Truth, Relief, and Brotherly Love in the Mirror of Self-Reflection

The image of a mirror can be very helpful in understanding contemplative experience, because it is the nature of our consciousness, of our minds, to reflect.   The term ‘reflect’ not only refers to the act of pondering upon something, but refers even more directly to the way the mind works.  All the images we see in our minds  –  whether images of things in the world around us, of memories, fantasies, or inspired visions – are representations of things and not the things themselves.  This process is also true for all our other senses, but nothing represents the reflective nature of the mind better than the way a mirror works for the sense of sight.  Even when a person attempts to think of his or her own mind, the thought is only an image of the mind, and thus is an action or a part of the mind, but not the mind itself.

Those last statements indicate how thinking about something might actually interfere with our ability to be as authentically present in the moment as possible, and thus to more completely observe and perceive the greater reality or truth of the moment.   As an example, consider the well-known phenomenon that thinking too much about doing something, like dancing, while actually trying to do it, gets in the way of dancing as well as we might.  Another example can be found in the obsessive shutterbug, one who can’t stop taking pictures of something long enough to simply be present in the more direct experience of it.  The more we think about something, the less we actually experience it, whether it is something we regard as external to self or something as internal as our most secret thoughts and feelings.

When practicing silent meditation or contemplative prayer, one sits in greater openness to whatever arises in consciousness, whether a sensory perception in response to something external, or thoughts and feelings arising in other ways.  This kind of prayer is practiced in faithful acceptance of whatever actually is, filtering and distorting it as little as possible with expectations, rules, analyses, or judgments. It means opening our awareness more completely to the immediate facts of existence and the mysterious presence of the Divine.  We therefore see more clearly the truth of things just as they are in the present moment, and less as though in a dusty and warped mirror. 

One of the most common experiences in such practice is a greater awareness of the whole of one’s own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.  Furthermore, most of us aren’t pleased to observe how much of a crazy mess is going on within us.   We discover that we aren’t nearly as rational, centered, harmonious, practically competent, emotionally secure, intellectually certain, spiritually enlightened, or morally virtuous as we’d often like to pretend to others and ourselves.   In fact, anyone who practices like this for very long eventually comes to see in oneself the seeds, if not the seedlings, or even the buds, of every sin ever committed by anyone.

There are many ways we can react to looking in that mirror.  I have no doubt that an intuitive sense of these possibilities, if not some actual experience of them, leads some people to consider contemplative practice too dangerous, and even speak of it as risking demonic possession.   Those sorts of fears should be respected for the individuals gripped by them, because too much raw truth can be harmful when we’re unprepared to cope with it.   Yet for others, the initial shock and horror of their existential disillusionment is eventually relieved, giving way to deeper and more authentic reverence, humility, gratitude, compassion, kindness, and selflessness.  We become less burdened by all the frailty, confusion, fragmentation, dishonesty, and negativity of our own humanity and that of others, and we see that these things come and go within a greater context, the beautiful wholeness of our being and becoming.  Our own looking inward upon the mirror of the soul, releasing our illusions and accepting reality as it is, in turn leads us to see others more clearly, to love them and ourselves more freely. We are less prone to be narrowly and rigidly judgmental, and more inclined to offer the relief that comes through understanding, forgiveness, good counsel, encouragement, and support.  This is how contemplative practice serves our Masonic principles of Truth, Relief, Brotherly Love.




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Chuck Dunning has authored: Contemplative Masonry: Basic Applications of Mindfulness, Meditation, and Imagery for the Craft

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A Matter of Character

“If you think about what you ought to do for other people, your character will take care of itself.” –Bro. Woodrow Wilson

Perhaps it is true that all institutions ultimately move away from their orthodoxy. Times change. People move through organizations; some affect them, some don’t. Over the long haul, it is hard to keep the original definition in focus.

I am sometimes amused at how hard we work at defining Freemasonry. Every Grand Jurisdiction has at least one brochure espousing what Freemasonry is and what Masons do. We attempt to tell the world what we are, and are not; what Masons believe; what we do in lodge, the kinds of charities we support, our importance in the world, why men should join us; and even how to join.  Every state and national Masonic organization I am acquainted with offers a number of printed materials about Masonry. Essentially all have websites.

Of course, we also suffer from our share of “not so informed” information about us; often distributed by non-masonic groups who delight in taking a published interest in us. This includes anti-masons, television evangelists, individuals who print hatred just because hatred sells; and weak fundamentalist sects with the wrong mission at heart.

I personally don’t mind any of this. Certainly, Grand Lodges should make as much available in the way of Masonic information and education as they can. It helps both our members and the larger public. The anti-masonic materials do little damage. We get attention, even when the information is bad. I hold to the premise that thoughtful people will generally give little credence to information which appears biased in its content. And I’ve never met a thoughtful anti-mason.

All of this really makes little difference anyway. What does make a real difference to everyone is that we hold to our orthodoxy. The creed of Masonry is moral action. Masonry to the world is the character of Masons. The character of Masons speaks more eloquently than all the books and pamphlets written about our fraternity.   

This means that in the community where Masons are seen as men of high integrity, the fraternity stands in high repute. In the community where Masons do not have the respect of the public, Masonry has little chance of being seen as an organization of men with a beautiful system of moral and ethical teaching.     

It is just that simple. The reputation of Freemasonry rests literally in the character of each Brother. It is in the power of every member to glorify or diminish the institution.

We must recognize that most people will never read a word about Masonry or know of its philanthropies. The public’s perception of the fraternity will never be well defined. The sole basis of judging it will be the character of the men who are known to be Masons.

People do not read books—people read men. Masonry is to them what they see in the temperament of Masons. While this places an awesome responsibility on every Mason in every community in the world; it is indeed the distinction of Masonry. It is its orthodoxy.

The sad fact is that one bad example can do us a lot of harm. When one of us is caught up in some public scandal, or unethical business dealing, or an immoral act, the public takes it for granted that Masonry, for all its beautiful system of morality, either condones such behavior, or is too weak to be of adequate influence by its teachings to prevent it.  

So it really is up to each of us. The bottom line is that the Mason who lives up to the teachings and obligations of Masonry will be a man above reproach—not only to his brethren; but among his neighbors, his family, his friends, his business partners, and his community. It would be wonderful to hear the merchant say, “I have been taken in by a good many scoundrels, but never have I had any trouble with a man who wore the square and compasses.” Or, to have the minister proclaim, “I know nothing of the religious or non-religious teachings of the Masonic fraternity, but I have never heard a Mason make a disparaging remark concerning the church.” Or to have the judge say, “Never in my experience as a judge have I had a case before me of two Masons going to law.” Or, to hear non-masons say, “I frequently attend social gatherings of Masons and while I don’t know anything about the inner side of Masonry, their exhibition of good mindedness and solid behavior impress me to think that their teachings must be good.”

In fact, I would be more than delighted if most people thought our most famous Masonic emblem, the letter G, stood for Gentleman. After all, every man who wears it is to be one.

You see, we are what other people say we are. The best argument for Masonry is a good man. Just as the best example of humanity is a good human being.




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What is Your Jewel?

As anyone reading this blog would guess, my “Masonic Jewel” would be Truth. But what about others? Surely not every Mason is (or even should be!) a student of the esoteric, or of comparative religion, or of ancient language, etc. That sort of homogeneous fraternity would either crash and burn, or would flounder and get nothing accomplished. So, what of the other two Principal Tenets of Freemasonry? And what of those who desire them? How do these fit together? Those are questions I would like to explore.

Botticelli’s Three Graces (pictured Below) represents, to us as Masons: Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth. Though these three are termed “Principal Tenets” of Freemasonry, I would like to refer to them in this post as “jewels”. Whatever aspect or tenet of Masonry that you represent with your life, it should be something that is cherished, displayed, and greatly valued – just as any jewel should be.

In my experience with Masonry, most men are drawn to the craft by one of these three aspects. For that matter, some men change which tenet is important to them after some years. But what can also be said, is that if that aspect that the candidate is searching for with his very being is not fulfilled, then he will leave the lodge and have no desire to return.

Some men, like myself, desire the light of Truth. The lessons of Freemasonry contain deep-seated human truths, displayed in symbols, allegory, and obscure wording. Entire lives can (and have) been spent studying the degrees, the rituals, the words, the symbols, the lessons, etc. But why is this important? Because, much as any triangle is incomplete without one of its sides, the Masonic lodge cannot be complete without education. Our moral lessons separate us from any other given fraternity in the world. Our degrees are ancient and invaluable to us. Any brother who has been through any degree – from 1st to 3rd and through the high degrees – can affirm that. The light of Truth, given by Deity but absorbed through hard work and study, is a lamp to our feet and a light upon our paths; it is the torch of Heraclitus and the lamp of Trismegistus.

Others desire to shed the light of Relief. One of the most common things attributed to Freemasonry (truly one of the few truthful ones!) is that we are a charitable organization. We are charged, by the penalties of our obligations, to help our Brothers, their widows, and orphans. But that’s not all! We don’t solely help our own. All Masonic bodies around the world contribute untold sums of money to charities, and go so far as to start their own organizations. To name only a few, there is the Scottish Rite’s Rite Care, the Royal Arch Research Assistance, the Cryptic Masons Medical Research Foundation, the Knights Templar Eye Foundation, the many children’s hospitals run by Shrine bodies, and the list goes on and on. The light of Relief is a warm reminder that the world is not a cruel place, that there is goodness inherent in our species, and exists to drive away the darknesses of life, even if momentarily.

Finally, nearly all of the brethren desire the light of Brotherly Love. Everything we do, both in and out of the lodge, inculcates this value. Whether it’s a BBQ cook-out on a Saturday morning, or a simple meal before Lodge on a weeknight, we all deeply value the time we get to spend together. To once again borrow an old axiom, “it takes a village to raise a child.” While I’m certainly not using this to refer to a literal child, it does in this case refer to the fact that it takes a group of like-minded and well-intentioned men, to improve one another. “Steel tempers steel,” just as the moral and just man improves his brother. The light of Brotherly Love increases the radius of our light exponentially – it is the light of inspiration, of motivation, and of the greatest of all of these: love.

So, my Brothers, you will see that some Masons may be more interested in ham suppers, or perhaps breakfasts at the Masonic Home, and may not be interested in reading philosophy or history – their pursuit is no less noble, for they are receiving the light that they need in their lives. Some Masons may be primarily interested in fundraisers to promote charities – they are providing our Masonic light to the world. And, of course, some Masons may be primarily interested in the study of the Divine, or of philosophy, or of history – they too are providing light, to the rest of the Craft that they may spread it to the world.

Brothers, it has been long contested and hotly argued that some of our lodges may not provide sufficient educational programs, or may not provide adequate charitable contributions, or may not be welcoming and loving enough of new Brethren. My charge to you, today, is to recognize your own strengths, and decide which Jewel it is that you possess, and let it shine in your own community in whatever way you know how. Every man in the Craft, perhaps every man in the world, has a unique gift. Use that gift; do not let it languish.

Our Fraternity cannot stand without its three legs – Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth. Which of these is YOUR jewel? Which of these can YOU use to help your own community?


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