Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Coaches Coach: Traveling Men - The Purposes Behind Memorizations

Traveling Man

So many Experience it; so few Understand the Experience.  Further Light facilitates Further Travel.

“Proficiency”, also known to most Brothers who have gone through them as “Catechism”, is a requirement in which many Brothers must participate to progress through the Blue Lodge Degrees, at least, within the majority of the Jurisdictions in the USA.  The Proficiency requirement does a multitude of things for both the Candidate and the Lodge.  Over the years, the Proficiency requirements exist within fewer and fewer Jurisdictions due to a host of reasons.  It is most unfortunate that those Jurisdictions eliminating it are not training these Brothers in one of the most important aspects of Masonic Travel. 
Freemasonic Purposes
Given opportunity to explain, the average Brother would say that Proficiencies have important purposes for the Fraternity.  The most obvious response some Brothers provide is that it reveals how serious a Candidate is to participate in the Organization.  Another response you’ll readily receive is that it helps Brothers remember what they went through during the degree. 
Those Brothers who are savvy to the needs of the Lodge and the Organization as a whole shall immediately share that it installs a script within each Brother.  Such installation makes it easier for each of them to participate in Degree work when new Candidates come through to be Initiated, Passed or Raised. 
All are purposes that serve well the Organization of Freemasons.

Masonic Purposes
The purposes for Proficiencies are far more than what may seem to be obvious to Organizational support upon first glance.  One purpose that I have been sharing for years is that Proficiencies are in themselves Road Maps that Candidates can and follow to Better themselves.  These Road Maps, once recognized as such, contain specific directions and tasks that aid toward Making Good Men Better, when followed through upon. 
When Candidates Recognize them in this form, for what they truly are, and seek to Understand what these Road Maps direct them toward, they can then journey forth using them as guides toward Betterment.  It’s truly a shame that too few Proficiency Instructors do not point this out to Candidates before, during and after the Proficiencies are engaged in by them.  Candidates would benefit much more by Understanding the basis behind this effort and perhaps have more incentive to engage in them knowing the purposes that lay behind them.
Another underlying purpose has nothing to do with the Catechisms themselves.  It has to do with men getting to know one another.  In this sense, the Catechisms are there for Instructors to use as a tool and vehicle for Brotherly bonding.  The catechisms become a catalyst for each man to become familiar with and to learn about the other, by focusing upon a task that lessens the awkwardness sometimes experienced by men initially unfamiliar with each other.  
I’ve seen a lot of very good opportunities missed, deliberately skipped over and even lost because the activity focus was so strongly upon the Catechism that the men involved faded into the background. 
Doing Proficiencies provide ample time to get to know one another. This especially in a day and age where the mobility of people is almost certainly going to interfere with knowing each other much better, and certainly before having these Brothers Passed and Raised. 
 Should you be in the position of Instructing Candidates through these Proficiencies, you might want to step back and look at it as an opportunity to get to know the Candidates. 

Ancient Purposes
There is an ancient purpose that is not often known that should be Understood by both Instructors and Candidates alike before they engage in these activities.  That ancient purpose has been described in a whole host of different sources over the years.  That purpose was to develop the Candidates’ ability to remember using an ancient technique referred to repeatedly by both Plato and his student Aristotle, among many others.   It is currently known by many names:  “Method of Loci[i]”, “The Roman Room” and “The Memory Palace”, are just a few. 
The Technique is truly simple.  It requires that you memorize the layout of a room, home, or even a well-traveled path.  Colors, shapes, sizes, textures and anything that is best suited to the individual’s method of experience[ii] should be taken into consideration.  Once you have created a location or path within your mind with which you are familiar, you can then Travel through it. 
You might say, “So what? What does that do for me?”   What it does for you is Establish a path that you can Build upon.  In other words, the cultivation of this technique within one’s mind brings about a structure for recall.  Doing so remaps the Parietal Lobes of the brain and interconnects it with the other lobes as well[iii].  Should you research this Further, you’ll find that the ancients knew a lot about using the brain more effectively than we might give them credit for today.
Once this internal path is Established, you then create specific stop points or loci along the way that you shall remember without fail.  As you Travel through this imaginary path at anytime thereafter, these stopping points shall allow you to place images that shall remind you of what it is that you want to recall.  
When I first heard this method explained, I thought to myself, “Yikes! That’s an awful lot of work to memorize something!  First I have to memorize a path, and then I have to memorize images that will trigger memories of what I want to remember!  There’s got to be an easier way.”  I reluctantly tried to use it but gave up because it seemed to not work quickly enough for me.  I resolved in those moments that I would not pursue it any further, no matter how great it might have worked for those who perfected it. 

Along the Road
I held that opinion for many years.  And there was nothing that seemed to budge me from it.  Even though I knew that it was a technique that was recommended for over 2400 years, I resisted Cultivating it.  My conclusion and choice kept me from Traveling down that Path. 
Then something changed for me.  I went through my first Degree as a Freemason and was told immediately afterward that I was required to memorize about six single spaced sheets of responses to question and requests from a proficiency Instructor before I was allowed to advance to the next Degree.  I had no idea how I was going to accomplish that task.  I was encouraged by my Instructors.  I was told that I was not the only one faced with this overwhelming task and that many others faced it too and succeeded.   With the help of my Instructor I stepped up and started to memorize what was asked of me.
As you know from my status as a Master Mason, I was successful in memorizing what was required of me.  I did this three times over and was supported by my Brothers in doing so.  It wasn’t till years later that I became aware of what actually occurred for me through those memorization efforts.   

Locus Focus
I had a question put to me by a Brother.  The question was simple. 
What does memorizing all these Proficiencies do for a man?
 It was a bit too simple a question and I should have expected there would be another not so easy question fired at me very quickly after the first one was put forth.  And I was right.  That second question was not so simple. 
Wouldn’t a man be better off understanding what he went through rather than simply memorizing all those provided responses not knowing what they meant?
Over the years, I’ve responded to the second question with an unshakably energetic and confident, “Absolutely!”  That response went unchecked for a very long time.  That is, until I Recognized the underlying reason for the memorization.   Once I realized that the basis behind these memorizations was to install a Freemasonic version of a “Roman Room” in the form of a Masonic Lodge, it all clicked!
Yes!  It was very important to Understand what was being memorized.  And to get to the point where you can Understand what you are memorizing, you have to be able to recall it and do so without wasting a lot of time trying to remember it! 
This led to the following connection: The underlying purpose behind doing Proficiency is to both honor and engage in an ancient practice involving teaching Candidates how to remember using the “Method of Loci” used by humankind since time immemorial.
To be a “Traveling Man”, one must be capable of Traveling Masterfully within one’s mind, not only through “natural” occurring memory, but through what the Greeksreferred to as “artificial” memory[iv].    Proficiencies help us toward this end, should we participate in doing them.  When you never have opportunity to Cultivate this important technique within yourself, your Travel shall be muted by many moments caused by memory roadblocks and stumbling points.  Those Jurisdictions that still require Mnemonic Cultivation are providing an invaluable supportive service that Builds Better Travelers, one mind at a time! 

Points to Perpend

1)  Does your Jurisdiction require “Method of Loci” training in the form of Proficiencies?

2)  Have you used this Training to remember
3)  How do you see such Training affecting your Travels?

[i] plural of Latin locus for place or location
[ii] Depending upon a person’s internal “wiring” they might be tactile, visual, or auditory; smell and taste should not be left out since they are also modes of sensory input that some people are more sensitive to than others.

[iii] The parietal lobe integrates sensory information from different modalities, particularly determining spatial sense and navigation. For example, it comprises somato-sensory cortex and the dorsal stream of the visual system. This enables regions of the parietal cortex to map objects perceived visually into body coordinate positions. Several portions of the parietal lobe are important in language processing. Just posterior to the central sulcus lies the postcentral gyrus. This area of the cortex is responsible for somatosensation. []

For more information related to this and other works, please visit my website.