About expertise and mastership

– Thoughts about expertise (and also about sting rays) –

Getting a tire fixed

On one of our rough rides to the canyons we finally shredded a tire – one doesn’t get away with this kind of abuse for long.

When we went to town to get a new one I had an unexpected encounter with a master in disguise: A young guy, barely in his 30s. He had this calm, awake expression on his face that piqued my interest. We just exchanged the minimal information. He spotted the right tire 10 feet up on a rack, climbed up with one graceful, flowing move, yanked it out, and threw it to the ground. But this throw was what left me holding my breath: the tire floated to the ground like a feather, landed on the concrete floor with a thud but did not bounce the slightest bit as you would have expected. It just came to rest as if its entire energy had been consumed on its travel down and nothing was left to bounce, nothing was wasted. It looked like a miracle. How could he do that? I was speechless. Then he jumped down, walked two steps toward the lying tire, leaped up a little, and stepped playfully on its edge, which made the thing tilt up and spring into the air where his hand was casually waiting to grasp it as if it was the most natural thing to do. He didn’t need to bend down to fetch it, nor did he need to strain any muscle to stop its flight, it just landed so casually in his hand, not a trace of energy was wasted. I gasped in delight watching this. There was not the slightest bit of attitude in his movements; he had not done it for me to show off, I wasn’t even sure if he was aware of me watching.

When our eyes met, there was just a hint of a smile on his face, but it wasn’t really for me. For a split second he looked at me, recognizing my pleasure but easefully continuing his work. The tire went on the device where the rim was already sitting – everybody knows these wonderful hydraulic machines that do all the muscle work to squeeze and stretch the rubber until it snaps into place. He operated this machine as if he was playing a musical instrument. When the tire was mounted, pressurized, and tested for leaks in a water basin – by now he had given me the faintest wink, maybe I even only imagined it, like a secret signal of companionship, like saying: “hey buddy, I know you enjoy this, don’t waste too much time on wondering how I can do this, just enjoy it because it’s possible, enjoy it because it’s happening” – he threw the wheel on the ground, this time not flat but in rolling position. He stepped back, it bounced hard, a cloud of water sprayed on the concrete, it flew about 3 feet into the air, and when it came down he caught it as gently as a weightless feather, slowed it, or what do I know what he did, it came to rest precisely next to the car, almost dry and completely still. Magic!

I couldn’t help to try to make some cheap praising remarks, but he kind of stopped me in mid sentence, just looking at me again, unimpressed, calm, knowing, knowing everything that was not necessary to say.

I left not only with a new tire but also with a wonderful feeling of having received a priceless teaching. When I caught his eye a last time in the mirror – just this miraculous, effortless timing of two minds meeting – he winked, I turned around, but he was already busy with a next customer.

 * * *

The master

 by Lao Tzu

 The master does his job

and then stops.

He understands that the universe

is forever out of control

and that trying to dominate events

goes against the current of the Tao.

Because he believes in himself,

he doesn’t try to convince others.

Because he is content with himself,

he doesn’t need other’s approval.

Because he accepts himself,

the whole world accepts him.


 Many asked about the experience of being stung by a stingray.

These strange fish live in very shallow water, mostly near sandy beaches. They lie on the ground, covered up with sand they fan up themselves; it’s often impossible to see them, and they don’t always flee when you wade in the water. When you step on one they fling their tail up like a whip, and this tail has a little razor sharp tooth at its end that is coated with very powerful poison.

At first it just feels as if you hit a sharp object like a shell splinter, but a minute later the pain sets in. It comes in ever increasing surges, and it soon becomes so intense that it literally takes your breath away. I’ve heard people in unstable health conditions can actually die from it. The wound bleeds a little but other than that doesn’t look nearly as dramatic as it feels. The pain gradually increases, and when this happens to you for the first time you can really get into panic.

Fortunately there is a magical remedy: Hot water. Put your foot into scolding hot water and in minutes the pain dissolves and a sensation of wonderful relief spreads instead.  One or two hours of this treatment, and the whole thing is forgotten, but – you guessed it – hot water is not typically available at places where these bastards strike.

When Parvin got hit the last time we were 2½ paddling hours away from anything. She had to endure it and could do nothing but clench her teeth, she groaned in front of me while I paddled like mad to get home.

When I got stung the first time (a while ago when I was still windsurfing) we didn’t know about the magical cure yet. It eventually lets up after 12 hours or so, but it is an impressive experience.

And this was a poor first-timer last fall who was lucky to get Parvin’s treatment together with a loving multi-person massage and sooooo much compassionate attention.

 ** ** **

Masters Everywhere

by Michael Attie

Passed a forest ranger on the trail.

Perhaps I looked lost, she asked

“Any questions?”

She was pretty

so I gave her my usual

smart-ass response,

“Are time and space real?”

She responded,

“What we love is real.”

Met my match

on Saddleback Lakes Trail.

 *   *   *

There is no question that mastery takes commitment, diligence, maybe talent, and mostly learning and practice, however, mastership also demands unlearning. A master knows that it is the supposed limitation that is learned, learned by mistake, that limits are merely premature, unwise conclusions, that competence comes by itself when limits are uncovered as mirages taken for real. A master didn’t learn that much, he mostly unlearned what he found impeding him. A master knows the difference between ignorance and stupidity, he knows his ignorance as intelligence, he knows that he doesn’t know anything and therefore doesn’t respect limits. A master does not believe, a master does not obey, a master is free.

                                                                          Klaus January 16. 2008

This entry was posted in 2007/2008, more recent, Stories, Winters and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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