Freemasonry and the Individual Collective

Freemasonry and the Individual Collective

In a recent conversation with a long-time Freemason, she mentioned that people misunderstand the meaning of being a Freemason, and what Freemasonry is really doing in the world. Deeper into the conversation, what she was talking about was the current trend of all this “personal journey” hubbub. A lot of people join Freemasonry to find a way to enlightenment or expand their consciousness or become a better person. When people join Freemasonry, they want to find something – spiritual awakenings, meaning, purpose, secrets, a way to some secret treasure, power, sometimes even a business partner. Some people want to join to find a mate or get rich. Yes, there’s every type of something out there that people are seeking. Yet, that’s not why Freemasonry exists. The tenets, rituals, symbols of Freemasonry do not speak to these personal journeys.

Freemasonry doesn’t exist for the individual. It exists for the individual collective. Taken another way, Freemasonry doesn’t care about your personal journey. Your personal path and reason for joining Freemasonry doesn’t matter. Really. It doesn’t.

Freemasonry’s goal is not to perfect the human. One stone a temple does not make. Freemasonry’s goal is to “perfect humanity.” To perfect humanity, it needs a group of individuals that are willing to work and abide by its principles. Freemasonry’s principles are not those of a specific individual, religion, or philosophy. These principles are moral and ethical in nature; morality and ethical behavior are for the collective and affect the collective. Religion, politics, civil obedience – these are preferences which affect the individual. There is a reason that individual preferences are kept out of the Lodge room; the individual ego and desire doesn’t have a “special snowflake” place within Freemasonry.

I hear the rustling in the columns now: “No, just hold on. We’re asked for opinions and thoughts. We are supposed to express our individual thoughts and develop our own ideas and strength of mind.” True enough. However, we are asked in a context of opinion to be shared with the whole, and discussion and healthy debate, which in turn illumines the mind. A mind stuck in dogma or rigid behavior finds a difficult path in Freemasonry. Dogma and rigidity are the ego speaking through the personality. They are not the collective working through the individual but the individual trying to work through the collective.

Another Freemason that I know is fond of saying “Freemasonry is an individual path in a group setting.” In discussing this idea, he thought I was crying foul on this statement. Actually, I’m not. What I am saying is that the individual path does not effect or affect Freemasonry. It is a fixed set of landmarks and rituals with guiding principles that the individual may interpret and apply to their own life. The individual’s life and purpose for joining the group does not impose itself on Freemasonry.

This is not to say that Freemasons should be automatons and blindly follow leadership. Absolutely not. In fact, quite the opposite: they should feel comfortable enough in their individuality to share it with the whole, taking what works for them and discarding, but img_0176-1not dismissing, the rest. Yet, in the end, they work toward the good of the collective, which in turn, works towards the good of Humanity.

The individual Freemason struggles sometimes to see himself as a part of something greater. Perhaps it gets easier as one progresses in Freemasonry, when the message is provided again and again about humanity, not the individual. We cannot divorce ourselves from being individuals – that is physically, emotionally, and mentally impossible. However, we can see ourselves as part of the greater society, taking our mind and emotions outside of our own comfort zone and do what is necessary for the greater – good, Lodge, group, whatever.

I was struck by a recent commercial for a popular TV show. The show was about police officers, and their dedication to their city, country, and community, to the point of putting their lives on the line for any and all of those things. Not all of us can do police work, or be fire fighters, or doctors and nurses. There is a deep dedication in these people that goes beyond a nine-to-five job. We applaud those people because they actually save lives – regardless of danger, pain, or even their own death.

But, who is to say something like Freemasonry is any different? Bold statement, to be sure. Yet, what happens if Freemasons, through their Lodge or Order, strive to make the world a more educated, thinking, devoted, and aspiring place? If that striving for education produces one more doctor where perhaps there was none before, haven’t we made humanity better? What if the work of an Order creates a publishing company, and one of those books inspires a young reader to go on to a career in science, and they create a cure for a devastating disease? What if a Lodge has an outreach campaign to their older members and they are able to bring some bright light to their fading days? What if their family sees this and recognizes compassion, and in turn, creates a foundation to help others with the same disease?

Sure, the individual can do all these things. In fact, these examples are all accomplished by individuals working with a collective mind, a collective heart, and a collective intention. The Lodge is an entity of individuals but it too is “a single mind.” It is an individual collective, like a brain filled with firing neurons. It is not the Borg, there is no assimilation or lack of individuality; it is a melting pot. It is a collection of living stones, all in the process of perfection to create something greater than themselves. We are not stones that stand alone. There is no purpose in that. It’s in the group, the collective, that we can build that place that “shelters humanity” and provides a place of advancement for the entire human race.

Brotherhood

Brotherhood

We are fast approaching the time when we share all those lovely good wishes for a happy holiday season. It seems that in general, people need the cold of winter and the idea of parties to bond together. In some ways, it is a sad affair – why do we wait until the end of the year to celebrate people with shallow displays? People in the U.S. have holidays galore, the UK has its bank holidays, and everywhere people get together in the summer for all kinds of recreation and relaxation. This, though, isn’t the same. We wait for Thanksgiving to ‘give thanks’ to our families and loved ones, then shower them with commercial ideas of a festive Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanza. It seems to me there has to be something more, something that we just can’t quite touch with commercialism. It makes me question if we truly value our fellow humans or merely follow the conventions of our day.

I’m not a cynic. Stoic, perhaps, but not a cynic. I know that many people feel this same way, and are not sure what to do with it. We want something more, we feel it, and can’t seem to find it.

You might remember a song in the early ’90’s called “What’s Up” by 4 Non Blonds. There’s a phrase in the song that has always stuck with me:

“I realized quickly when I knew I should
That the world was made up of this brotherhood of man
For whatever that means.”

For at least 25 years, I’ve been searching, like the author, for “whatever that means.” I think it about it more at the end of the year, in the winter, when we want to bond together more, when we’re a hoping to be a little more full of grace and forgiveness, when everything we hope for is looking for softness and warmth. (This leaves aside the one place where there is no grace or forgiveness: retail parking lots at Christmastime. No, I won’t digress…)  Most of human history is not filled with this alien, modern way of living, in asphalt-covered cities and in high-rises; we are ensconced in concrete structures and shopping malls, where our every-need-provided mentalities take away that sense of brotherhood and even community. No one in American cities truly lives or works together. We exist closer together and yet are farther apart emotionally, and certainly farther apart from nature. We have no idea how to debate, discuss, or theorize because we do not socialize. Facebook is a poor human community, and it certainly is no brotherhood.

Nature relies on a collective to get through the autumn and winter, to live until springtime, when everything is renewed. Birds and insects migrate to warmer climates, communitybanding together to achieve their goal for the good of the “group.” Some animals, mice and squirrels, huddle together in enclaves to stay warm and keep out of harm’s way. Humans sometimes migrate to warmer climates; some humans gather in houses, staying warm and sharing food. We humans have corrupted some of this to follow a prescribed dogma of festivities, duties, and “musts” during a time when we could be more selective, more mindful of our fellow species. Nature has no dogma.

Brotherhood is a relationship between brothers, comrades – those who have a common association. A brotherhood is this created group of people, who may or may not be your family, where common interests are discussed, shared, and respected. The word “brotherhood” has certain characteristics in its reference; it implies a close relationship but not intimate, it implies something that is almost a blood-bond, but greater because its idealized, and it implies intelligent selection rather than genealogy. It reflects common purposes and goals, where brothers are dedicated to each other more than the rest of the world, and more perhaps than to family.

The idea of brotherhood is crystallizing ideals into personal goals that we share with others, with the idea that together we can achieve more than we could apart. It is, perhaps, about the survival of those ideas and ideals, and  that the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. We don’t expect those in the brotherhood to be perfect; we expect them to continue to work towards the prosperity of the all as best they can, with their own unique talents and skills. The human clans do not survive on only one type of labor, one type of mentality; human groups survive on the skills of the many flowing into the good of the whole. Uniqueness is valued as long as the purpose is shared.

Human beings need friendships (the tribe), community, and brotherhood. Friendships help us transcend loneliness and provide us greater insight into our personal nature. Friends help validate our thoughts and emotions and assist us to perfect our victor-hugo-author-the-human-soul-has-still-greater-need-of-the-ideal-than-of-therelationships with human beings in general. Community helps fulfill our very human need for connection without actually requiring a lot from us. It expects us to show up, be who we are, be present, and participate at the level at which we are able. Community attends to an almost physical, matter-related purpose; brotherhood is where we really shine.

As a community, we are able to meet a concrete need with action, and there’s little overlap into our lives. Brotherhood delves into the reasons we come together, the personal goals and aspirations of the individual, and binds us together in action for that purpose. The ideals of brotherhood, whatever brotherhood they may be, transcend both community and tribe. We need these latter two to take care of physical needs, protect us, perhaps provide us with a shared history with which to bond and form purpose.

Perhaps I’m an idealist, but I see brotherhood as something more, something chosen. We may not choose our tribe; we may not choose our communities, but we sure as heck choose brotherhood. And it must also choose us. We choose to be in these bonds of commitment, regardless of the diversity of our backgrounds. We choose, when entering a brotherhood, to focus on purpose rather than “who you are.” Brotherhood requires commitment; brotherhood has to be maintained. Constantly. For the rest of your life.  If you choose to stop adhering to the commitments you made, then you fall out of the idealism you value. Brotherhood is a privilege and a consciousness. Done right, brotherhood is extraordinary.

Brotherhood, to be clear, is not friendship, although brothers may be friends. Brotherhood transcends the personal affectations and affections. We may have many friends in our lives but we have few true brothers, few “comrades-in-arms,” if you will.

So, is “brotherhood of man” the entirety of the human race? What does that mean? Maybe it means that we’ve chosen to be part of the human condition, and we need to cloud-team-590x384start looking at each other, all of the people we encounter, as part of our ideal of a better condition in which to live. Taking from nature, we have to work together to survive the ugliness of the world, human-created and natural, in order to build a better place. I also think, though, that brotherhood of man is a consciousness of the human condition. The human brotherhood has chosen us, us, to fulfill the ideal of itself. It’s chosen every human to play their part; it’s up to us to choose to live in a way were our ideals are about the human condition, not simply our personal needs or desires. Being part of the brotherhood of man requires us to be constant in our consciousness. We want the human race to be better, no? Perhaps, that’s part of what Freemasonry also tries to achieve – this “brotherhood of man” that our 4 Non Blonds advocate.

As I write this, the outside world is filled with the gray of an early snowstorm; branches are laden with wet globs of icy powder, and the streets are soaked with the fast-melting flakes. Soon, the true winter will be on us, and we’ll be frantic yet again. Perhaps this year, we can be conscious of our human brothers and bond together, in some small way, that transcends the dogma of the season. Perhaps we can reach inside and chose to finally be part of that “brotherhood of man.”

[Note: I use the term brotherhood not to segregate or be divisive. I use it because in the English language, there is no gender-neutral better term. When I speak of the brotherhood of man, I mean all humans, regardless of race, creed, religion, or gender.] 

practicaltheosophy