Benjamin Franklin: America's First Self-Improvement Guru?

by Midnight Freemasons Founder
Todd E. Creason, 33°

Benjamin Franklin had a particular practice that he established in his 20s and continued to practice throughout the course of his lifetime. He made a list of 13 virtues, printed them on little cards that he kept in his pocket, and each week he focused his efforts on improving himself in one virtue. Each day he kept track of how he did on that week’s virtue on his scorecards, and after he’d cycled through his list he started all over again. Franklin’s 13 “virtues” were temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, and humility.

These are frequently hailed as “Franklin’s 13 Virtues” . . . but that’s not exactly what they represent. It’s true that all thirteen of these traits are virtues, however, if you read about Benjamin Franklin, you’ll quickly come to realize that these aren’t Franklin’s virtues—this list represents his vices! After a long look in the mirror, Franklin realized at some point in his youth that his character was in bad need of improvement. He didn’t make a list of virtues he possessed, he made a list of virtues that he needed to work on. And that’s what he did. What’s most remarkable is that he continued working on these for the rest of his life.

Change is hard, and personal improvement and character development is even harder. As we learn from Franklin’s example, it’s a lifelong pursuit with a goal we never reach. It’s hard because it requires us to look in that mirror and be honest with ourselves. We have to be able to see ourselves as we really are, and recognize where we need work. And there are no shortcuts to building character. It’s very hard work. It requires dedication. It requires sustained determination. It requires self-discipline and self-control.

But as Masons, that’s what we signed on for—to learn subdue our passions and improve ourselves in Masonry. In other words, to learn self-control and self-discipline and begin down the path of becoming a true and upright Mason. To begin seriously working on that ashlar, knocking off all those rough and superfluous parts of our character.

I challenge you to do as Franklin did . . . reflect honestly on yourself, make a list of areas that need improvement, and start down that path to a better you.

A version of this article was originally published by the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville (IL) Valley Echoes Newsletter.


Todd E. Creason, 33° is the Founder of the Midnight Freemasons blog, and an award winning author of several books and novels, including the Famous American Freemasons series. Todd started the Midnight Freemason blog in 2006, and in 2012 he opened it up as a contributor blog The Midnight Freemasons (plural). Todd has written more than 1,000 pieces for the blog since it began. He is a Past Master of Homer Lodge No. 199 and Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL) where he currently serves as Secretary. He is a Past Sovereign Master of the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees. He is a Fellow at the Missouri Lodge of Research (FMLR). He is a charter member of the a new Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282 and currently serves as EHP. You can contact him at:

Masonic Haikus

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB Darin A Lahners

Recently, Midnight Freemasons founder Todd E. Creason challenged many of us who write for the Midnight Freemasons to provide broader content for the blog. As a lifelong fan of the Haiku, I was surprised to find that there were few examples of them with Masonic themes. Here's my attempt to start to rectify that. If they are well received, I may do more. 

Blindfolded barefoot 
Point of a sharp instrument
Against Naked Breast

Guards the inner door
Cowans and eavesdroppers near
Tyle accordingly

Faced the east kneeling
Brought to light within the Lodge
Transformed forever

Level Plumb Square tools
Pillars on the temples porch
Three Five Seven Stairs

Grumpy Past Masters
Argues about the meal bills
Never Coming Back

West Gate Unguarded
Quantity beats Quality
The Craft is ruined

Educating Men
Hidden meanings are revealed
Teach the mysteries

Bearer of Burden
Entered Apprentice Mason
Bib turned up

Earn Masters wages
Aid worthy distressed brothers
Travel foreign lands


WB Darin A. Lahners is the Worshipful Master of St. Joseph Lodge No.970 in St. Joseph and a plural member of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL), and Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL). He’s a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, a charter member of the new Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282, and is the current Secretary of the Illini High Twelve Club No. 768 in Champaign – Urbana (IL). He is also a member of the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees. You can reach him by email at

Contemplative Cornerstones

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. Erik Marks

When I was thirteen, my mother gave me a book containing Eugene Herrigel's works Zen and the art of Archery and The Method of Zen. The price on the back was $3.95, what a bargain. That was the start. I don't know her intentions, we never discussed them; and if she gave any reason, I don't recall. It was a formative move on her part. Since then, to varying degree, meditation has been part of my life.  A day doesn't go by when I sit a little, encourage someone else to sit still, or incorporate mindfulness into what I experience. 

A foundational idea for me is training the mind to return to neutral. Having experience to come back to the moment can be a reset or relief. Like in Masonry, we can and do get caught up in accomplishments and accolades with meditative exploits. It misses the point. I whole heartedly encourage building up to longer and more complex meditative practices, esoteric meditative or trance states, get a teacher or several. I think longer and more complex practice has many benefits. We get more comfortable with our inner workings and ultimately become less flustered by them as well. And, we have to start at the beginning. Mostly, I encourage you to add to your daily routine, if it is not already there, some form of mindful grounding technique or meditative practice(s). Every now and again I'll return to the cornerstone and offer an idea for practice:

Diaphragmatic Breathing
The diaphragm controls our breathing. It is fully automated as evidenced by the fact that you have been breathing the entire time you were reading this. You didn't have to tell your brainstem: "Hey you, keep that diaphragm moving so the brain and cells get air." However, a unique property of the diaphragm is that it allows for conscious control. When you intentionally take a deep breath, you take control and tell the diaphragm to pull down more and get more air. With this idea, now try to breath into your intestines. Yes, it is a metaphor. You can't actually do it, but by telling your mind to breathe as far into your intestines as possible you tell the diaphragm to push down really hard and obtain as much air as possible.

Now, to make things a little more complicated and fun: back breathing. First sit or stand and place a hand on each part of your back where your kidneys reside. Next, tighten your abdominal muscles as hard as you can and then"breathe into" your kidneys. You'll feel the space where the kidneys are push out slightly. There, air to the kidneys...well, not really, but you did give them a little internal massage.

Longest Breath
When meditating and feeling like you need to escape the practice or just hanging around with too much on the mind, try this. Exhale fully, totally empty. Then take the slowest, longest, deepest, breath possible. Breathe in for as long and as slowly as you can--count. Hold that breath for as long as you possibly can stand it. Then, breathe out as slowly and for as long as you can. If you are using this exercise as a countermeasure to a sudden stop to meditation, you just reprogrammed your amygdala a little bit.

Why do these? Well, what were you thinking about while trying to do these experiments? Oh, only the experiment? (Or maybe "where the heavens is he going with this?..."just as good).Bingo. You brought your mind to the here and now and that reduced your stress just a little bit; plus, getting more air is good too. If these ideas do something positive for you then we've both benefitted from that early gift. "Tak Mor", (that's “thanks Mom,” in Danish.


Brother Erik Marks is a clinical social worker whose usual vocation has been in the field of human services in a wide range of settings since 1990. He was raised in 2017 by his biologically younger Brother and then Worshipful Master in Alpha Lodge in Framingham, MA. You may contact brother Marks by email:

Bro. Leonard “Bud” Lomell and the 75th Anniversary of D-Day

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. Travis Simpkins

June 6, 1944. D-Day. Leonard G. "Bud" Lomell was a 24-year-old sergeant in the 2nd Ranger Battalion, who were tasked with destroying a battery of German 155mm guns mounted atop Pointe du Hoc in Normandy, France. Although he was shot through the side immediately upon landing, Lomell scaled the 100 foot high cliffs hand over hand on a rope while being fired upon from mortars on the beach. When he reached the top, he discovered that the “guns” they saw is aeral photos were decoys and that the real weapons had been moved inland by the Germans. After searching for and locating the weapons, which had been hidden in a nearby orchard, he used thermite grenades to disable all five guns. Historian Stephen Ambrose credited Bud Lomell as “the single individual – other than Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower – most responsible for the success of D-Day.” Bud Lomell went on to fight in the Battle of Hurtgen Forest, where he earned a Silver Star for heroism and leadership with his actions in capturing and holding Hill 400. He was wounded again in the Battle of the Bulge before being honorably discharged in December of 1945.

After the war, Bud Lomell returned home to New Jersey. He settled down in Tom's River, where he became an attorney and started a family. He also became a Freemason, joining Durand Lodge No. 179 in Point Pleasant (Raised on March 25, 1946) and the Scottish Rite Valley of Central Jersey. Brother Leonard G. “Bud” Lomell died on March 1, 2011 at the age of 91. In 2013, the Scottish Rite, NMJ posthumously awarded him the Daniel D. Tompkins Award for Distinguished Service.

Back in April of this year, I was having lunch in Atlantic City with some of the Grand Lodge of New Jersey officers. R.W. Robert V. Monacelli, Deputy Grand Master, mentioned that they were planning to dedicate a memorial to Bud Lomell for the 75thAnniversary of D-Day at Fellowship Hall in Burlington, NJ. He asked if I would create a charcoal portrait of Lomell to accompany the memorial and be put on permanent display in the building. I made the portrait pictured above shortly thereafter.

For those in the vicinity of New Jersey, a dedication ceremony will be held this Saturday, June 8th, at 2:00pm. Masonic Fellowship Center – 1114 Oxmead Rd, Burlington, NJ 08016


Travis Simpkins is a freelance artist with clients throughout the United States and Europe. He currently works on projects for the Supreme Council, 33°, NMJ in Lexington, Massachusetts and the Supreme Council, 33°, SJ in Washington, DC. He also serves as a portrait artist for the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, Grand Lodge of New Jersey and other jurisdictions across North America. His artwork is in many esteemed collections, including the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum in Independence, Missouri.

Bro. Simpkins is a member of Morning Star Lodge A.F. & A.M. in Worcester, Massachusetts. He is a 32°  Mason in the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite- Valleys of Worcester and Boston. He is also a member of  Eureka Royal Arch Chapter, Hiram Council of Royal & Select Master Masons and Worcester County Commandery No. 5, Knights Templar.