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.

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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
 

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

Tolerance and Debate

Tolerance and Debate

Debate is described, by Merriam Webster, as “a formal discussion on a particular topic in a public meeting or legislative assembly, in which opposing arguments are put forward.” Tolerance, by the same arbiter, is “the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.” Why do we examine these things here? As an interested party of the Masonic Philosophical Society, it is our position to debate, with tolerance, the yes or no questions put forward to us. We are directed to keep an open mind and examine the nuances and subtleties that make us different and thereby enlarge the scope of our own understanding. In the mission statement of the M.P.S., we read, “The Masonic Philosophical Society is an institution which aims to provide an environment of exploration within the framework of Masonic principles and to inspire individuals to self-awareness.”  M.P.S. meetings, for those who have been to them, are respectful interactions between differently-minded people, each make a case for or against a specific subject. The Meetups are, for all intents and purposes, a mini-debate.

The art of classical debate has slowly been dissipating in our modern society. In Ancient Greece, the “Socratic Debate” was a form “of cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presumptions.” At the height of 18th Century “Enlightenment” culture, debating societies were the norm in London. It is thought that out of those debating societies, school debating societies emerged. There are a few debating societies in assorted countries today, but they are difficult to find. What debate there is appears to have morphed. If one listens to school competitive debating teams in recent years, it look as if to be less about the idea of sharing thought and more about speed, points of rhetoric, and form. One must study for weeks to prepare and be ready for the speed and style with which points are addressed an answered; words spoken are almost unintelligible to bystanders. Likewise, a political debate is little more than a series of standard rhetoric, backbiting, and false facts set under the title of “debate.” Luckily, such organizations such as “The Commonwealth Club” [https://www.commonwealthclub.org/] exist to be able to listen to informed debate between two very differing points of view, whether it be on climate change or mental illness. It is a true exchange of differing ideas. 

In a recent conversation on media, it was pointed out that the average individual in the USConstitutionUnited States, prior to the advent of Yellow Journalism about 1895, received their “news” from varied opinions. Newspapers, the main form of information, were clear in their support of one political party or the other; with names like the Carolina Federal Republican, Democratic Press, or the Impartial Register, you knew clearly which way the articles and opinions would be written. You knew the “slant” of the news. From the printing of the “Federalist Papers” in the later part of the 18th Century until the end of 19th Century, people of the U.S. read partial and partisan newspapers willingly and enthusiastically. All indications are that people read more than one; it was not uncommon for people to read many papers espousing what they believed and what they did not in order to round out their opinions on the matter. The Jeffersonian way of thinking held sway:

The way to prevent these irregular interpositions of the people is to give them full information of their affairs thro’ the channel of the public papers, & to contrive that those papers should penetrate the whole mass of the people. The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers & be capable of reading them. – Thomas Jefferson

It has only been since the squelching of Yellow Journalism and the adamant fight of objective reporting that we have really had mostly “impartial” news – the majority of the 20th Century. In modern journalism school, the writer learns there is no “I” except on the opinion page; facts are reported and only facts. Current generations have been told that their media should be impartial and driven by facts. Opinions do not have a place on the nightly news. However, we are rounding a new era of citizen reporting with the advent of the internet, where anyone can write a blog, a newspaper, form an opinion, and post it on Twitter. Opinions are being touted as fact, and it is up to the reader to discern what is true and what is not. We are no longer subjected to generally objective reporting, and we are learning how to deal with it as a culture. An excellent Freakonomics episode on this subjected is entitled “How Biased is Your Media.” [http://freakonomics.com/podcast/how-biased-is-your-media/]

TOLERANCEIn this new electronic media era, we are learning again how to debate and how to be tolerant. We are learning to see more than one side, and to perhaps give leeway to “the other guy;” being able to see the whole picture gives us a 360-degree view. If we didn’t have the other person’s outlook, we only get half of the story. As human beings, we need to remember that our perspective is limited by our senses. In addition to our physical perception only being able to see what is in front of us, we register different words and not others, we see different colors than are “true.”

In this book, “On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right, Even When You’re Not” [https://www.amazon.com/Being-Certain-Believing-Right-Youre-ebook/dp/B003J5UJHW/ref=sr_1_11?ie=UTF8&qid=1492057108&sr=8-11&keywords=certainty], author Robert Burton states that “certainty is a mental sensation rather than the evidence of fact…” From the sciencebasedmedicine.org article noted below, “Certainty and similar states of ‘knowing what we know’ arise out of involuntary brain mechanisms that, like love or anger, function independently of reason. Your certainty that you are right has nothing to do with how right you are.” In other words, we need to be conscious of the physiological and mental needs of certainty overcome this “mental sensation.” We get that by listening and interacting with others of differing viewpoints and continually testing ourselves and our ability to be silent and listen. We can’t hear if our ears are jammed up with our own “certain” thoughts. The interesting article from sciencebasedmedicine.org on this book is located here. 

There are some who might say that politics has no place in the Masonic Philosophical Society blog, as it’s associated with Freemasonry, and Freemasons absolutely do not speak about politics and religion. Political or religion talk breeds strife and dissent; it divides where Masonry builds. Yet, the M.P.S. is not Freemasonry but a different entity where philosophical views may be debated with respect and tolerance. There are others who say, “bring it on!” They are willing to look at the arguments presented as more philosophical discussions and less about “Freemasonry.” This varying point of view about the blog posts is a debate as much as any two articles posted are a debate. In learning to debate, we breed tolerance and therefore become better people – the whole devoir of the Freemason.  It may even be that the idea of debate may be debated; is it not that all aspects of life may be open for free thinking? 

In debates, the same arguments holding-handsmight be presented for differing points of view and to stimulate the thought that there may be varying sides of a debate even outside of the presented topic. Those who have been on debate teams are aware of the need for a well-rounded view when it comes to debate; seeking beyond what we know and what we think we know is difficult. We need that jolt of a drastically different viewpoint to understand that wider view of the world, and to understand how others think and live.  In order for that to happen, we need to be able to listen well and with tolerance. 

We should be unafraid to approach sensitive topics and learn about them ahead of time. There may come a time when a drastic point of view is presented and tolerance is tested in an M.P.S. discussion; it’s at that moment when we can let go of the “self” and truly learn more. Like our 19th Century forefathers, we can then wade into it willingly and with an open mind, learning both sides of an argument and thereby create some tolerance within our own minds.

The Virtue of Industry

The Virtue of Industry

In the modern era, we hear the word “industry” and tend to think of large brick buildings, chimneys billowing smoke, workers trudging in through large iron gates to manipulate gears and cogs to produce… something. We might think more progressively of large steel buildings of assembly lines of safety-goggle-bedecked workers, busily whirring a drill gun or acetylene torch as some piece of car-part moves slowly towards its birth. We have to thank the industrial revolution for the transformation of industry from something denoted a type of work to something that denoted a much larger vision of work itself. 

The term “industry” was first noted in the Middle Ages in France, coming from the Latin industria, which means “diligence, purpose.”  Mackey noted in his Masonic Dictionary, that the “Medieval Freemasons thought much about and had a wide knowledge of the forms of work. There are some fifty-two of these.” Mackey goes on to reflect that Industry is different from industry, in that industry is just one of the forms of work, “it being the most dramatic, but not the most important.” He provides examples of other forms of work, such as the worker who collects all the important bits and puts them together to produce a “thing,” or the assembly line type of producing goods. Industry, with the lowercase “i” is, to quote Mackey again, “industry was the employment of a very large number of men, tens of thousands in many20-Aerial-view-of-Industrial-Roubaix-ca-1900-650x551 instances, on one undertaking at one place and at the same time, and they might or might not use machinery.” In other words, a factory is industry but building a skyscraper is also “industry.”

Industry with the capital “I” is more in keeping with the idea of “diligence” and “purpose.” Much as there is a difference between a virtue and Virtue, there appears to be a difference between industry and Industry. It’s funny that sociologically, we classify societies as either “pre-industrial” or post-industrial. Whenever a place has an “industrial revolution,” which usually indicates the influx of machinery to replace human work of hands, we call that an “industrial society.” This may not be incorrect; yet, it smacks of some kind of idyllic life, lazily milking cows, getting up with the sun and sleeping at sunset. It seems to reflect a more pastoral, almost aristocratic sort of life prior to the onslaught of manufacturing as a way of life. A pre-industrial life was generally agrarian and had limited production, with artisans crafting limited items over longer periods of time. In general, communications took place within smaller communities, and villages were far more common than today’s large city and urban living. One might automatically assume a feudal society, with a Lord providing shelter and protection to his subjects, and his subjects providing him the substance to live. While this is true for a good deal of the European Middle Ages, that is only a small part of human history. Even after the advent of the creation of “cities” 10,000 years ago, humans have, for the most part centered around their small community, generally never being bothered by outside events.

To think that this way of life did not have industry is backward; however, it appears that they had was far more Industry than post-Industrial Revolution humankind. There is a certain value in working hard and achieving success into which we put physical labor. Horace said “life grants nothing to us mortals without hard work.”  We often speak that platitude to our children or co-workers without really understanding that hard work is more than just “working a lot.” Thoreau “wished to suggest that a man may be very industrious, and yet not spend his time well.” While Thoreau might have been hinting at more of the “purpose” side of Industry, Horace is leaning more toward diligence. They both have one thing in common: the influence of Industry on the human psyche and perhaps, soul. [As a weird aside: an interesting definition of courage is “learned industriousness.”]

One of the most interesting, and perhaps hard to grasp, ideas that we should understand is that the concept of “work” is a fairly modern Western invention. Most cultural and social anthropologists today note that modern people tend to see work as something that obtains value, or has a “yardstick” attached to it, as Erik Schwimmer notes. However, ancient Greek and Roman authors, such as Cicero (Officiis), Xenophon (Cyropaedia), and Horace (Odes),  looked at work in more moral and political terms; anyone who would be part of an “industry” for a salary or specie was little more than a slave and not ever worthy of  citizenship status. However, if you worked on your own farm or in your own workshop, and brought those goods to the benefit of the community, were seen as an industrious person, a hard worker, and one whose work should be praised. Traders who brought far off goods to the community, and traded them for the communities goods were praised as industrious and good. While the origin of wealth via industriousness was important, it was where that wealth was applied that made all the difference. Community was everything, as was the freedom of depending on others to provide for family. From the time of Ancient Greece to Medieval Europe, very little had changed, save for the advent of larger cities. Still, the agrarian “industriousness” held true.

While working for the wealth of the community and not having to depend on others for your livelihood might seem at odds, they are not. Interestingly, the Freemasons utilized the symbol of the beehive for just such a concept, and Lodges work mainly in the same format. An interesting article on the Beehive in Freemasonry, reprinted from a Masonic research society (AQC, 1923) is located here, on the Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon’s website.  While the concept industry and the beehive (and their associated bees) may seem to some a Christian or Mormon symbol, its use denoting “Industry” appears to date back to ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome.

Like a beehive, a Freemasonic Lodge is a community of people who have gathered and work for common purpose: to continue to provide an opportunity for others to enjoy Freemasonic teachings. Through diligence, purpose, and Industry, the group prospers. The wealth of the Lodge, the knowledge and learning of working together – is the honey of the beehive. This honey is shared in the community; thus, by diligence and purpose is individual, and his connections, nourished. Another aspect of this beehive concept is that while the individual may gain “wealth” from his Freemasonic work, it is not the reason that the group works together. In other words, the question is not what the Lodge and Freemasonry will do for you – it is what do you, the diligent and purposeful worker, bring to Freemasonry? The bees do their work, reflective of their offices and attention to the quality of the work, and the whole is rewarded. This is not an easy concept for our modern minds, which have been trained to that work is “trading time for money” or “talent for money.” Work is drudgery and work is mundane. Perhaps what we modern humans should focus on is the idea of Industry, not of industry. Perhaps our ancestors were not so off base when it came to the virtue of Industry.


For the reference on Erik Schwimmer, please go to this link: http://ehrafworldcultures.yale.edu/ehrafe/citation.do?method=citation&forward=browseAuthorsFullContext&id=oj23-027 . Referenced 4/2/2017 

Further interesting information about workers in the ancient world can be found in the article, “Workers of the Ancient World: Analysing Labor in Classical Antiquity,” by Arjan Zuiderhoek, found in Volume 1 Number 3 2013 of the WorkersOfTheWorld international journal. This can be referenced on Academia.edu.

Legacy

Legacy

The human condition: it is “the characteristics, key events, and situations which compose the essentials of human existence, such as birth, growth, emotional nature, aspiration, conflict, and mortality.” One key element was left off this Wikipedia definition: creation. Humans were born to create. We die hoping we have created enough. Humans were born to build, adjust, renovate, improve, birth, tend, cultivate – to create.

This might be a general assumption of the readers here, but we are all searching for the meaning of life. Why are we here? If you’re Neil Peart, the answer is “because we’re here. Roll the Bones.” If you’re Jung, it’s to “realize a vision.” The Bible (Isaiah 43:7) tells us that the purpose of man’s existence is to “glorify God.” Pain, frustration, weakness, and chaos seem to all stem from a lack of purpose in our lives, or a not having a goal towards which we strive. We come to the World’s Table with expectations, complications, and baggage. By the time we’re ready to create something, we stumble. What are we doing here on Earth, at this time and place? We have way overthought the question. Our purpose is to create. It really is that simple.

All of the examples above can all be distilled to creation. From babies to businesses, from community to chaos to cash reserves – humans cannot help but build something. Even if it’s a stack of beer cans beside the couch while we chill, we’re building. Our minds want to make things better, bigger, faster, higher, more pleasing, more chaotic, different, and new. We build better drugs, faster cars, and higher buildings. Think carefully, when are you *not* creating? Even your body is creating while you sleep.

A recent conversation with some friends involved discussing the attributes of avatars, archetypes, and virtues. This was in conjunction with a question posed to an audience: Do you want to be (a) God? What an audacious question! Do I want to be God or a God? Oh, heck no. Hubris has brought down many a man, and woman, and I have no desire to experience that pain. It did bring me back to the question of “why am I here, then?” Having thought about that often, I find it’s difficult to distill a lifetime of thought into so simple of a question. Am I here to be a god, or THE God? That’s a firm “no” in my mind. The very idea makes me shudder. I’m here to be a human being: the best expression of my own form of human being that I can be. Yes, that’s it. Very firm “no” on the “god” thing.  And then the niggling, wormy, repetitive thoughts of legacy5humanness and godhood would not leave me alone.

What is a “god?” To Webster, it is: “ a being or object believed to have more than natural attributes and powers and to require human worship; specifically :  one controlling a particular aspect or part of reality — Greek gods of love and war.” Interestingly enough, if it is capitalized, it means, “ the supreme or ultimate reality.” Whoa. Wait. NOT a person? So, someone who is a “god” controls part of the reality, but God controls all of reality. Gods and gods create realities. They create.

If our desire is to create, our very need for existence is to create, and God is commonly known as “the creator, the controller of reality” well… yes, let’ say it – Are we trying to be like God? Are we trying to BE Gods? It seems we humans do nothing but try to create and live in our own realities. In Genesis 1:26 though 28, the Bible talks about God making mankind in “their” image, and “he made them man and woman.” We’ll set the plurality of that aside for right now but divinization has been around for 2000 years as a Christian concept. In the second century, Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons (c. 130–202), said that God “became what we are in order to make us what he is himself.” Irenaeus also wrote, “If the Word became a man, it was so men may become gods.”

Maybe we have no choice. Our destiny as a species is to become gods, or God-like. Or even God. We’re inevitably going there, through our experience of creating, whatever it might be. As much mental gymnastics that we do via theology, psychology, astronomy or astrology, it all ends up in the same destination: we live, we create, and we die to forward the human species to return to their God home. We are creating our realities. We control our reality. People attach such reverence, deference, fear, and glory to the term God; I think, however, that it is the same way with ice cream and puppies, money and fame: it’s a human lens viewing and interpreting but it simply falls short. There is a rose-colored lens coating our idea of God, via religion or not, and that rose-color makes everything pretty. What if It just is, and we’re part of the “It?” We can categorize as Archetypes or manifest as avatars or embody ideals and in the end, we create whatever is our own special aspect of the Divine. The individual voice of God, whatever you legacy2deem that to be, becomes a painting, a piece of music, a child, a poem, a home, an organization, a community, or a new way of thinking.

The aforementioned conversation inevitably turned to “Well, we’re either supposed to be gods or not, so what?” If we’re supposed to become higher expressions of ourselves, then that’s great. But we’re dead. The point is…? Humanity is constantly changing. Maybe we wouldn’t go as far as saying “evolving” but perhaps that is wrong. Perhaps evolution is not a conscious “thing.” That is, we evolve, regardless of whatever we think about it. It’s not about being conscious about evolving; it’s not even about evolving consciousness. The human being species continues to propel itself forward via creation. The evolution will be a reflection of that creation. I think we may have to forget about the what (evolution) and work toward the creations that are within our aspect of the “God whole.” In other words, if my “god-given” gift is speech, then speak. Speak to the best ability and training you can and make an impact. Stir people. Find the Truth of what your little land plot is of “God” and make it prosperous. Forget fame and approbation: do the best you are able, no matter what it is.

In truth, isn’t that the Legacy we’re leaving for our descendants? For the Humans that follow us, we’re leaving what we create, whether it is more humans or more books, fine art, the echoes of music, or beautiful gardens. Maybe it is also a life saved because we cared enough to write the policies for the Red Cross that allowed that to happen or because we ran the sound equipment that recorded Martin Luther King’s speeches. It’s the difference between someone finding a new way forward because you took the time to bring your gifts to an organization, like Freemasonry, or not finding any kind of guiding light at all. Perhaps they would, eventually through some other organization or group; yet, it wouldn’t be the same, would it? It legacy4would be different, and thus cast a different turn on the evolution of Humanity. The best expression of who we are is the creations we give by utilizing our talents, whatever they may be. Like light in a prism, we’re individual colors that come together to make a whole. The idea is that we contribute what god-like qualities we have to weave a whole that helps our descendants move closer to a better expression of the god-like qualities, and so on.

Weird as that may be, maybe that’s what our ancestors were also trying to say when they said that God made humans in their image, and God became “Word” so that we could understand what it was like to be God. In our limited capacity as human beings, in a mortal world, we only see part of the whole. Similar to the workings of a Masonic Lodge, where the many play their parts but only one can see the ALL, we humans are the many. We’re part of the All, but we don’t get to see it yet. We don’t get to play in that playground until its time. When it is time for our individual self? No. When it is time for all. We get to move forward glacially. Progress measured in epochs. When the evolution clock ticks, it won’t seem like evolution at all.

Complacency

Complacency

Are you comfortable? Are you warm, well-fed, and dry? Do you have enough to drink? Warm showers? Bathroom indoors? Excellent. This isn’t judgement. You, like me, are a benefactor of decades and centuries of prosperity, war, genocide, environmental support and ruin, negotiations, smart men and women, and incredibly ignorant men and women. Our life here in the United States is far more fortunate than most of the world. And for all this fortune and well-being, shouldn’t we be an example? A role model, if you will?

And we’ve moved into a time of just the opposite: officials and citizens of the U.S.A. who would have us cease to be citizens of the world. We citizens, in our Typical U.S.A. fashion, are dreadfully close to leaning back, away from the political and global world stage, and saying, “Yeah, not me. Not now. I’m okay right here.” There are those who think we’ve extended ourselves too far – being the military and financial might that we are. We’ve stuccomplacency-meaning-definitionk our noses into a lot of things – countries, business, trade, religion, and other government. It’s part arrogance, part global citizen, but do not believe it’s selfless. We are not by any stretch of imagination a selfless country.

Don’t get me wrong: there are many, many selfless people here in this country. Yet, we’ve not yet organized ourselves into a selfless mindset. We’re too fragmented, idealistic, narcissistic, egotistical, and fearful. With the new Republican administration sweeping our Nation’s capital, it seems we’re only going to continue down this road of fragmentation and insularity. We want to listen only to what we believe in. It’s too hard to stay in the game of change. We’re becoming immune and yes, I might say it, normalizing when it comes to the intense rhetoric. When a leading national policy maker, with the ear of the President says, that his personal agenda is the deconstruction of national administration, we should not be complacent. We should be attentive. These might be Fearful Words. I think that many of us who are idealists, moderate left to moderate right, hear this and think the sky is falling. A few might run protesting through the streets and ready to swing a heavy hammer back in another direction. Most wring their hands and hope that it will all go away. Maybe this IS the Twilight Zone.

But, hear me out… I think we need to stop and think. I mlkthink we need to understand the motivations behind the chaos and deconstruction and near-anarchy. I recently read an article on Politico regarding Bannon’s reading list. It’s fascinating. It’s really about the dissatisfaction with the status quo reaching a head. The country’s dissatisfaction has been waiting to burst for many people for sometime – else, the message would have fallen on deaf ears and Hillary would have been elected.  Many of us who would not and do not agree with Bannon’s ideology have felt this same way also for a long time but perhaps we were too locked-into a single mindset to think differently. Bannon’s is a mindset that says, “Rush the gates!” rather than “Tunnel under the wall.” It’s a system that’s advocating for intense chaos that instigates intense change. As I said in an earlier, non-related post about chaos, entropy is the death of life. And yet, it’s as necessary as the upset to our equilibrium.

I am not advocating for intense, hate-based change. I do not believe in hate, lies, bigotry, or ignorance. Quite the opposite. And I do believe these things that are being done are being done to shock and awe our consciousness. There are people on the Right who are, like some on the Left, taking the message too far. These are people who advocate for and commit acts of hate and ignorance. I am not advocating for that. What I am advocating for is that we all should listen closely to what is being said. I am hoping we can stop and listen. Listening is the only way that I have personally found to make change. We need to shift into our “thinking man’s” mindset and really listen. Can we sift through the chaos and hear the real message? Then, once heard, can we shift into non-complacency?

I think that is our clear danger here. We are on the brink of sitting back, as I said, and waiting for someone else to take the reins of the Four Horsemen’s steeds and slow the oncoming apocalypse – and yes, I mean that in a literal sense directed towards our “world” not THE world. Someone else can get bloodied. Someone else can be uncomfortable. Someone else can be at the center of the debate. I’m fine just where I am. This is what I think Dan Rather was saying when he first stepped out on the stage after the election last year. “To all of you I say, stay vigilant. The great Martin Luther King, Jr. knew that even as a minority, there was strength in numbers in fighting tyranny. Holding hands and marching forward, raising your voice above the din of complacency, can move mountains. And in this case, I believe there is a vast majority who wants to see this nation continue in tolerance and freedom. But it will require speaking. Engage in your civic government. Flood newsrooms or TV networks with your calls if you feel they are slipping into the normalization of extremism. Donate your time and money to causes that will fight to protect our liberties.”

complacency-quotes-7

I do not think Americans are generally a “fight” first people… generally, as individuals that is. These people who carry the message of antisemitism, bigotry, and racism are easy to hate and vilify and condemn. It’s easy to just fall into the same trap of name calling, topic deflection, and rhetoric. I think it’s a lot harder to stand up and understand them, and then fight back differently. I’m not talking about actual fighting or even some of the things that we “traditionally” do when government goes awry, like protests. I’m talking about seeking to understand and then counter their measures on their own terms. We’re already seeing some of it. We’re seeing people who would never have considered running for office doing so now – both locally and statewide. We’re seeing letter writing and phone calls and new manifestos. We’re hearing those who might have been silent in the past reaching out with a clear voice and measured, thoughtful ideas.  We’re hearing about corporations who are funding where government is dropping off. We’re hearing about rogue insiders in agencies posting the true comments and stories rather than hiding behind the media. These are all good – and we can do more. We need to get into the minds of these people and understand the source, so we can reverse the river’s course. We need weird solutions to whatever is put before us. We need, as Obama said, “smart ideas.”

Dan Rather recently posted an update to the original posting noted above. He said:

“The time for normalizing, dissembling, and explaining away Donald Trump has long since passed. The barring of respected journalistic outlets from the White House briefing is so far beyond the norms and traditions that have governed this republic for generations, that they must be seen as a real and present threat to our democracy. These are the dangers presidents are supposed to protect against, not create.

For all who excused Mr. Trump’s rhetoric in the campaign as just talk, the reckoning has come. I hope it isn’t true, but I fear Mr. Trump is nearing or perhaps already beyond any hope of redemption. And now the question is will enough pressure be turned to all those who enable his antics with their tacit encouragement. There has been a wall of unbending support from virtually every Republican in Congress, and even some Democrats. Among many people, this will be seen as anything approaching acceptable. And mind you, talk is cheap. No one needs to hear how you don’t agree with the President. What are you going to do about it? Do you maintain that an Administration that seeks to subvert the protections of our Constitution is fit to rule unchecked? Or fit to rule at all?

This is an emergency that can no longer be placed solely at the feet of President Trump, or even the Trump Administration. This is a moment of judgement for everyone who willingly remains silent. It is gut check time, for those in a position of power, and for the nation.”

This thoughtful, measured fight isn’t easy. Some people may think I’m crazy for listening to “the other side.” Truth is, I’m on the side of humanity. I’m on the side of human beings being better than they are. Sometimes, we need to go backward or sideways to actually move forward. Sometimes we need the shake up of thinking differently to get back on an upward trajectory. Look, most of us were unhappy with the government. Congress’ approval rating has been the lowest in history for years – YEARS! Did it change the way we hoped it would, with sweetness and roses? No. But, let’s admit, it wasn’t going to change itself. It needed a huge shock to shift. How many times have you or someone you know said “If only a bomb would drop on Washington?” People even made movies about it. Come on. It’s the metaphor for “I wish it would change but I don’t know what it will take to do it.” We’ve thought this for some time. The weird thing is, now it’s happening and we, most of the American public, didn’t actually instigate it.

We should not get over our revulsion of hate and ignorance, and the acts which are committed in their names. We should not ignore the lies and “alternative facts” which come out of our Nation’s capital now. As Dan said, “…these are not normal times. This is not about tax policy, health care, or education – even though all those and more are so important. This is about racism, bigotry, intimidation and the specter of corruption.” Do not ignore these. We must, though, look into the heart of what is really happening and learn their strategy. We rise above it by infiltrating it, understanding it, awalking-deadnd then, crushing it. We need to have the equilibrium unsettled, the boat tilted wildly, before we can learn how to right it again, and find a sea that we can sail swiftly.

The chaos doesn’t have a plan for what to put back in its place. Bannon doesn’t have a plan for rebuilding the Government in his image. Trump might, but it’s unlikely. Chaos seeks to break apart not put back together. We, the thinkers and the doers, are the ones who will put the fragmented ideals back together into a government that perhaps works better than a previous one did. Maybe it will be a Democratic Republic. Maybe not. Maybe it will be something new and better. If we choose to do nothing, nothing will change or happen. If we choose to ignore the rhetoric and take the path less traveled, we become the ones the current Government fears. We become the agents of the real new world.

That is who I want to be, and I’m guessing most of you, too. To that end, we cannot be complacent in these times. Two months in, do not sit back in your sofa and turn on The Walking Dead; else, you’re in danger of becoming so yourself.

The Importance of Social Capital

The Importance of Social Capital
A phrase came into my head, recently, about some of the things I would like to do with my life. Let me back up a bit…. About this time of year, I always sit down and write my goals for the coming year. I call them goals, but let’s call it… a theme, a direction, some things I’d like to see, do, and maybe achieve. They aren’t goals, per se – more like guidelines. This year, I am trying a different tack, one from a company called The Dragontree Apothecary. It’s a book to walk through your year, interactive – kinda of hipster, but it’s something different. I’ve been doing this exercise for thirty years; sometimes a girl has to find something new.
 

Anyway, I was thinking something I’d like to leave the world when I die, a legacy, memory, something that I’ve contributed in my time here. I’m not planning on exiting soon; this is simply an exercise in learning where to put my time. The thought struck me that people always talk about combating poverty or giving to charity. As Freemasons, Charity is a core value that many of us appreciate, value, and toward which we give time and money. I was thinking about Charity and about how I’d like to twist that, and combat more than Physical Poverty. I thought about Emotional Poverty. This seems to me to be a very private thing to combat – we all must learn to move away from apathy and disinterestedness but each of us has a different path to get there. No, Emotional Poverty is something each individual must combat on their own.

What I really want to do is combat Mental Poverty.

knowledge3Poverty is described as a deficiency of necessary or desirable ingredients or qualities. It is sparse, meager, insufficient. It is being destitute or indigent, a dearth of, well, something. So, what is mental poverty? I think it’s the state of needing more “mind.” Mind is intellect, the totality of conscious and unconscious mental activities – it is the part of each human being that has the capacity to reason, think, calculate, extrapolate, judge and perceive. So, to be mentally impoverished means that the sum total of our capacity to reason and think is sparse, meager, and insufficient.

Little did I know, but should have guessed, it was already a thing.

I don’t think of this as combating stupidity. I think of this as combating ignorance. Ignorance is simply lacking knowledge; I think mental poverty comes from ignorance and from the inability to lift oneself from ignorance. I want to combat the factors that go into that inability – I want to create a world where people who are ignorant and want to lift themselves from it can do so. They have the tools, means, and will to make it happen.

Luckily, Freemasonry tells us that it is our duty to be a guide and helper of the ignorant. Does some part of you bristle at that arrogance? It did me. Who am I to be a guide and helper of the ignorant? Who am I to judge who is ignorant and who isn’t? Well, I’m not. However, if it’s my duty to be that guide, and to help reverse mental poverty, how do I make it my duty? Well, to me, I first have to make myself less ignorant.

I do this often by reading, listening to podcasts, watching TED talks, listening to different points of views… actually engaging with those that are different from me. However, it doesn’t seem quite enough. While listening to one of those same podcasts, Freakonomics, I heard a term I hadn’t heard before: Social Capital. What captured my attention right off is what a lack of social capital mean to a culture, what its effects are, and how can it be reversed. Even more interesting is why we WANT to reverse it.

shutterstock_knowledgeThe episode was primarily about Trust, and why we want to have a more trusting country; countries that believe that most people can be trusted are generally healthier, wealthier, and have a more positive discourse than countries were trust is lacking. In distrustful societies, people tend to be poorer in emotional and physical ways, but also mentally – ergo, mental poverty. So why increase social capital? To increase Trust and bring people out of poverty and despair. I think that is an incredibly Masonic idea and ideal.

So, perhaps the way we get out of mental poverty and create a most trusting and vibrant society is to increase social capital. To quote David Halpern, from the British “Nudge Unit:” Social trust is an extraordinarily interesting variable and it doesn’t get anywhere near the attention it deserves. But the basic idea is trying to understand what is the kind of fabric of society that makes economies and, indeed, just people get along in general. It’s clearly so critical for a whole range of outcomes.” The episode goes on to say, “Outcomes like economic growth, and individual health.” That includes better government and overall, a more civil society. Social capital, while hard to exactly quantify, does exist and is tangible. It’s like good art: we know it when we see its effects.

When people meet, gather, discuss, and “network,” they are creating social capital. It is in the discourse and interaction between competing ideas (humans) and cultures that creates a more vibrant, trustworthy culture. It creates goodwill and fellowship, above and beyond what we find in our own homes. However, they are not exempt either. When you invite someone over for dinner, join the PTA, host a book club, or go to a party at a friend’s house, you are engaging in building social capital. Meeting and talking with people of different backgrounds creates understanding and trust, which in turn builds a better democracy and more educated society. It’s difficult to grow in a vacuum.

To me, this is what Freemasons do as a matter of 7628F943-9E30-48AA-ADB7-60C05E09276Acourse. We encourage this kind of social and civic duty, with our fellow members and with our community. We are encouraged to be out in the world, be examples, and work hard at learning what other people think and do. It comes full circle. Our job as Freemasons is to be the guide and helper of “the ignorant,” which includes ourselves, and we increase our intellectual acuity by building our social capital, which in turn builds a better, more trustful society that continues to become emotionally, physically, and mentally wealthier. The cycle goes the other way.

In the United States of America, this is going to be a difficult task. We have so much distrust and hate because, I think, we have little social capital. Robert Putnam, in his book “Bowling Alone,” has stated that we’re currently around 35% “trustful” in the U.S.A. – compared to some place like Norway or Sweden, which is around 70%. There might be many counter arguments for this, but one thing is certain – there is more social capital in those countries, which leads to a better society overall. Putnam’s original article, published before the book, can be found here.  The article also includes information and follow ups from other sources.

In the end, what I believe I can do for my coming year’s “guidelines” is to engage more socially, in civic-minded ways. I know that I feel better when I get out, socialize, talk with people. I become alive, vibrant, thoughtful, and my mind is stimulated by new ideas and concepts. I test my emotional mettle against others and learn how to become more mindful and adept at conversation and rhetoric. When I meet people of different backgrounds, religions, races, creeds, and identities, I am enlightened and enriched. In other words, I have worked to bring myself into a better place, and in doing so, perhaps I have brought society a little higher, too. In fact, sociologists agree: “From the material marshaled by Robert Putnam, we can see that the simple act of joining and being regularly involved in organized groups has a very significant impact on society.”

Thus, simply being a Freemason is a first step in the right direction. A good group to seek out and engage in this kind of civic discourse is the Masonic Philosophical Society. Study centers meet to not only discuss Freemasonry but a wide range of topics important to our global culture. I’ve attended several of these meetings and hosted a few. I find them to be highly engaging and very insightful. Besides these, I’m looking into joining a few civic and non-partisan ethical organizations, as well. Heck, maybe starting my own book club is a way to start. Maybe I’ll start with Bowling Alone. No one should ever have to do such a lonely thing.

Book:

The Social Capital Wikipedia page is also a fairly well documented page, and up to date.

“Bowling Alone” does have its own website as well: http://bowlingalone.com/

Ego and the Freemason

Ego and the Freemason
I have to say, I love my Lodge’s Study Groups. They bring up all kinds of interesting subjects in relation to all aspects of life, and more particularly, life as a Freemason. We recently discussed how Ego affects our lives, and what our particular work is as Freemasons in regards to the Ego. These study sessions give me an opportunity to explore not only my own experiences with the topic but also what I think about it objectively – form an opinion, as well as be able to articulate that opinion. Since we all have an Ego, it’s easy to have experiences with it. It’s harder to form objective opinions. After all, isn’t the Ego involved in forming those opinions?
 

One of my first college classes, as a fresh-faced 18 year old, was Psychology 101. This was predated by Western Philosophy, both having an extremely big pull for me. These were classes that my high school did not offer: a whole new world of living that was and still is exciting. We learned all about Freud and Jung’s theories of the Ego, amongst other things, but nothing really “stuck” with me after that class. I never really went back and explored Ego until it came up so often in religious and metaphysical studies years later. I identified most closely with Jung’s writings, and I often go back to read up on him when questions of Psyche were, and are, involved.

In his writing about Ego, “One of Jung’s central concepts is individuation, his term for a process of personal development that involves establishing a connection between the ego and the self. The ego is the center of consciousness; the self is the center of the total psyche, including both the conscious and the unconscious.” The reference goes on to say, “For Jung, there is constant interplay between the two. They are not separate but are two aspects of a single system. Individuation is the process of developing wholeness by integrating all the various parts of the psyche.”F1B445C0-81D7-4ACC-B8DE-2F5F9B0DA2B5

The most interesting part of that statement is the fact that the Ego and the Self are different entities that must be integrated. How did they get dis-integrated in the first place? How did something that was whole become separate, linked, and our goal is to try to integrate the two? Is it birth that separated them? If so, what are we before? And is that the state we are trying to achieve? It makes my head spin to think that we might have been integrated in the womb (or before?) and dis-integrated at birth, and we spend our whole lives working toward integration. What happens, then, if you integrate earlier than dying? Is that perhaps our goal? Do we evolve as a species if that happens?

Hurts your head, right? Well, it does mine.

I imagine a binary star system, two bright points of light circling each other, embracing each other as only two fiery systems of gas and elementals can – never touching and continually burning each other. Love that consumes and renews itself. Yes, that must be the Ego and the Self, in Jung’s world.

If the Ego and the Self are inseparable, then it seems to me we have to learn to live with both, separate and equal parts, calling and screaming at one another all the time. How do we reconcile? Do we even try? Since we cannot unequivocally say where the mind resides, perhaps these two things are part of the overarching mind that controls us. And, logic gives us, that if as above, so below is representative, does that Divine mind have a Self and Ego, too? Does the Divine even have a mind? Maybe that’s a weird question, but maybe not.

5889823E-3C83-44D7-B9F5-6BA633A5FAD1I do know that Freemasonry simultaneously chooses to subdue our Egos and find our “Self.” Perhaps one of the binary stars must be dominant, and in that dominance is where we find the traits of a person – arrogance or humility, graciousness or rudeness. In the balance between the stars, we find the nature of the gasses they put off. It is difficult to be of service to your fellow Masons and at the same time be immodest and arrogant. There’s little room for others when you fill the room with your Ego. Perhaps that is also why we learn to subdue passions – the passions of the Ego – and develop the passions of the Self – the connection to the divine. One star must dim to have the other shine. The Roche Lobe of Personality. I kinda like it.

In the past, I wondered why we, as Freemasons, pin medals on our chests and put numbers at the end of our names, or added titles when we attain certain Masonic degrees. I think this is another of those tests – do we do it for prestige? Do we wear our outward jewels as a “brag rag,” as I heard one brother call it long ago? Or do we wear them to honor the Work we’ve completed and bring to the gathering? Do we shine our Ego brightly to make our “Self” fade? Intent is everything and nothing; we must be clear about what the outward trappings mean in order to not fall into the trap itself, yes?  Is one degree better than another? What have we really attained? I think about these things often. I do my best to remember the duty and cautiously regard the glitter. It seems to stick to everything. Does Masonry feed the Ego? Or help one subdue it? Maybe it’s an ongoing dialogue rather than a simple, solitary question.

Understanding Chaos

Understanding Chaos
In this first 100 days of  2017, here in America and in some other countries, there has been a great deal of what we like to call chaos. Chaos is “complete disorder or disruption.” However, I’m going to challenge us all, especially Freemasons, to look at Chaos differently. We put “Order out of Chaos” but what does this mean? The challenge I have is to look at Chaos as something different and necessary to life and growth, or at least our ability to tell the difference.
 

Let me first start by saying this is not, emphasis on NOT, a political discussion. This is using an event in politics to illustrate a point. However you feel about the politics/events, right or wrong, is irrelevant to the content of this blog. What I want to do is illustrate how science and nature have a real place in our processes to affect change. Think differently. That said, here we go.

A recent event happened in politics in America – the Immigration Executive Order that Trump signed on January 27th. The executive order was, by mostly-credible accounts thus far, written by Steve Bannon, a self-designated fear monger. He stated, in a 2010 interview, “Fear is a good thing. Fear is going to lead you to take action.” He also stated that “I’m a Leninist,” [quoted as saying by a writer for The Daily Beast] He later said he did not recall the conversation. “Lenin wanted to destroy the stA30B258A-524B-4688-9D2F-EE9E6F4D5652ate, and that’s my goal, too,” the site quoted him as saying. “I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”  Mr. Bannon told The Washington Post this year, “We call ourselves ‘the Fight Club.’ You don’t come to us for warm and fuzzy. We think of ourselves as virulently anti-establishment, particularly ‘anti-’ the permanent political class. We say Paul Ryan was grown in a petri dish at the Heritage Foundation.”

I do not think that Mr. Bannon is alone in
his thinking this way, especially across the current appointees and heads of various government agencies. I think Trump has a specific goal in mind: introduce chaos into the system to turn it on its head and change it. The difficulty that most people have is that it is chaos mixed with fear, hatred, and injustice – not Masonic values at all.

In a recent Facebook posting, historian Heather Cox Richardson explained this “shock event” in very succinct and clear terms – what it is, what the outcomes may be, and what we can do to overcome it. The full text can be found in this blog. I think that one of the best sentences in this piece, and one we should all take hold of is this: “But because shock events destabilize a society, they can also be used positively. We do not have to respond along old fault lines. We could just as easily reorganize into a different pattern that threatens the people who sparked the event.” Her point, in other words, is that we don’t have to react in ways we’ve always reacted – we can take our emotions and work differently. It takes consciousness, focus, and effort. It takes energy. Energy.

Here’s where I want to turn chaos on its head. In the world of science, specifically physics and thermodynamics, chaos equates to entropy. Entropy is not sitting on your couch, drinking a Coors, and watching the game. No. In physics, entropy is the lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder. Simply stated, entropy is the spreading of energy until it is evenly spread. A great, in-depth, and head-expanding article on the second law of thermodynamics and entropy is here. I warn you, it’s long and even though it says “simple,” it takes focus to really follow the whole article. Bottom line: let’s just say, energy disperses.

If you look at our country, or any “related system” I will call it, we were founded by many humans with a great deal of energy for change. Events which upset the equilibrium – taxation, religious persecution, and the like – created energy, which in turn led people to expend their energy differently – fighting for and creating a new country and a new form of government. This energy, related to the creating of the United States of America, has over time, received influxes of upsets to its equilibrium; these are the events more remembered as shapers of the country. It is how we got to where we are today.

How does this relate to thermodynamics and physics? Hang with me, I’m getting there. There is new discussion about entropy and how physics can be applied to the biology of life. Another long article but with a very clear video about the thoughts and theories is found here. In essence, the article explains that in the end, thought (that is, intention, logic, and problem-solving) are the keys to fighting entropy and disorder. Another way of looking at this is that the destruction of forms happens because of entropy; the introduction of an upset to the equilibrium staves off entropy (chaos) and causes the current energy to reorganize and become a viable source for change. We can look at teleology as having a connection to thermodynamics rather than biology. Simply said, thought is energy.

Did I lose you? I might have lost myself. But, stay with me. Where I’m getting to is this: Freemasonry values nature and science – we need to look at both for the answers of how did we get here and where do we go next. Let’s take a step and connect biology, physics, and politics, weird as that may be, into a line and we can see how we got here. And, to Heather Cox Richardson’s point, how we get out. We need to take whatever energies we receive from the upset of the equilibrium and turn it into a thoughtful way to change our world.

Like the small discs of atoms the researchers used in their experiments in the above article, we too can use tools and socially organize into effective change advocates. We can create something new from the impetus we’ve been given. To me, Freemasonry has given me the balance to look at something like Chaos as see it as a blessing. I’m not talking about how that chaos is delivered, which may involve incredible emotional and physical upheaval. Pain, Fear, Hate, Ignorance – all of these continue. It is in our responses where we can affect the change. Until we think about our next moves, use the energy that we’ve been given to that plan of thought, and execute well, the shock event will actually create nothing new at all. I might even venture to say that what we might view as negative change can actually be what positive change needs to get going. All of these lessons are clear in nearly all degrees of Freemasonry. Sometimes, it takes chaos for us to see the value in what we’re learning. If we can take a breath and use our thought processes to absorb the disruption, we might be able to see the value in all sides of an event.

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.