“Self mastery is the act of aligning mind-body-spirit a thousand times a day.”
Many of my students have this idealized image of me being calm, centered and grounded all day long 24/7. What they do not realize is I lose my center a thousand times a day, and a thousand times a day I realign my center. That is what gives me the appearance of being constantly grounded and centered. When I first began my journey toward self-mastery I mistakenly thought I was supposed to center myself once in the morning and then maintain that state all day long. No wonder I was so frustrated for so many years! Every time I would create center and ground myself something would either distract me or throw me off balance almost immediately. I felt like a constant failure and would compound my anxiety by telling myself I was weak or somehow deficient for not being able to sustain my “calm state of being” for more than a minute. This went on for a very long time and almost proved to be the end of me. Now understand that this whole cycle of self-defeating frustration was based on a misconception and a fantasy of what I thought self mastery was; a constant state. It only took me several years (more like a dozen) to realize the flaw in my fantasy logic. The only constant state is change itself. Life is a fluid state and so is self-mastery. The idea is to adapt to change constantly, a thousand times a day! Seems like a lot of work and it is, but the more you practice the easier and more effortless it becomes.
To master something is to become effortless in its action. To use just what you need to do the task, no more and no less. This is what is called “right effort” in Buddhism. I like that expression “right effort” because it’s not about being morally right, its about being efficient and effective. Right effort is economical, there is no waste, no excess and no deficiency. It’s just right! So how does one achieve self-mastery? Practice, practice, practice of course. If you want to be efficient and effective at anything you have to practice, every great athlete/artist knows that and so do you. What does practice mean? Some people would describe practice as hard work, I however think of practice as living in the moment. There is a difference. The common Idea of practice as hard work is what keeps people from practicing. Practice does not have to be hard or work, it can actually be pleasurable and fun. Practice is process, it is the journey on your way to a destination of deeper meaning, experience and freedom.
When I hear people describe practice as hard as in “hard work” what I hear them really saying is judgement and resistance. Hard=judgment of self and resistance to being judged by self or anyone else for that matter. No one likes the JUDGEMENT THING! We are brought up on judgment as a way to control and coerce our children into behaving properly (according to the societal norm otherwise known as mediocrity). Judgement is an effective tool to use if you want to prevent yourself or someone else from taking a risk or venturing into new territory. As long as judgement exists within the heart there can be no self-mastery, the heart will not allow it. How then do we stop judging our selves during our practice? One, by acknowledging the judgement as something we borrow from someone else and two, by giving our full undivided attention to the task at hand. We are not born with self criticism we inherit it from others. Once you realize this you can then choose to either let it go or give it back to the one who bestowed it upon you. I have learned it is more effective to observe my action without judgement than it is to judge my action without observing it. Observation in this sense is pure acknowledgement. I see what I am doing, how I am doing it and how effective my action is in fulfilling the task. If my action/technique is not effective then I am free to modify my effort/process until it is effective. I recommend you read the book Zen in the Art of Archery to better understand what I mean by this.
The path to self-mastery is a simple one. Practice until your action becomes fluid, effortless and second nature. That is the process of integration. To integrate is to become ONE with all things, becoming one with all things is to know all things first hand through experience. To experience FULLY is the task. To experience fully you must experience without judgement or expectation. When I practice grounding and centering, I simply DO THE WORK and nothing more. When I realize the need to re-align because I have shifted out of center, I simply align and center without making a big deal about it. Soften, smile, breathe, observe and integrate, again and again and again. That is the path to self-mastery.