Friday, November 30, 2012

Lists

I am a maker of lists. Shopping lists, to-do lists, topic lists for this blog. I often have three lists going at a time for various projects, short-term and long-range. I find lists help me to get things accomplished in an organized and timely way.
 
Living my personal values entails having a list of those values embedded in my mind. How else would they be available for application in daily circumstances? Without a developed list of values, I think I would be making up my values as I go along. That isn't practice. That is living by reaction or opportunism.
 
There is a vast difference between dogma and a working list of values. Dogma is rigid, prescribed often by hierarchical authority. Its relevance is superimposed on the individual life. A working list of humanist values entails skepticism, education and constant revision. How can these values be honed without any idea of what they are in my own mind? The weight of developing my list of  humanist values lies within me.
 
Values which are prescribed and static have little relevance to the worldly lives of human beings. I must deal with real situations and emotions every moment of every day. Most of the Ten Commandments state the obvious for anyone with a conscience. But how do I make the obvious good of the human experience my own through asserting my own developed values in my life? For example, how do I maintain my value of nonviolence in a violent world, plagued by aggression and war?
 
My lists are a dynamic tool for making my way down my life's path. I cross things out. I add notes in the margins. I crumple them up and start over again when they are no longer relevant. My paper lists mirror my mental process of evaluation, education and change. My humanist practice is simply a work in perpetual progress with expected setbacks and restarts.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Matter

What really matters to you today...in this moment? Not what you want. Not what you think you need. What really matters?
 
Distinguishing what matters in my mind from my impulses or desires is a basic form of practice. This is value formation and maintenance. Learning to let what matters guide me in my daily life is a way of living my values. It sounds simple, but the discovery of what matters to me can be painful and arduous. I am sometimes confronted with serious conflicts between my ideals and my urges. Working this out is the job of practice.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Norquist

Grover Norquist by George Skidmore
Grover Norquist is famous for undermining the concept in the U.S. that maintaining a civilized society requires taxation. There is irony in Norquist's Swedish name and lineage.
 
Mr. Norquist, like the healthy who rail against universal health coverage, should disqualify himself from the debate on taxation and entitlements for those who need a leg up from government. Mr. Norquist was born to comparative wealth. He was raised in an economically gated community outside of Boston. He is white. He is ostensibly heterosexual. He is religious.
 
Mr. Norquist's fanaticism against taxation takes the form of bullying politicians with career assassination. He would call it lobbying. I doubt politicians see him as a benign advocate for tax limitation.
 
The Norquists of the world are boilerplate reactionaries, representing a threatened aristocracy. They must remove the silver spoons from their mouths to lecture the poor on pulling themselves up by their boot straps. They themselves have pulled little or no weight in their privileged lives. They cannot or will not understand the potholed roads traveled by the less fortunate. In fact, they resent fixing the actual roads that convey them in their new cars from pricey suburb to pricey urban center.
 
I do not know Mr. Norquist. I do not travel in his circles of elitism. Therefore, this is not a personal attack, but a realistic evaluation of what he does and stands for. He could not help being born into wealth, but he can help trying to shut the door to social security and free education to those who need it. His behavior, which I reasonably suspect reflects his beliefs, is antithetical to practical humanist values.  

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thought

Give the day to one positive thought. For example, " I have a choice of what I think and how I use it."  Keep your thought at the front of your awareness all day. Let it influence your actions. Observe how it affects your feelings in various situations. It is a simple mind experiment. If it creates some value in your life today, try another positive thought tomorrow. Develop a repertoire of positive thoughts. This simple exercise can open your mind to a new sense of self empowerment. It is is a useful part of my daily practice.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Children

Child soldiers in Africa represent the traditional cultural use of children as slaves or pawns by older generations. The more sophisticated method is compulsory military service in countries from Israel to Switzerland. Under the guise of teaching children useful skills, older generations impose their values on the young. They propagate violence, racism and avarice. These are not the fine values their religions pretend to represent, but they are the actual values which are transmitted.
 
Human beings are among the species which enslave their offspring. Ants and bees designate birth-specified roles to their offspring. Some large predatory species live in isolation after their brief rearing by the female parent. Elephants maintain a complex female-organized society which slowly incorporates the young with patient education.
 
The developed world has seen a quiet revolution in human child rearing. Voluntary military service is one product of this change. Holding religious perpetrators of child abuse accountable is another. In affluent circles, producing fewer children raised by older parents is a process which allows for greater creativity in child education. Children are treated and respected as individuals, not clones to be exploited for service, affection and loyalty. These children are more likely to be exposed to travel and diversity from a positive perspective.
 
The downside of the precocious and badly behaving child is outweighed by the liberated and less fearful mind of a growing human being who will shape the future of the species. I question if capitalism, which inevitably constructs and maintains pyramids of limited privilege supported by wide bases of poverty, will provide these liberated children in large enough numbers to avert disaster for the species as it overpopulates and wastes Earth's bounty.
 
The key to fostering the revolution in child development is the equitable provision of high-quality public education starting in preschool. The current trend to exploit children as consumers from an early age while cutting taxes which fund public education bodes badly. Riding an urban subway when schools are closing for the day will educate the uninitiated Libertarian to the results of this trend. It isn't pretty.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Facts

We live in an age of subjective equivocation. It is the Age of the Victim. While I think Mr. Romney, the former U.S. Presidential contender, expressed this concept poorly during the recent campaign, I do think he was on to something.
 
Equivocation can be a way to avoid responsibility or accountability. "Yes, but..." is a common childish defense when caught doing something antisocial or criminal. Understanding why someone does something is simply that. Understanding. It is not necessarily an excuse of responsibility.
 
It is perhaps the role of defense attorneys to link the sociopathic violence of drug dealers to generational poverty and even big historic phenomena, like slavery. However, the facts are plainer. Criminals choose to make money off human misery at great expense to society.
 
Seeking the facts of my own life can be a sobering activity in itself. What part have I played in my current life situation? How much of the good in my life is a matter of fortunate coincidence? How much of the unpleasantness of my life is my own doing? Am I taking proactive responsibility for things which could be made better in my life? What factual evidence backs up the answers to these questions?
 
Personal truth can be delusion, illusion or clear vision. It helps to remain skeptical about my own monologues about my personal history and my current situation in life. Are they mindless litanies, entrenched in old thinking about my life? Are they based in facts which have been tested with the more objective opinions of other people who look at my life and honestly share what they see?
 
The skepticism of the secular humanist, based in an understanding of scientific method, is best applied first to the humanist's own life. Tearing down the false gods of ego in the mind's temple is the first step to liberation. Proceeding into the light of factual truth is the first step to some form of enlightenment. No magic or shortcuts can get me there. It is a lifelong process of discovery, disappointment and joy. All it requires is the courage to practice it.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Emptiness

I find the concept of emptiness and the process of emptying very curative. I have gathered what I know of emptiness from the Zen tradition and from Physics. My experience of emptiness entails meditatively letting go of just about everything. Stripping myself of things, places and people in my mind. This goes beyond intellectual detachment, which tends to be a compromise between comfort and discomfort. Emptying means just that. What remains mentally and emotionally is nothing, a void...not even a vacuum.

I am left with a heartbeat, respiration and the weight of gravity on my body. This experience is momentary. Sustaining it for any appreciable time takes more practice than I have devoted to it. Zen Zazen is a method some may use. I prefer to remain kinetically functional between my momentary experiences of emptiness. Walking meditation and working meditation have always suited me. My scrawny butt is less suited to sitting.

Each experience of emptiness is a new beginning. By shedding layers of attachment, emotional baggage and habit, even for a moment at a time, brings sharp light of the true blank-slate nature of the now. The now becomes mine to shape without all the dents and dings of previous experience. By practicing my experience of momentary emptiness in good times and bad, I build a special kind of mental stamina. I become attuned to the changing nature of all things.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Materialism

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving Day in the U.S., is a holy day of obligation for materialists. They carry out bizarre rituals. They sit in parking lots in darkness to prepare for storming shopping malls and retail chains. They risk physical harm to vie for their merchandise. This isn't shopping for needs. This is religion.
 
Black Friday has been packaged with Thanksgiving Day, Hanukkah and Christmas by advertisers, who reap their high profits from plying the gullibility of the screen-entranced. The retailers, cast by government and media as the saviors of Western Civilization in their attempts to reverse the Great Recession, have come to believe they represent some worthy cause while exploiting poor workers, who have chosen substandard pay over unemployment.
 
The ethics which are at the core of humanism have been turned upside down by conforming materialists. They proudly compare retail stories on Facebook. They share links to their favorite sites for retail binging on line. They do not want to hear about growing poverty outside their doors. They do not want to hear about the civic responsibility of paying taxes to maintain a fair and just society.
 
Black Friday indeed! Black ink may be the color of retailer prosperity, but black is also the color of mourning. Mourning the loss of a truly ethical social focus in America is part of my humanist practice today.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S..
 
There is always something to appreciate on this day, no matter how difficult the circumstances may be in an individual life. Not 'giving thanks", but appreciating in a reflective way. "Giving thanks" implies some benevolent force within the Universe bestowing blessings on the chosen or deserving. I do not believe this is the way it all works from what I have seen of life in 62+ years.
 
The true benefit of being alive and human at any point is the ability to reflect on the now to improve the experience of the next now. No matter how difficult the now may be, as long as I can think, I can improve the following now. Sometimes I need help with this. Mostly I rely on practicing this very skill day by day, just like pumping iron, to build my mental stamina and resilience.
 
I have been extremely lucky in life in many ways. Lucky in my genetics. Lucky in my intelligence. Lucky in my teachers. Today I appreciate that good fortune.
 
Comparative do-gooders can sometimes grate my nerves when their good deeds are seasoned with a faint dose of superiority. "We will be helping the less fortunate." is a saying that rankles, because it often is said with a nuance that implies the "less fortunate' are somehow unable to help themselves without our enlightened actions. Those of us who cannot see the poorest person as capable of generosity, goodness and growth are actually the truly less fortunate.
 
I will enjoy the fellowship of my guests today in my home. I will appreciate my own ability to be hospitable and generous to them on this holiday. They will bring the great gift of good companionship on a short Autumn day. These are the simple values of being a humanist, as I see it. Setting the table for a peaceful and joyful shared moment. Cherishing it. Letting it pass. Taking the lessons of it into tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Holidays

The commercialization of holidays in the U.S. has corrupted the use of these assigned days for contemplation and healthy communication between intimates. Relentless indoctrination in all forms of media shifts the focus from being to buying.
 
The holiday concept is itself representative of the stress of modern life. Whether a person seeks to escape through travel or through shopping, the idea is still escape from everyday life. If your everyday life requires escape, you are in trouble.
 
Practice is a way to maintain appreciation and joy in everyday life. Practice requires no holidays. It enhances holidays as well as everydays. Humanist practice approaches each day as a special day for creating general well being and joy in person and environment through promoting health, generosity amd nonviolence.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Gaza

Gaza represents the reality of all racism and nationalism. Israeli racist apartheid and Islamic antisemitism reveal themselves in the violence over a minuscule piece of shoreline in the desert. Both sides are uncivilized in this conflict. They are the bullies in the schoolyard, acting out the conflicts of others.
 
I was disgusted yesterday as I listened to two "experts" on the Middle East as they salivated on National Public Radio. They were enthusiastically describing the situation on the Gaza border as though it were a boxing match. Consideration of individual civilian lives and general human suffering was totally lacking in their discussion.
 
The responsibility for racist violence resides in each individual. The soldier or paramilitary who engages in racist violence is responsible for that violence. "I was just following orders." has been dismissed since the horrors of the persecution of Jews, dissidents, homosexuals and gypies by the Nazis. A government which promotes violence should be resisted nonviolently by those who cherish humanity.
 
The day when no individual will take up a weapon to kill other human beings will be the day of true human liberation. Only then we will have peace.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Opinion

I write a blog which is all opinion all the time. The only truth I represent is my own. I am not branded by any political, religious or cultural loyalty for loyalty's sake. That is the business of patriots, fanatics and ethnocentrists.
 
I recently responded to a piece on a National Public Radio station. I wrote a measured comment on the station's Web site, stating my opinion on the matter at hand. My opinion ran against the majority of written opinions at the end of the written synopsis of the radio piece.
 
Since then, I have been relentlessly pursued by an angry member of the not-so-silent majority. If you have been in this position, you may know how it goes. The respondent was so personal and off-base in his/her reply to my post, I decided to reply. After two more retaliatory attacks on my attempts to dialogue, I let my virtual attacker know I was more than happy to defer to his/her wish to have the last word on the subject. I had no last word on the complex situation being discussed in the piece.
 
Opinion does not invite agreement in itself. This blog does not beg or invite agreement, for example. Opinion  invites dialogue in some situations. I happen to prefer dialogue which is more actual than virtual. Without dialogue or group discussion, opinion of the one is simply that. However, when I state an opinion frankly to invite dialogue as I did in this recent case, I do expect dialogue and not diatribe.
 
We swim in opinion on this medium. My personal Facebook homepage makes my head spin. Maybe that's just me. My stated opinion here is a functional part of my daily mental, creative and communicative practice. It is not intended as a podium. It is an open invitation into my thoughts and my practice. I try to be a gracious host to responses to my words. I am not looking for an argument, but I will post varied opinions on what I have written when they are offered. I reserve the right to not post responses which offend or are off-point.
 
I would encourage anyone who reads my opinions to spend time formulating his/her own. This is my greatest hope for this blog: That it may stimulate thought and action about values and practice in the reader.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Bread

Learn to make a perfect loaf of bread without any electric devices other than a stove. Then you will know what I mean by practice.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Cathedrals

Religious organizations have rushed to bring immigrants of their particular stripe into the United States with little regard for immigration law. Here in Boston, there has been a notable influx of Brazilians, Haitians and religious Muslims, who flock to churches and mosques. It may appear to the uneducated that this is pure philanthropy.
 
This is actually an ancient religious model to sustain clergy and wealth of the religious institution. The Roman Catholic cathedral in Europe, while now considered an art object, has been an enduring symbol of that religious paradigm. Aristocrats, colluding with the religious clergy, encouraged/forced impoverished peasants to flock to cathedral building sites during the non-harvesting seasons, where they were fed in exchange for backbreaking labor. By raping the land of its resources, aristocracy and Church used the threat of starvation as a tool to populate armies, quarries and scaffolds.
 
Now life in America, a promised land of supermarkets, welfare benefits and shopping malls, is the lure. In exchange, churches are filled and contributions made. Secularization of those who acculturate to the American Way over one or two generations creates a constant need for the religious to replenish the immigrant base of their congregations.
 
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, industrialists mimicked this religious model. They brought millions of laborers here to work in textile factories, mines and on railroads. These workers were fed little and paid a pittance. Then they were exploited by other industrialists as a market for manufactured goods. Few found the American Dream in their lifetimes.
 
We in the U.S. are in a new economy where labor supply far exceeds the demand in a country which produces too little and consumes too much. The new aristocrats, the techies, the bankers and the shareholders, have sponsored a government which has herded in a new influx of cheap and dispensable labor. They provide cheap food and domestic labor for a dwindling middle class who are now becoming redundant. They must be placated until they are outnumbered by a more easily manipulated and less educated voter base.
 
The great cathedral of a self-reliant and productive United States is rapidly becoming just one of many corporate high-rises across the planet, with the wealthy living in the penthouse and the rest of us scrambling for a place between the basement and the middle floors. Robots, cranes and computers are the new peasant workforce. The population below the penthouses is geometrically rising. Soon their consumption will no longer be a fuel of capitalism but will be a drain on what the wealthy will call 'society', which will be comprised of those with money and control of the robotic technology. The preview of this global trend is seen in the current global recession, as capitalism in an overpopulated and undereducated world grinds to its inevitable limits.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Body

Body awareness is the first step to integrating the mind and body into a daily practice for health and mental well being. Body awareness in this sense is not narcissistic obsession with looks or weight. Body awareness is keeping conscious track of body systems. What do I eat? What is the quality and quantity of my daily diet? Do I understand how my body processes and eliminates different kinds of food? How can I tell what kind of exercise my body needs? Is my posture healthy? Do I breathe correctly?
 
Unless I take responsible control of my own wellness, I cannot properly take responsible control of my recovery from disease or trauma when they inevitably occur. Wellness is a daily state which must be maintained, not taken for granted. In youth, it is all too easy to take wellness for granted. By middle age, this ends. If proper health habits are not established in early life, irretrievable losses already occur by middle age.
 
Body awareness can be aided by daily meditation in conjunction with a daily exercise regime. Meditation can integrate mind and body in healthy ways. By clearing the mind in meditation, the communication between mind and body can be simplified. After meditation, I often have a greater awareness of my body's stresses and needs. This enables me to adjust my practice accordingly.
 
Taking a healthy body for granted is a tremendous waste. If you currently enjoy good health, cherish that state. Do everything possible to enhance and appreciate that state every day. This area of daily personal practice yields the greatest rewards over a lifetime.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Planning

Planning is a human behavioral adaptation. Increasing lifespan, brain development and technology make planning a central life-extending and health-promoting skill. However, like any behavior, planning can become compulsive in an addictive sense. It can become a defense against reality. Defending against personal and physical reality is not adaptive. It is self-defeating in the long run.

I can plan compulsively all I want, but that will not change my genetic realities or fend off the inevitable happenstances of life. Conversely, I can live life as a free spirit and do no planning. This may make me a joyful person when life is good but it can lead to disaster when life is bad. The free spirit can lead a seismic existence, bouncing from good fortune to destitution. This has the net effect of making the free spirit actually feel like a slave to circumstance.

Being an obsessive-compulsive free spirit is a challenge, if not an impossibility. My own practice in life has brought me to this conundrum. How do I responsibly plan for the inevitable circumstances of disease, aging and death while living life with an open and flexible mind? Good question. No pat answer.

Planning must be part of the changing process of living day to day to be useful. Inflexibility is the enemy of creativity. Creativity, I strongly believe, is the keystone of mental and physical survival with ongoing growth through hardship. So I see my plans as exquisite sand castles along my way on life's beach. The tide may sweep them away. I may stomp them flat to begin again. In any case, I am the creator of the plans. I am the destroyer and the builder.

If routines and plans control me, I am no longer free. However, if my routines and plans serve my health and happiness, I am free, no matter how mundane my life may seem to others. Being the master of my plans means being able to start from scratch at a moment's notice. Life is full of momentary notices. It is best to plan for them.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Focus

Few people question their focus from day to day. Most live as victims of circumstance while dreaming of a better reality. Life provides any excuse I need to keep myself from pursuing progressive movement in my mind and my behavior.
 
Having a daily practice is a commitment. It is a commitment to myself to be proactive and creative with my own life. That commitment is up to me to maintain or betray in my daily thoughts and actions moment to moment.
 
Focus entails defining conscious intent. For instance, my focus today is the hosting of my dear friend from Canada, whom I have not seen for years. My daily activities will center on ensuring his comfortable arrival and settling in. While maintaining this focus, I will also be maintaining my daily routines for health and well being. This includes fulfilling domestic, financial and intellectual commitments.
 
Living a life in reaction to circumstances is what non-human animals must do. They live by their instincts in order to survive and reproduce. Being human comes with the unusual animal ability to imagine, to see beyond circumstance and to actualize those imaginings. In other words, the ability to intentionally become.
 
Practice is the development of this ability through daily decisions and actions. Humanist practice is the actualization of the noblest human values through daily thoughts and actions. Maintaining daily focus facilitates this actualization.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Education

I think organizational humanism should be focused on early education. I find it somewhat confusing that Humanism, the organized American movement, is seated largely in collegiate settings but does not vigorously explore volunteer opportunities in local public schools. Local public schools in most urban environments are struggling. The young minds in those schools will change the world of the future.
 
By volunteering as mentors to help children read better or do math better, humanists are doing the work of humanism. That access to young minds can allow humanists to introduce the idea of living humanist values of equality, peace and justice into those young minds by example. Living humanism is the best way of spreading humanism.
 
I heard a report about Boston public schools today on public radio. It was discouraging. Students of color, no longer the minority, are still facing barriers to quality education in this Athens of America, the home of many highly esteemed universities.
 
Humanist organizations now function as special interest groups, striving to serve the needs of contributing members. Most of these contributing members have relatively few material needs to be served by these organizations. Perhaps the greatest need of the privileged is to be motivated to serve the underprivileged in concrete, hands-on ways. Early education is one place where  this energy could and should be focused.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Writing

Some mornings I face the task of writing a coherent essay without enthusiasm. I have to face my own demons to get to the page. If I am tired from a poor night's sleep or aching from physical exertion, my mind works slowly. Words and ideas do not flow.
 
Part of having a daily practice is learning to be in the here and now. This entails acceptance of myself as I am in the moment. Sometimes it entails resignation. Forcing against my mental or physical state only leads to more frustration and less creativity. "Man up" and "cowboy up" are popular phrases that relate to this process. I do not find them helpful.
 
I have found that being caring for my own well being in these situations helps. Relaxing, rather than stiffening, allows me to shed anxiety and fear. Tapping my sense of humor about myself helps a great deal.
 
I write this blog as part of my personal humanist practice. It is a way for me to sound my own mind and body for its well being. It is a way of my asking myself daily if I am engaged and alive in a thoughtful and feeling way. Occasionally those thoughts and feelings are darkened by anxiety or fatigue. No matter. Understanding this helps me to accept my own full humanity. This fuels compassion and understanding when I encounter the full humanity of others.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Veterans


We have a public holiday in the U.S. which has been co-opted by the military from the pacifists. Veterans' Day was originally Armistice Day, a marking of the end of the gruesome carnage of World War I. That war, The War to End All Wars, killed 16.5 million people. That was nearly 1% of the total world population in 1914.
 
With a world population that has exploded since then, the deaths of hundreds of thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001 have bee met with a shrug in parts of the world which are not directly impacted by the violence. Militarism is flourishing in its new media packaging as "peace keeping" or "nation building". Reporters, once horrified and skeptical reporters of war, are now accessories in military actions, supported by their corporate bosses. They embed themselves with troops of various stripes. They tout their own casualties in terms of martyrdom. Few reporters objectively portray the human cost of the carnage they report. They focus on military casualties and the effect of large munitions on architecture.
 
As a humanist, I still mark November 11th as a day to reflect on the futility of war. I reflect on the lack of any control on guns and military equipment manufacture worldwide. I reflect on the fortunes made by men in suits on the explosives that kill the barefoot poor. I renew my personal commitment to nonviolence in my own life. I renew my commitment to promoting peaceful and joyful existence for all people through the personal practice of nonviolence.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Petraeus

General David Petraeus has been the face of the American military, as it justifies its violent enforcement of global corporate capitalism after September 11, 2001. He has become a media creation, like so many selected icons of the corporate capitalist globalization movement. He has been portrayed as a man of "Faith" at times. His wife, the daughter of a military general, has been given a high-profile government position. Nobody in the media challenged this appointment as another example of Washington nepotism. The Petraeus team seemed untouchable. Until now.
 
The lesson here is one of skepticism. War mongers have always tried to reframe themselves as compassionate peacemakers after they have done their nastiest business. Those who pose as moral icons in a military uniform are by definition hypocrites. Now we have a rather basic and human example of this in the Petraeus affair.
 
The overall hypocrisy is further exemplified by Petraeus' resignation as Director of the CIA. Is this iconic bravery? Shame over human sexuality is not an example of heroic personality or personal conviction. The rationalizations required to ruthlessly kill hundreds of thousands of people, the carnage Petraeus engaged in, does not produce a human being with sound personal ethics. This is not only common sense. It is sound scientific psychology.
 
Humanist practice entails turning my back on icons of hypocrisy and turning my face courageously upon my own hypocrisy. The hypocrisy of the famous does not justify my own hypocrisy, just as murder by men in uniform does not justify my own violence. Working on my truthfulness is what I must do to maintain my own truth as a human being. This appears to be something that Mr. Petraeus and others put aside the day they assume a uniform which represents killing in the name of politics, power and money.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Fatigue

Fatigue can creep up on the healthiest person. There is the simple fatigue which comes from being sick or not getting enough sleep. This is easily remedied with a couple of days of rest and good sleep. There are more difficult forms of fatigue. Chronic fatigue, the by-product of a chronic disease, may have no easy cure. It may require constant remedies of new routines and limited activity. Psychological fatigue is even trickier. It is often called "burn out". This can occur in a stressful job, a stressful relationship or a stressful general environment, like a war zone or a violent neighborhood.
 
The symptoms of fatigue are similar, despite different sources. Irritability, feeling like crying for no obvious reason, shutting down intellectually and/or socially. Untreated fatigue can worsen into immobilizing depression.
 
Contemporary urban life, as I see it, fosters fatigue. There is a social acceptance of working long hours and then partying wildly to maintain a social context. Regular alcohol consumption is socially acceptable. Using psychotropic drugs is considered commonplace.
 
I have had to deal with chronic fatigue for the last twenty years due to various disease conditions. During some of that time, I was working a high-pressure job in health care. I had to learn coping mechanisms to function. It was not easy.
 
Today I am very sensitive to my need to address fatigue in my daily life. It has become an integral part of my personal practice. My approach to addressing my fatigue is often misunderstood. Some people assume I am antisocial when I decline invitations. Others think I have surrendered to aging. "You're not that old!" is something I commonly hear when I try to explain that I need rest or cannot participate in an activity. It is a struggle at times to not equate my own fatigue with personal failure.
 
Accepting the reality of fatigue and learning to cope with it constructively is a passage of aging. This process requires sober acceptance of my mortality and physical limitations. This runs against the current media conditioning to remain forever youthful. There is little compassion in modern advertising, geared to inspire people of all ages to consume relentlessly.
 
The first step on the road to mindful living and compassionate living is applying mindful and compassionate reflection to my own situation. Attending to my own well being is essential to being a generous and caring human being.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Nor'easter

nor'easter blows hard
against chimney, wall, window
nude trees dance the wind

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Suicide

Watch "Suicide Tourist" here.
Here in Massachusetts a referendum to legalize physician-assisted suicide was defeated at the polls yesterday. This is an unfortunate denial of compassionate release from suffering for many terminally ill human beings. It verifies that the religious still maintain power over the lives of all citizens here in Massachusetts. The largely Catholic opposition to the referendum was well funded by national pro-life groups.
 
On the same Massachusetts ballot, voters chose to mandate that all car repair outlets have access to previously proprietary software to repair all makes of cars. Voters also chose to recommend legalizing medical use of marijuana. Interesting in juxtaposition.
 
I will grant that a relatively painless suicide can be achieved with adequate planning without the help of a doctor. But this was not the point of the battle from the pro-life position. Their point was based on their perceived divine right to control my body and my choices about my body. These are the same reactionaries who oppose gay marriage, oppose women's rights to choose and oppose sex education. And they've won another victory. Even here in Liberal Massachusetts.
 
Decisions about suicide, even remote decisions in a private voting booth, raise fear and loathing of death in a populace still lulled into denial of mortality by centuries of religious indoctrination. It was easy to mobilize that fear into yesterday's decision. The cost will not not become evident to a fairly large number of voters until they themselves inevitably confront terminal illness. Deny now; pay later. This has become the American way.
 
As a humanist and a human being, I reserve the right to responsibly maintain and to responsibly end my life according to my informed values. The majority have deprived me of a more humane avenue to deal with my terminal disease(s) when my ability to cope has become exhausted. The majority, prejudiced by religion and conformity, have often been less than compassionate to me as a gay man with HIV and cancer. Yesterday's vote does not come as a surprise, but it does come as a disappointment in the growing secular wisdom and skepticism of my fellow Massachusetts citizens.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Culture

Americans naively praise multiculturalism in broad, all-accepting terms. "It's all good." is a popular shrug among American youth. Political correctness dictates ignoring intentional stupidity, sexism and child abuse, associated with cultures in certain communities, by the reputedly erudite.
 
Anusha Zafar, a 15-year-old Pakistani girl, was burned to death with acid by her own mother in the name of her culture. Anusha looked at a young man in a way which enraged her parents. They felt she was destined to die because she soiled the family honor with an adolescent glance. This culture is currently being imported to North America, as evidenced by honor killing cases in Canada and the U.S..
 
Cultures can maim, exterminate and ostracize. Culture can poison young minds. Culture can assign the elderly to isolation and poverty. Culture can destroy an environment through mindless overpopulation and resistance to education, promoted by religious fanatics.
 
Being skeptical is key to being a humanist. Scientifically looking at all aspects of life is progressive. This includes examining culture, domestic and foreign. Humoring those who use culture as a shield for dysfunctional, violent or antisocial behavior is self-defeating. Humanism requires the strength and courage to sometimes say "No" loudly to injustice and ignorance.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Voting

I am very skeptical about the state of so-called democracy in the United States. I suspect that we are actually ruled by corporations, many of them multinationals. The legalization of corporate monetary domination of politics by the U.S. Supreme Court bolsters this suspicion.
 
This leaves me, as a citizen, some options. I can retreat into cynicism and refuse to participate in the political process. I can work for a candidate's election. I can support PACs which represent my values. If I opt out of the political process entirely, I surrender my right to bitch and moan about that process. It is like bitching and moaning about the weather. Why bother?
 
The rapid rise and decline of the Occupy movement says more about American apathy, enabled by the hypnosis caused by personal interactive media, than American opinion about the direction our politics. Twelve percent of our population may be living in extreme monetary poverty, but a large majority of our population are living with poverty of actual interactive community. Going to the mall to buy things is not community.
 
I continue to follow politics. I vote. I have chosen this option because I feel I cannot ethically claim to be trying to promote the general welfare of all human beings unless I utilize whatever mechanisms are available to me as an individual to do that. Government is absolutely necessary to promote general welfare in a post-industrial, overpopulated world. Anarchy is the stuff of prehistory, like banging on a rock with the denuded thigh bone of a mastadon.
 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Horizons

Thomas Park, South Boston
Part of my practice is walking daily. Yesterday I climbed Dorchester Heights, now part of South Boston, where Washington shot cannon at the British fleet. This forced them to evacuate Boston on March 17, 1776. It is a San Francisco-style hill. Streets lined with precariously stacked late-19th-century townhouses in neat rows.
 
As I reached the summit, capped with Thomas Park, a 360-degree view revealed itself. Horizons in all directions. Ocean, cityscape, distant hills. Horizons invite.
 
Walking is a meditative experience for me. Yesterday reminded me that life always offers a new horizon to be chosen. Sometimes, I must turn fully around and change my direction to find the horizon which will lead me to new discovery. Linear thinking leaves me with just one horizon, like a train track with no switches. This imprisons my mind.
 
I would like my mind to be like the crest of a tall hill. I would like it to always offer horizons on all sides. This is openness. This is flexibility, This is skeptical inquiry. This is creativity.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Legacy

I have always been mystified by the fantasy of heterosexuals that having children somehow insures their immortality. Do we see the pigs we raise for pork as immortal because they have litters? Is a snake immortal because it lays hundreds of eggs which eventually become genetic descendants? No. The immortality myth attached to human reproduction is just another example of fear of death and the denial that we are simply mammals within a necessary and vast ecology of life.
 
Part of my consternation about all this obsession with legacy comes from my innate homosexual nature, far removed from any impulses to reproduce a mini-me. The maintenance of household pets as objects of anthropomorphizing parenting is also something that has little appeal to me. I strongly believe this is a genetic program within my hormonal and cerebral systems, bolstered by my developmental environment.
 
I do not expect that reproducing heterosexuals have any easy control over their parenting drives. As a gay man, who sexuality is not reproductive, I figure having the urge to reproduce attached to a person's sex drive is a very strong life motivator, unless the person takes intentional and difficult steps to resist this genetic and environmental programming. Social pressures from others with similar sexual programming must complicate and intensify this life state. I have compassion for those who struggle with these issues.
 
Last evening, I attended the book debut of Chris Stedman's Fatheist at Harvard University. Chris read from his memoir for us. It occurred to me during his reading that I was experiencing the pull of wanting my legacy as a gay man of the Gay Liberation era to go on in this fine young man. His work and general personhood represent a wonderful example of what I consider humanist practice in action.
 
There is so much more to Chris than carrying on a legacy of liberating the LGBT community from homophobic self-oppression. He is his own truthful person. I hope he will go on to create new ideas for the progression of humanist values in society. Those ideas, while built on his knowledge of a history which I lived, will be his own. Valuing those, whether or not I agree with them, is part of valuing Chris as a unique human being, not a faithful reproduction of me or anyone else. Legacy is less important than the creativity of the individual with what he/she learns from history.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Credit

I have the misfortune of being assigned the phone number which once belonged to a deadbeat. A deadbeat, despite the new reframing of financial responsibility since the mortgage crisis of the last 5 years, is someone who takes on financial responsibility to someone who lends him/her money and simply does not pay it back. I would be ignorant of the irresponsibility of the previous owner of my phone number from Comcast Cable if she weren't being ruthlessly pursued by an army of debt collectors. Well, actually I am being ruthlessly pursued by these indiscriminate sharks by way of endless harrassing robo-calls.

I have called back the half-dozen agencies which harrass me. I have explained that Roseanna doesn't live here and used to have my number, but no longer does. Each has promised not to bother me again. Each has passed on my number to another agency or agent within that agency. One robo-call had the nerve to tell me to hang up my own phone if I am not Roseanna because listening to their message would invade her privacy! Elizabeth Warren's senatorial campaign even called looking for Roseanna.

I imagine Roseanna lounging on a Caribbean beach with new hair color and a boy toy. That's just how my mind works. In any case, these calls bolster my belief that not participating in the credit economy is the practical humanist way to go.

I use a card for my routine purchases. I've chosen one which yields a miniscule donation to a cause I support, despite my loathing of exploitation of non-profit corporatism. I pay my balance each month. I am sure this displeases the credit card company. If storefront banking were more convenient and violent crime less common, I would use cash. I roll with the realities in my environment.

Part of my personal practice has entailed attempting to avoid any form of debt since I was an adolescent. I had parents who constantly maintained that I was indebted to them for my existence and anything I make of it. Since I was quite an unhappy child and adolescent, I often wished I could somehow return or exchange the great gift of life they had provided. I became quite adamantly independent financially. This bothered them no end, even though they were not forthcoming with an alternative financial plan. They too were very independent financially and followed their budgets rigorously to actualize their own desires, which included a vacation home and a plush retirement which included foreign travel.

Learning to live within my means and to earn whatever I needed to actualize my own plans was a tremendous task. I left home at twenty with nothing more than I managed to save throughout my education. It was not enough to last me more than a couple of months. I lived in cheap boarding houses in rundown neighborhoods. I ate from cans. But I eventually leanred how to land a job and make enough money to get by. I refused to borrow money from anyone.

Later in life I had a student loan and several mortgages. I can truly say I didn't sleep as well when I had these debts. I played the mortgage system to get to the point where I would not need one. I did not enjoy the process. I have little respect for banks and so-called "free market" capitalism. It is a complex mess of schemes and rip offs, in my opinion.

"Neither a borrower nor a lender be." Shakespearean wisdom from Hamlet which I have always appreciated.  If more of us practiced this form of financial responsibility as well as possible in the world as it exists, society would drastically change. I believe it would change for the better.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Break

I need a break. I have been setting up house since June. My good fortune in being able to live in a house with Peter is accompanied with many responsibilities and endless details to be attended to before I can collapse on a sofa with a good book for an afternoon. That day of leisure is in sight, but not here yet.
 
The break I need is more internal than external. While I am determined in my daily routines to maintain my mental and physical health, I am 62 and a survivor of some challenges to my health. Determination at times can be unhealthy. It can morph into pig-headed stubbornness.
 
So I am moderating my own determination. Not easy for this obsessive-compulsive, Type-A person, I admit. As I closed the door on the two service men from Lowes who were here to correct an issue with my new refrigerator this early AM, I realized I envied their structured life a bit. One refrigerator or dishwasher at a time. Concrete and somewhat predictably handled with screwdriver and Allen wrench. And they are getting paid.
 
My determination will be blended with more deep breathing today. I will remember to look at the colors of the Autumn leaves. When I am doing the two chores I have on my agenda today, I will allow myself some peripheral distraction. I can determine this less determined approach to my practice today.