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There’s the great and not-so-great (sorry famous) religions, there’s mysticism, shamanism,the new age movement, quantum physics, positive thinking etc., etc. (Smarter people can list much more.)

Educating myself about as many of the above and unmentioned as I can reasonably handle is part of my life practice. So when my friend Julia invited me to come learn about Kabbalah at a free introduction seminar I jumped at the opportunity.

My focus here is not about Kabbalah, a subject that has great interest for me, but about my observation of the people in attendance.

(If you’re fortunate enough to live or be in New York city and are at all curious to learn about Kaballah, consider visiting the Kabbalah center on E 48th between 3rd and Lexington.)

I arrived late and was greeted by a very attractive cadre of Kabbalah volunteers several of whom guided me to the already packed seminar room. As I took my place in the very back I could scan my surroundings.

To my untrained eye, the room bore some resemblance to a place of worship with pew like benches and a very high ceiling. (The presenter later stressed that Kabbalah is NOT a religion.) The walls of the room were intersperced with columns (I should take an architectural class) that jutted out a few inches. They were remarkable because of the black painted design that adorned them that gave a not-so-subtle indication that we were in a room devoted to something very ancient and wise.

And …there were the people. Not the very young or very old, but every stripe in between.

Standing room only. Maybe they thought Madonna was giving the seminar, but I think these folks were genuinely curious to learn about a new interest, or find answers, or both. There were definitely a lot of people looking for solutions to their life issues as evidenced by the questions asked.

This surprised me a bit. I mean, … given all of the other “more famous” disciplines/religions/philosophies you would expect that people had enough answers to your run of the mill “How can I be happy and fulfilled?” questions.

But apparently not.

After the main presentation about this very esoteric and profound subject the questions began. It was clear that several people wanted immediate answers to their life issues. And it occurred to me that they were looking for the cliché “quick fix” that would make their life better NOW! or at least asap.

We’re all so trained to keep looking for THE answer. People are stuck in the thinking that there’s something they can do or know that will give them the life they can’t seem to get. Once they find IT they will live happily ever after.

The religion they were born into isn’t working for them, all the self-help books and courses seem to help, but … no cigar. The Secret was exciting, but the focussing and the believing is not working. They still don’t have the life they want. They’re still not happy.

So lets try Kabbalah. Maybe this will be it?

Kabbalah undoubtedly will provide answers to many people. So my point is not to rain on Kabbalah or any other system of knowledge. My point is that until people get that there is no quick fix, and no ONE thing (answer) to do or know that will unlock the key to happiness and a great life, their experience of life will be less than it could be. (How’s that for a safety statement).

Life is about the choices you make every day, it’s about bringing what you’ve learned from Kabbalah, or Buddhism or Tony Robbins or (fill in your belief) into your daily life, day in and day out. Bringing attention to your thinking and actions based on the best available knowledge at your disposal with an eye on where you want to go.

So by all means do or study what calls to you. Incorporate the best of everything into your life. This way your experience will get steadily better, but still with downs to accompany the ups.

And that’s one crucial “answer” that sadly is left out of today’s Western conversations. The downs, the falls, the breakdowns and heartaches are part of life. They are crucial to our life experience as teachers and reference points to living our lives fully and on purpose. Trying to eliminate them from this life is NOT POSSIBLE, or even desirable.

George Leonard has a book called “Mastery” that is essentially about living your life as a practice, and in it he talks about the nature of developing mastery in any chosen endeavor. According to Leonard, you develop in fits and spurts characterized by periods of apparent no-growth or “plateaus” as Leonard calls them. This I think is a fundamental concept that must be fully understood and integrated into a life practitioner. It is simply not possible to experience constant progression when you’re growing. It is the nature of growth and development to have periods where you experience no-growth or even decline.

Leonard points out that this doesn’t mean that you’re not growing, but rather that it takes some time before the growth you are undergoing manifests itself.

Therefore the challenge for the life practitioner is to learn to accept and even love the periods where you’re practicing, where you’re taking the actions. There is no attachment to the outcome, only a love of the practice. This for Leonard is true mastery, not the accomplishment that comes from it. It’s just the nature of life that when you practice for the love of it, the accomplishments just seem to come along with it.

Going through the personal growth or self-help sections of books stores or looking at the course titles at places like the learning Annex, I’m struck at the ridiculous promises being made. “Master relationships/money/career.” “How to earn a fortune in real estate, how to make her beg for more.” The list goes on and on.

Not to say that you couldn’t earn a fortune in real estate, or make her beg for me, it’s just that these promises imply that there’s some ultimate point that you can reach. Do you really think that if you make her beg for more once, you’ll always be able to make her beg for more?

You could make a great argument that this is the case, that you could reach some “best” point, especially if it’s a personal best, and I would agree. My point is that it’s not helpful to focus on ultimate points, especially when the road to them is “made simple” or “for dummies”.

Why I don’t like the marketing of programs or experiences as “mastery” is that they encourage an unworkable relationship with the concept of mastery. They make us think that the road to it [mastery] is easy [with their help], and that once attained you’ll have it forever.

Congratulations you’re a master, Master. Now what?

Ask Tiger Woods what happens to his mastery when he stops playing. You don’t need the famous masters to test this out, take a look at anyone you consider a master and notice that they are constantly engaged with the thing that you think they are a master at.

Now the funny thing is that one of the best books out there about living your life as a practice is entitled “Mastery:the keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment.” The book is by George Leonard who together with Michael Murphy founded Integral Transformative Practice or ITP. Mr. Leonard’s concept of Mastery is spot on with many of the essential elements of what I mean by living your life as a practice. And as such I’m right on with his concept of Mastery. Check out George’s book. It’s a quick read and I would say very helpful if you want to take on living your life as a practice, or as a Master. 😉