Most of us have been schooled in a way of learning that is based on mastery. To master is to take a particular realm of the unknown and seek to dominate it with knowing. In our culture that’s the only accepted method for learning and for negotiating life. If you aren’t mastering, you’re a loser. The “me”-structure, based on the fear of surviving, loves mastery. It is bolstered by mastery. By attempting to master, it maintains its sense that nothing can harm it.
There is a deeper form of learning which is an undoing. Rather than mastering, we are mastered. This runs counter to and thwarts the whole structure and operation of the survival “me.” We can deny, skip over, or look away from little bits of being involuntarily mastered and call them failures, saying, ‘I’ll do it better next time.’ In this way, the self-concept can remain intact, as these anomalies and so-called failures are woven into the story of ‘me’. Alternatively, we can turn toward, allow and court this experience and allow ourselves to be opened by it, undone. Lucky are the ones who experience something in life that foils every survival strategy one has, and calls the entire apparatus into question.
What seeks to master is afraid, aggressive and completely unaware of the beauty around it, because it does not know how to stop or to listen. It feels that it needs to keep moving and mastering in order to survive, or else be conquered and die. It lives in a false universe of its own projections, and manipulates false objects for a false sense of security and dominion, in an elaborate game of pretend, believing “I am Superman.” Like young boys who play at being superheroes at recess every day, we say “I am big, nothing can get me. I am strong, nothing can get me. I’m smart, nothing can get me. I’m winning, nothing can get me.” In this game, for a moment we have a sense of control, and all while we’re on this little train toward the grave.
Living as love is about being mastered. Below the human being’s desperate attempt to master, is a recognition of the beautiful. The beautiful is a gift that is not given by mastering. You can’t master the flowering of a bud. If you try to force it open, you’ll end up with flakes of flower. And yet we try to master, because that’s all we’ve learned to do. We even bring this to the spiritual search, until the drive to master exhausts itself.
Where do we think we’re going? Where do we think God lives? Not down the road, but right here, at this house–this great hall of IS. If what we find here feels uncomfortable or overwhelming in any given moment, we may try to numb it, leave it, judge it, attempt to change it, or violence it. All in a frightened attempt to avoid being mastered.
We fight against being mastered. One need not damn oneself for fighting, and for not surrendering. What fights is beyond our reach. It’s a wild animal, and it thinks it’s going to die. It just fights until it’s bested. And when it’s bested, it finds out the worst happened, and it didn’t die. There was never a threat. The threat was an ancient ghost. There’s no need to hide anymore.
Love calls us out of hiding. That’s why it’s so scary. Something in our heart, below our awareness, wants to run to it like a moth to a flame. The beautiful! While simultaneously, something wants to run FROM it because it knows the jig is up. Love will strip everything you don’t need and leave you naked, clinging to the Holy.
There’s inherent failure in the human being: a failure to be invincible. The doors of grief, hopelessness, helplessness, longing, sickness, and failure are beautiful gates to the utter relaxation of the me. Yet we are taught that they are the last place to open to. Despair. Inability. Impotence. Weakness. Dependence. These are kryptonite to the fantasy Superman of the me. They fill out the beautiful land of our lost wholeness and meeting them helps cultivate mercy toward this humanness that we all share.
To learn by being mastered takes place right here in IS, as energies come to visit, right now. They come as teachers, but not teachers of the head. No mental understanding is necessary. If they are listened to deeply, opened to, and allowed to enter you, as Rilke says, ‘like a great storm,’ a kind of learning occurs that is nonverbal, non-conceptual, and in your flesh. Whatever it is that masters you leaves its imprint in a form of knowing. This is why people who have been through and digested great grief, war, tragedy or a brush with death, look so beautiful in a weathered kind of way. The human-beingness becomes soft and transparent and their eyes glow with a kind of embodied knowing. The ocean takes them and pounds the fight out of them. They become the ocean.
When this movement starts pressing itself into your life, you no longer fit into most spiritual circles anymore. Because so many want you to go up! And you’re going down. But this is a way. And it is a way that is utterly counter to everything you learned in this culture. Out in the world, or in some spiritual circles, you may feel like you’re not ‘getting it’, or like there’s something wrong with you. You may wonder why you suffer so much, or feel that you’re a ‘bad spiritual person. If you could just get that little bit of suffering under control, you’d wake up!’ But you aren’t going to wake up. You are going to be disassembled, and what’s eternal will dance on your bones. There will be no you left to congratulate yourself for ‘your’ waking up. What treads water as fast and furiously as it can, afraid it will drown, when exhausted, sinks below the surface and becomes the sea.