One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself.
—Leonardo da Vinci
Our uniqueness is a seed planted at birth that seeks growth, transformation, and flowering to its full potential. This innate force, an intrinsic motivation to be effective, is the bedrock of our driving force as humans.
I have observed videos of direct infant observation studies by Psychoanalysts Virginia Demos and later Joyce McDougall showing that infants as early as three months old have an intrinsic desire to be effective in their environment. When they do, they experience pleasure at mastery. This fundamental motivation permeates everything we do, and extends for a lifetime.
When Albert Einstein was five years old, his father gave him a compass as a present. Its needle that changed directions as he moved the compass about instantly transfixed him. The idea of an invisible magnetic force touched him to his core. He would later wonder about other forces in the world similarly invisible and equally powerful. This simple question of hidden forces and fields became his life’s work. He acknowledged often thinking back to the compass that sparked his initial fascination.
John Coltrane experienced spiritual and emotional longings that he did not know how to verbalize. As he drifted into music as a hobby, he played saxophone with his high school band. He later heard the great jazz saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker perform live. The sounds he heard touched Coltrane’s primal core. Coltrane desired to find a way to effectively express his uniqueness to give voice to these deep emotions. As he focused on this form of expression, his personal mastery was to become one of the greatest jazz artists of his era, and of all time.
These are the kinds of discoveries that James Hillman speaks of in The Soul’s Code as the spark that ignites a life calling.
At times we may disregard or lose touch with these signals from our central core. When we listen or we connect with this primal core, this visceral reaction resonates with our authentic self. Perhaps even a life’s purpose.
At times, we may be attracted to a false path for the wrong reasons: conforming to directives from parents, social pressures of conformity, focusing on money, attention, or fame. We ultimately recognize this as an ersatz effectiveness, a false mastery. Results can include dissatisfaction, burnout, a sense that something is missing, or even a blatant resentment.
One of the common features of those who have become true masters is the awareness of experiencing the world differently than others and finding a way to express that uniqueness.