My Auntie and I talked the other day. We hadn’t spoken with each other (I mean, really spoken), in some months and I’d missed her gravelly, warm, and velvety tenor voice: not quite countertenor or alto but not quite baritone either. I’d almost forgotten the measured way she selects and delivers each and every word just so. “Hey Yets” from Auntie somehow anchors me in stillness every time, and a completely-articulated, subtly-Boston-accented “ahhhright” from Auntie somehow settles the mind and spirit in a space of total, if temporary, certainty. Her voice is powerful. And so is she.
In this instance, I’d called her to better understand some written “feedback” she’d shared with me (read: figure out why she’d gone up one side and down the other like only an African Auntie can; those who know, know) and also to “share my perspective” (read: use all of the politicking skills I’ve learned, albeit poorly, to request that this lil’ soldier stand down). With a voice like hers, you can imagine how metaphysically peaceful I immediately felt when she said towards the end of our conversation, “hey Yets…? I just want peace to prevail…”
The fact of the matter is, peace had already prevailed from the moment she said “hey, Yets,” but peace most definitely flowed in like a high tide overwhelming its river bank as we touched and agreed at the end of our chat. I have no idea why, but I blurted out, “but Auntie, peace will prevail… It already has…” Later on, in my journal (and in a follow up text to Auntie), I wrote: “peace is the only option for those committed to mastery. Anything else is just too distracting.”
Here’s what I mean: for anyone committed to mastery of any kind – self-mastery, mastery of an acquired task, skill, subject or profession, mastery of the messy art and imprecise science of life -- for anyone committed to being masterful, the relentless and intentional pursuit of peace is part and parcel of the journey. As I see it, mastery at its very core is the separation of signal from noise. It’s the clearing, and subsequent defending of, figurative and sometimes literal space to enable an elevated state of being, performance, focus, or execution. Elevated living. Sure, attaining mastery is a continually evolving process with which we get more proficient and efficient with time, but to me, the definition and final destination of mastery is taking an otherwise fractured and fragmented din of static and excessive information, and discerning the simple nuggets of truth, resonance, and salience – and honing in on them to the exclusion of all else. That clearing is a simple, peaceful, and uncluttered place to be.
Don’t get me wrong. The actual process of mastery isn’t all rainbows and zened-out care bears; the climb to the clearing isn’t always calm. Sometimes it’s turbulent. Sometimes there is confrontation – but importantly, if it’s in the name of reaching some higher plane of function, faith, and truth, it’s confrontation for the purpose of creating peace. A good friend of mine puts it like this: he says the difference between non-mastery and mastery is, in many ways, the difference between keeping the peace and making it. If mastery is intentional and purposeful peace-making, then non-mastery is blind and thoughtless peace-keeping; and “peace-keeping ain’t the same as peace-making,” he says.
Think of peace-keeping as going along to get along, holding up the status quo (even when the status quo is doing everything in its power to tear you up, down, and sideways), and engaging with life at the surface-level only (equivalent to non-engagement in some ways), for the purpose of not rocking the boat (even when the boat and it’s direction are shaky). Think of peace-making, on the other hand, as actively seeking better through tough leveling-up decisions, conversations, and paradigm shifts that enable growth and the end-goal of elevated function and faith. Elevated living. If that’s the difference, then I want to be a peace-maker. Sure, it can sometimes feel confrontational like my “feedback session” with Auntie did. But healthy living requires healthy confrontation with self and others for the express purpose of achieving something “better.”
Said no gardener to her garden, ever, “meh, I guess I’ll just let the weeds grow;” said no athlete to herself, ever, “meh, I’ll just let my body go;” and said no master to her subject/task/craft, ever, “meh, I’ll just…[anything].” The gardener rips up weeds to restore peace and harmony to her garden and the athlete rips down walls of all kinds to achieve her higher plane of function and performance – mastery of any kind requires growth. Growth of any kind comes complete with growing pains. And while getting there may not seem peaceful, the destination always is. It’s the clearing in the thicket, the place of simple clarity achieved after the climb. There just always seem to be a striking peace that settles on one’s mind, body and smile once what matters, what is true, what resonates, and what has salience is (finally) discerned.
And lest we lose hope and think that this peace only applies to those who are just way too deep and esoteric for normal-sized, regular-life milestones, we all experience that easy peace during everyday “aha” moments, flashes of brilliance (read: virtuosity), moments of mini mastery. They are so often and maybe even always accompanied by some measure of calm, be it internal calm and clarity, a quiet mind, or a sense of rest and repose in the heart. Virtuosity can’t thrive in violence. Manifest competency can’t emerge from a place or state of chaos and conflict. Mastery is, always was, and always will be a simple (but not easy) process: separating signal from noise. And the signal by its very nature, is the complete and impenetrable embodiment of peace.