Are Sacred Places Important? The Labyrinth at Chartres

Are Sacred Places Important? The Labyrinth at Chartres

In our present time, there seems to be a huge market for “buying” your way to enlightenment. Everyone is peddling a secret. Chant this mantra. Hold this crystal. Buy some incense. Rub that oil. Say these words. Go to this retreat. Some of these things may have some value. Spiritual longing is a real part of the human experience. Labyrinths hold a special attraction for me. Can a labyrinth really be a tool for enlightenment? Are sacred places important?

The first labyrinth that I ever experienced was a Chartres Labyrinth, although I was not lucky enough to be in at the famous labyrinth in Chartres, France. I liked it so much I began to investigate labyrinths in general and the Chartres Labyrinth in particular.

Chartres Cathedral was built one thousand years ago to be the site of a Mystery School. Not only was the cathedral an architectural feat but was one of the leading learning centers at the time. The edifice combined the visionary teachings of Plato with Christian mysticism. You must walk the entire labyrinth path before gaining entrance to the Temple. It is the “way in,” if you will, a Chamber of Reflection of sorts.

Those who have been to the actual site in France say that the effect of the Cathedral is peaceful and nurturing. You are at rest, left to wander or to meditate in tranquility. The atmosphere suggests that the veil between the human and celestial worlds is thin, and God is very near. It represents the ideal of a sacred space: a blending of the divine and material. The impact of Chartres on people at that time must have been enormous. How can a place be so heavenly?

Sacred Geometry

The Divine mystery of the labyrinth walk might be due in part to the magical pattern. One path leads inwards to the center, and the same path leads back out again. Chartres has an eleven-circuit design, divided into four quadrants. They are encircled by an outer ring of lunations, thought to represent a type of lunar calendar. The quadrants suggest the even armed cross. At the center is a Rosette pattern of 6 petals which is the place of 14761614336_92dabf6bf4_zrest. It reminds us of the sacred lotus, symbol of enlightenment.

In medieval times, the path was considered a substitute for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It is symbolic of the pilgrim’s journey into his Soul: the Center. It must be a two-way journey, which ends at the starting point. The pilgrim must not seek to remain inside. He goes and comes back. He visits. He walks from the unreal to the real, from the periphery to the center, from the mundane to the spiritual and back. Is this not life?

Symmetry of the Design

In his book, The Mysteries of Chartres Cathedral, Louis Charpentier recalls his first experience of being inside the cathedral. He was immediately struck with the impression that “everything contained its opposite in itself.” He said that the same balance contained in the secret of the Chinese Tai Chi, is at work in Chartres where the “proportions, orientation, position and symbolism have all been designed to alert the psyche and refresh the spirit.”

This idea is hinted at in Chapter 14 of the Tao Te Ching

LabyrinthWhat we look for beyond seeing 
And call the unseen,
Listen for beyond hearing
And call the unheard.
Grasp for beyond reaching
And call the withheld,
Merge beyond understanding
In a oneness
Which does not merely rise and give light,
Does not merely set and leave darkness,
But forever sends forth a succession of living things as mysterious
As the unbegotten existence to which they return.

Charpentier further states:

“If the pilgrim experienced the entire sensuousness of the cathedral, it would be because the body’s senses had apprehended all the musical and geometrical proportions, and all the numbers and lines expressed in the building’s interior.”

Geometric forms that exist in the labyrinth or even the Masonic Temple such as the cube, triangle, sphere, square, or oblong square could act as a doorway into various states of awareness. “God Geometrizes.” Sacred Temples can be said to stand for an unseen condition of something that can be known.

Beauty as an Expression of Truth

Divine archetypes are said to be not only doorways to the unknown, but as Plato has indicated, they are the very essence of beauty. The nature of beauty cannot always be described in words, and so it is possible, that certain symbols act as a bridge between the visible and the invisible. Satisfying both a physical and metaphysical need, sacred architecture can:

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1. Provide an energetic focusing center on the physical plane wherein the mysteries are learned and enacted;

2. Serve those seekers who enter the building and become intellectually and spiritually stimulated.

The more beautiful the appearance in form – the more closely will it correspond with spiritual truth. Buckminster Fuller stated it like this, “When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty, but when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.”

My sense is that if a person does not appreciate beautiful or holy things, he will lose them. Without reverence, the sacred feeling will diminish and then be forgotten. Thereafter, his only concern will be his personal comfort and selfish desires.

On the other hand, as we honor holy places we will be entrusted with holy things. Just the opposite of disbelief and despair, the goal is eternal life and peace. Contemplating art and architecture, the spiritual and the divine, moves us away from the mundane world of the daily round.

Do sacred spaces make us more enlightened? Some have scoffed at labyrinths, masonic temples, mantra, and things like crystals or incense for centuries. In times of need, I have tried all of them.

Inspired By Art: Nicholas Roerich’s Symbolic Journey

Inspired By Art: Nicholas Roerich’s Symbolic Journey

The Himalayan paintings of Nicholas Roerich (1874 – 1947), Russian painter and philosopher, mesmerized me when I first laid eyes on the collection. I stared at them for hours. I feel a bit as though these paintings knew me better than anyone. It’s like I understood them, and in turn, they understood me. I became interested in why. 

It could be that as a child my imagination was captured by the breathtaking views of mountains. I was inspired as much by the physical grandeur of their peaks as by the spiritual mysteries harbored within them. Indeed, for me the towering peaks represented the very summit of beauty and spirituality. The tallest mountains I ever climbed were in Zermatt, Switzerland.  I had a truly a remarkable time discovering certain wonders in nature such as glaciers and rich vegetation along with snow-capped points. I would take a rest at several spots which were beautiful and magnificent. There were always more heights to scale, another plateau or peak above, views of the Matterhorn.

Was it this experience that caused me to have a connection with Roerich’s art or something else? Are we drawn to art that mirrors a part of our inner self? What was it specifically about Roerich’s art?

Mount of Five TreasuresIt is virtually impossible to separate the artist’s art from his philosophy. Many contemporaries were skeptical of Roerich’s spiritual mission and tended to dismiss his work as being repetitive and unoriginal. However, those who embraced his philosophy experienced something transformative in those same canvases – never ending spiritual realizations.  A brief survey of his life reveals that Roerich was not an adherent of any one established religion or philosophical movement. His name is universally known not only as Master of the brush but also as a thinker and a builder of life.  His art and writings are an evocation to Beauty, to Knowledge, and to Culture. Art education would pave the way to universal beauty and open the gates to spiritual enlightenment. This vision is nicely captured in his philosophical statement of the Master Institute of United Arts which he formed in New York in 1921:

“Art will unify all humanity.  Art is one – indivisible. Art has its many branches, yet all are one.  Art is the manifestation of the coming synthesis. Art is for all.”

Regardless of whether his lofty ideals will ever be realized, or if you agree with the artist’s art philosophy, his paintings are replete with rich symbolic jewels that are a pure delight for anyone to reflect upon.

19284963678_72350b9c8f_oFor example, Roerich refers often to the great treasures stored deep within the Himalayas. The very name Kanchenjunga, he tells us, means, “the Five Treasures of the Great Snow,” because it contains the five most precious things in the world.  He alludes to them in the painting, Treasure of the Mountain. The setting is deep inside a mountain cave.  Roerich causes us to question what treasures he is referring to? Are they rubies, gold, and diamonds?  Or, upon deeper reflection, is he talking about other more inner treasures?

The gurus hold a lamp. Does it suggest that the Light of Wisdom is the treasure of the mountain?   Roerich reminds us that we must think about what we hold valuable. And – taking this to the deeper level of reflection – we should think very clearly about how we find these symbolic jewels.  What does it take?

Pearl of Searching Flickr mediumIn the Pearl of Searching, another journey is pictured. The teacher-student relationship is a theme in many of Roerich’s paintings. Our eye is drawn to the figures and we identify with them, experiencing the panorama that unfolds behind from their perspective. They have reached a plateau and are celebrating the view and a treasure they have found. What is it? What symbolic meaning do we see?

Perhaps the “Pearl of Great Price” is what gives purpose to life.   The mountains themselves symbolize a spiritual world separate from earth but accessible to those who are attuned to the higher realities. The necklace – a symbol of eternity – signifies that this daily seeking is destined to go on forever, an emblem of immortality. This all causes us to consider, “Why are we here?”

Unquestionably Roerich is one of the most interesting 20th century figures. It seems to me that his life was a symbolic journey documented in his massive body of works, each canvas a masterpiece of daring composition, glowing with color. Himalayan is the word not only for his art, but also a metaphor for his thoughts on the process of transformation.

The path to enlightenment, spiritual ascent, the sacred signs of Satyum, Shivam, Sundaram (Peace, Beauty, Truth) – these are the symbolic themes at the heart of Roerich’s paintings and writings, also at the heart of Freemasonry.  They continually cast a spell on me.  Once we begin on this infinite and exponential journey of discovery, we might stop for a moment to enjoy the view or a treasure found, but there is no turning back. Ultimately, we choose the next plateau we want to rise to.

From Roerich’s “Realm of Light”:

“Let us abandon the past for the future. Let us impel our entire consciousness into the future and let us suffuse it with radiance, for this is within the access of humanity.”

Note: To read further on Nicholas Roerich, check out the Nicholas Roerich Museum.

Trivium: Rhetoric

Trivium: Rhetoric

We’re back with the third part of the Trivium: Rhetoric.

Rhetoric is the art of persuasion through communications, either written or spoken. There are always two components to rhetoric – the rhetoric and the audience. Rhetoric’s aim is to make comparisons, evoke emotions, censure rivals, and convince their audience to switch a point of view. Rhetoric takes the form of speech, debate, music, story, play, movie, poem; nearly anything that can be written or spoken may be a piece of rhetoric. In fact, it may be the rhetoric that makes the art.

In the poem, The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost, the author provides a brief insight into life’s travels:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
 
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
 
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
 
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
 

The rhetorical line of this poem is: “I took the one less traveled by / And that has made all the difference.” Frost has set a scene for us of decision, or indecision, and given us a glimpse into his thoughts, which may be our thoughts at any given moment. His work is convincing us that in order to perhaps make a difference in our lives, we should tread whether others have infrequently traveled.

When we talk about skilled negotiators, people with “charisma” and “charm,” we are really talking about the art of rhetoric. We use rhetoric in our everyday lives when we create a job resume, negotiate to buy a car, when we debate politics, or even when we are convincing a teenager to clean their room. We may do it every day, but do we really understand the finer points of rhetoric? It seems to be the pinnacle of the Trivium and the highest goal we can work toward in order to communicate our ideas with one another effectively.


A nod to this blog for providing the Cornelis Cort images.

Beethoven’s Last Work – Ode to Joy

Beethoven’s Last Work – Ode to Joy

As a classically trained musician, I often frame the way I think about the mysteries of the universe in terms of music. I love the quote of Einstein where he says, “I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.” A world without music would be lifeless, silent, and depressing. Almost every moment in a person’s life is continually underscored by music — from birth to death, at weddings and other celebrations. The ancients were convinced that music could become internalized by the individual; the music influencing, as it were, the manner of our thoughts, feelings, and actions.  

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Ode to Joy 

The “Ode to Joy” in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, first performed on May 7, 1824, is one of those musical treasures that invites me to dream, to turn within and to contemplate my mortal coil. The chorus was the finale in the “last work” that Beethoven ever composed.

The idea for “Ode to Joy,” and the words for the chorus, came to Beethoven in his early 20’s.  The famous poet Friedrich Schiller had written in 1785 an excessively cheerful drinking song, and Beethoven was creatively impressed to set the poem to music. He was the first major composer to include a chorus and vocal soloists in the last movement of a symphony. In the chorus, we hear the joy of a man who, through suffering and compassion, embraced all.  

It is such a glorious moment. So shocking. So hopeful: even though we know the violence and burdens of the world are out there surrounding us, waiting for us. The joyful lyrics ring true the message of uniting all people in universal brotherhood. Beethoven’s little introduction to the poem also mentions not dwelling on sad things but being happy instead.

The last words direct themselves to heaven, and in some amazing m34481589172_8d767a068a_o 1usical craftsmanship, the movement ends with a sublime message:

Be embraced, ye millions!
For the universe, this kiss!
Brothers – above the canopy of stars
A loving Father surely dwells.

Millions, do you fall upon our knees?
Do you sense the Creator, world?
Seek him above the canopy of stars!
Surely he dwells above the stars!

Just imagine that Beethoven was fully deaf and writing about being happy!  He was acquainted with a deep compassion that swept through him for others in a destitute situation. He dearly loved mankind and his skill as a master musician provided the means to reveal to us the hidden nature of the world within us, touching our souls.  Could this message possibly be a metaphor in itself? Who is really hard of hearing — him or us?

Beethoven’s music has been said to awaken compassion and the desire for universal brotherhood.  Because of the feelings contained in Beethoven’s music, his works can stir crowds to higher levels of realization. One wonders what power graced Beethoven that he could write such music. His joyful message still has the ability to lift the souls of all who hear it. How does this piece or any music tend to shape and mold us?  I have wondered that so many times and questioned myself. I have tried to touch the heart of the composer; Tried to turn my life into an “Ode to Joy.”352228023_28f8dd197a_o

Ancient Philosophers and the Mysteries of Music

David Tame, in his excellent book on The Secret Power of Music describes how a select group of composers have been able to show us what the ancient philosophers knew about the mysteries of music:

Pythagoras’ understanding of music was far more than a merely materialistic, academic one, and such an understanding is lamentably rare today. Yet we discover something of this timeless flame of ageless wisdom preserved in that small minority of musicians who still today have combined academic knowledge and the practical experience of music with a genuine and earnest inner spiritual development.

A Modern Take on Immortal Beloved

I consider Beethoven to be among this elite group.  In the 90’s, there was a film that came out about Beethoven’s life called “Immortal Beloved.”  Critics disagree with much of the movie’s historical contents, but there is one scene that took my breath away. I have pondered the meaning of it ever since. 

It begins by showing Beethoven standing before the orchestra while he is conducting the finale of the Ninth Symphony. He finds himself thinking back to a childhood memory of running away from his abusive father. The film draws us in as this young boy runs through the woods to escape the awful beatings that have plagued him all his life. His journey leads him to a lake where he wades in to float on his back to look up at the stars. The whole scene is illumined by a radiant full moon. 

Suddenly, we are transported to a change of perspective as the camera pans back.  The lake becomes a reflection of the sky, making Beethoven look as if he is suspended amid the stars until eventually his young body has merged with the heavens. He finds himself in his own universe, yet above the pain and uncertainty of his troubled adolescence. From this, we are left to wonder if Beethoven was truly alone and if his immortal beloved was music: his music. 

An Ode to Joy and Freemasonry 

There are many times that I have given myself over to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” masterpiece.  I bathe in the sounds, leave the troubles of my world behind and allow the joy to slowly purify me.  Freemasonry is much like any beautiful well-crafted piece of music in that the ceremonies and rituals give inspiration and perspective.  While the millions of stars in the sky may make us feel small in comparison, Freemasonry teaches that we are capable of so much.  We are truly a significant part of this very same Universe, and we have within us capacity to behold a sacred moment of transcendent power.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Footnote:  Some say that Beethoven was a Freemason, although there is a lack of absolute evidence to that fact. Further exploration of this theory can be found in the article: http://freemasonry.bcy.ca/biography/beethoven_l/beethoven_l.html
 

Grammar and the Trivium

Grammar and the Trivium

Previously, I posted about the Seven Liberal Arts in general and the Trivium in particular. Recently, a challenge was given to me about providing examples of how the liberal arts are part of our everyday life, and why the human seeking to enlighten their mind might care about them. The challenge was to provide short essays on each. Three-hundred word essays are always a challenge but the gauntlet has been picked up. We’ll call these Liberal Arts: petit fours.

Therefore, for today, I give you Grammar.grammar


Grammar is the skill of knowing language. In order to form sound reasoning, one must be able to learn the words, sentence structure, and forms that make up their language and thereby, communicate clearly and with confidence. In classical training, Grammar is the “who, what, why, when, and how” of understanding and knowledge. Grammar is taught more mechanically in the modern age, which does a disservice:  humans need more than nuts and bolts to create clear ideas and communicate them. Much of what we need to learn goes beyond the adverb or adjective.

An example of this is figures of speech.Cornelis Cort 1565 Grammar Figures of speech are the use of any of a variety of techniques to give an auxiliary meaning, idea, or feeling. An example of this is dysphemism. This is the use of a harsh, more offensive word instead of one considered less harsh. Dysphemism is often contrasted with Euphemism. Dysphemisms are generally used to shock or offend.

Examples of dysphemism are “cancer stick” for cigarette,  “belly bomb” for doughnut, and “treeware” for books. Examples of Euphemisms are lighter, such as “between jobs” for unemployed, or “passed away” for death. Knowing the difference of these two figures of speech allows the audience to be placed in a certain frame of mind and creates a scene for the next stages of what is to be communicated.grandpa

As our use of grammar grows, we need tounderstand how figures of speech like this work and use them effectively when we will eventually make our case (rhetoric) via the tool of language organized into thought (logic). Thus, the well-rounded thinking man should understand not only the technical grammar of his own language, but also how the tools of grammar may be applied to the body of human knowledge for further study.

In order to communicate his own interpretation of the symbolism of any topic of organized learning, as well as what he learns from the natSocratic Methodural world around him, the study of grammar, regardless of the age of the individual, is pivotal.  Grammar is foundational to all problem-solving methods.

What would the Socratic Method be without proper grammar by which to understand and debate the ethical questions of nature?

As Socrates knew: to be able to instruct, to learn deference, and to be able to speak with authority, the enlightened human must concern himself with the very basic study of communication. That is, the study of the grammar of one’s language.

 

 

The Seven Liberal Arts – The Trivium

The Seven Liberal Arts – The Trivium

There is a real affinity for the goals of Freemasonry and the Seven Liberal Arts. From earliest teachings, we see that they are the foundation of many degree rites, the first of which is the FellowCraft Degree. To understand why this is, I think we must first understand the structure of the Seven Liberal Arts and what their history is.

The Liberal Arts have been, from antiquity, been the foundation stone upon which knowledge of the natural world rests. The seven liberal arts have been utilized since ancient Greece. Plato and Pythagoras were first in codifying their importance; the flowering of our western understanding of the liberal arts took place in medieval education systems, where they were categorized into the Trivium and the Quadrivium. Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric are the Trivium, and Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, and Astronomy are the Quadrivium. The Trivium combines the use of the senses with knowledge to lay the foundation for further study. The Quadrivium was considered to be the higher level education for the philosopher, and employed the use of the Trivium to be able to compose higher ideas and thereby, expand the knowledge of the human condition.

Freemasons the world over have expounded on the Seven Liberal Arts ad infinitum. All you need to do is search Freemasonry and Seven Liberal Arts, and you get a great deal of regurgitated drivel. That is not what I am striving to do in this next series. Here, my goal is to simply explain why the Seven Liberal Arts seem to have a kinship with Freemasonry, and perhaps provide small examples of each – withsevenliberalarts and without a Freemasonic connection. It’s up to you, the reader, to decide what you’d like to do with the information.

Plato’s Dialogues explain the curriculum outlined in detail and for any serious student of liberal arts, Plato is required reading. I, therefore, will not relate these concepts here. Suffice to say that the study of the Liberal Arts is more of a study of knowledge than it is of any specific actual data and information. As we may have learned by now, knowledge without application is dead and useless. Knowledge in the pursuit of higher ideals and higher ideas is more valuable than… than… well, you get the idea. Remember, one of the goals of Freemasonry is to better the human condition while standing up in defiance of falsehood, ignorance, and hatred. How do we do that if we are not searching to better our communication and knowledge, and the ways to bring both to life?

The Trivium is, as I said above, the foundation stone of the Seven Liberal Arts and really provides us the method and ability to communicate. It is composed of Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric.

  • Grammar: Knowledge and Learning of Language
  • Logic: Reasoning, Questioning, and Thinking with Language
  • Rhetoric: Directing, moving, and Persuading using Language

While these all seem to be in relation to language, they are much more than language. They are the skills involved in achieving these ends. Therefore, the study of Grammar is also the study of history, geography, reading, and writing. It is basic, absolutely, but more encompassing than simply learning one’s ABCs and how to put pen on paper and write. Logic is about how we learn – we use our senses to experience, put our minds to thought, question, and experiment. We learn to ask the correct questions to achieve the answers we seek. They are not provided to us – we must seek them out and test for ourselves. Finally, rhetoric is the ability to take what we have learned with grammar and dialectic and put them firmly into the hands of an audience we are attempting to persuade. Rhetoric uses emotional discourse, thoughtfully created and properly applied, to communicate new ideas.

If it is not clear to the Freemason now why at least the Trivium is not important, one might want to question what they have actually learned while being a Freemason. Many may think that Freemasonry is all about enlightenment, walking in squares, or religious meanings. It might be those things to some but I think the true goals of Freemasonry are to provide a framework of how to be in the world, to make that world better for those that follow us but more importantly, for our own betterment. We cannot communicate lofty ideals via ritual alone – we need to be able to express what we have learned to a wider audience, to bring new thoughts to a wider world. To me, when we talk about service to the world, there is no greater service than being a hand-up to the betterment of the human condition and we do that by “teaching a man how to fish.” Study of the Liberal Arts is by one means to catch that “fish.”

Hortus_Deliciarum,_Die_Philosophie_mit_den_sieben_freien_Künsten

Entitlement: Do You Want Some of This?

Entitlement: Do You Want Some of This?

Entitlement: A word bandied about often by many citizens of the United States. I wanted to explore it because in a recent conversation, it was used akin to arrogance and I wasn’t sure that was correct. The word “entitlement” doesn’t appear in the English language until 1782, and I was unable to find its original source. However, in a very interesting article on Entitlement, (in a blog called Language Log),  the author is investigating the question of when the term went from being a positive term to being a negative term. The article in question is here.

Specifically, we North Americans now tend to use the term in a negative way: ” a sense of entitlement” is used to discuss someone who is feeling privileged, or feeling they need special privileges when they are not due them.  Additionally, the government uses it in a negative way to indicate the same thing; “entitlement programs” are seen as those programs which feed the parasites in society and are not empowering. Some elements of society tend to refer to them as “handouts.” Others see “entitlements” as a duty to care for fellow human beings.

These references and discussions leads one to see a culture that seems to be pushing the idea of activity and work as the only valid “value” in society. As a nation, we see our work as a symbol of uprightness, honesty, and strength. We see the homeless, poor, and unemployed as having done something wrong or lazy or both. If your parents instilled that value of working hard for your goals, no matter what they are, the thoughts have crossed your mind at some point in your life that someone must have done something wrong to be laid off, fired, homeless, poor, or generally in a poor state of affairs. Guaranteed. The only way one cannot feel this way is if one has been dragged through the proverbial “ringer” themselves and had to be that person who is poor, homeless, oppressed, or otherwise fallen into “bad times.”

Do we take our judgement about “entitlement” to extremes? I ask myself that often. I go to a yearly conference where dozens of people arrive to a site and live in a cooperative atmosphere for days at a time. Living in dormitory settings and eating meals family/buffet style, it’s expected that everyone participates in the setup, cleanup, and EFZmaintenance of the site. No one is exempt from this expectation except the infirm or very senior or aged attendees. In general, this seems to work very well. People are cooperative, happy to help, and understand not only the value of “many hands make light work” but also Industry or work are good for us overall. People feel better when they are participating and joining in the creation of a harmonious and giving space. When twenty people clean up, it means more time spent for everyone in other activities.  The group is happy and the environment is uplifting.

You all know what I’m going to say here. There is no perfection and no paradise. There are always one or two people who struggle with these cooperative work or shared space concepts. They place all their items in the showers of the bathroom that is shared with ten people. They lock the bathroom door, restricting access for those same ten people who would also need the toilets or showers which are shared. They rarely do the dishes, and almost never look around for what work might need to be done. They don’t even ask if they can help – they just disappear for their “personal” time. After all, they’re on vacation, aren’t they?

They expect the “locals” to help the with rides, directions, or general questions and to provide assistance at a moment’s notice with little regard for what that person might actually be doing at that moment. They see other people’s time as their own, not something for which to be grateful. In short, they do not think about the other person before making their requests. They do not see the other person as valuable as they are. They may be the gentlest soul in the world, used to working hard at home; however, at these conferences, there’s a “sense of entitlement” that seems to permeate their actions.

The proper thing to do is to point this out to them and help them understand how their behavior impacts others. As a member of the community during this time, it’s my job to do that. I believe it’s all our jobs to do that. I fail. Others fail. The person continues to see their behavior as acceptable and others continue to see their behavior as intrusive and rude. This breeds resentment, gossip, and ill will. I’ve felt that resentment grow, and ask myself silently, “Don’t they see what they are doing? They are wrecking this for everyone!”

That might be a little dramatic, but the resentment does grow. I make assumptions that they are lazy, acting entitled, or just clueless. When it finally erupts, it comes off as condescending, belittling, and not very respectful of the other person. Conversely, it does no good to “ignore it.” I do not want to be that person who says “people are people” and they “will always be that way.” That’s condescending in another way; by not offering the person the person the information necessary to learn and grow, you’re saying they are not capable, intelligent human beings. You are demeaning them by dismissing the behavior. In fact, you are enabling the entitlement.

Obviously, as I stated above, the right thing to do is to point out the behavior and talk about its impact. My general way of doing this is pointing out the behavior, listening to them expectation1and their responses, showing how it impacts others, and providing a few possible ways to approach the issue. I try to approach it as a discussion rather than an admonishment – at least the first time. Maybe even the second time. Yet, I always have that fear of bringing something up to someone and having them be upset; indeed, this is the reason most of us don’t do it in the first place. We think we are one of three things: we are not responsible, we’re acting beyond our authority, or we’re going to upset people.

Tough.

At least, that’s what I tell myself. It’s bravado and I stumble. But I have to just do it. Practice makes perfect.

The first steps are always the hardest. For me, approaching entitlement as a discussion rather than corrective behavior seems to be the right answer. I have to frame the words that come out of my mouth in such a way to help correct the situation, not inflame passions. I know that everyone doesn’t work that way; my hope is to have understanding about impact rather than to just blindly correct a behavior. If someone is chastised, they tend to only associate the behavior with that specific environment. If a discussion ensues, they see their actions in the broader context – their lives – and thus may make the leap of approaching all activities with a mindset that steers away from entitlement.

What I think is true for this conference might also be true for the wider society and our day to day lives. While we’re not living in dormitories and sharing food at every meal, I think the path of discussion rather than accusations feels more correct, more productive. Perhaps more human. I personally tend to get mad when someone expects me to jump at their call without even a “hello” or they infringe on shared space with their demands and wants. If I can take a breath and think for a moment before engaging, I might be able to leverage that “pivotal” moment and create something positive. It doesn’t always work – traffic is a great example – but I hope that I’m making progress. Thinking before speaking is always a challenge but one worth jumping into.

Not everyone will “get it.” Some of those I call out will be embarrassed enough by their actions to be mad with me for pointing it out. Some will cry and think I’m calling them awful people. Some will ignore the guidance, or hate me for being arrogant enough to think I’m better than them, or just plain shrug their shoulders and walk way. It shouldn’t stop any of us from trying to address these things that would hold us all back from being better people and better citizens. The community we strive to improve is the one with which we are actively involved; that is our friends, neighbors, and co-workers.

helpinghandAs Freemasons, our behavior away from our Lodge is equally as important as our time within the Lodge. We’re taught how to behave with one another, including the ability to address concerns with a fellow Brother directly and with virtue. Shouldn’t we afford the rest of our community the benefit of our lessons learned? That is part of helping humanity improve, I think. It doesn’t make it easy when the rest of the world doesn’t play by the same rules. It also doesn’t exempt us from facing the challenges and the hard work ahead. If we dislike entitlement so much, and we resent the people who fall into that mode of being, what are we doing to combat it? What are we doing to improve it, whether it is a head-to-head conversation or immersion in supporting an organization like Habitat for Humanity or mentoring for job-training programs? It behooves us to be the examples of working hard to show the meaning of real service, gratitude, and entitlement. How can we help people help themselves, instead of being victims? How does being a victim benefit anyone, personally or societally?

Maybe we can take back the word “entitlement” to mean what it initially or originally meant: “the amount to which a person has a right; the fact of having a right to something.” What is a “right,” and to what do we each have a “right?” What are your thoughts on entitlements and rights? Is a study of “the human right” in order? Or Rights in general? What do you think?

As always, I am grateful for your views and opinions.

thanks1

What is Literature? Bob Dylan and the Nobel Prize

What is Literature? Bob Dylan and the Nobel Prize

In 2016,  Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, sparking controversy as to whether song lyrics constitute literature. What is literature, and does Bob Dylan’s work qualify him for the Nobel Prize?

The Nobel Prize in Literature

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “literature” as “written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit.” When Alfred Nobel signed his last will and testament in 1895, he bequeathed the largest share of his fortune to a series of prizes now referred to as the Nobel Prizes. As stipulated in his will, one of the prizes would be dedicated to “the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.” Instituted in 1901, the Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded 109 times to 113 Nobel Laureates, a group which includes the Freemasons Rudyard Kipling, Winston Churchill, and John Steinbeck.

nobelprize2016-litIn 2016, the Swedish Academy stated that they chose Bob Dylan “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” Following the announcement, the Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, Professor Sara Danius, provided further explanation as to why Dylan was selected stating, “He is a great poet in the English speaking tradition.” When asked if the Academy had widened the horizon of the Nobel Prize in Literature, she replied, “It may look that way, but really we haven’t.” Professor Danius further compared Dylan’s work to that of Homer and Sappho, which were “meant to be performed,permanent-secretary-of-the-swedish-academy-sara-danius2016 often together with instruments.”

Bob Dylan: Lyrical Poet

Born in 1941, Bob Dylan has been influencing popular music and culture for more than five decades as a songwriter, singer, and artist. In the 1960s, Dylan’s work channeled America’s social unrest, and his songs, “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a-Changin,” became anthems for the American Anti-War and Civil Rights movements. Dylan’s songwriting incorporated controversial subjects such as politics, race relations, philosophy, and religion. His music changed established pop music conventions and expanded the influence of music on the American public. As one of the best-selling artists of all time, Dylan has sold more than 100 million records. In addition to the Nobel Prize, Bob Dylan’s songwriting has also been recognized by the Pulitzer Prize Jury, who awarded him a special citation in 2008 on account of “his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.”

With thirty-seven released studio albums, the list of songs credited to Bob Dylan is extensive and diverse. Below are lyrics from a few of his most celebrated works.

Every Grain of Sand

Don’t have the inclination to look back on any mistake. Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break. 

In the fury of the moment I can see the Master’s hand. In every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand.

All Along the Watchtowerevery-grain-of-sand

“There must be some way out of here,” said the Joker to the Thief. “There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief. Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth. None of them along the line know what any of it is worth.” 

“No reason to get excited,” the Thief, he kindly spoke. “There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke. But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate. So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.”

Blowin’ in the Wind

How many years can some people exist, before they’re allowed to be free? How many times can a man turn his head, and pretend that he just doesn’t see? 

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind. The answer is blowin’ in the wind.”

Shelter From the Storm

Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood. When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud. I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form. “Come in,'” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm.”

Well, I’m livin’ in a foreign country but I’m bound to cross the line. Beauty walks a razor’s edge, someday I’ll make it mine. If I could only turn back the clock to when God and her were born. “Come in,'” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm.'”

Literature and the Masonic Philosophical Society

The Masonic Philosophical Society was created to destroy ignorance through enabling greater understanding of the sciences, arts, and humanities. Each Masonic Philosophical Society Study Center is designed to ignite discussion centered on nine topics of study, one of which is Literature which is described on the MPS website as “one of the most enduring of man’s creations, giving us glimpses masonicphilosophicalsocietyof our past, present and future.” When Professor Sara Danius compared Dylan’s lyrics to the works of the ancient poets Homer and Sappho, she demonstrated how poetic works can transcend time and connect the ancient past to our current world. Is it too far a stretch to compare Bob Dylan’s lyrics to Homer’s “Be still my heart; thou hast known worse than this” from The Odyssey? Could the lyrics from Sappho’s “Hymn to Aphrodite” be considered similar to Dylan’s ballads when she wrote, “come to me once more, and abate my torment; Take the bitter care from my mind, and give me all I long for?”

The question remains for many as to whether Bob Dylan’s work qualified him for the Nobel Prize in Literature. The album lyrics published do, indeed, meet the criteria of “written works” mentioned in the Oxford English Dictionary albeit most people are more familiar with hearing Dylan’s songs rather than reading his lyrics. In my opinion, the question as to whether Bob Dylan’s musical lyrics constitute “superior or lasting artistic merit” is a somewhat subjective determination,  which the Swedish Academy is at liberty to decide as they see fit. What do you think? 

Touching the Void: Freemasonry and the Responsibility of Protecting One’s Fellow Man

Touching the Void: Freemasonry and the Responsibility of Protecting One’s Fellow Man

What responsibility do we have towards our fellow man? Masonry teaches that each of us is “our brother’s keeper” and that mankind consists of a Universal Brotherhood. When safe and secure, we may be quick to argue that we would go out of our way to save our friend, brother, or neighbor. What would happen, however, if you were forced to choose between saving your own life versus protecting the life of another? Touching the Void, a book written by Mountaineer Joe Simpson, tells the harrowing true story of two men trapped on a mountain faced with such a life and death situation.

The Journey: Climbing The Siula Grande

In 1985, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates had a bold, yet dangerous dream: to be the first climbers to summit the Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. Touching the Void begins with the following quote by T.E. Lawrence from The Seven Pillars of Wisdom:

“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.”

Siula GrandeDespite perilous conditions, Yates and Simpson became such “dreamers of the day,” making their dream a reality by ascending the Siula Grande’s 4,500-foot west face in three days. Their celebration was short lived, however, as disaster struck during the treacherous descent of the peak. Whiteout conditions enveloped the climbers eventually leading to Simpson slipping down an ice cliff and breaking his leg, crushing his tibia into his knee joint. The team’s ambitious ascent had depleted their supplies, and they no longer had fuel for heating, cooking, or melting snow for drinking water. With daylight fading and Simpson in critical condition due to this injury, the pair had no option but to attempt a fast and tricky descent of 3,000 feet back to base camp.

With his right leg shattered, Simpson relied on his climbing partner to methodically lower him down the mountain 300 feet at a time via two knotted ropes. Simon Yates reflected on his burdensome new responsibility, “I knew I couldn’t leave him while he was still fighting for it.” Hour after hour, Simpson and Yates made painstakingly slow progress down the mountain. Eventually, a blizzard surrounded the climbers bringing chaos and destroying communicationThefall between the pair. In the confusion, Yates mistakenly lowered Simpson over the edge of a cliff. Dangling eighty feet above a crevasse, the injured and exhausted Simpson was unable to climb back to safety with his frost-bitten fingers.

Yates’ Ultimate Moral Dilemma

Swallowed by the blizzard, Yates was essentially blind to his partner’s situation. Because of the weight on rope, he knew Simpson was suspended over some kind of cliff, but he was unable to see or communicate with his partner. He also was unable to pull Simpson back up to safety. Through sheer willpower, Yates kept his footing on the icy slope for over an hour protecting both from plummeting into the void. His strength failing, Yates faced the moral dilemma of his life: should he save himself by cutting the rope and send Simpson to almost certain death?

As his snow anchor began to collapse,  Yates cut the rope and Simpson’s body plummeted down the cliff and into a crevasse: a deep fissure in a mountain glacier. When Simon Yates descended to the ice cavern,  he called out to Simpson but received no response. Assuming his partner was killed in the fall, Yates made his way back to base camp.

Simpson’s Survival

Miraculously, Simpson survived the 150 foot fall, landing on an ice shelf inside the crevasse. When Simpson regained consciousness, he discovered the cut rope end and realized what his partner had done. If he wanted to live, Simpson knew he had to save himself. Repelling further into the dark ice cave, Simpson discovered a small opening in the ice and climbed out of the glacier, emerging like Lazarus from his tomb.

Forced to crawl due to his injuries, Simpson tenaciously began a three day crawl back to base camp. Exhausted and fighting delirium, he reached base camp only a few hours before Yates was set to leave. Arriving at camp, Yates and another climber treated Simpson’s injuries, and the three men then traveled back to civilization.

Somewhat surprisingly, Simpson expressed understanding and sympathy for Yates in his fateful decision to sever the rope. He reflected, “ Simon (Yates) did more than anybody could possibly have been asked to do to save someone’s life. Everybody misses that crucial point. He took a very pragmatic decision. He wasn’t to know I went down a crevasse. He wasn’t cutting a rope to kill me; he was cutting a rope to save himself.”

Many climbing experts argue that, paradoxically, it was Simon Yates selfish decision to cut the rope and save his own life that also saved his climbing partner, Joe Simpson. Even if Yates could have held him aloft for many more hours, many argue that Simpson would have died from exposure to the elements. Simpson, while understanding his partner’s decision, writes in Touching the Void about his initial hope that he was still connect to Yates: “Did he fall with me? Find out… pull the rope! I tugged on the loose rope. It moved easily…. I pulled again and soft snow flurried on to me. I pulled steadily, and as I did so I became excited. This was a chance to escape.” Based on Simpson’s position after the fall, there was more than a chancsimpsone that Yates would have also lived, either landing on the ledge or being held aloft by the rope tethered to Simpson. Realizing that his partner had left him to perish, Simpson was filled with despair and faced with the improbable odds of returning to base camp alone.

Freemasonry and the Responsibility of Protecting Our Fellow Man

When an individual acts against their own self-interest,  should we let that person fall, metaphorically speaking, in order that they can develop the strength and wisdom to rescue themselves? The institution of Freemasonry exists as an exception to modern society’s tendency to severe ties and abdicate responsibility towards those who are struggling in a state of darkness. As a brotherhood comprised of men and women, senior Masons with experience and knowledge lend a helping hand to those who may lack the guidance and support necessary to change themselves.  As freemasons, we are obligated to help our fellows, regardless of their background or station in life. Interestingly, the word “obligation” is derived from the same Latin root as “ligament.” A cord by which one thing is tied to another, a ligament is not dissimilar to the very rope which held Simpson above the precipice. Bound by oath, Masons stand firm as protectors of humanity refusing to sever the tie that binds regardless of the consequence.

 

Freakonomics and Freemasonry

Freakonomics and Freemasonry

In 2005, a University of Chicago economist and a New York Times journalist revolutionized economic thinking in popular culture with their non-fiction book, “Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything.”  The authors put forward a fresh perspective as to how the world works through an exploratory lens they refer to as “the hidden side.”  The authors argue that this exploration can be accomplished by “stripping away a layer or two from modern life and seeing what is happening underneath.” The book is formatted by postulating a series of thought-provoking questions. What do school teachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What kind of impact did Roe v. Wade have on violent crime? Since the original work was pubFreakonomics Authorslished in 2005, the Freakonomics authors have capitalized on their success by creating a Freakonomics brand through additional books, lectures, blogs, and a weekly podcast.

According to Steven Levitt, economics was a science with excellent tools for gaining answers but a serious shortage of interesting questions to direct the application of those tools.  He provided an original set of  thought-provoking questions and then applied the tools of his economic training. The result was statistically significant, rational explanations to explain perplexing phenomenon in the modern world. Often eschewing conventional wisdom, Levitt and Dubner created controversy by demonstrating empirical evidence for events, including their theory that the legalization of abortion in the 1970s reduced violent crime in the United States two decades later. Unconcerned with shocking the mainstream population, the authors argue that morality is how individuals would like the world to work, and economics is the way the world actually operates. The book outlines a number of basic principles related to economics: 1) Incentives are the cornerstone of life; 2) conventional wisdom is often wrong; 3) Dramatic events or effects often have distant, subtle causes; 4) Experts use their informational advantage to serve their own agenda; and 5) knowing what to measure and how to measure makes the world less complicated. 

Incentives

Freakonomics postulates that economics is the study of human behavior, explained through the investigation of incentives. Thus, to understand human behavior, one must understand the incentives which motivate him into action.  Levitt and Dubner write, “Economists love incentives. The typical economist believes the world has not yet invented a problem that he cannot fix if given a free hand to design the proper incentive scheme.” According to the authors, incentives come in three varieties: moral, social, and economic. Moral incentives motivate an individual to act out of conscienceincentiveseconomic or conviction. Social incentives inspire individuals to act in order to avoid shame or achieve glory. Finally, economic incentives direct people to act in their financial interest.  

To explain how these incentives work in the real world, Levitt and Dubner utilized an example of a day care center in Haifa, Israel.  In this example, the center’s management faced a recurring problem: parents were late to pick up their children and staff had to be paid extra wages to watch the children past the agreed upon schedule. Management decided to enact a fee for the late pickup of a child, which they believed would discourage parental tardiness. Instead, they was shocked to discover that parents showed up late more often after the fee was instituted. According to the authors, the fee had the reverse impact on parental arrival times because the parents traded a moral incentive, a sense of guilt for being late, for an economic incentive, a small fee for a late pickup. These parents changed their behavior by assessing the benefits of the extra time in their schedule and decided that the price was worth the added cost. 

Conventional Wisdom

Freakonomics is a persuasive read, in part, because of the authors’ innovative way of employing powerful quantitative tools of economic inquiry to refute conventional wisdom. The problem with conventional wisdom is not that is it always incorrect, rather that such explanations are simply accepted by the general population without questioning or examination.  To many, human social behavior is complex and requires too much effort to understand. In an effort to avoid mental analysis, we accept conventional wisdom delivered  in short phrases which comfort us with their simplicity and familiarity. Taught as children, we hear the same phrase repeatedly until we start parroting it back as an explanation. Such aphorisms include “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” “the early bird gets the worm,” and “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Conventional wisdom is often first created by experts in a field, i.e. physicians advised patients to avoid eating eggs to maintain a healthy level of cholesterol. These conclusions get repeated in the media and by other experts who further establish credibility. Repeated often enough, a false attribution of causality becomes accepted by society as conventional wisdom to explain a problem. 

Levitt and Dubner cite several examples of conventional wisdom, which is demonstrably in error including the positive societal connotations of allowing your child to attend a play date where the family owns a swimming pool versus the negative associations of allowing your child to visit a home where guns are kept. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), there is one drowning of a child for every 11,000 residential pools in the United States.  There are approximately 6 million pools in the United States, which equates to  550 children under the age of ten who drown each year. Comparatively, there is 1 child killed by a gun for every 1 million guns. There are an estimated 200 million guns in the United States, which means that roughly 175 children under ten die each year from guns. Thus, the likelihood of death by pool equates to 1 in 11,000 versus death by gun to 1 in 1 million. The authors write, “If you both own a gun and a swimming pool in your backyard, the swimming pool is about 100 times more likely to kill a child than the gun is.”

Dramatic Events 

Freakonomics postulates that economic inquiry, the gathering and interpreting of data, is time intensive and complex. When considering the causes that precipitated a dramatic event, the answer is often outside the realm of attributed factors. The book carefully analyses the dramatic rise in crime reported in the early 1990s and the predictions that the violence would increase dramatically in the decade. President Clinton spoke to the fears abounding from the increase in deaths by gunfire, carjackings, robbery, and rape. He stated, “We know we’ve got about six years to turn this juvenile crime thing around or our country is going to be living with chaos.” In a drastic turn of events, crime began to fall in 1995 and continued in thjacket_freakonomics_lge subsequent years. The teenage murder rate did not rise to the levels predicted, rather it fell more than fifty percent within five years. By 2000, the U.S. murder rate had dropped to the lowest levels in thirty-five years. Experts then theorized a number of logical reasons for the drop in crime: the booming economy. the proliferation of gun control laws, and innovative policing techniques. Levitt and Dubner’s analysis concluded that the real underlying cause was attributable to the legalization of abortion in 1973 and the related decrease of children born into poverty. 

Experts and Informational Advantage 

Freakonomics explores how specific individuals can capitalize on their informational advantage to serve their own goals. The authors examine the informational advantage held by a real estate agent, including the current condition of local housing markets. They can combine this superior knowledge to expedite a home sale which may be at a price less than what the seller could have obtained by a longer listing period. The real estate agent’s commission is structured in such a way that what may be a significant increase in profit for the sellers equates to negligible increase in the fees they receive for the sale of the home. Moreover, the real estate agent’s credibility is often linked to how fast a home is sold, i.e. days on the market. The authors cite evidence of real estate agents using their informational advantage to scare sellers into accepting a lower offer to achieve a deal which is in the agent’s best interest. 

Measuring the World

Freakonomics provides new insights by applying the scientific process to address economic and social issues. The authors formulated testable hypotheses and then gathered the relevant data, often from what was previously considered unconventional sources to test those hypotheses. Freakonomics provides concrete illustrations of how unconventional methods of data gathering and innovate means of interpreWorkingtoolsting said data provides new insights into how our world works. The book argues that knowing what to measure and how to measure it makes a complicated world easier to understand.

The Freakonomics of Freemasonry

Popular culture often relays a mistaken point of view of Freemasonry as being an elite organization, where individual members possess and yield undue power in our society. This is an example of the principle that conventional wisdom is often wrong and should be examined by the individual. Stereotypes about Freemasonry have been exacerbated and enforced by the media, i.e. attention to sensationalized books such as “The Lost Symbol” by Dan Brown.  In reality, Freemasonry is an educational and self-improvement system that requires hard work and dedication. Not unlike a school, members are taught how to behave as upright members of society and instructed on how to improve their lives through greater control of their bodies and minds. Many freemasons are very successful individuals who reap the benefits of education in the seven liberal arts and sciences, including grammar, logic, rhetoric, music, arithmetic, geometry and astronomy.  Repetition is a recipe for success as the more time an individual takes to perfect his skills, related to writing, public speaking, debate, and logical reasoning, the greater the probability he will have in being successful in the business world and in society in general.