Be The Master, Not The Puppet

“Music, maestro, please!”

With a flourish, the maestro assumes control of the orchestra. 

Waving his wand with vigour yet control, he directs his charges. Magically, he draws harmonious sound from the different groups of instruments.

The maestro sets the tempo. She synchronizes. She permits entry to the various ensemble members. She shapes the whole performance.

While the Italian word “maestro” literally means “master”, it is most commonly used in reference to conductors – those individuals who excel in directing the simultaneous performance of many.

Another Italian word with similar connotations is “regista”.

It literally means “film director”, but it’s most interesting use is in football.

In that arena, a regista is a deep-lying midfielder who displays:

  • courage to receive the ball while under pressure
  • wisdom to dictate the tempo of a game, changing it when needed
  • vision and fair-mindedness to pass the ball to the best-positioned teammate
  • strong self-discipline to remain in their position throughout the course of the game

In most cases, these qualities make the regista the focal point of their team. 

They are the organisational hub, the player everyone tries to get the ball to. With the ball, they direct.

The maestro and the regista, with their metaphorical string-pulling, might be thought of as puppeteers. Like the fictional character Geppetto, himself of Italian origin, their decisions have an impact. They create something worthwhile from the raw materials available to them. 

They are in control.

The maestro and the regista make sense of many inputs. They are the influence that orders chaos and turns it into something of beauty. 

You might be perfectly happy with an orchestral symphony being described as beauty, but if you aren’t a football fan then thinking of the work of the regista as beauty will seem dramatic. Just read any descriptive article about the famous regista Andrea Pirlo’s abilities and it will make sense. 

The roles I’m revering here are niche, but even if we aren’t musical, even if we aren’t athletic, we can still learn from these masters, these directors.

How? By learning their art of control. 

“True freedom is to have power over oneself for everything,” said Montaigne (Of Physiognomy)

Freedom, in other words, awaits if we become the maestro of our own minds.  Just like the conductor, we can take control of the resources at our disposal and make the best of them.

The maestro’s control comes from examination and interpretation of a musical score. They know what direction they need to provide before a string is bowed or a mouthpiece blown. They know how to focus on the positive attributes of their musicians that they may work as well as possible in concert.

In the same way, we are responsible for how we interpret the events in our life. It is up to us whether we react to those events in a positive or negative way. We can either take control of our judgements, make the best of what happens, and produce good music, or let the orchestra figure it out for themselves, resulting in something very unpleasant.

So, how does this play out when it’s time to perform?

The maestro of the mind:

  • Understands that our interpretations of  events upset us, not the events themselves.
    A bad review of a performance doesn’t harm me if my judgement doesn’t let it.
  • Takes time to consider what could go wrong and prepares accordingly.
    If the audience gets bored I can increase the tempo of the piece.
  • Focuses only on what they can control, disregarding what they can’t.
    I can’t control how well the violinists play, but I can control when they start and stop.
  • Stays grounded in the present moment.
    Regardless of the end result, I will enjoy my time conducting.

The stage is yours, maestro.

“Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power,” said Seneca. (Epistles 90.34)

In other words, if you have control of your own senses, power over your faculty of reason, little can stop you. Just like the regista, we combine self-discipline with creativity in order to improve ourselves. And by improving ourselves we are better equipped to help those around us.

The regista’s power and control comes from greater awareness. Awareness of their own responsibilities and awareness of how they should be assisting their teammates. Short-term and long-term vision.

We can arrive at awareness in our own lives by asking ourselves relevant questions. By reviewing our actions, we become more aware of what we should be doing more of. We become more aware of when we need to work on ourselves and when we need to be there for others.

What questions can we regularly ask ourselves to become a regista of reason?

Here are some ideas:

  • Am I taking steps to be as good a person as I can be? Am I demanding the best for myself?
  • When was the last time I helped someone? When was the last time I did it without seeking recognition?
  • How self-disciplined am I? Can I forego the instant gratification of vice in favour of the lasting satisfaction of virtue?
  • Am I aware that life is short? Do I have the courage to receive the ball under pressure? To play the risky pass?

Take the field, regista.

It’s time you realized that you have something in you more powerful and miraculous than the things that affect you and make you dance like a puppet,” said Marcus Aurelius. (Meditations 12.19)

In other words, we have it within us to be more steadfast, to be prepared for what life throws at us. The alternative is a state of disarray where we react with surprise to everything that happens.

When we take care with our interpretations, when we focus only on what we can control, when we improve our awareness, we can be the puppet masters of our own purpose.

We can be the maestros of our mind. We can be the registas of reason.

Don’t be danced around like a puppet. 

Be the one pulling the strings.