Is Death Necessary? Or Inevitable?

Is Death Necessary? Or Inevitable?

Death. A foregone conclusion to this life. Maybe. What does science say?

“Now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me, Albert Einstein wrote in a condolence letter, upon the death of his close friend Michele Besso in 1955, “that signifies nothing. For those of us who believe in physics, the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” Einstein was on to something, according to a contemporary scientist.

A theory… a philosophy, really, called “Biocentrism,” explores this question and many other fundamental reality-based questions. Introduced in 2010 by Robert Lanza, a scientist, doctor, and “influential thinker” who felt that consciousness is a problem for not only biologists, but physicists as well. Nothing, according to Lanza, can explain the “molecules of consciousness bouncing around in our brain.”

Biocentrism is sometimes the view or belief that the rights and needs of humans are not more important than those of other living things. This is not that theory of philosophy; it is something entirely different.

The theory postulated by Lanza is that nothing exists outside of consciousness and life. Biology is the great creator. In Lanza’s view, we humans have become very good at understanding the mechanics of our universe. We look at the rotations of planets, and we know chemical properties and can explain how apples fall from trees.

What we can’t explain is why. Why does the universe work as it does? Why can we not explain yet why we have consciousness, or what we should be doing with it? Biocentrism explains the why.

“I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness.” Said Max Planck, Nobel Prize-winning physicist, “We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”

Lanza, with biocentrism, seeks to explain the difference between what we all perceive to be an objective reality versus a life-centric reality.

“If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?”

Objective reality says, why yes, of course it does. Biocentrism reality says, not unless brainthere is an ear nearby. The science is lengthy but makes a point – without the ear to hear, the sound does not really exist. The tree falling creates puffs of air which stimulate aneardrum that translates the shift of air into a sort of sound. The sound is entirely held within our brains. The sound requires life and consciousness to comprehend it. The human must remove themselves from the equation to see the validity of the argument, and put themselves back in to understand the human place in creating the universe.

  • The First Principle of Biocentrism is that “what we perceive as reality is a process that requires our consciousness.” Or, said slightly differently, requires “any” consciousness. If I ask you, where is the universe, most might answer, “out there.” What many struggle with is that we are part of the same universe; what is out there is what is in here.                                                                                                                                                                     
  • The Second Principle of Biocentrism is that “internal and external perceptions are intertwined; they are different sides of the same coin and cannot be separated.”

In a complex explanation, Lanza says the general idea is that our brains create the reality we see. In this book, “Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe,” Lanza explains all of this in an answer to the question: “Where is the Universe?”

In total, there are seven principles to Biocentrism, according to Lanza.

  • The most interesting one, in relation to death, is the Fourth Principle of Biocentrismwithout consciousness, “matter” dwells in an undetermined state of probability.

Any universe that could have preceded consciousness only existed in a probability state. This seems to state that we, as are in that undetermined state of probability, and that our matter never really “goes away” but is folded into and part of the ongoing reality of the universe. Our consciousness separates from matter but doesn’t cease to exist because it’s all part of the same consciousness. This reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s story, “American Gods.” Gods exist and thrive because of our consciousness of them.

Life creates the Universe. The Universe (Darwinism, the Big Bang, etc) did not create life. We’ve got it backwards.

Mind. Blown.

It seems like such a simple turn of phrase, one which everyone can identify with. Lanza brings to bear all the science and experiential anecdotes to back it up. He picks us up, biocentrism-turning-the-universe-outside-inkicking and screaming, from seeing the universe one way and to standing on our heads, viewing it another. These theories harken back to the ideals of Eastern Philosophies and Freemasonry.

Freemasons, Buddhists, and Taoists seek balance and unification, we see an understanding of nature and science, and a middle path. For the Buddhist, our consciousness allows us to connect with the One – the whole. For the Taoist, the focus is a seamless flow of life – where there are no individuals but a single existence. For the Freemason, we seek unity and harmony, and the idea that as a unit, we are also creators. None of this is incompatible with Lanza’s scientific and philosophical approach to how the universe, physics, works.

So, to the original questions: “Do we die?” and Is it inevitable?” 

According to Lanza, we are already dead, alive, past, future, and creators right now. The limitations are in our own perceptions and ideas of reality. All of it is right now because we, and all matter, are conscious. Lanza himself addressed this question in a Psychology Today article, located here.

Perhaps if more people could look at the universe from this new paradigm, we would become the creators we already are; we create and destroy together, whether we believe it or not.

  1. For a really good read, try out Lanza’s book on Biocentrism and his follow-on book, “Beyond Biocentrism.”
  2. For an interesting Buddhist view of Biocentrism, look to “The Endless Further,” a Buddhist’s blog.

The Great Race

The Great Race

RACE – noun

Definition of race (Merriam-Webster)

  1. a breeding stock of animals
  2. a family, tribe, people, or nation belonging to the same stock
  3. a class or kind of people unified by shared interests, habits, or characteristics
  4. an actually or potentially interbreeding group within a species; also : a taxonomic category (such as a subspecies) representing such a group
  5. breed
  6. a category of humankind that shares certain distinctive physical traits
  7. obsolete : inherited temperament or disposition
  8. distinctive flavor, taste, or strength

The use of the word ‘race’ began about 1560, in Middle French, from the root word for “generation.” It comes from an older Italian word, razza, which, might be speculated, came from ratio, which originally meant idea or “conception of something.” The word does not have certain origin, but it certainly has certain meaning in our modern world.

Early American colonists struggled with race as much as we do today. With a radically different foundation of daily life, religion served as the basis for racial divide.

‘Race’ originally denoted a lineage, such as a noble family or a domesticated breed, and concerns over purity of blood persisted as 18th-century Europeans applied the term —which dodged the controversial issue of whether different human groups constituted “varieties” or “species” — to describe a roughly continental distribution of peoples. Drawing upon the frameworks of scripture, natural and moral philosophy, and natural history, scholars endlessly debated whether different races shared a common ancestry, whether traits were fixed or susceptible to environmentally produced change, and whether languages or the body provided the best means to trace descent. Racial theorization boomed in the U.S. early republic, as some citizens found dispossession and slavery incompatible with natural-rights ideals, while others reconciled any potential contradictions through assurances that “race” was rooted in nature.

Oxford Encyclopedia, The Idea of Race in Early America

While founding fathers could not get over this hurdle of the nature of “race,” the entire nation has trudged onward trying in several corners to face it, with very little success.

From Jim Crow laws stating “separate but equal” to the civil rights movement of the 60’s onward, people of all colors and backgrounds have struggled to be treated like human beings. Simply human beings. In the early 2000’s, racism, the idea of separation of peoples, is alive and well.

“What has changed since the collapse of Jim Crow has less to do with the basic structure of our society than with the language we use to justify it. In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. So we don’t. Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color “criminals” and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind.”

The New Jim Crow

While the U.S.A. might have had an African-American President, we were quickly followed by this:

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re not sending you, they’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bring crime. They’re rapists… And some, I assume, are good people.”  — President Donald Trump

Well, then, let’s bring the subject out for discussion into the light of day.

There are many people who would argue that they are not racist. I disagree. Everyone is racist to some point or another; whether it be national pride, cultural or heritage pride, seeing yourself as a separate from another human being in any way is racism. We all have, in our heads, the idea of “other,” whether it is gender, cultural, language, sexuality, skin color, or what have you. Human beings separate themselves in order to find security. Surely someone who is “not other” will protect and care for us, keep the tribe safe. We look for security in our chaotic world and in a sea of humanity, we cling to what we know.

Even Freemasonry has been subject to racism, and continues to be so. In 2009, the racism of some Georgia Masons was brought to light in Masonic and Civil courts. The rituals and foundations of Freemasonry are not racist; in fact, its precepts are strictly very non-discriminatory. Several Freemasonry orders admit people of all genders, races, creeds, and religions, including atheists. Yet, grand ideals and all, like any institution it too can be subject to human bias.

The question is, “what do you do with this sense of ‘other?'”Are we even aware that we have a sense of “other?” We all have preconceptions of traits, habits, or mores of certain peoples that are not of our own “tribe.” We have ideas and thoughts about other human beings from different places, different regions of the world. To say we don’t shows an ignorance of our own upbringing. My parents were not openly racist but my grandparents were – and they were active Freemasons. How could those traits have not been passed down to my parents? How could they not have been passed down to me, consciously or not? You don’t get all the good and none of the bad.

I would state this unequivocally: it’s our responsibility as decent human beings to treat everyone fairly, equitably, and justly, regardless of what is in our thoughts. Perhaps despite our thoughts.

It is the actions of people which determine their active racism. A middle-aged couple walk on the other side of the street to avoid a group of young African-American men walking towards them. A white man sitting on the bus who ignores an aged Hispanic woman who is standing and holding heavy grocery bags, yet offers his seat to a well-dressed white woman. People who blatantly ignore a group of Asian families waiting to get onto a train and push right past them.

We see these acts all the time, sometimes several moments in a day are filled with them. Maybe we do them. These could be the acts of people who are just horrible human beings, treating other human beings with contempt. They could be the acts of the completely ignorant. They could be racist acts. Only the human being committing them knows. Consciousness requires a lot of self-reflection. If the perpetrator isn’t clear about how they move through their day, they will continue to effect human beings with racist, demeaning, or fearful actions. Fear, the great motivator, is rooted in ignorance.

For those that think they are not racist, or that we don’t live in a racist society in most of the world, one would ask why these acts still happen? Racists and decent human beings come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. They come from all religions, all creeds, all countries. They are educated and uneducated; they are Presidents; they are businessmen, farmers, doctors, and Wal-Mart employees. We are surrounded by decent and indecent people. And yet, these acts still happen. Do decent people stand up and say something?

It seems like it might require the sound of voices to rise up when these acts of ignorance are being committed. It takes courage to overcome ignorance. It may be our own education that needs to be rounded out. It may be spending time with “another” to get a sense of what it’s like to walk a mile in their shoes. To say that one should be “colorblind” is ignorant and unnecessary. We should not be colorblind; we should be aware, conscious, and active in our support that all human beings are the same, regardless of any thing that took place before we met them, regardless of who their parents were, what gender they were born with or are now, and regardless in whom they place their trust, their destiny, or their faith. We need to stop being afraid. Tolerance is not homogeneity; acceptance does not mean giving up identity. There is nothing superior about acting so.

Only one sort of racism should be tolerated: the human kind. However, our cats may have something to say about that.

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Fear: the Mind Killer

Fear: the Mind Killer

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.

Frank Herbert, Dune

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, img_0142faith, 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.

  1. Self-depreciation is the fear of not being good enough – manifests as Humility (positive) to Self-Abasement (negative).
  2. Greed is the fear of not having enough – manifests as Egoism | Desire (positive) to Voracity | Gluttony (negative).
  3. Self-destruction is the fear of losing control – manifests as Self-Sacrifice (positive) to Suicide |Immolation (negative).
  4. Martyrdom is the fear of not being worthy – manifests as Selflessness (positive) to Victim Mentality (negative).
  5. Stubbornness is a fear of change, of new situations – manifests as Willfulness |Determination (positive) to Obstinacy (negative).
  6. Impatience is the fear of missing or losing opportunities – manifests as Audacity (positive) to Intolerance (negative).
  7. 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

Politics, Be Darned!

Politics, Be Darned!

Freemasons. Politics. To hear some Freemasons speak of this, you would think the end of the world is nigh if the two are spoken together in the same breath. It has long been the supposed tenant that if you maintained a square and compasses on your web site, you could not, should not, ever, under pain of some kind of jurisprudence, post anything political. Masons, should, apparently have no opinion on anything that relates to or involves politics.

Forgive me, but that’s rubbish. Let’s take a wander down the road of politics as it relates to Freemasons, Freemasonry, and the betterment of humankind.

Let’s not leave aside the fact that a great many persons have been politicians and Freemasons: Harry Truman, George Washington, Winston Churchill, Benjamin Franklin, Jesse Jackson, Franklin Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, Andrew Jackson, William McKinley, Gerald Ford, Thurgood Marshall, and James Monroe – just a few of the important personages who shaped our world. This doesn’t include the numerous Senators, Representatives, Governors, and other world leaders who have exchanged the “scepter for the trowel.” Freemasonry has, from the time of its inception, helped to create great leaders and thus, great politicians. We may not attribute the fact that Masonry is the reason they are great leaders; it certainly is an influence in much of their actions, writing, and legacies. Can we not say that Freemasonry helps people become better? If that’s the case, why would we want to leave politics off the plate?

In short, we perhaps have lost the gift of tolerance. Our world is becoming an increasingly intolerant place. Yet, it has always been so.

In the 1734 Edition of Anderson’s Constitutions, we read the following: “Therefore no private Piques or Quarrels must be brought within the Door of the Lodge, far less any Quarrels about Religion, or Nations, or State-Policy, we being only, as Masons, of the Catholick Religion above-mention’d ; we are also of all Nations, Tongues, Kindreds, and Languages, and are resolv’d against all Politicks, as what never yet conduc’d to the Welfare of the Lodge, nor ever will. This Charge has been always strictly enjoin’d and observ’d ; but especially ever since the Reformation in BRITAIN, or the Dissent and Secession of these Nations from the Communion of ROME.” 

This is the standard by which most, if not all Freemason’s Lodges have based their mores of not speaking about politics.

Like many doctrines and dogma, this analysis of what was meant by Anderson has created many different rules and mores. For example, one prominent Freemason’s site has stated that lack of discussion of religion or politics ensure there are no divisiveness amongst the fellowship. This same reason was given in a CBS article on Freemasonry. In a 2015 Rules and Regulations book, the Grand Lodge of Indiana said the following:

Believing these things, this Grand Lodge affirms its continued adherence to that ancient and approved rule of Freemasonry which forbids the discussion in Masonic meetings of creeds, politics or other topics likely to excite personal animosities. It further affirms its conviction that it is contrary to the fundamental principles of Freemasonry and dangerous to its unity, strength, usefulness and welfare, for Masonic bodies to take action or attempt to exercise pressure or influence for or against any legislation, or in any way to attempt to procure the election or appointment of government officials, or to influence them, whether or not members of the Fraternity, in the performance of their official duties. The true Freemason acts in civil life according to his individual judgment and the dictates of his conscience.

The emphasis above is mine, the key being: In Masonic Meetings. Lodges are places of great discussions – or should be. We can debate, discuss, think, ponder, and muse with common ground and fair rule sets. We have Masonic Jurisprudence to maintain order and a leader in Lodge who’s job is to maintain harmony. We have the virtues of tolerance, justice, fortitude, and prudence to guide us. Why wouldn’t we want to discuss politics in the safest of places with the best people we know?

Because we’re all learning how to be better. It’s a process and, after all, it’s difficult to always be “good.” Humans easily lose their temper and lash out at the greatest and lowest of fearful things. The Freemason’s Lodge may be a bastion of virtues, but it may easily succumb to disharmony if any one of the links is weak.

However, and this is a big however, there is no moratorium on Mason’s speaking with each other or engaging in political conversations. Freemasons often do take political stances and have discussions over meals, visits, games, what have you. Freemasons participate in non-Masonic web site discussions that surround politics and religion, learning from and debating the merits of each; contrary to popular belief, the sky has not fallen and lightning has not struck them down. The Gods of Freemasonry have not ruled them indecent or immoral. In fact, Freemasons should be encouraged to discuss the higher aspects of politics and religion in order to make the world a better place, no? In the course of the debate, it is how we act with each other that is of primary importance – not the topic on which we debate.

As the Grand Lodge of Indiana stated above, “The True Freemason acts in civil life according to his individual judgment and dictates of his conscience.” Each Freemason makes the choice for themselves whether to engage in conversation and discussion on these topics and it is fine to discuss them with each other. In one Mason’s Blog, he explains his stance on “not talking politics and religion” with Fellow Masons. I think this Freemason makes some very good points. We need to learn to have civil discourse if we are ever to become and maintain a positive civil society. In a blog post earlier this year, many Freemasons “left” the roster of interested parties of this blog because they felt that politics had no place in a non-Masonic blog (with many Non-Masons participating). They felt that simply because it had the word “Masonic” in the title, politics with a point of view, should not be discussed. That’s a shame. Disagreements lead to learning, if one has the ears to hear. The Masonic Philosophical Society was created for just that purpose: to discuss and debate in a respectful atmosphere and to hopefully leave with a greater understanding, and not a myopic, narrow point of view.

Fear – of being wrong or unprepared or appearing in a certain way – is most certainly the cause of the intense anger. Again, that’s a shame because it’s most likely many people could have learned from their position.

Freemasons should not be afraid to speak their minds with confidence and listen with equal poise and confidence. Freemasons need to help the world by showing them what true tolerance may be. Please feel free to disagree. Let’s welcome the healthy debate with the goal that in the end, we all prosper and no one will lose.

Is Freemasonry a Spiritual Practice?

Is Freemasonry a Spiritual Practice?

In keeping with the discussion surrounding soul and spirit, I wanted to complete the examination in a part 2, looking at Freemasonry as, to use the “new age” term, a spiritual practice. Freemasonry has been called many things in its lifetime: a fraternal group, an esoteric organization, a cult, a charity organization, and a religion, among other things. Whatever the masses call Freemasons or the Freemasons call themselves, their mission has been the same from the beginning: to create a better world starting with the improvement of humanity at the individual level.

“Remember always that all Masonry is work”, says Albert Pike, a prominent 19th Century Freemason. The Masonic “work,” in my view, is the internal, oblique ritualistic work by which Masons are made and educated for the exoteric work, which consists of activities for the welfare of mankind according to Masonic principles. It is in this mysterious, hidden ritualistic work where much of the speculation of what Freemasonry does and does not do begins. Indeed, sometimes Freemasons themselves may have a difficult time understanding what the “secret” things of Masonry are all about.

In at least one Masonic Order, and probably many others, it is specifically stated that Freemasons have a special charter to input esoteric knowledge into the Masonic members. By esoteric, let’s use the basic form of the word, meaning “knowledge meant only for a few.” Freemasonry, being a select organization, is “esoteric” in this way. That is, generally speaking, the percentage of the overall, human population that belongs to Freemasonry is extremely low. Esoteric, in its uncomplicated form, does not connote anything spiritual, religious, or occult. While some aspects of those forms of study may be “esoteric,” the word “esoteric” does not mean spiritual, religious, or occult.

AstralProjection3Be that as it may, many people find that Freemasonry lends itself toward “spirituality.” “Spiritual” means, quite simply, “pertaining to spirit.” This begs the question, then: what is spirit?

To be simple and clear, for this I’ll use the definition, which is “the principle of conscious life; the vital principle in humans, animating the body or mediating between body and soul.” Could it mean “the soul as it is separated from the body at death” or even “an angel, demon; sprite?”

Yes, absolutely; however, when speaking in relation to philosophical discussions, the first definition is the one to which most people seem to refer. It is the one that for the purposes of this exposition that we will accept and use. The “principle of conscious life” or spirit, and its existence or non-existence, has been for all of human existence the core of much conflict.

What is spirit? Why do people, cultures, and religions view it differently? Is the spirit of humanity divine? Why is this so important? What about the spirit of animals, trees, and rocks? Whence does this spirit emanate? What is its birthplace? The source of many people’s idea of “spirit” seems to be either what many would call God, or gods and goddesses, and the qualities or virtues we assign them accordingly. If we are animated by this “spirit,” and we ascribe this to “God” and say that this part of our being has “godly attributes” or it is “divine.”

However, as is defined above, the term “spirit” is not demarcated by some kind of divine or godly source. It simply is an animation or “vital principle in humans.” It is when we ascribe this spirit’s existence to a specific external entity – be it God, Allah, the Tao, Jehovah, or Zeus – that we run into human conflict. If one is right and true, all others must be wrong and false. Wars have been and continue to be fought over such questions as the origin of “spirit.” Yet, do humans fight over “spirits,” or do they fight over “souls?”

This is where the subject of spirit becomes confused and perhaps convoluted; it is when the word “soul” is interchanged with “spirit.” Wars have been fought over “souls,” not “spirits.” When we discuss soul, I feel we must continue to be very clear about the terms that we’re using, and that the meaning of the word should be as neutral as possible.

“Soul” to a Catholic is very different than a “soul” to a Wiccan, Neo-Platonist, or an Atheist. Resorting to Merriam-Webster for common ground, and looking at this from a purely English literary and linguistic sense, both “soul” and “spirit” originate from a core meaning of “breath, life.”

The major difference between the two seems to be that one is immortal (soul) and one is pure animation and life (spirit) with a specific beginning and ending event. The idea, from these definitions, is that the soul lasts forever while the spirit comes into existence at birth and expires at the death of its human host.

In the base meaning of the word “soul,” there is also the inference of “life giving” qualities. Given that both concern themselves with the essence of life and seem to inhabit the same physical space, it is easy to see that these could be confused and muddled in discussion, debate, and theology. I hear many Freemasons refer to Spirit and Soul interchangeably, but I am unclear whether or not they mean the same thing or spiritual eyesomething different. I do believe that Freemasonry helps provide us a path toward an answer.

We do not normally say we perform a “soul practice”; what we are concerning ourselves here with is the idea of a spiritual practice, as most Westerners use the term. As a verb, to practice is to do something again and again until we’re better at it.

Interestingly, the word “practice” is not a noun – it is in all cases a verb. It is an active principle; as we’ve noted above, so too is Freemasonry. A spiritual practice, using the terms we’ve outlined here, would really indicate “to regularly or constantly work at bettering the vital principle of conscious life.” The term “spiritual practice” is something which we might say develops, by repeated efforts, that vital principle animating humans, “animating the body or mediating between body and soul.”

As the soul is the vital “breath” of humans, one must ask whence it comes, in order to understand if it can be developed. Yet, if this principle is just that, a principle, can it be “trained?” Is it not already perfect how it is? There have been many philosophers, Aristotle, Plato, Plotinus, and Socrates that have all debated this very question – the immortal and thus incorruptible nature of the “soul.” Can something which is, at its core, incorruptible and pure, be “trained?”

Again, if we examine the word soul, as a vital and immortal principle emanating from a divine source, then one must assume that it is something that is pure and pristine as it is. If the Divine is infallible, is not the soul then also infallible? However, if the spirit, being that conduit between or mediator of the body and soul, is truly a breath that can expire at death, then perhaps it is this part to which we are seeking refinement. It would be the washing away of the film of emotions and desires that cloud the conduit that would be the province of a spiritual practice. This is very clearly outlined in some allegorical journeys of English Rites, particularly the higher degrees. In truth, we see it in all allegorical journeys, and stages, that the Freemason takes throughout their entire Masonic career.

Perhaps, what we call a spiritual practice is something that is not to improve or better the spirit itself but to find a way to remind our bodily world of what spirit, and soul if one believes in this, really is. Perhaps it is not to develop the spirit or even a relationship to the spirit but to be conscious and aware of it, to be cognizant of what clouds, conceals, obstructs, or harms that clear pathway of information between body and soul.

If our Divine self, as the soul, is to speak in the material world, the spirit must be clear to enable this to happen. Perhaps this is the reason that Freemasonry does not concern itself with a single religion but with Religion as a whole; if one is to know there is a soul, then there must be a reason for its existence. Perhaps this is also the reason that one must have a belief in a divinity to even be a Freemason. Why would you want to improve Stone_Masons copythe channel between body and soul if you did not believe that one of these pieces did not exist?

To develop the spirit first means to remove those things which impair the conduit and support that which assist the spirit in its duties. This practice would not concern itself with the reason for the soul’s existence – only that it would be able to communicate clearly with the other members of the human world.

This is where Freemasonry interests itself, specifically. As we progress through the degrees, different stories and symbols speak to us; based on our experience, one may find resonance more in one than in the other. They bring forth ideas and discoveries that enhance the channel between body and soul; by bringing forth triggers which illustrate our own blockages, we can identify the reasons and clear the path.

Being self-aware is the first step. As we rise in Freemasonic degrees, the perception and understanding of what bars our way becomes more subtle and refined, and practice of clearing the way becomes more layered. Freemasonry teaches its adherents, with many varied messages and depths, how to clear and keep clear the conduit; it teaches us how to act according to “the Great Law” which permeates the idea of human existence.

One reason Freemasonry builds upon itself, in my opinion, is that you must be able to remove the common, grosser obstructions in communication before you can work on the subtleties. Yet, if we slip, we need to start again. Practice. Hence, the reason Freemasons consider themselves to “always be in the first degree.”

In addition, Freemasonry seems to concern itself with all aspects of the human being, refining and finessing as we progress deeper into its teachings. That is, it concerns itself with our mental, physical, and emotional well-being and actions. One must learn the fundamentals of the physical world, via ritual and memorization, before he navigates into the emotional world: subduing passions, for example. Then, only by understanding and mastering these worlds can he hope to achieve any sense of stability and growth in the realms of the mental.

Most, if not all of us, struggle at any one of these levels and have to pick ourselves up from a setback, working at their rough courser nature again and again. Is this not practice?

Perhaps, then, all of this work we do in all these degrees is the aspect of Freemasonry which seeks to refine the spirit. If one views the degrees as a spiral of life, then one can see the practice built into each of them, culminating in a birth/death. Not only does Freemasonry teach us how to improve the spirit it also tells us why.

Freemasonry does not ascribe a specific religious or theological source to the soul or the body or the spirit – it accredits the supreme & sovereign manifestation with the lessons of the degrees –  a divine source. It assists us to understand how to let the unique symbols_masonic_collagemessage of our individual Divine sparks to be heard and enables us, through the lens of Freemasonry, to understand why it exists in the first place.

There are many ways to understand the soul; religions provide manifold reasons for its existence and purpose of being. While some religions also teach us through their ritual how to access the soul, they may or may not allow for the rich diversity of human culture and multifarious modes of understanding.

I believe, in their dogmatic and rudimentary way, they seek to remove the moral obstacles which block the spirit (conduit) from achieving its goal, which is the free flow of Divine essence from the soul to the expression within this physical, emotional, and mental realm called Earth. Where they might fall short is the lack of cultural messaging that seeks to embrace all, with different messaging tailored to the different human stories that arrive at their doorstep.

Freemasonry seems to provide support for not only a diversity of “soul origins” but also finds that middle-path, the neutral ground in order to develop that pathway that connects between the world we live in and that world in which the Divine resides. The repeated journeys of the degree system seek to teach us, in a variety of ways, what the blocks might be and how to remove them, in straightforward, non-confrontational, and non-segregated language.

Freemasonry allows us as individuals find our own path to the Voice of whatever Divinity speaks to us, and encourages us to express it as who we really are – without pretense, illusions, or corruption. The Work of Masonry is the Work on our self – repeated trials and approbations, developing, cleaning, clearing, and recognizing the path which connects the Divine Soul to our human host. In this way, to me, nothing else could be more spiritual.

Masonic Soul Food

Masonic Soul Food

“What is a Soul? What is Spirit? What is Energy?” We begin to engage in conversations about such esoteric terms as soul, energy, and spirit without being cognizant that we are not speaking the same language. The words may be the same but meanings span the spectrum. We can debate these questions all night, all month, and for the rest of our lives and never come to understanding. Do people really know what they mean when they talk about energy, soul, or spirit? While these are common discussions amongst Freemasons, they are sometimes the most difficult subjects on which to remain impartial and fair.

Humans seem to have a lot invested in the idea of their souls, and in other people’s souls, too.

Many  people join Masonic groups so they can “have an energetic experience” or “touch something mystical.” Some talk about experiencing something that touches their soul or provides a spiritual meaning to their lives. Some Freemasons mention how they “love the energy of Lodge” or how it’s our job to “raise the vibration of our material world and send out ‘healing’ energy.” Many people start their Freemasonic career looking for something mystical, something secret that only they have learned, that no one else knows, that provides them a conduit to perhaps special insight that no one else has. Because Freemasonry deals with the questions of life and death, the neophyte may be looking for Freemasonry to unlock all those special secrets and have the answers. They use terms like soul, spirit, and energy without defining them for themselves and in their communications with others.

energy1It seems that many times, the conversations are about what people want to believe rather than reasoned conclusions. Discussion and debate are the way we educate ourselves and grow. Transformation requires thought.

To those who let go of preconceived desires and wishes, Freemasonry is transformative in many ways. It does discuss these questions of life and death. It leaves the aspirant to mull over symbols and meaning and yes, come up with personal insights on perhaps souls and spirit and energy. Freemasonry provides us the opportunity to to convert from a polarizing human nature to one of balance. We need to learn to deal with all aspects of our temperament in order to understand all the features of this life – material, emotional, mental, and spiritual.  It is this last realm, spiritual, that trips many up.

Most Freemasons accept the presence of a greater power, something undefined that connects us all to a single purpose. Most would agree with the idea of the multi-faceted nature of human existence, struggling with the balance of brain, mind, body, and this idea of “connectedness.” Many have experienced things they can’t explain, the nudges of intuition, and the sudden flashes of insight that seem “deep.” These are all valid experiences. It’s taking them from the experience to meaningful communication that humans struggle. We throw out a word like “soul” or “spirit” or “energy” and assume that the people we communicate with understand what they mean. Freemasons are philosophers,  and any good philosopher will not abide a discussion with random, undefined terms. When asked about souls, there are vague allusions to something energetic, mystical, unique, and connected to some form of god/goddess/force/Tao. A soul is what makes us individuals. A soul is something that is part of God. A soul is our energetic self.  “When our eyes met, our souls touched.”

What does any of that really mean?  For each individual who speaks on these subjects, there is a different answer. Pinning people down about souls and spirits and such can be quite agitating for people. Some people get downright angry.

Can we define any of it? Perhaps. Perhaps we can start with energy.

socratesUnless you wholeheartedly dismiss science, there can be no doubt for one second that we are energetic beings. Neurons use electrical impulses and neurotransmitters (chemicals) to enable our bodies to function in its entirety: to think, feel, heal, sense, breath – everything. Without energy, our hearts would not pump, we would cease to be able to think and process information, and we would die. Mitochondria, in a weird symbiotic relationship with us, enable us to live by helping us process the material world around us into energy. Every cell has mitochondria and every cell is able to produce energy of some sort. Life is energy.

Okay, we’ve established we’re energetic beings, and by the nature of the material world, energetic beings are everywhere. We communicate with our senses and receive communication with our senses. Abraham Hicks said, “We talk with words but communicate with energy.” Cyndi Dale, author of “The Subtle Body: An Encyclopedia of your Energetic Body,” states that “energy is information that vibrates.” This latter definition is a little more trustworthy, it seems, than the former. We can test it. We can retest it. We can play with it and work to define examples. However, this is also where it gets tricky, right? Let’s take a page, well, a short paragraph from Wikipedia: “In physics, energy is the property that must be transferred to an object in order to perform work on or heat the object. It can be converted in form but not created or destroyed.”

BB_timelineWell, okay then, simple question: where did the energy that makes up us come from? Ouch, right? In a recent conversation, I posited this question to a fellow Freemason. He answered, “the stars.” I said okay, get me from B to A. He said “Stars created the elements that trapped the energy that went into making us.” I replied that I agreed, but then, what makes up the stars? He said it must be “the Big Bang.” Humans are the trapped energy of the material created during the Big Bang. To him, we all derive from the single moment that created time, matter, and energy. Physicist or philosopher, the topic of energy is where we converge. We can conclude from this that elements that make up the material world are trapped energy. Is this trapped “energy” spirit? Is that our “soul?”

If we are trapped energy of stars, as is everything around us, then we have far more in common with other matter than we think we do. If we are all made of the same matter, we should be able to recognize one another by way of transferring energy. Or, so one would think. What is interesting to note is that many psychologists and philosophers considered love to be a transference of energy. Freud dwelt on the physical aspects of love while Plato talks about spiritual or unselfish love; but one in the same, what we call love is, to them, a transference of energy. When we love something, we do put energy into it, and it into us. Perhaps this is the idea of spirit. Spirit, Plato said, that that way we communicate emotionally with other humans. Is this not love? So, love is spirit. We can also say love is energy.

So if love, life, and elements are all energy, can we draw any conclusions about the soul?

Many philosophers have tried to explain ‘soul.’ Just one example, Plotinus, the first Neo-Platonist, did his best to help us along in understanding that the soul doesn’t necessarily need a body; yet, without a body, it can’t exist in the “intelligible realms and express itself in the visible realms.” This concept tells us how he thought the soul expressed itself, but not what it is. In a very basic sense, Neoplatonists call the soul “consciousness” or “psyche.” Still, it’s unclear even in modern terms what consciousness is. If we thought defining “soul” in religion is difficult, try the philosophical bent…Truly angst-ridden. It seems that Plotinus and Plato are already agreed that there is a soul, even if they can’t agree on its definition. Maybe it’s something that we all have to debate on until we get to learn for sure. Maybe we’ll never learn for sure, at least not in this world. galaxy-wallpaper-preview-4

One solid conclusion is that the meaning of a soul does not seem to be the meaning of a soul for everyone, and spirit is not something we can agree upon, either. If nothing else, the myriad world religions would illustrate that. The phrase “our souls speak to each other” doesn’t mean much if you can’t really explain to someone else what it means. “We communicated ‘energetically’ is really worthless unless you can really understand clearly what you intend. It doesn’t even matter if you can explain it to someone else; do we even understand ourselves?  A wise Freemason once said that if you can explain something to a five-year-old, and the five-year-old gets it, then you really understand the concept of it. Simple terms, clearly defined, done. We definitely need more five-year-olds around us to keep us honest and clear.

Freemason, scientist, philosopher, or physicist: regardless of what you believe about soul, spirit, energy, or anything else esoteric, definitions are important and personal understanding moreso. The exploration of life’s meaning is, whether we agree on terms or not, something we all share.

Why are we here? Because we’re here. Roll the bones.” – Neal Peart


Silence: A Way to Wisdom

Silence: A Way to Wisdom

What happens in silence? Many argue that silence can invite reflection, contemplation, and discipline. In other words, silence  — along with inquiry — engages learning. It makes you wise. The significance of silence has been highlighted in practically all mystery traditions. Secrecy and silence play a big part in the masonic teaching. Pythagoras, one of the best known champions of silence, is thought to have said:

Silence is the first stone of the temple of wisdom. Listen and you will be wise; the beginning of wisdom is silence.

Silence is generally considered to mean quietness or not making any sound. And while this is indeed silence, I do not think it is everything silence is. It can also mean to preserve a secret, calm the emotions, or still the mind. There is no real silence when emotional tides are raging within us and when we find our monkey mind chattering to itself. 

Is cultivating silence a way to becoming wise?

I think it would be fair to say that for many Greek philosophers, the quest for wisdom was the be all and end all of philosophy. Basically, many of us want to be wise. To know the truth. To know thyself. To know others. To know our beliefs. To know answers Silence 2to questions. To know, know, know.

However, I am not sure we all want to know silence. Why?

The practice of silence invites us to not-know. Is there room in our seeking for not-knowing? Is there space in our pursuit for un-knowing? Listening? Unlearning? For dumping how we have come to cherish our beliefs? To dismiss the knowledge that we carry in our small boxes of understanding? To be open to a magnificent, wondrous world of undiscovered realities? To hold a mystery?

Can we embrace a secret? Can we live in the question?

The Pythagoreans were huge advocates of secrecy and silence. A wonderful little book called Divine Harmony describes the Pythagorean way of life as it is thought to have existed, although we know little for sure. To become a member, an Initiate took an oath of silence for two to five years. Novices were called “listeners” and were not permitted to partake in class discussions. The ancient brothers were quite serious about silence, believing it develops powers of attention and memory.

The school curriculum consisted of developing a host of virtues in the students. Silence 3Knowledge was transmitted symbolically, through cryptic statements and riddles.

The Pythagorean Y

One of the symbols studied was called the “Pythagorean Y.” Manly P. Hall explains:

The famous Pythagorean Y signified the power of choice and was used in the Mysteries as emblematic of the Forking of the Ways. The central step separated into two parts, one branching to the right and the other to the left. The branch to the right was called Divine Wisdom and the one to the left Earthly Wisdom.

This symbol reminds me of the fork in the road that Robert Frost talks about in his poem,  “The Road Not Taken.” Earthly wisdom or Divine Wisdom? Each path corresponds to a different direction his life may take. He must choose carefully. Left turn or right turn? Mundane or spiritual?

I look back on my own life, wondering how many times I have faced that fork (and still do). I do not always take the road “less traveled.” Sometimes it is just easier to be busy with the mindless daily grind. Wise people are people who make the hard choices, who know things – things that matter. They put that knowledge to good use in practice. I saw a saying the other day on someone’s T shirt that said:

Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.

Confucius, another wise person, once said that there were three ways to learn Wisdom:

First, by reflection, which is noblest;

Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and

Third by experience, which is the bitterest.

As we can see the ancient philosophers thought a lot about the nature of wisdom and silence. But what relevance does it have for our modern times?

Silence in a Modern World

First, it seems to me that silence is a very good thing. The powers of observation can lead to truth and wisdom. Moreover, seeking truth and finding wisdom both have Silence 4instrumental value to the modern world.

On the other hand, not all silences are created equal. Some silences don’t lead to truth. We could, I suppose, spend all our time in silence seeking to know every possible truth, but that does not seem like the path of wisdom. What we want to know are silences that matter, that lead to those truths that are relevant to our practical projects and society. Some truths are clearly more actionable than others.

I find encouragement in the exemplary lives of those who have practiced silence, people like Gandhi, the Indian civil rights leader. He is one of the wisest people I know that did great things while being dedicated to spending one day a week in silence. For him, it was a choice to continue to redeem the world and to save the world from our own selves. He knew that a person cannot be wise if he arrogantly over-estimates the power of his own beliefs and judgments. There needs to be humility: to listen and learn, and to give other voices their due.

Thomas Carlyle, philosopher and writer, speaks of a Ghandi type of silence in Sartor Resartus:

Silence is the element in which great things fashion themselves together; that at length they may emerge, full-formed and majestic, into the daylight of Life, which they are thenceforth to rule.

The great things are not “over there” somewhere. They are all right here, where we are, waiting in silence, the element of not-knowing. Vast. Majestic. Subtle. No knowing them. No rushing them. No trapping them. Only accepting the silence for what it is. And what it will become.


A Little Light Reading: The Arts and Freemasonry

A Little Light Reading: The Arts and Freemasonry

I have been asked often: “what are good books for people who are interested in Freemasonry?” Personally, I feel that any reading is good reading: it strengthens the mind, opens you up to diverse ideas, enhances your vocabulary, and makes you a far more interesting person for conversation. Regardless, there are a myriad of paths the aspirant’s reading may take, and still find they add substance and interest to the philosophies that make up your life. Nearly every genre has something to add, and I’ve personally found Masonic meaning in many non-“serious” readings. Masonry is everywhere, and for the ardent Freemason, it can be found in movies, science fiction writings, and even children’s books.

For those interested in Freemasonry, titles at The Masonic Publishing Company are robust places to start the journey. I’d highly recommend The Brother of the Third image-masonic-publishing-companyDegree, the Kybalion, and The Law. For those interested in Co-Masonry in general, On Holy Ground is a particularly engaging book on one organization’s foundation and history within the United States. There are really two aspects of reading in Freemasonry – about Freemasonry and about symbolismIf you’re interested in the symbolic nature of Freemasonry, The Secret Teaching of All Ages, by Manly P. Hall, is a fascinating romp through all kinds of studies and is a good foundation into alternative ways of looking at life, the universe, and everything.

Most late 19th century and early 20th century Masonic authors, like Leadbeater, J.F. Newton, Powell, and Wilmshurst, are also very good authors to explore some of the specifics of Freemasonry, without giving anything away. That is my caveat with anyone interested in becoming a Freemason: don’t read ahead. In fact, don’t read any ritual or about any degree you don’t have. Sure, you can find anything on the Internet; Freemasonry, however, is an experiential process and to truly find it work in yourself, it’s really a good idea to go in without expectations or knowledge. You might find you get in your own way. Books like The Science of the Sacraments, by Leadbeater, give one an idea of ritual work without speaking strictly to Freemasonic ritual.  The Golden Bough and The Magic of Freemasonry provide deeper insight into ritual and its importance in human life. Georges_de_La_Tour_-_Magdalen_of_Night_Light_-_WGA12337

As a Freemason, I see Freemasonry everywhere and find the concepts housed within almost every genre – fine arts (drama, oil paintings, etc.), science fiction, philosophy, fantasy writings, and many movies. Walking through an art museum, one may find the aspect of a ritual here, or a teaching there. Many Renaissance and Baroque painters styled their subjects in familiar Masonic situations. In writing, I find Freemasonry in Asimov, Le Guin,  Pullman, L’Engle, and Zelazny, as well as in various philosophies like Pythagoras, Plutarch, and Seneca. Reading autobiographies of people like the Founding Fathers (United States), provides some clarity in the type of “enlightened mind” that feeds a Freemasonic soul.

Movies are always fascinating to watch through a Masonic lens. Movies such as “The Adjustment Bureau,” “Inception,” The-Matrix“The Matrix,” and “I, Robot” capture the challenging questions of reality and what is the perfection of humanity.  In music, one can explore Mozart’s “Magic Flute” and Holst’s “The Planets” to find how music can be influenced by a Masonic mind. Any artistic medium that addresses the larger questions of life, why are we here, and how can we find meaning, speak to the Freemason who is seeking to add more to their Masonic work.

Beware of those authors who sensationalize Freemasonry. If it sounds too good to be true, it generally is. That is equally true of Freemasonry writings founded in speculation and falsehoods. There is much speculation without much fact, and while Freemasons are speculative, they are also rooted in truth, nature, and science.

That said, the arts are wonderful places to explore the concepts contained within Freemasonry and help broaden the minds of those seeking more of life. The secrets of Freemasonry are all around us and we have only to open our senses to find the way.


Why Beauty? The Splendor of Truth

Why Beauty? The Splendor of Truth

Is beauty important? Why does it even exist in the first place? Everyone has a definition of beauty, and they are all different: A beautiful body, a beautiful painting, a beautiful sunset. It captivates and arrests the gaze. Beauty shines through the whole universe. When confronted by true beauty, one cannot turn away one’s eyes. We aspire to be beautiful so people will love us. It captivates all the senses, the soul and the spirit.

Maybe the question is not “what is beauty,” but “why is beauty?” Why is it any use to us at all? How do we know it? As Freemasons, we are taught that Beauty adorns all great and important undertakings. Beauty in the arts gives pleasure through inspiration. A gentle obsession with beauty is a source of much in our lives. Let us muse together on beauty.

How does one decide if something is beautiful or not? The Greek philosophers Socrates and Plato are said to have been the first who tried to define beauty. They thought that an object is inherently beautiful. Other philosophers argued that beauty is subjective. Beauty is not the quality of the object but it is an experience of our own, thus the popular phrase, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” For example, after seeing a starry sky, a gorgeous painting, or a mystical rainbow, a person may feel wonder and awe by the beauty in it. But not everyone may feel the same way about those same things.

Is beauty objective or subjective? Does our perception of beauty define us?

Plato’s Ladder

Plato uses the symbol of a ladder to show different levels of beauty in his dialogue in The Symposium. Each rung of the ladder gives a different perspective. On the first step or level, a person loves a body, and then all bodies. By the third step, he relates to the beauty of souls over that of bodies. This leads to the love of laws and institutions, leading to the love of certain types of knowledge. It ends in the pursuit of knowledge, or the love of wisdom. Upon reaching this, the person will see Beauty in its purest form or Beauty itself.8154643392_20cf304518_z

Step 1 – A beautiful Body
Step 2 – All beautiful Bodies
Step 3 – Beautiful Souls
Step 4 – Beautiful Laws, Institutions
Step 5 – Beautiful Knowledge
Step 6 – Beauty Itself

Looking at this it seems that beauty is not just about pretty things, but it’s something much deeper and vaster. It involves some sort of process of transformation. There is a saying In Italian, “bello da morire” which means “beautiful to die for.” The presence of beauty creates the possibility for a shift in us. If we change too much, we die of our old selves. According to philosopher David Hume, “Beauty is no quality in things themselves. It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.”

I think that beauty is like love in that it is one of those big realities in our life. Our relationships may be complex and at times contradictory and difficult. For example, we know that someone who looks traditionally very beautiful could be very dreadful indeed.

Ultimately, we face a paradox. Beauty may be important because it has strength and the power to transform us. But there are parts of us that resist that; we are attached to our old images of ourselves, old dogmas, and habits, and therefore, we prefer not to let in too much to beauty. It can be dismissed or ignored, and life goes on anyway in quiet desperation.

Do we even dare climb the ladder to this ineffable beauty? Plato said that beauty is truth. For example, if a statement is true it will also be beautiful. But there is even a problem 3913221135_a6918bf8cf_zwith this. We might see a statement that is beautiful to us, yet if we test it we find out it is not true. Beauty is a very complicated relationship.

Beauty in Freemasonry

In Freemasonry, we learn the concept of beauty cannot only be of a material beauty. If we go deep enough we will indeed find out that beauty is the splendor of truth. Inner beauty is goodness, and inner goodness is beauty. At some point, comes a decision to tread the way and be a better person. Embracing beauty helps with that.

Plotinus, one of the most influential philosophers in the ancient world, talks about fostering an inner vision:

Cut away that which is superfluous, straighten that which is crooked, purify that which is obscure: labor to make all bright, and never cease to fashion your statue until there shall shine out upon you the godlike splendor of virtue, until you behold temperance established in purity in her holy shrine.

By making “crooked things straight,” it seems that we can begin to experience a portion of those beautiful truths. Raise your consciousness and beauty will unfold before you. Attending a beautiful masonic ceremony or engaging in the creative arts can be enlightening and so can eating a box of chocolates. Divine!

I recently was listening to an interview by the late poet John O’Donahue. Something in his words and in his haunting deep Irish voice touched my soul ever so beautifully. I closed my eyes to as if to pay homage to the gods of poetry and philosophy. It was one of those rare encounters with beauty. We have all had them. In a moment of sublime Beauty, we are all rendered speechless. Beauty is ineffable. Why Beauty? It conveys something Divine that book knowledge doesn’t. Beauty gives way to contemplation. Admittedly, the very heart of Beauty cannot be captured in words.

Beauty does not linger, it only visits.
Yet beauty’s visitation affects us and invites us into its rhythm,
it calls us to feel, think, and act beautifully in the world:
to create and live a life that awakens the Beautiful.

– John O’Donahue     


Know Thyself: The Ship of Thieves

Know Thyself: The Ship of Thieves

“I am not the person I was.” We hear that a lot, especially when it comes to growing older and, one hopes, wiser. Indeed, we’re not the same person we were. Over the course of time, our cells die, regenerate, add, delete, change, morph, and eventually we have all new cells. But we retain our name, our memories, our lives. Are we not the same person?

One would argue that of course we are. Or are we? Really?

We cling to our identities like dryer sheets to hot cotton shirts. In our minds, we are who we always have been. We are that twelve-year-old child who swam in the lake as well as that adult who had their first job in fast food. We remember events, creations, or possessions and claim them to be ours.

Conversely, we claim our “self” to exist because of those things. We do not change, or if we do, it is at a glacial pace. We affix our identity in time and space, and like an astronaut, place a flag on it and proclaim it to be ours, to be “true” identity: knowing who we are.Theseus_Helene_Staatliche_Antikensammlungen_2309_n2

In a recent conversation with a fellow Mason, I was discussing the Ship of Theseus. The paradox is quickly explained in this video: The Paradox of the Ship of Theseus. In essence, the question is this: at what point does the ship cease to become Theseus’ ship and become something else?

If we take one plank from the ship and replace it, we generally can agree that the ship is still Theseus’ ship. At what point, however, do you fix enough broken pieces that the ship becomes something else? My colleague was convinced that the ship remained and always remained Theseus’ ship. For him, the idea of identity stays with the generally recognized “thing” even if the sum of its parts is not original.

Conversely, the argument is this: if I am a thief, and I slowly steal the pieces of Theseus’ ship, replace them with identical parts,  take the original parts, and put them together in my backyard, who has the ship of Theseus? The original owner, or me?

My friend said that the original owner did. I disagree. If I take a painting from the Louvre, and replace it with an identical painting, and everyone recognizes it as the “painting,” who has the “real” painting? In my colleague’s eyes, then, have I really stolen anything?

identityI contend that I have, if nothing else, I have stolen the certainty of the Ship of Theseus. I have stolen, or potentially stolen, the idea of the ship. But these painful musings do have a purpose: they help us work out our identity – the answers to the question of: Who am I?

A brilliant article on this is found on Brainpickings. I would encourage you to watch the other short videos on this site: not only is the one on Who Am I thought-provoking, but there are links to life’s other huge questions. How do I know I exist? What is the Nature of Reality? But, I digress.

The question is, at what point is our self no longer “us?” Is it when all the cells in our body have replaced themselves? What about new neural pathways or brain cells? If we replace a leg or arm or heart, are we the same person? 

Freemasons live by an adage of “Know Thyself,” which also adorned the Oracle of Delphi  at the Temple of Apollo. We must first understand what it is that makes up our “self” and when does that “self” become something else. I think this is a life long exploration and, since the self is constantly undergoing change, are we always who we were? Perhaps not.

But then, where did “we” go? Does our identity persist? If it does so, how? What makes us, us?fingerprint

I asked my fellow Mason about clones, which sent us down an entirely different path, discussing identical twins, and the like. Does time make a difference? If a plank is rotten on Theseus’ ship, and it is replaced, does that make identity linger, as opposed to replacing a “new” plank? If I change my mind about how I feel about something, am I still the same person? What if I create new habits? What then?

We are ever seeking to understand our true natures; yet, our true nature is ever-changing. Freemasonry teaches us about the cycles of life, death, rebirth, nature. and science. It teaches us all of Life’s Mysteries. If stagnation is death and change is life, how can we ever be the same person moment to moment? Perhaps that is the mystery that we must ever follow: a constant, persistent discovery of who we are, and what we are doing.