What principle do the Laputians, the Lemurians, the Ancient Greeks, the Dogon, the yogis, the Zen masters, the Renaissance alchemists, and pretty much all of the most celebrated scholars, thinkers, inventors, and artists in the world share in common?
Self-mastery is what I consider to be the third principle for personal balance. The first two are self-awareness and self-acceptance and you cannot attain self-mastery without them.
Self-awareness means becoming conscious of the effect of Newton’s third law on our lives: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This is also my own personal definition of karma—it’s not so much about if you do something bad to me, something bad will happen to you, although this could certainly be the case if someone does a lot of bad things—it’s bound to catch up to them by doing it to the wrong person. But to me, karma operates more like the impact of our choices on our lives. Self-awareness is considering why we make choices based on the information we have at hand and how we rationalize those choices based on our desires and how badly we want them. Whatever we decide, we can then assess the consequences of our actions as progressive or regressive and thusly recalibrate our approach as needed. But the impulse to recalibrate is also a choice. It’s about learning to not take setbacks as character indictments but as opportunities to add those results to our running calculation re: how close we are to what we want. Self-awareness is understanding the impact of other peoples’ choices on our lives and that our choices, intentional or not, will in turn, make an impact on other people.
Self-acceptance means being conscious of the fact that what you are issued in life re: intellect, intuition, position, privilege, inherited traits, natural ability, and adaptive quotient, will all dictate how far and fast you evolve and in what area. This means being able to objectively examine your skills, thoughts, and behaviors and accept you have limitations in certain areas. It’s about not declining what our emotions have to teach us about our boundaries. It’s to admit we have boundaries. It’s the desire to know more about what limits us and rather than run away from what makes us uncomfortable, we interrogate why. We all have animalistic instincts, a shadow side, a dark side that over the course of our lives we can either embrace as the occupational hazard of being human or operate in denial. But when we deny the fact that our actions are limited by our beliefs about ourselves, we deny an opportunity to expand beyond what we know and make choices based on these limitations whether we have experienced them for ourselves or we are operating within another person’s projected parameters upon us as to what’s possible. Self-acceptance is essentially on the one hand saying, “I don’t know,” and on the other using Nietzche’s concept of “amor fati” as a tool for expansion.
Where self-mastery comes in, however, requires not only the intention to improve the quality of one’s life but also doing something about it beyond daydreaming. Self-mastery requires an insatiable thirst for knowledge, self-discipline, becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable, and a refusal to measure one’s achievements by another person’s as more than just a gauge as to how close we are to a goal. As Rocky told Apollo Creed, "It's you against you—he's just in your way. Get him out of your way." This means not allowing other people to have power over how you interpret your experiences. It means not taking conflict as something or someone doing something to you. It’s about refusing to occupy the limitations of victim mentality. Self-mastery is operating through life with the belief that, “I always have a choice. I can find another way.” Even if that is just rewiring how you consider a problem or challenge mentally—changing your perception alone of an obstacle into an opportunity for growth is the mark of self-mastery. I know all of that can sound kind of woo-woo. But I believe obtaining balance in one’s life is that simple. Truly. "‘Member what Denzel said in The Equalizer? “Progress not perfection.” So many people are waiting for the table-flip moment in their lives to show up to yank them out of their pathological thought patterns like some sort of cosmic intervention. But that is doing oneself a disservice.
Here’s the irony of self-mastery. It isn’t sustainable without a purpose, which, admittedly, you may not find out until you’re already on your way. What’s the point of mastering oneself if you can’t help others? Kinda reminds me of your boy, Wim Hof. Wim Hof originally began to develop his method for altering his own physiology (including his immune-system) to reduce anxiety and depression. When he attained self-mastery he couldn’t just keep this information to himself. He let scientists poke and prod him and experiment on him, and when they said ‘nah, you’re just a freak of nature,’ Wim Hof started to train other people. It’s not like he’s figured out anything that yogis and zen masters and shamans haven’t been doing for thousands of years, but he’s definitely making the most noise about it in the right century at a time where self-absorption is creating more and more distance between people whereas inclusivity is this abstract concept we all cite but don’t entirely understand how to enact at the interpersonal level. Y’know—until we try and get more interpersonal.
The most wonderful part of self-mastery is that there is no finish line. It’s more like a spiral staircase. There’s no trophy other than perspective. That said, I believe that the ultimate distinction of self-mastery at a certain point is dialectical—if you want to heal yourself, heal the world.