Sunday, September 30, 2012

Home


I think securing a home concept is essential for any person who aspires to having a personal practice. The home environment can be a small room or perhaps part of a larger room, shared with another. The concept of home, bolstered by Internet browsers, implies a center, a safe base, to which I can return for reflection, creative pursuits and rest. 


Advanced practitioners of self-development can be at home anywhere. The itinerant guru of history is an example. Living in caves or meditating under trees. The developed practitioner carries home within. 

Those of us who live in urban environments in the 21st century face different challenges. Providing ourselves with housing is an arduous pursuit unless we are wealthy. Those with little money must share living quarters with others, sometimes strangers. Some more technologically minded people seem to find a home on a smart phone screen or a laptop. Sitting in a Starbucks for some is as much home as anywhere else, as long as they have their interactive machine in hand. 

The intention of being "at home" in the mind is key. This comes with personal honesty, internal and external. The "at home" mind has large windows and open doors. Working from a place of safety, I can practice this form of candid self-development and interaction with my environment. That place of safety, that home of the mind, is built with practice and is essential for the advancement of practice. 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Sustenance


Most of us immediately think of food when the word "sustenance" comes up. However, I have found that true sustenance comes from a daily practice which builds stamina. This is the sustenance which sustains the mind when the body is infirm. This is the sustenance which sustains personal morale under duress. 


A bag of potato chips can sometimes act as a quick fix for feelings of hunger and deprivation. However, that will not sustain the mind and body in prolonged periods of difficulty. Drugs can bring periodic relief from disease, but they may become ineffective or unavailable. Change inevitably erodes the predictable. What can sustain me when change melts away my usual defenses? 

I advocate humanist practice as a form of sustenance. Developing my mind and body during periods when I have energy and health sustains me when I am fatigued or ill. My humanist perspective enables me to access science whenever I need new information for my practice. I have taken ownership of my mind and body. They comprise what I consider to be my human being and becoming. Learning how to sustain myself in the most difficult of times has given me great peace and joy. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

Building

The United States was once a nation of builders. No longer. My father's generation were perhaps the last of the American independent builders. My own father, a veteran of World War II, built our family home with his own hands during the daylight  hours while working night shifts as a policeman in the early 1950s. He had earlier taken a second job for a year as a carpenter's helper to learn the trades on construction sites. There were no Youtube videos to show him what to do. Some of his friends did the same thing. It was a way to exit poverty and enter the middle class.

My easiest connections with other people over the years have occurred with the children of builders and manual laborers. We understand the value of labor. We know what it takes to raise a plumb wall or plumb a sink. We know the difference between a joist and a plank. There is a language and culture of building and maintaining. This culture is being lost in the wider American cultural soup. It has become devalued by the covert exploitation of immigrant labor. It has been corrupted by the greed and exclusivity of union labor.

There are many D.I.Y. shows on television, but I seldom meet an urban person who knows how to handle a hammer or screwdriver. Labor has become a vicarious pleasure of snack-munchers in home theaters, constructed by "the help". Virtual labor produces imaginary expertise and product.

Part of my own humanist practice is curiosity: How are things made? How are things fixed? How can I repair something that is broken? The careful accomplishment of small tasks in my home is tremendously rewarding, both financially and psychologically. This is part of being engaged with my environment in a creative and constructive way. Helping others to do small projects is an extension of that process. The bond of working together at manual labor trumps many social barriers.

A consumer culture is destructive to the environment, as we have seen fully in the past decades in the U.S.. Big cars, electronic toys, stores and homes jammed with junk. Home owners mortgaged themselves into bankruptcy to buy things. Rather than building equity or their own environments, they sacrificed their financial security at the altar of consumerism, the actual American religion.

Any personal practice must be built, not bought. Buying expensive yoga mats for trendy classes in chic studios is not an effective way to personal practice. Taking fifteen minutes a day in a quiet room to meditate lays a foundation on which to build a personal practice. Understanding how to build things helps build any practice. First, the foundation. Then the skeleton. Then the external manifestations. It takes years to intentionally build the foundation of a personal practice. Maintaining it conscientiously, like maintaining any structure, is a never-ending process.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Center

Skeptics who encounter my blog or other discussions of individual practice may consider such pursuits self-centered. They would be correct, of course, but may be missing the point of this form of self-centered behavior. Individual practice based in humanist values and ideals is self-centered for the purpose of becoming an active nucleus of those values in everyday life. My humanist practice is self-centered but also interactive with my environment. 


The point here is to develop the self for the promotion of promoting health, peace and joy in the environment.  There is no dogma to sell. There are no commandments to tout. There is simply the goal of sharing personal well being of mind and body with the environment from moment to moment. 


Finding the center of my own being has taken many years of intentional practice in a wide variety of experiences, joyful and painful. Carrying the awareness of my center through my daily life allows me to practice patience and compassion to the best of my ability. This is not a tranquil and easy way of life. It is a life of self-doubt and challenging changes. It is very different from a life of selfishness and narcissism. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Opportunism


The natural tendency of all animals leans toward opportunism. It is part of the drive to survive. Modern human beings have packaged opportunism in various forms. Competition, entrepreneurship and market niche are all ideas based on opportunism.


As intelligent and mindful human beings, we have the ability to make choices between the opportunistic and humanistic. The two are rarely harmonious. Opportunism has gotten us to where we are: An overpopulated species on a degraded planet. Humanism offers a way of living that is based on equanimity, justice and science-supported cooperation. These ideals are frequently at odds with individualism, hedonism and competition, which are based in opportunism.

Opportunism will not provide all human beings with basic human rights to food, shelter and decent work, despite the Libertarian-Ayn-Rand-ian claims that it will. Opportunism is the baseline process of survival of the fittest, the Social Darwinist ideal. The Tea Party is really the Me Party.

Discarding opportunist thought and action takes courage in a capitalist world. The Donald Trumps of the world mean you harm if you get in their way. This is their chosen opportunistic path. Choosing to defend the defenseless, to aid the needy and to include the voiceless is part of a humanist value system, as I see it. This often closes opportunities for personal gain to the person who chooses this path. The corporate non-profit creates an illusion of win-win philanthropy, while those who run these organizations line their pockets and live exorbitant lifestyles. This is not the humanist way of equality and universal justice. This is simply business as usual, wrapped in sentimentality and slick advertising.

My humanist practice is difficult. I do not thrive on pain or arduous self-deprivation. However, I do believe that I must choose fairness over selfishness in daily choices. This is not the popular way of my American environment.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Worry

Why do I worry? I admit to worrying over certain details of daily life. I have been able to catch myself doing this as a result of my practice. Usually I become aware of worrying during my daily meditation period. I then work at putting the worry aside in favor of positive thought and action.

I am mortal. I do not have to worry about anything I am going through lasting forever. This thought encourages me in the darkest times. Nothing I do is really monumental. Even the deeds and pronouncements of great human beings fade with time. My narcissism makes my life seem too important, too serious. Putting aside my narcissism for the perspective of one simple life in a vast Universe helps me overcome my anxiety and worry. 

Keeping my feet on the ground and my head on my shoulders keeps worry at bay. If I focus my mind on what is truly important in my daily life, worry often evaporates. Relinquishing illusions of control outside my own mind and body helps me. Being fully mortal and vulnerable releases me from worrying about those things which are out of my control. This frees me to focus on those things which are in my control to live a better life. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Evaluation

I am currently evaluating this blog's value in my humanist practice. This is a regular process, part of my general process of continuing functional behaviors and changing the dysfunctional.  This evaluating isn't always easy work.

I fight the urge to make writing this blog a discipline in itself. Yes, it does require some discipline to start my days with an essay that has somewhat proper spelling and coherence. That discipline is the same motivating force that gets me to my exercise mat every morning before breakfast. However, unlike my stretches on my bedroom floor, writing this blog has less concrete goals and results. 

My evaluation of this blog requires my examination of my practice, its motives and its efficacy in my life. Is the blog honest? Am I using the blog as podium or mirror? Does the blog enhance my understanding of myself and my values? Doing this in public is both risky and rewarding. 

My evaluation will take a while. It may entail experimentation with the blog's format or content to test it. It may simply entail looking more critically from day to day at my own entries. In any case, doing this evaluation is being true to my own commitment to practice, the daily process of self-development and living humanist values. 


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Stillness

Today I seek stillness. A variety of physical problems have coincided to deprive me of restful sleep. My body is out of harmony with my mind. This is my definition of hell. So, I seek stillness, the stream of calm detachment which allows me to renew my practice and adjust to today's reality.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Giving


Equating giving with money is an unfortunate trend in American culture. The corporate non-profit has made a business out of generosity. Generosity is not a business. Generosity at its best is a quality of human intellect placed in action on a moment-by-moment basis by the individual. 


Rudeness and aggression are becoming the currency of routine urban interactions. Passengers push past each other at subway doors. Customers routinely cut into lines at check-outs. Eye contact and verbal acknowledgment between strangers is becoming rare. These are symptoms of a sick society. 

Evangelical religion has become a powerful force in American culture, but its influence has not been felt in positive ways on the street. It seems the nihilism of Communist China has a greater influence through its control of money and commerce. The fabric of American society is torn. There is no positive civic identity. 

Giving in this environment can require some courage. It often entails setting an example at the door of a subway car by creating a physical dam against the flood of rushing people to allow a handicapped or elderly person the exit the car. It means opening the door for someone who seems encumbered in some way. It means paying attention on an urban sidewalk and offering help to someone who appears confused or lost. 

In ongoing personal relationships, giving often entails silence. Listening without comment can be a form of giving. Swallowing initial defensiveness or anger to allow someone to explain their behavior or speech can be a form of giving. Accepting criticism is a form of giving. Offering honesty, however unpleasant, is also a form of giving at times. 

Compassion is an acquired skill as well as a humanist value. It develops with routine generosity and attention to the lives of others. Humanist practice, as I perceive it, is the acquiring of the skills of thoughtfulness and compassion. Being a gift to my environment is the best I can do to improve it.  

Friday, September 21, 2012

Peace

What is peace to you? I think most people would agree that peace entails an absence of fear and violence. Fear, of course, is very subjective. Some people fear German Shepherd dogs. Others fear spiders and snakes. Some people fear poverty. Others fear dentists.

Violence is another matter. No sane person wishes to be the victim of violence. I am defining violence as physical or psychological harm caused by the aggression and intention of another or oneself. 

My humanist practice can enable a great deal of control over my fears. I can identify my fears. I can confront them. I can practically desensitize myself to them. Gradually this process brings personal peace of mind. 

My violence is certainly within my personal control as well. I can simply practice nonviolence in word and deed. Violence by others against me is not within my control. However, I can practice means to attempt to neutralize that violence. Some people choose martial arts for this purpose. Others buy a gun. My practice is to walk away from threats of violence. I am capable of defending myself against violent acts to a point. If someone chooses to shoot me, there is little I can do. 

Peace is a central aspiration of my humanism. Internal peace and external peace. I have spent decades addressing my personal fears, some irrational and some rational. This has brought me a great deal of internal peace. I have worked as a nurse on psychiatric wards for violent patients. There I have learned ways to diffuse violence and defend against it. All this has been part of my evolving personal practice. However, I realize that peace within my mind does not guarantee control of my environment. I may influence my environment in a peace-promoting way, but the burden of creating peace falls on everyone. Until that burden is carried by all human beings, we will not have universal peace.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Appointments


Part of being older and having medical conditions is making appointments with physicians. This week I have three medical appointments. This makes scheduling demanding at times.


So, I must go to the subway shortly to get to one of these appointments. While I am appreciative of the science and government-sponsored research that has made my life longer by decades, I am equally conflicted at times about the effect this dependence on medical care has had on my life. I have had to identify as "sick" to survive. I don't feel "sick", but must maintain a daily consciousness of my body's fight against present disease. This entails pills and appointments.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Politics

Politics, as they are pursued in the United States, are a refined distillation of war. They are a counterproductive pursuit. They stand in the way of the business of being intelligently human, especially when they are driven by religion and money.

Mr. Romney's recent exposure as an elitist bubble-boy illustrates the lack of real progress in political evolution from bullying feudal aristocracy to American republicanism. The haves still rule the have-nots. Mr. Romney's opinion that those who utilize pubic entitlements, based in legislation, are freeloaders is an aristocratic view. It is based in the assumption that he and other aristocrats, less dependent on public entitlements due to hereditary benefits, simple good luck and an army of tax lawyers, are somehow endowed with godly wisdom. 

I have lived with chronic disease for decades. I do not come from a wealthy background. For many years, I lived one paycheck away from financial insolvency. I was a nurse, doing hard labor for society on nights and weekends. During much of my career, the money I was paid was barely enough to live independently and moderately in an expensive city. Subsequent to becoming too ill to work full time, I have used public entitlements, into which I paid for many years as a taxpayer. I am not a freeloader, Mr. Romney.

Politics are an amusing game for those with the financial security to find them so. The rest of us find politics disturbing and enraging. I have a vision of a peaceful and prosperous world for everyone. Politics are not based on this vision. Politics are based in conflict, competition and winning. As long as government is political in the current manner, it will not meet the needs of all the people. The Libertarian alternative is even more antisocial. The Soviet alternative was an abysmal failure. The Chinese Communist alternative falls far short of a universally fair and just society. 

Universal peace and joy for an overpopulated human species may well be impossible. This is discouraging for me as a humanist. I do not think politics will be the path to universal peace and joy. I do believe that individuals can achieve peace and joy in their lives. The balance between a practice which pursues individual peace and joy and the path of being an engaged and responsible citizen of society has been a great challenge throughout the ages. As a humanist, I strive for some balance between these two paths. But my humanist practice takes priority over complying with the path of the society as a whole, when it is driven by the dominating privileged. 

 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Motion

I was lying on my back under the skylight this morning while doing my stretches. I looked up and saw puffy clouds against a cerulean sky. Beyond the low clouds, a jet's wake ran straight across the sky like two neat parallel chalk marks. The jet's wake moved, and the clouds were moving at a different pace. I realized that I was also moving, rolling with the Earth's rotation. It was a breathtaking realization. I felt a little dizzy.

My mind can become quite linear without adequate discipline. I can operate on a Point-A-to-Point-B premise all too routinely with calendars and lists. I became more so after I had cancer ten years ago. Trudging through that challenge required a certain robotic compliance and regularity to survive.

I am coming out of a similar period now. Not cancer this time. This time I was renovating my house in preparation for the sharing of my domestic life with my partner of nine years. It's done, more or less. Peter has arrived with Francine and K.D., his two cats. The boxes are emptying. The dust is settling. The daily inconveniences and accelerating costs have ebbed.

It's time to adjust my linear thinking again. It's time to look around, walk in widening circles. Motion outside the straight line of aspirations and goals opens my mind to wonder and joy. It is time to venture into the unpredictable. This is motion less inhibited by gravity. I think it helps my practice immensely by keeping me fresh.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Time

Time runs through our hands like sand.  Each second is a priceless, irretrievable grain.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Morning

Photo: www.edwardtufte.com
Morning light affects me in a special way. The dappled light on my kitchen blind draws my attention. The wind's shadow play, executed with the leaves of the walnut tree.

This morning I am not alone. Peter and the two cats live here now. They lounge on the chairs in the bay window when I come downstairs. All is quiet. It is Sunday. They partying neighbors of last night are snug under their covers. It is our morning of peaceful appreciation.

My age makes me aware I am living my remaining life. There is an exit ahead. Each morning is relished as a beginning, a reminder of what it means to be young in a new life. Now I am not young. My time is precious. Beginning my day properly with exercise, a proper breakfast and some planning is key to my practice. Writing this blog follows and propels me. 

I recall the large portions of of life when mornings were the ends of my night shifts. They were relief. The teasing dawn promised sleep, not a new day. My body ached with conflict as I trudged home to a curtained bedroom. I envied my fellow commuters their new day. Those times make me more appreciative of having mornings as my beginnings. I will not intentionally waste the gift.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Unity

Unity was once the key to human survival. Unity behind a leader or shaman. Unity in one religion, joined to a political-military structure. Unity in race. Us against them. 

"We are all one." is a hollow phrase in an age of materialistic narcissism, fueled by diminishing resources and overpopulation. "We are all one." works for the powerful and greedy. It sucks for the poor or the outsider.

I am not part of a one, other than the one body I am. I choose to aspire through action to be a thoughtful and generous participant in various communities of society. However, I do not do this to reap the benefits of belonging. My mindset is "What do I have to offer?"

Being an independent person is seen by the dependent as selfishness. There is nothing I can, or wish to, do about these misconceptions. Practice of mindfulness and compassion in this world is a lonely path. It is not better or worse for being so. It simply is so.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Patience

Patience comes with practice. Our basic animal nature drives us hormonally to satisfy our needs immediately and opportunistically. When our achievement of satiation is thwarted, we get anxious or angry. We sublimate or act out against the perceived obstacle to our comfort. 

Patience is an indicator of mature self-development. It is an element of compassion, since patient observation and listening is required to understand the suffering or joy of another from that person's perspective.Patience should not be confused with general passivity, which is more indicative of depression.

Being a peaceful and joyful humanist in a materialistic world requires a good amount of patience. Accepting the limits of an individual practice helps. Learning to practice listening more than speaking also helps. The greatest patience is the patience with the self. By learning to accept my own limitations and qualities without competitive comparisons to others I develop the skill of patience which I can extend to others and to life situations.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Fanaticism

Today in Liberal American media we hear excuses for the murderous fanaticism of those indoctrinated into Islam . I find this disgusting. Rami Khouri, a Muslim media person related to the American University of Beirut, has been trotted out to be the rationalizer-in-chief on American public radio. Khouri maintains that individual freedom of speech must yield to what he call "respect", as recognized in Muslim culture. This is laughable in light of current events. Where is the "respect" in Muslim culture for a country which has recently supported the human rights of Muslims against tyranny in the Muslim world?  It is not visible. It appears that the culture of devout Islam entails having things your own way or no way at all. This is the same narcissism of Roman Catholicism and Hasidic Judaism. It is fanaticism and should not be nurtured or tolerated in a secular nation's culture.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Pace

Developing a healthy pace in life is an essential part of practice. The overstimulated, under-gratified life of modern cities in the U.S. is simply unhealthy. Obesity and the high usage of psychotropic drugs by the general population are indicators. Of course, those who profit from bad food and prescription drugs have little incentive to change the pattern.

Proper sleep, proper nutrition and proper exercise must be incorporated into a daily life for health maintenance. A deficit in any of these areas has major repercussions on health. These repercussions are often slow to show themselves. This means that severe dysfunction can develop without notice, because of a gradual process of deterioration. This is one reason why cancers are often found too late for effective treatment. 

My body is ultimately all I possess in life. With its demise, I cease to be. Respect for this reality helps me to maintain my health with regularity. Pacing my life to ensure proper rest, exercise and nutrition is a central part of my day every day. There is no rational excuse for me to do otherwise.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Power

Human beings often delude themselves with assumptions of personal power which exceeds Nature. This is the basis of all shamanism or religiosity. Waking this morning to a crisp morning on the cusp of Summer and Autumn dissolves all delusions of power over Nature for me. My house, which has hummed for months with the sound of cherished air conditioners, was pleasantly chilly. My kitchen, with its wall of East windows, was dark. The ruckus of the neighborhood blue jays had a more urgent edge.

What is my power? Yes, I could have been a nuclear physicist, capable of incinerating the entire planet. Perhaps they are the true angry gods of humanity. But the ability to destroy is not the power to control or create. Some women feel powerful because they can "create life". Ask a woman with an adolescent child how powerful she feels. Donald Trump exudes a confidence in his personal power, but he cannot control his own mouth. 

Obsession with power over life's affairs or other people is a sign of fear. The dictator is a manipulative coward. History will bear me out on this. The power to live mindfully and compassionately within an individual life exists to the extent that the mind and body are healthy. Health ultimately is out of our control as we age. 

Surrendering to change with the daily intention to live a healthy life and to do good in society is a form of liberation which brings a sense of empowerment. That sense of empowerment is not power itself. That sense of empowerment is based in relinquishing control in favor of simple living. Opening the mind entails accepting powerlessness as well as accepting responsibility for positive change in my own life. This is one dichotomy of practice.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Fracture

I was happily eating a piece of toast yesterday when my tooth broke in two. This was not an unfamiliar occurrence. I had bad dental care as a child. My few natural teeth are riddled with fillings.The rest are pricey crowns. 

This most recent deterioration of my pearly whites was a reminder, albeit unwelcome, that I am a biological machine in the process of physiological decline. Not big news at 62, but a helpful reminder. 

The point of my practice is not immortality, unlike some religious practices. My practice aids me tremendously in dealing with the reality of aging. My tooth is fractured, but my life is as whole as it can be in the moment. This is the point of my practice.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Love

Love is not an emotion. It is a word with many meanings. Desperation, addiction, lust, adoration, infatuation...all of these words can be confused with the word "love". 

When I say "love", I mean "loving", a process of giving. 

For many, love is confused with getting affection or some other need met by a desirable object. For others, saying "I love you" is a convenient insincerity to maintain a needed relationship. Some think their loving is capable of eliciting loving in return from a desirable object. 

My understanding of loving is simple. Loving to me is the intentional behavior of offering myself fully with kindness, patience and generosity. I do not look to the world to harvest love for myself. I know that loving brings loving, just as respecting brings respecting. 

Peace is based in loving, not tolerance. Tolerance is a state of no commitment. It is the passive distancing between the self and another to simply avoid conflict. Tolerance has limits. Once the distance is closed, tolerance is tested and often fails. This has been the stimulus for war throughout the ages.

Loving dissolves unnecessary boundaries between human beings. Intentional loving is based in a strong sense of identity and personal security. Practice promotes the personal development which inspires loving through compassion. This is the loving of "what do I have to offer", as opposed to the neediness of "what can I get from this person". 

Loving in a healthy relationship between equal partners is an exchange of kindness, patience and generosity. Loving in many cases is not equal and is not an exchange. Loving as a humanist in many cases is a gift to another who may not initially be capable of loving in return due to anger, selfishness, prejudice or other factors. Persistence in loving overcomes many obstacles to peace. It is its own reward.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Meditation

I have had a stressful three months. Troops of contractors have rolled through my home. Things have been damaged. The noise was deafening during many days. I felt like an intruder in my own rooms. At one point, I hid in the basement, the only place where workmen were not busy. 

Meditation was my key to maintaining my relative calm and perseverance. Every day I secured a space where I meditated for 20-30 minutes. Sometimes it was my small carpeted attic under a low dormer. Those periods of meditation were remarkably revitalizing. It never failed. I came from those meditations with surplus energy for the rest of my day.

If you do not meditate or have never meditated, I recommend you try to start a regime of daily meditation for your health and mental well being. Give it one week. Every day find a quiet place, close your eyes and simply breathe deeply for 10-15 minutes. I find it best to do my meditation in the middle of the day. However, day workers may find it helpful before work or after work.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Here

Being here in the now isn't easy, especially in difficult situations. It requires exercise. Lifting weights is a good method for learning about the process of deep learning. The same weight feels heavier at first and lighter with practice. Gradually strength and stamina develop. Avoiding difficulties leads to weakness and poor stamina. By developing a daily practice, a repertoire of daily behaviors based in health and creating a peaceful environment, facing the now with full attention and compassion becomes easier.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Debate

I have had some contact with the more academic and intellectual practitioners of Humanism. That is with a capital "H". Readers of my blog may notice that I refer to humanism, with a small "h". The value of the academic realm is its provision of a forum for discussion and debate. The down side is commonly summed up by the saying, "Those who cannot do teach."

Practice isn't debatable. It is not simply an intellectual exercise. Practice is a daily process of getting up and trying again to live up to my own values as a humanist. Practice is looking at my own failings and trying harder. Practice is not carrying a banner or wearing a T-shirt for some abstract ideal. Practice is living my own ideals, based in generous mindfulness and compassion, on the ground with the people in my environment.

There are longstanding religious traditions of discussion and debate. Their point seems to be, "What will we all believe?" My humanist practice has no relevance to religion. It is my humanist practice. It is my process of self-development and interfacing with my environment every day. It is my life, my responsibility. 

A community of people who practice implementing their values individually is inevitably diverse and somewhat disorganized. It cannot be formed into a religion. Those who understand the value of personal practice understand that religion stifles personal development by imposing group-think dogma. Debating the fine points of prescribed dogma is a form of self-assuring masturbation. It is, in my opinion, a waste of time.

The world is a vast plain of suffering and need, overpopulated by human beings without medical care, education, proper shelter, proper nutrition. Humanists who are well-fed, well-housed, and well-educated cannot say they practice their humanism if they simply attend seminars and write checks. Humanism demands a certain responsible application of humanist values (peace, equality, environmentalism, etc) in everyday life. Unlike religion, it is not group-think or just group-action in line with dogma.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Compassion

Compassion and caring are not synonymous. Nor are compassion and empathy. Compassion is a developed mental practice. Caring stems from simple animal attention, based in personal survival. If I am a wildebeast in a herd, I may well care if the wildebeast next to me is being attacked by a lioness. As a human being, I have the mental capacity to empathize by superimposing my own identity on the identity of someone else. "Yes, I felt the same way when..." is an example.

Compassion entails an attempt to understand and accept the suffering of others as they experience and perceive it. Empathy alone cannot take a human mind there. Those of us who have spent our vocational lives tending the mentally and physically ill must develop compassion to be successful professional healers or caretakers. The range and depth of human suffering far exceeds the personal experience of one human being. The professional healer must put aside empathy at some point. He/she must simply listen and observe to understand the suffering of others in order to intervene. 

Try an experiment in a public place. Sit alone and observe passers-by. Do not try to interact with them. Simply watch with an attention to human suffering. The child with a leg brace. The elder with a walker. The heavily pregnant woman. Just observe and allow yourself to experience your inner reactions to what you observe. Distinguish between identifying with what you see and your feelings about what you see. This is the beginning of developing compassion. Consciousness of my own reactions when dealing with the suffering of others is a crucial element in my practice as a caregiver or healer. 

Humanism is based as much in compassion as it is in science, education and developed mindfulness. The humanist reaches out to the environment and tries to understand it. The humanist then tries to act responsibly to promote peace, joy and health in that environment. This is different from being an atheist or being religious. The weight of responsibility of the humanist is much greater. The humanist does not trust in a magical being to fix the environment, like a religious person. The humanist does not retreat into shoulder-shrugging narcissism, like some atheists. I see the humanist path as one of practicing daily self-development through mindfulness and compassion in action.


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Mouse-ery

My mouse just died. For a writer with big fingers, bad eyes and no typing skills this is a catastrophe. I have acquired a new mouse-keyboard. The letters are dim and the keyboard feels like pressing pudding. Another Microsoft rip-off. My Logitech desktop set lasted long enough for me to forget that I have been here before with a badly designed Microsoft product.

To spare any potential readers from my whining, I will curtail today's post. I will be rolling with this change. By tomorrow, I should be adjusted enough to tackle my Blogger composer.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Labor

Labor Day Parade, N.Y.C., 1882.
Today is Labor Day in the United States. In the current political climate in the U.S., Labor Day has renewed significance. This is a time of resurgence of a self-satisfied bourgeoisie, represented loudly by the Tea Party. The bourgeoisie have historically exploited laborers for profits in their own businesses and in the corporate businesses, in which they invest.

I heard a story about South Africa today on the radio. South African miners,who recently went on a strike, bashed down by government police who killed some of the miners, are being held accountable for the deaths of their coworkers under an old apartheid-era law. The government goons who did the killing have walked away without charges.

Human greed often trumps human wisdom. Laborers do the work which keeps a society civilized. When greed is allowed to trump human rights of laborers, the whole society suffers. When looking at the U.S. economy, that suffering becomes obvious.




Sunday, September 2, 2012

Meaning

I am fascinated with people who seek meaning or significance in everyday events. "Oh, did you see that? That means..." It is a form of fortune-telling for some. For others, it is a form of whistling in the dark to allay anxiety. Meaning is often associated with the divine, the mystical.

It seems to me that life is a chaotic affair. The most well-planned day turns to mushy pudding with just one turn of events. My own body deteriorates before my eyes despite all my preventative health measures. A glass slips from my hand after countless grasps of that same glass without an incident. 

I suppose my own humanist practice is a form of injecting some meaning into my individual existence. However, I am never fool enough to think that any meaning I may gather from it is anything but a puff of smoke in the wind. It is the process of seeking meaning which is sustaining. My kindness to another person has no sustained meaning, but my development of a habit of kindness every day means something important to me. It means I have the ability as a human being to change, to grow, to improve.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

NEED

Solid Gold Toilet
"I need a vacation!" This is a common statement. The question is: Do you really need a vacation or do you want change in your life? 

The confusion between want and need in modern society is due in part to the easy accessibility of goods. On the way to the market, I may think, "Oh, I also need potato chips." Well, no human being needs potato chips, but it is very easy to learn to want them. 

I find that sorting out my needs from my wants is a basic part of my practice every day. I just moved. I have had to go to stores far more often than I like. However, making a house a functional place requires cleaning supplies and hardware. Scores of my decisions have to be screened for need vs.want. It is never a wasted effort. 

Happiness lies in having basic needs satisfied in order to pursue education, meditation and maximum health. The pursuit of 'fun' is often an avoidance of misery. That is not what I consider happiness. The person who finds peace and joy in daily practice has no need of "fun". Practice is its own reward. Wanting beyond the basic needs of nutrition, shelter and financial independence is its own curse.