Let me tell you something not many people know about me. I am a freemason. People have an interesting reaction when I tell them this. They usually assume freemasonry involves doing naughty things with animals whilst also ruling the world. To be quite frank, though, despite enjoying the odd moment of feeding the mystery that surrounds it, the truth is that freemasonry is a lot less exciting than what people think. Generally, after entering the society via a friend or family member (for me, it was my Grandad), a prospective freemason might expect secrets and influence, but what they quickly find out is that freemasonry mostly involves charity, a lot of learning and a lot of practicing ritual. Like I said, it’s not that exciting.
Consequently, after some time passes, when freemasons realize that they are not being offered better jobs or getting ahead, many ask themselves, why do I persist with this? For me the answer is simple; it gives me the opportunity to practise two of my more important values. Specifically, it provides a context that prompts me to: (1) give to charity and (2) connect with people. Although it is possible to do both of those things within one’s everyday life, it is easy to forget them. But there is something more; freemasonry allows me to have a particular sort of connection. As most of the men in my lodge are between the ages of 60 and 100, being a part of freemasonry allows me to connect with people from the older generation; it allows me to bask in their wisdom, and my feeling is that that is something to behold.
However, the problem in a lodge full of older men is that death is part of the furniture. For example, in the past 6 months three of my good friends passed away. I guess when you experience a lot of death you become a little desensitized to it. This is certainly the case for me with my freemasonry buddies. However, no matter how desensitized I happen to be, it is not difficult to see the psychological pain that comes with death.
That pain has been at the forefront of my mind lately, as my Uncle David recently passed away too. There is no doubt that I loved my Uncle David but the truth of the matter is that I wasn’t close with him. So as I stood there at the funeral, I didn’t feel a huge sense of loss. I am however, close with my grandparents, who lost their eldest child, close with my Dad, who lost his only brother, and close with my cousins, who lost their father. And as I looked at those people, I saw the same pain that haunted the freemasons’ funerals and, more or less, every funeral I have ever been to.
Up to this point I guess it all sounds doom and gloom, however, the remarkable thing about funerals is that pain isn’t the only feeling on show. Love is also there hiding beneath the surface. Imagine that we each had a coin. On the one side of the coin it said ‘Love’. This side of the coin represents the way in which we open ourselves up to people in the service of something that is important to us humans; connection. On the other side of the coin we have ‘Pain’; by allowing ourselves to love we become vulnerable. And this vulnerability is compounded by the fact that one day the ‘Pain‘ side of the coin is 100% going to cash in i.e. provided that loved ones die before you, pain is inevitable.
So we all have this love / pain coin and once we have felt the despair of losing someone we love, we start to think ‘I can’t stand this pain’. So we start devising ways to avoid our pain and we come up with a comprehensive solution. We throw away the coin. We isolate ourselves from the world but we protect ourselves from pain. However, in doing so, we throw away love. Despite the obvious disadvantages, many of us adopt this strategy in various areas of our lives; we don’t love because we don’t want pain. I know so many people that avoid developing intimate relationships because they don’t want to get burned!
In a previous blog I wrote about how ‘values and vulnerabilities are poured from the same vessel’. Well funerals are an illustration of that concept. The beautiful thing about ACT is that it asks people to be willing to open themselves up to pain in the service of pursuing love, so that they don’t have to throw away their coin. At my Uncle’s funeral, there was much pain. And when people saw me with tears streaming down my face, they probably assumed that those tears were a physical manifestation of my pain. But they weren’t. I cried tears of joy knowing that the pain I saw indicated how much my Uncle was loved, and more broadly my tears reflected the realization that people are able to choose love even though pain is just a stone’s throw away.