Silence: A Way to Wisdom

Silence: A Way to Wisdom

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

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

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

Is cultivating silence a way to becoming wise?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pythagorean Y

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, by reflection, which is noblest;

Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and

Third by experience, which is the bitterest.

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

Silence in a Modern World

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Astronomy and the Quadrivium

Astronomy and the Quadrivium

Perhaps your first thought, as was mine, is: “How can Astronomy be an ‘art?'” Furthermore, how can Astronomy be called a ‘liberal’ art? From a very interesting (and worth exploring) website called “Arts of Liberty,” we have a snippet for explanation:

“To call astronomy an ‘art’ can come as a shock to a modern reader… Perhaps without thinking much about it, we think of “science” as being a genuine and exact knowledge, whereas ‘art’ is more expressive, or touchy-feely.  But, that is not quite adequate, since medicine is also an ‘art,’ and it is anything but touchy-feely… And while ‘science’ and ‘art’ do not appear to be synonyms, it could very well be that the same discipline can be called both a ‘science’ and an ‘art,’ although for different reasons.

To understand this properly requires us to consider a sense of the word ‘science’ not in common use today.  The word ‘science’ comes from the Latin word scientia, which meant a very exact knowledge, a rigorous and sure knowledge of things deduced from self-evident truths.  The ancient Greeks would have called such knowledge epistémé...  

In the vocabulary of the ancients, an ‘art,’ like a science, meant a carefully reasoned-out knowledge, but more than that, it meant a knowledge of how to produce something.  Where there is no ‘product,’ there is no ‘art.’  So it is possible for a form of knowledge to be a ‘science’ but not an ‘art.’  For example, Aristotle considered the study of god to be a ‘science,’ a body of knowledge rigorously reasoned out from self-evident principles, but not an ‘art,’ because it did not teach us how to make gods, or how to do anything about god.”

Ptolemaicsystem-smallClaudius Ptolemy (100-170 CE) was a Greek mathematician living in Alexandria. His work The Amalgest was one of the most influential astronomical works until Galileo’s discoveries in the 17th C. The Amalgest documents many mathematical and astronomical treatises, including works by other mathematicians – works thought to be lost. The most significant piece of this Amalgest (total of 13 books), is the documentation of the geocentric model of the universe. Ptolemy’s work became the accepted theory of the structure of the planets and stars, with the Earth central to all.

This influenced not only astronomy and mathematics but also theology, philosophy, and fine art. Three centuries after it was written, Hypatia and her father Theon, genius mathematicians, added to the work with their own commentary, throwing in their thoughts of elliptical orbits, the procession of the equinoxes, revising Ptolemy’s Handy Tables, and introducing the sexigesimal calculation systems. It’s believed that this rendering of the Amalgest, with the Hypatia/Theon commentary, is the one that was used for the majority of the Middle Ages although no direct reference to Theon survives and Hypatia is mentioned only in a passing 10th C. reference.


And thus, the Quadrivium ends. I hope you’ve enjoyed my answer to the Bro.’s challenge of finding a significant event, work, or person who influenced each specific liberal art. The question was posed, should Freemason’s really learn the liberal arts? The answer, to me, should be obvious. Not only should we learn the liberal arts individually, but understand their context in the whole of being educated about the natural world. Human beings can be taught easily to survive; we cannot just “pick up” how to thrive, generate ideas, and create a better world.

An example of this “Freemasonic mindset” is James Madison, even though he was not a Freemason. In his early twenties, when the United States was in its infancy, he gave up much of his career and life to studying the histories and government of world cultures. He was relentless in his pursuit of the histories and knowledge of government administration, what worked, what didn’t; he studied philosophy, history, theology, art, classical literature, geography – the liberal arts and more. By the time he finished, and began his work in the new nation’s government, he was arguably the single biggest influencer in shaping the United States Constitution and the framework of our Democracy. By learning the past deeply, he was able to innovate and create a new world. To me, that is a main goal of the Service of Freemasons.

Geometry and the Quadrivium

Geometry and the Quadrivium

Whist sitting in school, slaving away with compasses and a ruler, one hardly remembers that geometry is the study of the measurement of the earth. Earth. The thing we sit on, utilize, and finally rest in when this is all over. The geometry in schools today looks nothing like the geometry of 3000 years ago. It is difficult to divorce geometry from the other liberal arts when we take into consideration the scale to while discoveries are interconnected. Geometry arose from the needs of agriculture, civilization, and war. For so much of this, we can thank Archimedes of Syracuse. A student of Euclid in the 3rd c. BCE, his advances in the field of geometry furthered irrigation (Archimedes’ Screw), astronomy (the first planetarium), and weights & measures (Archimedes’ Principle). The most interesting, to me, is The Method of Exhaustion (remember Dialectica) also known as “The Method” or “Archimedes’ Method.”

“…, to estimate the area of a circle, he constructed a larger polygon outside the circle and a smaller one inside it. He first enclosed the circle in a triangle, then in a square, pentagon, hexagon, etc, etc, each time approximating the area of the circle more closely. By this archimedes_circleso-called ‘method of exhaustion’ (or simply ‘Archimedes’ Method’), he effectively homed in on a value for one of the most important numbers in all of mathematics, π.” 1

Linked together with this Method is the “Method of Mechanical Theorems.” Proofs are everything to the mathematician, and in his Method of Mechanical Theorems, Archimedes had none that would be accepted. He set out using Eudoxus’ The Method of Exhaustion to prove what he knew to be true. In a letter to Eratosthenes, in manuscripts discovered in 1906, Archimedes outlines his thought processes. This document is known as the Archimedes Palimpsest.

Certain theorems first became clear to me by means of a mechanical method. Then, however, they had to be proved geometrically since the method provided no real proof. It is obviously easier to find a proof when we have already learned something about the question by means of the method than it is to find one without such advance knowledge.

The importance of these discoveries and the methods by which Archimedes came to them may be obvious – who doesn’t need π? However, it is also fascinating to peer inside the mathematician’s mind and view it with a Freemason’s perspective. Here was a man who could see the Plan, understand the Plan, and only needed to bring it to life: a divine spark of wisdom, the will to discover, and beauty in its presentation.

For an interesting and short expose on The Method and the “Archimedes Palmipsest,” whence this Method is documented, review  “The Illustrated Method of Archimedes” by  Andre Koch Torres Assis and Ceno Pietro Magnaghi. The PDF can be found here.

Additionally, the originally translated letter from Archimedes to Eratosthenes can be downloaded here. (Thank you, JSTOR.)


Just a note (1): The Story of Mathematics, Luke Mastin – http://www.storyofmathematics.com/hellenistic_archimedes.html – I’ve done my best to verify statements here, and so should you.

The History of the All Seeing Eye

The History of the All Seeing Eye

What people in the U.S.A. commonly referred to as the “All Seeing Eye” is more appropriately called the “Eye of Providence.” No, not Rhode Island. This would be the more divine providence – the big guy watching over all of us. Or gal. Or it. Whichever you prefer.

The Eye of Providence is the idea that some divine force is watching over us all, sees our deeds and actions, and judges accordingly. The Eye is associated with the Judgement card of the Tarot: Alchemical texts of the 17th Century and Egypt.

While the Eye of Providence, as noted above, has from the 18th Century C.E. onward been associated with Christianity, the idea of an “all-seeing God” has been around for Millenia. What is called “The Eye of Horus” originally was known as the Wadjet Eye, for the goddess Wadjet.

EyeofHorus

The Eye of Horus

Wadjet, as many can read on the Internet and in several Egyptian Mythology books, was one of the oldest deities in Egypt and dates from the pre-dynastic period. She is associated with Lower Egypt as well as the papyrus. Her name symbolizes the color of blue/green – the color of the papyrus plant. She is nearly always associated with a cobra and is considered the protector of pharaohs and the ruling classes of Egypt.

She’s seen as the Goddess, which represents time, heaven, and hell, and she is an ardent protector, especially of children. Over the millennia, she has been merged with many other goddesses, such as Bast and her sister, Nekhebet, Goddess of Upper Egypt, who is shown as a vulture. Wadjet has also been associated with Buto, the city which first revered her – originally named Per-Wadjet.

According to Herodotus, in his Histories ( Herodotus, The Histories, ii 55, and vii 134), “The Egyptians were also the first to introduce solemn assemblies, processions, and litanies to the gods; of all which the Greeks were taught the use by them. It seems to me a sufficient proof of this that in Egypt these practices have been established from remote antiquity, while in Greece they are only recently known.” There is note of a Temple to Wadjet in Buto (Per-Wadjet) that had an Oracle in it; it was considered that the Greek practice of using Oracles was co-opted from the Egyptians who, as Herodotus states, “taught them in their use.” 

The Eye of Wadget

The Eye of Wadget

Originally, oracles were used to be able to link the individual to the divine. A worshiper would travel to the oracle with a very specific and important question relevant to their lives. Kings would consult oracles to strategize on war or gain insight on divine events which would influence their people, like famine or floods. Using auguries drawn from various animals innards, smoke, visions, the flight of doves, or other “symbols,” the oracle would define the upcoming events based on intuition and divine inspiration. Oracles were eventually replaced by priests and religious figures as a way to connect the individual with their god or goddess, and in a way be a conduit for the divine.

We humans have always been looking for a way to have some kind of communion with the mind of our Divine source, whether it is through other individuals, hallucinogens, runes, tarot, channelling, or simply study. We look for some higher source to tell us what we ought to do, what will help us be successful, happy, healthy, or free. In this case, I find the idea of the Eye of Wadjet to be a symbol that connects us to a dusty, mythic past with some vague idea of what it really meant.

We’ve gone from the protection of a goddess to the protection of a country or our ideals, or maybe even our prosperity. I think this is the most interesting thing in this: the symbols we have in our daily lives are historical treasures that have been modified as our cultures modify them. They come to reflect what, and how we think about the world.

Inspired By Art: Nicholas Roerich’s Symbolic Journey

Inspired By Art: Nicholas Roerich’s Symbolic Journey

The Himalayan paintings of Nicholas Roerich (1874 – 1947), Russian painter and philosopher, mesmerized me when I first laid eyes on the collection. I stared at them for hours. I feel a bit as though these paintings knew me better than anyone. It’s like I understood them, and in turn, they understood me. I became interested in why. 

It could be that as a child my imagination was captured by the breathtaking views of mountains. I was inspired as much by the physical grandeur of their peaks as by the spiritual mysteries harbored within them. Indeed, for me the towering peaks represented the very summit of beauty and spirituality. The tallest mountains I ever climbed were in Zermatt, Switzerland.  I had a truly a remarkable time discovering certain wonders in nature such as glaciers and rich vegetation along with snow-capped points. I would take a rest at several spots which were beautiful and magnificent. There were always more heights to scale, another plateau or peak above, views of the Matterhorn.

Was it this experience that caused me to have a connection with Roerich’s art or something else? Are we drawn to art that mirrors a part of our inner self? What was it specifically about Roerich’s art?

Mount of Five TreasuresIt is virtually impossible to separate the artist’s art from his philosophy. Many contemporaries were skeptical of Roerich’s spiritual mission and tended to dismiss his work as being repetitive and unoriginal. However, those who embraced his philosophy experienced something transformative in those same canvases – never ending spiritual realizations.  A brief survey of his life reveals that Roerich was not an adherent of any one established religion or philosophical movement. His name is universally known not only as Master of the brush but also as a thinker and a builder of life.  His art and writings are an evocation to Beauty, to Knowledge, and to Culture. Art education would pave the way to universal beauty and open the gates to spiritual enlightenment. This vision is nicely captured in his philosophical statement of the Master Institute of United Arts which he formed in New York in 1921:

“Art will unify all humanity.  Art is one – indivisible. Art has its many branches, yet all are one.  Art is the manifestation of the coming synthesis. Art is for all.”

Regardless of whether his lofty ideals will ever be realized, or if you agree with the artist’s art philosophy, his paintings are replete with rich symbolic jewels that are a pure delight for anyone to reflect upon.

19284963678_72350b9c8f_oFor example, Roerich refers often to the great treasures stored deep within the Himalayas. The very name Kanchenjunga, he tells us, means, “the Five Treasures of the Great Snow,” because it contains the five most precious things in the world.  He alludes to them in the painting, Treasure of the Mountain. The setting is deep inside a mountain cave.  Roerich causes us to question what treasures he is referring to? Are they rubies, gold, and diamonds?  Or, upon deeper reflection, is he talking about other more inner treasures?

The gurus hold a lamp. Does it suggest that the Light of Wisdom is the treasure of the mountain?   Roerich reminds us that we must think about what we hold valuable. And – taking this to the deeper level of reflection – we should think very clearly about how we find these symbolic jewels.  What does it take?

Pearl of Searching Flickr mediumIn the Pearl of Searching, another journey is pictured. The teacher-student relationship is a theme in many of Roerich’s paintings. Our eye is drawn to the figures and we identify with them, experiencing the panorama that unfolds behind from their perspective. They have reached a plateau and are celebrating the view and a treasure they have found. What is it? What symbolic meaning do we see?

Perhaps the “Pearl of Great Price” is what gives purpose to life.   The mountains themselves symbolize a spiritual world separate from earth but accessible to those who are attuned to the higher realities. The necklace – a symbol of eternity – signifies that this daily seeking is destined to go on forever, an emblem of immortality. This all causes us to consider, “Why are we here?”

Unquestionably Roerich is one of the most interesting 20th century figures. It seems to me that his life was a symbolic journey documented in his massive body of works, each canvas a masterpiece of daring composition, glowing with color. Himalayan is the word not only for his art, but also a metaphor for his thoughts on the process of transformation.

The path to enlightenment, spiritual ascent, the sacred signs of Satyum, Shivam, Sundaram (Peace, Beauty, Truth) – these are the symbolic themes at the heart of Roerich’s paintings and writings, also at the heart of Freemasonry.  They continually cast a spell on me.  Once we begin on this infinite and exponential journey of discovery, we might stop for a moment to enjoy the view or a treasure found, but there is no turning back. Ultimately, we choose the next plateau we want to rise to.

From Roerich’s “Realm of Light”:

“Let us abandon the past for the future. Let us impel our entire consciousness into the future and let us suffuse it with radiance, for this is within the access of humanity.”

Note: To read further on Nicholas Roerich, check out the Nicholas Roerich Museum.

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/

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.

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.

What is Literature? Bob Dylan and the Nobel Prize

What is Literature? Bob Dylan and the Nobel Prize

In 2016,  Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, sparking controversy as to whether song lyrics constitute literature. What is literature, and does Bob Dylan’s work qualify him for the Nobel Prize?

The Nobel Prize in Literature

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “literature” as “written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit.” When Alfred Nobel signed his last will and testament in 1895, he bequeathed the largest share of his fortune to a series of prizes now referred to as the Nobel Prizes. As stipulated in his will, one of the prizes would be dedicated to “the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.” Instituted in 1901, the Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded 109 times to 113 Nobel Laureates, a group which includes the Freemasons Rudyard Kipling, Winston Churchill, and John Steinbeck.

nobelprize2016-litIn 2016, the Swedish Academy stated that they chose Bob Dylan “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” Following the announcement, the Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, Professor Sara Danius, provided further explanation as to why Dylan was selected stating, “He is a great poet in the English speaking tradition.” When asked if the Academy had widened the horizon of the Nobel Prize in Literature, she replied, “It may look that way, but really we haven’t.” Professor Danius further compared Dylan’s work to that of Homer and Sappho, which were “meant to be performed,permanent-secretary-of-the-swedish-academy-sara-danius2016 often together with instruments.”

Bob Dylan: Lyrical Poet

Born in 1941, Bob Dylan has been influencing popular music and culture for more than five decades as a songwriter, singer, and artist. In the 1960s, Dylan’s work channeled America’s social unrest, and his songs, “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a-Changin,” became anthems for the American Anti-War and Civil Rights movements. Dylan’s songwriting incorporated controversial subjects such as politics, race relations, philosophy, and religion. His music changed established pop music conventions and expanded the influence of music on the American public. As one of the best-selling artists of all time, Dylan has sold more than 100 million records. In addition to the Nobel Prize, Bob Dylan’s songwriting has also been recognized by the Pulitzer Prize Jury, who awarded him a special citation in 2008 on account of “his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.”

With thirty-seven released studio albums, the list of songs credited to Bob Dylan is extensive and diverse. Below are lyrics from a few of his most celebrated works.

Every Grain of Sand

Don’t have the inclination to look back on any mistake. Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break. 

In the fury of the moment I can see the Master’s hand. In every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand.

All Along the Watchtowerevery-grain-of-sand

“There must be some way out of here,” said the Joker to the Thief. “There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief. Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth. None of them along the line know what any of it is worth.” 

“No reason to get excited,” the Thief, he kindly spoke. “There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke. But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate. So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.”

Blowin’ in the Wind

How many years can some people exist, before they’re allowed to be free? How many times can a man turn his head, and pretend that he just doesn’t see? 

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind. The answer is blowin’ in the wind.”

Shelter From the Storm

Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood. When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud. I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form. “Come in,'” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm.”

Well, I’m livin’ in a foreign country but I’m bound to cross the line. Beauty walks a razor’s edge, someday I’ll make it mine. If I could only turn back the clock to when God and her were born. “Come in,'” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm.'”

Literature and the Masonic Philosophical Society

The Masonic Philosophical Society was created to destroy ignorance through enabling greater understanding of the sciences, arts, and humanities. Each Masonic Philosophical Society Study Center is designed to ignite discussion centered on nine topics of study, one of which is Literature which is described on the MPS website as “one of the most enduring of man’s creations, giving us glimpses masonicphilosophicalsocietyof our past, present and future.” When Professor Sara Danius compared Dylan’s lyrics to the works of the ancient poets Homer and Sappho, she demonstrated how poetic works can transcend time and connect the ancient past to our current world. Is it too far a stretch to compare Bob Dylan’s lyrics to Homer’s “Be still my heart; thou hast known worse than this” from The Odyssey? Could the lyrics from Sappho’s “Hymn to Aphrodite” be considered similar to Dylan’s ballads when she wrote, “come to me once more, and abate my torment; Take the bitter care from my mind, and give me all I long for?”

The question remains for many as to whether Bob Dylan’s work qualified him for the Nobel Prize in Literature. The album lyrics published do, indeed, meet the criteria of “written works” mentioned in the Oxford English Dictionary albeit most people are more familiar with hearing Dylan’s songs rather than reading his lyrics. In my opinion, the question as to whether Bob Dylan’s musical lyrics constitute “superior or lasting artistic merit” is a somewhat subjective determination,  which the Swedish Academy is at liberty to decide as they see fit. What do you think?