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 Elements: What Are Their Significance for Freemasonry? [Part 2]

The Elements: What Are Their Significance for Freemasonry? [Part 2]

In our previous discussion in Part 1, we began an examination of the elements as symbols, and we will continue with that here.

We covered the first two elements, Earth and Water, and discussed their essential qualities, and symbolic correlates in mind or consciousness. As we continue with Air and Fire, the reader will do well to recall the importance of structure and fluidity, as well as inertia and change. 


 

Air

The element Air is a step up in dynamic quality from Water, yet not quite like Fire. In many ways, Air is different and yet not so different from Water. Like Water, it rises when heated, and falls when cooled. Like Water, it flows around the globe, in the form of wind. Yet, unlike Water it has a quality of expansiveness, there is more outward pressure, and less downward pressure, as it doesn’t fall or flow in a liquid form. One critical aspect of Air in our own experience is that it is the most immediately necessary element to our biology, we can go much longer without food (Earth) or drink (Water), than we can without Air. Air is an essential ingredient of Fire, and without it, Fire will immediatelyelement air die. Air has a spacious quality to it, it offers very little resistance to movement, and anything light enough can actually float or fly, which is essentially like swimming in the ocean of Air.

So, what is Air within us? As with the previous elements, clues lay in our direct experience of it. When we are in the Air, we can see clearly the furthest, like the eagle flying high above, yet able to see the smallest mouse. We refer to the most intellectual human endeavors as the “Ivory Tower,” which is of course high above and far removed from the rest of human life, able to see it all through the Air. The same could be said of mountains, which are also where saints and great teachers are often said to be found, those who are wise and “see” the true perspective of life. Air also resonates with the concept of freedom, precisely because of the lack of obstruction, and freedom is often embodied symbolically as flying – like a bird. Therefore, Air is freer and less inert than the previous three elements, and corresponds to aspects of our mind and experience which are most free and clear. Part of what Air represents is pure mind, or intellect, it is the mental space within which clear images, thoughts, and conceptual models can be formed. 

Fire

In many ways, the element Fire seems to be separate from the other three elements. Rather than being a something, a substance, fire is more of a process, a change. Fire transforms one thing into another, and also separates one thing from another. The simplest example is the separation of the gases trapped within a log from the inert earth that is left over in the form of ashes, after the burning of that log. Additionally, it involves radiation, the freeing of not just gas, but also energy which was latent within the element firesubstance that burned, giving off both light and heat. Thus, in a way it can be viewed as a transformation of that which is bound into that which is free, of matter into energy.

We can say that the essential qualities of fire are dynamism, change, transformation, and purification. In a sense, although it appears separate, fire is also the source of all other elements, for it is only by the fire of the sun that all things have motion and existence. Without Fire, all would be motionless darkness.

For these reasons, it can also be difficult to pin down the exact symbolic meaning of Fire within us, although it clearly seems significant. Certainly, Fire dwells within us, in the form of energy produced by the slow chemical “fire” of the gut, and without the Fires of our various biochemical processes, including neural Firing, we would die even more quickly than we would without Air. In terms of our consciousness, represented by light, since Fire emits light, perhaps Fire represents that which creates or liberates consciousness from matter?

In myth, Fire is featured as the gift which Prometheus stole from the Gods to give to man, which allowed humanity to have knowledge and civilization. Certainly, the discovery of Fire and how to use it is often regarded as the beginning of true Human existence, and also technology. Even those Human cultures which we regard as most primitive still possess and utilize Fire. In terms of the gradient from inertia to dynamism, certainly Fire is at the farthest dynamic end of the spectrum; representing a release of energy, it is even more “free” than Air. Fire, in a way, represents pure change, pure dynamism.

The Elements in Perspective

What is this universe? One way to answer is to say that it consists of these elements, but what does that really tell us? Another compatible perspective is the one given in the perennial philosophy, the philosophy of the Vedas and the Idealists, that this reality is most fundamentally consciousness, or mind. This is a concept being re-visited by many modern philosophers as panpsychism, due to various shortcomings in our attempts to explain the universe purely in materialistic terms. This is also the perspective generallypanpsychism four elements accepted within the occult traditions, and in fact the wisdom traditions of most cultures, if you dig deeply enough. That all is ultimately mind is also described in the Principle of Mentalism, from the Kybalion.

If all of the universe contains elements of mind or consciousness, then perhaps the dichotomy between viewing the elements symbolically vs. literally is unnecessary. If all is mind, which is tantamount to saying that all is a dream, perhaps these are simply different iterations of the same essential dynamic or pattern, at different levels of the dream; as above, so below; as within, so without. If the different elements are different forms of the same fundamental mind-stuff, whatever that fundamental substance might be. It seems to me that these elements represent a process which begins being bound by inertia, of which Earth would be the extreme, being gradually subjected to change, until it eventually becomes more and more free, of which Fire is the extreme.

This whole process could be viewed as a transmutation from matter into energy or light, just as the Fire is matter being transformed, to light the darkness. Of course, as without, so within, and some version of this same process is going on within all of us. The most matter-bound aspects of us are gradually being acted upon and transformed by the forces of change, whether from within, or from without. Every experience is to some greater or lesser degree a catalyst within this process, and causes “movement upon the waters of the deep”. Eventually, this process culminates in the ignition of Fire within us, of the inner Light.

alchemy four elementsOur pains and our pleasures, our highs and our lows ultimately give birth to the dawn of true Awareness, what some might call Gnosis. Why? Because just as the light which is emitted by Fire was previously trapped within the matter of the fuel, that Divine Spark has always been latent within us, watching, waiting for its moment to arise. 

Now, we come full circle to Freemasonry, and the significance of the elements symbolically to the Craft. What are we doing as masons, if not kindling, stoking, and maintaining a light in the darkness – a Fire in the denseness and confusion of material existence? Every element plays its part, and exists within all of us; the culmination of the interplay of those elements, when utilized skillfully, is the igniting of that Promethean Light, within the self and within the world. What nobler endeavor could one set oneself to, than that of bringing light to the darkness within oneself, and within all of humanity?

Universal Freemasonry

TO THE GLORY OF GOD

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