I attend a lot of Masonic meetings throughout the country; have personally got to know hundreds, perhaps thousands, of men. For decades, I have watched men go about the daily activities of being Masons, whether in their conduct of lodge business, performing degrees, participating in statewide and national conferences, giving community service, or just hanging out together as men. I pay particular attention to how Masons do things together and relate to each other in their conversations. I observe these things because we claim, as Masons, that we are supposed somehow to be different than the rest of the world of men.
The theory is that, through our unique experiences of joining, we have a different insight about the inner nature of things. We have been transformed as human beings.
It’s hard to explain to someone on the outside what it actually means when we say we have been transformed—that Masonry is a transformative art. In what ways are we actually changed by our experience of becoming, or being, Masons? Sometimes it is easier to answer these kinds of questions with other questions.
What would it be like to live your life as a work of art? To think of your life as a masterpiece in progress. To build your own temple which is your life. That is what our building image is all about in Masonry. How would you shade it, mold it, shape it into whatever it is that you think would be an absolute ideal for your contribution while you are here on this planet? What should be the unfolding of your humanity? What is it you would really like to have said about yourself? Whose life would you look at and say; “that is what I would like to have said about me. That is the right example for me.”
I suppose these are just other ways of asking the age-old questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What am I supposed to be doing? But these are the central questions in Masonry.
Most people, at some point in their life, wonder what constitutes real success in life. Is it the creation of wealth, property, or assets? Is it to be popular, or to serve others, or to have abundant amounts of free time? Is it to be blessed with a loving family, close friends, and lasting relationships? I imagine all of these things have to do with our perceptions of success. Certainly, they all “feel” like success to me. But Masonry suggests we take a slightly different approach to how we think about success. It’s all very personal. If it could be described with words in a "first-person" context, it might read something like this:
As a Mason, I wish to consciously create a sense of what I am here for. How I’m going to live my life that I have, doing it in service to others, affirming a sense of spirituality about myself; and maintaining a sense of compassion and caring and love and decency for others that I meet. Treating conflicts and difficulties that come my way not as something I have to conquer or overcome, but as opportunities to see how I, as a human being, may transcend these things. And, in the practice of living, not to use hatred or anger and bitterness in beating someone down in order to get where I want to be.
That's a pretty good start toward living a respected life. If we focus our thoughts and actions in a direction that enables us to feel at peace with ourselves and the world, it would be difficult to argue we have not been successful. Freemasonry facilitates how we look at and respond to life to achieve such success. For example, it teaches us how we go about making our life unfold as the universe unfolds, with a real sense of perfection, harmony, and peace without abdicating our usual role in life. We learn that such balance is indeed possible and attainable. I should think such an ideal would have wide appeal. I know it appeals to thoughtful Masons because it is a recipe for success.
In fact, I think it is a lesson that’s been told for centuries. It’s an attitude of knowing that we truly are spiritual beings, even while having a human experience. And we make the quality of that experience available through our thoughts—our mind—through our divine connection.
Freemasonry does not concern itself much with the labels of society, politics, or religion; rather we talk about kindness, and love, and forgiveness, and gentleness of spirit. Our teachings admonish us to understand that we are all connected in a divine way, so the real goal is to determine what it takes for us to get to the big picture—what does it take for us to change so we can always feel harmony and balance in our life?
The answer, of course, is different for everybody. But that’s not the point. The path to the big picture may be different for everyone, but the understanding has to be that the big picture is there and its availability is there for everyone.
We call this big picture Masonic Light, which simply means the awakened life.
Freemasonry transforms men through the process of its initiatory experience, by the repeated liturgy of its ritual, and by its many associations with the ideals of manhood. It enables us to get in touch with that part of our psyche which allows us to become transformed--to get in touch with our mind, to experience the metaphysical--to truly practice the big picture and know in our heart and soul there is more to life than what our body experiences. There is something underneath life that gives it purpose; that works, and has a lesson for each of us. It reveals to us that every experience is a teacher. Everyone we meet is a teacher. We are all students of life. And even when our life is in turmoil, there is an underlying law that will bring us harmony. There is order, even in chaos.
My observations of Masons everywhere lead me to suggest we all tend to have the same sense of reverence with everyone else in the fraternity. Maybe this happens because our ritual experience enables us to become more acceptable to love. We understand we are one and the same as brothers. We begin to treat our fellows with the same respect that we want for ourselves. We recognize they are, in the overall scheme of things, a mirror of us.
We come to realize that what people think about expands. And we always have a choice. We can concentrate on the negative, let our passions rule, be judgmental of others, feel hate. And we can be assured these negative feelings will expand in our own minds, and to our circles of friends. Or, we can be brothers, feel brotherhood, take our duties and obligations seriously, and convert what we feel to others. It is a great truth that the collective consciousness begins with each one of us.
As Masons, then, what we believe and think about as Masons expands. If we want to make men better, we must believe that that will really happen when men become Masons. If we want to bring brotherhood to the world, we have to believe that brotherly love will be experienced and understood by everyone who enters the fraternity. If we want to make the world a better place, we have to believe that we can make a difference in it with our own life. If we want people to know that Freemasonry has great value today, we have to believe that it is relevant in our own hearts, and can be as real in theirs.
The Sufis said; “If you don’t have a temple in your heart, you will never have your heart in a temple.”
Freemasonry is about having a temple in your heart.
So our message to the world is really very simple. If we but keep our character, our morals, our ethics, and our reputation as fraternal men as pure as our Masonic teachings would have them, then we can’t help but be successful. It is nothing less than our journey into the unknown to discover our relationship to the big picture—our own awakened life.
That is a pilgrimage worth making. Because it is right—and right expands.