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Author's Note


The journey of life, the greatest mystery of all the mysteries known to man, has been the ongoing saga of our species from time immemorial. Through the countless pages of history, we have transitioned from caves to suburbs, from spears to fighter jets, and from hieroglyphs to literary masterpieces. Yet we are still searching for the solution of this great mystery as our travels aboard this terrestrial spaceship continue without pause. For generations, we have sought to answer the deepest questions of our existence; thousands of belief systems and religions have flourished and waned; and the bloodiest wars have been fought over our attempts to confront the essence of our humanity. Alas, the great paradox lies with our inability to understand the very thing that we are, like an artist inside his living room who fails to see the color of the exterior of his own home.

In our travels as a human species, institutions have been developed to embrace our collective humanity, regardless of religion, culture, or social status. Some have promoted the ideals of democracy, carried the torch of freedom, and provided a voice for the most creative minds. Some have encouraged all the actors in this great journey of life to come together and unite in the face of uncertainty, to respect each other no matter the creed, and to reach across boundaries – both natural and manmade – that cannot touch our collective human spirit.

Through the damage of ignorance, the scourge of war, and the crash of empires, a select few of these noble institutions have survived because of their adherence to the fundamental, universal principles of man. Journey on the Level is a book about our personal journey of life, framed within the context of the symbolism associated with one such institution – Freemasonry.

It has been said that approximately 100,000 books have been written about Freemasonry. The only individual topics to have surpassed this number are national histories and religious texts. So why add another Masonic book to the list? While many of these published works have beautifully interpreted the compelling histories, noble tenets, and deepest philosophies of Freemasonry, few have focused attention squarely on the application of them to our daily lives outside the lodge room. Journey on the Level fills that void.

As Entered Apprentices, we are admonished to build “that house not made with hands,” but exactly what does this entail? Ultimately, only each individual brother can truly answer this question for himself. Yet there is much we can do to more deeply understand how to incorporate the symbols of Freemasonry into our daily lives, outside of the lodge room, outside of the ritual. The art of seeing and living by the ideals of Freemasonry brings indescribable rewards to any brother who seeks them. If we were to accomplish the lofty goal of challenging ourselves to see the world in a different light, with the guidance of the “Three Great Lights of Masonry,” then philosophies would no longer be philosophies. They would simply become an integral part of our minds and consciousnesses.

Since there are many readers who find the esoteric language of the old classics of Masonic literature a bit out of reach, this book presents Masonic symbolism and philosophy in a contemporary context, complete with language and analogies from the 21st century. It is my hope that this book will reach a diverse audience across the worldwide Masonic fraternity, appealing to brothers of all faiths, cultures, and philosophical interests. Our mutual search for Truth and spiritual enlightenment, regardless of background or context, strikes a chord at the heart of man.

It was with these ideas in mind that I began this book project. I am indebted to my Masonic mentor, Brother Travis Roberts of Norman Lodge No. 38 in Oklahoma, for showing me the importance of fostering fraternal trust and personal inspiration through proper mentoring. Through the years, I have striven to follow in his footsteps by volunteering to serve as an official or unofficial “mentor” to Masonic candidates going through their degrees in Oklahoma, Colorado, and Hawai‘i. But I soon found out that the very acts of teaching proficiencies, expressing my ideas, and listening to the brothers’ interpretations resulted in fresh insights and original realizations that I would not have otherwise acquired. Thus, instead of the term “mentoring,” I prefer to call such Masonic discussions “conversations.”

Whether it was guiding brothers through their proficiencies or joining them on philosophical tangents late into the night, I learned more about their life stories, about my own place in the world, and about the true value of Freemasonry during those conversations than I ever have in the tyled lodge room! During one memorable experience, I backpacked into the alpine Rocky Mountain wilderness and taught parts of the Master Mason proficiency while gazing at a panoramic cliff face carved with multiple waterfalls on the edge of an expansive, glacial valley. Surely, Freemasonry is much more than just history and tradition. The greatest reward of being a Mason is to look into the eyes of a fellow brother and know that there exists a mutual trust and understanding that cannot be expressed with words. We all have friends at work, friends at school, friends who play sports with us, and friends with whom we hang out on the weekends. But to have friends who explore the essence of life with us and commit to such an adventure – indeed, they are rare gifts.

Journey on the Level is a product of countless hours of Masonic conversations with my fellow brothers, young and old. Since my own initiation, I have often kept a little pocket notebook with me to jot down those rare moments of insight that arise spontaneously. By nurturing these, with relatively little effort, I have found that they have changed my life for the better. In effect, every friend and fellow Mason I have ever crossed paths with has contributed indirectly to this book. Ideas in the following pages can often be traced back to a moment of realization I had during a particular conversation or during a moment of solitary reflection. If each reader, regardless of his personal level of interest or enthusiasm for Masonic philosophy, can find just a single idea meaningful in this book, then the goal of this work would be accomplished.

This book is organized as follows: the first three chapters describe the journey of an Entered Apprentice; the fourth chapter follows the practice of a Fellow Craft; and the last three chapters delve into the core of the wisdom of the Master Mason by pointing to the deepest philosophies of impermanence and introspection. With respect to the reader’s journey: the first three chapters take him outside the norm of his habitual thoughts; the first five chapters together elevate him to a higher level of critical analysis of his daily life; and all seven chapters as a whole direct him to continue down his path of life as a true and faithful Master Mason.

The symbolisms of the three degrees are intricately contained within the beautiful and often poetic language of Masonic ritual. While philosophy and interpretation can be freely discussed, the elements of ritual that cannot be written down are not included in this book. Special care has been taken not to reveal the specific names or words of particular symbols that are non-monitorial, but the experienced Mason should be able to read between the lines. Furthermore, among the monitorial symbols, only those that were deemed acceptable for all readers, regardless of degree, were included. Since this issue may be subject to different opinions depending on jurisdiction, the works of other highly respected Masonic authors were used as a general guideline to determine which topics would be appropriate to include and which to exclude.

If this book will be used as guided reading for candidates awaiting initiation or for brothers in the process of preparing their degree proficiencies, his mentor is welcome to decide which chapters would be appropriate to assign. It may be prudent in some situations to allow the brother to experience his degrees with absolutely no preconceptions, so as to ensure the originality of his own experience. However, this book in its entirety may be a good resource for the philosophically-minded candidate or brother to start the practice of introspection even before completing all three degrees, so that he can approach his experiences with the proper mindset. I leave it to the reader to decide.

A unique aspect of Freemasonry is its non-dogmatic and non-sectarian approach to encouraging its members to ponder life’s greatest questions and to think for themselves. The ideas presented in this book are spiritual and philosophical in nature but do not pertain to any particular religion. Although Freemasonry itself is not a religion, it has been said that all the elements and events within a Masonic lodge can be associated with analogy to the mental realm. Even though it uses Biblical allegory, Freemasonry is a unique institution because it preserves an aspect of introspection and contemplation that has been lost in many of the mainstream, modern-day, Western belief systems. This book will challenge us to view symbols in ways we may not have encountered before.

Journey on the Level is meant to be reflective and thought provoking, so it should be read slower than a typical novel. While reading, please keep in mind that nobody has the right or authority to speak on behalf of the entirety of Freemasonry, nor can he profess knowledge of a strict interpretation of a particular symbol. All the ideas presented in this book are my own insights and opinions only – not to be taken as universal interpretations. The reader should not be afraid to pause and critically analyze how each concept can be applied to daily life before proceeding. If, upon trial and experimentation using sound logic and reason, he finds a particular idea to be incompatible with his experiences, then there is certainly no obligation to adopt it. However, I wholeheartedly encourage the reader to approach all of the concepts in this book with a receptive mind, so that he may reap the fullest rewards. But this book is not meant to provide all the answers. Instead, the reader should use it as a launching point to find his own.

For the general audience, may this work provide some useful, philosophical insight and shed light on the practical meanings behind some of the symbols that have been passed down through innumerable generations of Freemasons. Even though there are specific membership requirements and privileges within Freemasonry, the philosophy of “Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth” is to be shared with the world. After all, life is but a journey, regardless of names, titles, or membership dues.

For the scholar or historian seeking to evaluate the nature of Freemasonry under the occasional cloak of public misperception, see it as a source of inspiration for many, rather than the object of misconstrued cynicism for a few. Freemasonry is not perfect. No institutions of man are ever perfect, even those with the greatest and noblest of ideals toward which to strive. So judge not the integrity of an institution based on the actions of a few. Instead, understand that any institution that encourages reflection and develops compassion among its constituents as a whole is one that is noble and worthy of acclaim. Freemasonry is a means to an end of self-improvement, not the end. It is a constant work in progress. May this book serve as a testament to that work.

For the new initiate as well as the seasoned Master Mason, I hope that this book will serve as a reliable and trusty companion along your journey. When “life gets in the way,” it is easy to place activities such as Freemasonry on the backburner, but it is in those lessons inculcated in your Masonic experience where you will find the answers that will help you deal with life’s challenges. Diligent study of the monitor, which is given to all Master Masons (depending on jurisdiction), together with the guidance contained within the pages of this book, will serve as a good starting point from which you can begin to reap the benefits of a colorful and personally rewarding Masonic experience that extends well beyond the tyled door.

May the words contained within these pages serve as a spark that ignites a flame of inspiration within your breast to continue on your inward journey and seek your own answers to life’s most pressing questions. The last section of this book, “Reflections,” is for you to jot down your own thoughts and realizations as you read, so that you can complete the story of your journey in your own way. When you stop to take a sip of water or to rest on a rock next to a babbling brook, use those last few pages to record your own thoughts and to document your own strokes of insight. Someday, when you look back at your notes, you may realize that they have changed the course of your life for the better.

Come. Let us embark upon this journey with these words from Brother Mark Twain in mind:

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

Bon voyage!

OWEN H. SHIEH

EDUCATION COMMITTEE COACH
HONOLULU LODGE
GRAND LODGE OF HAWAI‘I F. & A.M.

CERTIFICATE LECTURER (2010, CLASS “C”)
NORMAN LODGE NO. 38
GRAND LODGE OF OKLAHOMA A.F. & A.M.