Have you ever tried to brush your teeth and do something else at the same time? Pretty soon, you figure out that you’ve ceased to brush your teeth and are fully engrossed in whatever it was that caught your attention. Each time I brush my teeth, I think about presence and “multi-tasking.”
It happens to human beings all time. It can happen when one is writing and all of a sudden, the “editor” pops into the head and it wants to format the page, correct a grammatical error, or change a word put in three sentences ago. It happens when we’re driving; have you ever found yourself in the wrong place because of “autopilot?” When it happens in Lodge, it has the same effect with magnification because it directly affects so many other people. It also takes a bro. directly away from Masonry and the task at hand – improving ourselves.
Presence is the act of being in the now, the moment. The world outside of the Lodge room is very focused on the actions of our lives: what we’ve done or who we are or where we’re going. It is concerned with the trappings of material wealth, perceived moral right, and politically correct thinking. It drives us into a mode of worrying about our job, our children’s future, the house payments, and on and on. The outside world plays on the emotional mind to keep us in fear or in joy without really thinking about the here and now. It is designed to help our mind to slip away to another space and time and eventually, to not pay attention to what our body is doing.
Being present is being fully aware of what physical space you are occupying and what you are doing in that space. In fact, one of the definitions of presence is the immediate space around a person. To have presence means to draw your full attention to the now. Another term used for this is mindfulness – a term seen often in Eastern spiritual practices which means to become intentionally aware of your thoughts and actions at the present moment. It is a piece of the Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path and it is also found in the writings of Chuang-Tzu. Western spirituality has also said much the same thing. Jesus said “Except you become as little children you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matt. 18:3). He did not mean to be childish but to have the mindset – the presence – of a child. To sit without knowing & to let all of the things you “own” fall away as a child does leads you to being present and mindful.
Many people think they can “multi-task.” Studies have even been done to prove that women have the ability to “multi-task” better than men. The term arises in our computer age, as our cultures begin to value the ability of simultaneous mental calculations and activities. We’ve brought that term to use in our own minds and lives; to multi-task means to do several physical or mental tasks at once. Anyone who likes to listen to music, brush their teeth, and read the paper at the same time is someone who believes in multi-tasking.
Our minds are tricky things. They are easily distracted when untrained. How much of the paper do we fully comprehend? Did you catch every bit of plaque in your mouth? What song was just on the iPod? While we may be able to do many things at once, are we doing them with our entire being – mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional? Did we live that moment or just “get through” it?
To synthesize one of the lessons of the 1st Degree, the mind is taking its first step toward subjugating the will of the body – emotions and desires – and tuning out the draw away from presence. When we have presence, we have all the splendor of the present moment; we have the feelings, the thoughts, and the knowledge of what is going on around us, and being fully aware allows us to participate in that glorious moment. Each office or task in a Masonic lodge draws us to this. We cannot be a lodge without each of the pieces, without each officer and Bro., being fully present – physically and mentally. When we are silent and observing we are present. When we are moving and focusing on our movements and observing, we are present. Presence does not require, nor is it helped by, the emotional body.
The beauty of manifestation in ritual is neither the perfect execution nor the material trappings but the ability of all the Bros. to work in concert and harmony in the moment. If our minds are bent to this task, we will achieve exactly what T.G.A.O.T.U. requires of us and what He requires for the perfection of humanity.
Manly P. Hall said “the Masonic ritual is not a ceremony but a life to be lived.” Indeed, everything we learn in our ritual and lodges has direct bearing on our “life to be lived” and how we can move in the world and be in step with it. We are not told how to live this life or how to express ourselves but must work at uncovering the truths. This is the speculation in Freemasonry. Each must find his own path, his or her own technique, to becoming present in Lodge and in life. Yet, if we practice the ritual & discipline of Lodge, we practice becoming better and better at those things which help us move easier in life and address its challenges. Being present is only one small aspect of the improvements that Masonry can teach us. Without it, though, the rest is but “sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”