Monday, December 31, 2012


There is an ancient heritage of free thought and skepticism which runs throughout human history throughout human cultures worldwide. On this last day of 2012, I would like to offer a video which I posted yesterday on my personal Facebook page. For those of you who are Facebook friends and blog readers, I apologize for repetition. However, I feel this clip is worth posting again. This is a tiny, but moving, piece of that heritage of free thought and human goodness.My best wishes to all who read this today for a happy and healthy 2013.

Sunday, December 30, 2012


There is a tendency in this media-overstimulated environment for people to consider sitting in front of a screen as rest. This is not rest for the mind. 

I am not a Luddite. I subscribe to video services, where I find too many things to watch. I obviously write on line and do my own HTML when necessary. I do all the illustrations I draw for this blog on my computer. 

But rest is rest. I take twenty-five minutes every afternoon to do a restful meditation. It is irrelevant that I do this after lunch. It can be done at any time of day or evening or night, for those who work an alternative schedule. What is highly relevant is that I do it daily as part of my practice.

I cannot put into words the depth of well being that has come from these daily restful meditations. It is remarkable. As a scientific skeptic, I resisted meditation for decades in favor of other practices such as running, yoga and chanting. I was ignorant. Those activities do not utilize the brain in the same way as meditation. My friend Rick Heller has confirmed this for me by sharing his research into the neurophysiology of meditation. My partner has benefited from meditation for chronic pain after participating in a research study at a pain clinic. 

Work is work. Play is play. Rest is rest. Learning to diversify life's activities with moderation and regularity is part of growing into a daily practice. It is a choice for health and well being.

Saturday, December 29, 2012


Single Snow Crystal
We are expecting our first significant snow of this winter in Boston. This changes everything for me as a homeowner. Accommodations must be made to avoid slippery sidewalks and steps. The routines of everyday life are disrupted. This is the beauty of living in an environment with seasonal changes. It makes me think.

I know people who abhor winters. I do not. I have learned through some rigorous winter experiences that winters are tremendous teachers. They have shown me indisputably that I am indeed changing as I age. As I lift a shovel of snow, I can calibrate the change in my muscle strength. This does not frighten me. I shoveled snow when I was nearly dead from the lack of an immune system in the snowy winter of 1996. That was twelve years ago. I have been able to change and adjust since then. This realization fuels my optimism.

Snow is water in another form. I am a being whose form changes with the seasons and time. Watching the cycle of pristine whiteness to sooty slush to rivulets running down gutters in thaw every year is a worthwhile meditation. This is the process of new-to-old which pervades all natural phenomena, including my own single human life.

Friday, December 28, 2012


Learning to accept change in life comes when the questions of life become more important than the answers.

Thursday, December 27, 2012


I have a thing for symmetry. It is nearly pathological. I speculate that it has something to do with my poor vision. My right cornea is shaped like an egg. This adds distortion to my vision. Circles are ovals. My right eye sees curves where my left eye, the more accurate viewer, sees straight lines. 

Whatever the reason, a crooked picture on a wall drives me to distraction. I have a small level which I now use to hang pictures. Then I tape the bottom corners of the frame to the wall. 

Yesterday I bought an inexpensive area rug at Home Depot. I placed it on the floor and was suddenly thrown into an obsessive mania trying to make the rectangular rug somehow justify with the square space it occupied. I have learned to let a part of my mind watch myself when this happens. That part of mind usually says "Stop." when I am getting too absorbed in a symmetry situation. 

It did, and I did. Within a short period of time, my eyes adjusted to the placement of the rug I finally chose. I liked what I saw. On to other things.

Symmetry is just one of those things which both delight and torture me, depending on the circumstances. Knowing this gives me insight into how my mind works. This seems neurotic as I describe it here, but actually this is part of what I consider practice. Honestly paying attention to these foibles has acquainted me with myself over the years. By owning my eccentricities and working with them for a more practical peace with them, I develop new coping skills. This increases my sense of personal security and well being. When I feel secure and well, I am more likely to be mindful and compassion with others.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Control has become a national obsession after the child massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. Making schools armed camps has been one solution offered by the idiots who love their guns more than human life. It does not occur to them that inuring children to the presence of guns in schools from an early age just propagates the problem of gun violence. They would do well to read more about civilian life in war zones. Bosnia, for example. 

The only control I have as a human being is control over my own mind and my own body. And that control is not very impressive when I truthfully assess my proficiency at it. This realization is my impetus for my own personal practice. I know I am aging. I know I will eventually die. I know that the way to death through old age entails losing more proficiency at controlling my own mind and body. If I knowingly walk the path without an attempt to maintain my optimum functionality, then I am an idiot.

A society which embraces conformity cannot cope well when individuals who are dysfunctional or consciously rebellious refuse to follow the script. Individuals who cannot control themselves with socially appropriate behaviors due to mental illness frighten those who rely on superficial conformity for a sense of security. Fear in the face of the unpredictable is an unfortunate part of the human condition. Learning to accept that life is unpredictable while doing what I can do to control my own thoughts and behaviors is a theme of what I call practice. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012


Let's all take several moments of quiet today and think about a world without violence, poverty or ignorance.

Monday, December 24, 2012


Do you remember the childish anticipation of Christmas Eve? I do. It was seldom met with reality on Christmas morning. 

I've grown to see anticipation as something to be viewed skeptically. If I work for an hour or so to put together a sour cream coffeecake, for example, I can fall into anticipating its glorious depth of flavor, moistness and harmony with some espresso. The anticipation is part incentive for the often tedious parts of the mixing process, which I still do with an underpowered hand mixer. In recent months, I have managed to meet my anticipated goals with these cakes from time to time. But my anticipation was not met with delivered satisfaction as frequently as it was. 

I have consciously avoided anticipation as part of my practice whenever I catch myself wrapped up in it before some event or completion of a project. I realized some time ago that anticipation is somewhat passive in nature. If I am truly absorbed in the moments of doing something, creating something or assembling something, anticipation of a result is irrelevant. 

I have come to prefer a life free of anticipation or expectation. A life of doing, giving and being leaves little room for anticipating or expecting. Wouldn't this be a wonderful concept to teach children during the holidays?

Sunday, December 23, 2012


St. Francis of Assisi in Ecstacy by Carravagio

I am bombarded during this season with media presentations about Christmas. As a secular-thinking person from a Roman Catholic family, I often shake my head in wonder at the tremendous waste of great thought in the Catholic Church. It is sacrificed on the altar of dogma by narrow men with little vision beyond their own selfish needs for power and comfort. 

I think of former soldiers, like Francis of Assisi (who allegedly set up the first Christmas creche) and Ignatius of Loyola. Francis laid down arms and devoted his life to the poor. His historical persona indicates he understood his place on the planet as a fellow creature to other forms of life. This is a Buddha-like biography from 13th century Catholicism. And what happened to the zeal for humility preached by Francis? It was turned into a monastic corporation by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. 

Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, was severely traumatized in battle. Part of his recovery entailed his chosen seclusion in a cave, where he experienced hallucinations which he attributed to divine revelation. He was used by the Catholic Church's hierarchy to aggressively fight the 16th century Reformation with his preaching and writing. However, studying Ignatius reveals a sensitive man whose eyes were opened to the value of learning and the waste of war. 

In their respective periods, these were exceptional men. Both were engaged in struggles with the Roman hierarchy which tried to manipulate them to do the corporate dirty work of the Papacy. Rather than listening to them, the Roman hierarchy was intent upon exploiting them. This is the waste of organized religion. While it has served the purpose of carrying a certain amount of valuable knowledge through the centuries, it has cast out a much greater volume of wisdom. The Royal Library of Alexandria, after all, was perhaps first  destroyed by the Romans in the pre-Christian era and then by Muslims in the 7th century. The Roman penchant for domination and control is ancient. The Catholic Church simply kidnapped and carried on the tradition after the conversion of Emperor Constantine.

My objection to organized religion is not aimed at the religious. Most religious people are simply trying to build a mental sanctuary with pre-scientific tools. They rely on the instruction of preachers, priests, imams or rabbis to feel consoled in their normal human insecurity. The organs of organized religion, mechanized dogma machines driven by sinister men with selfish agendas, are the evil of organized religion. The waste of organized religion is the wealth of personal goodness of those who are misled by their dogmatic exploiters.

Saturday, December 22, 2012


For centuries, Christian Christmas was marked as a time for truces and peace talks. This Christmas in the U.S. is marked by the National Rifle Association trying to justify arming our elementary schools. 

The evil of violence corrupts the human mind. Fear of violence makes people violent in defensive posture. The physically abused as children become adult abusers.

True peace is not a standoff. True peace is the absence of threat or fear of violence. This is my sense of the very core of all humanist values. Without peace, the mind cannot grow to its full potential. It cannot open to the vast compassion and generosity of which the human mind is capable.

While many of us have glimpses of true personal peace when we develop our humanist practice, we are the privileged. The great majority of human beings lives in fear of violence and poverty. There is little peace to be found where there is ignorance and hunger. Isn't it our duty as the privileged to lead the way to universal peace through economic and social justice? Apparently, the NRA does not see it this way.

As a humanist, I will oppose any measures which will increase the potential for gun violence in my country. I will support those who work legislatively to stop gun escalation. And I will encourage all those who believe in humanist values to do the same loudly and clearly.

Friday, December 21, 2012


Casting light on my personal truth makes me vulnerable. If you put the lights on in a house on a dark day, people can see within unless you close your blinds. This image, living with open blinds with the lights on, suits my feelings about personal honesty as part of practice.

Turning the lights on also implies lighting the corners of my own mind and personality to my own honest scrutiny. Try shining a flashlight under your bed. This can be similar to shining a light on my own behaviors and how I may be perceived by others by asking them to give me honest feedback.

These are the lights I would encourage you to light in this season. They will bring the information which can fuel positive change in the new year. This information, when shared between people who are committed to peace and shared joy, is a great gift.

Thursday, December 20, 2012


Winter begins tomorrow in the Northern Hemisphere. Here in New England, we have already had cold nights, frost and a little snow. The issue of Winter is more an issue of sun light here.
Tomorrow is Winter Solstice. This is the mother of all religious and secular holidays of this season. In the Mayan calendar, according to some Cassandras, tomorrow is the last day of Earth's life.
I mark this low ebb of light every year with a mixture of thoughts and feelings. Unlike many people, I enjoy this low-light season. So, I mark the turnaround as a time to enjoy cozy late afternoons as darkness falls. I sleep in when possible in the dim morning light. I relish the feeling of being inside a warm house with the sound of cold wind whipping dead leaves at the windows. When I enjoy a string of Christmas lights along an urban fence, I think of my ancient ancestors huddling at a carefully tended fire in a vast winter landscape.
I have been cold in Winter. In my youth, with little money, I lived in a summer cottage on a wind-swept peninsula one Winter. There were visible spaces between the wallboards. I packed them with newspaper. The heat was an old oil stove in the kitchen. After dark, I scrambled up the tight staircase to the squat second floor rooms where the heat collected. The house's two cats stuck to me like Velcro.
I respect Winter as I respect the planet which has made me and has sustained me. This rare rock in cold Space is more than a place for parking lots and shopping malls. It is not divinely designated as the playground of one human species. Being in touch with the seasons and my place in them is an important part of my humanist consciousness.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


As I tried to avoid aggressive shopping carts yesterday at my local shopping center, I mused on the futility of the stressed shopping around me. Frowns and quizzical stares at various items marked many faces. Others, whose clothing and demeanor belied challenged finances, seemed close to tears at they looked at price tags.
The materialism of Christmas is one the world's greatest propaganda victories. It is wrapped in a thin foil of generosity and good will. Its reality is profits for retailers at the expense of quality of life for shoppers.
Home Depot provided me with a glaring example when I recently shopped for needed masonry supplies. I had to move half dozen dead conifers from in front of a shelf unit in the garden center in order to find the pavers I needed for my project. Dead conifers over six feet tall wrapped in plastic netting. I looked around and saw scores of similar dead trees stacked everywhere. These trees no longer helped us deal with climate change. They are likely to become part of the problem in the future if burned as trash or pellets for wood stoves.
The scarf or pair of socks as seasonal gift may indeed suit a practical need for an appreciative recipient. But the carriages full of hideous plastic toys I witnessed at Target are a ridiculous waste of time, money and natural resources. I was reminded of the many listings I visited when looking to buy a house. These houses were littered with plastic toys to the point of safety hazard. I thought, "What are these people trying to compensate for by distracting their children with all this junk?'
Generosity is different from tokenism. Any minority member will explain this to you. Generosity is a daily quality of personal practice or personal habit. Tokenism is the provision of some specific object/act as a symbol of generosity or reciprocity. Gifts are simply tokens. They do not prove anything. They are not evidence of real generosity. At best, they represent an aspiration to generosity.
Actual generosity is a communication, a relationship, a commitment. Too few moderns have the stomach for it apparently. The increasing wave of Libertarian thought among the more affluent supports this hypothesis. The push to privatize civic responsibility from collecting trash to providing mental health services is evidence of the power of money over the generosity of the citizenry with its time for civic oversight and willingness to pay taxes for the quality of general society. A gift plaque for a park bench simply is no substitute for an engaged citizenry which invests in its community on a regular basis.
A basic pillar of what I call humanism is generosity, as practiced in daily life. It has little to do with money. It requires no tokenism. It is as much a gift, in the sense of a benefit, to me as I hope it is to those with whom I live my daily life.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


How much of your life is a deception directed at the world?
A basic process within the process of my daily practice is self discovery. Once discovered, parts of myself can no longer be denied without self deception. Self deception leads to attempts to deceive others about my true nature.
The Facebook-Twitter world is a world of image promotion. Image promotion is intrinsically deceptive. It is the presentation of an edited version of the self to please or impress an audience. Many people find social networks stressful or dangerous because they fear an admission of their true feeling or beliefs will damage job prospects, performance reviews at work or personal relationships. These fears are apparently well founded.
What does this say about us as a human species in society? For one thing, it says that there is an implicit agreement among us that conformity should trump personal honesty in society. How much of what plagues the human psyche in society can be attributed to this basic assumption?
Unlearning self deception is very difficult. Integrating personal truth into social relations is perhaps more difficult. The toxicity of not communicating personal truth effectively in society can be seen daily in accounts of violence committed by the insane. The more functional self deceivers eat too much, drink too much and develop stress-related medical conditions. Those who refuse to deceive themselves or society often face social isolation and diminished ability to advance economically and/or professionally.
Humanist practice can be a process of developing methods to be personally truthful in an attempt to live in joy and peace with the self and with society. A few frank conversations with the mirror are a good beginning.  

Monday, December 17, 2012


Was the tragic mass murder at Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14 just about guns or violent video games? Sentiment draws us to the victims, especially the children. The perpetrator, who is easily seen as an inhuman monster, was obviously mentally ill and inadequately attended to by family, friends and society. Intelligent reaction by policy makers must include research into the abysmal lack of preventative community mental health services in the United States. At a time when the loudest howling dogs in Washington bark a message of ending entitlements and cutting back on human services in general to avoid taxing those who could afford to pay more taxes, the discussion of Newtown could be a starting point for changing the pivot of the arguments from money to quality of life in human society.

Sunday, December 16, 2012



The buzz of saws and grind of wood chippers has haunted my neighborhood daily this week. Massive old trees with healthy trunks were being downed in a large private yard in the next street. A dent in the canopy of this old neighborhood which was once a commercial pear orchard.
I have written about the walnut tree which sits in my back-door neighbors' yard. The walnut is an adolescent by comparison to the its deceased neighbors. Now, in winter, it's gray limbs stretch elegantly up against steel-gray December skies. I had thought to have its branches trimmed away from over the end of my driveway. The massacre of trees nearby has given me reason to pause and think about this some more.
We live at a time when the atmosphere is choked with hydrocarbons. My urban neighborhood borders a major interstate which belches exhaust from eight frequently clogged lanes of traffic. Alongside the interstate, a major train corridor conveys diesel locomotives. Down the street, a shopping center boasts acres of asphalt parking lot.
Can we really do without our trees? Should we? Trees raise the issue of stewardship. As a humanist, I see part of my practice as maintaining this exceptional planet. So many human beings mindlessly degrade the planet for short-term gain. It comes easily in a culture based on petro-chemically powered devices, food and pharmaceuticals.
Looking at the many annual rings on the cut trunks of the felled trees humbled and saddened me. Those trees lived in quiet balance with the environment. They returned oxygen to the atmosphere in return for breathing its carbon dioxide. They donated their shed leaves to feed the soil from which they sprouted. They drank excess water after heavy rains. They shaded the ground from harsh summer sun. They housed and fed birds, insects and small mammals.
The harsh pragmatism of urban human life is inconsistent with the grace of ancient trees. Developers resent surrendering square footage to old trees. A tree has no chance in competition with an addition or new driveway. Homeowners grumble about raking up Autumn leaves.
So what does it mean to be an urban steward of the planet? I don't think it requires all that much effort. Participating in municipal recycling is easy enough. A simple broom costs little. Sweeping leaves from tress onto a patch of malnourished ground for composting is not a Herculean task. Gleaning litter from around my own property takes seconds. Keeping the soil healthy around my property requires minimal attention. When I lived in an apartment block, I found plenty of opportunities to tend the plants and soil in my immediate environment. Weighing decisions about removing trees is a greater challenge, but simple research and consultation with municipal arborists can yield a satisfactory and responsible solution.
Being a humanist is seldom, if ever, convenient. It requires reflection before action. It requires skepticism about conformity. It requires taking responsibility to dispel personal ignorance with self-education. Perhaps being a tree is easier. In any case, urban trees are helping me determine what it means for me to be a practical humanist.

Saturday, December 15, 2012


Gruesome murder peppers the headlines in U.S. media day in and day out. Gun violence is an accepted element of American culture. The antisocial cowboy is an American icon, dressed in urban gang-wear in recent decades. Murdering Indians, murdering squatters, murdering each other. This is part of the American way. Any attempt to limit gun ownership are seen as anti-American.
The illusion that this can all happen without collateral damage has been dissolved by murders in a Connecticut town. We all know that politicians and those who are in love with the sense of power behind a murderous weapon will go back to sleep shortly. Alligator tears are shed in front of convenient cameras. Nothing is ever done about it.
This is not cynicism. This is factual. Gun ownership does not decrease in the U.S.. Illegal weapons are commonplace. The U.S. exported weapons which fueled the Mexican drug massacres of recent years. If you own a gun, you are part of the problem, not part of the solution, no matter how Liberal or enlightened you may think you are. That personal illusion, that your gun ownership is somehow benign, provides the potential to create a similar blood bath to the one now being exploited by media.

Friday, December 14, 2012


"The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace." ___Mahatma Gandhi

Thursday, December 13, 2012


I purchased some furniture in September. I responded to an incentive to buy American-manufactured furniture at a large local furniture chain. I liked the sofa and loveseat. The design is conservative, durable and comfortable. The price moderate. The salesperson assured me that I would receive the pieces within the 4-6-week window.
The furniture is due here this morning, nearly 12 weeks after my purchase. Windows in modern retail appear to be opaque or painted over, it seems. To the company's credit, they are waiving the delivery charge. This consideration came after I called before Thanksgiving and informed them I would be entertaining 6 for dinner without my furniture. I indicated that I was not pleased.
I have lived without furniture at different times in my life. I once rented an expensive studio apartment in a high-rise. I couldn't afford to furnish it, so I lived on the lovely parquet floors with a futon  and a round coffee table, surrounded by cushions. I enjoyed watching the expressions on the faces of my guests when they entered. Several of them were enthusiastic converts to the Japanese way after having a meal on the floor. Others needed help getting up.
Furniture is like many other things that become more or less important at different times in life. When I was in cancer treatments for three months, I lived in a loaned condo which was empty with the exception of a hospital bed, a card table and two folding chairs. I was perfectly content with the hospital bed, since I spent my first weeks there sleeping on a patch of foam rubber on the hardwood floor.
In my thirties, I had a small antiques business as a second job. When I moved to Provincetown after the break-up with my partner in the business, I lived with twenty chiming/gonging clocks, many decorative pieces, desks, tables, music boxes. The one-room cottage I rented was 300 square feet. Eventually I sorted all this out. The acquisition of enough space to walk across the room was exhilarating.
My point is this: Things can amuse, comfort or imprison. The relationship I establish with things in my life is in my mind. It is under my control. Learning I can live well with or without things is a very valuable lesson. You cannot learn it from commercial TV or the Web. I have to relearn it every so often. This is a conscious part of my practice.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


The homing instinct is powerful, even for human beings. The holidays bring up all the deep instinctual feelings about our places of origin. Some of those feelings make our minds happy; others are best left aside.
I lost my homing instincts nearly 50 years ago. As I became aware of my intrinsic homosexuality as an adolescent, I knew my home was not a safe place for me to be. I realized at that early age that I would have to be my own home, my own sanctuary in a hostile heterosexual world.
This morning I found that my nemesis, a skunk who has a homing fixation on the area under my porch, had once again penetrated my elaborate defenses against his burrowing. Skunkie, as I have dubbed my striped and odoriferous Moriarty, has amazed me with his persistence. The power of animal instinct motivates him to do Herculean digs around and under my barricades.
For those humans who find a painless and euphoric home in drugs, this instinct motivates similar persistence and risky behavior. For those humans who find their home in some other compulsive behavior, anxiety taps into the instinct to survive. This is tidal, irresistible, for many. They require professional help to overcome the drive.
We are all like Skunkie in a way. We want to find that safe place to rest from life's demands. Unlike Skunkie, I have a frontal lobe and opposable thumbs which enable me to turn the key in the door to an internal or concrete home of my choice. Part of my adult practice has entailed developing a deep sense of home within my own being. This has sustained me through considerable stress, even the stress of finding that Skunkie has once again burrowed past my defenses.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


There is skill in being both realistic and optimistic. It takes some practice. Accepting life as it is and working with it from the way it is sets the stage for optimism about a realistic future. The achievement of everyday goals in the mundane tasks of life builds mental stamina and self confidence. Daily goal-setting becomes a process which points more naturally to a workable future.
I set daily goals for myself in writing. This constitutes a daily contract with myself. It is part of my daily practice. When I assess my goals at day's end, I rewrite the list for the next day with the goals which were not achieved as well as new goals for the following day. If my goal list becomes too long, I take time to reflect on my list. I assess what goals are still relevant. I prioritize. Then I rewrite my goal list with a new sense of realistic expectation of my capacity to get things done.
Practice is a process and a relationship with myself as well as with my environment. An important part of my practice is my attention to the present as I envision a future. The depressed live in the past. The grandiose live in the future. I seek to see the present in the foreground while having the optimism to imagine a future of growth and creativity ahead.

Monday, December 10, 2012


I live in an urban neighborhood. It is not walled by high-rises. It is an old neighborhood of wood houses built in the 19th century on a commercial 18th-19th-century pear orchard. I can see Boston's Back Bay from my bedroom window. The juxtaposition is jarring sometimes. My street often has the feel of a small town miles away from a modern city center.
A woman on our street appears to have mental and emotional challenges. She is middle aged and lives with her extended family. Every weekday morning she waits on the sidewalk in front of her home for a shuttle which apparently takes her to a day care program. She apparently loves pink. Pink baseball cap or pink knit hat. Pink knapsack. Pink sneakers.
This morning I heard a loud wailing as I cooked my oatmeal. One of our elderly cats, a deaf black cat, wails a lot. This was different. I walked to the bay window. There was our neighbor in pink. Her van was late. Her extended family had gone off somewhere. Their cars were missing from the neat driveway next to their house. Our lover of pink was not happy. She was chanting loudly in the direction from which her van usually has come by then. She moderated her wailing from time to time by talking into her imaginary cell phone, an effective technique some wise caregiver must have suggested to her. The van came eventually. I was relieved from my window vigil.
Our two cats are very old. The deaf black one wails with trills whenever Peter leaves her alone too long. She sounds like a hoarse and weary old soprano. The white one has an endocrine disorder and senile dementia. She wails plaintively about an hour before each of her two meal times. Their wailing is not particularly focused. They wail, like our neighbor, to the Universe about their uncomfortable situation.
My pink lady and our cats are neighbors. We are all comrades in our experiences of the realities of life with advancing age and the difficulties it presents. Like the pink lady's extended family, we are committed to caring for our little elders. This melts away so many superficial details. Human constructs are drowned out by the pain in the wailing of the wailers. All that remains in my mind is being watchful and how to ease their suffering if I can.
Gaining this perspective is hard. It is also greatly reassuring. We will all rely on neighbors, family, friends and strangers along our way. If I can recognize my commonality with creatures big and small when there is an existential need, then I know that this human compassion may well be there for me when I need it. In these times when the political dialogue in the U.S. is often dominated by those who preach antisocial independence, based solely on money, I am grateful for my pink-loving neighbor's reminder this morning that it is simply human to respond to wailing without regard for what may be gotten from that response or what it may cost.  

Sunday, December 9, 2012


Consideration is a symptom of a compassionate nature. The urban landscape provides ample examples of lack of consideration. Cars blast their music. People scream into their phones while standing right next to others on the subway. Drivers swerve into lanes willy-nilly without turn signals. So where is the compassion?
The compassionate person is often hard to see, but paying attention provides plenty of encouragement, even in the rougher quarters of urban America. Acknowledging consideration on the street is considerate. This is the currency of compassion. A small wave to the driver who carefully stops short of the crosswalk. A quiet "thank you" to the person who holds the door open. A smiling "good job" to the bagger in the supermarket who doesn't crush your bread at the bottom of your grocery bag.
The rapper-video-game culture of the past two decades in the U.S. has demonized being "nice". There is more to being considerate than just being nice. Consideration implies thought or deliberation. Being truly considerate implies a thoughtful human connection, not just a fake smile to avoid conflict. Fatuous insincerity is never considerate.
As a practice, I consider the behaviors of other human beings in my environment. From those behaviors, I try to consider the life state of some of those people in an effort to interact with them compassionately. Reflex is never considerate. Animals in survival mode do not consider the life condition of their prey. They simply react and act instinctively to satisfy their needs for survival. My practice entails moving from reflexes to considered behaviors in myself. This requires emotional development, education and health maintenance.
Developing the habit of consideration before action or speech is extremely helpful in developing a compassionate nature. Consideration allows time for hearing and understanding others. Consideration prevents me from being all about me. This does not always cause me to like other people but it certainly does educate me about the many different life conditions around me. I can then determine how best to exercise my humanist values realistically in my environment.

Saturday, December 8, 2012


I have just emerged from six months of toxicity from one of the drugs I take to manage my 28-year-old HIV infection. These drugs are amazing and tricky. At the same time this particular drug was causing me to leave my bed for the bathroom every hour every night for that six months, my immunity was holding its own against the potentially deadly virus I carry. It took six months to figure out which of the dozen drugs and supplements I take for various medical conditions was causing my crippling sleep deprivation.
Now, after just 48 hours, I feel almost as I did six months ago before the toxicity. I have had a fairly good night's sleep. My muscles no longer feel like they are filled with hardening concrete. I can look forward to having a day without groaning with fatigue.
This experience of being chemistry comes with disease and modern medical intervention. I was a professional nurse for decades, but I never appreciated what it feels like to be a jumble of chemicals until I became ill. I also have a greater retrospective appreciation for the remarkable patients I served over the years.
We are animals, like many others in most ways, genetic and biochemical. We are also walking chemical plants. We produce and digest chemical compounds twenty-four hours a day. Our conscious brains, distracted by glorified images of being distinctively human, are actually unaware of their computing hormonal mixes that keep us alive.
A great deal of my particular daily practice is focused on the chemical interactions which keep me alive. Diet, exercise, rest and pharmaceuticals are important conscious concerns I must attend to. This has certainly impacted my identity formation over the past two decades. I also realize that this awareness, supplemented by education, meditation and reflection, has kept me relatively well, despite occasional threats to my life.
I accept life as it is. I realize how fortunate I have been to be living here in the United States at the time of the AIDS epidemic. Despite the struggles I and other HIV-infected people have had to endure to stay alive, we have benefited greatly from living in a society which still has the wisdom to elect leaders who have promoted greater general health care. Obamacare cannot be appreciated by the young and healthy. It cannot be appreciated by the wealthy. It can be appreciated by those of us who are aware that we are chemical beings who can be helped amazingly by science and social financial support.

Friday, December 7, 2012


The proliferation of pop-psychology gurus in the 1970s tainted a basic concept from ancient wisdom: Attitude matters in human interaction. This does not mean that thinking positive thoughts will materialize success throughout life. The graveyards are full of positive-thinking people who died young by disease or misadventure.
I am talking about the active and intentional shaping of my own attitude in my dealings with other living beings. Yes, I mean all living beings from domestic pets to plants to people.
The current portrayal of personality icons on television and in films poses a challenge for the impressionable person whose identity is unformed. The thuggy African-American male, the angry heavy African-American woman, the histrionically nelly gay man, the brainiac Asian nerd. I see people acting out these stereotypes every day in supermarket lines and on the subway. The line between genuine personality and mimicry is easily perceptible to someone like me who has worked in human services for decades.
Forming a reflective identity often entails reshaping attitude toward the world. Basically, I believe I get back whatever I give with my attitude in interactions. If my attitude is open, calm and considered, I have learned to expect a considered and calm response. If my attitude is flippant or aggressive, I have learned to expect defensiveness or aggression. There are times when I believe my flippancy is called for. More often, however, being generally measured and quietly respectful despite the specifics of the interaction yields the best results.
Skepticism begins with me in my practice. This means I am always challenging my own assumptions. I have experimented scientifically with my own attitude in interactions. I had to do this when working with acutely disturbed and violent psychiatric patients, for example. My behavior could easily be modified with a punch in the face if I was not scientific.
My attitude toward myself is important in forming the attitude I bring to the world. If I do not address my attitude toward myself in meditation and reflection, I am jumping without a parachute when interacting with others. Life would be a confused misery of unpredictable responses to me. I have lived this life in adolescence. It was not very pleasant.
Practice is simply that. Practicing presenting an effective attitude to the world when interacting with it is perhaps the most basic step to living my practice. It is not a process of manipulating my environment. It is a process of forming my own behavior and awareness to be the most harmonious in my environment.

Thursday, December 6, 2012


"Desire nothing." This is a recurring sentence in translations of the Buddha's words. Its simplicity strikes many hedonistic moderns as patently absurd. They will never get it as long as they subscribe to identifying themselves with their possessions. So there is no sense speaking to them about it.
The person who has discovered the joy of liberation from desire understands the words instantly. The person who has learned that his body and all things around it are simply empty husks made up of whirling and transitory energy will embrace the happy emptiness of freedom from desire. The person who knows and accepts his own inevtable death has gone beyond a life of desire.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


I do not aspire to change others. I struggle to change myself for the better through my own practice.
I am darkly amused by punks and gangsters who demand "respect" from behind an automatic weapon. What cowards! The ugly nature of their commercial music belies their narcissism. They have offered an example of brutality and crassness to an applauding world. Yes, the world can be a brutal and crass place without the effort to live nonviolently, compassionately, humbly.
The drug wars in Mexico over the past 5 years have left approximately 60,000 human beings violently killed. This illustrates horribly the futility of changing human behavior with guns. It also speaks to the intensity of the drive of greed for money and power in the ignorant mind.
I simply live within my own practice in the hope it makes a tiny ripple of kindness and compassion in a sea of human suffering. If my example inspires one person to attempt a similar practice, I have exceeded my goal of living a life with humanist values. This blog is a part of my own practice for its own sake. I choose to share these thoughts as a way of keeping the light of my own practice burning in the surrounding dark of my own attachments, bad habits and resistance to positive change.
Perhaps the value of this blog is not in what I say or how I say it. Its value is the process of thinking it and writing it every day.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


I look around at the various religious and philosophical group offerings on the Web. They range from the extreme firebrands to the serene nihilists. But it is all about the search for identity in most cases.
What if each of us spent more time developing his/her individual identity? What impact would that have on the groups each of us enters? I think the impact would be seismic.
There are those who advocate more group interaction as a remedy for the social ills of modern society. Watching the entranced walking down the sidewalk interacting with smart phones while barely avoiding fatal collisions with cars or telephone poles causes me to wonder if more interaction of any kind would be remedial. The constant interaction of social media and various telecommunications services may be credited for toppling a dictator in Egypt, but I do not see an improvement in the quality lives of the entranced here in urban America.
Preformed identity is easy to acquire. Son, daughter, mother, father, student, employee, employer, etc.. Role assignment is part of human social evolution. Stripping away these assigned roles is an adventure which few adults choose to take. Those of us who have been expelled from assigned roles in our families of origin for whatever reasons have been forced to pick our way cautiously through the minefield of social conformity. "Are you married?" "Do you have children?" "Where did you go to school?" These questions are routine, presumptive and unabashed.
Acceptance into the greater society is often highly conditional, but seldom stated clearly. Most human beings sacrifice a great deal of their true identities to belong or fit in. Few take the time and risk of being who they really are in full view of society. This is the enforced, corrosive hypocrisy of human society.
Being a practical humanist, a person who practices his concepts and values of what entails being as decent a human being as he can managed moment by moment, has required a good deal of identity formation within my own mind. Painful truths and surprisingly happy discoveries about who I am have shaped my practice. There have been no easy shortcuts on this journey. It's been all climbing fences and tunneling under immovable, towering obstacles. Doing all this nonviolently and responsibly has taken some hard work indeed. The journey itself has contributed a great deal to my identity.

Monday, December 3, 2012


Determination in male-dominated situations is often confused with competition or aggression. This is unfortunate. Determination is more helpfully perceived as part of a conversation within the self. It is the ongoing conversation about values and goals in life which constitutes part of a daily practice.
Getting wrapped up in constructs based on will power or morality is not usually very motivating in the longer term. Looking to a positive outcome in a situation and pursuing that outcome with focus and applied energy constitutes practical determination. This form of determination is not about racing to an end by any means. It is about laying one brick after another to build a foundation for eventual success at achieving a future which entails living ideals and values.
Modern urban life is plagued with pressures which make instant results appealing. Losing touch with agrarian understanding of planting, growth, harvesting and recycling for a new year has made urban life less humane and more stressful. The constant competition promoted by capitalism has led to a conformity of stress and dissatisfaction among those who must work harder and harder to support the small minority at the top of the economic pyramid.
The humanist can take the first exit off this path with a simple daily determination to stop playing by the rules of competitive conformity and frustrated materialism. By framing daily behavior in terms of promoting health and happiness within the self first and then in the environment, the humanist begins to live humanism. The beginning of this basic determination can lead to subsequent determinations which refine humanist practice, day by day.

Sunday, December 2, 2012


Mind your mind. This is a mantra I employ when I am feeling frustrated or fatigued. There in my mind I find the direction I need to take to renew and revive. I reach it through my daily meditation. Sometimes I reach it through writing my daily essay for this blog. I laugh aloud some mornings when my homepage horoscope beats me to the current stream of thought in my own mind.  Funny how that happens.

Minding my mind is a health-promoting exercise. My mind knows its vehicle, my body, on many levels that are not readily observable to my working consciousness. I must stop and listen to that information. I cannot readily access it while watching TV, surfing the Web or answering emails. Quiet meditation and subsequent reflection on that meditation yields revelations of great value to my health and general sense of well being.

The mind, like muscle, responds best to regular stimulation and challenge. Crossword puzzles have their value, but the type of stimulation and challenge which I mean entails communication within my own levels of consciousness. I pay attention to my remembered dreams. I meditate daily for at least twenty minutes. I reflect on the status of my mind-body connection each day. This is preventative mental health care. It does not require psychopharmacology. It does not require psychotherapy, even though psychotherapy could possibly add to its effectiveness.

Don't take your mind for granted. It changes with your body as both age. Managing your own mental health is as important is managing diet and skeletal-muscular exercise on a daily basis. This is all part of a humanist practice.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


The first daytime snow here in my neighborhood. It occurs to me that my admiration of the water crystals falling this morning may well turn to dread by the end of this new month. Millions of these ice crystals become very heavy on the shovel.
How fascinating each individual thing in life can be when it is newly perceived. I really look at it. I admire its special characteristics. Over time this awareness fades into complacency. In the case of multiple objects which are the same, complacency can turn to aggravated boredom. The human mind, driven still by animal defenses, turns off to the commonplace and nonthreatening. Familiarity breeds contempt.
Today is World AIDS Day. Like the first flakes of snow, the early victims of the HIV virus fell quietly. The attention of health systems was aroused when the number of cases escalated and popped up all around the globe. Early fascination and horror at this new disease prompted aggressive attention to its symptoms, causes, mechanisms of action. The flurry of dying patients turned to a blizzard in the early 1990s in the U.S..
We have become accustomed to AIDS as a reality of life all over the planet. Science has neutralized the virus, not eliminated it. The ho-hum of daily vigilance, HIV testing and education has become an entrenched part of health care systems everywhere. Like late-winter snows, AIDS is simply an unpleasant fact of life.
Humanist practice, as I experience it, aspires to keep the awareness of the first snowflakes in all aspects of everyday life. Making the old new is a acquired skill. It is real-life resurrection of the mind. Through meditation and honest reflection, the minutia of daily life can be seen with clear and enthusiastic eyes. Appreciating life as it is is a first step to this awareness. The rest is hard work, but very worthwhile.