Ordo ab Chao
Not much had changed in my life the first week after my Scottish Rite Reunion. I picked up my boys as usual on Sunday from their mom. They went to school. My wife and I worked. We practiced degree work at lodge. The only thing that differed was all this new information racing through my mind. I tried hard to retain as much as I could about the degrees I had witnessed. The inability to hold onto even some semblance of portions of the degrees I had witnessed or were communicated to me reminded me of Baddeley’s Working Memory Model from my Cognitive Psychology classes at CSUB.
We also joked that the article we read on it was Baddeley written, but the model is clear enough. Basically, we have visual and aural information coming in, which is retained for a brief period in a loop, while some info decays before being transferred into long-term memory. I’m not a cognitive psychologist, so you may not want to quote me on that. There’s another component to working memory having to do with a Magic Number: Seven plus or minus two. That is the capacity of our working memory is about seven units of information. After that, information is either moved into long-term memory or is so decayed it’s just not there anymore. If you’ve seen Pixar’s Inside Out, it’s the abyss of obsolete memories. Some don’t even make it into long term.
The first weekend of the Reunion, I drank from the firehose, but a lot of that water got all over me instead of getting into my mouth, if you know what I mean. That’s okay though, I knew it was going to happen. I knew that I would have to see and hear about these degrees multiple times before they really sunk in. I had already planned to attend the next Reunion in November and was planning on going to Guthrie, Oklahoma next spring for their Reunion. All the degrees are exemplified over three days in Guthrie. I also signed up for the Scottish Rite’s Master Craftsman I course. This way, I could treat the Scottish Rite like college (I mean, it is called the University of Freemasonry); I had my lecture and now I had to read the material to understand what the professor was saying.
On Friday, May 15th, I met my mentor at his house. He gave me a celebratory bottle of 21 years old Glenfiddich Gran Reserva Rum Cask Finish. The month previously, we had discovered our mutual liking of Scotch at a Scotch tasting class at Vom Fass in Claremont I put together with the help of another brother from my lodge. As we drove that evening to the Scottish Rite Cathedral in Pasadena, we discussed what we had witnessed the week before. Even with both of our minds working on it, we found it difficult to recall much more than some of the important scenes we had seen. He also regretfully informed me that he would not be able to be at the Saturday class to see the 32nd (his favorite), as his daughter was graduating in San Diego. “How could San Diego not reschedule???” We joked, and I thanked him for all his support and encouragement.
Dinner was wonderful, of course. Afterwards, we went to the classroom and finished the degree communication for those we had not completed the last week. I found the 27th particularly interesting, as the instructor informed us that it was a very recent degree, having been changed drastically. I wondered how many others had gone through such changes. Luckily, he also told us about the philosophy discussion group that meets the last Saturday of the month to read through one of the degrees. The first class I went to was on the 27th degree (see my previous blog post on ritual changes).
That night, the 28th degree was exemplified. It was not one of the mandatory degrees, so we felt special to have been able to see it. Many lodges only perform the five mandatory degrees: 4°, 14°, 18°, 30°, and 32°. At Pasadena, we were able to see the 5° and 28° as well. Unfortunately, my memory of these degrees is much faded, especially after so long a lapse since seeing them. I haven’t read about them yet in my MCI readings, but I’m sure I’ll get there. Also, the 28° is the degree for the next philosophy discussion group, so I will be reading about it in the next few weeks to prepare for that meeting. After the exemplification, we took our Reunion class picture on the same stage my son, Mason, had stood on March 14, 2015 when he received his second Degree of DeMolay International.
Before I move on, I want to emphasize that the way these lessons are taught may be overwhelming, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I remember co-teaching a Research Methods class at CSUB with one of my mentors, Dr. Jess Deegan. He said it was better to give the students all the information, as much as possible, from all different angles if necessary, because they will only retain so much. If they only retain 15% of 100% of the information, that’s better than retaining 15% of 15% of the information. They’re being cheated in the latter, thinking they know everything when they don’t. His tests were difficult, but he knew the grades would not be above a C, so he curved it. I thought this was a great teaching philosophy and one I aimed to mimic. I feel that our Reunion instructor may have had a similar teaching philosophy.
One of the best things I got out of joining Freemasonry and the Scottish Rite is the instant friendships I was able to make. I’m not very good at talking to people I don’t know, and it is really hard for me to make friends because of that, but in this fraternity we are already friends. We already have a shared common interest, perspective, and moral/ethical understanding. We may not all be the same in regard to particular beliefs, but in general we should find some agreeance. At the Scottish Rite, I met several brothers who became instant friends. One of them was kind enough to pick me up the next morning on his way to the Reunion.
I would have driven myself, or even offered to drive someone else, but my wife and I were going to a wedding that afternoon. So, on May 16th I woke up early and dressed in my best, not only for the Reunion and receiving my 32°, but to look sharp for the wedding later on. My wife and kids would pick me up that afternoon, and then we would drive 2 hours north, dropping them off with their mother, and then head another 45 minutes north to the wedding venue. Unfortunately, things were off to a rocky start at the Reunion.
We completed the communication of the 29° and 30° degrees and then waited, and waited, and waited to see the 30° exemplified. On any other occasion, I would’ve had more than enough patience to wait it out. However, knowing people were depending on me to be ready at a certain time, I began to get stressed. Being stressed is never good. It actually stops you from being able to learn or take in new information. In my stressed state, I didn’t really retain much from the exemplification of the 30°. Please don’t take this as me faulting anyone, especially not any of the brothers who performed or worked from behind the scenes on the degree for us, and certainly not our instructor. It was all my own doing, as stress often is. I was just not in the right state of mind at that particular time.
After the performance, we ate lunch and then took a tour of the beautiful Scottish Rite Cathedral in Pasadena. It is a such an amazing place, well worth a tour if you are ever in the area. Some of the interesting features include several differentially designed fireplaces, as well as a large library/reading room, and museum. We were also shown the Childhood Language Center, which is provides speech and language services free of charge to children (18 months to six years old). After the tour, our instructor communicated the 31° and 32° to us before heading back into the theater to see the 32° exemplified.
I was all smiles throughout the beginning of the 32°. I knew this degree was the culmination of the Reunion and I was about to receive all the light the Scottish Rite had to offer upon me (save for the 33°, but that may or may not ever happen). I tried to change my perspective and be in a state of mind that encouraged learning. Unfortunately, that state did not last the length of the exemplification. My wife needed to know when to pick me up, which stressed me out, knowing that they depended on my timing. I didn’t want to feel rushed. I wanted to absorb it. I didn’t get the most out of it that I could’ve, and it was all my fault.
Luckily, I have many more times that I can see those degrees performed, so that alleviated some of the pressure. I thought about how I would sit in the balcony to watch my new brethren go through their Reunion in November. I thought about how I would learn from MCI and the philosophy reading group. I thought about how there is so much life left to live and I really do have a lot of time to take it all in. After these thoughts, I was able to put the stress aside and think about how lovely my friend was going to look in her wedding dress. How excited I was to see her and her husband united, happy, and a family. In these moments, the chaos was my mind, my stress, my overworked thoughts, and it took a reordering of those to change my perspective and ground me. Truly I had found in that moment order out of chaos.
Regardless, when I left that afternoon, heading north for the wedding, I was a 32° Master Mason and member of two more of the Scottish Rite bodies: Council of Kadosh and Consistory.