“The problem with all students, he said, is that they inevitably stop somewhere. They hear an idea and they hold on to it until it becomes dead; they want to flatter themselves that they know the truth. But true Zen never stops, never congeals into such truths. That is why everyone must constantly be pushed to the abyss, starting over and feeling their utter worthlessness as a student. Without suffering and doubts, the mind will come to rest on clichés and stay there, until the spirit dies as well. Not even enlightenment is enough. You must continually start over and challenge yourself.”
Mastery is a book that takes a deep dive into the so-called “superpowers” of masters in various fields and connects it directly to the pillars of mastery like grit, dedication, patience, creativity and intuition.
It contains life studies of legends like Vinci, Darwin, Faraday etc to contemporary legends like Carlo Rodriguez, Santiago Calatrava, Paul Graham etc. And time, again and again, it stands upon elusive pillars like grit, creativity, patience, etc which drives one towards mastery, not just god gifted super powers.
The book condemns that people are not willing to do what it really takes to become masters in their fields and label it as something that can be only achieved by born geniuses.
It starts with covering the importance of the apprenticeship phase. The phase that constitutes the beginning of everyone’s career, even of true masters like Faraday, who did the apprenticeship at a scientist’s lab for 7 years before going on his own to make history.
During the apprenticeship, one should focus immensely on learning the vocabulary of the field in depth with patience. Then experiment with his/her own tastes.
Next, comes the creative active phase, where after learning the tools of the trade and becoming proficient in important skills, masters experiment. They mix and match things, blend various fields and concepts and bubble up ideas.
The book presents various strategies for the creative active phase like:
- The Authentic voice: Learn the vocabulary of the field first.
- The Fact of Great Yield: Look for anomalies with profound ramifications.
- Mechanical Intelligence: Key to building anything right is repetition.
- Natural Powers: Enjoy the laborious process.
- The Open Field : Create space for yourself in crowded space.
- The Evolutionary Hijack: Creativity and adaptability are inseparable.
- The Dimensional Thinking: Feel the breathing element in your field.
My favorite quote from this segment of the book was:
Languages evolve in haphazard manner, influenced by the influx of new groups into a society and stages by passage of time. They are not mathematical formulas but living, evolving organism.
Next, the author puts the spotlight on the vitality of “the ultimate reality“. Life is interconnected and it all started with a single cell two billion years ago.
Mastering a field can not be done in isolation with other things. Any field that we are working on, it has been shaped by events, minds that have worked on it and time. It is simply not right to build artificial walls around subjects and study them in isolation.
Strategies suggested in the book to get the rational intuitive feel:
- Connect to Your Environment: Become a consummate observer.
- Play to Your Strengths: Have a supreme focus on your strengths.
- Transform Yourself Through Practice: Get the fingertip feel.
- Internalize the Details: Have the patience to give attention to even the most minute details
- Widen Your Vision: Get the global perspective.
- Submit to the Other: Loose the sense of superiority when learning from someone.
- Synthesize all forms of knowledge
My favorite quote from this part was:
Things push and pull into each other and breathe together, and are one.
To conclude, Mastery is a great book to help people shape their mind in a way that knows what to expect and what it takes to travel on the path of mastery. And that mastery is not a destination but a lifelong journey. One should maintain a beginners mind as they grow old like zen masters.
When you read a great book at the right time, it can only go in the category of Supremely Fucking Awesome.