Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Craft

We strolled through a crafts fair on Sunday. The quality of most of the product was poor. Kitsch for tourists and browsers, who were looking for an excuse to sit out in summer weather and eat from fashionable urban food trucks.

There is a visible problem here in the U.S. with the quality of craftsmanship. Mediocre work is touted as high quality. Sloppiness is excused by contractors and manufacturers who whine they are never paid enough. Vocational education has been gutted by government in favor of on-line universities and hyped charter schools. 

There is dignity in a job well done. It is hard to fix a price on this. It is a matter of personal practice and self-development for the craftsman's sake. Historically, the excellent craftsman is compensated well when the quality of his/her work shines. The mediocre craftsman extorts higher prices through hype and guile to cover his/her mistakes. 

The humanist who develops a committed daily practice is a craftsman. The quality of the labor of practice is reflected in relationships and the practitioner's own well being. It is not about numbers of friends on Facebook. The quality of humanist practice is measured in the application of humanist values in all aspects of a life. The practitioner is craftsman and ultimate beneficiary of the work.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Birdsong

I have been poking around early in the morning these days. I am not a natural early riser. But I have had to be prepared when the workers come to do their hammering, drilling and sawing. 

Nothing is more soothing to my soul than early birdsong on a clear summer morning. These feather-weights sound so cheerful, so unconcerned about their very short and fragile lives. "It's really OK," I hear in their lilting voices. Taking time to listen to them and their message starts my day with a cheerful mind at peace with my place in the Universe.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Competition

Competition and gangsterism are vestigial forms of outmoded and unnecessary human defenses. Sport is a surrender to testosterone-based aggression in males. I think it is interesting that the Olympics, sport for the wealthy and worldly, are increasingly focused on non-violent sport, largely based in breaking individual time records and speed records. The waning of rabid nationalism at the Olympic Games is another symptom of the progress away from club-wielding competition. 

Financial competition has been replaced by a form of wily mathematics, contrived by graduates of prestigious universities. This is a progression to 'survival of the smartest' from 'survival of the most driven'. Unfortunately, this progression in profit-making by the intelligent is not accompanied by any progression in ethics. 

Gangsterism is becoming marginalized. Its deep roots are obvious, since it has taken nearly ten years of brutal wars against jihadist gangsters to drive the point home that gangs are not the answer. Drug gangs are being replaced by drug cartels, merging with the new uber-corporate world business model. Corporations are not gangs, after all. The U.S. Supreme Court has deemed them individuals.

As a humanist, who believes there is an inherent primate wish to live in cooperation and peace, I am slightly encouraged by the gradual dissipation of aggressive competition and gangsterism. I hope this is a symptom that the developed world is beginning to sober up after a decade-long binge on war and hedonism. There are huge challenges ahead for the species. Unlike some futurists, I do not see the current human species equal to the tasks ahead. 

The secular perspective is based in science and facing real problems as they present themselves. There is no secular form of hand-wringing and whining to a god to please straighten things out. The secular person is an adult. As an intelligent adult, the secular person knows there is creative and constructive power in intelligent cooperation. This is fundamental to humanist ideals and ethics. There is no room for in-fighting and gold-bricking in a truly humanist community. There is no competition for the attention and blessing of an imagined divine patriarch or matriarch. The humanist community is about achieving the goals of humanism: Universal human rights, universal economic justice, peace and joy.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Watching

Much of practice entails being watchful. I do not mean this in a fearful sense. Watchfulness is a form of mindfulness. I am watchful when I question whether my actions or motives are coming from my humanist values or from a place of more basic human need. Is my interest in a person or situation true, generous and open. Or is it tainted with motives of selfish need? Or is my openness blocked by unnecessary defensiveness? 

Watchfulness is simply the application of self-awareness and truthfulness. It requires a certain amount of strength and perseverance. Without adequate personal development, watchfulness can be confused with narcissistic  self-questioning. 

Developing the ability to be fully present in the moment with internal and external awareness is a goal of any developmental practice. It is also a reward of practice.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Rain

The appearance of rain here today comes as a great relief. Water and its absence are tremendous reminders of our real circumstance on this special planet. We are largely water. We need water for life. We can be destroyed by water.

My humanism evolved in part from my undergraduate studies in cellular biology, biochemistry and physics within the walls of a religious university. The stark contrast between the information about the realities of life in physical terms and the mythology of religion stirred my young mind. The cynical disbelief in their own religion's arcane principles which was evident in some of my Jesuit teachers alerted me to the hypocrisy trap of religion over science.

When I admire the rain while worrying about my basement leaking, I understand something about the inner conflict between the animal in me and my frontal lobe. Unlike many human beings, I choose to hold onto the animal understanding as much as the mental understanding when I can. Fearing the animal brain is as silly as fearing the intellectual brain. The duet of these two inner voices of awareness is enriching. It makes me truly human.

Join me and let the rain fall on your face from time to time.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Essentials

Typical Boston area triple-decker.
My parents rented the top floor of an old three-family house when I was very small. Five of us lived in the creaky flat. The building was constructed without central heating. An old kerosene stove sat in the living room. The kitchen stove heated the back of the apartment. Our kitchen still had an old wooden ice box, lined with zinc. Our water was heated when needed by a small gas-fired tank on the wall by the kitchen sink. It was lit with a match each time. It had no pilot light. This edifice sat within sight of downtown Boston.

The essentials of what it takes to live life are pretty minimal. We have made the art of living very complicated. Much of this has developed in response to the increasing demands of urban populations on their environments. Septic trenches don't work well in a city of hundreds of thousands. Witness Haiti's capital or cities of other poor countries. The climb from simple sewer systems to garbage grinders in sinks and heated towel racks has been rapid in terms of human history. And its cost has been environmentally horrific.

There is no shame in utilizing modern technology to lead a healthy and socially contributing life. The learning curve is a defining human characteristic. However, as a humanist, I look to the fairness of technologies I choose to utilize. Am I utilizing a renewable resource? If not, am I utilizing the resources in a conscientious and responsible way? Is my life being essentially changed by the technology I choose to utilize? Is my life improved by it? Is my use of the technology done at the expense of poor workers in another country? These are a few of the questions I ask myself while staying in touch with what I feel is essential to maintain my health and well being. 

My life as a middle-class American is luxurious beyond the dreams of billions on the planet. I experience some shame at that simple fact. I also experience a sense of impotence when I think of how I might change that fact with my personal behavior. As a humanist. I can practice a way of living consciously and responsibly with the resources I have at my disposal. I can readily and happily pay taxes in my own country and state to help level the quality of life in my own society. I can offer generosity on a personal level to those who have less when I encounter them in my life. I can write a daily blog on humanist ideas.

My sense of humanism is not grandiose. It is quite simple and practical. I see humanism as the daily conscious practice of healthy living and generous sharing of myself and resources. This does not entail handing out ten-dollar bills to strangers who may well squander them on irresponsible and unhealthy behaviors. Mindfulness begins with an acknowledgment of my essential needs as a human being. Compassion develops by paying attention to the essential needs of others.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Violence

Violence of the mind is poison. Aggression begins in thought. Unlike self-defense in the moment of being attacked, which is reflexive, aggression stems from roots in the mind.

I strongly disagree with proponents of violent sports who maintain they build integrity in their participants. They build aggression and violence. They imbue a form of competition which is based in physical aggression and domination. The star system in professional sports is the alpha-male system of ancient times. Nothing different. Nothing progressive.

As the U.S. whines about its political and societal impotence in the face of gun-wielding bullies, average families allow their young children to sow the seeds of aggression and violence in their minds with violent television, violent video games and violent sports. They hand the poison of violence to their children and bemoan the inevitable results. 

Humanism is a mindset of non-violence, peace and joy. The humanist does not seek to kill, maim or dominate in the name of a god or perverted morality. Humanist practice is a practice for the peace and well being of the practitioner and his/her environment. Expunging violent thought from a poisoned mind is very difficult. It requires meditation, reflection and vigilant self-awareness. The mind poisoned by violence may never be free of it, but the individual practice of living in non-violence is a beginning to establishing greater peace and joy for all.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Timing

So much of life is timing, intentional or coincidental. When I consider the vast possibilities of events which could intersect to change my life, it is staggering. All illusion of control vanishes.

Anyone who has had a traffic accident can understand what I am thinking. Driving along on a bright day is suddenly interrupted by a life-darkening event. The personal universe is altered by concerns of physical health, safety and financial details. This shadow can hover over a life for months, even years. Yet it occurs in an instant.

We live much of our lives in denial of the influence of timing and accident on them. Those of us who are fortunate by birth often assume everyone else has had the same fair shake in life. Those of us who are the result of poor timing of intercourse between impoverished and impaired parents struggle their whole lives to overcome the circumstances of their origins, while attempting to follow societal prescriptions about honoring their parents.

Walking the humanist path requires a realistic view of timing and circumstance. This mindfulness is the foundation of compassion, which motivates right action in moment-by-moment practice. Intentional timing is a prerequisite of conscious action for the good. Learning to live with accidental timing with mindfulness, compassion and joy is the work of practice.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Communication

Conscientious communication is a hallmark of commitment and respect in any relationship. Tweeting to the entire Universe is not communication in the sense of relationship. It is pronouncement. This blog is not communication. It is a published personal reflection. 

It takes at least two real people in the same place and time to engage in the process of conscientious communication. Today the word "place" may include audio-video media. Skype and Google Video are places in this context. Email, on the other hand, is not the best form of conscientious communication. It is a good method for sharing reflections and reactions, but it lacks the emotional and intellectual ingredients of conscientious communication in a real-time sense.

Maintaining the quality of routine communication is the challenge of a rewarding relationship. Some healthy relationships can weather interrupted communication, but few relationships can weather prolonged lack of communication. Work relationships which suffer from communication problems damage the quality of the tasks they are centered on. 

As a practicing humanist, I take responsibility for maintaining the quality of communication in my relationships. The process of relating is a relationship. An essential part of that process is mutual sharing of feelings, facts and ideas. Lack of communication skills impairs all forms of human interaction. Therefore, learning to communicate responsibly and effectively is a cornerstone of humanist practice.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Batman

The victims of insane violence in a Colorado movie theater comment that they thought the initial shots of the mass murderer were part of the Batman film they had come to watch at a midnight premier. Isn't that the kernel truth of that experience? A society in love with media violence recoils in horror when the very same violence occurs in reality. This is insane.

As a humanist, I am committed to non-violence in my life. If films and video games portrayed an alternative universe where gun violence is the norm, then the public enthusiasm for them could be assigned to a vicarious venting of violent impulses. Perhaps this could be viewed as a healthy sublimation through that fantastic universe.  This is not the real situation here in the U.S. in 2012. 

A lunatic with an automatic weapon is a common  reality in the the U.S.. Guns, mixed with a deficient mental health system and poor law enforcement, is a simple equation equaling inevitable massacre. It is just a matter of where and when. 

Living in non-violent peace is no guarantee against aggression from others. Any urban driver in Massachusetts would testify to the truth of this statement. However, creating a process of peaceful and truthful coexistence as part of a daily humanist practice is one simple way to contribute to the general peacefulness of society. Abstaining from a regular diet of media violence is essential to creating this personal process.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Insanity

Photo by Peter Petraitis
A late-middle-aged woman recently attempted to stab two small children, one and four, after asking their mother a question on a public walkway in Boston's Charles River Park. The mother was stabbed when she inserted herself to protect her children. The stabber was subdued by a 70-year-old man who was passing by.  It came to light that the woman has an extensive psychiatric and criminal record. She had stabbed people before and had escaped containment with an insanity plea. She was offered bail of $25,000 for this offense.

The stabber happens to have an apartment on the same corridor as my partner. He and I have observed her anger and antisocial behaviors on many occasions. My experience as a psychiatric nurse caused me to speculate that she has had a troubled past with a history of refusing adequate treatment. We have given her plenty of space. 

Violently insane people are everywhere on the streets of our cities. Our mental health system is a shambles due to the well-meaning reformers of the 1980s who started the trend to dismantle large systems for housing and treating the mentally ill. I say well-meaning, but I believe financial gain was the motivation of these reformers who saw great tax savings and greater political popularity in tearing down the public mental health systems after the popularity of "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest"  and other anti-hospital works.

As populations grow and the ineptitude of politicians in power also grows, the weight of dysfunction and expense of society is thrown onto the shoulders of the average citizen.  Libertarian politicians exploit the complacency of the population in this regard. "Let's privatize everything," they shout. 

Who will you call when you are stabbed by a deranged person on a street in broad daylight when everything is privatized? The answer is obvious. Society is a process of mass cooperation. It is not having drinks in a pub. It is not a weekly poker game. It is not ignoring everybody while tapping on a keyboard at Starbucks. Society includes everybody in a geographic area. This means the insane stabber as well as the innocent young mother. Government should be the arbitrator and maintainer of a civil society. Government has been failing in this role for at least four decades.

As a humanist, I see voicing my dissatisfaction with government as a basic responsibility of my practice. I write emails. I speak with representatives on the phone. It is my job to deal with the details of society in my path from picking up litter to intervening when I see injustice or aggression. If the trend of the turned head and the obsession with an iPhone in the public space continues, society will become more dysfunctional and dangerous for everyone.


Friday, July 20, 2012

Beauty

Photo: Nick Rusko-Berger
I have been reminded of a kind of beauty I had forgotten. My last few days have been populated by men of various ages who work hard at dirty jobs. I have been able to watch the simple and focused movements of men of craft and experience. The eye riveted on a straight edge while drawing a cutting line. The study of a level bubble. The wielding of a nail gun with confident easy.

I flashed back to my youth when my father, an accomplished carpenter, struggled with his fatigue and frustration to teach me to be of help to him. I caught my share of barked orders and harsh critiques of my abilities. My own ineptitude opened my eyes to the grace of those who had skill. It sometimes inspired awe. It always inspired humility.

My own body at 62 no longer conforms to the lines of standard male beauty. Perhaps this has re-opened my consciousness to alternate forms of beauty in my life. In making peace with gravity and the oxidation of my own tissues, I am learning a new spectrum of what can be seen as having grace, form and appeal. This is not the stuff of glossy Web ads or TV commercials. This is the beauty inherent in the grit of daily life in a real world. 

I think this enhances my practice as a humanist. While I have never set physical beauty as a threshold of my caring for another human being, I was more distracted by it than I realized earlier in my life. Eliminating these distractions in practice is the actualization of humanist focus. Vision narrows on the essential, the important. Then the essential and the commonplace become beautiful in the simplified sight of humanist practice.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Doubt

Every morning I experience doubt when I open my blank blog composer. Yes, doubt. I doubt my own ability to formulate my ideas. I doubt the validity of those ideas. I doubt my own practice's worth. 

This doubt is healthy. It is the basis of my skepticism and inquiry in most cases. I reject the mentality of the enthusiast and the converted. I half strolled down that shallow cul-de-sac more than once. I learned things there, but also learned that my path is best aimed toward the horizon, wherever that may take me. The safe certainty of the cul-de-sac life was a stifling illusion when subjected to my skeptical thought.

Embracing doubt, like embracing change, is not a warm and fuzzy experience. If I want warm and fuzzy, I'll hug a cat. Doubt is a prickly friend. Change is a fickle lover. However, in the light of my personal truth, doubt and change are necessary companions in my daily practice.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Light

I realized last evening that I have been taking these long summer days for granted. I have been preoccupied with plumbers, carpenters and electricians. This morning, I took a moment to greet the new day with my full concentration. The span ahead of many bright hours lifted my drowsy morning spirits. "How fortunate, " I thought, "to have late evenings after long days of hammering and the screech of old wood being wrenched from its peaceful rest."

So much of any practice is being in the moment. Learning to sweep up sawdust with tranquil satisfaction brings rewards. Opening a home to complete strangers who then transform it into something different requires trust and perseverance, but the process informs and fortifies. Letting the light in from unusual places enables me to see new things about myself and my path. 

Fear makes the still darkness look attractive at times. We first come to conscious life in the security of the womb. It is the most basic psychological home for which our fearful or weary minds yearn. Rejecting fear is a rebirth every time. Emerging into the light of my own truth, my own reality in the moment is the first step to healthy growth and healthy choices. 

I will try to relish the long days. I will try to use their light to see clearly and live fully. I am amazed by this planet and my place on it in the vast Universe.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Concentration

Concentration yields greater efficiency and results in any effort. Concentration is a developed ability. Meditation, reflection and general good health all facilitate developing concentration. Practice is geared to developing concentration. Concentration facilitates effective practice.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Evaporation

I woke at 2 AM to the sound of torrential rain tapping on my bedroom window. I did some watering of new plants at 7 AM in preparation for another 90+ (32+C) degree day. There was no evidence of the many thousands of gallons of water, uncountable rain drops, that had showered my neighborhood. None. It had all evaporated. 

I am thinking about the fact that water is life on Earth. Without it, there would be none, as we know it. 

I consider my own life and the billions of human lives around me. Like the night rain, there will be a time when our individual and societal lives will be evaporated without a trace. Is this perhaps the sacred mystery of life? If we let go of the fearful myths of an afterlife, doesn't this transience of our shared lives make them more precious, more sacred in themselves?

I do not regret evaporating like the rain. The majestic rain from towering clouds high above the ground. The life-giving rain, the cleansing rain, the thirst-quenching rain.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Foresight

Hindsight is always 20/20. Foresight is a developed skill which depends on clear vision in the present. 

By using practice to develop an acute awareness of the inner and outer present (mindfulness), a human being can develop foresight or vision, in the sense of formulating right action to actualize values and goals. Meditation, quiet reflection and truthfulness within the self facilitate the development of foresight. Practicing the use of foresight for good, as opposed to greed or aggression, is the humanist path.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Bastille

Today is Bastille Day in France. a commemoration of the fall of the Bastille de Saint-Antoine to revolutionaries on July 14, 1789, the year the United States Constitution went into effect. The original Bastille, started in the mid-14th century, no longer exists. However, its descendants do. It was the high-end Guantanamo of its day. A political prison for religious dissidents during the Reformation. A prison for high-born dissenters of all stripes over the ages.

We  in the U.S. should look seriously at the Bastille's history. We have the highest prison population per capita in the world. Why? Our politicians are currently waging a global Crusade of Fundamentalist Capitalism. They are currently waging a domestic war against petty drug users while having questionable relationships with those magnates who supply drugs to American streets from Afghanistan to Mexico. 

The Bastille still towers all across America. The private prison industry has built a Bastille Empire for profit. How long will it take for that Bastille Empire to succumb to the same fate as its Medieval prototype? How many people can be imprisoned in any society before the population, enraged by perverted justice, rises up in numbers to tear the system down?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Derivatives

Derivative Equation
We are living in an age of derivatives. In finance, derivatives, named for a method in calculus, have contributed to the fall of modern capitalism. In literature, fan fiction gathers air-headed enthusiasts who read as if  they are eating potato chips. They just want more of the same, despite the marginal value of the original. The chop-shopping of Jane Austen and other great creative writers by lesser minds is a major trend for a faltering publishing industry, which has decided to go with stupid rather than maintain standards at higher cost in changing times.

We humans, like other great apes, are prone to mimicking. However, in this age of mass access to mass communication, mimickers and their admirers, who have always vastly outnumber the original and creative, rule the mass media culture by sheer numbers. Is there a return from this trend to mediocrity? As long as mass media is offered to the public as the bread and circus of corporate imperialism, mediocrity will be here to stay. 

This leveling is mathematically predictable with overpopulation and diminishing resources. Everyone will have to settle for less, with the notable exceptions of the capitalist puppet masters, who espouse overpopulation as "growth" and diminishing resources as "opportunities for innovation". The narcotized public, dosed with alcohol, prescribed pharmaceuticals and recreational drugs, will read the tripe on their iPads with an illusion of happiness. An itch scratched, an appetite sated.

A humanist can see through this fog. Since humanism is based on education, health and a striving for the best for all through rational inquiry and application, the humanist must look beyond pop culture. This is difficult in a media-bombarded, crowded urban world. This is where practice comes in. Practice at being tuned into what is really happening in your own life, your own mind, starts the process of personal creativity and personal originality. A humanist can be recognized as leading a life which is not derivative, but creative.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Obamacare

The U.S. House of Representative Republican majority, supported by five Democrats, tried once more to tantrum universal health care away. This is simply political theater, of course. We live in an age when political theater and the money it brings to the actors in it trump the public welfare. Our political class represents the interests of the wealthy and the corporations in their portfolios.

As a humanist, committed to rational and scientific consciousness, I feel alienated when I see the public polling statistics which seem to support this outrage. But I am also skeptical about the validity of those polling statistics. The vagaries of the health care industry and its payment structure make a straight-forward survey of average Americans near impossible on this issue. Of course, the system is designed that way to keep consumers of medical care uninformed about the payment structure, which is corrupt and unnecessary.

Obama deserves the stigma associated with Obamacare. Obamacare is a second-class plan. He quickly retreated from public health insurance, the global standard for a first-class health plan, to placate his Wall Street handlers and their insurance company confederates. This was a surrender without a battle which could have shed light on the dark shadows of the health insurance industry. That light of truth and information could very well have educated even the more obtuse about the necessity of government reform of health delivery in the U.S..

Medical care and research are keys to longevity and a better quality of life. Currently, medical care in the U.S., especially optional dermatology and cosmetic care, is a big business.That big business, primarily driven by the demand of the wealthy, needs to be carved out of general health care provision for the population entirely and definitively. The government's job is to provide for all the people. It is dismally failing at that job, even with Obamacare.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Interruptions

The key to practice is conscientious application of humanist values to action moment by moment. Running every morning before breakfast is a routine application of a health value which can facilitate other applications of humanist values throughout the day. A yoga exercise period may serve the same purpose. But life is anything but always predictable. Interruptions, intended and unintended, occur. 

Learning to incorporate interruptions in the routines of practice becomes part of a humanist practice.  The creative demands of interruptions can actually enhance a practice by inhibiting rigidity. This is the difference between the itinerant practitioner, like the wandering Buddhist, and the ensconced clergyman, like the temple Buddhist. Practice, when it becomes repetitive ritual, can become stale, like established religion.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Apologies

Apologies are often misused. There seems to be a trend of this behavior in modern urban life. A driver cuts off another in heavy traffic and then waves an apology. A shopper tries to cut into a line at a cash register. If confronted, the shopper apologizes, as though the possessing demon had somehow forced the antisocial behavior. A phone chatter screams into a phone and disrupts a public place and blandly apologizes after ending the call. 

A sincere apology comes from a place of personal humility and self-knowledge. It is not a Jail Free Card in a game of Monopoly. However, this is becoming its common usage.

I wonder if I am simply a virtual character in another person's computer game when encountering this antisocial rudeness capped with a reflexive apology. There is no glimmer of humanity in those superficial waves or mumbled words. I imagine that this a a neophyte bully who will eventually be generally rude and obnoxious without any thought of an apology or responsible restraint.

Accepting these post-insult apologies enables the selfish behaviors which precede them. The bland acceptance which is often forthcoming from observers or victims is chilling. This indicates a social acceptance of selfishness and insincerity.

There is no social peace and joy in a society ruled by aggression, cheating and lying. These behaviors are symptoms of overpopulation and the limited accessibility of resources, in my opinion. A jammed highway is a perfect laboratory for observing the social effects of overpopulation and limited space. These perfect laboratories are found for four hours a day on average in every American city. 

My consolation in the face of these behaviors is my own humanist practice. Part of my practice is to point out aggression when I see it, whether or not a superficial apology is offered. I do not accept superficial apologies after obviously conscious aggression or antisocial behavior. I take these false apologies as an invitation to comment on the behavior directly. These are teaching opportunities. A civil and fair society requires all members to participate civilly and fairly.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Generosity

Is it truly generous to enable a system which does not serve the needs of all the people? By subscribing to capitalist systems of "giving" to non-profit corporations which are simply businesses which provide salaries and tax havens for capitalists do people expand any humanist cause? Do they further universal health for all? Do they really sacrifice in favor of their principles?  Or do people who subscribe to the system simply propagate the system? Is this really generosity? Is it conformity perhaps?

These are big questions about big systems in an overpopulated human species on a planet with diminishing resources and deteriorating environment. However, my humanism is based in the skepticism that asks these questions. My humanism is one of individual practice. Within the framework of my humanism, money is not action. Money is money. Action is action. Working to raise money is about money. It is not humanist action within the context of my humanist practice.

True generosity entails the exchange of energy and compassion from one human being to another. True generosity is not a check written to one bureaucracy to dispense funds to another bureaucracy. This check-writing may be called philanthropy, but philanthropy is giving by those who have a surplus from which to give. The accumulation of these surpluses most often comes with the sacrifice of humanist values in a materialistic world.

The generous humanist, in my opinion, practices generosity of thought and action each day. This has nothing to do with the expenditure of money. It is a practice of self-development in pursuit of fostering greater peace and joy for all human beings. That fostering of peace and joy for all is generous, but it must come from an individual peace and joy in the practitioner of that generosity. Otherwise, it is hypocritical and ineffectual. Humanist practice is not a job. It is not financially profitable. It is a way of life, which must be supported by labor and financial activity which reflect its values.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Fullness

Fullness. It comes with opened eyes and mind in a well tended body. 

Last evening, after leaving a day with my partner, I climbed the stairs of Charles Street Station. I walked to the end of the platform. The sun burned out behind some high-rises across the river. The air had cooled and dried. Its odor was sweetened with ripe trees, flowering shrubs and river water. The wisps of clouds turned lavender and pink with edges of gold. 

My mind opened to the fullness of my own living experience. I soared with the jubilant birds. I ran with the runners, passing below on the Longfellow Bridge. I sailed with the few careening boats on the Charles. I felt empty and full. The air and dusk light seemed to pass through me. I was as close to weightless as I could remember. "I can pass from this now happily, full, satisfied." The thought flowed through me without the least defense against it.

This feeling of fullness is marvelous. It is liberation. It is enlightenment. It places the individual life in its context within the wide Universe. To surrender the self requires it. And it is required to surrender the self. From this fullness flows mindfulness, compassion and generosity. Mindfulness, compassion and generosity bring this fullness to the person who practices them in each moment.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Labor

The labor of daily living breeds consciousness and humility. Modern life has distanced urban dwellers from some of the routines which can keep the mind in touch with life's simple physical realities. Maintaining even a humble patch of soil or pavement informs. 

Grass growing between cracks in a sidewalk or driveway eventually deteriorates the surface. Nature taking hold over human contrivance slowly and persistently. As a contriving human, I must then pluck the grass out to preserve my contrivance for easy access to my home. The grass grows back vigorously. I remove it. It returns. What does this say about my relationship to Nature, to the Universe, to other forms of life?

Does my human existence necessitate my contesting with Nature? Why should it? What we identify as civilization has pitched this battle. Could we have evolved differently? Can we try consciously to do so?

The labor of tending my patch opens my mind to more questions than answers. The answers are usually temporary solutions to problems presented by my battle with the forces of wind, water and other species. The questions open my mind to accepting and even appreciating the forces I am battling in this human folly. Perhaps this is a gentler version of the journey of the warrior.

Energy spent with concentration on maintaining a simple life of health, function and self-sufficiency is never wasted. It is the work of a human laboratory, wherein all the mysteries of what we do not know become evident and intriguing. This feeds the skepticism and curiosity which is essential to a humanist practice.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Compassion

Compassion is not a doting mother's "Poor baby!" response when encountering tragedy in other lives. This response has been the basis of an international industry of non-profits which actually does quite well on government subsidies as well as contributions. The administrators wear fine suits and attend meetings in five-star hotels. It may be slick philanthropy or even top-down social activism, but it is not compassion.

Compassion is a personal transition, a dynamic process of intentional learning and practice. Compassion requires no money. In fact, reflexively reaching into a pocket for loose change is the antithesis of compassion. That may be an act of fear, charity or generosity, but it is not necessarily motivated by compassion. Compassion is a personal attribute. It is hard-won and painful to maintain in a world of poverty, violence and needless grief. 

Compassion is only acquired with conscious practice. Thinking you are compassionate, without doing anything to become truly compassionate, is foolish narcissism. For example, a man working in a laboratory at a university which develops chemical weapons for the military may think he is compassionate when he attends his Sunday religious services.  This is a lie. No person who would consciously work to endanger human lives for profit could be considered compassionate, no matter what social trappings or excuses he may use to convince himself he is. 

Some of the most compassionate people in the world are far from emotively empathic or ostentatiously philanthropic. They are the people who tend the sick and feed the needy without question of money or compensation. In fact, they are often rather taciturn and sometimes grumpy from fatigue. They are easily recognized when they touch your life. Imitating their compassion is often the first step to developing it. 

Humanism is a mindset based in a joyful and peaceful consciousness, based in self-knowledge and self-development. The practice of humanism in daily life develops compassion in the practitioner. Simply beginning to deeply acknowledge and accept my commonality with all living things which inevitably grow old and die is a good first step to developing a compassionate consciousness.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Acknowledgment

I see bad conversational skills everywhere. There is a developing culture of talking and not listening. Does this come from absorption with devices which do not always talk back, unless dictating right or left turns to a driver? Does it come from the rap (rant) culture of popular music and poetry? Or perhaps it comes from the anonymous commentaries on Web sites, which enable a person to speak without having to acknowledge counterpoint to their comments. 

Good manners dictate acknowledging a speaker when spoken to. A glassy-eyed stare in response to being addressed by anyone is traditionally an indication of stupidity or mental defect. Not simply acknowledging the speech of another is devaluing of that person as a person worthy of a response. 

We live in an era of award ceremonies for every mundane human activity. However, human beings in public spaces increasingly refuse to reward one another with a listening ear, a simple expression of acknowledgment or an engaging smile. There is no basis for calling myself a practicing humanist if I do not engage in human interaction and in my environment. If I cannot respectfully acknowledge the approach or speech of another person, I cannot engage in the process of doing good in the world.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Mortality

The bedrock of my humanist practice is the intentional ongoing consciousness of my common mortality with all living things. From dealing with pesky insects in my home to responding to a hostile madman on the subway, the application of that consciousness guides my actions and decisions. What need do I have for some made-up divinity to make right action obvious? By accepting my own mortality and commonality with all life in everything I do or say, I am always aware of what right action is, whether or not I make the grade in actually applying that understanding.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Simplicity

Getting simple in a materialistic, capitalist society is not simple. Capitalism complicates life in order to generate consumer demand by inspiring consumer need through advertising. Growth in capitalism depends on human overpopulation as well as human preoccupation with life's complications. "User-friendly" is really a cynical joke. Getting people to be "users" of the latest technology or gimmick, like craven junkies, is not a human-friendly thing to do.

Practicing simplicity starts with mental clarity. Mental clarity begins with learning my own mind. Learning my own mind begins with reflection, meditation and concentration. Due to the basic hierarchy of animal need, mental clarity can only be approached after general physical health is a daily practice. This requires proper nutrition, proper exercise and proper rest. Again, simplicity is not always simple, when beginning with a body and mind which are unhealthy due to bad habits.

External life for most people does not resemble a Zen garden. However, the internal life of the person who practices is tended like a Zen garden.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Dignity

Dignity does not originate in who or what you are in life. Dignity originates in how you are in your life. It is not snobbery. It is not ostentation.

There is no dignity in poverty or wealth. There is no such thing as genetic dignity. Dignity does not come with a luxury car, world travel or a big house.

Developing dignity as a characteristic comes with self-knowledge and self-development. Confronting and living the truth of my own life while bearing it with humility and acceptance has helped me to remain dignified under many forms of duress. 

The self-centered and thoughtless have no dignity, no matter how successful or materially powerful they may become. A simple survey of many of the powerful in Washington will quickly support that supposition. Dignity is not an affectation. It can be seen in the eyes and manners of those who have it. Its absence is also readily observable.

Practice builds dignity. By focusing the mind on personal honesty and opening it to education, the most undignified person can attain dignity with commitment and effort. Walking through life in mindfulness and compassion promotes respect and self-respect in the practitioner. This is the basis of being a dignified human being.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Scope

What is the scope of your practice or application of values to daily life? In psychological circles, scope is often described in terms of limits and boundaries. A limit is the extent to which practice enables or tolerates the behaviors of others. A boundary is the definition of where an individual's personal space or needs or values confront the boundary of another person or group of people. A mature person has conscious limits and boundaries. A person with undeveloped identity, who operates on reflex from circumstance to circumstance,  has no conscious limits or boundaries.

The scope of my humanism is dependent on my limits and boundaries. Much of Buddhist teaching is about mastery of the mind and body entail instruction on developing limits and boundaries which promote freedom from desire and attachment. Understanding the scope of my abilities in the context of my humanist practice allows me to concentrate on those actions and thoughts which best promote and further develop  my mindfulness and compassion. 

The scope of my practice is challenging. It entails being my values to the best of my ability in my daily moments, consciously and intentionally. Having a clear sense of self enables me to be free to extend my compassion to others without fear that my own life will be overcome by the needs of others. The result is an extension of the scope of my practice in any given environment. Being able to say "no" as easily as saying "yes" when appropriate is essential to living a joyful and peaceful life. Surprisingly, the ability to say a confident "no" to myself and others when it is appropriate to the scope of my practice increases my ability to say "yes" in more situations.