Friday, September 30, 2011

Growth


A basic premise of economic health in capitalism is growth. Growth means more. More what? More manufacture and sale of goods, which necessitates more people and more pillaging of the natural environment. What about the growth of quality of life on the planet? Capitalism, especially global corporate capitalism, does not care about that. The glibber capitalist says that a free market will take care of all that Leftist nonsense. In fact, the free market is nonsense.

Chris Hedges
Capitalism is based on an assumption that the few will profit from the many. And that's simply the way it is. Period. What could be more intrinsically at odds with any humanist view of the world? I listened happily to Chris Hedges, who was interviewed at Occupy Wall Street on Tuesday. He is very articulate on the current threats of global capitalism to human empowerment, equality and justice.

What about individual human growth? I believe this is the commodity which could save the human species from itself. It's free, but it does not come with a simple manual. It is a construction project that requires creativity, failure and pain. It is not like a fast food meal, cheap and filling. Looking to the mind, not the wallet, for happiness inevitably leads to the rejection of capitalism as we know it. Unplugging from Apple world's i-consumerism may be bad for the stock exchange but it could be the best thing a person can do to find his/her own mind.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Connection

Human connection is about vulnerability. Being vulnerable in the world requires strength and confidence. Practice builds strength and confidence. The person who practices makes human connections easily. 

The culture of the workplace in societies where competition trumps cooperation is often the antithesis of a culture of vulnerability. Competition breeds suspicion, as competitors try to gauge the opponent's next move. No matter how healthy the competition appears to be superficially, it is armoring the competitors against the vulnerability that could lead to a very different relationship. In a culture of cooperation, vulnerability becomes part of the creative process, as coworkers freely share their feelings about the work process. 

Away from the workplace, the person who is used to concealing vulnerability carries his defensiveness into other relationships. Perhaps he will need to drink alcohol or smoke marijuana to open his own mind to express his vulnerability in order to make and maintain human connection. Unfortunately, the substance-influenced mind is unpredictable, unintentional and often irresponsible. Friendships come and go. Deep connection is elusive to the defensive or undeveloped mind. 

Establishing and attending to a daily practice of the mind and body builds strength. With that strength comes decreased defensiveness. The mind and body become less wary, because the mind and body feel strong enough to deal with attack. This is a matter of giving the developed mind power over instincts and conditioned emotional reflexes. This seems paradoxical to those who are raised in a defensive culture:  Increased strength allows increased sensitivity and vulnerability in the developed human being and human society. 

Human beings are social animals. However, pressures of overpopulation and diminishing natural resources will place great stress on the human condition. Competition for resources will be the natural animal response. Only developed minds will be able to continue to be open and compassionate under these conditions. Those who practice connect readily with other practitioners and those who are not practitioners. It is my opinion that humanist practice, focused on universal peace, love and justice, is a way to improve the individual human condition and human society. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Denial

The greatest obstacle to personal development is the human mind's propensity to deny the obvious. While denial contributes to optimism in times of stress, denial also erodes effective action in times of prosperity and security. One true measure of a person's depth, in my opinion, is a person's ability to combat denial in daily life. 

"He's so real." I have heard this said in both a positive and negative way. When said in a positive way, it is usually an appreciation of a person's ability to cut through group denial to a core fact of a situation. When it is said in a negative way, it is usually a statement of intimidation by a person whose denial has been pierced by a meaningful, more objective, observation about their subjective experience. 

I believe the basis of all denial is the conflict between our perception of our mortal human condition and our imagination or visualization of an alternative reality. Religion, for example, is a defense mechanism stemming from this basic conflict of the human mind. Religion is a ritualized form of group denial. 

Recognizing and putting aside denial consciously is extremely hard work. Anyone who successfully copes with a serious medical diagnosis knows what I mean. Keeping denial at bay in daily practice is like lifting weights. It requires regular practice with increasingly difficult challenges to build stamina for maintaining happiness with the human condition as it really is. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Direction

I often stop in my tracks and ask myself, "OK, what's next?" This is a symptom of my running in circles and getting nowhere. It is a cue for me to meditate more, rest and listen my inner voice more carefully. 

My subjective sense of progress in my life is often at odds with the objective reality reflected to me by a friend. This is one of the best advantages to form and develop honest friendships. "Where are you going with this?" can be the most caring question to ask a friend who seems to be traveling headlong on obsessive automatic. It can prevent a nasty collision against a well-established stone wall. 

I realize now that my only defined direction is to aging and death. Everything else is up for grabs. This is why I base my direction at any given time on my practice of humanist values and health maintenance. I have set my priorities for daily living from which to operate on my journey.

I am stunned by the current trend of intelligent people becoming entirely dependent on GPS devices to get from Point A to Point B. I confess deep amusement whenever a GPS devotee gets entirely lost on the way to meeting me somewhere. It happens quite often. I recently advised a student, new to Boston, to sit down with a printed or on line map of the city and to study it for an hour after he told me he managed to go unintentionally to Framingham, a distance west of 20 miles, when trying to go from the Fenway to Malden, a distance northeast of 5 miles, with the aid of his GPS device. 

If I am incapable of taking the time and mental skill to thoughtfully plot my course from concrete Point A to concrete Point B, how will I develop the capacity to direct my life through the more nebulous courses ahead? Will I eventually need an app to tell me when to eat and sleep? This would be regressive and infantilizing, wouldn't it? 

Learning to understand my own mind and emotions through practice is a form of internal cartography. Any direction I choose to an objective is never a linear path. It is an ever-changing route through a shifting, multidimensional, internal landscape. Without a map of me in hand, I can get lost all too easily. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Choices

Humanism isn't complicated. It's about choices in the moments of our lives: Choices for social responsibility, peace and the betterment of all life on the planet. 

We are emerging from a period of social self-indulgence in the U.S.. In the post-traumatic haze of 911, Americans mortgaged their lives for hedonism. Fanatic religiosity merged with fanatic materialism. Some financial manipulators walked away with huge fortunes at the expense of a bankrupted middle class. Some poor people, deceived into unrealistic dreams of stepping up by mortgage brokers, were left homeless and worse off than before. All of this entailed millions of choices, none of which were based in humanist ideals.

I am not implying that humanist choices are a guarantee against failure and setbacks. To the contrary, failure and setbacks form the foundation of all learning in this Universe. However, failing at being rich and self-indulgent at the expense of yourself and the society is quite different from failing to find your own internal peace and joy in an effort to improve the external world. 

"I'll do good and also make a fortune for myself in the process." is the Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates model of human decency. Does any sane person believe this model will work for every person on the planet? Does any sane person believe that this model will bring universal human justice to the planet? Yes, the inventions of these gifted people  may eventually improve the quality of life for an expanding privileged population who have access to their inventions. But what of the thousands of Chinese workers in computer plants who are working in poisonous conditions to supply the tools of access to these inventions? And what of the millions of unemployed who would be made redundant if their toxic jobs are taken over by robotic mechanization? 

The congregate of individual choices composes the choices of a society. Even dictatorships are a choice made by a population which stops fighting oppression. The killing of uncounted civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan to protect world commerce is the ongoing congregate choice of Americans. 

My bias is simple. I believe that I can practice humanist choices moment to moment. I believe that there will be no universal justice or sustainable world peace until all human beings practice making humanist choices in every moment. Many will scoff at this as they have throughout human evolution. As long as one person scoffs at his/her acceptance of responsibility for peace and justice, there will be no universal peace or justice.   




Sunday, September 25, 2011

Now

How much time do you spend in the now? I know a cat named Francine. Francine is a white cat with brilliant green eyes. She's a bit on the heavy side. I watch Francine luxuriate in the now. I watch her focus all her energy on me as I prepare a goat cheese salad. She becomes one with the cheese. This inevitably gets her a piece of it.

My frontal lobe is a constant distraction from my now much of the time. I am processing shopping lists, thinking of this blog's next entry or wondering where I will eventually live. I plan and fantasize frequently with my brain. I compare reality to the ideals in my head. When I meditate, I come back fully to the now for twenty minutes at a time. Twenty minutes out of 1,440 minutes of the day. 

One of the developed benefits of daily meditation is the ability to separate out the actuality of my now from the stream of consciousness running in my mind. I find this very helpful. When I simply flip the off-switch of my mind's ramblings, I can relax for a moment with the full reality of my moment, the actuality of my now. This brings peace of mind and the ability to assess my direction. It enables me to ask, "Is my mind steering me toward health, joy and peace?" After all, being lost is simply not knowing where you are. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Blessings

What is a a blessing to a person who does not believe in religion, fairy godmothers or ghosts? A blessing is knowing a person who tries to make this planet a better place than it was when he was born. A blessing is knowing a person who speaks quietly and has something to say. A blessing is knowing a person who listens and actually comprehends. A blessing is knowing a parent who sees his/her responsibility for supporting the best in his/her child without promoting selfishness and narcissism. A blessing is knowing a person who decides to forego having children in favor of caring for the many people who have never had parenting. I could go on and on.

As a humanist, I feel blessed when I encounter the best human qualities in another. I do not believe anyone is a saint. However, I believe every human being holds some spark of goodness which can ignite into flame when tended with love and compassion. Blessings, I believe, reside in our minds. We may seek to see them and appreciate them all around us. We may choose to ignore them as well. Happiness lies in our ability to appreciate the blessings in our lives. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Truth

The simple truth is that almost all of us who are able to see the print on these pages will not exist within a century. Our bodies will be ash or rotting in a box. Given that truth, the ultimate truth of existence, what do you consider important, valuable or compelling? Given that truth, what motivates you to be mindful and compassionate? 

Answering these questions daily for myself is the ultimate challenge of living a good life. Living up to my answers is the ultimate challenge of my practice.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tradition

I listened to an interview with King Addullah of Jordan this morning. This man in a suit is invested with hereditary power over his population. He lives a luxurious lifestyle. He is surrounded by armed men to keep him safe and in power. There is a good reason: His great grandfather was assassinated in 1951. His Palestinian assassin's motivation is said to be the king's pro-Israeli stance. 

King Abdullah of Jordan
"Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown," says Shakespeare's Henry IV. The sighing resignation of today's monarchs, however, is laughable. They are simply an elite group who will not discharge their status for selfish reasons. If all the current royals around the world abdicated, there would be a one-week news cycle which would thrill the media, but nothing much would change on the ground. Royals are vestigial remains of a very ineffective method of governance, wrapped in irrational egotism and greed for privilege. 

History is a lesson book for the wise. Clinging to its vestiges is the work of fools who have the luxury to do so. Rigidly basing all progress on some historic institution, as the religious Constitutionalists wish to do here in the U.S., is a guaranteed way to prolong human suffering in the name of tradition.

As our own government stands against the Palestinian appeal to the United Nations for overdue justice against ethnic apartheid, I reflect on the detriment of tradition in politics. If universal human rights trumped tradition in this case, a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be readily expedited by the United Nations with full support of true democracies. Royalty stands as a reminder of the use of tradition to undercut universal economic and social justice. Now the President of the U.S. joins their ranks in his obstruction of the Palestinian's plea. Perhaps, like a royal, he serves tradition over the human rights of the Palestinians. 



Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Snarky

I was shocked to hear that a particularly snarky sitcom is the most popular television show on TV in the U.S. with 28 million fans watching its recent season premiere. The writing on the show, which I watched for fifteen minutes once, is both witty and extremely cynical. "Jesters do oft prove prophets," as Shakespeare wrote in "King Lear". 

In my own experience, being snarky is usually symptomatic of defensiveness. I know I was at my snarkiest when I was a teen in a home dominated by homophobic bullies (my parents). I felt powerless and inadequate. My snarky jibes seemed to be my only effective, non-violent defense. 

What does it mean when nearly 10% of a country's population are fans of a particularly snarky and cynical sitcom? Perhaps it means very little, though I am not prone to think a cigar is just a cigar. It is a phallus-shaped object with an addictive chemical in it. 

Perhaps the stalemate of our society in the current recession is more than economic. What seems like voter apathy may actually be a resignation to powerlessness in the face of corporate domination of our political and social systems. Maybe the popularity of snarky media is symptomatic of that resignation. I speculate the humor in the crowds at the Coliseum in ancient Rome was similarly snarky.

Snarky has its place. An intelligent human being may well be snarky when the eyes are opened to the miserable injustices in the everyday world around the globe. Moving beyond snarky to a sense of responsibility to change the world is an aspect of developing a personal humanist practice. Being angry and critical can be a first step to committing to change. However, it can also become a habitual way to avoid facing fears and taking action. Learning to discern the difference is part of becoming a mindful and compassionate human being. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Trappings

Yesterday I was pushed out of the way in a discount shoe store by two robed Tibetan Buddhist monks, who jabbered away in their native tongue and made no effort to acknowledge my presence. I could have been a post or a tree as far as they appeared to be concerned. Their entitlement was palpable. Their rudeness was obvious. 

A better illustration of the hollowness of religion could not be imagined. Especially a religion founded on a philosophy that honors the sanctity of all life. The trappings of Buddhism are not Buddhism.

In a superficial society, the trappings of a desired image can be perceived as reality. A man in Rome in bejeweled splendor is perceived as a moral authority. Bearded Hasidim are perceived as more pious Jews. Politicians who hold prayer meetings in football stadiums are seen as bearing witness to some great Truth. The trappings of religion always get attention. Scoundrels have used them for centuries to manipulate people for power and riches. 

As a humanist, I perceive any trappings of religion as fair warning. Trappings can be simply a trap. The behavior of two Tibetan monks, looking for sneakers, was a good reminder. 


Monday, September 19, 2011

Success

Are you successful? I am amazed at how many successful human beings are thrown into a blustering panic at that question. Why? Because they continue to measure their personal success against the standards of disappointed parents or media celebrity. 

As a humanist, I believe that human success is the intentional development of mindfulness and compassion in all relationships. It is not a goal. It is an ongoing process. My measure of success at it is simply the measure of its practiced intent in my human mind. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Control

Michele Bachmann, Queen of Reactionaries, and Rick Perry, Prince of Ponzi, advocate government policy which centers on returning to a time when the nuclear family's role and religion's role in individual lives trump individual choice. Models for this kind of cultural shift exist. Look to Islamic theocracies. 

Absolute parental control and isolation from the scientific advances of society are symptomatic of repression of individual choice and creativity. It is essentially antisocial. Advocating for the dismantling of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security is advocating for greater domination of children and elders by ignorant and narcissistic family members, religious figures and private corporations. We have seen the results of this kind of society in the Roman Catholic priest scandals, in cases of child abuse in extremist Mormon cults and in the exploitation of workers by corporations prior to labor movements. 

The Libertarian mania for individualism is not about freedom. It is about control. The paranoid rhetoric of Tea Party fanatics about government is really about fear of being required to participate in a society with lifelong education, science and individual choice at its core. Control is the reactionary's antidote to fear of change and diversity of opinion.

Humanists embrace change because they understand that change is an essential part of the human condition.   Secular humanists embrace conscious change with rationality, including science, debate and common sense. The current cultural conflict in the U.S. seems to be contention over governmental support of the individual in making free choices for a better society vs. a monolithic society determining the choices in advance for all individuals. Ironically, the superficial self-determinism of the Tea Party is actually about allowing parents and conformist institutions to control the culture for everyone by eliminating the intervention of an informed, secular national government, ruled by an elected legislature, an elected administration and a judiciary. 

As a gay man who was rejected by his family of origin and religious authority in my youth, I know all too well what the society advocated by control freaks will look like. As an AIDS and cancer survivor, I know all too well what being seriously ill will be like in a Bachmann or Perry America. The Right's haranguing about freedom is a lie. The Right has always stood for the control of the individual by corporate or establishment interests, not for the common good but for the good of those in control. The Right's basic assumption is that material wealth and power are righteous and superior. This is the antithesis of what humanists stand for. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Guidance

For the literate and mentally competent adult, most guidance from others is useless without a developed internal compass. Habit and psychological disposition obliterate logic and common sense effectively in the undisciplined mind. Anyone who has tried to speak to a friend about an alcohol problem knows this all too well.  Sadly, the life which is closed to learning from others is severely limited. 

When I was twenty-one, I had a science-teaching position in a private high school. My students were several years younger than I. My life experience was somewhat broader. I was able to see that the teaching method prescribed by the principal of the school, a rather belligerent, anti-intellectual nun, was geared to force-feeding information to the students. The catechism method, consistent with her monolithic "faith". 

I was a relatively strict enforcer of non-violent and mannered etiquette in my classes, yet I saw that the school's miserable performance on national science tests was directly related to its stilted, force-feeding method of teaching. Most students memorized Biology, Physics and Chemistry, but simply did not understand the working theories of any of it. Distracting them from the dull presentation of the data in their textbooks was the major method I used to teach them that same data. Frankly, I often felt like a stand-up comic, a clown or a carnival barker. But it worked. My students were the highest grade-earners in national science tests that school had seen in its recent memory. 

I believe this is why pop gurus are so effective at giving some people guidance on weight loss, brain function and other topics which tend to raise strong resistance in those who need the help the most.  The guru is usually handsome, charming or both. The voice is pleasant or even hypnotic. The stage is equipped with colorful Power-Point presentations. Humor is regularly injected to wake people up with laughter. The audience becomes distracted from their obsession and worry about obesity, cardiac malfunction or early dementia. The helpful information sneaks in to the distracted brain.

Mass distraction is, after all, a mainstay of modern political tactics. It seems to work, unfortunately. When it comes to giving guidance to a friend who seems to need it, this method can be helpful. Taking the friend to a rock concert with an eye to the conversation afterwards may be a better ploy than a staged intervention over coffee in the kitchen. In time, the coffee conversation may have value, if the conversation at other venues seems worthwhile. 

The best guidance is the guidance of a healthy social system. We all learn from appealing example. The guidance of a healthy group's process can be more effective than a one-on-one heart-to-heart for some. I know from my own experience that I usually seek guidance when I am stressed or have a knowledge deficit in some new area. Being able to get that guidance in the context of a caring community has been more helpful to me overall than getting the opinion or expertise of one person. Having multiple sources of information and direction adds depth to whatever guidance I can get. 

Giving and receiving loving guidance is an important value of being human. Both are acquired skills. Neither is effective without trust and compassion. The mindful person sees the opportunity to give or take guidance in any moment. I feel my development as a humanist has depended largely on this dynamic exchange of observations, methods and ideas. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Goals

"Now where did I leave my joy?"
Like most frontal-lobe activities, goal-setting can be a tricky business. Ideas can develop a life of their own in a mind which is not disciplined to be measured and cautious. Ideas can become unhealthy obsessions. Goals often arise from these obsessions, conscious or subconscious. 

The target can overshadow the worth or process of attaining a goal. "Bigger is better" is a pitfall when setting goals. If the scale of a goal is more important than the process of achieving it, the goal can lose its value and quality. This is obvious in manufacturing where production of more units often diminishes quality control. 

Setting incremental goals, based in the realities of life each day has been a useful process in my practice. If goals are set in stages for a greater purpose or goal, I can continually assess the overall value of the greater goal in my life as I build. If the greater goal is abandoned for a goal of greater value, I have lost less time and energy in the process by discovering the need to change direction sooner with less time and energy invested. 

Our recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suffered from grand ideological goals, based in a hubris of shock-and-awe tactics. Brutality with technology trumped rationality with humanity. The war machine ran out of control quickly. Goals of true democracy and peace are still not met after nearly a decade. The all-or-nothing mentality of the military in setting its goals was at the core of its failure. 

Having a practice, an ongoing mindful methodology, for approaching life's goals is very helpful. Being guided by the value of the process of achieving any goal is key. This takes the sting out of some of the inevitable set-backs of reaching through a challenge to the goal desired. "I am doing this because I will be learning something valuable in the process" is a better motivator than "I'll do this or else" or "Do or die" or "I'll show them". 

One of my measures of the ongoing value of any goal is whether the process of striving for it is making me a better person. Winning in anything violent is automatically eliminated by this criteria. As is winning by cheating. Violent sports corrupt the process of goal setting for many people, in my opinion. These people feel they can only achieve a worthwhile goal in competition with others. This lies at the root of  the failed capitalism we now experience. Achieving goals through cooperation with others brings value and connection to the life of the seekers. While they may have different goals in mind, their cooperation in achieving their individual goals together enhances the efforts of each. It is an added value to the process. 

As a human being, I believe my chief goal is mastering my own mind. As I incrementally approach that valuable goal, I find that setting and achieving other goals of value become easier. I can reach without letting go of my happiness. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Perspective

I knew a channeling medium in my youth. A channeling medium claims to allow the consciousness of another being to use his voice during a trance. It is a tradition that is timeless and exists in many cultures. 

During one of the sittings of my medium friend, attended by ten listeners, the channeled voice which came through him explained the many forms of conscious being it had experienced throughout time in the Universe. The one description which stood out for me was its description of being a tree in a primordial forest on Earth for over a thousand years. It was both chilling and fascinating.

Whether this was communication from some great beyond or not, I cannot say. However, I appreciated the image of tree consciousness. I draw on it frequently when I feel my vision is becoming more near-sighted than usual. "How would I relate to all this fuss if I were a tree in a primordial forest?" I like to pose the question to myself. It puts things into perspective for me and inevitably makes me smile. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Technology


As wonderful as communication technology has become, it still has its problems. It's about physics, I guess, and lots of math. In any case, my modem or my router or my PC are feeling grumpy this morning. eAlzheimer's? In any case, the gremlins are stalking me. I have just come from the dreaded tech phone call with Comcast, my broadband provider. Reboots and pings. Plugging and unplugging. You most likely know the drill. It's almost enough to make me retreat to a cave in the mountains. However, I persevere.

So, I must curtail my exploration of the important things in life here today. I have wires to unplug and incantations to chant to the gods of transmission. This is a here-and-now from which I will inevitably learn. Learning comes from addressing problems. 


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Wonder

Last evening I completed watching  "Any Human Heart", a PBS Masterpiece Theatre mini-series from 2010. The main character is an atheist. The story is a fictional compilation of his life's diaries, spanning most of the 20th century. I found it quite moving.

The pivotal idea of the piece is that life is largely a matter of luck, good luck and bad luck. I concur with this view of life wholeheartedly. The wonder of life for me lies in appreciating what people do with their good luck or bad luck. The potential in life, the ability to move from one state of being to another, whether developed on not, is truly amazing. This is a key concept of practice as I see it. The development of the ability to draw on my human potential for beneficial change is the whole point of practice. 

My wonder also extends to appreciating what little good those with incredibly good luck realize in their lives. Too much good luck can breed too little practice at personal development. Greed and narcissism are pitfalls for those who are too lucky. They often see simple human problems as gigantic burdens. Interruptions in their pleasure seeking are seen as major life obstacles. A spot of bad luck for some in this life circumstance often leads to disastrous consequences for them. Their lack of resilience under tough circumstances can do them in. 

For those born to poverty, physical and/or emotional, understanding that life is a matter of luck brings little consolation. They are easy prey for those who would exploit them with religion or easy money from criminal activity. God is the master of luck in the eyes of the religious. Criminal activity can be seen by some as getting even for their bad luck at the expense of those with good luck. Those who emerge from poverty with mindfulness and generous compassion are indeed exceptional human beings.

Compassion can develop with the deep understanding of the randomness of life's luck. While practice and planning can be useful tools for living a mindful and responsible life, ultimately the luck of our individual genetics and the luck of daily events can determine whether we live or die at any moment. Isn't this wondrous? I can consciously know all this at this very moment and still be optimistic about my day. My humanist practice is fueled by my appreciation of this wonder in the moment. 




Monday, September 12, 2011

Insanity

Yesterday I saw a man who had verbally assaulted me on the subway about a month ago. He was walking between lanes of traffic on a highway. He is tall and willowy. I believe he's dangerous. Most likely a paranoid schizophrenic with a long history of drug abuse. While I and my companion, to whom I was explaining my acquaintance with this character, were aware of him, drivers and other pedestrians paid no attention to his overtly bizarre antics as he walked in traffic. After noticing my notice of him, he snapped a rude gesture at me and then moved onto the sidewalk before moving off down the road. 

What kind of society are we? Thousands were milling around the city for usual Sunday events. Events, the new form of pretending you have a life, if you do not have a happy internal one. Many of these events were 'humanitarian' or educational in nature. Church services, a nationally hyped memorial holiday, lectures at museums. Yet, the invisibility of impoverished madness in traffic is acceptable, preferred. 

Where does the true insanity lie? Citizens loudly rally around politicians who rant against socialist programs, like mental health hospitals and halfway house programs for people like this wandering wraith. Taxes which pay for programs which would intervene in the lives of children of women with genetic mental illness are decried as nanny-state exorbitance. Ah, but there are no outcries about $50 baseball tickets or $100 concert tickets or $10 cocktails. 

Part of my practice as a retired psychiatric/hospice nurse is trying to live with the consciousness of the basic callousness of those who choose a materialistic life. This motivates my writing of this blog on many mornings, as I live on the streets of a city as materialistic as any on the planet. Friends have said, "Just ignore it. I do." But how much ignoring can a person do before the lights dim within his mind? Ignoring our relationships to one another, friends or strangers, is the very root of the insanity that plagues our relationships and our society. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Today

Today can be a day of peace and reconciliation. A day of peace and reconciliation within your own body and mind. 

Each day of life, each moment of life, is a choice when the mind is awake. Choose the lighted path to the future of equanimity and joy. Turn from looking back to the shaded path of past pains and indignities. That path is too well worn with the mind's fruitless pacing and fretting. 

Dwelling on the past is not a way to learning and applying its lessons. Take your past in hand as a tool, a helpful guide along the way to liberation. Examine it. Appraise it. Use it. Do not bemoan it or wish for another. Learn from your history. Do not repeat it. Create a present you desire with a clear, creative mind. Walk to the future with confidence in yourself. 

Today is one of too few in a single lifetime. Spending it on sentimental grief or imagined loss is a waste of precious, irreplaceable time. The greatest loss in life is the loss of time to foolishness, needless grief and resentment. Joy lies waiting for you in this moment. Peace is yours to create in this moment. Reconcile with your own mind and walk into the light of today.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Sentimentality

Sentimentality is an enemy of progress in individual lives and groups. Sentimentality goes beyond the lessons learned from tragedy. It goes beyond healthy grieving. It is depressive and ruminative.


When an entire nation wallows in sentimentality, it is a symptom of deep dysfunction. The facts of dysfunction may be obvious to everyone who is affected by that dysfunction. Sentimentality about it becomes a useless drug, a repetitive rocking and self-hugging that goes nowhere. The weeping drunk is the archetypal sentimentalist.

Healthy grieving leads to looking forward with the application of the ongoing pain of loss. The past is done. Its lessons may be useful; its constant recital is not. When grief is prolonged, depression can become chronic. Chronic depression impedes further healing. It is cyclic, unless a significant intervention expedites change. 

I have known too many human beings whose lives are mired in rumination and depression. They are a sentimental lot. Draped photographs of long-dead loved ones clutter their homes. Their dark rooms become agoraphobic prisons. Within those environments there is little peace, less love and no joy. There is the constant drum of narcissistic self-pity. 

My own practice evolved as a healing process from depression, which plagued me for over a decade, after deep losses in my early adolescence triggered a longstanding depression from abusive parenting. I recognized early on that birthdays triggered a sentimental rush of depression. I stopped trying to celebrate them, despite the attempts of well meaning friends to get me into it. The same was true for major holidays like Easter, Christmas and Thanksgiving. They were easily and happily forgotten as part of my liberation from depression. 

Those who were nurtured as children through birthdays and anniversaries are highly prone to turn to sentimentality in times of stress. Ritual's happy associations are tempting. Sentimentalizing trauma, however, can be deadly to the human mind. Group sentimentalism can lead to violent nationalism and war. 

Healthy emotional lives are constantly and consistently cognizant of anger, sadness and joy in daily living. The emotionally repressed are drawn to binges of emotional expression at socially acceptable times, like funerals, weddings and memorial services. Alcohol use is often employed as a lubricant for this emotional catharsis. This is not a solution to the problem. In fact, the dependence on drugs and alcohol to deal with normal emotions in this society is a problem in itself. 

Those who practice often speak of detachment in the Buddhist sense. Detachment, as I experience it, comes with the practice of honestly acknowledging thoughts and emotions in the moment as they occur. Some of these thoughts are distasteful or alarming to a mind striving for peace and love. Yet, the acknowledgment of them diffuses their power upon unintentional actions and reactions. This detachment, as I see it, is the detaching of thought from unintentional or habitual action. 

Sentimentality clouds this process, in my opinion. Rumination on the events of the past blurs the clear experience of the present. It can breed a self-indulgence in individual need over the greater good. When groups indulge in sentimentality, in my opinion, it can prevent them from being forces for progressive change and creativity. Sentimentality becomes a box, outside of which lies the means of going beyond trauma or habit. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Origins

A recent discussion of the Web about ritual and religion has stimulated this vision of our origins:

A small human group huddle in a circle as night descends upon an open plain not too distant from a body of fresh water. They have no fire. The biggest and strongest male grunts as he marshals the males into their defensive formation. The nearby water will attract nocturnal predators. The females are enclosed by the male circle with children and infants. The males hold stones and pointed sticks to fend off attack. Some females nurse infants. Others sleep with children in their arms. One male looks to the cloudless night sky and wonders at the stars and the moon. He sees their light as safety and power. He spins vague forms of myth and rite in his mind. Ways to seduce the power of the sky and to make it his own. A female at the center of the circle plays with two rocks. She has caused sparks by striking the small stones together. She muses on the fickle light and wonders how to make it hers to command. Others in the circle simply stare wide-eyed at the darkness. They droop into exhausted naps. Their fear of the darkness is their motivation and their focus. They know death comes often at night with rushing claws and fangs. Before dawn comes, there may be one or two less of them. It will be hundreds of thousands of years before a single human will be able to safely sit alone by a campfire and look out at the Universe with  some understanding of its function and meaning. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Water

Here in the U.S. there are daily news reports about the effects of hurricanes and tropical storms on rivers and streams. Farmers and suburbanites alike bemoan the effects of flooding, as though some foreign force had invaded their privacy. Their personal tragedies have blinded them to their own part in creating these disasters. 

I would wager that many of the rural individuals affected so deeply by water have supported political figures who have dragged their feet on dealing with climate change, caused by human overpopulation. I would also wager that many have chosen to believe in religion over science in formulating their world views. I would wager that many also take delight in Libertarians who rail against government and what they perceive as socialism.

Water is a basic necessity of all life. It is a force far greater than human prejudice or ignorance. It will collect and flow with gravity after falling from the sky. It will fall from the sky in greater volume as the ice caps melt and the atmosphere becomes more concentrated in carbon dioxide. As long as more and more humans require more and more manufacturing of food, home heating and travel by machine, this water 'problem' will persist and worsen. 

The great and fatal human weakness may be human optimism under the influence of ignorance. Ignorant optimism is foolishness. It is indeed the province of religion. It will not sustain an overgrown human population on a planet with limited atmosphere and other natural resources. As long as religions peddle ignorant optimism in lieu of science education, their influence will be toxic to the progress and survival of the human species. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Happiness

Individual human peace in isolation is difficult, since we are social creatures. However, finding individual human peace in community is even more difficult. An Israeli film from 2009, "Eyes Wide Open", illustrates how religion and human identity can collide in the most cohesive of communities.

The lines between belonging, possession and control are very fine. Conformity readily drifts to oppression. Achieving individual peace is often a challenge of practice within a community context.



A French film, "Queen To Play", reveals another aspect of the quest for personal peace through the development of personal joy. This film, a subtle echo of "Educating Rita", addresses the challenges of developing a personal practice for a married woman/mother in a small town.



As a person who has relied on my practice to achieve peace and happiness in my life, I was moved by both films. Neither film presents an answer to the interplay between identity and community. Each addresses the process of seeking individual peace and joy within a social context.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Consciousness

Conscious living is an acquired skill. Reactive bouncing from one experience to another is not conscious living. Acting out a role of expectations, provided by parents, lovers or society, is not conscious living. 


Conscious living entails developing consciousness. This is not a New Age fiction. Consciousness is real. It is observable in the words and actions of those who have it. Its absence is observable in those who do not. 


I believe that the development of consciousness is a prerequisite to living a full human life. Being with consciousness is quite different from being without consciousness. Becoming my better self from moment to moment requires consciousness in each moment. 

Observation , reflection and meditation all contribute to my consciousness. I observe myself and my environment. I reflect on my observations. I meditate to maintain a clear and open mind. If I also maintain my health through eating well, sleeping enough and exercising daily, my consciousness is tuned in from morning until night. I perceive and experience my reality with clarity from a full experience of being. I am able to see the choices I can make to become the person I wish to be. Consciousness allows me to see that this is a lifelong process. It is at the core of my humanist practice. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor


Labor Day, developed by labor advocates as a holiday in the 1880s, commemorates the blood sacrifice of early labor organizers, killed by corporate goons and government enforcers. Yes, labor organizers died so that poor children can earn minimum wage when they go to work at 16. It is important to remember this at a time when Tea Party supporters would gut labor protections and Social Security. 

Photo by Lewis Hine
My maternal grandmother worked in a New England textile mill when she came to the U.S. in 1917 from Belarus. She was a teenager, recruited off her family farm to work on factory floors six days a week for ten to twelve hours a day. She was paid pennies by the hour. Her sweat and the sweat of her myriad peers maintained the great wealth of the textile magnates of Massachusetts, whose sons went to Harvard or Yale. My paternal grandfather went to work in the leather-tanning mills of Lynn, Massachusetts when he was ten. Stirring vats of tannic acid for ten hours a day, filled with raw animal hides, was a job for the boys when they were not in school. Occasionally, a child fell in. These unfortunates often died or were scarred for life.

I feel like a smooth-palmed dilettante, compared to my forebears. My parents built our family home by themselves with occasional help from friends with various craft skills. Their labor was the only way they could see to ascend to owning their own new home. Labor is a way of being, a way of thinking. It is not what stupid people do, the view of those who have no idea what it means to produce anything of practical value with their sweat and energy. 

Cook-outs and pub crawls may seem suitable celebrations to those who do not appreciate what Labor Day actually memorializes. Understanding the history of this holiday sobers me and helps me to make peace with my origins. It opens my awareness and compassion to those tired faces I see around me, the faces of those who hammer nails and pour concrete. It enables me to be honest with myself about what practical good I bring to the world with my own labor. 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Ordinary

Most human minds detest boredom. Appreciating the ordinary is a challenge. However, the beauty of our individual lives lies in the ordinary. The extraordinary is easy to appreciate. Making the ordinary extraordinary is the alchemy of practice. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Ideas

All this petty bickering by the professional politicians in charge of our government is very annoying. After my meditation yesterday I had these three proactive ideas for addressing some of our basic problems:

What if every human being born in the United States got a Social Security number at birth. A nice shiny plastic card, like a credit card. Let's say that the government would require every parent of a child to contribute 5% beyond his/her own Social Security payments for his/her own retirement of his/her annual income until the child became 16 years old into this Social Security account, tied to the child's number. Then at 16, the card holder would be required to continue contributing under normal work-related laws for Social Security contributions. Why shouldn't all parents be directly involved and accountable in setting the foundation of their own children's future security?

What if the U.S. military budget was cut way back and all the expensive foreign outposts of American troops, costing us billions each year were closed down. Then that money could be immediately invested in building free primary schools in underdeveloped nations. These schools could offer health/nutritional programs as well as basic education. Would we need to 'protect' ourselves from children we've fed, clothed and educated?

What if all the schools of government at American universities reserved 20% of their seats for minority domestic and foreign students (including LGBT students) from low-income backgrounds on full residential scholarships. These seats could be funded by college sports revenues or by scaling back overblown college sports programs. Wouldn't this be actual empowerment?

Yes, I am a dreamer...but not the only one. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

Cleanliness

We have recently fallen into a culture of disregard for personal and environmental hygiene in the U.S.. Heroin Chic, fostered by the Calvin Klein brand in the 1990s, has morphed into Fallen-Out-of-Bed-Whore, visible on any urban street. Unkempt hair, ripped denim and neglect of using soap have become acceptable fashion statements in certain circles. An influx of uneducated illegal immigrants from societies with poor public hygiene standards has complicated the situation. It is no coincidence that most large cities are plagued with bed bugs and rising asthma attacks among young children. Diseases like tuberculosis, once nearly eradicated in the U.S., are on the rise.

Cleanliness is next to godliness. This old adage was a drumbeat of my childhood in the 1950s. Combating the diseases of crowded urban ghettos of pre-WWII America was part of the post-war boom of American society. Polio, tuberculosis and influenza were approached with science and massive public health initiatives with amazing results. The leap in longevity of the Great-Depression generation, as compared to their parents, is evidence of the successes of these initiatives.

For the would-be environmentalist, being green begins at home. Vinegar, baking soda and citrus cleaners yield the same or better results than toxic and expensive concoctions of major petrochemical companies. The key to a clean and healthy environment is regular maintenance. A thorough cleaning of an average city apartment should take no more than 90 minutes per week. That 90 minutes can prevent skin problems, digestive problems, sleep problems, respiratory problems and costly replacement of furnishings. It could be the most profitable hour and a half of the week.

Most monastic traditions incorporate some routine form of cleanliness into their disciplines. This is partly due to the educational focus of monastic communities. Education breeds observation which in turn breeds experimentation which in turn yields discovery. The pre-scientific monasteries in Europe were often the hospitals and mortuaries during plague times. Asian disciplines merge cleanliness with the concept of emptiness, purity and the routine work of practice. 

As a nurse and a humanist, I know that the first step to creating a healing environment is keeping that environment meticulously clean as part of a daily practice. Esho funi (man environment one) is an ancient Buddhist concept that I have applied to my personal and healing practices. The process of maintaining personal cleanliness and environmental cleanliness, which includes lack of needless clutter and/or possessions, requires organization and consciousness. It is a cornerstone of my humanist practice. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Anger

Anger is a natural response to harm, deprivation or helplessness. Anger which is not acknowledged or examined surfaces in unpredictable and unproductive ways. This morning on NPR, I heard a stunning example of anger misplaced.

Anti-reproductive-rights protester.
The NPR story was about increased Federal prosecution for harassing and attempting to intimidate women on their way to family-planning clinics. Protesters proudly abuse women in the name of their religious beliefs. They see themselves as a crusaders for unborn children. In fact, they are more likely demented, angry and unable to process their normal human emotions. 

The current feel-good, it's-all-good culture in America is admirably optimistic, but probably not very healthy. The simple fact is that it all isn't good. Gigantic social and economic problems loom. The environmental problems, which threaten the survival of civilization, are largely being ignored by the U.S. government. Wars are being waged on the poor in other nations at great expense to the people of America. Yet, through clever propagandist manipulation, the government has managed to rally the poorest citizens around the sanctity of Homeland Security. The poor are willing to sacrifice their own children in exchange for hollow nationalism and the gamble of eventual veterans' benefits. 

Religious leaders and politicians exploit submerged rage for their own purposes. The Tea Party and Rick Perry are obvious examples of the sympathy that exists between these exploiters of public anger for power and wealth. The Catholic Church, under the leadership of self-loathing homosexuals, both abuses and then exploits the rage of the abused by focusing on women's reproductive rights, which threaten the subjugation of women which the Church has propagated for thousands of years.

Abusers manipulate the anger of the abused because they fear it. They know and fear their own rage which motivates their own abuse of others. The remedy for that rage is to expose it for what it is. This is a long and painful process which few human beings dare undertake. However, when undertaken, it is perhaps the first and greatest step to personal liberation and true freedom.