Thinking Better

Thinking Better

At work today, I was faced with the unfortunate episode that happens to everyone at least once. That unfortunate episode was misunderstanding – poor communication resulting in confusion. I had requested that a team alter the way they were performing an action. I made the mistake of requesting it of the entire team. It was taken as a mandate or edict, and one I had no right to make or demand. Having working with these people for years, I was taken aback. Neither was it my intention to demand or mandate. It was a shock to hear that my intentions had been so miscommunicated. What had I done wrong to be so misunderstood? 

In this way, I learned. I believe they had no bad intentions; this situation was just a missed opportunity for stronger bonds and communication between us. I could easily hold a grudge or condemn them for being childlike in their response. Yet, neither of those are appropriate actions to take, either for me, or against people who mean well at their core. And, naive as it may sound, I believe people will gravitate toward doing “right” or “positive” or even “good” in any given situation.

Thinking better

As part of a larger society, we all want to work toward being at peace with our neighbors and the world in general. No, not everyone but I choose to believe the positive in mankind.Regardless of the “what” of the request, I was disappointed that people chose to believe “bad” intention rather than a “good” intention. How could a plea for help turn into an edict? I looked to myself, to see if I could have worded my request better and it was clear, I could have done better.

I find that these challenging communication situations are easier for me to handle as a Freemason. When I wasn’t a Freemason and did not have that foundation, I struggled to find framework in how to move forward without being “hurt.” Now, I do my best to also see their response as positive rather than negative. Sometimes, it is still difficult. As Freemasons, we work hard to not believe ill or malintent of fellow Freemasons; that same thinking goes for the people in my life who are not Freemasons. I can’t conceive of thinking differently because the persons are or are not Freemasons. I treat all as equally as I am able, even with my inevitable biases. I think I hold my fellow Masons to a higher standard because they are Freemasons; in many ways, they really do know better.

Yet, we all have gaps in our education. It’s up to our fellow Freemasons to help us become the best version of ourselves and it’s our job as Freemasons to hold ourselves accountable. I am better for making mistakes and having my Brothers correct me, help me, assist me toward seeing situations and myself differently.

Self Improvement

Where this has led me is to really striving to think through my passionate first responses to being ‘wronged’ and take a different approach.

Freemasonry teaches that we should endeavor to never misjudge a brother or to willfully misunderstand him. I think, in Co-Masonry, where family members or friends may be fellow members, teaches us to not segregate that treatment to a single group. When your wife or husband is a fellow Freemason, you take these lessons from the Lodge into your home. They can’t help but spread beyond the border of your front door. When everyone “plays by the same rules,” it makes it easier to be truthful and authentic with your reactions. You grow because you are able to absorb the lesson, let go of the ego, and move into how you can communicate better.

When you do take these principles out into the world, it’s disappointing to be reminded that not everyone plays by those same rules. This lack of “thinking better” creates the nasty politics of business culture and the fear of political discussions with strangers. It twists us into politically correct pretzels, attempting to hide what we really think and feel, and never really communicating. We have seen this in our recent upheavals in the United States. It seems easier to hate than to understand, and easier to believe ill in people than to believe well of them. I think many people just want to be heard, and listening to them requires we check our personal agendas and self-importance at the door. The lack of “thinking better” brings us to being deadlocked in negotiation or discussion, rather than truly solving problems.

It’s difficult to think well of someone who is bringing up their “issues” about us or has difficulty with something we did. I find myself hurting at the thought of rejection and the idea of a personal attack. I can be emotionally roughed up by someone thinking poorly of me. I think most of us would be, if we know what we’ve done or said to be in the spirit of cooperation rather than being malicious.

Conversely, it’s also a challenge for me to not be a child in return, to lash out and hold that grudge like some four-year-old child. That is where I become grateful for Freemasonry and the challenge to reframe the situation into a learning experience for me. I can push through the grudge and bring it back to “thinking better.” It’s more peaceful for me and it certainly keeps the door open rather than slamming it shut in their face or to my future experiences with them.

Harmony, to this Freemason, is a shining goal, where the spirit of cooperation and unity produce amazing results in our rituals and in our lives. It seems to me that to focus on “thinking better” is what helps bring us into that harmony; not just in our Lodge rooms but in our lives. With a little intent, we can bring this consonance to all of the people we touch, a greater humanity. Imagine, a world of thinking better: makes you smile, doesn’t it? 

“Attitude is a choice. Happiness is a choice. Optimism is a choice. Kindness is a choice. Giving is a choice. Respect is a choice. Whatever choice you make makes you. Choose wisely.” ― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart

What Would Your Sentence Be?

What Would Your Sentence Be?

One dark, cold Winter night, in the pine forest near the foothills of the Rockies, a small rabbit runs across a snow-littered meadow. His small feet crunch the rocks as he makes a break for his warren. In the deep silence, a sudden flash and the night becomes day for a brief moment. Seconds tick by as the light rises and slowly fades, an eerie backdrop to the silence. Minutes later, a great tidal wave of energy flattens the forest, the rocks, the warrens, the sleeping life that will continue to sleep. Forever.

In the wake of this powerful destruction, debris falls from the sky, littering the once verdant land with the detritus of its previous inhabitants. Plastic, wood, ash – all drifting in the growing silence. A single white piece of paper, seemingly untouched by the devastation, floats down, swinging wide in the light wind until it reaches the ground. It has the scratches of some writing embedded in its fibers.

What does this writing say?

Feynman 1This is the question that Richard Feynman posed to his physics students on the first day of his new physics curriculum at CalTech in 1961. This question is highlighted in a recent Radiolab episode, entitled “The Cataclysm Sentence” as well as in his collected lectures, called “The Feynman Lectures on Physics.” Rather than teaching his students the history of physics, he wanted them to think critically, creatively, and for themselves.

He posited this question:

If, in some cataclysm, all of the scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence was passed onto the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words?

His own answer to that question is covered in both places; the twist that Radiolab put on this question was to ask writers, artists, musicians, and contemporary scientists –  what would your sentence say?

Feynman’s answer is at once interesting and a cultural legacy. Here is what he said:

If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the atomic hypothesis that all things are made of atoms — little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another. In that one sentence, you will see, there is an enormous amount of information about the world, if just a little imagination and thinking are applied.

We could take time to unpack his response, or we could delve into our own. Or, we could wander around the purpose of such a sentence, and how might a Freemason answer.

What would the purpose of such a sentence be? What sort of creatures would pick it up? I imagine that this thinking was once applied to the study of Lemuria or Atlantis, and what their civilizations had left for us. From Plato, we learn of Atlantis, which existing approximately 11,000 years ago. It is considered a myth, a metaphor, a fact, and all things in between. In truth, we have no writings existent from Atlantis, and only Plato (and his character’s word) that it existed. Lemuria, an even fainter impression of a culture and continent, is said to have existed up to 52,000 years ago, in the Indian Ocean, and fell to ruin by Nature’s hand around 16,000 B.C.E.. In this case, the Tamil’s claim that this land, Kumari Kandam, was the “cradle of civilization” and that it was, like Atlantis, a thriving civilization but to theosophists, it was the place where humanity took form. Again, we have Tamil folklore and speculation by both theosophists and 19th C.E. anthropologists but we have nothing written directly from this civilization.

Colors of Freemasonry Part IIIn both cases, no such miracle sentence was imparted to us, no wisdom floating to us through the ages. We might imagine that Plato was telling us that Atlantis’ sentence was “Don’t get greedy.” From Lemuria, it might be “Experience everything as human,” or perhaps “Become.” As their worlds were ending, did any of them think of another race of humans? Would we?

Feynman’s question was specific in that he didn’t specify “humans,” but creatures. Creatures. This presupposes they would understand whatever language was written down or that they would understand the reference. In the Radiolab episode, the answers that artists and philosophers provided were at once strange, funny, serious, and deep. The idea here is that the sentence “jump starts” the next “human” race, or race of advanced creatures, whatever that might be.

CAITLIN DOUGHTY: For me, it’s something like you will die, and that’s the most important thing.

ESPERANZA SPALDING: …The willingness to respond creatively to fear, without trying to eradicate the source of the fear.

CORD JEFFERSON: “The only things you’re innately afraid of are falling and loud noises. The rest of your fears are learned and mostly negligible.”

MERRILL GARBUS: [singing] Evolving over millennia. We learn to fly. We’re nourished by the fruits of the Earth. Inspired by each other’s music. But we failed as a species. Injured the very hands that fed us, when we chose fear as our ruler. When we could not grasp being mere fractals in one collective being. In the end there was no “we.”

JENNY ODELL:  All of human effort is meaningless, as he puts it. So he says humanity knows nothing at all. There’s no intrinsic value in anything and every action is a futile, meaningless effort. (Speaking of a Japanese farmer who created “Do Nothing Farming.”

ALISON GOPNICK: Why?

REBECCA SUGAR: …And maybe the ultimate goal would be to just devote oneself fully to creating the life that feels the best on this world in the time that we have.

JAMES GLEICK: The moon revolves around the Earth, which is not the center of the universe, far from it. But just one of many objects, large and small, that revolve around the sun which in turn, is one of countless stars mostly so far away that they’re invisible, even on the clearest night. All traveling through space on paths obeying simple laws of nature that can be expressed in terms of mathematics. Oh and by the way, there is no God.

JARON LANIER: I would give them nothing….It’s redundant. Like, all of that kind of information is just the stuff that’s out there waiting to be discovered in nature anyway, so we don’t have to do anything. If people apply themselves they’ll rediscover all that stuff. So it’s not like we’re special. Letting them get it in their own good time might be better for them, so what have we actually added? Perhaps we’ve only taken away.

Since I listened to this episode and looked into Feynman’s life, and subsequently, delved into Physics and thought experiments, and the meaning of humanity, the answer on the piece of paper that I write has to be something that would be unique to the creature reading it. In this, I think Freemasonry, and really mystery schools overall, has the far view. If we’re working to the perfecting of humanity, we know we have a long, long road ahead, and possibly many lifetimes. Freemasonry looks to the soul of humanity itself, and works to ascertain its perfection. What would we leave to the next generation of souls to inhabit the universe? Maybe we can’t even say until we’re at the end of our own existence. My hope is that is farther away than closer.

nosceMy thoughts stray to what I learned from long-dead philosophers in Greece, precursors to modernity, leftovers from Atlantis. They didn’t know me, and their civilization has perished. What did they leave me, to provide me hope to carry on? My sentence would be “nosce te ipsum.” It transcends everything.

I’m curious to know – what would your sentence be?

Freedom: An Illusion

Freedom: An Illusion

Do you think you are free? Why do you think this? Does this title anger you? Bother you? Not concern you at all? My contention is, as inflammatory as it may sound, the vast majority of us are not free.

We have rationalizations for why we disagree with this statement. Of course we’re free, of course I can move and think and say what I wish to, I have perfect freedom. Depending on the country in which we live, we might feel more or less of this type of freedom. In extreme situations, we may feel we only have freedom of thought. However, most persons from North America and Europe fall into the “I have freedom” category.

Let’s put these convictions to the test. How do you answer these questions, yes or no?

  • I can change my job / career at any time. I have the freedom to choose the work I desire. I never make the excuse of ignorance, limitations, or ability.
  • I can attend a meeting or visit with a friend or make time for a hobby any time I would like. I never use the excuse of “I’m too busy.”
  • I choose my own beliefs and my own thoughts about how I will act, think, or be from now on. I never use the excuse of “this happened to me in my past.”
  • I can speak whatever I’d like to speak, and voice that opinion publicly and to whom I choose. I never censor myself in front of others for any reason.

While not everyone has all of these float to their consciousness, I am guessing that at least one of these statements brought a rebuttal to your mind, if not lips. It’s easy to dismiss these statements in our own minds. I have children, and I can’t possibly make time for a hobby ahead of my children. I can’t change my manufacturing job into a tech job because I don’t know the first thing about computers. I am always afraid of water because I never learned to swim. I am nervous about flying because of airplane crashes. I have no money, so I cannot leave this town/home/relationship.

slave-to-your-emotionsWe move through our daily life wrapped in chains. These chains are mental, physical, and emotional chains; visible and invisible, they are equal in their grasp. This is one of the tenants of Freemasonry – that the applicant must be free of mind, body, and soul. But, really, who is free? It is because we can deceive ourselves that we might even apply to an organization that requires freedom. We believe ourselves to be totally and utterly free. However, if you rebutted any of the statements above, with a “well, but….” you are not free.

This might seem very black and white to some; I do not mean it to be so. I believe Freedom is a journey, and not too far off of the journey of our lifetimes. The search for that which is greater than ourselves is a journey of Freedom, is it not? Most of us live with those chains, in fear, without even thinking about it. We worry so much about the oppressor that we fail to see that the oppressor is ourselves, the things that truly hold us back. Perhaps we can look at the “oppressor” in another way.

I began doing Crossfit (a type of very intense physical weight, endurance, and cardio training) about thirteen years ago. I was not very active before that but I also prided myself on being able to ensure pain, push myself, and move forward through tough exercise and enjoy the success. I began doing the circuits and our trainer continued to increase the intensity. On one particularly gruelling day, we did a circuit of five activities, the last of which was rowing for 1500 meters. We did the circuit three times. Last circuit, last activity, rowing, I was exhausted. I kept telling myself in my head that I couldn’t do it, that I couldn’t make the time. I remember gasping for air, pushing myself to the point of feeling like I was going to throw up right there all over the machine. About 2/3 of the way through, I realized that I had been telling myself that I couldn’t do it. I changed the dialogue, revised the message, telling myself that of course I could do it, that the pain was temporary, and that there wasn’t anything stopping me except my mind. I shifted gears in my brain. It felt almost like a literal shift of gears, as I pushed on to the end. I never threw up. I sweated like a pig, but I made it. I had achieved the goal.

I realized then and there that I was in chains. I was not free and that my own mind had created the illusion that chained me. I could choose differently, if I learned a different way. If I expanded my mind. If I opened to experience.

Choice. That is the activity which binds us. It is also an illusion.

We choose every day. We choose to get up, to go to work, to feed ourselves, to shower, to help our children, to educate ourselves: we choose to do everything we do. We choose to eat cereal when we know that an egg is better for us, because we chose an easier path. We didn’t want to dirty a pan. We didn’t want to take the time. This cereal is good enough. It will be fine. We humans are master rationalizers. We rationalize that we have a choice in the matter when, in fact, we’re really moving to the universal law of entropy. In 1803, Lazare Carnot said, “in any natural process there exists an inherent tendency towards the dissipation of useful energy.” Humans fit nicely into this category.

What we once call choice falls, eventually, to what we deem binding. I have heard the argument time and again that children preclude certain activities. Focusing on education precludes certain activities. “I can’t” is either the response of the enslaved individual or one who has forgotten that he or she has made the choice that put them on their path. What we put first in our lives is that which we deem important. Let’s face it – when you choose to be with one person and shun another, you deem the first person more important to you than the second. Choices involve priorities. There isn’t shame in it. Yet don’t deny it, either. Should your choices be to the exclusion of all else that makes up our lives? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Do you believe you have the freedom to decide? Can you make that choice? Can you live with it and embrace it, without shame or fear of judgment? Priorities change. Can you understand where the chains are, and free them?

freedom2I think humans believe that freedom and choice are linked, and that freedom equates to having a choice. Maybe this is true, and maybe it is not. Here I will contradict myself. I believe that in the paths of our lives, we choose different roads because of who we are at that time. That experience in and of itself forms our destiny. In this, when we choose, we really have no freedom because we are not free from ourselves. We are who we are. If we could do something differently, we would have. We would have chosen differently. We blame parents for not treating us a certain way or teaching us to be different in the world. Yet, they did what they were able to do. If they could have chosen differently, they would have. They are who they are because of their choices.

We are who we are, and when we come to the door of Freemasonry, at the porch with pillars and high, lofty virtues, we think we have made the choice to be there. We believe that when presented with the option of Freemasonry, we have decided to apply. I say that somewhere, the authors of the application process laugh. They know that the applicant is not truly free but that he has some inking and spark of what it means to be free, and perhaps the knowledge that he is not free but seeking. We are bound by who we are and who we are is a result of the choices we make. When you choose the path of your destiny, you’re all in. There is no turning back, no do-overs. As Joseph Campbell said, “Refusal of the summons converts the adventure into its negative.” Freemasonry is an initiatory, life-changing path. When you arrive at the door, either you are ready or you’re not. The person that shows up is presented a new destiny, if they are ready to take it.

PolarityWe humans get very stressed over the “right” path to take. Do we step forward? Do we step sideways? The core of the decision lies within who we are. Do we know that person? Do I understand what motivates, inspires, and enlivens the inner me? Do I truly know myself? Most of us say yes, when the answer is really no. We do not have the courage to embrace our life path and shake off what isn’t us. We circle back, again, to small choices. Rationalizations. The truth that we are truly not free. Freedom really isn’t about choices, I think, but about knowing yourself and being honest with yourself. It is about allowing your choices to be sometimes incorrect, learning, adjusting, and succeeding in whatever you do. Freedom is knowing what you are, owning what you are, and knowing that you cannot be any different than you are. As Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”

Is the Freemason free? Yes, because he knows that he is not.

The Meaning of Solidarity

The Meaning of Solidarity

Every civilization is infused with the idea, myth, or story of the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life is the only multi-cultural folklore that has a consistent meaning regardless of ethos or time period. In these stories, the tree is the bringer of Wisdom, and all living creatures – divine and mortal – rest in its branches and leaves. In some cases, as in Ancient Persia, human beings are the structure of the Tree, providing love and wisdom for all humanity and life. In some traditions, the Tree represents the pathways to God or is the manifestation of the divine love of which we are all a part. Life entwines with itself, regardless of species or form, creating a living, breathing connection of all physical manifestation of the universe.

This is solidarity.

From the Secret Life of Trees, we now know that trees –

“of the same species are communal and will often form alliances with trees of other species. Forest trees have evolved to live in cooperative, interdependent relationships, maintained by communication and a collective intelligence, like an insect colony. These soaring columns of living wood draw the eye upward to their out spreading crowns, but the real action is taking place underground, just a few inches below our feet. All trees are connected to each other through underground fungal networks. Trees share water and nutrients through the networks, as well as communication. They send distress signals about drought and disease, for example, or insect attacks, and other trees alter their behavior when they receive these messages.”[i]

This is solidarity.

I do not think it is a coincidence that trees are representative of brotherhood and solidarity. We seem to be familiar with the idea of brotherhood but not of solidarity. Solidarity wasn’t an official word until the early 19th century, when Napoleon used it in his Civil Code. The idea of solidarity, however, has been around since there have been human beings. Solidarity is the unity, or agreement of feeling or action, amongst individuals with a common interest. It is mutual support within a group, whatever that group may be. It derives from the Latin word solidus meaning “the whole sum.” The sum of all the parts.

I’ve been examining the word Charity and the word Solidarity, and in many Masonic rituals, the words are used in the same ritual passages but evoke very different meanings. Charity, in our modern mindset, has the overtones of pity and lack; it implies the helpless in need, the weak needing strength, and the silent needing a voice. Charity is from a perspective of superiority, of have versus have not. For better or worse, our North American culture has turned charity into a near-dirty word. Solidarity, on the other hand, reminds us that action and equality are the motivations toward helping one another.

universeAs the trees have informed us, solidarity is “the brotherhood of deeds not the brotherhood of words.”[ii]

We have far forgotten that the human race is the only “race” to which we belong. Unity. We have forgotten that the good of the many outweighs the good of the one. Service. We have forgotten that through all the esoteric teachings, through all the world’s religions and philosophies, there stands one truth: we are all one. Humanity.

Humans, being human, have learned segregate and discriminate. We discriminate which clothes should stay in our closet, which friends are good for us, which foods go into our bodies. We segregate our clothes closet by color or function, we segregate our libraries by subject, and we can’t help but judge and segregate those around us. Does a baby not discriminate the non-mother from the mother? Does the herd of cows segregate themselves from the hunters? Humans. Animals. We judge and discriminate and segregate every single day. These words are not evil words. Like the gun or the sword, they are tools to be used precisely and thoughtfully.

We fail in our humanity when we fail to recognize that we discriminate against our fellow human beings with a mindset of fear and hate. There are myriad ways to segregate ourselves, and we do so without asking ourselves why or if it is even in our nature. We might reflect that we were once primitives who needed to band together against nature’s harshest enemies to ensure our survival; and banding together against “other” was necessary. When we banded against other humans, we began a downward spiral that we have been fighting against ever since. And yet, we also realize that the spirit of cooperation can live within us and provide us a better way of life. Albert Schweitzer said, “The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings.”

We divide ourselves by age, gender, class, religion, culture, geography, nation, and race. We divide by hair color, eye color, clothing, schooling and hobbies. Someone is either of “us” or “not us.” We do this for many, many reasons – none of which seems valid to me. We see the differences but rather than celebrate them, we choose to fear. We choose fear because we do not see that humanity is one race, one being, one egregore.

We know that “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Logos, the breath of life in the divine universe, is God made manifest. The original translation of Sahidic Coptic, the saying here is actually “In the beginning existed the Word, and the Word existed with God, and God was the Word.” This Word, Logos, is the exhalation of breath, which is the spirit of animus, the divine will, the supreme knowledge.

According to Rudolf Steiner, once primitive man evolved, he began to utter articulate sounds — the words of speech. This great transformation, of learning to breathe and speak, was of cardinal importance to man. In Genesis (II.7), we read:

“And the Lord God… breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

This passage describes the period when the gills once possessed by man changed into lungs and he began to breathe the outer air. Simultaneously with the power to breathe, he acquired an inner soul and with this soul, the possibility of inner consciousness, of becoming aware of the self-living within the soul.

“When man began to breathe air through the lungs, his blood was invigorated and it was then that a soul higher than the group-soul of the animals, a soul individualized by the Ego-principle, could incarnate in him to carry evolution forward to its fully human and then divine phases. Before the body breathed air, the soul of man could not descend to incarnation, for air is an element enfilled [sic] with soul. At that time, therefore, man actually inbreathed [sic] the divine soul which came from the heavens. The words of Genesis, in their evolutionary sense, are to be taken quite literally. To breathe is to be permeated with Spirit…When we breathe, we commune with the world-soul. The inbreathed [sic] air is the bodily vesture of this higher soul, just as the flesh is the vesture of man’s lower being.” [iii]

1200px-Logos.svgHumans breathe in spirit. All humans were born to achieve the same purpose – being conscious together. There was no differentiation when we became ensouled – all matter is one – everything that has breath has soul. Who is even to say that rocks do not breathe in their own way? I digress… All living creatures serve the same purpose, as Steiner said, and that is to be permeated by Soul. No race, gender, or any other segregating characteristic were used to determine who would get a soul and who would not. If all are the Word, the divine Logos, then all are one.

For every Freemason, the call of unification is strong. It is challenging. It is like breathing new air. It is our purpose to erase the lines that divide – in all things. There is one humanity, one country, one earth, one everything. If it is all made of one Logos, it is one. Single. The sum of all the parts. Solidarity.

From an 1888 edition of “The Esoteric” magazine, we find the following paragraph from another book titled “Mysteries of Magic,” by Eliphas Levi.

“According to the Kabbalists, God creates eternally the great Adam, the universal and perfect man who contains in a single spirit. All spirits and all souls Intelligences therefore live two lives at once; one general which is common to them all and the other special and individual. Solidarity and reversibility among spirits depend therefore on their living really in one another -all being illuminated by the radiance of the one, all afflicted by the darkness of the one. The great Adam was represented by the tree of life which extends above and below the earth, by roots and branches. The trunk is humanity at large, the various races are the branches and the innumerable individuals are the leaves. Each leaf has its own form, its special life and its share of the sap but it lives by means of the branch alone as the life of the branch itself depends on the trunk.

The wicked are the dry leaves and dead bark of the tree. They fall, decay, and are transformed into manure which returns to the tree through the roots. The Kabbalists also compare the wicked or reprobate to the excrement of the great body of humanity. These excretions serve as manure to the earth which brings forth fruits to nourish the body thus death returns always to life and evil itself serves for the renewal and nourishment of good.

Death thus has no existence and man never departs from the universal life. Those whom we call dead still survive in us and we subsist in them; they are on the earth because we are here, and we are in heaven because they are located there. The more we live in others, the less need we fear to die.”

A Freemason will find these words intimately familiar. To live in Service, to humanity, not in subjugation, is our purpose. The more we live in others, the more we live in Solidarity, the perfecting of humanity continues. What can be more perfect than becoming the One we were meant to be? This quote above implies that Solidarity extends to not only the living on Earth but to those that have passed to another realm, whether we call it heaven, Nirvana, or even Hell. We are all connected, and life is never ceasing. We take our influence, in some measure, from them – by legacy or intuition – and continue to make them manifest in this realm.

“We are all members of one body and the man who endeavors to supplant and destroy another man is like the right hand seeking to cut off the left through jealousy. He who kills another slays himself, he who steals from another defrauds himself, he who wounds another maims himself; for others exist in us and we in them.”[iv]

Earthise_Apollo8We must, as a species, learn to place ourselves within the life of others else we cease to grow. This work is not for any form of personal gain, no glory, no splendor.

It is truly for in the service of all human beings – what we were, we are, and we will be. If everyone isn’t beautiful, then no one is… Beauty is a way to see the world, not to judge it.[v]

Finally, from Joni Mitchell:

“In a highway service station
Over the month of June
Was a photograph of the Earth
Taken Coming back from the Moon
And you couldn’t see a city
On that marbled bowling ball
Or a forest or a highway
Or me here least of all[vi]

This is solidarity.


[i] Hidden Life of Trees, Wohlleben, Peter, March 2018
[ii] Transnational Solidarity: Concept, Challenges, and Opportunity, Helle Krunke, ‎Hanne Petersen, ‎Ian Manners – 2020, from a 2012 article, referenced on June 6, 2020
[iii] Rudolf Steiner, The Logos and The Word, from The Essential Rudolf Steiner, Google Books, accessed June 1, 2020
[iv] Solidarity, The Esoteric, “Mysteries of Magic by Eliphas Levi,” September 1888.
[v] Andy Warhol, Quote
[vi] Joni Mitchell from the song “Refuge of the Roads”

Reforming the Gods?

Reforming the Gods?

I was participating in an Esoteric Book study group last week when I heard the phrase, “reforming the gods.” I’ve heard, often, about how God reforms us, how theology can be reformed, but not about how humans reform the gods. It sounded like hubris, to me. What does one mean when they say, “we or he is attempting to reform the gods?”

To reform something is to take it apart, piece by piece, and use the material to create some new form, some new “thing” that is ostensibly better than the old “thing.” To reform the gods, in the simplest of terms, is to take what we know of our gods and create something new from their forms, from their essence. That sounds like no easy task. We are reshaping all that we understand about the gods, or God, and forming it into something we think best. Again, hubris.

The question is, how does the human being reform their gods? Perhaps simple devotion turns into radical fanaticism. Perhaps, they do it through their own misinterpretation of the mores, customs, and dogma of religion or society, forming the rules to bend to their will. Their desires. They mix the idea of the divine will with their own, seeking to meld them, or seeking to justify them?

Joseph Campbell, in The Hero with A Thousand Faces, in the section on Initiation, states:

Totem, tribal, racial, and aggressively missionizing cults represent only partial solutions to the psychological problem of subduing hate by love; they only partially initiate. Ego is not annihilated in them; rather it is enlarged; instead of thinking only of himself, the individual becomes dedicated to the whole of his society. The rest of the world…is left outside his sympathy and protection because (it is) outside the sphere and protection of his god. And there takes place, then, that dramatic divorce of the two principles of love and hate which the pages of history so bountifully illustrate. Instead of clearing his own heart the zealot tries to clear the world.

In thinking about this, I wonder if the way humans use language to express their thoughts affects our theology in much the same ways that language and biology and culture are inextricably linked. We may think there is evolution of biology but isn’t there evolution of culture as well? And if they are both evolving, we, as humans and as part of it, are evolving language to keep pace. It makes sense that our theology would evolve to survive. Surely it is adaptation that creates the lineage, not merely perseverance. Yet, evolution comes in many forms, and we know species have evolved themselves extinct: not their their own will but by the vehicles of adaptation to hostile and temporary environments. Extremes cannot last.

xSymbols_Masonic_collage_240x359.jpg.pagespeed.ic.ak16jJjibbFreemasonry, in some odd ways, has not yielded to that adaptation of culture and language; yet, in some ways, it has. We have the dusty Freemasonry of old which contains the ritual forms unchanged from time immemorial. It is the ritual kept pristine, trappings kept shiny, and only the briefest whiff of questioning outside of the aforementioned monitors and rituals. It is a Freemasonry that is solid in its roots but has nothing above ground where the Light can shine on it.

Then we have a Freemasonry that is on the cusp of something larger than its predecessors. Like evolution, institutions keep pace with culture. In this, Freemasonry is global. It is foundational that Freemasonry uses symbols to communicate – a global language. It has been carried to many places by traveling Freemasons, establishing Lodges wherever they rest. It cannot help but be global, and even the dusty “old” Freemasonry is global. This means it must evolve to the pressure from waves of global cultural epigenetics. If it does not, it goes the way of the dinosaur – remembered in tar pits and gasoline tanks, museums and historical sites. It will become the backbone of a new Freemasonry which seeks to live up to its lofty goals of tolerance, solidarity, equality, and liberty for all human beings. This includes people of all races, creeds, genders, sexual orientation, and ages. The basic virtues of Freemasonry hold to the quality of the person, not these divisive human characteristics. This is a Freemasonry that is building itself on the roots of the old, pushing up through the dirt, and beginning to grow in the sun.

Campbell, in the same chapter makes the case.

Once we have broken free of the prejudices of our own provincially limited ecclesiastical, tribal, or national rendition of the world archetypes, it becomes possible to understand that the supreme initiation is not that of the local motherly fathers, who then project aggression onto the neighbors for their own defense. The good news, which the World Redeemer brings and which so many have been glad to hear, zealots to preach, but reluctant apparently to demonstrate, is that God is love, that He can be, and is to be, loved, and that all without exception are his children.

The trappings of religious dogma are “pedantic snares” which need to be kept “ancillary” to the main virtues of the message. Yet, we humans struggle with this. We struggle every day to interpret and misinterpret the meaning of philosophical and religious text, holding onto what Dr. Wayne Dyer called “an erroneous zone” that inhibits how we function in life. We can’t think differently and when change does come, the adaptive change to flow with evolution, we balk.

language_evolutionSome of the Freemasonic Lodges, in the wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, altered their formats. Some shuttered and closed for the duration, their members being higher risk than the average population. Others went to doing online independent study sessions, one-offs, and some did podcasts. These are some good adaptations, evolution created by the younger and more tech-savvy population. Those that are in touch with cultural changes.

Other Masonic Lodges and Orders adapted even further. Short rituals have been created for some Lodge get-togethers that, while not regular meetings with ritual, gathered everyone together on a teleconference to discuss relevant essays and writings. It is “the short form” of a meeting that maintains consistency and yet adapts to the world needs. Brothers still share fraternal talk, brotherly love, and some relief from the ills that surround us all. Masonic philosophical talks, for one group, went from being in-person, to online, with an even greater attendance – up to 100% more individuals registered than in previous meetings. Discussion and debate are lively and energizing, allowing people to take away greater ideas than they had at the beginning of the meeting. This doesn’t supplant the ritual of Freemasonry nor the need for integration of mind, body and spirit into the form of Freemasonry. It is adaptation to survive, to thrive, in a world of fear and chaos and change.

I don’t see that a Freemasonry which adapts and flows with the world needs is a Freemasonry attempting to reform their gods. On the contrary; it is ensuring that Freemasonry isn’t dogma, that it’s not allowed to stall and collect dust, thereby ensuring its demise. We have to allow for change, for evolution, else we are destined to fall to an extreme, then wither and die. No. Sometimes it takes a pandemic to wake up, change the path we’re on, and try something new. It is thoughtful change, slow but progressive, which keeps the blood pumping and the cells growing. Perhaps it is the cells and blood that instigate the change, Darwinian-style, to create the new culture. It doesn’t take a Duchovnyian leap of logic to figure out that we need to adapt lest we die.

Freemasonry is dead. Long Live Freemasonry.

Combating Ignorance

Combating Ignorance

It is only necessary to make war with five things; with the maladies of the body, the ignorances of the mind, with the passions of the body, with the seditions of the city and the discords of families.” – Pythagoras

Science is not a philosophy or a spiritual path; it’s a way of behaving in the world. It is a way of thinking that encourages logic, reason, information and communication in such a way as to explore the world in wonder and discovery.

It is unfortunate that polarization and nationalism, tribalism if you will, have made “fake news” and “alternative facts” part of our everyday life now. It is a reality with which we must learn how to navigate. It is not only learning to dig through facts and figures, research and media hype, but it is learning that we must, sometimes, unlearn. It begin with the idea of “we must know” is a fallacy. What we must do is begin to swim in our own ignorance and be cognizant of what we do not know.

To be blunt, if we want to fight ignorance, we must start with our own.

project_open-scienceWe listen every day to people who, by virtue of their self-appointed “knowledge,” without the science or experience to back it up, discard the rigorous work that scientists have done to establish or debunk our knowledge of nature. Chemists, astrophysicists, climatologists, oceanographers, biologists, geneticists, and nutritionists have all been sidelined when their messages did not fit the narrative of corporate interests or media hype. Those that seem to have the most money, most market share, or most “brand” have the last say. We separate the educated as elitists and the corporate interests as “the common man.” Who would have our best interests at heart?

To be very clear, expertise is not the same thing as elitism. A real expert and scientist knows where their knowledge boundaries lie. They know that they know less than they have researched, and are on a quest to explore. They are developing theories and testing them, asking what didn’t work and what did. They know that the fruits of their labors may take years, decades, to bear truth, and most likely lead to more questions.

Elitism, on the other hand, is “the belief or attitude that individuals who form an elite—a select group of people with an intrinsic quality, high intellect, wealth, special skills, or experience—are more likely to be constructive to society as a whole, and therefore deserve influence or authority greater than that of others.” They are the self-appointed leaders or gurus that have the answers. A scientist may be an elitist, but that is not a reflection on science but on the character of the individual. Or lack thereof.

Having just finished the documentary, “Behind the Curve,” on Netflix, I found it extremely interesting to listen to both sides of the debate on “flat earth theory.” There are those in the Flat Earth community who truly believe what science has let them down, that they have the truth and the science to back it up. What was extremely interesting was to hear the scientist’s remarks about this group of contrary thinkers. There was no condescension or elitism of any of the scientists interviewed. There was no pity or condemnation. It was a true desire to not ignore or sideline the discussion but to engage in it; it was about bringing people together rather than considering it an “us” and “them” situation. This was not about belief and fact; it was about education. Knowledge. Combating ignorance.

Freemasonry has an interesting take on the ideas of nature and science as they are combined with philosophy and a search for Truth. It is one of the few places that it seems both can come together, to discuss and debate with a very open narrative. Science is valued as much as the experiential; physics and metaphysics co-exist in conversation and thought. Nothing is off limits. These conversations, whether in a Lodge meeting or in social gatherings, at study groups or philosophical study centers are the ways we fight ignorance, if we are willing to listen.

top-10-books-every-college-student-read-e1464023124869I recently attended a study group where the topic was considering whether or not humanity had an influence on climate change. I was dead certain that humans influenced nature’s cycles; how could it not? There are seven billion people in the world, occupying space, consuming resources, and polluting the world around them. It was a belief and I knew it. However, I challenged myself to come with an open mind and not not make a judgment before entering the room. I am not, by training, a climatologist, meteorologist, geologist, or any other kind of -ologist. I know high-school level geology, and freshman college science. Let’s face it, I know nothing. What I did was bring in my own attitude and readings from media and pseudo-science journals, aimed at producing a message swinging one way or another. Being out of school for many years, I also felt the pride of age – I knew something of the world, darn it. I really felt like “know thyself” was part of my vernacular.

I admit to the conversation bringing my opinion around to a more moderate view rather than to a specific “side” of the debate.  The presenter discussed scientific findings I had not considered, and geologic facts of which I had absolutely no knowledge. I learned about ice ages, findings in the melting of current glaciers, ice core samples, geologic time scales, and historical facts of global significance. I won’t say that my mind was changed; I will say that I walked out with a broader idea of questioning what I have been told, and learning the truth for myself. I learned that what I had was a belief, not evidence. If I was going to change my ignorance, I needed to do the work. Myself.

This is where, to me, the collision of science and Freemasonry are at their best. Freemasonry is a mystery school – an initiatory rite that brings about the idea that the human being is nature and the best way to understand nature and the mysteries of life and death, is to study nature. How to study nature? Ancient Greek mystery schools according to Blavatsky are “not a unique system but, based on the spiritual structure of the universe,” of which it is important to understand Nature. They are inextricably linked, the Spirit and Nature, perhaps even one in the same. Freemasonry, as a modern descendant of these mystery schools seeks to take the core of nature and spirit, and propel the human into learning that both reside within humanity, and it is the Freemason’s job to not only continue to seek truth but to also seek Truth. It is to always ask questions, from knowing yourself to knowing the world, and doubt everything. It is a respect for the scientific process as much as it is for our own process. We are seven billion experiences and all are equally valid. Else, why are we having them?

pythagorasFor the ancient philosophers, ignorance was the opposite of good. To both Aristotle and Plato, no one does wrong willingly but only out of ignorance. Socrates had his own methods for combating ignorance, and many of these principles can be found in Freemasonic ritual and education. From continuous learning and making a daily advancement in education to providing education rather than criticism, the Freemason becomes a scientist of the world. Freemasons build on Socrates idea that one should “know thyself” in that they are lacking in knowledge, and that we have no idea what is best for others. The center point is the key to balance in all things but especially to combating ignorance. A measured approach, curious yet mindful. Lastly, I think Socrates was most right when he said that ignorance is inevitable. When Socrates said “I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance,” what he was saying was that he was not ignorant of all things but that he was aware that he was ignorant of all things. He knew that he would be forever ignorant and it was only through perseverance that he could become “good.”

Universal Freemasonry

TO THE GLORY OF GOD

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