I recently attended an online presentation with Chuck Dunning that covered the use of Blue Lodge symbolism in meditation, and wanted to capture a few things that I learned. I previously had known of Brother Dunning because I bought one of his books, “Contemplative Masonry: Basic Applications of Mindfulness, Meditation, and Imagery for the Craft“, and I thought highly of the book.
Focus on Symbols
One guided meditation we did involved a point within a circle – a simplified form of this symbol. Participants kept their eye on the point at the center of the circle, which during this exercise I was using as a proxy for not letting my attention wander. In phases, we were encouraged to keep our eyes on the center, and later to take in the entire image, study the specifics, and then close our eyes and “re-create the symbol in our minds”.
Spending a bit of time with these symbols, even when focusing on the central point, the mind wanders on the symbol itself. I could write an entire post about my thoughts on this one particular symbol, but that’s too much for here and now, and personal anyway. Suffice to say that spending focused time with one does very much feel like it broadens and deepens your understanding of the symbol.
In a sense, this is totally unsurprising: if you spend time really focusing on something and taking quiet time to let the more subtle elements of it emerge, of course you’ll know more about a thing if you study it carefully. Imagine: you learn about things if you study them! Shocking, right? Well I think one of the central unexamined points is how rare it is that we actually sit down to exercise that process of focus.
Deeper Examination of Ritual
One guided meditation that the group did involved Psalm 133 used in Masonic ritual. Through simple voice guidance, Brother Dunning led us through the wording of that several times, encouraging deep reflection on the words. This was my favorite bit of the session, as (well honestly) I hadn’t thought that deeply about this particular invocation.
Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell in unity; it is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard; that went down to the skirts of his garments: as the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.Psalm 133
Again I have to leave my own reactions to this for another post, because I’m at risk of going on and on about it.
But the single overriding reaction I had while working through this was “plenty”.
Here we were: doing our best to defeat COVID-19 separation by being together (virtually). And Brother Dunning is speaking these familiar words about us dwelling together in unity, which we were doing right that very moment on that Zoom call. And the Psalm itself seemed to be shouting that this state was like a precious ointment, and was so abundant that it was everywhere. Just as dew forms everywhere at once when the morning conditions are right: this element of unity is everywhere: we could only miss it by being blind to it.
It was a very worthwhile session, and great to see dozens of brothers from all over come out to get this kind of education. But it is also only the first opening to a set of deeper experiences dealing with meditation and contemplative practice.
Afterwards, I felt good, tired, and lucky. Good because the process was relaxing and mind-expanding. Tired because focus can do that to you! And lucky, to be a part of a Masonic community where men come together to do things like this.
Brother Dunning has made meditations like these available on YouTube in the Contemplative Builder YouTube channel, which is worth checking out.
As for Masonic education it’s flourishing in the age of COVID-19 related closures. I found out about this event through the North Carolina Masonic Research Society and Refracted Light, both Masonic groups on Facebook. If you’re interested in Masonic education online, do stop by these groups and check out their videos. Even if you can’t make events in person, frequently they post videos after the fact.