So, the question arises: for whom is the idea of brotherly love and affection placed as the cornerstone of the 3rd degree? Is looking like we are harmonious for everyone else's observation? Just pretend everything is harmonious, and no one will notice what is really going on? A grand performance to look good, nice. Maybe, but it is not real. If it's not in my heart, it is just for show, and I'll know it all through the ritual. It will distract me; it will distract you.
Perhaps working towards harmony is for me, not you, not for the performance of looking harmonious. Maybe it is a wholly selfish act. If I can grow to love someone even if I dislike him, I can remain harmonious, at least internally. Maybe that's as far as it goes, or needs to for all intents and purposes. But perhaps there is more to find. The selfishness premise is too shallow to be a masonic idea. Brotherly love is to help you keep yourself emotionally regulated for your and everyone's benefit. It's for multiple reasons, often in sequence. First for me (you), then for him, then for them, brethren and beyond. And that is part of the work through all three degrees: growing in brotherly love and affection.
This installment is about the elaboration of a masonic ideal through the application of an eastern esoteric exercise of cultivating the capacity to be and feel loving towards others. The exercise is simultaneously, and secretly for some, a way to cultivate brotherly love for self and others. As ancient wisdom dictates, we begin our work with one who easily brings to mind and heart the foundational feeling we want. We start with a person toward whom feeling loving is easy and (mostly) uncomplicated.
First, take a few minutes to ground and center yourself. Use your favorite mindfulness exercise or refer back to a past contemplative cornerstone here. If you haven't done any kind of meditation practice in the past, I would hold off on this practice until having taken at least a month to get familiar with basic mindfulness meditation, Shamatha, Vipassana, Shunyata, or other concentration meditation practice. Read Chuck Dunning's Contemplative Freemasonry.
There is no problem trying what is presented here without having an ongoing or previous practice. Trying this out won't hurt you or anyone else; otherwise, I wouldn't have posted it publicly. There is just a better chance you'll have good results if you have a way of keeping good old monkey (or goat) mind subdued. In other words, staying focused on this practice will be easier if you already train your mind with a concentration practice. The psyche has lots of self-protective functions to help keep you from getting in trouble…including feeling intense anxiety if this isn't the right practice for you; or giving you strong anxiety to tell you this is the right practice for you (please write me if you have questions about this statement).
Next, think of your favorite brother, teacher, mentor, or non-Masonic person who embodies loving-kindness or causes you to feel loving, kind, generous feelings. Ideally, it would be a person with whom you have mostly good memories, good feelings, or a very long history and have worked through problems to a resolution so that you can feel continuously good feelings about them: just feel love for them. If no such living or passed human exists, some people focus on an idealized being or deity. Hold the feeling, image, idea, the concept of that person for a while. Next, feel the sense of love towards that person. Hold and sustain those loving feelings towards the person or deity as long as you can. Then stop the practice for today. The next day, repeat. Stay at this phase for at least a week.
Starting the next week, begin the practice as before. This week, instead of holding the loving feelings for the idealized favored person the whole time, start with them and sustain the feelings for a few minutes. Then, direct those feelings towards someone who, to you, is just slightly more challenging to feel those loving feelings towards the same level of intensity and caring. Move back and forth between the two: when you feel it difficult to sustain the feelings for the second, move back to the first and recharge. Repeat. Repeat days practicing with the second person until it is as easy to sustain loving feelings for the second as it was for the first.
Next! A person who is slightly more challenging. You're catching on. Yes. By succession, you are moving closer and closer to people who are very difficult to do this practice with and about.
Annoyed? You have questions… I'll start with what, for me, is the obvious worry here. Does this mean that the goal is to feel loving towards that guy who you think is really problematic? The one we called to mind at the start of this post? Yup. "Why Erik Why?" you ask? This practice is not actually about or for him (at first). Masonry and this practice are about and for you and what your mind does with ideas about others. Michael Poll had an excellent podcast sometime in 2019, addressing the question, "Should freemasons be kind?" The answer is, of course: Yes. But not without thought. Being loving and kind doesn't mean we stop thinking.
We don't stop being discerning and making good choices. The argument for why every mason should practice this kind of Brotherly Love Cultivation is that when we can remain loving, we stop being reactionary. We can THINK clearly and use our tools in a conscious direction.
With ongoing practice, the next time you feel a strong reaction brewing for that challenging brother, pause. Recall the emotions generated in this practice. Feel loving toward him (you don't have to like him one bit, just love him). Then think about the consequences of acting out, if that helps. Ultimately, like all of masonry, the practice is about the rest of life and not about freemasonry.
[Secrets: with regular, diligent practice, you will find the person who was once your inner psychic nemesis, becomes one of your most valued guides to a better you.
[To go deeper: if you find the idea of this practice annoying, anxiety-provoking, frustrating, start with mindfulness meditation and then spend five to ten minutes merely wondering why this practice is so aversive. [Deeper still: if you find yourself willfully resisting this practice and can't seem to shift, sit still with that question and remain open to the answer from your inner officers (Read MacNulty)].
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: erik@StrongGrip.org