To be is to do
To do is to be. – Plato
To be is to do. – Aristotle
Scooby dooby do. – Sinatra
(Graffiti rumored to have been discovered
on a bathroom wall in the ruins of Pompeii.)
A few years ago I was talking to a friend who, at the time, was very interested in yoga, Zen, meditation, and various other “Eastern” style teachings. Once a week or so we’d get together and have discussions about teaching styles, philosophies, authenticity, and how far he thought he happened to be along his own spiritual path. One day ha asked me about a particular Taoist author, to which I responded that I couldn’t remember anything about him, nor did I have the books which he mentioned. He seemed stunned. “But that’s one of the most well-known books on Taoism,” he exclaimed, “how could you not have them, let alone not remember them?”
“It’s simple,” I explained to him, “I spent years picking up every book I could find on Taoism. I amassed a decent library, I read all the volumes, I cross-referenced authors, and even made an attempt to study Chinese, with the hope of being able to read them without the quasi-poetic translations into English as is so often seen.
“And one day, amid all of the books and charts that I’d picked up over the years, I was struck with a realization: that for all the books I had, and for all the years I’d researched, all I had been doing was reading about Taoism; I hadn’t been practicing it at all! So, I gave away the books and charts and made a point to stop reading about it and to start being, that is, living what I’d read about.”
See, reading about something isn’t quite the same as doing it. Anyone who doubts this should pick up a book on learning to ride a bicycle. You can get any number of the principles inside your head, but some of them need to be internalized in your gut in order for you to receive the full impact.
Some years later, I discovered that I was doing the same thing with my new-found interest of Masonry. I had picked up any number of books, ranging from Mackey to Pike to Robinson, and quite a few others. Even before I became a member, the guys on the interviewing committee said I was the most well-informed candidate they’d ever seen. Every night found me combing the web for more and more information, from Usenet groups to Anti-Masonic websites in search of more Light in Masonry. I applied myself to learning the rituals, to understanding the symbols, to the metaphors and allegories of the Craft. I made it a personal mission to be knowledgeable about Freemasonry.
And then, somewhere in the midst of – appropriately enough – my year in the East, I suddenly realized that I was not practicing Masonry, that is, I wasn’t making a point of internalizing the concepts that I’d spent so much time reading about. So, at some point during this past year, I stopped reading Pike (just as well, it was my third try at getting through Morals & Dogma), I put away all those books on Masonry (except for Freemasonry for Dummies, which is still on loan to someone, and A Complete Idiot’s Guide to Freemasonry, which spent some time in the Tyled Room) and made a point to cut back on my internet time. I spent more time with my lovely wife and precious daughter. I took some time to work on my own temple – my body – because it’s the only one I’ve got to work with, and I’d let the building maintenance crew slack off for too long.
When I had that conversation with my friend, I pointed out that Taoist meditation is unlike what we normally think of as meditation; it’s simple and practical, and often performed while in the midst of doing some useful, physical labor, such as plowing or cutting wood. One learns to become “centered” as it were, by utilizing normal, everyday activities. In much the same way, however, can we, as Masons, smooth our personal ashlars by the proper application of friendship, charity, and brotherly love. We can debate the symbolism of Masonry for so long, that it causes us to lose sight of the fact that Masonic morality is not meant to be merely some esoteric concept, but a real, practical lifestyle.
Remember; the root of “practical” is “practice,”which has two connotations. One is the habit of doing something, and the other is the repetition of that habit. Can we really be true Masons without doing, that is, practicing our Masonry in our everyday lives?