Your Shoes are My Shoes

Your Shoes are My Shoes

In a recent conversation, a colleague of mine began a tirade of a person who, in their estimation, had no compassion. “How can they hold something that happened a year ago against someone? How can they not see that they caused the problem, and they can let it go?” This was a person who had their own trials and tribulations over the past year, their own “issues” to deal with. The cycle of condemnation continued.

The first words on another friend’s lips was “compassion.” Hmmm, I thought. Compassion is an overused and overrated word in American culture. Let’s be clear, compassion is “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.” I’m not talking about this type of compassion. Well, I might be. The difficulty is that people confuse compassion with kindness. Pity is a cause for regret or disappointment, or it can be the same as compassion, “concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.” Kindness is “the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.” I think that I’m not really discussing kindness, either, even if it is confused with compassion.

No one is above losing sensitivity for our fellow human beings. We all do it. All of us. Sometimes with ourselves; sometimes with others. A dear friend said to me, “aren’t Freemasons supposed to be these ones who are on the path to enlightenment? Why do they act so horrible at times?” Freemasons aren’t perfect. Freemasons know they aren’t perfect and are constantly striving to find what that perfection may mean – but no, they are not “enlightened” by virtue of being a Freemason.

slack2Then… what is it that we need when criticism of ours sits in our mouths, waiting to be released? What builds up rather than tears down? And how do you show this to others? I’m not sure there is a word for it. There are times, though, I wish we all had more of it, whatever “it” is.

Joe South wrote a song called “Walk a Mile in My Shoes,” which Elvis made popular in the early 1970’s. The lyrics are here:

If I could be you, if you could be me
For just one hour, if we could find a way
To get inside each other’s mind
If you could see you through my eyes
Instead your own ego I believe you’d be
I believe you’d be surprised to see
That you’ve been blind

Now your whole world
You see around you
Is just a reflection
And the law of karma
Says you’re gonna reap
Just what you sow, yes you will
So unless
You’ve lived a life of
Total perfection
You’d better be careful
Of every stone
That you should throw, yeah

And yet we spend the day
Throwing stones
At one another
‘Cause I don’t think
Or wear my hair
The same way you do, mmm
Well I may be
Common people
But I’m your brother
And when you strike out
And try to hurt me
It’s a-hurtin’ you, lord have mercy

Walk a mile in my shoes
Walk a mile in my shoes
Hey, before you abuse, criticize and accuse
Walk a mile in my shoes

There are people
On reservations
And out in the ghettos
And brother there
But for the grace of God
Go you and I, yeah, yeah
If I only
Had the wings
Of a little angel
Don’t you know I’d fly
To the top of the mountain
And then I’d cry

Walk a mile in my shoes
Walk a mile in my shoes
Hey, before you abuse, criticize and accuse
Better walk a mile in my shoes

The song is a poignant reminder of how we actually get to compassion. This week I received several emails from people which were edging toward accusations and criticism. These are people who have known me for twenty years or more, and some for less time but not insignificant. These are people who know that I try to be responsive and kind, open to my own mistakes, and busier than a one-legged man in a butt kicking contest, as a work colleague likes to say. I’m not idle. I am forgetful, struggling to not beat myself for not being perfect all the time, sometimes clumsy, and not the best organizer of my to-do list. I struggle balancing a checkbook and sometimes I struggle to get motivated to get on a plane or send an email. Sometimes, I just want to sleep. Sometimes, I get crabby. Downright crabby.

I am human. I am you. And this is you, too.

slack3And as much as we strive for perfection, we need to remember that it is just that: striving – a journey and not the destination right around the corner. Well, I remember that key part most of the time. The times that are the most difficult to keep the “journey” in mind are when people criticize, abuse, condem, accuse, or even just get crabby with us. When this happens, we believe we have failed them, and ultimately, we have failed ourselves. Failure is a sad and hopeless feeling. The mind is a powerful demolition machine. And when we open our hearts to others, we offer it up to that possible shredding.

The journey toward making a better humanity stops every time any of us tear down another.

There is more to walking in one person’s shoes than walking in their shoes. It’s more than learning not to criticize or condemn. It’s more than keeping your mouth shut when something ugly is about to vomit on someone you love. It is truly about letting go of yourself. It’s about reverting into our minds and hearts, before we speak or write, and thinking about everything. Every thing. Thinking about the other person sitting at their desk, writing that email, what their day must be like, what it could be like, why did they write it like that, is it their tone or mine that is in that email, what words did they use… think about putting yourself at the keyboard and writing those same words. How do you feel thinking about them? Why? Do we really think they are attempting to hurt or abuse us? Really? And if we really believe that, why do we believe that?

Byron Katie, a speaker and teacher, has four questions that she calls the foundation for “The Work.” They are:

  1. Is it True?
  2. Can you absolutely know that it is True?
  3. How do you react, what happens, when you think that thought?
  4. Who would you be without that thought?

This takes practice, again and again, and even more after that. It’s a journey. I think we begin at the first question above and we’d like to think that we have the answers. We forget there are more steps in our process. Our ego speaks louder than Truth at times. But each time we take that step towards working on finding the truth, something inside of us shifts. It says “it’s okay that you’re not the most important thing in the room. You are still going to be you, you’re still worthwhile. You are still good and okay.” In fact, the more we seek the truth, the more we are able to let go of the baggage and be objective, observant, listening, and of service.

slack1Freemasonry seems to teach the ultimate walking in someone else’s shoes. Every Freemason can be any office within a Lodge, and each has a different function, a different talent to explore, and a different set of challenges. No one does any office perfectly, and each office provides its holder with experiences to challenge and uplift. We might criticize the way someone performs a certain task but there will come a time when we too take up that mantle and are assigned the same task. We learn to forgive someone’s past because we’ve learned that it’s not as easy as we all think. To fail is to learn, and “cutting someone slack” doesn’t mean to ignore the mistakes and challenges. It means paying attention to what happens to another person because, someday, we are on the receiving end. As Joe South says,

If I could be you, if you could be me
For just one hour, if we could find a way
To get inside each other’s mind
If you could see you through my eyes
Instead your own ego I believe you’d be
I believe you’d be surprised to see
That you’ve been blind

An elder Freemason, a while ago, said that we humans are “closed loops.” When I asked what he meant, he said that our communications, our thoughts, have nowhere to go. They spin around inside of us, not able to build up anything tangible, or real. We can’t connect with reality, generally. He said there was only way, he believed, to break the loop really connect to another person and to break out of our negative feedback about our reality. When we clear out the garbage of these destructive natures, we can find the true nature of ourselves, and that is, wait for it…love. Ach! Yes, I used the L word! So, it seems as if this compassion, kindness, truth, questioning – it all comes down to what we ultimately call love. Love for ourself and love for the other, whomever the other is. What we want for ourselves is what we want for others and what we want back for ourselves. It is truly a loop. It has to start somewhere. With everything negative to lose, I choose to start with me.

What is love is another exploration all on its own; however, it seems key to perfecting humanity. It is the next map point on our journey.

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive. – The Dalai Lama 

With Passion

With Passion

I recently attended a Masonic Philosophical Society discussion about compassion – what was it, what is it, and how did it get from there to here. In the course of the discussion, many people discussed kindness and manners but little discussion about compassion took place.

The word comes from the roots of ‘with’ and ‘passion.’ The modern, Webster’s version of the word means, “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.” As language evolves, and many of the things that philosophers study are dusty with age and wear, it was important to see where the word began. From its Latin beginnings through Old French, the word actually meant “suffer with.” From the 14th Century C.E. backward, the word is associated with suffering. To look at meanings, suffering and sympathy/concern are two wholly different experiences. What is interesting is the the word “suffer” also comes from the Old French, in about the same time period as compassion, and the word originally meant “the be under the burden of something, to ensure, to hold up.” The word sympathy shows up much later in vocabulary, around 1570, and is of two Greek roots – “together” (sym) and feeling (pathos).

compassionrockIn his book, “Sympathy: A History,” author Eric Schliesser puts the confusion between sympathy and compassion to rest. He breaks down, right in the introduction, the differences between sympathy, empathy, and compassion. Sympathy and empathy, which are often confused for one another, are different breeds. Empathy, a word from the 12th century C.E., was created, the author states, to describe the German concept of Einfuhlung, or the state of entering into someone else’s feelings. That is, in empathy, the person is actually “in” the emotions of others, whereas with sympathy, the person experiencing it is recreating what their imagination can create, from the building blocks of society, family, and learned experience. The person in sympathy is not actually feeling the same emotions as the person conveying the experience.

So, the question bears asking: are compassion and empathy related? How can one suffer without actually feeling the suffering?

The Chopra Center has an interesting distinction for the word compassion. They state:

“When you’re compassionate, you’re not running away from suffering, you’re not feeling overwhelmed by suffering, and you’re not pretending the suffering doesn’t exist. When you are practicing compassion, you can stay present with suffering.”

In other words, you need to have both empathy and sympathy to be able to motivate yourself to compassion. Compassion is also action; it is the desire to relieve the suffering of the other person with real and meaningful work.

pairThe interesting difference between kindness and compassion is in the suffering. It is kind to hold the door open for people. It is compassionate to bring someone into your home and away from the cold. Kindness involves a gentle mindset and may be necessary for compassion; however, compassion demands more. It demands action that is substantial enough to relieve true suffering, a true burden. It’s not taking the burden off someone’s shoulders, or living the pain with the person. That achieves nothing. It is not only lifting the burden with someone but working on ways to bring the cause of the suffering to an end. The compassionate person has distance from the emotional weight and can therefore see more clearly what may be accomplished. In conjunction with the other, that clear-headed person can provide a guide through the suffering.

Compassion requires a higher thought, a higher attention to the greater good. It also seems to require an integrated person – someone who can truly see the person in all their different forms and deliver what is required. Compassion isn’t kindness.

Kindness is a quality of being gentle and generous. Empathy is the ability to actually feel the suffering of another, while sympathy is the ability to imagine that suffering. Compassion takes all of those facets and creates an action plan. We might equate kindness with the physical, empathy with the emotional, sympathy with the mental, and compassion with the spirit, if we were breaking this down in the sense of human experience. The highest emotion, in this human drama, then, is compassion. It requires the most energy, delivering the most gain. In other words, sometimes the kindest, and toughest act of compassion may appear to be harsh of difficult for the person to achieve. Saying “no” to the alcoholic is compassionate, as is saying “no” to the person who always wants the answer. Telling the intelligent person that their poor work is the result of laziness is kindness, empathy, and sympathy rolled up into a greater purpose – it is compassion. Enablement is not compassion: it is destruction.aroundcompassion

Freemasonry teaches you how to act but not how to think or feel. Freemasons are regularly taught to be kind and compassionate, yet subdue strong emotions in favor of thoughtful discourse.

Freemasonry also teaches you to act instead of standing on the sidelines and watching and simply thinking about a thing. Freemasonry provides opportunities for its adherents to be able to speak openly and view themselves authentically. Everyone requires a second set of eyes and experiences to become better, and it is in the bonds of fraternal love that compassion can be delivered. It requires different thought than the general society. It expects the Mason to not only learn to be compassionate but also to be able to receive that compassion. It becomes a true bond of fraternity, when honesty is the cement that not only binds us but supports us.

Are Freemasons perfect? Not by a long shot. It is in the compassion found in fraternal bonds that Masons can become better human beings and thereby better members and examples in the larger society.

Freemasonry and the Way of the Warrior [Part Two]

Freemasonry and the Way of the Warrior [Part Two]

Freemasonry, with its diverse symbols, allegories and philosophical lessons seeks to build the individual into a mighty warrior of morality, an overwhelming, unstoppable force for good. In this, Freemasonry and the Way of the Warrior have a common goal. What follows is Part Two of the post on Freemasonry and the Way of the Warrior. [Part One of the post can be read here.]


The Book of Five Rings

After his near-death experience at the battle of Sekigahara, Miyomoto Musashi devoted his life to the mastery of martial arts. As a ronin, Musashi did not possess the full privileges of a samurai but was still respected as a fearsome warrior. In his travels throughout Japan, Musashi fought at least Sixty-six duels to the death against some of the most notable samurai of Japan.

During the Edo period, as this time in Japanese history is known, Japanese martial arts were extremely stratified, with each student claiming a lineage of teachers and students. The object of his journey was to test his own system against those of the most preeminent schools of his day. Upon arrival at a temple for a scheduled duel, Musashi was asked what style he practiced and who his teacher was. In characteristic fashion he is said to have replied, “The water, running in the river, is my teacher. The wind, blowingThe Book of the Five Rings through the trees, is my teacher. The whole universe is my teacher and I am its student.”

The result of this quest to refine was Musashi’s book of strategy known as the Go Rin No Sho or The Book of Five Rings. In this book, Musashi explains his fencing techniques and strategies of combat through the metaphor of five “rings” or “spheres”: Earth, Water, Air, Fire and Void.

Though the book contains much technical information that relates specifically to Musashi’s techniques, it also contains many philosophical precepts that informed Musashi’s approach to both combat and life. Below are several of the most impactful quotes from the book:

“You should not have any special fondness for a particular weapon, or anything else, for that matter. Too much is the same as not enough. Without imitating anyone else, you should have as much weaponry as suits you.”

“Get beyond love and grief: exist for the good of Man.”

“Today is victory over yourself of yesterday; tomorrow is your victory over lesser men.”

“There is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, stronger, richer, quicker, or smarter. Everything is within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself.”

“The important thing is to polish wisdom and the mind in great detail. If you sharpen wisdom, you will understand what is just and unjust in society and also the good and the evil of this world; then you will come to know all kinds of arts and you will tread different ways. In this manner, no one in this world will succeed in deceiving you.”

The Dokkodo

In the last week of his life, Musashi, aware that he was soon going to die, began making Dokkōdō2preparations for his departure from the earthly plane. He gave away his possessions and made arrangements for the conclusion of his affairs.

As part of this process he composed what is known as the Dokkodo or the Way of Walking Alone, Twenty-one aphorisms that summarized his philosophy and all that he had learned about the Way throughout his lifetime. It was dedicated to his most loyal student and shows us that Musashi was an extraordinarily deep thinker in the same line as the Stoics of the ancient Mediterranean who perceived much more in his life than mere sword fighting techniques.

The Dokkodo:

1. Accept everything just the way it is.
2. Do not seek pleasure for its own sake.
3. Do not, under any circumstances, depend on a partial feeling.
4. Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world.
5. Be detached from desire your whole life long.
6. Do not regret what you have done.
7. Never be jealous.
8. Never let yourself be saddened by a separation.
9. Resentment and complaint are appropriate neither for oneself or others.
10. Do not let yourself be guided by the feeling of lust or love.
11. In all things have no preferences.
12. Be indifferent to where you live.
13. Do not pursue the taste of good food.
14. Do not hold on to possessions you no longer need.
15. Do not act following customary beliefs.
16. Do not collect weapons or practice with weapons beyond what is useful.
17. Do not fear death.
18. Do not seek to possess either goods or fiefs for your old age.
19. Respect Buddha and the gods without counting on their help.
20. You may abandon your own body, but you must preserve your honor.
21. Never stray from the Way.

Freemasonry and the Samurai Culture

Though the samurai culture has long since vanished from the Earth its influence can still be felt throughout Eastern and Western culture. In the East, the samurai – Miyomoto Musashi in particular – are the model of righteous character, virtuous conduct and a courageous attitude in the face of a hostile and adversarial Universe. In the West they are equally mythologized and provide the model of conduct for every student of the martial arts and the philosophy that informs their practices.

In the tenets of Bushido, we can recognize a simple and unwavering moral philosophy that any human being can use in their battles, both within and without. With theSamurai weapons of righteousness, benevolence, honesty and the armor of courage, honor, and duty, any challenge can be met, and any enemy overcome.

In the modern world, many of these virtues have become unimportant to us in an age of instant gratification and self-involvement. It seems now that our only duty is to ourselves and the idea of sacrificing one’s life for one’s principles seems archaic and absurd. But the samurai remind us that these principles, these virtues are the necessary companions of anyone who would achieve great feat of benefiting mankind and protecting species from the evil which lurks among us.

In this, Freemasonry and Bushido have a common goal. Freemasonry, with its diverse symbols, allegories and philosophical lessons seeks to build the individual into a mighty warrior of morality, an overwhelming, unstoppable force for good. Freemasonry understands, as the samurai did, that each and every one of us is engaged in a battle between good and evil. This battle is fought within ourselves, within our hearts and our characters and it is fought without against the tyrants of the material world who would enslave and destroy humanity. This is a battle worth fighting, and though the Way must be walked alone, the battle is fought side to side with all human beings.

Freemasonry and the Way of the Warrior [Part I]

Freemasonry and the Way of the Warrior [Part I]

In the days of feudal Japan, from the 12th to the 16th centuries, the small island was ruled by ruthless Shoguns, warlords who controlled fiefdoms and battled one another for control of the island’s resources. They were aided in these fights by Samurai, noble warriors who were trained extensively in every martial art, from mounted archery to sword fighting, bare knuckle boxing and grappling. Knights and generals, these warriors were more than mere soldiers. Their martial prowess was dependent on their mental and spiritual discipline, discipline that was carefully cultivated over a lifetime of training.

What is a Warrior?

Throughout human history, in every society that has ever existed, there have been warriors. In the literal sense, a warrior is an individual who is actively engaged in the Samurai_with_swordpractice of warfare. More broadly however, we can think of warriors as those who are engaged in struggle. But what does it mean to be a warrior? In all interpretations of the word, a warrior is not a mere barbarian who uses brute strength to crush and dominate those weaker than himself.

The term “warrior” is used to describe an individual who has mastered their capacity for physical violence and yet abides by a code of discipline that regulates that capacity. This code of discipline is nearly always philosophical or religious in nature and governs every aspect of the warrior’s life. However, in our modern world, the necessity for familiarity with violence has diminished and along with it our need for warriors. Has that energy been lost or has it been re-directed elsewhere?

The Samurai and Bushido

The history of feudal Japan is an unending parade of warlords, known as shoguns, violently attempting to rule the fractured island. At this time, the 12th through the 18th century, Japan was not a united island but was instead divided among numerous clans, all competing for influence and control. This was the environment that gave birth to the samurai. The word “samurai” is derived from a Japanese word meaning “one who serves Minamoto Yoritomo 2nobility” and was initially a general title for a civil servant. After Minamoto Yoritomo created the first permanent shogunate and established himself as Emperor, he codified the laws governing the samurai’s conduct.

Just as European knights of the same time period lived by a chivalric code of honor, so too did the samurai abide by a moral, ethical and philosophical creed. Known as bushido, or, the way of the warrior, this creed was heavily influenced by the emergence of Zen Buddhism into Japanese culture. Buddhism’s teachings on reincarnation and the immortality of the soul made death the focus of the samurai. A samurai was to meditate daily upon his own death, visualizing it in many forms and living through each one in his imagination so that, when the time came, he would be prepared to meet any form of death that came to him without fear or regret.

Because their teachings nullified the finality of death, the central tenet of bushido held that a samurai was to uphold his honor at all costs, including that of his life, in the performance of his duty. Duty and honor were sacred principles to the samurai, each dependent on the other. For a samurai to bring shame upon himself or his lord by failing to perform his duty with courage was an unthinkable shame that necessitated the ending of his life by his own hand, a blood atonement for his failure. The practice of seppuku – ritual suicide – is seen as barbaric by our modern culture but was the inevitable end of a disgraced samurai and was seen as the only way to reclaim his honor.

Bushido: The Way of the Warrior

Bushido, the Way of the Warrior, had 8 central tenets or virtues that were expressed by famed Japanese writer Nitobe Inazo in his book Bushido: The Soul of Japan.invaluable-bushido-code-virtues-v1B-1

(1) Righteousness – Be acutely honest throughout your dealings with all people. Believe in justice, not from other people, but from yourself. To the true warrior, all points of view are deeply considered regarding honesty, justice and integrity. Warriors make a full commitment to their decisions.

(2) Heroic Courage – Hiding like a turtle in a shell is not living at all. A true warrior must have heroic courage. It is absolutely risky. It is living life completely, fully and wonderfully. Heroic courage is not blind. It is intelligent and strong.

(3) Compassion – Through intense training and hard work the true warrior becomes quick and strong. They are not as most people. They develop a power that must be used for good. They have compassion. They help their fellow men at every opportunity. If an opportunity does not arise, they go out of their way to find one.

(4) Respect – True warriors have no reason to be cruel. They do not need to prove their strength. Warriors are not only respected for their strength in battle, but also by their dealings with others. The true strength of a warrior becomes apparent during difficult times.

(5) Honesty – When warriors say that they will perform an action, it is as good as done. Nothing will stop them from completing what they say they will do. They do not have to ‘give their word’. They do not have to ‘promise’. Speaking and doing are the same action.

(6) Honor – Warriors have only one judge of honor and character, and this is themselves. Decisions they make and how these decisions are carried out are a reflection of whom they truly are. You cannot hide from yourself.

Shoguns

(7) Duty and Loyalty – Warriors are responsible for everything that they have done and everything that they have said, and all of the consequences that follow. They are immensely loyal to all of those in their care. To everyone that they are responsible for, they remain fiercely true.

(8) Self-Control – A Warrior’s strong foundation. 

The Legendary Samurai Miyomoto Musashi

Miyomoto Musashi is perhaps the most legendary samurai to have ever existed. Like all legends, concrete details about his early life are difficult to verify, as we must rely on feudal Japanese sources which are incomplete as a historical record. What is known is that, at age 7, Musashi was taken from his home by an uncle and raised in a Buddhist monastery, practicing extreme physical discipline and meditation. Monasteries andMiyamoto martial arts schools were indistinguishable in the days of feudal Japan as it was believed that physical conditioning and martial skill would enhance the meditative practice of the student. At the age of 13, Musashi fought his first duel to the death against a grown man and was victorious, swiftly ending the contest.

At the age of 16, Musashi participated in the Battle of Sekigahara, a pivotal battle between the forces of Western and Eastern Japan, as the country was split at the time. Musashi fought on the losing side of the battle and was severely wounded. Left for dead on the battle field, Musashi survived the ordeal. However, as his lord had been killed in the fighting, Musashi was no longer considered a samurai and instead traveled Japan as a ronin, a warrior with no allegiance to a master.

 To Be Continued…