Questions & Responses

The purpose of this page is to anonymously post readers’ questions about ZenMasonry, meditation, and the koans and parables on this site. Unless otherwise noted, the developers of ZenMasonry provide the responses. Some questions may not be posted, such as repeated questions, inquiries about the meaning of a koan or parable, and questions of a hostile or argumentative nature. This is not a forum for debate on Masonry, Zen, or anything else. Readers can submit their questions to the ZenMasonry webmaster.

Question 1: Nodding Off
I’ve been trying to meditate for a few weeks now, but often when I start to get relaxed I get sleepy and actually nod off. I want this to stop. What can I do?

Response: The most common cause for this very common problem is not getting enough sleep. Try getting to bed a little earlier. Another common problem is meditating too soon after a meal. Wait to meditate for about an hour after eating, or even more if you had an especially large or heavy meal. Also, look at your own natural daily rhythms to see when you are typically most alert or most drowsy. Try plugging your meditation into one of your more alert times. You might even try meditating while standing, but for your own safety make sure to keep your feet at shoulder width and your knees slightly bent. Finally, excessive drowsiness may be a side effect of medication, or a symptom of depression or a medical problem. If you suspect any of these, then please talk to your health care provider about it.

Question 2: It Doesn’t Feel Like Meditation
I’ve tried all sorts of meditation techniques, but I always feel like I am just closing my eyes, taking some breaths and either thinking about something or just listening to my mind chatter. It never feels anything like that “inner peace” or “higher plane” stuff I’ve read about. What am I doing wrong?

Response: It isn’t really a question of right or wrong, but of what you want and what is effective at getting it. It sounds like what you want is to experience a shift in consciousness that is more centered and serene than your usual state. In order to get that, pick just one method designed for that purpose and patiently stick with it. You could use zazen, or the Basic Method for Masonic Meditation minus steps 5 through10. Especially in the beginning, you’re going to hear your mind chatter and there isn’t much you can do about it. The trick is not to identify with it; your chatter-mind is part of you, not the whole you. If you believe you are the chatter-mind then you can’t be calm and centered as long as you are conscious, simply because it is the chatter-mind’s nature to chatter. On the other hand, if you realize that it is just a part of you that you can either listen to or ignore, just like a TV or a radio in the background, then you will experience something different. It still chatters, but you tune it out by focusing on something else, like your breath, or even the silent gaps between thoughts.

Question 3: Are My Insights Valid?
I’ve been meditating on Masonic symbols, and ideas have come to me about some of them that are really different from what I learned in lodge. Sometimes I’m pretty sure that nobody in my lodge would agree with me or even understand me. I’m concerned that I could have all sorts of different ideas, but how meaningful would they be if they don’t make sense to anybody else?

Response: One thing we all have to come to terms with is the difference between shared meanings and private meanings. In Masonry, we have shared meaning in our symbols through the moral and social interpretations provided in our ritual. As long as our meditative insights are closely related to the traditional insights, then most of our fellow Masons will be able to relate to them. As we start to find meanings at deeper philosophical, psychological and spiritual levels, only those persons who are even more of “like mind” will be able to share in them with us. Your private meanings will be those that are so intertwined with your own unique history and psychology that nobody will ever be able to fully understand them as you do. With private meanings, all that really matters is if they help you move toward greater clarity, peace, harmony and wholeness. No matter how interesting they may be, if they don’t really help you then you must question their value. Beyond any of these levels there is also a transcendent level, one at which we can be touched by intuitions of ineffable universal truths. Such an experience crosses the boundaries of shared and private meanings; others who have received such an experience may know what you are talking about, but no amount of words will ever be sufficient to explain it to anyone. In any case, it is very helpful to have at least one trusted soul who will listen carefully to all of our thoughts. This kind of relationship can help us avoid severe delusions, such as a belief that there is a hidden message in our ritual telling me to start a new religion for humanity.

Question 4: Thinking About Becoming a Mason
I’m not a Mason, but I have always felt an affintiy for it and I have always been interested in Zen. So your website has really been fascinating to me, and I’ve enjoyed meditating on your koans and parables. But it’s obvious that I’m missing out on a lot of what Masonry has to offer. My question is this – if I become a Mason, will I find others that really share my interests?

Response: Yes, but…. In America many Masonic lodges are filled with very honorable, loving and intelligent people, and yet very few of them may be seriously interested in the kind of things we talk about on this website. Every lodge has a different character to a greater or lesser extent. Some lodges are almost entirely composed of members who simply enjoy warm fraternity and service to the community and don’t care about much else. Other lodges are primarily populated by members who adore the ritual and work hard at producing it as well as possible, though they may not be very interested in really talking about what it means. A few lodges are very intellectually oriented, and members are expected to study books about Masonry, learn its history, and participate in discussion groups. Once in a great while, we even hear about Masonic lodges with members who routinely meet to practice meditation. Therefore, anyone thinking of joining the fraternity should visit their local lodges and learn more about the character and atmosphere of each. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions! Even if there is no local lodge that seems an ideal fit, keep in mind that there are appendant bodies, clubs and Internet communities for Masons of all stripes and interests. Finally, if you want to join Masonry, you have to ask a Mason for a petition. If you don’t personally know a Mason then let us know and we might be able to connect you with a like-minded Mason near you. You can also directly contact the local lodge of your choice or the Grand Lodge of your state. Most Grand Lodges have very informative websites. Just use any search engine and type in “Grand Lodge of “.

Question 5: Nothingness? Emptiness?
The writing about Zen talks a lot about nothingness and emptiness. Is Zen really about realizing that everything is just an illusion wrapped around hollowness? If all is an illusion, then where is the difference between illusion and reality? Why should I care?

Response: [LOL] Brother, have you ever set a trap for us now! Let’s walk right in. There are “authorities” in Zen that seem to teach the absurd paradox that you mention – “an illusion wrapped around hollowness” – but what was a tool meant to rip the garments off of mind has instead become its burial shroud for many people. Zen is not nihilism and it’s mission is not to destroy mind, but to reveal it in as much of its pristine glory as anyone can bear/bare. As for illusion and reality, try just thinking “garments” and “wearer”. If you strip away all the garments of mind – thoughts, feelings, beliefs – what is left as the wearer? Nothing describes it. Compared to it our words are empty of meaning. Yet “it” is nonetheless present. Where did those garments come from? Why should you care? Short answer – because you do.