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:

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