Everyone deserves to be part of a community: to understand, to change, to improve,
and to inspire. At the Masonic Philosophical Society (M.P.S.), we embrace the concept of learning as a life-long journey, not just for children, but for all ages. The M.P.S. community operates in an environment where ideas are shared and debated in an open forum – one of insightful and tolerate discussion. This work is fundamental to the M.P.S. mission, which seeks to destroy ignorance in its myriad of forms.
If you have yet to attend a M.P.S. Study Center, now might be the perfect time.
M.P.S. meetings have currently moved online to ensure the safety of meeting participants and organizers. Upcoming event discussion topics include the following and more:
Not long ago, a friend asked how I’ve come to this point in life with the vocation and avocations that I have. Were these all conscious choices or not? I thought long and hard about it, and decided it was a combination of mind and gut – of curiosity and intuition. Sometimes, I felt like the job offers appeared before me and the universe was saying, “Okay, how about this one?” Curiosity propelled me toward research and ultimately jumping in. Other times, my intuition said, “Hey! You need to be over there, now!” So, I took the fresh position without any research whatsoever. Pure gut. Pure terror, more like it.
Yet, at each of these moments, I grew in equal measure. Curiosity provided expansion while intuition afforded me introspection and trust in something greater than myself. Fate. God. Destiny. Connectedness. Consciousness. Whatever you wish to call it, that seems to be the place where that voice-not-ours originates.
According to the University of Chicago, “intuition” was first used in a text at the end of the 15th century. Until the 17th century intuition meant “mentally looking at”; “the act of regarding, examining, or inspecting”; “a view, regard, or consideration of something”, all of which are now obsolete meanings. In the modern world, it reflects insight not necessarily borne of cognition. In fact, the root of the word intuition means “to look over, to watch over.” Who, or what, is watching and even more important, who or what is speaking to us?
Conversely, curiosity is nothing but mental questioning, inquisitiveness stemming from, “I don’t know but I really want to know.” One might say it has less to do with the mind and more to do with the heart. It is an eagerness to learn, a desire for expansiveness of mind, body, or emotion. Curiosity makes us step into the water without knowing the depth or temperature, to see what lies at the bottom. Oddly enough, the word curiosity stems from the same root as “to cure.” Curiosity is hungry mind.
Both words have that measure of terror with them. I don’t mean this literally; I mean that there is the sense of the unknown, the essence that we might be too fragile to cope with what is on the other side of knowledge, or that we might not like what we find. The opposites of these two words, curiosity and intuition, might be equally interesting to measure: indifference and intellect, respectively. They take on a hard aspect, something cold and somewhat lifeless.
Why explore these? I am curious. Why do they exist? Why are humans propelled to investigate while others do not? Is this an evolutionary drive? Why do we rely on intuition when it might steer us wrong? Are we really able to let go of fact and simply go with our gut?
This question becomes highlighted when we talk about divinity and our motivations in perfecting humanity. What would our humanity look like without curiosity and intuition? Would it be cold intellect, heartless? Or would it be mindless automatons, moving through the world without the reason or passion to ask why? Would either of these antithetical properties propel us forward toward becoming better versions of ourselves? I’d have to say no.
Yet, today, we fight something something insidious, something related and underlying: apathy. We fight it in our politics, our work places, our schools, and even in our families. It’s easier to take the intuition and curiosity to the depths rather than bring it into the light. It’s interesting that this is what our Masonic Philosophical Society meetings do – bring out curiosity and intuition and work toward crushing apathy.
And time after time, I hear how needed these meetings are, how hungry people are for color where there is only black and white. Only divisiveness. It seems to me that something we should, as the “human race” should cultivate is curiosity and intuition, in our babies and children. Forty years ago, Dr. Wayne Dyer cultivated the idea that we limit curiosity in our children, and it creates frightened or apathetic adults; adults who do look to others for guidance at every turn are neither curious nor intuitive. They have lost touch with themselves and thus, lose their own sovereignty. Can humanity move forward without such sovereignty? I do not think so.
So, here is the encouragement:
Be curious about something you “think” you detest.
Listen with an open mind to a political rival, and ask questions.
When the voice tells you to send your friend an email, do it.
Pick up that call from a number you don’t know, when the drive tells you to.
Listen to the quite nudges of your mind and heart.
Smile at a stranger, hug your boss or your coworker if you need to, and learn to listen to the subtleties of human movement in the world.
The world opens wide, full of wonder, when we listen deeply.
A long time ago, I heard a Freemason tell another that they “should not be friends” with their Brothers. It was a strange comment to me, as I thought that when I joined Freemasonry, I would find like-minded people who I could spend time with, conversing and changing the course of the universe, all of us achieving amazing and lofty ambitions. These are the things you do with people you like. And don’t you like your friends?
Later on, once I moved into the higher degrees, another, more experienced Freemason said the same thing, adding, “it is a lonely path, being in these higher degrees.” While I might have doubted before, I did not doubt now. I have seen too many things go awry to question that wisdom. My quandary, though, was trying to figure out what the difference between Freemason and Friend is all about? Why can’t a Brother also be a Friend? Why shouldn’t a Brother be a Friend? How do I communicate that to others, who have stumbled into some awkward and emotionally disturbing situations? How do I avoid them, too?
Let me preface this with saying that this discovery, this understanding between friend and brother, has been a long journey. I have learned a lot about myself, as Freemasonry is wont to provide to a person on its path. I am the type of person who tries to have a pleasant demeanor and be welcoming. Call it being a Libra, a caretaker, eldest daughter, or whatever you will; my personality is to bring in as much hospitality as possible with my attitude, thoughts, and feelings so as to create a circle of warmth, trust, and authenticity. I feel it’s the only way to communicate well with people, and how I want people to communicate well with me. Being open gives me insight into who they are. Many people mistake this for friendship; I think in general, people from the United States mistake quite a bit for friendship, but that might be a topic for another time. Being nice does not equate to friendship. Being nice is, well, simply being nice. I have had this issue all my life and it’s something I understand about myself. While I attempt to be clear, I sometimes do not see the forest for the trees. I struggle to see how being nice may cause misunderstanding. Let’s call it knowledgeable naivete.
A friend is someone who you have created a bond with, someone with whom you know and have a mutual affection. Someone once said to me, you win friends. They are created through experiences of trust, sharing, and having someone with which is common. You might or might not provide some kind of support for a friend; it might be emotional, mental, or physical support.
Different friends have different levels of engagement and meaning. A friend might be someone with whom you share events throughout your life or someone with whom you only share coffee once in a while. There are no expectations in overall friendship; each relationship creates its own boundaries and ways of thinking and being together. In Europe, acquaintances are not friends. You may know someone for 20 years, but they are not your friend. They are someone you know. We have less distinction about that here in the United States. We rely a lot more on others who tell us what we should be. Friends are necessary for everyone; they provide us a window to the world and an ear to speak to when we need that confidant, that supporter, that person who knows us best.
A Brother is very different. While we choose our Brothers in Freemasonry, it’s a very democratic and discussion-heavy process. Brother, it should be clear, is a title. It may mean a fellow Freemason, but it is also a title of someone who is a Freemason. For someone to become a Brother, there is a lengthy and stringent process, where the requirements are spelled out based on the Masonic organization or body. For example, one has to be just, upright, and free, of mature age, sound mind, and strict morals. They don’t have to meet my morality; they have to demonstrate a morality that upholds the tenets of Freemasonry – for example tolerance and prudence. As a Freemason who makes a judgement about an applicant, I can say with authority that this isn’t a popularity contest: the applicant must meet the criteria and the majority of the Lodge members agree to the membership. While it’s nice to have people get along, it is certainly not a requirement unless something is seriously disharmonious. Some Masonic groups do not admit the other gender, or some do not admin non-Christians. Whatever the rules are about entrance, they are tightly controlled by the overarching organization.
In my opinion, the more diverse the group of Freemasons, the better the growth of the human and humanity. What better way to gain a better understanding of the self than to rub up against those people with whom we don’t particularly fit well? Think… rock tumbler. We like to think we have no rough edges but all rocks in a tumbler are pokey. If you catch on someone else, it’s not because your surface is super smooth. You have bumps, like we all do. That is how we get better. By working them out. We’ll talk more about this later.
Selecting who becomes a Brother is only one part of answering the question, what is the difference between Brother and Friend? The second comes from repeatedly working in Lodge together as Freemasons. Human beings are normally drawn to one another as they perceive common interests. In Freemasonry, many Brothers travel together or offer their homes for visits and boarding. In the outer world, the non-Masonic world, this indicates or implicates friendship. For someone who is not clear about their Masonic boundaries, this kind of interaction can be misconstrued. Being nice isn’t being a friend; being nice in Freemasonry is expected and hospitable. Conversely, as I noted above, agreeing with someone isn’t a requirement to be or remain a Freemason. We all don’t have the same thoughts, same views, nor would we want to. Debate and rhetoric are things which create better humans, and Freemasons value the well-informed, opinionated debate. If you can’t discuss topics of importance with your Brothers, then you may not have success as a Freemason. In other words, disagreement or debate isn’t cause for hate or strife. It’s a cause for growth.
There is a code of conduct that Freemasons have in interacting with one another that is fairly formal and is intact whether they are in a Lodge meeting or out in public or at a non-Masonic event. No Freemason would dream of striking another physically, calling names to them or their families, or treating them with anything but human decency. There is a respect for them as a human being but even more so, they have earned respect because they have the title Brother. There is also a respect for the hard work someone has put into their Masonic Order, whether it be from years of service, traveling to instruct or mentor, hours of meetings and committees, or other volunteer time. There is a respect of position, formally granted by the Lodge to that person who must spend their time coordinating, planning, instructing, and fostering further Masonic influence, as well as that Lodge’s officers who carry out the work. There’s respect for memorization, degree work, and one hopes, for the execution of the ritual. All of these require a sense of honor for fellow Brothers and a real dedication to support what they do, even if we don’t want to, can’t, or are not able to do it ourselves. We respect merit and ability. This respect is backed up by rules and regulations that demand respect, and a jurisprudence that enforces those rules.
I think this is where the waters become muddy. In the non-Freemasonic world, we bestow respect by our own credo. We win friends by living by our own ideals and sometimes we compromise those ideals for the benefit of having those around us who share our proclivities. We tend to choose our friends because they think like us, not because they think differently. We choose friends with our egos, generally. In a society that is increasingly polarizing, we need our armies around us to make us feel better. In a society that increasingly insular, we mistake the slightest hint of personal niceness as being hit on or being courted for, well, becoming a courtier. It can’t be stated enough that we don’t bring the outside world into Freemasonry and expect it to adapt. Likewise, we shouldn’t misconstrue the hospitality and fraternity of Freemasonry for friendship.
As you move through the path that is Freemasonry, your responsibilities, duties, and obligations become greater, wider reaching. Your duty grows, and your mind must be set to think of not only your own Lodge but your District, your Grand District, and perhaps your entire Order; it may even grow so far as to be responsible for the growth of Freemasonry itself. While a true, authentic friend would never ask you to compromise your avocation for them specifically, it places everyone in a precarious balance if you mix responsibility, duty, and obligation with going out for a few beers on a Saturday night with a single Brother. One has to be very careful where one boundary ends and another begins. How one comports themselves is in direct relation to how they have obligated themselves to a position within Freemasonry.
The largest and most difficult challenge is being “friends” with people early in your Masonic career and then weighing that with greater obligations as you grow. As we change, sometimes our friends do not. Maybe we don’t go out for beers any longer but stay home and enjoy a good study group online. There may be a bitterness about placing Freemasonry above friendship. There might be sadness because you spend time with a Lodge instead of a single person. I know of one person who became the head of their local Lodge. When that happened, people flocked to her to place them in positions of seeming importance in the Lodge, offices they desired. She succumbed to putting them in these positions and the Lodge suffered because of it because they weren’t equipped to do the jobs they desired; she thought of their desires and not the needs of the group. Friendship above Freemasonry. She learned a valuable lesson that first year.
In some cases, maybe you never were friends and simply Brothers, but that is where the niceties and hospitality of Freemasonry confuse with the outside world. When you first enter into Freemasonry, maybe you are looking for friends or even family. You might be looking for those like-minded people and hope for friendship. Going and getting coffee and talking about esoteric subjects may be something you do with friends or with Brothers; it is the building of the relationship, and context, that makes the difference. It is not impossible to be a friend with a Brother – not by a long shot. Yet, what I see work is when Freemasonry is the basis of the relationship and that takes precedence. I can think of many instances where the reverse does not work.
In Co-Masonry, there is the added, extra challenge of mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, and other family members becoming Freemasons, sometimes in the same Lodge. This seems to take the modern familial relationship and make it even better. You have the common purpose of becoming better people, together, with a deeper grasp on your relationship. Perhaps it is because that “friendship” relationship never existed between siblings or parents – after all, it’s family. It was family first, even if the adults are friends, too. Freemasonry, in its familial format, supports those ideas and relationships deeply and helps them, in my opinion, become richer. I have seen whole families join Freemasonry and it creates a very strong, lifelong bond.
I have seen more than a few people who have given their entire adult lives to helping Freemasonry grow, and it is not an easy path. They are on the phone from 6:00 to 18:00, backed up in emails and meetings, planning and executing all the time. If they are lucky, they are able to carve out time for family and some close friends, some travel, and laughter. They have raised families who were nearly all Freemasons and have maybe raised some who were bitter about Freemasonry’s influence. Some have worked for decades to improve the lives of all Freemasons, with no thought to their own service or sleep. It is all a choice, and that sacrifice can be as hard as those that give up their individual lives to raise a family or a flock of parishoners. For these dedicated few, they have very few friends but many, many Brothers. For them, that is satisfying and healthy, and it helps them create the True, the Good, and the Beautiful in the world.
Let’s be clear: fundamentalism is strict adherence to the basic principles of any subject or discipline. In most cases, people use it to discuss religious adherence to the “word” of any particular religion as being absolutely true and literal, in all sense. You can be, however, a fundamental ballet dancers, barista, or car mechanic. And, also to be fair, being a “fundamentalist” isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It comes down to one additional feature: an open mind. Tolerance does not mean you walk away with someone else’s views being your new truth or a completely changed mind. It only means being able to accept that which fills the universe might be slightly bigger than your own fundamentalism.
What has this got to do with Symbolism? I just read a recent article on the symbol of the skull in Freemasonry. The article, is well written and somewhat shocking to me. How could anyone who has been a Freemason for any length of time, at all, think that the skull represents something horrible and to be feared?
Then, I realize, there are literalists in Freemasonry, like there are everywhere. They might not understand the idea of teaching via symbolism or that symbols are human communication mechanisms meant to stir the deep unconscious and subconscious, ala Joseph Campbell. So, let’s take a look at the purpose of symbolism.
Books, tomes, volumes, caves, papyrus, walls, and stele have been written about symbols, their meanings, their other meanings, and still stranger meanings. You cannot spit in a metaphysical bookstore without hitting a volume about that author or society’s view of what a particular pictograph meant. A cat means the afterlife and it means cleanliness, or attentiveness, or patience.
That’s well and good, but what is symbolism? What is a symbol? Symbolism is using symbols to represent ideas or qualities. A symbol is something that simply is a picture that stands in for something else. It isn’t what it is, but what it might act like, or a quality it exudes. So a picture of a cat can be a cat. It can also stand in for the idea of patience, observance, or hospitality. What matters here, is context. Sometimes a cigar really is just a cigar. Sometimes, as Freud so eloquently poked at, it is not.
By their very definition, a literalist cannot understand symbolism. A literalist does not, can not, see that cat as anything but a cat. A fundamentalist takes words for their exact meaning; there is no such thing as allegory, metaphor, or symbolism. There cannot be, else it breaks the very idea of their fundamentalism. Fundamentalists must have a very difficult time at comedy clubs. The point is that many conflicts come from a literalist and non-literalist arguing over meaning. Religions splinter and fragment based on a symbolic or literal meaning of a single text. The two ways of approaching thought, mind, discovery are challenged every day to come together.
Symbols are there for the explorative mind. Symbols expand our ways of thinking about something and break us out of following a single track. It cracks fundamentalism and provides new neural pathways of consciousness. What does it take? Yes, an open mind. It takes a curious mind. It takes a mind that is us afraid of being different than it once was. It might even take a little comfort in the chaos and disharmony of discovery.
The Freemason is an adventurer, an explorer. She is looking for a world bigger than herself, bigger than her current roadmap. She’s looking to build a map of imagination and wonder. Freemasons discuss and debate symbols because to the Freemason, a symbol is only a beginning point. The symbols take on myriad meanings, all being correct at some level, right at some level. When we share our discoveries with others, we’re offering a guidepost in a new land. We’re opening portals to a wider existence, not just for one but for all. The goal is the search for Truth. Not one truth, or a person’s opinion, but Truth – the fundamental idea of why we are here.
Thus, I think it would be very difficult for someone who is a literalist or fundamentalist to be a Freemason. Even “Fundamental” Freemasons are struggling in decay. Discovery breeds creativity and creativity is growth. Can a literalist be a discoverer? My open, inquiring mind wants to know.
The Masonic Philosophical Society (M.P.S.) has officially been active for more than five years now. It has grown to over 30 Study Centers across the globe, in at least five different countries. There are even online Study Centers for North America and International seekers. Many people come to this blog without knowing that there are actual live meeting that you can attend to discuss nine very broad areas of study in a philosophical format. Why did the M.P.S. get created, and what is the goal? How do you go about attending one?
If you read the Mission Statement for the M.P.S., it states:
“The Masonic Philosophical Society is an institution which aims to provide an environment of exploration within the framework of Masonic principles and to inspire individuals to self-awareness. Dynamic study centers foster a culture for discussion and questioning with each center going beyond traditional education by delving deeper into the mysteries of the individual and his or her universe.”
While that might seem like an abstract goal, it has very concrete applications. Gone are the days of Pythagoras when men, and women, would learn the arts of astronomy, music, mathematics, logic, and rhetoric. It is a fact that over the course of the past 200 years, the Liberal Arts education has fallen in esteem and in attendance. Liberal Arts colleges are struggling to find validation. As we see in our media, on our Senate floors, and even in sporting events, human beings are losing the ability to express themselves in positive, constructive ways. While we may deliberate the individual merits of specific areas of study, it is not wrong to say that studying the Liberal Arts and Humanities creates a better society, a more positive, engaged, and enlightened civilization.
In the United States, it is the rare place where people may go and discuss freely, with informed beliefs, and expand their intellectual horizons. These M.P.S. Study Centers provide the interested individual with access to a wide range of topics, some controversial, into which they may dig their “teeth.” In general, we laymen may sit around with friends over a bottle of wine once in a great while and discuss the finer points of politics, religion, and solving the world’s problems, sometimes even with success. In the cases of the Study Centers, there is structure and content, and an easy place to learn more about the world and ourselves. The Study Center infrastructure supports keeping an open mind, listening, and healthy debate. We hopefully leave with more than what we carried with us into the meeting.
Many people hear the word “Masonic Philosophical Society” and believe that this is a Masonic organization. It is not. Let me say that again – it is not an official Masonic Organization. The M.P.S. is an independent 501(c)3 non-profit organization, built off the principles of Universal Freemasonry, a Masonic organization that has been in the United States for more than 100 years. The ideals and ideas of Universal Freemasonry were the foundation for the building of the Masonic Philosophical Society Study Centers, where Freemasons and non-Freemasons may go to have enlightened discussions on a wide, and I mean WIDE, variety of subjects.
These Study Centers provide a place for people to discover what subjects are of interest to Freemasons and dispel myths about what Freemasonry may be; of prime importance, they further the ideals of helping humanity rise above the petty squabbles that pepper our daily life by providing thought and fodder for personal action. This isn’t a call to arms or a recruitment station. This is a place where all people can discuss on equal footing difficult, complex, and maybe unknown subjects within a group.
Most M.P.S. Study Centers are located in a library or public location. The times listed in the notices from meetup.com or from the Facebook Masonic Philosophical Society page are the actual start times for the meetings. No food is served at the meetings but you may choose to bring water or a drink, and most public locations allow for this. If you have questions about the topic or the location, the best place to access this is from the meetup.com links on the philosophicalsociety.org website. Here is an example of the meetup.com site for Santa Cruz, California. You may want to “like” the Facebook page and then you will see a continuous feed of blog posts, polls, questions, and inspiring quotations.
So, you might have found an M.P.S. Study Center and now you want to attend? Excellent! The discussions are led by a “Presenter” and a “Moderator.” While there may be handouts on the topic, with information and points of discussion, there may also be videos, art, music, or other displays to help foster the discussion. Topics really run the gamut; the group may be discussing climate change or Spinoza’s ethics or the Mona Lisa. The question that is the title of the Study session will normally be a yes or no question, providing the opportunity for debate and informed discussion on the merits of each side. The Presenter will provide the information up for debate and pose questions to the group to stimulate discussion. The Moderator will ensure that the guidelines of the Study Centers are kept in mind and will help foster the discussion should it either turn away from the original topic or slow/falter.
For those who are nowhere near a physical Study Center, there are three online Study Centers which may work for you. One is for all of North America and another is International. There is also a Spanish-Speaking Study Center. All of these online forums use Zoom as the online platform for voice and video. If you do not have a camera, that is okay – you can use your computer, phone, or even a landline to dial in. Video makes the experience more interactive and you can see what a Presenter is offering. It is important with online Study Centers to make sure that you are on time, and have as good of access as possible, and are in a location where you can talk for 90 minutes without interruption. You should mute yourself when you are not talking during the meeting. Make sure you have the Zoom app or desktop setup complete before the beginning of the meeting. If you have questions about how to access the online Study Centers, use the Contact Form on the website or contact the M.P.S. Director, Dennis Garza at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There is no need to come to the Study Center with deep experience in the topic being discussed. However, it does help to come with at least an idea of the topic being discussed. Google the question and inform yourself of some of the aspects that may be brought up. I will stop here, briefly, because there is something to say about belief, opinion, and fact. Many Study Centers have debates on potentially “hot” topics.
The purpose of the debate is to not change someone else’s mind; the purpose is to have an informed discussion that helps enlarge and enliven your own world view. M.P.S. does not adhere to any dogma and everyone is free to think what they wish. Opinions are informed by facts and knowledge; beliefs are unstudied theories in our minds. Facts are, well, just that. To come to an M.P.S. Study Center with the idea that you would change the minds of individuals is not its purpose. While you may not need to come informed in detail about a subject, you also should not come with a personal mission to recruit the group to your personal beliefs. Keeping an open mind is extremely important and, as we all know, sometimes difficult to do.
There might be an impassioned debate or there might be quiet discourse. In all cases, the Moderator will ensure that no one talks over another, that no one expresses hate or intolerance, and that each person is respectful of the beliefs and opinions of others. The goal is to listen, and anyone who cannot listen will not gain very much from attending these Study Centers. Being respectful of the general rules of the discussion will ensure that you and the rest of the attendees get the most out of your time together. No one will be selling or lecturing at an M.P.S.; anyone doing either of these activities will be expected to retire to a more suitable location.
Everyone is welcome to an M.P.S. Study Center and no fees are ever accepted or expected. This is a free forum discussion and people of all walks of life, education, religions, work background, ethnicity, or locale are welcome to attend. In fact, diversity delivers a far more stellar discussion than if everyone is sitting in a circle agreeing with everything. Don’t be afraid to speak up if you disagree; bring your experience and knowledge to the fore to share. Attendees do not get a full picture of a debatable question if they don’t have all opinions. Do your best to keep a very open mind about a subject, especially those that you feel strongly about. Listen carefully and feel free to take notes or bring your own materials for reference. Many times, this is the key to a very healthy debate – many sources forming a single view of a difficult question.
You may want to become a member of the M.P.S. It’s free, and it shows your support for the continuing efforts of the M.P.S. By signing up, you state that you are behind three Grand Objectives of the organization:
To destroy ignorance in all its forms; and
To encourage the study of Culture, Philosophy, and Science; and
To work for the Perfection of Humanity.
Additionally, you can support the M.P.S. by using your smile.amazon.com account to donate proceeds from Amazon sales to the M.P.S. Again, it’s a small way to show your support for this important educational and community service that is so lacking in our lives.
Lastly, don’t be shy about asking to know more about Freemasonry. Many of the attendees are Masons and are happy to discuss the merits of Freemasonry. You may be able to stick around and continue your discussion to your satisfaction. The Moderator will be happy to also provide you further contact information should you desire it. Interaction is great; and curiosity is even better. Check out some of the links above if you want to know more; it only takes one step to dive into a wider world.
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
In our youth, we rail against the unfairness of the world. In developing our philosophies, we also develop our fears. In a recent discussion group regarding specific symbolism of Freemasonry, the question was asked, how do we get rid of fears, which are really false gods? Fear, one person postulated, is that which motivates negative behavior. Another postulated that fear motivates all behavior. After much discussion, we never really came to a solid conclusion about how to mitigate fear.
Fear is the unpleasant sensation caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, threatening, or likely to cause pain. That definition is ripe with opportunity for dissection, to pull apart the chunks that create philosophical reasons for fear.
First of all, it’s an unpleasant sensation, and humans hate unpleasant feelings. No one really wants to feel icky, and yet, that icky feeling is built on a belief ― it is not necessarily based in fact or reason. It is simply a belief. By definition, a belief is a “trust, faith, or confidence in something.” Taken apart and put back together, we can say that fear is an icky feeling caused by a trust, faith, or confidence that someone or something is out to cause some kind of harm to our person, our connections, or perhaps, our way of life.
This explanation is not to trivialize fear, or some major manifestations of fear, like post-traumatic stress syndrome. This is simply to discuss common fears that most, if not all of us, experience. Are fears founded? Some, yes. Some, perhaps not. In the face of an immediate disaster, fear is certainly appropriate. Sigmund Freud said, about real fear vs. neurotic fear:
You will understand me without more ado when I term this fear real fear in contrast to neurotic fear. Real fear seems quite rational and comprehensible to us. We may testify that it is a reaction to the perception of external danger, viz., harm that is expected and foreseen. It is related to the flight reflex and may be regarded as an expression of the instinct of self-preservation. And so the occasions, that is to say, the objects and situations that arouse fear, will depend largely on our knowledge of and our feeling of power over the outer world…
Proceeding now to neurotic fear, what are its manifestations and conditions…? In the first place we find a general condition of anxiety, a condition of free-floating fear as it were, which is ready to attach itself to any appropriate idea, to influence judgment, to give rise to expectations, in fact to seize any opportunity to make itself felt. We call this condition “expectant fear” or “anxious expectation.” Persons who suffer from this sort of fear always prophesy the most terrible of all possibilities, interpret every coincidence as an evil omen, and ascribe a dreadful meaning to all uncertainty. Many persons who cannot be termed ill show this tendency to anticipate disaster.
That is, fear is simply the lack of feeling powerful over our own world, whether it is caused by an oncoming tornado or by feelings of inadequacy. What we’re concerning ourselves with here is what Freud called neurotic fears. Yet, the basis for our reactions, that lack of control, does come from the same “fight of flight” process of survival. Both have their roots in control.
It was once explained to me that all vices – Sloth, Envy, Greed, Avarice, Gluttony, Pride, and Lust – are all major manifestations of fear. Aristotle, in Nichomachaen Ethics, made similar statements – explaining that virtues and vices were a spectrum, and deficiencies were the expressions of the ends of the spectrum. Management courses in many places talk about how to address employees fears with some of these same techniques but, again, no one really gets to the heart of dealing with fear head on. So, we know what fear might be and how it manifests, but how do we actually deal with it?
In younger days, I read a series of books based on “The Michael Teachings.” These teachings are channeled thoughts on life and living, how and why people do what they do, and general human relations. One aspect that stayed with me had to do with fears. Many people have a dominant negative attitude which they must overcome in their lives.
Some examples of these are 1) self-depreciation, 2) self-destruction, 3) martyrdom, 4) stubbornness, 5) greed, 6) impatience, and 7) arrogance. Many of us go through all of these at some time in our lives but, in general, we stick with one (maybe two) when we’re tired, depressed, feeling overwhelmed, or just not working at our peak. When our sense of comfort, our inner child, is attacked or feeling vulnerable, we resort to these attitudes which are really manifestations of fear.
These are born from our childhood and are placed there by our reactions to environment and experiences. Each of these blocks is based in a very specific fear and can be overcome, with conscious effort. These are the dominant negative attitudes with their spectrum of manifestation, to use Aristotle’s idea of a sliding scale of virtues and vices.
Self-depreciation is the fear of not being good enough – manifests as Humility (positive) to Self-Abasement (negative).
Greedis the fear of not having enough – manifests as Egoism | Desire (positive) to Voracity | Gluttony (negative).
Self-destruction is the fear of losing control – manifests as Self-Sacrifice (positive) to Suicide |Immolation (negative).
Martyrdom is the fear of not being worthy – manifests as Selflessness (positive) to Victim Mentality (negative).
Stubbornness is a fear of change, of new situations – manifests as Willfulness|Determination (positive) to Obstinacy (negative).
Impatience is the fear of missing or losing opportunities – manifests as Audacity (positive) to Intolerance (negative).
Arrogance is the fear of being vulnerable – manifests as Pride (positive) to Vanity (negative).
In taking a deeper look into our own behavior, it may be easier to see how a reaction to one situation or another traces backward to one of these negative attitudes, and the fear which grounds it. When one swings from pride in a job well done to believing that the job done was the best job anyone has ever seen, there might be some fear going on there. That line that separates the two extremes can be different for different people, and it is clear that we all have different levels of tolerance and abilities to process reactions when we encounter fear. When we start delving beyond the surface of our own psyche, introspection uncovers, perhaps, those negative attitudes based in experiences of childhood.
Children create, depending on environmental experience and personal proclivities, distorted world views. We all create these distortions (big and small) and they eventually become our personal myths. Think: “I’m ugly,” “I’m stupid,” or “I’m not going to eat tonight.” Repeated situations or traumatic events reinforce this myth. Driven by a deeply-held fear, and steered by a distorted worldview, the emerging, dominant negative attitude springs into action in their lives, even unto adulthood.
The child thinks for instance, “I will stop life from hurting by taking control of my pain. I will hurt myself more than anybody else can.” The child’s chosen survival strategy involves some sort of conflict, a war against self, against others or against life. It is a defensive behavior pattern which looks irrational from the outside but from the child’s perspective is perfectly rational. As we mature, we must address these dominant negative attitudes or they will endanger any chance of self-improvement. They hide our true nature. *
– Excerpt from, The Michael Teachings
When someone lashes out, at me or others, I believe the reason is always fear. Fear is not the motivator of all activity we do. It always seems, though, that fear is the core of truly negative and destructive behaviors. Hatred, lies, and fanaticism are true fear-based reactions and attitudes. In dealing with these reactions in the world, we need to keep in mind that fear is the motivator, and that perhaps by making the person feel safe, by letting them air their real fears, healing can begin.
At another study group, we discussed fear and how to use it to unravel truth. It struck me then that Freemasonry provided us opportunities to run up against our own and other’s fears. From speaking in front of a group to taking charge of ritual work to providing leadership for volunteer work, Freemasonry offers us a chance to continually transmute fears into relationship gold by providing the types of experiences that test us and force us to face those fears.
Why does the Freemason care about fears? There is a lot of the world that runs on a steady diet of fear. The only way to find a better world and improve humanity is to rise above those things which cause us to live a base, irrational, and mundane life. By addressing and recognizing when people are moving in fear, we can possibly stop the cycle for them and for ourselves.
Additionally, Freemasons strive to be leaders. Leadership is about learning what motivates people; by learning their fears and helping them maneuver around them, we find talents and skills waiting to be uncovered. Leadership is shedding light on that which holds people back from being the very best they can be. Addressing fears is difficult unless we create true, honest dialogue. Freemasonry provides an environment to express honesty and be supported.
This honest dialogue extends to ourselves. What are our fears? What is our dominant negative attitude. and how does it affect me, my family, and my connections? What relationships are healthy and positive and which are not?
Asking “why” is a good start. Perhaps by looking at the motivations within us which cause us to have painful relationships with others, we can come face to face with our fear. In order to do that, we need to be able to actively look at our behavior, assess any damage we cause ourselves, and like Paul Atriedes from the Dune Series, turn an inner eye to the path it has taken, and find ourselves in its wake.
Try looking into that place where you dare not look!
You’ll find me there, staring out at you!
― Paul-Muad’Dib to the Reverend Mother, from Frank Herbert’s “Dune”
In a recent conversation, a colleague of mine began a tirade of a person who, in their estimation, had no compassion. “How can they hold something that happened a year ago against someone? How can they not see that they caused the problem, and they can let it go?” This was a person who had their own trials and tribulations over the past year, their own “issues” to deal with. The cycle of condemnation continued.
The first words on another friend’s lips was “compassion.” Hmmm, I thought. Compassion is an overused and overrated word in American culture. Let’s be clear, compassion is “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.” I’m not talking about thistype of compassion. Well, I might be. The difficulty is that people confuse compassion with kindness. Pity is a cause for regret or disappointment, or it can be the same as compassion, “concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.” Kindness is “the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.” I think that I’m not really discussing kindness, either, even if it is confused with compassion.
No one is above losing sensitivity for our fellow human beings. We all do it. All of us. Sometimes with ourselves; sometimes with others. A dear friend said to me, “aren’t Freemasons supposed to be these ones who are on the path to enlightenment? Why do they act so horrible at times?” Freemasons aren’t perfect. Freemasons know they aren’t perfect and are constantly striving to find what that perfection may mean – but no, they are not “enlightened” by virtue of being a Freemason.
Then… what is it that we need when criticism of ours sits in our mouths, waiting to be released? What builds up rather than tears down? And how do you show this to others? I’m not sure there is a word for it. There are times, though, I wish we all had more of it, whatever “it” is.
Joe South wrote a song called “Walk a Mile in My Shoes,” which Elvis made popular in the early 1970’s. The lyrics are here:
If I could be you, if you could be me
For just one hour, if we could find a way
To get inside each other’s mind
If you could see you through my eyes
Instead your own ego I believe you’d be
I believe you’d be surprised to see
That you’ve been blind
Now your whole world
You see around you
Is just a reflection
And the law of karma
Says you’re gonna reap
Just what you sow, yes you will
You’ve lived a life of
You’d better be careful
Of every stone
That you should throw, yeah
And yet we spend the day
At one another
‘Cause I don’t think
Or wear my hair
The same way you do, mmm
Well I may be
But I’m your brother
And when you strike out
And try to hurt me
It’s a-hurtin’ you, lord have mercy
Walk a mile in my shoes
Walk a mile in my shoes
Hey, before you abuse, criticize and accuse
Walk a mile in my shoes
There are people
And out in the ghettos
And brother there
But for the grace of God
Go you and I, yeah, yeah
If I only
Had the wings
Of a little angel
Don’t you know I’d fly
To the top of the mountain
And then I’d cry
Walk a mile in my shoes
Walk a mile in my shoes
Hey, before you abuse, criticize and accuse
Better walk a mile in my shoes
The song is a poignant reminder of how we actually get to compassion. This week I received several emails from people which were edging toward accusations and criticism. These are people who have known me for twenty years or more, and some for less time but not insignificant. These are people who know that I try to be responsive and kind, open to my own mistakes, and busier than a one-legged man in a butt kicking contest, as a work colleague likes to say. I’m not idle. I am forgetful, struggling to not beat myself for not being perfect all the time, sometimes clumsy, and not the best organizer of my to-do list. I struggle balancing a checkbook and sometimes I struggle to get motivated to get on a plane or send an email. Sometimes, I just want to sleep. Sometimes, I get crabby. Downright crabby.
I am human. I am you. And this is you, too.
And as much as we strive for perfection, we need to remember that it is just that: striving – a journey and not the destination right around the corner. Well, I remember that key part most of the time. The times that are the most difficult to keep the “journey” in mind are when people criticize, abuse, condem, accuse, or even just get crabby with us. When this happens, we believe we have failed them, and ultimately, we have failed ourselves. Failure is a sad and hopeless feeling. The mind is a powerful demolition machine. And when we open our hearts to others, we offer it up to that possible shredding.
The journey toward making a better humanity stops every time any of us tear down another.
There is more to walking in one person’s shoes than walking in their shoes. It’s more than learning not to criticize or condemn. It’s more than keeping your mouth shut when something ugly is about to vomit on someone you love. It is truly about letting go of yourself. It’s about reverting into our minds and hearts, before we speak or write, and thinking about everything. Every thing. Thinking about the other person sitting at their desk, writing that email, what their day must be like, what it could be like, why did they write it like that, is it their tone or mine that is in that email, what words did they use… think about putting yourself at the keyboard and writing those same words. How do you feel thinking about them? Why? Do we really think they are attempting to hurt or abuse us? Really? And if we really believe that, why do we believe that?
Byron Katie, a speaker and teacher, has four questions that she calls the foundation for “The Work.” They are:
Is it True?
Can you absolutely know that it is True?
How do you react, what happens, when you think that thought?
Who would you be without that thought?
This takes practice, again and again, and even more after that. It’s a journey. I think we begin at the first question above and we’d like to think that we have the answers. We forget there are more steps in our process. Our ego speaks louder than Truth at times. But each time we take that step towards working on finding the truth, something inside of us shifts. It says “it’s okay that you’re not the most important thing in the room. You are still going to be you, you’re still worthwhile. You are still good and okay.” In fact, the more we seek the truth, the more we are able to let go of the baggage and be objective, observant, listening, and of service.
Freemasonry seems to teach the ultimate walking in someone else’s shoes. Every Freemason can be any office within a Lodge, and each has a different function, a different talent to explore, and a different set of challenges. No one does any office perfectly, and each office provides its holder with experiences to challenge and uplift. We might criticize the way someone performs a certain task but there will come a time when we too take up that mantle and are assigned the same task. We learn to forgive someone’s past because we’ve learned that it’s not as easy as we all think. To fail is to learn, and “cutting someone slack” doesn’t mean to ignore the mistakes and challenges. It means paying attention to what happens to another person because, someday, we are on the receiving end. As Joe South says,
If I could be you, if you could be me
For just one hour, if we could find a way
To get inside each other’s mind
If you could see you through my eyes
Instead your own ego I believe you’d be
I believe you’d be surprised to see
That you’ve been blind
An elder Freemason, a while ago, said that we humans are “closed loops.” When I asked what he meant, he said that our communications, our thoughts, have nowhere to go. They spin around inside of us, not able to build up anything tangible, or real. We can’t connect with reality, generally. He said there was only way, he believed, to break the loop really connect to another person and to break out of our negative feedback about our reality. When we clear out the garbage of these destructive natures, we can find the true nature of ourselves, and that is, wait for it…love. Ach! Yes, I used the L word! So, it seems as if this compassion, kindness, truth, questioning – it all comes down to what we ultimately call love. Love for ourself and love for the other, whomever the other is. What we want for ourselves is what we want for others and what we want back for ourselves. It is truly a loop. It has to start somewhere. With everything negative to lose, I choose to start with me.
What is love is another exploration all on its own; however, it seems key to perfecting humanity. It is the next map point on our journey.
Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive. – The Dalai Lama
When the Norse arrived in Greenland, in the mid 10th Century, they found a land that was experiencing a global warming trend with green fields, retreating ice floes, and oceans teaming with fish and mammals. They built settlements, farms, and began hunting walrus for the ivory trade and beach-dwelling seals for food. They imported most of their day to day goods: iron, grains, wool, and livestock.
By the end of the 13th Century, the Norse had begun struggling with soil erosion and trade shortfalls. At this time, the Inuit had arrived, migrating from Canada through Nova Scotia to Greenland, as their drifting whale population and food supply moved through the melting ice. The Inuit enjoyed a thriving culture in Greenland yet had little positive contact with the Norse. The Norse viewed the Inuit as “skaelings” or “wretches.” The Inuit did perform some raids on the Norse and vice versa; however, for the most part they kept apart from each other.
Within a few decades, in the 14th Century, a minor ice age began again, the globe cooled once more due to a volcanic eruption in the Philippines. Grass began to be harder to grow and the continued erosion of the land was impossible to abate. It was more difficult to raise livestock or farm the land and using soil for sod buildings became tougher to gather. The Black Plague had ravaged mainland Europe and while it didn’t hit Greenland, it decimated the population with whom the Greenland Norse traded, particularly Norway. Ivory prices also plummeted due to the more elephant ivory being imported from sub-Saharan Africa. With sources of income drying up, the Norse had no real way to continue to import the goods they felt they needed to survive, primarily iron and livestock.
By the end of the 14th Century, the Greenland Norse had disappeared. The Inuit continued to thrive on the island and thrive there to this day.
We typically hear dogma in relation to religion and religious teaching, but it is anything which limits our scope of possibilities. Dogma is some principle or set of principles which some authority has set as being unquestionably true. That is the key word: unquestioning. People who are enslaved by dogma rarely realize that they should question what they are doing. Dogma may, or as typical, may not depend on facts. Dogma is that which enslaves us to a belief, not a fact. It also crystallizes our world view and leaves us shut off from possibility.
The Norse could have adapted wholly to their new surroundings. They were not traditional hunters but the climate forced them to learn adapt or die. Yet, they could not bring themselves to become whalers and learn how to navigate the waters in kayaks, which were for the heathen Inuit. They found it impossible to move toward a very different society, one which could have helped them survive and thrive in the changing world conditions. Rather than learn from the Inuit, they chose to remain separate, slaves to their “old ways.”
As we know, “growth and comfort cannot coexist (Ginni Rometty, CEO IBM).” Adaptation is dynamic and evolutionary. It involves shedding skin, ideas, thoughts, language, and sometime rules, mores, and laws. Adaptation and change require a flexible personal philosophy, agile thinking, and the ability to not take change personally. Had the Norse embraced the ways they felt as wretched, they might have created a new culture which encompassed the ideals of both the Inuit and Norse, thereby creating something greater than each was individually. The Roman Empire adapted and changed to the pulse of Christianity, thereby creating one of the most potent theological forces in history; by adaptation, the essence of both survived.
Our current times are rife with chaos and while the banners of Freemasonry proclaim, “Ordo ab Chao,” the final piece of this saying is “Chao ab Ordo.” Change and strife and chaos are necessary to be able to form new order and new ways of thought. A forest fire destroys the substantial, old trees but also brings life to new growth. Freemasonry as an institution requires both order and chaos to survive. There are those, especially in malecraft Freemasonry, who state that Freemasonry is a dying institution, membership is down, it’s difficult to get interest, or the education of Freemasonry is antiquated. Freemasonry as an entity isn’t and won’t be dying. What is dying is the Freemasonry as they knew of it. And this is good.
I was recently asked, “why do we need all this change? Why do we need a new ritual? Why should we think about how we change our world?” Someone commented recently on another article regarding Freemasonry in Africa, “why would we be in a place where there is so much corruption and hatred?” I say, who better to lead the way in change than those of us who should, could, or would be most able to do it? Isn’t it Freemasons, warriors of Truth, Freedom, and Knowledge, who should set the example?
This isn’t the first time Freemasonry, regardless of the Order or Obedience, has faced change.
During the Morgan Affair, membership in Freemasonry in America dwindled and nearly went extinct in the fires of the Anti-Masonic Political Party. In 1994, Le Droit Humain’s American Federation changed dramatically, with a new name, new structure, and new purpose. Even now, there are conspiracy theories about Freemasons taking over the world or specific governments.
“Over the centuries, masons have gathered in conclaves, meetings, lodges, and congresses–all to debate the changes they faced and the direction they should move. In an earlier period, a rough conglomeration of stand-alone lodges in England organized themselves in a tavern to become the United Grand Lodge of England and the progenitor of American Freemasonry,” states a 2018 malecraft Freemason’s article.
Change comes generally in an era of upheaval, of chaos, on the waves of a stormy ocean. This kind of change requires a different way of thinking than current paradigms. It requires the death of dogma.
Humanity in the 21st Century is at this same cusp of dynamic evolution. In a technologically-vibrant era of #metoo, LGBTQ rights, globalization, world resource constraints, and materialism, humanity hungers for something more than holding fast to outdated and antiquated modes of thinking. Freemasonry must stand at the precipice of that change and be willing to jump. We cannot hold onto rigid words, thoughts, and actions without tolerance and service to the ever-changing needs of humanity. Freemasons are the Chaos and the Order. Freemasons understand that without one there is not the other. They need to understand what chaos and destruction are before they can form new paradigms and thought patterns, thus changing society.
Freemasons represent the totality of possibilities, not simply what we deem “the best” by our own personal standards. Freemasons embody adaptability as well as honor and tradition; they follow a framework of ideals that are the unchanging Truth of Nature as well as variation that is Nature. Changing for change’s sake is ridiculous; change to adapt to the needs of humanity is true evolution. Thoughtful and conscious change moves us all toward the goal of perfecting humanity.
What happens when you adapt? The Honorable Order of American Co-Masonry recently changed its name to The Honorable Order of Universal Co-Masonry, adding United Federation of Lodges. Inboxes and voicemails have overflowed with contacts from around the world, interested in Freemasonry – India, China, Hong Kong, Serbia, Sweden, Greece, Romania and the Congo to name but a few. Groups in England and Lebanon have sought out the Order. There is explosive activity in Costa Rica and interest is peaking all over Latin America. Study centers of the Masonic Philosophical Society, especially online, are full of seekers of knowledge and Truth. Change in technology and format made this happen. Changing the name opened up the possibilities to those who are seeking global comraderies and led them to the Order’s porch. Yet, many were not ready to face this change and raise themselves the possibilities Universal Freemasonry would find. The interaction of these new voices forces Freemasonry’s membership to adapt – to learn new languages, to travel to many places, to challenge their own beliefs about racism, globalism, gender issues, education, family, and morality. Meeting this challenge and change requires tolerance and introspection as well as brotherly love toward all of humanity. Freemasons learn that they are no different from others and that all are sprung from “the same stock.” The Freemason begins to see what the core of his ritual is and learns to exercise his own philosophy applied to that framework. That is growth. That is the shedding of dogma.
So too, ritual adaptations and reinstatements, not innovations, reinvigorate the ideals that Freemasonry preserves and puts them in tune with a modern mind. If Freemason’s primary care is to keep the mysteries, they need to be able to do that with a mindset of being present and current, not reenacting the dogma of what we’ve done in the past.
People leave Freemasonry for one main reason: disappointment. Freemasonry either doesn’t seem relevant, inviting, or current. Perhaps their expectations were not met. Perhaps their expectations were not properly set. While Freemasonry should not adapt to individual preferences and needs, it can and should adapt to the changes in humanity whilst never forgetting its true purpose: keeping the mysteries for the generations to come. What does our world need? What does humanity need? Can we, in keeping with our ideals, assist in that Work?
Freemasonry, and Freemasons, need to focus on the perfecting of all we do – ritual work, service, brotherly relief and agape, as well as maintaining the material aspects of Freemasonry – clothing, regalia, our temples. This doesn’t mean, however, that these outward trappings – clothing, ritual, regalia – will always be the same. It is in how Freemasons go about employing the Craft that should stand the test of time, while adapting to the change without. This adaptation keeps us all flexible and malleable, able to weather the strong tides of hatred, fanaticism, bigotry, and falsehood. It enables us to withstand the fear of chaos and the boredom of order.
“Organisms that possess heritable traits that enable them to better adapt to their environment compared with other members of their species will be more likely to survive, reproduce, and pass more of their genes on to the next generation,” said Darwin. It should the the focus of Freemasons to be able to pass on that “genetic material” of Freemasonry to the next generation and the one after that by learning to adapt, to think differently and celebrate the change that undoubtedly will come to us all, willingly or not.
Having been a Freemason for over twenty years, I have seen many people come and go in the Fraternity. There are people who were well-established when I first entered into the Order and are still by my side today. There are many members who have joined over the years and added to the sweetness and depth of this large family unit. Some people have come in for as little as one meeting, and others have stayed on and off over the years. The path of Freemasonry is an open road that may see many people branch off.
As a member of fifteen different Lodges of varying degrees, each one of them is, to me, a sacred family where I am safe, secure, and can be myself. I can breathe easily and feel the fraternity that comes with a real love and dedication to a common goal: the perfecting of humanity of which each of us is a part.
When we join, we join for different reasons. We join to find like-minded people, to find some sense of peace with the Architect of the Universe, to have that “A-ha!” moment, to have a group of people to converse with, to break bread and share hard work, or perhaps to share in aging and passing with authentic humans. The road of Freemasonry isn’t easy and many people fall off the track – some earlier, some later – but the journey towards the higher degrees becomes less crowded and in many ways, more intimate and sweeter for having shared the labors of self-improvement.
The act of accepting the different paths of different people is extremely difficult. These are people with whom you have shared life’s journey and striking moments. From marriage to the birth of children, the death of parents and friends, to their own old age and passing, it is in these moments of strife and hardship, joy and bearing that Freemasons are there with each other, supporting, sharing, and providing true fortitude.
These are not easy moments and they are intensified by the quickening that focused self-improvement provides. They are sticky and painful at times. I have had nights of tearful crying, angst over love and loss, and laughter until I got in trouble. Discipline does that. It breeds purer moments of real life.
It also creates the moments when we stop and think: what is a family?
The birth family has always been, to me, that group of people who take care of you from that early age and teach you how to move in the world. They teach you how to survive. They do the best they can, with the tools and experiences of their own lives, to provide that guidance to help the child thrive in a very unsure and chaotic world. We carry those lessons, for better or ill, with us into our own realms, creating new families from these seedlings of experience.
Like the leaf that drops into the still pond, the ripples of one family flow and collide with those of others, creating an intricate pattern of artful energies of creation. We create families, when we’re older, to find a sense of stability and continuance. We may have children, adopt children, foster children, foster animals, care for the aged, or create intimate ties with friends, neighbors, and community. We may pastor to a church where the family is quite large, or we may shepherd the town council, where our influence might be low. We all form a family of woven relationships in the creation of… something.
Masonic families, like all families, can be quite intense. My childhood father was not a Freemason but his father and mother were extremely active in not only Freemasonry but Eastern Star, The Shriners, the White Shrine, and other auxiliary bodies. For nearly forty years, they were caretakers of the temple building behind their house; their days were filled with card games, socials, dinners, and Lodge meetings, fancy affairs and day-to-day work of Freemasonry. They cleaned the Lodge room and scrubbed the bathrooms, repaired the kitchen equipment and planted flower beds. They only stopped when cancer and Parkinson’s slowed their activities.
When they passed, I took up the mantle of Freemasonry. While they lived, I had no idea a woman could be a Freemason and neither did they. Freemasonry was a hobby my grandparents did but never, ever discussed it with the larger family.
My father harbored a deep resentment toward Freemasonry; he felt that it took my grandfather from his side. It hardened my grandfather’s ideals in a way that he imposed on my father. Resentment and dislike were the crops my father harvested from that sowing. Even so, my father grew up a good man, hard working and shaped by the ideals my grandfather provided. He struggled though, with the idea of what it means to be a father and to provide that example for his children. It’s a shame because I think my father would have really found solace and inspiration and fraternity of brotherhood something to sustain him latter in life. Maybe even earlier in life.
It’s funny that my desire for like-minded people in my life, people striving to educate and improve themselves, was driven by the lack of that in my own blood family. I wanted more than blood connections; I wanted that connection that propels us to be better than we think we can be. I do not think it took me from my family; in truth, close friends and family members have joined because of the work they’ve seen me do, the joy I’ve found in being with intelligent, hard-working individuals. They have joined because of my self-improvement.
The cycle, I think, repeats. The Masonic family taught me how to live, how to be in the world, how to succeed, challenged me to think, to be better than I am, and to constantly work on being a better person. They took what blood started and propelled that into new realms.
There are some people who do not think it’s right that families should join Freemasonry together. This does not make sense to me. If you want good people in your life, people who you respect, want to spend time with, learn from and also teach, why would you not want to be on a similar journey?
Not everyone is cut out to be a Freemason, however, Not every family member has the capacity or wherewithal to step onto such an intense path. We need to assess each person independently and give credit where credit is due. The people who have joined Freemasonry with me, in my life, are all fantastic people and yes, some are family members. I get the double blessing of being able to speak about all sorts of subjects and delve into deep thought with people that I truly love and who have a head start on knowing me. It’s like perfect icing on a perfect cake. We’re trying to perfect humanity; that doesn’t mean everyone except the people you grew up with. Far from it.
Not everyone who comes to Freemasonry is looking for a family. We call each other Brother for a reason though. It’s not arbitrary. Whatever you goals in joining the Craft are, you will end up with a family – one that you’ve chosen with forethought and daring. Make it your own.
“Neither man nor woman is perfect or complete without the other. Thus, no marriage or family, no ward or stake is likely to reach its full potential until husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, men and women work together in unity of purpose, respecting and relying upon each other’s strengths.” – Sheri L. Dew
I recently attended a Masonic Philosophical Society discussion about compassion – what was it, what is it, and how did it get from there to here. In the course of the discussion, many people discussed kindness and manners but little discussion about compassion took place.
The word comes from the roots of ‘with’ and ‘passion.’ The modern, Webster’s version of the word means, “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.” As language evolves, and many of the things that philosophers study are dusty with age and wear, it was important to see where the word began. From its Latin beginnings through Old French, the word actually meant “suffer with.” From the 14th Century C.E. backward, the word is associated with suffering. To look at meanings, suffering and sympathy/concern are two wholly different experiences. What is interesting is the the word “suffer” also comes from the Old French, in about the same time period as compassion, and the word originally meant “the be under the burden of something, to ensure, to hold up.” The word sympathy shows up much later in vocabulary, around 1570, and is of two Greek roots – “together” (sym) and feeling (pathos).
In his book, “Sympathy: A History,” author Eric Schliesser puts the confusion between sympathy and compassion to rest. He breaks down, right in the introduction, the differences between sympathy, empathy, and compassion. Sympathy and empathy, which are often confused for one another, are different breeds. Empathy, a word from the 12th century C.E., was created, the author states, to describe the German concept of Einfuhlung, or the state of entering into someone else’s feelings. That is, in empathy, the person is actually “in” the emotions of others, whereas with sympathy, the person experiencing it is recreating what their imagination can create, from the building blocks of society, family, and learned experience. The person in sympathy is not actually feeling the same emotions as the person conveying the experience.
So, the question bears asking: are compassion and empathy related? How can one suffer without actually feeling the suffering?
The Chopra Center has an interesting distinction for the word compassion. They state:
“When you’re compassionate, you’re not running away from suffering, you’re not feeling overwhelmed by suffering, and you’re not pretending the suffering doesn’t exist. When you are practicing compassion, you can stay present with suffering.”
In other words, you need to have both empathy and sympathy to be able to motivate yourself to compassion. Compassion is also action; it is the desire to relieve the suffering of the other person with real and meaningful work.
The interesting difference between kindness and compassion is in the suffering. It is kind to hold the door open for people. It is compassionate to bring someone into your home and away from the cold. Kindness involves a gentle mindset and may be necessary for compassion; however, compassion demands more. It demands action that is substantial enough to relieve true suffering, a true burden. It’s not taking the burden off someone’s shoulders, or living the pain with the person. That achieves nothing. It is not only lifting the burden with someone but working on ways to bring the cause of the suffering to an end. The compassionate person has distance from the emotional weight and can therefore see more clearly what may be accomplished. In conjunction with the other, that clear-headed person can provide a guide through the suffering.
Compassion requires a higher thought, a higher attention to the greater good. It also seems to require an integrated person – someone who can truly see the person in all their different forms and deliver what is required. Compassion isn’t kindness.
Kindness is a quality of being gentle and generous. Empathy is the ability to actually feel the suffering of another, while sympathy is the ability to imagine that suffering. Compassion takes all of those facets and creates an action plan. We might equate kindness with the physical, empathy with the emotional, sympathy with the mental, and compassion with the spirit, if we were breaking this down in the sense of human experience. The highest emotion, in this human drama, then, is compassion. It requires the most energy, delivering the most gain. In other words, sometimes the kindest, and toughest act of compassion may appear to be harsh of difficult for the person to achieve. Saying “no” to the alcoholic is compassionate, as is saying “no” to the person who always wants the answer. Telling the intelligent person that their poor work is the result of laziness is kindness, empathy, and sympathy rolled up into a greater purpose – it is compassion. Enablement is not compassion: it is destruction.
Freemasonry teaches you how to act but not how to think or feel. Freemasons are regularly taught to be kind and compassionate, yet subdue strong emotions in favor of thoughtful discourse.
Freemasonry also teaches you to act instead of standing on the sidelines and watching and simply thinking about a thing. Freemasonry provides opportunities for its adherents to be able to speak openly and view themselves authentically. Everyone requires a second set of eyes and experiences to become better, and it is in the bonds of fraternal love that compassion can be delivered. It requires different thought than the general society. It expects the Mason to not only learn to be compassionate but also to be able to receive that compassion. It becomes a true bond of fraternity, when honesty is the cement that not only binds us but supports us.
Are Freemasons perfect? Not by a long shot. It is in the compassion found in fraternal bonds that Masons can become better human beings and thereby better members and examples in the larger society.