Saturday, December 31, 2011

Light

Some people choose to live in the light of Goodness. Many more people choose to live in the shadows of the Lie. This an ancient human condition which accounts for most of the chronic ills that plague the human species. The Lie obscures the light of candor and transparency. It inhibits honest discussion. It propagates harmful secrets which corrode relationships between individuals and groups. The Lie is rooted in mystery, magic and myth. It promotes conservative thought and reactionary behavior.

Goodness is the progressive impulse to improve the general quality of life on Earth. Light promotes Goodness. Open discussion, freedom of thought, eradication of mindless fears, all these occur in the light of Goodness. Light allows human beings to see life for what it is. Fear dissolves when understanding through science and mindfulness drive away the shadows of The Lie. However, The Lie has vigorous defenders in every generation of human beings. 

Those whose comfort and power have been afforded to them through The Lie are loathe to open themselves to the light of Goodness. Those who lack courage to change their unhappy lives take perverse comfort in The Lie by seeing themselves as perpetual victims. They too serve The Lie by hiding in its shadows rather than shining the light of self-awareness on their lives. 

This is the season of returning light. The New Year celebrates the returning light in the Northern Hemisphere. The light we each choose to shine or shade within our own minds determines our commitment to Goodness or The Lie. This is a dynamic choice, a dynamic commitment to the self, to the human community and to the Earth.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Food

There are constant reports in media about the food crisis in the United States. Food banks plead for more and more money to supply their burgeoning consumers. I am reminded of the boom in the homeless shelter industry about ten years ago. The homeless shelter industry is currently being downsized by providing affordable housing to those who chronically inhabit shelters. 

The U.S. is currently plagued by an obesity epidemic. So why would Food Banks be such a big deal? Good question. The answer is simple. It is another example of quality of food being sacrificed for quantity. 

Food Banks are entwined with the food industry. The issue of hunger in America is also an issue of proper nutrition. Fat people are often starving their bodies of proper nutrition by maintaining a constant flow of simple carbohydrates, including sugars, into their bodies in sweet drinks in combination with processed fatty/salty foods and snacks filled with corn syrup. This eventually leads to pancreas, liver and kidney malfunctions which cause diabetes and cardiac problems. The obese have poisoned brains. Overcoming that toxicity requires more than waving a finger near a candy counter.

The Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services are failing agencies of government. Corporate agriculture is a corrupted and relatively unregulated industry. Meat, corn and processed foods which promote obesity are given precedence over fresh produce and healthy whole grains. Mainstream supermarkets offer a dozen or more aisles of food that is over-processed and nearly indigestible, due to its preservatives and stabilizers.

Most people in the U.S. are overfed and malnourished. The U.S. is the major world food polluter. In the name of helping uneducated and overpopulated countries around the world, the U.S. food industry has profited by unloading surplus corn and processed foods on foreign markets through NGOs. This has become a standard brand of empty American philanthropy. Feeding desperate people at a profit with substandard food is neither charitable nor progressive.

Starvation of the human brain from truly progressive thought by giving way to expedience and greed is also an epidemic in this corporate capitalist world. Listen to the Republican candidates for the U.S. presidency. Listen to our Liberal President when he speaks of compromise. Malnourished obesity is a symptom of disease, a deep cultural disease. I happen to believe that educating people is more important that enabling their bad habits. 

Sometimes perceived hunger provides a good opportunity for getting some attention for education. As a humanist, I think it would be sensible for the government to begin to atone for its complicity in the deteriorating national health by setting up required nutrition classes at every food bank.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Center

Many disciplines encourage finding your center. What's that? My body has a center of gravity, but it isn't a sphere or cube. Finding a center point would be rather tricky without some major math and physics, applied with some sophisticated measuring devices. The ancients used different systems for identifying the center of the human body. Various organs were designated. Chakras were visualized to explain complex physiological actions. 

The center of consciousness is the human brain. It is as good as any place to start. Setting aside all the mumbo jumbo of various mystical or spiritual disciplines is a good way to stop dithering and to start thinking. While pronouncing magical words or doing bizarre movements on a mat may be entertaining, it is the brain which intentionally garners any benefit from these activities by consciously or unconsciously buying into them. 

The everyday mundane, when observed and investigated with concentration by an educated brain, is as magical and mystifying as any colorful ritual or belief system from the past. I find my center every morning by feeling my feet against the floor. I affirm my reality. I live on a spinning rock in a dark Universe. I have limited time to live. I am like all other living things. My power lies in my ability to perceive, to investigate and to understand. My power lies in maintaining my mind and body to its healthiest and most capable state of being. Science helps me to understand how to do this best.

Floundering about the marketplace of religion and mysticism for "the answer" is a waste of human lifespan. To get centered, get healthy. To expand your awareness, read science of every kind. To be happy, give love. To attain peace, live cooperatively with quiet reflection and meditation. The human species is unique in possessing the ability to see what needs to be done to improve other species without having the capability to apply that knowledge to its own species.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Courage

Overblown sentimentality about the behaviors of those who volunteer to kill in the name of nationalism or corporate-dominated oligarchy has blurred the vision of simple human courage. The most basic form of human courage is to live a responsible nonviolent life in the face of injustice and unfairness. Greater than that is the courage of those who nonviolently stand up to power when everyone else caves into it. The recent nonviolent demonstrations in Syria in the face or military brutality are an example. This courage stands in stark contrast to the compliant warbling mourners for a lunatic dictator in North Korea.

Last evening in Foxboro, Massachusetts, a woman in her 80s stood at a microphone and said her piece against the bullying corruption of casino moguls. She was told it was too late to make her comments. She persisted. And, in a matter of seconds, exposed the casino developers for what they are. The media, who have retreated from being a similar voice of rationality, are enthralled with this courageous elder. 

The "Can't we all just get along?" conformity of the past decade is finally evaporating in the face of real oppression and manipulation by those who hold economic power. Life is not always about agreement or concession. Appeasing bullies only leads to more bullying. This has been the lesson driven home by adolescent suicides in recent years.

Practicing humanism in current U.S. society requires courage. Being a practicing humanist in most other parts of the world requires extraordinary courage. Humanist ideals cannot be practiced without going against the grain of materialistic capitalism. Materialistic capitalism is itself based in a denial of basic human rights and justice. It is based in a self-justifying social Darwinism of aggression and greed. It accepts war as a morally justifiable way to promote prosperity. It undermines law and rational progress for profits.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sexism

Most organized religions are tinged with overt sexism. The recent exhibition of extremist Judaism in Israel illustrates the roots of this sexism. Religion has always been a tool of human control. State religions control whole nations. Community versions of religions control the people within that community. Sharia Law is a very good example.

When I walk the streets of Boston and see women in head scarves willingly submitting to sexist oppression, I mourn for all the courageous women in the U.S. who fought for a century for equal Constitutional  rights for women in our society. Yes, that head scarf, no matter how rationalized, is a symbol of sexist oppression, because it represents submission to a religion which is sexist to its roots. The head scarf is as much an insult to female liberation in this society as the swastika  is an insult to the human rights of Jews, gypsies and homosexuals. 

Willingly submitting to oppression furthers oppression. This is the strength of bullies. They exploit conformity and fear within a community to exercise their power against individual choice. To those who defend their head scarf as a symbol of culture I would pose the question: If you are so happy with the sexism of your native culture, why have you chosen to move to a culture where sexism has been fought at great expense by generations of women? 

As a humanist, I do not wish to control women. If a woman chooses to wear a head scarf or to be beaten by her husband, it is not my wish to control her. However, as a humanist, it is not ethical for me to placidly accept or approve of her decision to do either. Assuming the physical manifestations of a sexually oppressive culture is unhealthy in my informed humanist opinion. And, as an American humanist and activist for sexual liberation, I do see this assertion of sexual oppression in our society as a negative environmental influence on our society.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Three S's

While the Christian Christmas season now moves to a celebration of the Biblical Three Kings, I would like to point out that the three major world religions are actually ruled by three S's: Salvation, Submission and Superiority. As the gooey trappings of Christmas ebb, it is important to sober up and realize that the codified goodness of a major commercial holiday has no real sustained effect on reality. In fact, it is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Daily practice, whether secular or religiously motivated, entails adopting and implementing all the values touted during the Christmas season in everyday life, whereas those without a daily practice indulge in binging sentimental hedonism and materialism in the name of religious piety and generosity. Packaged religion for convenience or socialization falls short of the ideals of the Christmas message and the better messages of other major theologies. I would be saddened to see packaged humanism follow in the footsteps of packaged religion for the masses. 

I do not believe true humanism can be packaged. It is an individual process, not a marketable product. Many may wish to be humanists after reading about humanist ideals, but few will actually develop a humanist practice. Even fewer will actually succeed to live a humanist life. The reason for this is simple: The path of humanism is difficult and somewhat lonely in materialistic times.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Holidays

Can you take a holiday from yourself? Are the behaviors which entail a holiday for you really bringing worth to your life? I hope the answer is "Yes". 

I am a human being who has been conditioned to conform to social landmarks, like Christmas. What makes the celebration of Christmas different from the celebration of mass murder, like Veteran's Day or Memorial Day? Are these holidays meant to free the human spirit or enslave it into a mass mentality, based in sentiment and manipulated by corporate marketers? 

I approach holidays cautiously. For the hard-working person with multiple jobs in an unfair economic landscape, a universally celebrated holiday, like Christmas, is a day of reprieve. It can be, for some, the one guaranteed day of personal leisure in the entire year. Think about it. How can a human being aspire to a personal practice for mental and physical health, peace and joy under such pressures? However, society, dominated by mass media, adds the pressure of conformist rituals to this one day for these overworked millions. 

The sentiments of Christmas trees and Hanukkah candles are a balm for those comfortable enough to indulge in them. To millions of others, they are an added burden, an added pressure. To the compassionate and mindful, I would say: "Look to those who are not at your table and do something about it."

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Anticipation

How much of Christmas is about anticipation? It is a day for many which represents so much sentimental investment and memory. Inevitably it disappoints on some level because the past, even when revisited with presents and feasting, is still the past, immutable and haunting.

Anticipating an imagined future which is idealistically drawn in the mind is a masochistic exercise. Life is not compliant with human ideals or fantasies based in ego. Life is a chaos of happenstance, animal instincts and failed experiments. 

Perhaps it would be healthier to teach small children to relish the total unpredictability of life at Christmas. Rather than coaxing them to materialistic greed by gearing them to their wants, it may be more compassionate to use the holiday to teach them something about life's unpredictable nature. Rather than making Christmas an entertainment, it may be better to use it as an opportunity for enjoyable learning about the realities of life. 

The focused mind does not attend to anticipation. The focused meditative mind attends to the moment with assurance that attending to the moment will bring the best of the future to light in a process of gratifying personal evolution. This is an essential element of practice.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Light

Winter in the Northern Hemisphere is a season of darkness. Festivals of light, such as Christmas and Hanukkah, merged with older celebrations of the seasonal change from diminishing to increasing light. The light of hearth, candle or LED bulbs becomes a symbol of hope for a better future.

In Washington, D.C., this week we saw a different play between light and shadow. Politicians played with the lives of middle class people, stricken by a recession, caused by the failure of government to adequately supervise the financial sector. What seemed to be done in bright light was actually a shadowy process of toying with the desperation of the many for the political gain of the few.

In an age dominated by the light of monitor screens, it becomes harder to discern what is shadow and what is truly light. Screens portray drama, not truth, much of the time. The news media stream reality from around the world, while those who work against truth burrow deeper into shadow. Manipulation becomes the weapon of choice in this battle between the greater good and individual greed.

Igniting the light of the mind is a practical method for discerning external light from darkness. Meditation and reflection are antidotes to passivity and gullibility. Walking into the light of my personal truth has not been easy. It requires shining the light on cluttered corners of my mind, where shadows hide dusty goblins of unhealthy thoughts and unproductive habits. As I strip away the unnecessary and unhelpful, I see the better way more clearly. This is the light I celebrate in this season. This is the light I wish to share.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Revelation

 
staring at creases
in foggy morning mirror
early winter's leaf

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Spite

The current political climate in the U.S. is based on spite. The base childishness of our predominantly male politicians is stunning. House Speaker Boehner is particularly spiteful in contrast to House Majority Whip Cantor's whining entitlement. President Obama's sighing frustration is justified, but somewhat ineffective in the face of these acid-spitting bullies.

Spite leads nowhere. It is the currency of a dysfunctional marriage, wherein two old people nag and bicker their ways to their graves without making any significant contribution to the lives around them. This dynamic in a government charged with saving the planet from climate degradation and overpopulation is sickening. 

True debate and compromise do not encourage or entertain spite. The current misconception that Newt Gingrich is a wonderful debater glaringly illustrates the public's ignorance of what true debate entails. True debate entails exposing factual data and eloquently explaining positions based on that data. It does not entail turning facts into barbs to personally deflate the opponent for the sake of public amusement. That is called entertainment, or showboating.

I have quickly distanced myself from relationships where spiteful behavior seems to be developing. There is no external balm that will cure a person of the spite habit, I believe. The quality of interpersonal relationships in my life is a large part of the flavor of my life. If I poison that flavor with the vile taste of spite, I sabotage my own practice. Liberation entails freeing myself from unhealthy situations and relationships. In the case of politics, it entails voting for those who display a healthy daily practice by their own behavior. Spite in an adult is an obvious symptom of immaturity and mental dysfunction.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Materialism

"The basis of all good things is a healthy economy." These words by Mitt Romney are the words of the wealthy, privileged capitalist. This cart-before-the-horse thinking is the luxury of the rich. 

The truly good things in life are peace, love and physical health. The wealthy, who are often very unhappy people, see their material success and security as essential to their existence. They then project this upon those who are not materialistic or wealthy. Unfortunately, due to their aggressiveness and wealth, they control government and the lives of others economically. 

This unjust reality lies at the heart of unbridled capitalism. A country controlled by capitalist materialism will inevitably be unfair and unjust. It will inevitably drift toward oligarchy and aristocracy. This is ancient wisdom, proven over and over again throughout the span of human history.

Willing victims of the system hum to their iPods and stare at their iPhones. Those who see through the lying promises of capitalist egalitarianism pitch tents and carry signs of protest. The latter are in the minority. This s why history repeats itself. The human tendency to conformity is one of the weaknesses of the species.

I write here of independent humanist practice. Those who stand up in protest tend to practice standing up to injustice in all areas of their lives. It is a hard road. It requires self-questioning, education and courage of conviction. It takes time and energy which could otherwise be devoted to creature comforts or making money. Humanist consciousness begins with an understanding that all human beings deserve basic human rights to pursue health and happiness. These pursuits require good health, good nutrition, dependable shelter and education. These pursuits do not require polluting cars, electronic toys or carrying huge consumer debt.

The only way to escape becoming a pawn of materialist capitalism is some form of practice, which counteracts the endless mental poison of commercialized media. This process has been part of my own humanist practice for decades. For example, I do not watch or listen to media which have periodic commercials for products. Now, in the age of Web search engines, listening to the inducements of television or radio commercials is counterproductive to being a conscientious consumer. 

Materialism is a choice. Selfishness is a choice. Mindlessness is a choice. Responsible social and ethical behaviors are choices. Practice is the attempt to shape the moment-to-moment choices with conscious effort.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Kingdom


Digital media has its disadvantages. One of them for me is a British sitcom, Kingdom. The greatest disappointment of this show is its title-role star, Stephen Fry, the closest thing to a living secular saint in the minds of many nonbelievers. If you are curious about this, you can find Kingdom on Netflix. That is not a recommendation, just information. 

The only upside of watching Mr. Fry play a saintly lawyer, an oxymoron which should have warned me off immediately, is being afforded a concrete example of contemporary political-correctness based in stupidity. I have encountered this brand of political-correctness in various upper middle class circles for some time. I now have a glaring example of it to refer to, when greeted with incredulous stares as I rant against it.

In this farce-without-irony, Mr. Fry, who has admitted to suffering with bipolar illness, is the benign brother to an aggressively manic sister, who has escaped from a mental institution. Mind you, this family is not poor. Her institution was most likely rather posh. She also confesses to having sexually seduced her psychiatrist there. Fry's character looks at her wistfully as she destroys his house, destroys legal files and seduces multiple workmen whom she hires at Fry's expense without his permission. 

When Kingdom, Fry's character, isn't being masochistic and enabling at home, he is being amiably manipulative in his small community while trying to avoid actually practicing law. He befriends an illegal immigrant who is an unpleasant young woman with an illegitimate child by her exploitative employer. Kingdom smiles condescendingly at her, as though dealing with a child. Then he subverts immigration law with all the various loopholes to keep this woman in England in the name of motherhood. This is all done with misty-eyed cuteness. 

Kingdom's sexuality is masked, though we know Fry to be openly homosexual. He flirts gently with his costar/friend, Celia Imrie. Her character is one of the saner members of the cast. However, she is made to look fussy and stupid. She plays the submissive female to Fry's daddy-knows-best pontifications. Kingdom has managed to hire a muscular twink as a legal intern. The intern plays straight, but there is a queasy ambivalence in the relationship between boss and intern. This is consistent with the back-to-the-1950s tone of the show. 

The most consistent hallmark of the show is a tolerance composed of one part stupidity, one part indifference and one part conformity. I found it annoying. The lack of skeptical, scientific or educational bias was blatant. "Let's just be nice and everything will work out," is the message, despite ample evidence in every scene that this philosophy is itself dysfunctional in the situation. 

I do not doubt that Mr. Fry may be cynical enough as an actor and entrepreneur of his own brand to have participated in this for the money. Yet I find this possibility, the kindest I can imagine, to be very disappointing as a secular humanist. Fry has promoted himself as an icon of secular humanism. If this show represents his view of what that means to him, I think the humanist movement is in serious trouble.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Solutions

How many computers, tablets or mobile phones are made from green materials, not derived from petrochemicals? The answer is simple. Just about none. The deluded are looking to hi-tech to save them from their own pollution and greed. However, hi-tech's own greed and pollution are multiplying the problem, not solving it. The exposure of Apple's abuse of Chinese workers was just one wake-up call.

The technology sector has corrupted itself as thoroughly as the Industrial Age utilities and meat-packers. The corrupting agent is ancient: Greed. Pharmaceutical companies are now refusing to produce life-saving chemotherapy drugs for cancer patients when those chemical compounds fall out of patent protection. Why? Because they won't being making the inordinately large profit margins they have come to expect after a drug becomes generic. This was also the case with generic HIV drugs, which pharmaceutical giants tried to ban from the market when they were the key to retarding the epidemic in Africa.

The I.T./communications sector is also part of the problem, not part of the solution. Making deals with authoritarian governments to block information from citizens has become commonplace. Cooperation with spying government agencies, the standard tools of Fascism and oppression, has also been commonplace. The lack of sustained support for Julian Assange and Bradley Manning by major figures in communications and I.T. has belied their complicity with government against transparency.

Human progress has always been held back by corruption and greed. However, the current state of the planet will not allow a wide margin for procrastination by those who have any capability to solve the environmental and social problems looming ahead. Those who proclaim faith in technological salvation may well fall victim to the same fate as those who have placed all their faith in organized religion, which has done more to divide and impede than save and heal.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Openness

The times in my life when I have said in consternation, "I didn't know," have had a great impact on my consciousness. Finding out why another person behaved a certain way after the event has helped me break through my own narcissism to an openness to learning about people and their differences. This was a daily practice which began in earnest when I was a psychiatric nurse at an acute psychiatric hospital as a young man.

There is a fine line between openness and gullibility. The gullible person accepts all behaviors at face value. The open person maintains a skeptical mind while closely observing. The gullible person is a passive audience. The open person is an engaged observer, avoiding premature conclusions while formulating comprehension into understanding. 

The practice of maintaining openness is work. It is not passively accepting everything at face value. In a similar way, detachment in the finest Buddhist sense is also work, not passive indifference. Detachment requires taming the mind, a wild beast when confronted with meditation and serious reflection. However, detachment does not entail extinguishing thought or feeling. Just as openness does not entail closing down all reaction while trying to learn and understand. 

Walking the middle path of practice is about balance. I am finding that learning to balance brings more balance. Humanist practice is an engaged life. With more openness comes more work. Balancing the work of openness and the work of actualizing humanist values in relationships is a worthwhile pursuit. It is the pursuit of humanist ideals in action.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cleaning

I recently made the observation to a friend that I did not believe that anyone who does not clean their own house or do their own laundry can appreciate what is means to be alive. Any sense of disembodied intellect is dented by cleaning a dirty bathroom or spot-cleaning stains on underwear. This grounding in reality is helpful in appreciating that we are mortal and fallible animals. 

The hands-on maintenance of my environment keeps me honest. It reminds that the vast majority of the world's human population work very hard. They get their hands dirty. While they may be exploited by the powerful, they are truly in touch with their humanity,  its limits and its potential. They are the bearers of basic human truths, basic truths of life as a living beings on a planet with limited resources. Without education, they can only cling to tradition to survive. With education, they are the beacons of positive change in the world. 

Those who are distanced from the basic labor of being, who live in glass towers in cement cities, are prone to mental corruption. They can live in their illusory world of delivered food and living spaces cleaned by 'the help'. They quickly lose touch with reality. They spout nonsense about climate change being a myth. They buy expensive gas-guzzling cars. They focus on making money because they think that will insulate them from the inevitable. 

As the basic labors of life lose their respectful place in the minds of the world's most privileged, the gap between them and the poor grows. Newt Gingrich says that the children of the poor should become janitors to work their way up to the top of the capitalist pig-pile he occupies. In other words, he feels that honest physical labor is for the stupid and the desperate. This thinking  represents the end result of alienation from the basic labors of living beings.

At the core of my humanist practice is my sense of responsibility to clean up my own messes. By doing the concrete maintenance of my life, I keep in practice to face the more abstract clean-ups. I understand that keeping my environment tidy facilitates keeping my mind tidy. I understand that the sweat of labor against muscle fatigue and gravity reminds me of my true mortal limitations. The humility which comes from this understanding helps me to maintain my respect for the mortal limitations of all human beings and all other living beings.




Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Protest

I was raised in the Faceless Fifties. Our fathers were beaten minions of Fascism, despite being lauded as victors over it. American Fascism, acknowledged fearfully by Dwight Eisenhower as the Military-Industrial Complex, turned the uniformed millions of the 1940s into a gray-suited army of productive conformity in the 1950s. As children of that era, we were beaten and belittled by brainwashed parents who felt that submission was a healthy thing. Tom Brokaw's "The Greatest Generation" is an ode to stifling creativity and individual freedom in favor of corporate enslavement.

Submission to unjust authority is not a healthy act. It is not healthy for human beings. It is unhealthy for the planet, as is evidenced by the mess our environment is in and the lack of crucial action by our political leaders.

The current protest against corporate domination is the flight of the truly free human spirit away from mindless submission to materialism's dogma. The great lies of unbridled capitalism are being challenged. The greed of the ever-resurrecting aristocracy is being exposed once again. Those who would send the poor off to be blown to pieces in unjust war, waged for profit, are being exposed for who they are. The bankers, the oil magnates, the money manipulators... they are being shown up for their selfishness and deluded sense of self-importance.

Peaceful protest exposes those who wear uniforms and wield sticks as servants of those who oppress. Violence, their inevitable weapon to maintain control, marks them as fearful defenders of injustice, of the status quo. They trade their natural yearning for peace and harmony for a government pension. They too are victims of the system they defend.

My humanism began with an acceptance of my basic humanity. Once I truly accepted my mortal life for what it is, I became incapable of aggression and domination. No uniform or title could erase my consciousness of my equality with the poorest and most tortured in society. I believe this is the initial passage to humanism. The practice of humanism is promoting and using that consciousness in moment-by-moment life. The first protest of the humanist is the protest against all the internal conditioning which promotes aggression, selfishness and hatred.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What?

Do I listen enough? This is a routine question of my humanist practice. 

Listening is far more profitable than speaking in my experience. While learning to articulately express my feelings and ideas is growth-promoting, listening is absolutely necessary for me to form intelligent and compassionate opinions and ideas. Listening requires great patience with aging. 

One set of eyes and one set of ears provide one form of human experience unless they are intentionally used to learn about other human experiences. However, as an older person, patience is required when I see and hear ignorance, rudeness or insincere naivete. So much of our public discourse today is laced with these flaws. 

Practice is the business of balance. Learning to listen and contribute in measured doses in all situations is a talent developed with practice. Simply asking someone to speak more about what they are trying to say to me is extremely helpful. Listening and digesting all the words sometimes cannot be done on the fly. Taking the time to reflect on what I hear before reacting to it is often necessary for me to formulate an intelligent and compassionate response. 

We live in a time of immediate communication. Drivers die in cars while texting. So much of this communication is impulsive or compulsive. It is lacking reflection and full understanding. The implications of this are obvious.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Forever

The concept of forever, drummed into minds of children primarily by religion, is an obstacle to skeptical and practical thought. The forever concept begins the mind's striving for completed perfection over dynamic adaptation. This idea of forever, merged with an imaginary eternity of religion, diffuses the urgency of ethical human beings to actualize their ideals in the moment. 

There is no forever on the human scale. From a galactic perspective, one relatively minor dysfunction in the solar system could totally eliminate all life on this planet in the blink of an eye at any time. The most sophisticated astrophysicist cannot promise that this planet will live out its expected lifespan of some billions of years before its sun obliterates it. Forever is an unrealistic concept. Forever is a useless concept for the truly good and a concept of controlling manipulation for the evil.

The more fully I have embraced this reality, the more readily I have been able to be in the moment in thought and action. The more palpably I experience being a small object on a whirling rock in cold vacuous space, the more intensely I experience pulsating life in the moment. The breathless exhilaration of vulnerable mortality lies at the root of my humanist practice.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Things

When things become more important than living beings, there will always be unhappiness. Poverty is hard. Poverty with a sense of ignorant entitlement is worse. The worst poverty is poverty of the mind.

The sports or music celebrity with gaudy jewelry and difficulty stringing several words together into a coherent sentence is a clear example of poverty of the mind with material wealth. The fact that supposedly intelligent human beings adulate these creatures of mad materialism speaks to a flaw in the human social fabric. It also speaks to exploitation of that flaw by advertisers and greedy capitalists.

There are those who defend materialism as a way of raising all economic boats. However, the simple mathematical reality of resources divided by population readily exposes this hypothesis as childish wishful thinking. Creating equity for all would be extremely hard work and would entail great sacrifice by those most invested in materialism and hedonism. I see no evidence of this in the world. What I do see confirms my opinion that those who have much want more.

A dead body is a thing. It is an inanimate compilation of extremely commonplace elements with the exception of the occasional gold crown or titanium hip. Yes, ultimately, we are all just things. As long as we live our lives running away from this fact, we will be unable to accept our true nature, our true commonality with all living beings. We will rush to accumulate things or the experience of things in a delusional attempt to achieve a permanent pleasure or security that cannot exist. This is not the path to true peace and happiness.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Bread

Making bread is one way I keep in touch with how life really works. The interdependence between me and yeast to produce a delicious and nutritious food helps me to remember that I am not the only worthwhile species of life on the planet. I consider the hard work that it takes to grist the flour I use for my bread. I have seen how hard my friends work on their farm. I can appreciate how much land and water are required to produce enough flour for one loaf of bread. I think of all the people who work hard in a flour mill at low wages. I consider the truckers who get the flour to my store. The stocking clerks who unpack the boxes and place the crisp bags on the shelf. All this comes to mind as I make my bread.

Some people make bread to sell. Others make it to impress. There are millions who still make it to survive. I know bakers who simply make bread for the anticipation and eventual joy of that first fresh bite. I make bread for some of these reasons, but I use the process of making bread to keep me aware of what it means to be a living being in concert with others on a hospitable planet. This is one example of the practice of mindfulness.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Today


Today I must attend first to my practice. All else falls away in importance. If I am not rooted in my practice, I can drift away from my own well being and my own humanist values. I can get lost in the unretrievable past or the unpromised future. As I nurture my practice, it nurtures me. By progressing step by step to being the person I wish to be in each moment today, I am doing what I can to actualize my humanist values. This is my best contribution to my environment, to my world.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Arrogance

As I hear Newt Gingrich imperiously make insinuations about making war on Iran, I am reminded that arrogance leads ultimately to disaster. Arrogance is based in a refusal to learn, truly learn, from life's experience. A refusal to understand and accept responsibility for life's failures, as well as successes, leads to delusional thinking. The grandiosity of the politician and the entitlement of the aristocrat are based in delusions, not mental health. All human beings lose everything in the end. A quest for immortality or infallibility is doomed to failure from the beginning. All we have is the now. All we can hope for ultimately is the love, internal peace and happiness we can develop with practice. In this, we are all equal.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Conformity

There is a vast difference between belonging to a healthy community and conformity. Conformity can be a symptom of insecurity and fear. It can also be a way of attaining social prominence. Conformity is quite different from belonging to a healthy community. 

The person who practices mindfulness and compassion will find it hard to be conformist in most social situations. Conformity requires a certain degree of voluntary submission. The person who speaks his truth from a position of developed ethical values will find conformity restrictive. 

Healthy community is far from conformist. Matching T-shirts are not necessary in a healthy community. A healthy community is alive with disagreement and debate. Conformity is the refuge of the fearful. Conformity can be the tool of those who wish to ascend to some social power. The seeker of wisdom participates in, contributes to and learns from true community. However, the road of the happy seeker is often a lonely one. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Enjoyment

Enjoyment requires some effort. This is different from entertainment. There is a tendency with today's easy access to media to be satisfied with being entertained without learning to enjoy those things in life which require patient observation, education or effort.

My capacity for enjoyment is related to my capacity for joy. I aspire to create joy in being, in the simple act of living. This takes practice. It requires perspective and reflection. I am not speaking of mindless optimism. I am referring to extracting joy from the simple state of being human with all its problems as well as its pleasures.

I have found that those things which can initially annoy me might also be enjoyed. This takes effort. By expanding my vision, I can sometimes see beyond my annoyance to something which is intriguing or informative. This gives me an opportunity to learn something as well as to expand my ability to enjoy more aspects of being alive.

There are still things I do not enjoy. However, I am learning to moderate my aversion to those things. As I do this, I find I am more capable at developing enjoyment in other aspects of my experience.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Direction

How do you map the direction of your day? Is your day mapped for you by a job, relationships or need? Do you feel directed by your day or do you have a constant internal compass? 

I have learned to use intentional routines as basic milestones along the way of my life. These routines, based primarily in health maintenance, supersede any other external influence on my day. By eating well, hydrating my body adequately and getting proper exercise, as examples, I am making sure that any direction I choose will be less arduous. Adequate sleep, avoidance of intoxicants, and daily meditation are also essential for me to be able to maintain my stamina as I choose my daily path. 

I remember the times in my life when I allowed the tides of circumstance to throw me around on a sea of uncertainty and ill health. Moderation wasn't even a concept in my mind at that time of my life. It was an exhilarating roller coaster ride, I will admit, but it did not leave me feeling very happy when the cloud of stimulus and reaction to stimulus cleared. 

My understanding of practice came when I began practicing moderation. I became intimately acquainted with my demons by simply moderating my activity and appetites. I realized my demons were running me. Obsession, compulsion and neurotic fear were the masters of my days. I wasn't walking ahead. I was walking in circles.

My own methods for breaking the endless loop of living on automatic are the elements of my personal practice. In my case, these methods are tempered by humanist consciousness. In other lives, personal practice can be tempered by religion, fame or hedonism, to name a few possibilities. However, I have encountered few people in my life who have a conscious practice which determines their daily direction.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Plan B

Most of my life has been composed of Plan B. Most of the rest has been composed of Plans C though Z.

What is the more powerful strategy in life: perseverance or flexibility? I vote with both hands for flexibility, based in a strong sense of self-awareness, awareness of the environment and personal values. The pitfall of perseverance is stubbornness. The pitfall of flexibility is indecision. Stubbornness is more hazardous than indecision in the big picture, as I see it. Stubbornness may yield immediate gains, but lose long term gain. Indecision may lose an immediate gain, but yield a long term gain.

Plan A is always a good place to start. It usually represents the ideal, the perfect path to a goal. Plan B, however, has the added value of using or developing skills to adapt to reality. Striving for Plan A with inflexibility seldom achieves the ideal upon which it is based. The driven do-gooder who has an ideal vision of how to go about achieving an ideal good often becomes a puffy ideologue with no substance. The flexible do-gooder can adapt his ideal path to doing good by listening to those in need and inviting others into his/her activities.

So here's a cheer for the underestimated Plans B through Z. In science, they are often the paths to great breakthroughs. In engineering, the paths to great inventions. In personal development, the paths to humanism and progressive thought.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Detachment

Detachment is often cited as a main tenet of Buddhism. It gets wrapped up in airy expositions that eventually leave the impression that detachment means robot-like dispassion. I don't believe this is useful. 

When I read Dhammapada translations, I hear the voice of a passionately empathic person. I hear the voice of one experienced in anger, love and desire. However, I also hear the voice of a person who has conquered his emotionality and sentimentality. I take the lesson that awareness of passion is different from being ruled by passion.

My humanism is rooted in the practice of self-awareness and other-awareness. Self-awareness is developed through meditation, physical exertion, and education, both formal and informal. Other-awareness is developed through observation, experimentation, social integration and education, both formal and informal. Incorporating both forms of awareness into moment-by-moment living develops mindfulness. Mindfulness develops compassion. Compassion develops generosity, peace and happiness.

Detachment removes the blocks to education and experimentation. By simply observing my feelings, my passions, I can gradually free myself from the purely hormonal and habitual sway of them, which has developed unconsciously with a cocktail of genetic predisposition and childhood development. If I can see I am anxious, my anxiety becomes less toxic. If I can see I am angry, my anger becomes less toxic. If I can see I am reacting sexually rather than intelligently, I am less likely to do something stupid or harmful to myself or someone else. And so on.

Always remembering I may be totally wrong in the moment of making a judgment or decision helps me to remain detached from the anticipated result. If I am wrong, the anticipated result would be wrong. So what is the point of investing emotionality into the outcome of any choice? It will simply lead to pain and disappointment if the choice is wrong. It will lead to hubris which inevitably leads to failure  if the decision proves right. Investment in being flawlessly correct is the antithesis of detachment. And, being emotionless is mental illness, not detachment.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Oil

The citizens of North Dakota are under attack. Thousands of oil exploiters have descended on small farming towns. There are suddenly two hundred oil wells where there was once scrub and farmland. What's the deal? Well, speculative oil leases, bought cheaply since 2005, will expire if there is no fracking of the oil from shale on the leased properties. The leases, bought for $100 acre, will soon be worth $1500 an acre if taken from one exploiter and offered on the market to others.

No planning was done for infrastructure to accommodate thousands of new workers and thousands of huge trucks. The average citizen, used to a humble and quiet life, has been hit by a tsunami of noise, filth and pollution. Water systems and sewer systems are overloaded. Local governments are reeling, while the state government sucks up the revenues from the oil boom.

This is the true face of what some would call the Free Market. A limited number of investors make fortunes. The lives of tens of thousands are decimated overnight. The overall effect is to allow Americans to deny climate change and the detrimental effects of the petrochemical industry on the planet's future. Cheap gasoline and plastics to feed addiction to cars and cheap consumer goods.

This phenomenon clearly shows where the priorities of those in the top 1% lie. They have manipulated deregulation and divided the populace by funding deceptive political ads for their minions. They have conquered for now. But there will be no escape from the consequences for them and their children over the generations to come.



Thursday, December 1, 2011

Equality

This story from NPR reveals the scale of global inequality and the impact of overpopulation on the problem. When I am surrounded by all the infrastructure and wealth of my world, I am tempted to forget that I am privileged beyond the conceptualization of many people on the planet. Each and every one of them is as deserving of happiness as I am. The lottery of birth has granted me my easy life.

I see an important part of daily humanist practice the development of a constant mindfulness of my privilege and good fortune in relation to the billions who suffer daily from ignorance and poverty. As I hear stories about women, who are more privileged than I am, resenting being cautioned by physicians about having menopausal babies, I think of the countless women in the world who do not live to menopause and bring multiple unsustainable human lives into the world. Why would a wealthy woman focus considerable monetary and emotional resources on reproducing herself at menopause when there are billions of deserving human children in the world already? This is intentional propagation of inequality in my opinion.

There is no "later" for creating equality. Each of us lives one life. It can be a life of comfort and luxury. It can be an entire life of misery, hunger and pain. No humanist can live effectively without carrying a constant mindfulness of this reality. How I as a humanist strive to promote equality, peace and happiness for all human beings differs from the way others do the same work. The most important thing any humanist can do is to keep the consciousness of the gross inequality in our species alive among those who have great privilege.