I remember back to my very first visit as an officer to a Grand Lodge workshop. I was a freshly minted M.M, fresh off the proverbial “training” boat. My mother Lodge was small at the time, and I learned to do more than a few officer positions at the same time – trying to fill multiple offices to the best of my ability. In a small Lodge, you have no choice. You learn quickly and you learn variety. Most of all, you learn flexibility.
Now I was finally going to the “source” of ritual learning, where the meetings were not only full but full of officers. I was so nervous. I had heard stories of the people who had gone to workshops before me – be ready, learn your lines, make sure you are used to living in dorms, etc. I worked hard to prepare and be there the entire time, ready to suck up all the learning I could. My first office was something that I thought was “easy.” I showed up at rehearsal, lines memorized, ready to go.
During the rehearsal, I learned how little I really knew. I had not learned any of the movements necessary for the position. As the “do everything” girl in my mother Lodge, I thought I had it down pretty darn well. I knew ritual, I knew the lines. I was ready! Yeah, no. I was not. At one point I didn’t know where to go and I looked to the proper person for assistance. Of course, it was rendered, but not without my mouth trying to excuse the fact that I had not really studied and learned everything I needed to. I became embarrassed, called out on my lack of learning, and I was shaken. The advice to read ALL the ritual was given, directly and clearly. No excuses. They were right.
After the rehearsal was over, I went for a walk and cried. I was devastated. At that time, I looked at it as a personal failure. I wasn’t good enough. I was a loser. I failed my mother Lodge. I failed utterly. Yes, cue the drama, hand flung to the forehead in mock swoon. While I can laugh about it at now, I couldn’t then. It took some space and distance, maybe a few months or so, until I finally figured out in my own way that not only was the person who called me out right, but the real lesson of the whole thing was to get over it all being so personal. Shockingly, it wasn’t all about me. It was about the group. I was going to make mistakes. I couldn’t know everything. What I could do was to accept the fact that I didn’t do as well as I could have, didn’t put myself into the right place to be ready, and that I had to accept responsibility to make it better. It wasn’t about what happened but about what happened to me to become better. To be a team player. To learn how to be a new Mason again, and how to be receptive, was the best lesson from that. I needed the reality of not being at the top of my game and someone calling me on it. No excuses.
It took a long time and repeated challenges to get better.
And…while that was a very long time ago, I still have setbacks of being unprepared. The self-flagellation, though, has ceased. There are no excuses. Now I know it. I know my triggers, I know, deeply and completely, when I haven’t done my best. I need to not only own up to it to the Lodge but most importantly to myself. I could not have learned that from doing solitary work. I could not have learned that in my job, where people either cut you too much slack or they fire you for not being ready. I think those two extremes in the workplace teach you nothing at all. Here, in Freemasonry, other people depend on us for our quality work to directly cause an impact on someone else’s emotional and mental state. When I’m not ready, I affect not just myself but others. It’s not all about me – it’s about me and the cause and effect in the world. When you begin to look beyond yourself, it’s harder to hand over the reins to the ego.
Why all this now? I was thinking about preparation rooms. In some Masonic orders, they have a preparation room where a candidate reflects prior to a ceremony. Some are simple, some are elaborately decorated with symbols, meant to evoke an emotional or mental response from the participant. In fact, most mystery schools have this same sort of idea woven into the ritual: preparation is important. What strikes me about having a preparation room prior to a ritual is that it’s not just for the candidate. It’s for all of us. That is, it’s a symbol in and of itself – a preparation of mind, body, and emotion is essential to be able to receive the lesson. The thought struck me – if this is a symbol for all of us, it’s laid out right at the beginning that we should be prepared for every ritual we do – candidate or officer or column – and that the time in the metaphorical “preparation room” is necessary. We need the space to be focused – perhaps the ritual before the ritual – in order to be our best. I like the idea of creating this – whether it is in my mind or in my home, or maybe both. Maybe others have similar ways to prepare for rituals; it would be interesting to hear them.
One thought on “The Mind of a Mason”
Your posts here are always so helpful, and this one is especially so. The big challenge for me was realizing that it wasn’t enough to learn how to do the ritual — I had to learn *how to learn* it! And while there’s a lot we can (and should) do on our own, I don’t think there’s any way for a first-timer to be fully prepared for that first rehearsal. A new person is going to make mistakes during practice, and if they care at all about their performance they’re going to have a hard time emotionally. If they are fortunate, their more experienced Brothers will help them focus on the work instead of taking it personally, and reassure them afterward “We’ve all been there.”