Metaphor: The Language of the Mystics

Metaphor: The Language of the Mystics

In the outskirts of every society, you will find the mystics. Some are holy men in monasteries; some are Buddhists seeking enlightenment; some are public figures; some are Christians serving Jesus; some are Freemasons, like myself. Mystics have an amazing amount in common despite all that. They are not satisfied with what they learn in books, with ceremonies passed on for the sake of tradition, or with faith that comes from an assertion that “You really ought to believe in this.” What they want, instead, is conviction— the kind of conviction that comes only from a direct spiritual experience. Many say they have found it.

How do mystic seers convey their experience in words, or in stories? Our ancestors’ answer was: with tons and tons of different images – with metaphors, that is. Metaphors, after all, are symbols used to creatively describe a deeper reality, to give a sense of the color and taste of it. There are many metaphors in the teachings of Freemasonry.

How significant, then, is the relationship between mysticism and metaphor?

There are hundreds, maybe thousands or millions of metaphors in existence about mystical things. Rumi, the great Sufi poet, once said that God created everything in the outer world to serve as a metaphor for the inner. The outside world contains objects that can awaken and remind us of truths that, when applied, can be of real benefit. For example, if you read mystic literature about the soul, you might find the soul as ladder, the soul as garden, the soul as mountain, the soul as ark, the soul as mansion or castle, the soul as shining, living stone or even precious jewel, and so on. There are equally as many metaphors about the path to enlightenment.

34382722213_6e1d57324f_zA metaphor is a comparison. A metaphor establishes a relationship at once; it leaves more to the imagination. It is a shortcut to the meaning; it sets two unlike things side by side and makes us see the likeness between them. A metaphor is a comparison that doesn’t use the words “like” or “as,” while a simile is one that does use those words.

Why do metaphors in the writings of the mystics even matter? As the great consciousness-researchers Julian Jaynes and Owen Barfield both explained in their writings, it is very difficult to discuss consciousness except through metaphor. Metaphors create new ways of thinking, new realities, and new worlds.

Do metaphors shape the way we think? Let us look at an example.

Juliet is the Sun
From Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is the metaphor, “Juliet is the sun.”

This statement equates two different things: one human, the other sidereal. Juliet is a human; the sun is a star. How do they get to be equal?

For the purpose of illustration, I will show how a metaphor is born, logically. We could say:

There is a human called Juliet.
There is a star called the Sun.
The human called Juliet is radiant.
The star called the Sun is radiant.
Therefore, the human called Juliet is like a star, called the Sun (because of the radiance).

Not very thrilling or poetic, is it? How can we make it more exciting? How is the metaphor created? First, we delete all the unnecessary words and steps, only leaving the simile “Juliet is like the Sun.” The final deletion comes about by eliminating the word, “like.” Voila! “Juliet is the Sun.” 34382660583_c940b54102_z

As we can see, this metaphor comes alive through deletion and transformation. Keep taking away words until something “becomes” something else. Keep stripping away the Maya and the illusion until we arrive at the truth: the direct perception or the mystical experience.

In the words of William Blake, “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to a man as it is, infinite.”

If you have ever had an “aha” moment, there is something wonderfully joyous about experiencing the mystical – to remember that we have spiritual faculties in us open to the dimensions beyond. Wonder. Awe. The metaphorical language of the mystics points us to the stars – bridging earth to heaven and to a world beyond itself.

But how do we react when we encounter something that exists outside of our realm of study? Does everything have to fit into what is already known, otherwise it doesn’t exist? The experience of the Transcendent seems to defy expression.

One of the greatest mystical saints of all times, St. Teresa of Avila, says that the intellect cannot go with her to the higher realms. It must stay behind. She writes in her book The Interior Castle: “One should let the intellect go and surrender oneself into the arms of love, for His Majesty will teach the soul what it must do at that point.”

I do believe the central role of metaphor in shaping consciousness can be impactful in someone’s life. I also believe the intellect is not always our ally. 35192178685_29b4993ed4_z

Such was the case with Edgar Mitchell, astronaut on the Apollo 14 mission. On his return trip from the moon, he stared out of the window at our blue planet, Earth. At that moment something profound hit him. All of a sudden he was lifted out of his normal consciousness and felt an intense oneness with planet Earth and the universe. In a flash of higher consciousness a higher truth was revealed to him that dramatically changed his intellectual perspective. (Watch Edgar Mitchell’s “We Are One” video)

How lovely to live in possibility, to think in beautiful metaphors, to cherish the precious jewel in each sacred word,  and to overflow with sweeping amazement. Your turn. What mystical metaphor would you want to leave behind as a jewel to humanity?


Note: Featured images are from the Art Exhibition, Beyond the Stars; The Mystical Landscapes from Monet to Kandinsky.

Stewards of the Earth: Improvements in California’s Drought Crisis

Stewards of the Earth: Improvements in California’s Drought Crisis

In 2015, the State of California faced one of the most severe droughts on record. Governor Jerry Brown had declared a drought “State of Emergency” in January of 2014 and directed state officials to take action to prepare for water shortages. However, conditions continued to deteriorate leading the Governor to order a 25 percent mandatory reduction in municipal water usage statewide. According to the Governor’s office, California’s water supplies dipped to alarming levels in 2015, indicated by depleted levels of snowpack, groundwater, water in reservoirs, and river water flows. Led by Jay Famiglietti of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the team of scientists utilized data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites in an effort to better understand and adapt tograce California’s water crisis. The new data led to more responsible decision making at the individual, state, and federal level. 

National Significance of California’s Drought

California’s drought has national significance for a number of reasons, including the fact that the state currently produces 50 percent of the nation’s fruits, vegetables and nuts. As the highest producing agricultural state in the United States, California has over 80,000 farms, which account for a large percentage of the State’s water usage.

Additionally, more than 33 million people across Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and Mexico depend on the Colorado River for their water supply.  Negotiated in 1922, The Colorado River Compact allocated the water of the Colorado River across these seven states. Of the river’s lower basin water resources, California’s allotment is more than half [4.4. maf (million-acre-feet) of the 7.5 maf].  Supplying approximately 60 percent of the water for Southern California, the Colorado River provides a vital link in sustaining the region’s water for irrigation, human consumption, and hydroelectric pograce-drought-california-02-08-14_printwer.

Unfortunately, water levels in the Colorado River continued to decrease as a result of prolonged drought conditions in the West. As of April 2015, the Colorado River was flowing at 63 percent of average. In addition, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation predicted further restrictions to the Lower Basin States due to drops in the reservoirs of Lake Mead and Lake Powell. John Entsminger, the senior deputy general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority,  provided this sobering analysis: “If Lake Mead goes below elevation 1,000 ( feet above sea level), we lose any capacity to pump water to serve the municipal needs of seven in 10 people in the state of Nevada.”   The U.S. Secretary of the Interior could declare a water shortage on the river, triggering a required alteration of “the Law of the River,” which began in 1922. The drought in California has implications for all Americans, especially those who live in the seven “compact” states. In order to address the growing drought concerns, Federal agencies and stakeholders have been diligently working to find innovative solutions to ensure adequate water supplies for the future. 

Drought Recovery in 2016 

Effective crisis management often depends on three components: encompassing data describing the problem, determined leadership, and an informed, sympathetic community. When all stakeholders have understand what the problem is and what needs to be done to correct the situation, leadership can easily motivate the general population into appropriate action. The three components are all present in California’s drought recovery. The historic drought in California saw some major improvements in the rainy season of 2o16 and millions of people experienced a slow but steady reclamation of water supply. California’s reservoirs saw significant increases in volume, and the two largest in the state, Lake Shasta and Lake Oroville, were well over 90 percent for the year. californiadroughtrecovery

An update to the U.S. Drought Monitor was issued in April of 2016 which declared a large area of central California, from roughly Sacramento to Fresno, improved regarding the drought. More positive news followed in the fall of 2016 as October rains lifted the drought status altogether from 12 percent of the state. 

Californians have demonstrated leadership in conserving water, as residential water use decreased by 28 percent compared with usage in 2013. Local water suppliers saved 1.6 million acre feet of water in the first 12 months of the conservation plan, which is enough water to supply eight million people for a year. In October 2015, 46 percent of the state was in top level drought.  A year later, California’s percentage of extreme drought was down to 21 percent.  “Californians’ continued commitment to conservation shows they don’t take water for granted anymore,” said State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus. 

Stewardship in Freemasonry

The unprecedented drought across the West was a signal to Americans that what worked in the past is unsustainable in the future. For many U.S. regions, intense competition for water and diminished supplies forced local and state authorities to make tough decisions on water allocations, including implementation of unpopular restrictions. As Vicki Arroyo, the Executive Director of the Georgetown Climate Center, explained, “We’re entering uncharted territory, and yet our expertise and our systems are based on the past. ‘Stationarity’ is the notion that we can anticipate the future based on the past, and plan accordingly, and this principle governs much of our engineering, our design of critical infrastructure, city water systems, building codes, even water rights and other legal precedents.” Changes were necessary and action was required. Thankfully, technological upgrades, increased responsible water use, and improvements in state and national water policy are now reversing past water loss into water gain. 

Likewise, Freemasons are called upon to be good stewards of our planet, which includes careful and responsible management of natural resources. A good steward diligently examines the needs and vulnerabilities of his or her community. In turn, this examination helps the steward plan and prepare for the future. By evaluating our current vulnerabilities, we can create strong communities, which can not only survive, but thrive.

Do We Have an Obligation to Protect the Endangered? Molecular Ecology’s Role in Saving the Greenback Cutthroat Trout

Do We Have an Obligation to Protect the Endangered? Molecular Ecology’s Role in Saving the Greenback Cutthroat Trout

In today’s hectic world,  it is easy to turn a blind eye to concerns outside our direct purview. Our willful blindness becomes even more pervasive when it comes to issues which are unpopular or which lack a perceivable benefit to our lives. Freemasons, however, are called to stand up for what is right, just, and true. Do we have an obligation to protect the endangered?

The Endangered Species Act

As one of the more controversial U.S. laws, the Endangered Species Act has been derided as detrimental to progress and to the economy. When President Richard Nixon declared the need foBackfromtheBrinkr increased species conservation, Congress responded by passing the Endangered Species Act which was signed by Nixon on December 28, 1973.

The Act’s goal is to prevent the extinction of imperiled species, and to recover those populations by decreasing threats to their survival. In the forty-two years since the bill was passed, only 10 species protected under the Act have been declared extinct. Scientists estimate that at least 227 species would have likely gone extinct without the legislation. The Bald Eagle and the Grizzly Bear are two notable species that have been saved from extinction and removed from the list.

Colorado’s State Fish: The Greenback Cutthroat Trout

As of 2014, there were 1,261 endangered species protected by the ESA which includes Colorado’s State Fish: the Greenback Cutthroat Trout. Presumed to be extinct in 1937, a few wild populations of the trout were discovered in the basins of the South Platte and Arkansas Rivers. Following the listing of the fish under the Endangered Species Act, the scientific community launched a conservation campaign. Questions over the genetic characteristics of the elusive fish prevented the establishment of wild populations as empirical eviBearCreekGreenBackdence demonstrates that successful restoration of an endangered species requires knowledge of the species’ diversity and distribution.

The Role of Molecular Ecology

The science of Molecular Ecology provided the missing link to preventing the species’ demise. Molecular ecology applies molecular population genetics, molecular phylogenetics, and genomics to solve traditional ecological questions. Researchers at the University of Colorado analyzed the DNA extracted from wild trout and from preserved specimens collected as far back as 1857. The team first collected multiple samples of tissue and bone from the preserved trout specimens, obtaining fragments of DNA which they pieced together like a high-tech jigsaw puzzle to reveal two telltale genes of the individual specimens.  Utilizing the genetic data from museum samples, scientists were able to pinpoint the location of the last surviving wild population of the greenback cutthroat trout.

Led by Dr. Jessica Metcalf and Dr. Andrew Martin, the team was able to collect trout for repopulation efforts from  Bear Creek, a small tributary of the Arkansas River west of Colorado Springs. Since the trout were outside of their native habitat, the researchers concluded that the fish were placed there as a restocking effort. US Fish and Wildlife Service’s fisheries biologist Chris Kennedy discovered documentation that from 1889 and 1925, more than 50 million cutthroat trout from the Gunnison and White River Basins were stocked across Colorado, including in Bear Creek.  

Dr. Jessica Metcalf

– Dr. Jessica Metcalf, Evolutionary Biologist

Using the Bear Creek Greenbacks, conservationists have been successful in replicating the population. Dr. Metcalf explained her success stating, “This is a real win for conservation genetics. We were able to use historical specimens to find out something quite novel about cutthroat trout biodiversity that has resulted in a management action. We are not just bringing a native species back to its historic range, but the greenback cutthroat trout, our Colorado state fish.” The aquatics team of Colorado Parks and Wildlife oversaw the raising of approximately 3,500 greenback cutthroat trout, offspring of fish taken from Bear Creek, at the Mt. Shavano State Rearing Unit and the Leadville National Fish Hatchery. “We finally have the opportunity to bring these fish home,” Biologist Doug Krieger reported about the introduction of the fish into Zimmerman Lake. On August 8, 2014, in an effort spearheaded by the greenback cutthroat recovery team, Colorado’s state fish was reintroduced to its native range.

Freemasonry: Protecting the Endangered

In our modern culture is “truth” an endangered species? In America, espousing moral relativism, an unwillingness or inability to make judgments about what is right or wrong, has become an accepted norm. When ethical, moral, or social issues are debated in the public sphere, the use of rationality and logic to address such issues is often discouraged in order to foster a climate of inclusiveness. We must, however, be wary of confusing tolerance with moral ambiguity.  Freemasonry teaches individuals to living a life of high moral rectitude and to seek the truth in all situations. Whether the discussion relates to endangered wildlife, censorship, or euthanasia, an objective search for the underlying truth is often ignored to the detriment of all.

Is Environmental Degradation a Sin? Pope Francis’ Revolutionary Manifesto on Climate Change

Is Environmental Degradation a Sin? Pope Francis’ Revolutionary Manifesto on Climate Change

Pope Francis, the leader of the world’s more than one billion Roman Catholics, has become known as a radical agent of change since his election in March of 2013, especially with regard to environmentalism. Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in 1936, Pope Francis hails from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Before his ordination as a Catholic Priest in 1969, he held some unusual jobs, including chemical technician and nightclub bouncer, which may have given him a deeper appreciation for the common man and his travails.

SaintFrancisHis choice for papal name, Francis, speaks to his deep respect and admiration to Saint Francis of Assisi, the Patron Saint of Ecology. Pope Francis’ radical changes to the Catholic Church, following a period of decline in public opinion and membership, reflects the legend surrounding Saint Francis. While praying at an ancient church at San Damiano, Saint Francis heard the voice of Christ saying, “Francis, repair my church.” As the first Jesuit Pope, the first Pope from the Americas, and the first Pope from the Southern Hemisphere, it may be less than a surprise that his approach to leading the Catholic Church is different than that of his predecessors. To declare, however, that environmental degradation is a sin is a truly revolutionary step in the eyes of many people around the world.

The Jesuit Approach

The Jesuit Order, also referred to as the Society of Jesus, was founded in the 1530s by Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatius, a Basque soldier who experienced spiritual transformation at the age of 33 after being severely jesuit-emblem
wounded in battle, formed a brotherhood of himself and six other companions with a dedication to service of God whatever the sacrifice. Dedicated scholars devoted to knowledge and learning, Jesuits have served the Catholic Church for centuries and have taken vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

The Jesuits are the largest order in the Catholic Church, and the leader of the Jesuits is referred to as the “the Black Pope” for his distinctive black attire and his perceived power. The Order’s structure is of a military-style and ethos, and the Jesuit troops are known for their willingness to go wherever and whenever needed to do their duty to God and humanity. In the 1960s, the Order decisively shifted their focus toward an emphasis of working on social justice, a sentiment echoed in the writings of Pope Francis.

The Pope’s Environmental Manifesto: Laudato Si

In June of 2015, Pope Francis released a revolutionary manifesto, an encyclical of 184 pages, entitled “Laudato Si,” translated as “Praise Be To You.” With the Subtitle of “On Care for Our Common Home,” the document represents a compilation of work and a collaboration of dozens of scientists, theologians, scholars and previous popes. One member involved in the creation of the document, the U.N. Assistant Secretary for Climate Change, Janos Pasztor, described the unique nature of the encyclical by stating: “We have a situation here in which science and religion are totally aligned.” A revolutionary concept, indeed, in our polarized society and world.

pope-francis-laudato-si-artworkThe earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. In many parts of the planet, the elderly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish.

  • Pope Francis, “Laudato Si”

The Pope calls for all countries to adopt a circular model of production, known as sustainable development, which is capable of preserving resources for present and future generations. Additionally, he emphatically affirms that science has reached a consensus that the planet is experiencing “a disturbing warming of the climatic system,” accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and an increase of extreme weather events.  

While he acknowledges that other factors are affecting the planet, such as volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, and the solar cycle, Pope Francis argues that primary blame can be attributed to human activity. He writes, “If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecLaudato-Si-quote-3osystems, with serious consequences for all of us.”

Sin and the Catholic Church

What constitutes a sin? Sin has been defined as an “offense against reason, truth, and right conscience” and “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.” Pope Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI provided this direction on the theology of sin stating:  “Today we are used to thinking: ‘What is sin? God is great, he understands us, so sin does not count; in the end God will be good toward all.’ It’s a nice hope. But there is justice, and there is real blame.”

Pope Francis’ environmental treatise states that the destruction of the environment is not merely a sin, but it is the major sin of our time. The destruction of the planet is “our sin” and the Pope delivers a shocking condemnation on the current public inaction to deal with environmental issues. Pope Francis decries humanity’s reckless behavior in terms of a heedless worship of technology, compulsive consumerism, and an addiction to fossil fuels. Selfish behavior has pushed our planet to a perilous “breaking point,” and Pope Francis warns that “doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain.”

Ecology, Values, and Freemasonry

Pope Francis’ decisive statement on climate change shifts the focus from a question of science to a question of values. He argues that climate change is a global problem with far reaching environmental and social consequences, with the mPope_Francis_address_to_Congressost dire predictions for the poorest of the world. In his manifesto, Pope Francis calls on humanity to collectively acknowledge a “sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded.”

Freemasonry shares this important lesson and teaches its members to regard all of humanity as a brotherhood under God. When an individual treats each of his fellows as an equal, the application of this lesson of moral rectitude brings an increase in harmony and peace to our conflicted planet. Masons are obliged to exercise brotherly love for all humanity.

As Pope Francis writes, rich or poor, we are all children of the same Creator with each person deserving support and protection. Freemasonry instructs that we are all stewards of the earth: placed here to protect and cherish the great gift of our natural world. Regardless of one’s personal beliefs on the theology of sin, we should all realize our shared responsibility to take care of each other and the planet.