It is often emphasized that the greatest benefits of contemplative practice come with sustained routine work. While I agree with that observation, I have also personally experienced and witnessed the value of conducting brief experiments with practices that aren’t part of one’s usual routine. This article offers guidelines for such experiments relevant to our lives as Masons, which can also be easily adapted by non-Masons.
Each of the activities listed below can provide challenging and meaningful experiences. You can select something that builds naturally upon known strengths and talents, something with which you have little to no experience, or you can choose something that might challenge your perceived weaknesses or shortcomings. Because this is a work of experimentation, it is especially recommended you try something significantly different from your usual practices. In any case, avoid setting yourself up for failure with an experiment that is too demanding of your time and energy. Once you have made your selection, consider a commitment to daily practice for a period of one to two weeks, keeping a simple log or calendar to chart your activity. Before beginning the experiment, tell a contemplative mentor or friend about your plan, noting that you’d like to reflect upon it together after the period of experimentation is completed.
Journaling: Spend time each day recording your thoughts and feelings about your Masonic life. Through the period of experimentation, you can keep a focus on one thing, progress through a selected series, or spontaneously choose something for each session. Actual writing on paper is preferred, but typing on screen is an option. While journaling can be an experiment of its own, it may also be combined with any of the other activities listed below.
New Meditation or Prayer: Create or select a new meditation or prayer, one that is significantly different for you yet still relevant to your Masonic life. There are many printed texts as well as online sources of meditations and prayers. Select a regular place and time(s) to practice.
Meditative Reading: Select thought-provoking or inspirational material such as found in Masonic literature or scripture, and read it slowly and carefully. Choose a short passage that captures your attention and imagination, and focus upon it more intently. After the reading, continually return your thoughts to it until the next reading, allowing and noting all thoughts and feelings that arise in connection with it.
Virtue Commitment: Select a single Masonic virtue, continually striving each day to think and act in accord with it. It can be helpful to place the name or an image of the virtue in a place or places where you may frequently see it. Practice simple awareness and acceptance of your successes and your difficulties in practicing the virtue. Take note of how your emotions and your habits of thought and behavior are involved, including your ideas about spirituality, human nature, and society.
Inspirational Artwork: Set aside time each day to artistically express your thoughts and feelings relevant to your Masonic life. This experiment can be with any kind of art – drawing, painting, poetry, sculpting, music, dance, etc.
Expressing Gratitude: Each day, identify something or someone specific in Masonry for which you are thankful. Tell someone about this gratitude, and explain why you are grateful. The sharing part of this experiment should be done in person if possible, but can also be done electronically.
Devotional Ritual: Design a short ritual of devotion to Deity and Masonry to be performed at a regular place and time(s) each day. Consider the use of elements such as the following, some of which may be used multiple times and in different arrangements:
- Perform a short opening prayer/meditation
- Furnish an altar or shrine with an image and/or book you consider sacred
- Place a fresh token of devotion on the altar, such as a flower · Bow and/or kneel
- Make one or more symbolic gestures, such as the due guards and penal signs
- Light a candle and/or incense
- Ring a bell
- Read a short piece of inspirational or meditative writing, such as from a book of daily meditations or quotes
- Listen to music that has inspirational or meditative significance
- Perform a short closing prayer/meditation
Nightly Review: Before you fall asleep each night, review the events of the day and consider their relevance to Masonic teachings. The review can be from morning to night or, in reverse order, from night to morning. In either case, consider performing it with your eyes closed so that you can more clearly imagine events as you recall them.
When the period of experimentation is complete, reflect on your experiences in an attempt to summarize the things you have learned. Consider questions such as these:
- What did you observe about yourself, your thinking, emotions, and behaviors?
- What did you learn that might be helpful in better understanding others, the Craft, or your relationship with Deity?
- If you did this experiment again, what might you do differently, and why?
- What insight, wisdom, or questions might you share with others as a result of this experiment?