In my last post, I reflected on recent conversations with members of our community – and the insights, challenges, breakthroughs, and questions we all encounter at various stages of our study and practice.
If you missed Part I, where I talked about the stages of Novice (“I choose something different”) and Initiate (“I choose evolution”), you can read it here.
I left off at a point in our practice where we’ve become competent at creating new experiences; good enough that we can produce an outcome. And so, it stands to reason that if we’ve done it once, we should be able to do it again … and thus, evolve into a level of mastery.
The Master: “I choose excellence.”
When we’ve mastered something, it means not just being able to occasionally do it once, twice, or three times; it means we can consistently recreate that outcome over and over again. It comes to us naturally – and automatically. We make it look simple and easy. We can create in a unique way – repeatedly.
At this stage, the feedback from what we’re doing – the result of our behavior – tends to be more refined; more focused; more direct; more specific. It’s easier to create outcomes – with less time and energy.
What gets us there is practice. Through repeated experience, we can neurochemically (neurological: experience enriches brain circuitry; chemical: emotions are the end-product of experience) condition the mind and body to work as one – until the body knows how to do it better than the conscious mind.
This is mastery: the essential act of creating a specific outcome so often we’ve become the knowledge.
Once we’ve gotten this down and can do it enough times that in any circumstance; any condition, we’re able to produce a consistent outcome – then it gets to be predictable. It’s now so familiar – so engrained in our mind and body – it’s become subconscious. Now, we can produce an outcome on command. That’s excellence.
For a long time, it was thought that mastery was the pinnacle; as far as one could go in any pursuit or practice. But in choosing excellence, the true master won’t be satisfied to stop here. The true master, residing in a state of wonder, asks: “What’s next?”
The Virtuoso: “I choose the challenge.”
If mastery is being able to naturally reproduce an outcome on demand, then virtuosity is being able to take the most challenging conditions, the most unpredictable situations, the most daunting circumstances … and use all the knowledge, experience, and resources we’ve mastered to create an even greater – and unexpected – outcome than we’d envisioned originally.
As masters, we can perform a skill with such excellence that the outcome is predictable. But as virtuosos, we invite a component of uncertainty – so we can’t predict what’s going to happen next.
The best way to do that is to destabilize the system – to create a state of mind where there are so many sensory disruptions that appear to be chaotic, it would cause most people to lose balance. But for the virtuoso, something new appears from that place of the unknown. This is when incredible performance emerges.
When we’re in this sublimely creative state, we thrive in the unknown. We execute in the unpredictable. We tune in to grace and pure presence. We’re cool and composed. We’re relaxed and awake. We’re fully focused and present in the moment – as if time stands still – and unfazed by whatever is happening around us.
Virtuosos crave the unknown. And in that fresh, new moment of the unknown, we’re able to conceive of a new outcome – and calmly bring it into being. We move past the stage of recreating outcomes to the point of it being commonplace … and move into a place of pure improvisation; a state of unlimited creativity.
This composure and adeptness is what makes true virtuosos – elite athletes; renowned musicians; great artists – so compelling. When we witness someone in this kind of flow, it takes our breath away. We can’t predict the outcome of their circumstance – no matter how foreign, adverse, or unstable – because we’re watching wonder and curiosity at play.
We’re witnessing someone at the height of their powers create in the moment. In other words, the virtuoso doesn’t actually know what they’re going to do. They’re improvising a solution in real time – and it’s a more fantastic solution than we previously could have imagined.
To take our practice to this level of skill, creation, and expertise, we must willingly put ourselves in situations others might never choose. We must challenge ourselves to discover what, in our storehouse of resources, can cause our brain circuitry to work in new ways. We have to see another potential that no one else can imagine as possible.
We must court the unknown – so we can use our intuition and creativity to evolve our experience.
The adept mind is the ultimate form of neuroplasticity. When we’re in this state, with a high level of single-minded focus, it allows us to seamlessly make our brain fire and wire in new sequences, patterns, and combinations – without hesitation.
New Choices. New Challenges.
The truth is, no matter what stage we’re in – Novice, Initiate, Master, or Virtuoso – we’re always confronted with these choice points to further progress our state of being. We’re always having to decide, with intention, to choose something different. To choose evolution. To choose excellence. To choose the challenge … from a new level of mind.
At every stage along the path, we’ll encounter the pull toward our same old selves; our same old patterns from the past. We’ll confront the desire for complacency – or settling for “good enough.” We’ll come up against the inclination to turn away from the difficult and the unknown; the habitual, unconscious drive to choose the predictable and familiar.
But if our journey as an awakened soul is to always want to evolve our experience, then we’ll grow stronger, more focused, and more disciplined as we progress in our practice. We’ll become more committed to our growth and discovery of self. And we’ll find some of those same old struggles just aren’t as interesting as they used to be. We’ll become far more interested in choosing new challenges – and exploring the mysterious gifts they bring.
Great masters and virtuosos in history all began their journey as novices and initiates. They simply immersed themselves in the question: “Is there more?”