lockedand not bent. Now check to see if your weight isdistributed evenly between your right and left foot.Shift your weight very slightly from side to side, fine-tuning your balance. . . . Now check to see that yourweight is balanced evenly between the heels and ballsof your feet. . . . Knees not locked and not bent. . . .Please leave your eyes closed and shift to a morecomfortable position any time you wish. . . . Nowmove your head forward and backward to find thepoint at which it can be balanced upright on yourspine with the least muscular effort. Be sensitive, as
  • 158. Tools For Mastery 157if you were fine-tuning a distant station on your ra-dio. . . . "Take a moment to relax your jaw . . . your tongue. . . the muscles around your eyes . . . your forehead,temples, scalp . . . the back of your neck. . . . "Now, with a sharp inhalation of breath, raise andtighten your shoulders. . . . As you exhale, let yourshoulders drop. They arent slumping forward, butmelting straight downward, like soft, warm choco-late. With each outgoing breath, let them melt a littlefarther. . . . Let that same melting sensation movedown your arms, down to your hands. Feel yourhands become heavy and warm. . . . Let the feelingof melting move down your shoulder blades . . . yourrib cage, front, back, and sides . . . down to yourdiaphragm. . . . Let all of your internal organs rest,relax, soften. . . . And now the lower pelvic region;let that relax also. Release all tension. With each out-going breath, let go a bit more. . . . Let the melting,relaxing sensation move down your legs to yourfeet. . . . Feel your feet warming the floor and thefloor warming your feet. Sense the secure embraceof gravity that holds you to the earth and holds theearth to you. . . . "Now consider the back half of your body. Whatif you could sense what is behind you? What wouldthat be like? What if you had sensors, or eyes, inthe small of your back? . . . At the back of your neck?
  • 159. 158 MASTERY. . . At the back of your knees? . . . At the back ofyour heels? . . . With your eyes closed, can you getthe general feel of what is behind you? . . . "Now send a beam of awareness throughout yourentire body, seeking out any area that might be tenseor rigid or numb. Just illuminate that area; focus onit. Sometimes awareness alone takes care of theseproblems. . . . "Once more, concentrate on your breathing. . . .Be aware of the rhythm. . . . Now, in synchrony withan incoming breath, let your eyes open. Dont lookat any one thing in particular. Just let the world comein. . . . With eyes soft and relaxed, walk aroundslowly, maintaining the relaxed and balanced stateyouve achieved. . . . Let your physical center be acenter of awareness. . . . Ask yourself if things lookand feel different to you after this exercise." Once youve gone through the balancing and cen-tering procedure a few times, youll find that you canrecreate it rather quickly—in as little as a few sec-onds, in fact. To repeat the most important point: thebody can be considered a metaphor for everythingelse. Your relationships, your work, your chores,your entire life can be centered and balanced. Returning to center. There will be moments on thepath, no matter how skillful and well-balanced you
  • 160. Tools For Mastery 159might be, when youll be knocked off center. Butdont despair; you can practice for this eventuality.And if you stay aware, its possible to return to thebalanced and centered state at an even deeper level.Here are two ways to practice regaining your center. 1. Stand with eyes closed; balance and center your-self. Then, with knees bent, lean over from the waist.Let your arms hang down toward the floor. Whenyouve become accustomed to this position,straighten up rather suddenly and immediately openyour eyes. Fully experience your sense of disorien-tation; dont struggle forcibly to regain your com-posure. Rather than that, touch your center with onehand and settle down into a balanced and centeredstate. Be aware of what happens during the process.Does the condition of being centered and balancedseem somehow deeper and more powerful after hav-ing been momentarily lost? 2. Go through your balancing and centering pro-cedure while standing with eyes open. Leaving theeyes open, spin several times to the left, then to theright—just enough to become slightly dizzy. Dontoverdo it. Then stop spinning, touch your center,and return to the balanced and centered state withincreased awareness of the soles of your feet. Again,be aware of what goes on during the process of re-gaining center. Remember the feeling of these two exercises when
  • 161. 160 MASTERYyoure knocked off center either physically or psy-chologically. Gaining energy from unexpected blows. No matterhow well we plan it, life is bound to include suddenshocks—physical or psychological misfortunes thatcome when we least expect them. The unexpectedblow can range from the loss of a favorite piece ofjewelry to the loss of a loved one, from being firedto having your mate leave you. Sometimes we strug-gle blindly against such misfortunes, which only givesthem additional power over our lives. Sometimes westeel ourselves and deny the pain and shock, whichtends to block all of our feelings and makes it im-possible to gain anything positive from the experi-ence. Sometimes we waste our time by doing nothingbut bemoaning our ill fortune. Heres a different ap-proach, a way to gain energy from even a seriousblow. You might call it taking the hit as a gift. Have someone stand silently behind you. With eyesopen, balance and center yourself. When youreready, hold your arms out to the sides at forty-fivedegree angles. This is the signal for the person be-hind you to quietly walk up and grab one of yourwrists with just enough impact to startle you; that is,to simulate an unexpected blow. Dont struggleagainst the grab or try to pretend you werent upset.Instead, become fully aware of just how the grab af-
  • 162. Tools For Mastery 161fected you. Describe it aloud, as specifically as pos-sible. (For example, "My heart seemed to jump upinto my throat" or "My eyes blinked and somethinglike an electric current seemed to shoot up my leftarm.") As your partner continues to hold your wristfirmly, go on describing your sensations. Hold noth-ing back; its important here and in the case of realblows to face your situation squarely, and to expe-rience and acknowledge your feelings about it. Once youve done this, lower your body by bend-ing your knees slightly and return to a balanced andcentered state, while your partner continues to holdyour wrist. Consider the possibility that the wristgrab actually adds energy to your system, and thatyou can use that energy to deal with your currentsituation, maybe with plenty left over. Breathedeeply. Let the feeling of arousal and clarity, trig-gered by the release of adrenaline into your blood-stream, course freely through your entire being. Haveyour partner release your wrist. Walk around expan-sively. Consider the possibility that any sudden mis-fortune that befalls you during your journey can beconverted to positive energy. An introduction to ki. Its called ki in Japanese,chi in Chinese, pneuma in Greek, prana in Sanskrit,and, you might say, "the Force" in the Star Warstrilogy. In the ancient tradition, the word comes from
  • 163. 162 MASTERYthe notion of breath, and is considered the funda-mental energy of the universe that connects all thingsand undergirds all creative action. The Eastern mar-tial arts share a common faith in this energy. Bysomehow controlling its flow in ones own body orprojecting it toward external objects, the martial art-ist can supposedly achieve extraordinary powers.Legends abound of masters who can stop an oppo-nent in his tracks from halfway across a room, oreven throw him head over heels. Karate practitionersgenerally claim that ki, even more than muscularstrength, makes it possible for them to break boardsor concrete blocks. Thus far, ki has proved difficult to measure, andskeptics tend to attribute its powers to suggestion, asort of dynamic placebo effect. To the pragmatist,this distinction is unimportant. As a practitioner ofaikido, an art in which ki plays an especially impor-tant role, Ive generally found a strong correlationbetween my perception of personal ki and the effec-tiveness of my techniques (see Key Four: Intention-ality, page 89). The idea of ki can offer the untrainedperson an effective way of gaining a sensation of in-creased power along with relaxation, especially dur-ing times of fatigue and stress, and thus is a usefulitem to pack for your journey. Heres an exercise designed to demonstrate thepower that can come from visualizing ki. Because the
  • 164. Tools For Mastery 163exercise involves rising from sitting to standing witha partner trying to hold you down, dont attempt itif you have any problems with your knees, back, orabdomen. Sit in an armless, straight-backed chair with yourhands on your knees. Try rising to a standing posi-tion several times, noting just how you do it. Nowhave your partner put his or her hands on yourshoulders and push down. Using the same motionsas before, try to rise with muscular force, pushingupward against the downward pressure of your part-ners hands. Have your partner press down just hardenough to make it difficult for you to get up. Have your partner remove his or her hands. Re-maining seated, take a few moments to relax. Let goall the tension in your chest and shoulders. Feel yourfeet making a firm connection with the floor. Placethe palm of your left hand on your abdomen and feelit expanding with each incoming breath. Put yourleft hand on your knee and continue breathing in thesame way. Now imagine a radiant ball of ki energy about thesize of a grapefruit in the center of your abdomen.Imagine that it expands and contracts with eachbreath. Make this ball of ki the center of your atten-tion. Have your partner push down on your shoul-ders again, with the same amount of pressure asbefore. This time dont pay any attention to the pres-
  • 165. 164 MASTERYsure. Assume the ball of ki will provide the poweryoull need to stand. Keeping your attention on theki in your abdomen, rise to a standing position usingthe same physical motions as before. Notice the difference between the two experi-ences. Whether the ki is "real" or only a psycholog-ical aid is perhaps less important than the results youachieve. In any case, you didnt create the ki. Ac-cording to the best thinking on this subject, the kiwas already there. Its everywhere. Relaxing for power. The word power springs fromFrench and Latin roots meaning "to be able." At best,this ableness applies not to achieving dominance overother people but to realizing your own potential formastery. Power, in any case, is closely allied withrelaxation. Just as a tense muscle loses in strength, soa rigid, tense, and overbearing attitude eventuallyfails. Start by standing and extending one arm to a hor-izontal position directly in front of you. Either armwill do, but lets say its the right arm this time. Thehand should be open with the fingers spread and thethumb pointing straight up. Have a partner stand atthe right of your arm and bend it at the elbow bypressing up at your wrist and down at your elbow.Dont resist. Note that this exercise involves bendingthe arm at the elbow, not the shoulder.
  • 166. Tools For Mastery 165 Now that your partner has practiced bending yourarm without any resistance on your part, youll trytwo radically different ways of making your armstrong and resilient. After each of these, your partnerwill attempt to bend your arm at the elbow, addingforce gradually. Your partner should not add so muchforce that a struggle ensues. Bear in mind that thisisnt a contest but rather a comparison of two differ-ent ways of being powerful. The point is to see howmuch effort is required to keep the arm straight un-der pressure. THE FIRST WAY: Hold your arm rigidly straight. Useyour muscles to keep your arm from being bent.Have your partner gradually apply force in an at-tempt to bend your arm. It might bend or it mightnot. In either case, note how much effort you ex-erted in the process. Perhaps even more important,note how you feel about this experience. THE SECOND WAY: Let your arm rise to the same hor-izontal position as before. This time, sense the alive-ness of your arm and the energy flowing from yourshoulder to your fingertips. Now visualize or feelyour arm as part of a powerful laser beam that ex-tends out past your fingertips, through any walls orother objects in front of you, across the horizon andto the ends of the universe. This beam is larger indiameter than your arm, and your arm is an integralpart of it. Think of the beam as ki if you wish. Your
  • 167. 166 MASTERYarm is not rigid or tense. In fact, its quite relaxed.But remember: being relaxed is not being limp. Yourarm is full of life and energy. If anyone tried to bendyour arm, the beam would become even more pow-erful and penetrating, and your arm, without effort,would also become more powerful. Now have your partner gradually apply exactly thesame amount of force as before in an attempt to bendyour arm. Note how much effort you exerted in thiscase. How do you feel about the experience? An overwhelming majority of people who havetried this exercise find the second way, the "energyarm," far more powerful and resilient than the firstway, the "resistance arm." Electromyographic mea-surements of the electrical activity in the muscles in-dicate that this subjective judgement is correct. Theenergy arm might give a little but is far less likely tocollapse than the resistance arm. The implications for physical performance are ob-vious: relaxation is essential for the full expression ofpower. If we take the body as a metaphor for every-thing else in our lives, the implications are even moresignificant. Just think what kind of world it would beif we all realized that we could be powerful in every-thing we do without being tense and rigid. These parting gifts, I hope, will be of use to youon your journey of mastery, as will the other infor-
  • 168. Tools For Mastery 167mation provided in this book. At this moment, how-ever, I am struck by the insignificance of anything Ior anyone else could give you compared with whatyou already have. You are the culmination of an ex-travagant evolutionary journey. Your DNA containsmore information than all of the libraries in theworld; information that goes back to the beginningsof life itself. In potentia, you are the most formidableall-around athlete who has ever roamed this planet.Many creatures possess more highly specialized senseorgans, but no total sensorium is so well equippedand integrated as is yours. (The unaided human eyecan detect a single quantum of light—the smallestamount possible—and discern more than ten mil-lion colors.) Your brain is the most complex entityin the known universe; its billions of twinkling neu-rons interact in ways so multitudinous and multifar-ious as to dwarf the capacity of any computer everyet devised or even imagined. The best way to de-scribe your total creative capacity is to say that forall practical purposes it is infinite. Whatever your age, your upbringing, or your ed-ucation, what you are made of is mostly unused po-tential. It is your evolutionary destiny to use what isunused, to learn and keep on learning for as long asyou live. To choose this destiny, to walk the path ofmastery, isnt always easy, but it is the ultimate hu-
  • 169. 168 MASTERYman adventure. Destinations will appear in the dis-tance, will be achieved and left behind, and still thepath will continue. It will never end. How to begin the journey? You need only to takethe first step. When? Theres always now.
  • 170. Epilogue The Master and the Fool"I want you to tell me how I can be a learner." It was not so much a query as a demand, almost athreat. He was a mountain man, with the long blackhair, bold moustache and rough-hewn clothing of anineteenth-century outlaw, one of a breed that livedillegally in the rugged hills of the Los Padres NationalWilderness Area along the Big Sur coast of Califor-nia—a place of buzzards and hawks, mountain lionsand wild boar. Having just turned in the final proofsof a book on education (it was in the late 1960s), Ihad driven four hours south from San Francisco fora weekend of relaxation at Esalen Institute. As I approached the lodge—a rustic building builtat the edge of the Pacific on one of the few areas offlat land between the sea and the mountains of theLos Padres—I heard the sound of conga drums. In-side, the mountain man was sitting at one of the 169
  • 171. 170 MASTERYdrums, surrounded by eight other people, each alsoat a drum. He was apparently giving an informal les-son to whoever cared to participate. One of thedrums was unoccupied. I pulled up to the unoccu-pied drum and joined the others, following the in-struction as well as I could. When the session endedI started to walk away, but the mountain man cameafter me, grasped my shoulder, and fixed me with asignificant look. "Man," he said, "you are a learner. " I stood there speechless. Id never met this person,and he certainly had no idea I had just finished abook about learning. My conservative city garb hadprobably led him to think that I was a complete nov-ice at the conga drum, the instrument of choice ofthe counterculture, and thus he must have been im-pressed by my seemingly rapid progress. Still, I wasso pleased by his words that I didnt inform him Idplayed before. He proceeded to tell me that he wasa sculptor who worked metal with an acetylenetorch, and that he was badly stuck and had been fora year; he was no longer a learner. Now he wantedme, a learner in his mind, to come up to his place inthe Los Padres, look at his work, and tell him howhe could be a learner. He was leaving right away andI could follow him in my car if I wished. The invitation baffled me, but I realized it was arare opportunity to visit the forbidden haunts of one
  • 172. Epilogue 171of the legendary mountain men of Big Sur, so I im-mediately accepted. I followed his battered sedan upa steep and tortuous dirt road, then across a moun-tain meadow to a driveway that was nothing morethan two tire tracks through a forest of live oak, ma-drone, and bay trees. For what seemed a long time,the car lurched and labored steeply upward, comingat last to a clearing near the top of the coast range.In the clearing stood several wooden structures: atwo-room cabin, a tool shed, a crude studio for metalsculpture, and something that might have been achicken or rabbit coop. At one point during my visit,I spotted a slim young woman with flowing blondehair and a long dress standing like a ghost near theedge of the clearing. He never mentioned her. The mountain man showed me into a sturdily builtcabin with a large front window looking 4,000 feetdown to the Pacific, now shining like a sheet of metalin the late afternoon sun. We sat and made disjointedconversation for a while. I found myself somewhatdisoriented. But for the presence of several congadrums, we might have been sitting in an earlynineteenth-century pioneers cabin. It was all like adream: the unlikely invitation, the rugged drive, themysterious woman, the expansive gleam of the oceanthrough the trees. When the mountain man announced that we wouldnow go and look at his work so that I could tell him
  • 173. 172 MASTERYhow to be a learner, I dumbly followed him out, hav-ing no idea of what I could possibly say that wouldbe of any use to him. He walked me through hissculpture chronologically, showing me the point atwhich he had lost his creative spark, had stoppedbeing a learner. When he finished, he fixed me withhis eyes, and repeated his question one more time. "Tell me. How can I be a learner?" My mind went absolutely blank, and I heard myselfsaying, "Its simple. To be a learner, youve got tobe willing to be a fool." The mountain man nodded thoughtfully and said"thanks." There were a few more words, after whichI got into my car and went back down the mountain. Several years were to pass before I considered thepossibility that my answer was anything more than apart of one of those slightly bizarre, easily forgottensixties episodes. Still, the time did come when ideasfrom other places—all sorts of ideas—began to co-alesce around my careless words of advice, and I be-gan to see more than a casual relationship betweenlearning and the willingness to be foolish, betweenthe master and the fool. By fool, to be clear, I dontmean a stupid, unthinking person, but one with thespirit of the medieval fool, the court jester, the care-free fool in the tarot deck who bears the awesomenumber zero, signifying the fertile void from which
  • 174. Epilogue 173all creation springs, the state of emptiness that allowsnew things to come into being. The theme of emptiness as a precondition to sig-nificant learning shows up in the familiar tale of thewise man who comes to the Zen master, haughty inhis great wisdom, asking how he can become evenwiser. The master simply pours tea into the wisemans cup and keeps pouring until the cup runs overand spills all over the wise man, letting him knowwithout words that if ones cup is already full thereis no space in it for anything new. Then there is thequestion of why young people sometimes learn newthings faster than old people; why my teenage daugh-ters, for example, learned the new dances when Ididnt. Was it just because they were willing to letthemselves be foolish and I was not? Or you might take the case of an eighteen-month-old infant learning to talk. Imagine the father leaningover the crib in which his baby son is engaging inwhat the behaviorist B. F. Skinner calls the free op-erant; that is, hes simply babbling various nonsensesounds. Out of this babble comes the syllable da.What happens? Father smiles broadly, jumps up anddown with joy, and shouts, "Did you hear that? Myson said daddy. " Of course, he didnt say "daddy."Still, nothing is much more rewarding to an eighteen-month-old infant than to see an adult smiling broadlyand jumping up and down. So, the behaviorists con-
  • 175. 174 MASTERYfirm our common sense by telling us that the prob-ability of the infant uttering the syllable da has nowincreased slightly. The father continues to be delighted by da, butafter a while his enthusiasm begins to wane. Finally,the infant happens to say, not da, but dada. Onceagain, father goes slightly crazy with joy, thus in-creasing the probability that his son will repeat thesound dada. Through such reinforcements and ap-proximations, the toddler finally learns to say daddyquite well. To do so, remember, he not only has beenallowed but has been encouraged to babble, to make"mistakes," to engage in approximations—in short,to be a fool. But what if this type of permission had not beengranted? Lets rerun the same scene. Theres fatherleaning over the crib of his eighteen-month-old son.Out of the infants babble comes the syllable da. Thistime, father looks down sternly and says, "No, son,that is wrong! The correct pronunciation is dad-dy.Now repeat after me: Dad-dy. Dad-dy. Dad-dy. " What would happen under these circumstances? Ifall of the adults around an infant responded in sucha manner, its quite possible he would never learn totalk. In any case, he would be afflicted with seriousspeech and psychological difficulties. If this scenario should seem extreme, consider fora moment the learnings in life youve forfeited be-
  • 176. Epilogue 175cause your parents, your peers, your school, yoursociety, have not allowed you to be playful, free, andfoolish in the learning process. How many times haveyou failed to try something new out of fear of beingthought silly? How often have you censored yourspontaneity out of fear of being thought childjsh?Too bad. Psychologist Abraham Maslow discovereda childlike quality (he called it a "second naivete") inpeople who have met an unusually high degree oftheir potential. Ashleigh Montagu used the term neot-any (from neonate, meaning newborn) to describegeniuses such as Mozart and Einstein. What we frownat as foolish in our friends, or ourselves, were likelyto smile at as merely eccentric in a world-renownedgenius, never stopping to think that the freedom tobe foolish might well be one of the keys to the gen-iuss success—or even to something as basic as learn-ing to talk. When Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo, was quiteold and close to death, the story goes, he called hisstudents around him and told them he wanted to beburied in his white belt. What a touching story; howhumble of the worlds highest-ranking judoist in hislast days to ask for the emblem of the beginner! ButKanos request, I eventually realized, was less humil-ity than realism. At the moment of death, the ulti-mate transformation, we are all white belts. And ifdeath makes beginners of us, so does life—again and
  • 177. 176 MASTERYagain. In the masters secret mirror, even at the mo-ment of highest renown and accomplishment, thereis an image of the newest student in class, eager forknowledge, willing to play the fool. And for all who walk the path of mastery, howeverfar that journey has progressed, Kanos request be-comes a lingering question, an ever-new challenge: Are you willing to wear your white belt?