The 5 Stages of the Cycle of Mastery

Flickr - Aikido - L'oeil étrangerGary ‘Z’ McGee, Staff
Waking Times

“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.” –Shunryu Suzuki

The beauty of cyclic learning is that it kicks expert-mind back into beginner-mind. It is similar to Richard Ogle’s explanation of reach & reciprocity, where we begin with the core knowledge in a field and then venture out and learn something new.

“Then they come back and reintegrate the new morsel with what is already known,” writes Richard Ogle, “then they venture out again, back and forth, again and again. Too much reciprocity and you wind up in an insular rut. Too much reach and your efforts are scattershot and fruitless.”

What’s needed is a healthy balance of expansion and integration. The breakthrough, of course, is the realization that learning is not linear, but exceptionally cyclical. It’s not merely about accumulating facts, but about internalizing the relationships between bits of information and then synergizing the experience into recyclable mastery. What follows are the five main cycles of The New-layman Cycle of Mastery.

The Cycle of the Layman: This is the cycle of ignorance and novelty; the foundation upon which all knowledge and experience is built. Everything is new here, fresh and fertile. All who “travel” in this cycle are fledgling beginners of the New. Comfort zones are pinpoints, mental paradigms are null, the ego is empty, and the power that comes from knowledge is a nonfactor.

  • This is the realm of ordinary ignorance, common to all people; where the human catalyst is analogous to a seed, and the particular domain of knowledge, or art, is analogous to rich soil. Here, If we are young and naïve, and this is our first lay-cycle, then we are susceptible to the all-surrounding powers of the “creative gatekeepers” (art) and the “keepers of knowledge” (science). If, however, we are armed with prior knowledge and experience we can apply what we know from previous domains to both change and learn the dynamics of the new domain. This is the beginning of the Circle of Mastery.

    The Cycle of the Neophyte: This is the cycle of identification, observation and adaptability. Everything is in the process of beginning here, opening and becoming. All who “travel” in this cycle are tenderfoot novices with very little domain knowledge.

    Comfort zones are small. Mental paradigms are beginning to crystallize, the ego is forming, and what little knowledge has been gained is fumbled with and misunderstood. Here, the seed has begun to sprout, it’s fresh and green. It is glaringly ignorant to the surrounding soil, but growing nonetheless. One is still susceptible to the “keepers,” but there is the sense of a sponge-like Self beginning to emerge within the particular domain.

    The Cycle of the Adept: This is the cycle of challenge and struggle. Here, things have been put into a proper perspective. All who “travel” in this cycle are becoming skillful in their particular domain but there is a sense of rebellion and a need to establish one’s ego.

    Comfort zones are broadening, mental paradigms are sharp, the ego is fully formed and yearns for acceptance, and knowledge is being used as a tool toward eventual mastery. Here, the seed has become the plant that has broken ground, beginning to feel the full forces of life in its particular domain. There is still a susceptibility to the “keepers,” but there is a sense of egoistic revolt and selfish rebellion. This is the center of the Circle of Mastery.

    The Cycle of the Master: This is the cycle of expertise and understanding; of Willful Ignorance. Here, things are understood to such an extent that the domain has become a bailiwick. All who “travel” in this cycle are skilled mavens who have established themselves as the “go-to-guy” for anything and everything involving their particular domain of knowledge.

    Comfort zones are enormous and encompassing, mental paradigms are razor sharp and rigid, the ego is fully formed and has been universally accepted, and knowledge has become power. The plant is fully developed and blossoms magnanimously with the fruit of its knowledge, harnessing all aspects of its environmental domain. Here, one has become a “keeper,” but there is a particular type of complex that arises from this called the Master Complex that leaves the master blindsided by his own knowledge. When a keeper suffers from the Master Complex he is no longer open-minded and sponge-like in his pursuits, rather he has become rigid and dogmatic with his knowledge and notoriety. This is the end of the Circle of Mastery.


    The Cycle of the New-layman
    : This is the cycle of holistic thinking and self-actualization; of Higher Ignorance. This is the realm of the multidimensional, synergistic, transcendental application of one’s knowledge. All who “travel” in this cycle are enlightened self-actualized beings of open-minded thought, capable of Jasper’s existential elucidation in the realm of exsistenz.

    Having already mastered at least one domain of knowledge or art, comfort zones are flexible, elastic, and sponge-like, mental paradigms are seen as things that must be broken and thought outside of, the ego is applied artistically, holistically, adaptively, and symbolically, and knowledge has become power that must be expiated so as to complete the natural cycle and rid one of the guilt that comes from absolute power.

    Here, We have trumped the “keepers.” We have actualized our own internal Dunning-Kruger effect. Indeed, we’ve trumped even our own Master Complex, launching it into a higher state of being. We recognize knowledge as poetry intended to promote contemplation, interpretation, and a sense of wonder. Uncontaminated by belief systems, those of us traveling the Cycle of the New-layman reject the imagined boundaries that falsely divide people and ideas, and instead work to expand horizons.

    Because we have no illusions regarding heaven and hell, we are happy and content. We laugh and laugh often, understanding that life is a wonderfully laughable thing. We are free from Man’s fear of gods and laws. We love universally and unconditionally. We have created for ourselves a freedom for new creating. This is the beginning/ending of the Circle of Mastery and the birth of the New-god.

    About the Author

    Z, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.  His recent works can be seen here and also found at Z’s Hub, where this article was originally featured.

    This article is offered under Creative Commons license. It’s okay to republish it anywhere as long as attribution bio is included and all links remain intact.

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