In my last post, I described a little of the conversation I had with Kit and Allen in the car on our way back to campus from Thanksgiving. But it's a 20 minute ride and our conversation continued.
Allen had all but admitted that he's being nice to my parents in order to smooth my way into coming back and becoming a master. I've heard similar things from most of them over the past few months--not just that they want me to earn my ring, but that they want me to stay involved long-term, maybe as an ally or a staff member or something. Come to think of it, Charlie's probably the only one who hasn't said something like that, but he has taught me how to lead all of his workshops. And I've noticed that Charlie doesn't say what he wants very often. He clearly had a curriculum developed for me even before I asked him to be my teacher, even though when I did ask, his first reaction was to say no.
Anyway, so I've been thinking about this, and so in the car, I asked Allen and Kit what being a master means. I can't remember if I'd asked them before, but they've both been known to answer the same question multiple ways, anyway. I wanted to know their answers at that moment, what exactly they were seeing for me, wanting from me.
Allen was driving. Kit sat in the front passenger seat, and she turned and answered first.
"Mastery means working as hard as you possibly can to learn one thing as well as you possibly can, so that the process of learning transforms you. Then you can transform everything else. Mastery as in teaching--learning the state of the art of some subject so you can transmit that to someone else--is important, too, but that's secondary. To master a subject, you need skill and ability, and the more natural talent you have, the easier mastery is. But to be a master, anyone can do that, and it's always hard."
She looked at me a moment in that deep, somewhat Yoda-ish way they all have, and then looked away from me a moment and giggled a little nervously. "I don't mean you aren't talented," she said, little awkwardly.
I love how these people shift back and forth between really deep and entirely human. I assured her I took no offense.
Allen chuckled and turned on the windshield wiper. It was raining a little, and the droplets shone in the streetlight on the windshield for a moment, before they were wiped away.
"I wouldn't say that's wrong," he said, "but I don't think mastery is about excellence. I think it's about wholeness. You develop yourself as a whole human being, physically, emotionally, intellectually, all of it at once, fully and equally. Most people only build up those aspects of themselves that they like, or that they believe others will like, or that they believe they need to develop to meet whatever challenges they're dealing with. They abandon parts of themselves in the process. They're not whole human beings. It is my wholeness, as a man, that gives you permission to be whole when we interact."
"You realize you gave mutually exclusive answers, don't you?" I asked. Allen chuckled again. Kit said "so?"
"So, if you'll defining mastery differently, how does that work, when you're the mastery group?"
"Well," began Kit, "I think Allen is excellent."
"And I think Kit is whole," Allen replied. "In theory, I suppose, you could have members of the masters' group who did not believe each other were masters, but when you earn your ring, you need the votes of all of the Six, so if we have six different definitions of mastery, then you'll have to be a master six different ways."
"That sounds hard," I said.
"It is," affirmed Kit, lightly.
"You know that I know that you two don't actually disagree on this, right?"
And once again, Allen chuckled.
"He's learning!" said Kit, of me.
"Do you enjoy it?" I asked. "Mastery?"
"Sometimes," said Allen.
"Sometimes," agreed Kit. "I wouldn't say it's fun, you don't do it for fun, but it's alive. It's meaningful. And sometimes that's fun."
"It's my life," said Allen. "I wouldn't miss it."
We had turned onto the rural road that goes by the school. There are no street lights there. Sometimes there are porch lights, but not at that time of night. It was past 11. We drove along in a restful dark. I could hear our wheels on the wet pavement, but it wasn't raining hard. The windshield wipers were still intermittent.
When they let me out behind the Mansion (yes, they were acting like they were going to drive elsewhere afterwards. I don't think either of them realizes I know about the secret door), Allen rolled down the window and spoke to me.
"You know there's no firm distinction between masters and non-masters, right?" he asked. "Before, you learn. After, you learn. It doesn't feel all that different. This" and he showed me his ring, "is arbitrary."
"Yes," I assured him. "But I still want one."
And I trotted up the steps and in through the Meditation Hall doors and up the darkened steps through the mostly sleeping Mansion to my room.
On my door, I found a note from Joanna, asking me to join her, even if I got in late. I did so, and found her in bed but not asleep yet, and glad to see me.
But even as I opened the door to her room, which smelled of sleep and line-dried clothes and women's shampoo, as well as of her own delicious body, something occurred to me. It's almost a cliche, but I really do feel more in possession of myself now, as though there were parts of my mind and body that did not feel wholly mine until she gave me permission to use them. And yet, there is something about our agreement to be no-strings-attached lovers that I do not feel quite satisfied by. Maybe it's that I have strings, and I want them to be attached somewhere. Whatever it is, there are parts of my wholeness that are not welcome in her room.