Thursday, February 28, 2013

Popologists

Yes, Ratzinger has departed. May he live and prosper, as Ratzinger the Ex-Pope. But the current media coverage of this event reveals that the Vatican, like the British Monarchy, is simply pageantry for the masses. It is entertainment, not True North on a Moral Compass.

In typical superstitious human fashion, exhibited most frequently at wakes and funerals, Ratzinger is being lauded as a great man by Papal apologists (Popologists).

Ratzinger condemned homosexuals as unworthy of equal rights. Ratzinger shielded child molesters, while misrepresenting the molestation as exclusively homosexual. Ratzinger maintained that condom use spreads HIV, and thereby encouraged unsafe sex in Africa, the seat of the pandemic and the Catholic Church's most rapidly growing fan base. Ratzinger never fully expounded upon or apologized for his involvement in Hitler Youth as a youth. He excused himself obliquely through his defenders. His predecessor and close friend had slightly more humility about his questionable behavior during the Nazi regime in Poland.

This is not a harmless matter. Roman Catholicism has sway throughout the world, especially in the most impoverished and overpopulated parts of the world. Some global NGOs use the Vatican as their base of operations. The Vatican stands as a beacon of corruption, hypocrisy, homophobia and exploitation of the poor for its political and financial survival.

I can only speculate that Popologists are themselves survivors of some form of parental abuse. They are perhaps programmed to shield and protect their oppressors from discovery and accountability. It is unfortunate that they are being given a global media platform from which to spread their own psychological dysfunction. 

The fabled Emporer's new clothes, whether including imaginary red shoes from Prada or brown shoes from Central America, are still imaginary. While I certainly see individual Catholics as free to practice whatever dogma-driven lives as they wish, I certainly do not see any validity in the influence of the Vatican on global politics or policy. Like HMQ Elizabeth II, I wish Ratzinger and his successors a future of largely ineffectual pageantry to entertain the gullible.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Hessel

Stephane Hessel is dead at 95. He was a remarkable human being. He was a man who did not let age and fatigue corrupt his energy for promoting ideals of human justice. Out of respect for Mr. Hessel, I offer this video interview from 2011, when he was 94. 

http://www.democracynow.org/blog/2011/10/10/stphane_hessel_on_occupy_wall_street_find_the_time_for_outrage_when_your_values_are_not_respected

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Forward

Too many of us are stuck in our past. The N.R.A. droning on about the U.S. Constitution and its Second Amendment in the face of atrocities against innocents is one disgusting example. Failure to be in the present sabotages the future.

Looking forward with vigor and enthusiasm is not easy, especially as I age. It is hard work which I tackle every morning with some measure of success. This success I attribute to my humanist practice.

If my present is painful or depressive, my ability to embrace it becomes more challenging. This realization fuels my avid health maintenance. My physical exercises help me bounce back more effectively from trauma or disease. My mental health exercises help me combat depressive or fear-provoking stimuli. Yes, it is that simple. Making it complicated would be a sign of depression or poor health from which I would have to work even harder to overcome. Keeping it simple is essential.

I look forward to the future of potential with my feet on the present ground of my reality. That too is simple. Getting to this simplicity has taken me decades of practice.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Virtue

If anyone with a pure heart undertakes a commitment to virtue --- to refrain from taking life, from taking what is not given,from sexual immorality, from lying speech, and from taking strong drink and sloth-producing drugs --- that constitutes a sacrifice better than giving alms, than giving shelter, and better than going for refuge. ...Words attributed to Gautama Buddha from Dingha Nikaya.

These ancient words laud the effect of individual practice and imply its tremendous effect on the human environment. Buddhism, as a system of thought, is about individual personal responsibility in one's environment. The interplay between person and environment is crucial to general human development. The virtuous person, who is peaceful and fully conscious, brings healing to a violent and selfish environment.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Religion

I recently read about a young transgendered person who wishes to minister to religious LGBQT people by working against "spiritual violence" against them in religion. This person wishes to do this in a religious context. My reaction was immediate. Then I took some time to calm down and think about it. Here's what I came up with.

Would you try to help battered women or sexually abused children by telling them to carry on in the company of their abusers while trying to convince the abusers not to be abusive? Of course not! That sounds idiotic. You would get the abused person to a safe place and counsel him/herto separate himself/herself from the abuser. A child would be placed in a safer home. A battered man or woman would be sheltered and supported in developing a safer life through therapy and peer-group support. 

Most religion is poisonous for LGBTQ people. The three largest world religions are largely homophobic in dogma and action. Extremists in the three major world religions are physically violent against LGBQT people. Muslim extremists are homicidal towards openly gay men, in particular.

Religion is the problem. The insistence of a homosexual person to be religious in the face of this is frankly masochistic. Masochism is a dysfunctional mode of living in an endangered minority. It is potentially lethal. Associating with religious people as a free-thinking missionary may be a laudable value for society, but this takes a great deal of personal development away from religious toxicity. This is very different from staying in the soup and trying to judge its taste at the same time.

Now, there is much throwing around of the word "faith" among LGBQT apologists in religious circles. "Faith", as I see it, is a pseudonym for "religion-lite". Well, just as an alcoholic had best steer clear of lite beer, the wise LGBQT person should steer clear of lite religion. No matter how lite the religion, it will most likely tap into deep-rooted self-hatred, fostered by earlier indoctrination by homophobic religion. This is simply how the human brain works. Conditioning is real and has lifetime repercussions, whether I choose to look at those repercussions or not.

I believe the healthiest behavior for a young LGBQT person is separation from religion and all forms of homophobic society to whatever extent possible for several years at the very least. For the wealthy or bourgeois, this comes readily in a university experience. For the urban or rural poor, this often entails physically escaping their homeland for an accepting urban gay/lesbian community.  The difficulties of the gay runaway are great, however the travails of escaping their homeland are often a better alternative to pretending to be heterosexual for a miserable lifetime.

The gay-marriage political putsch of certain national and international gay organizations is a practical strategy toward attaining equal rights. The downside is its implied submission of LGBQT to conventional heterosexual morality. This has led to a resurgence of interest in religion among many LGBQT people. Ignorant of their own history, many do not realize they are going backwards. Those of us who actualized gayness into a social reality at great personal risk in the 1960s and 1970s in the U.S. look skeptically upon this new fascination with our oppressors, no matter what brand of "faith" they are peddling today. The best way to avoid being oppressed is to say "no" to the oppressor and walk away.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Mind

The core of any happiness is peace of mind. The mind must be listened to. The mind must be understood. The mind must be mastered through intentional use, meditation and reflection. In some ways, the mind can be like a horse which resists being bridled and saddled to be ridden.

Many people drift from desire to impulse to obsession to fantasy and so on. This is a chosen path of sorts.The lucky few ride coincidence to some form of security or comfort. Many others age into disgruntled nostalgia for what may have been.

My practice is a practice of mind and body, but my practice is driven by my mind. If I attend to my mind's health through meditation, clear communication and honesty, my path is clear as a humanist, a person striving for decency. The plowing path of the mindless leaves much collateral damage.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Absence

So much of life entails accumulation. We accumulate things, experience and relationships. The most abstemious person must work diligently to avoid materialism in this time of gadgets and urban living.

Today I am acutely aware of absence. Francine, an adopted white Van cat who had been part of our lives for eight years, died yesterday. 

I am a person who relishes trips to the recycling store where I donate my excess stuff. The proceeds of the sale of my old items funds AIDS-related assistance. I delight in the empty spaces vacated by packed boxes of old stuff. Cluttered basements and attics irk me. 

I am also a person who does not foster many superficial relationships. I am not a big networker, I guess. Knowing people for the sake of having their pictures on my Facebook page, like trophy heads on the wall of a billiards room, has never interested me. Many years ago I realized that much of the superficial networking people do is about money and social status for themselves or their offspring. As a registered nurse, I obviously was not motivated much by money in my day when salaries were much more humble than they are today. I have not reproduced, so there is no motivation there either.

This probably makes Francine's absence more profound. She was never unnoticed. Her presence was woven into our lives. She was not a cute accessory. She was a being with whom we interacted with regular attention, affection and appreciation of her eccentricities. We realized we were as much part of her experience of life as she was part of ours. This is an aspect of compassion.

The empty front hall chair stands as an informal memorial. The new silence without her strained cry is a bit unnerving. When 4 PM comes, I will itch to get out her brush groom her thick white coat. It will stay in its drawer. I will develop another habit. Her absence will melt into other losses, other vacancies, which inevitably accumulate as we live on. Learning to live with accumulated loss is part of the practice of mindfulness and compassion. It aids the understanding of the basic commonality of all living creatures who are born, age and die.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Steps

It is Winter here in New England. The snow has been falling. There are hills of frozen snow all over the place. Life goes on.

A major water-sewer project will be coming to our sedate street in a month or so. A 15-foot trench will be dug to lay a new piping system. It is hard to envision how it will all work out. 

I listened attentively to the calm tones of a supervising engineer at a recent civic association meeting. She is a petite woman who speaks of huge construction equipment with a practiced matter-of-fact tone. A citizen says his brick house is shaking with nearby work. She sighs a matter-of-fact answer which does not placate or reassure.

I was reminded that the big things in life require a certain amount of this attitude to be accomplished successfully without undergoing unnecessary emotional turmoil and apprehension. Everything, no matter how massive, can be broken down to small steps with practice. The one-day-at-a-time approach to rehabilitation also applies to construction. 

I have faced my share of apparent mountains in my life. Mountains of prejudice. Mountains of change. Mountains of trauma. Mountains of disease. Each one was scaled one step at a time, sometimes consciously so and sometimes not. The wisdom of age is the understanding that it is best to be fully conscious when scaling a mountain. This wisdom comes with crawling out of the occasional unforeseen crevice. 

Taking conscious steps every day in the direction of a preferred quality of living is a form of mental and physical health. It is part of what I call humanist practice. This requires the development of self-knowledge and internal honesty. The application of these characteristics to daily decisions and behaviors is the key to what some call "mindfulness".

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Manners

This is not an age of good manners in the U.S.. Our culture has been corrupted by the criminality of popular media propaganda. Exploiters of criminal subcultures have infected fashion and the arts with antisocial signatures. Graffiti, sagger clothes, tattoo mania ... all symptoms which are visible everywhere in the urban landscape. Withdrawal into an iPod screen or smart phone display is an understandable defense. What rational person wants to acknowledge being surrounded by people who give signals of criminality in their dress and behavior?

I recently heard an educated African-American professor defend gangster mannerisms and clothing in young Black males as a needed subcultural outlet. Her argument was irrational and based in ancient paradigms of American slavery, an institution which was abolished 150 years ago. Her portrayal of the origins of sagger pants was homophobically laundered to support her point. 

She maintained that sagger clothes originated from the oversized prison clothes given to slender, young African-American prisoners, who, she maintained, were all simply victims of the system, as opposed to convicted criminals. Actually, the dropping of the seat of prison pants over the buttocks by a young inmate is a signal that the inmate wishes to become the "bitch" of a stronger, protective inmate. It is part of a prison mating ritual. 

A society which uses aggression and bravado as currencies will inevitably be violent. No amount of legislation about guns will change the violence ingrained in culture, even if it is a good start. Young parents who accept this culture of aggression will pass this along to their children. This is very evident in some communities of all colors and ethnicities where generational poverty and drug abuse foster high mortality rates for adolescents. It is not the fault of "the man" that these communities are a mess. That is a tired old myth, a hangover from immigrant exploitation, slavery and Southern apartheid. "The man" is not responsible for teenage pregnancies and the devaluing of education and morals by immature single parents. 

Manners cost nothing. They will not raise taxes. They will not increase the National Debt or the deficit. However, manners may not sell cheesy reality TV shows either. I question whether there is any going back to a time of good manners. Perhaps this deterioration of public civility is just another symptom of overpopulation and environmental degradation. I persist in my own practice of good manners, but I often feel I am an anachronism.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Dying

K.D. and Francine in earlier times.
I have a particular view of dying. From 1990-1995 I worked in a residential AIDS hospice at the height of AIDS deaths here in Massachusetts. I encountered and/or personally tended to over 2,000 dying patients in that 5.5 yrs.. The facility was a converted townhouse with 18 beds. It was located in a depressed part of Boston, which has since become a real estate boom town.

I was living with HIV when I took the job as a registered nurse. I had worked with AIDS patients for several years before then in Manhattan. I was immersed in HIV patient care and my own HIV concerns. All of it was swathed in funereal darkness at that time. HIV was an inevitably fatal virus in those days. The lessons of working with the dying and living with a deadly disease at that time were many. Each dying person taught me something about dying and about living in death's shadow. 

Right now our adorable white cat, Francine, is dying. She is quite old. Peter adopted her from a shelter with her black sister, K.D. (named by her previous hosts for K.D. Lang), almost 8 years ago. They were older cats back then.

Francine has been diagnosed with a common feline endocrine disorder. She has been wasting away for the past year or so. She stopped responding to her name. She stopped her many goofy poses, guaranteed to reap a laugh even from cat-skeptics. Her voice changed from an almost-imperceptible whisper to a shrieking cry. Her eyes hold constant confusion and wonder at the most familiar surroundings. She began hissing at her sister whenever K.D. approached her. 

In the last several days, Francine has had two major seizures. She does not seem pained in the least. She is simply quiet and sleepy. She has stopped eating her meals. She drinks a little water. She lies on a chair and looks wistfully at us between naps. I know that look. And it is quite startling to see it on the face of another species. It is there with the same peaceful intensity as it had on the faces of my human AIDS patients who had accepted their dying process. It says, "I'm leaving, and it's OK."

Francine will still take a tiny cat treat. She prefers the junky supermarket variety. She never enjoyed being handled previously, but now she melts under a gentle hand. She relishes being brushed, an activity she once resisted with full force. She has surrendered to her needs. She has surrendered to our affection for her. This also reminds me of my dying human patients.

We have decided to bring Francine to the vet if she appears to be in pain. Neither of us, Peter nor I, is opposed to euthanasia. We are engaged in Francine's process as best as we can be. It is the same with human beings. Dying is a lonely internal experience, even for those who can communicate in the same language with their caregivers. Caring for those who are close to death allows us to learn about our own eventual process of dying, if we pay attention. This requires accepting our very basic commonality with Francine and all others who are born into this mortal life.


Monday, February 18, 2013

Cold

We New Englanders know the cold. This morning was 15 degrees Fahrenheit here with a wind chill down around zero. Crisp blue skies and brilliant sun take off some of the edge. But cold is cold.

Some run from the cold and move to warmer climates. Some trade reptiles and insects for brisk winter breezes. Each to his own. I'll stick to what I know.

The simple fact is that this cold is a mild sample of what the rest of the Universe is like. Dark and cold. Experiencing the cold, especially on a starry night, increases my appreciation of this special place, Earth. How can we abuse it so? How can we take it for granted once we know what a precious place it is in this Universe?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Snow

The snow blows past the windows with a quiet whisper. "Rest, think, reflect." The patterns of wind are visible. Evidence of monstrous invisible force. The stuff of which early gods were comprised. 

I am amazed this wooden pile, built in 1884, which sheaths me from such power. I am fascinated by the wafer-thin layers of glass which insulate me from storm and sound without depriving me of the dimmest light. Think of it. Generations of toil and ideas, not divine interventions, brought me this luxury in a snow storm which would have terrified and tortured my ancestors.

This is a Sunday veneration service for my secular mind. I genuflect to the wonder of human evolution. I look skyward and appreciate my life as a human being on this exceptional planet. I take sober account of my use of the brain I have been granted by Nature. I resolve to do better by myself, by those I love, by my precious planet.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Heroes

The recent scandal involving a famous Olympian runner in South Africa raises the specter of O.J. Simpson's fall from grace in the 1990s. Heroes are a creation of the mind of the hero-worshipper.
 
Lance Armstrong made a very lucrative business out of being a hero. He duped cancer survivors into worshipping him as a superhuman victor over testicular cancer. The press colluded. Medical professionals colluded. Little was said about the common occurrence of testicular cancer and its high cure rate. In other words, Armstrong was special only in the sense that he became a poster boy and parlayed his cycling career into a brand with the help of illegal drugs and ad agencies.
 
President Obama is seen by many as a hero. While I admire him for his educational achievements, his articulate manner and his patience with those who test him unrelentingly, I do not see him as superhuman. I don't even see him as a particularly exceptional politician in light of his inability to accomplish much in his first administration, despite an early Democrat majority in Congress.
 
We are in an age when a Pope has admitted his fallibility by resigning what was once thought to be a divine ordination by the Catholic God as Christ's representative on Earth. Hallelujah! Let this be a cautionary tale for future generations who may turn to one human being for infallible opinions.
 
As a secular humanist, I see heroism in the weakest and weakness in the strongest. This is the skepticism of my humanism. It comes from my decades as a registered nurse. I have bathed the bodies of the rich, the famous and the indigent. I am here to attest to the equality of all those people as human beings in a mortal life with chance, aging, sickness and eventual death.
 
My advice is this: If you need a hero, be one to yourself in your own life based on your own good deeds for yourself, for humanity and for the planet.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Pigeon

I have lived in my urban neighborhood since June of last year. Any move requires adjustments. I have come to like my neighborhood a great deal. The civic association is active. There are many conveniences. The harbor is close by. I like being able to walk to the shoreline.
 
The neighborhood is truly urban and densely populated. Many triple-deckers stand right up to the sidewalks. There are also many graceful homes from earlier in the 19th century. The whole area was once a commercial pear orchard, owned and operated by an old Boston farming family. The historical society is just down the street in a house which belonged to the orchard owners. My zip code was ranked among the most diverse zip codes in the U.S. recently by a national business journal.
 
Sounds good, right?
 
Yesterday afternoon I found a large pigeon cooing on the window sill inside my basement. It was a large, healthy pigeon. Perhaps it was a carrier pigeon. I didn't take much time to get acquainted. I quickly ejected it from the basement through the apparently unlatched basement window from which it had entered with the aid of a human. Somehow, the window had been left unlatched at some point.
 
The window is on my driveway, close to the entry by the sidewalk. Previously, someone had left a bag of cat food in small cans by the same window. An offering for K.D. and Francine, our two old cats, I assumed. None of our friends claimed this good deed. Perhaps the random act of kindness of a stranger/neighbor. Perhaps. I decided to throw the cat food away at the time.
 
Peter recalls hearing a sliding and thudding sound the other night, while I was away at a civic association meeting. He had thought at the time that I had returned home through the sliding door in our kitchen. I hadn't. It was likely he had heard the opening and closing of the sliding basement window by the pigeon-planting phantom. If he had done a more thorough search of the house, he may have found our feathered visitor sooner. Unfortunately, our feathered visitor had to fast from food and water overnight. The upside for me is that I had less pigeon poop to clean up yesterday after I evicted it.
 
I have secured the basement windows. I have a deeper understanding of all the fences and caging of basement windows in the neighborhood. No real harm was done to us or the house. The pigeon was kidnapped and confined against its will, but our basement was warmer than the winter night outside. Perhaps it enjoyed the respite.
 
Living in the city is always something of an adventure. This is certainly a more bizarre turn than others I have encountered in new neighborhoods, but, on one level, it is to be expected. Statistics would verify that there is a certain percentage of irrational people within my square mile of city. More statistics would verify that some of those irrational people are animal lovers. In fact, there is a good statistical chance that at least one of those irrational people raises pigeons and enjoys spreading them around.
 
I remain skeptical about the whole affair. I choose to see it as a dysfunctional act of reaching out in an albeit antisocial way. I have no evidence as yet to interpret it as hostile or aimed at me personally, since I do not know anyone who likes handling pigeons in any way. I am thankful that the trespasser deposited a pigeon, as opposed to a number of more noxious species. Life brings these tests of my humanist practice. It is the nature of things. The net result is a deep appreciation of my own practice when these tests arise.
 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Greed

Last evening I attended a meeting of my local civic association. I feel very fortunate to live in an urban neighborhood with an active civic association. Our association is particularly well run by a few dedicated residents.
 
The meeting was about zoning and building development. In the next street, an absentee landlord who owns a large 6-unit dwelling on a small lot has torn out many old trees on his property to make way for another 3-unit building, for which he is seeking zoning approval. His property abuts one of the loveliest antique properties in the neighborhood. A large 19th-century house on that property and its carriage house have been converted to a respectable condominium association, with mostly owner occupancy.
 
The proposed 3-unit dwelling, which has no proposed architectural merit by admission of the architect himself, would crowd up to within 6 inches of the neighboring property. Six inches! This would negatively impact the resident-owners of the condominium complex in their quality of life and their property values. It is a clear case of urban over-development for profit.
 
I restrained cynical laughter as the architect, sent to the meeting by the absent owner-developer like a doomed gladiator, fumbled his way through ineffective defenses to searing criticism of his plan. At 63, I have been around this sort of thing far too many times in this city. I channeled my annoyance with the hapless architect into positive encouragement of the condominium owners who would be negatively impacted. At the end of the presentation, the chair said, "Is there anyone here who would support the zoning application for this project?" There was silence, and all heads wagged an affirmative, "No way!".
 
Last evening's meeting was a victory for humanism over greed in my opinion. My neighbors loudly voiced their concern for the environment and quality of life here in our neighborhood. They mourned the preemptive removal of old-growth trees. They voiced their support of home ownership and commitment to the neighborhood. The shadowy absence of the slumlord/developer was properly noted and resented.
 
Capitalism does not have to be evil when moderated by the higher values of human beings. The sad fact is that we are in an age of unbridled capitalism, enshrined as "freedom" by the greedy and selfish with financial and political power. Last evening, the citizens of my neighborhood made a small stand against that form of social and environmental abuse in the name of money. This, in my opinion, is humanism in action.
 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Lunar

This is the time of the lunar new year. This begins the Chinese Year of the Snake. It is a wonderful time in the Northern Hemisphere. If you attend to the changes in sunlight across the span of the year, you will become joyful in mid-February when the sun's brilliance is noticeable in early morning. The sun feels warm on the skin, even on cold days. The promise of Spring is renewed. It is time to look at seed catalogues. It is time to plan gardens. It is time to enjoy and wonder at our blue planet.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Popes

The resignation of Pope Ratzinger has revealed one great truth: He is just another human being.
 
This is shaking the foundations of dogmatic Catholicism. Why? Because the Vatican is being exposed for what it is and has always been, a big business, run by all-too-human beings. The Wizard of Oz has once again been exposed as the little old man behind a curtain.
 
Would sensible human beings listen to a Mobil Oil executive's dogma on ecology without deep skepticism? Why then would a sensible human being listen to the rants of these businessmen in red dresses on AIDS prevention, women's rights and gay marriage? Do we listen to the bearded jihadist imam with similar views?
 
The gradual demise of the moral authority of the Catholic Church is a good thing. It is evidence of the inevitable strength of education, skepticism and logic over superstition. The incontrovertibly brainwashed will have paroxysms of guilt and regret. That is their burden. The rest of the human species will be moving on.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Compassion

I see plenty of conformity in the world and very little compassion. In my own small patch of the world, I watch from my window as neighbors who appear conservative and respectable show little consideration for others in how they park their cars or maintain their property. Those who walk the streets socially networking on their smart phones often are incapable of the simplest social response to a friendly smile or "hello".  This is dysfunction on a massive social scale.
 
The secular person, who does not act responsibly out of fear of divine patriarchal retribution, is an adult. This requires informed responsibility for his/her words and actions toward others. Ethics do not motivate loving behavior toward oneself or others. Compassion does. Ethical actions, as dissected by politicians, lawyers and judges, are often determined by cost-profit analysis. Compassion has no ledger. Compassion is a developed state of mind and being.
 
A secular humanist, in my opinion, practices compassionate words, thoughts and behavior as part of a quest for personal development. In the vivid recognition that this one life is a limited opportunity to fully experience the best of what it means to be human and alive, the secular humanist tries to use each and every moment for betterment of self and environment. Compassion is the key to that process. Understanding the lives of others. Understanding the life of this marvelous and rare planet. Understanding my own mind and body. These are the processes that lead to compassion in the moment. Compassion in the moment creates peace and joy for the person who experiences it and bestows it.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Twitter

I have recently experimented with Twitter. I thought it would help my writing. Character limits appeal to the Zen minimalism in me.
 
I posted a few tweets. Seemed harmless enough. No great stretch. I did find I needed to be concise in expressing my mental process. "Cool," I thought.
 
I was not interested in followers. The concept of followers of any kind irks me. It raises my anti-religious and anti-conformist hackles. In fact, I suspect the developers of Twitter may have Fascist tendencies because of this choice of paradigm. I acknowledge, however, that their Frankenstein has been used for some good, as well as bad.
 
I opened my Twitter account today to find that some clown had posted several tweets under my name. The tweets were commercials for some Facebook quick-money scheme. It was sickening that the tweets were published in a Val'-girl voice next to my picture. The tweets were easily de-tweeted. I suspected the one follower of my Twitter account, a woman from the UK who seems to have absolutely no reason whatsoever to be following the likes of me from her posts about retail goods and current fashion. I hope I am wrong, but being my only follower makes her the only visible suspect. Even paranoia seeks an object to fear.
 
I may well abandon Twitter. I don't think it is prepared for my honesty, nor am I prepared for its potential for dishonesty. This all makes me think about technology's value in my life once again. I walk a middle path through technology's vast landscape. It isn't becoming any easier. It is a steep path as materialism and hedonism corrupt even the most elevated places on the Web with ads geared specifically to needs some algorithm has decided to be mine.
 
My thoughts about Twitter cannot be tweeted. They are too unformed, too nebulous, as yet.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Blizzard

3rd-floor window with snow on sill.
I spent three days in a state psychiatric hospital during the record-breaking Blizzard of 1978 here in Boston. I wasn't a patient. I was the nurse in charge by default because I was on duty when the storm struck. Other staff could not get to the hospital in order to relieve those of us who remained on duty for 72 hours straight with 45 psychotic patients in our care. We ran out of food items, clean linen and patience at times. The nursing staff cooked for the patients, since the kitchens were understaffed by regulars. I recall making a landmark decision to make huge quantities of soup with our limited meat and vegetables. That soup got us through.
 
This Blizzard of 2013 appears to be close to breaking the snowfall record of 27 inches in Boston in 1978. The sun is peeking through the retreating storm clouds. As I take shovel in hand later, I will be acutely aware of my place in the Universe. I will feel the weight of frozen crystals in the uncountable billions against my muscles. I will feel the harsh cold enter my lungs. My eyes will strain against the glare of midday sun on pure whiteness. I will watch fondly as Peter works with me in tandem. We will work together with whatever neighbors are about to clear away the snow from pathways. We are old. We are survivors. We are still engaged in the reality of life here in our environment, despite our challenges. This is much of what humanist practice means to me.  

Friday, February 8, 2013

Doors





Every moment is a doorway to another life. Liberation is passing through the doorway to inner truth and outer honesty.

For example, this is why Gay Liberation is centered still on coming out, not on the external rights or privileges granted to the individual by a society. Gay Rights and Gay Liberation are two distinct and separate phenomena.

All forms of personal liberation begin an internal process. This is why I am an advocate of practice, the moment-by-moment attempt to be real, mindful and compassionate to myself and to my environment. This is the stuff of liberation, which is not a one-time fix. Liberation is an ongoing process. I have come from Gay Liberation to Gray Liberation, as I deal with aging and various health challenges.

Shutting the door to liberation in the moment to pour a stiff drink, pop a pill or light a joint simply postpones the work needed to achieve personal happiness and/or personal peace. Retreating to the shadows of habit or compulsion may comfort for the moment, but this process will not advance the path to a clear and open mind.

Open the door of this moment and take a deep breath. Look boldly at the list of things which need to be done in your life in order to put your mind at peace. Keep opening each door with a sense of purpose and resolve. Gradually the choice of light and freedom from old ghosts will become the natural choice as each momentary door opens. The doors to anxiety, depression and self-deception will close behind you.

This is not prescription from a guru. This is simply the sharing of my own inner voice. This is the cheering voice of my own humanist practice.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Storms

There is some media hysteria here in Boston about an approaching blizzard. Two feet of snow with high winds. On the coast, this means flooding at high tides. However, the media weather forecasters go beyond rational warnings of caution. Some have the bleak joy in their voices of anticipation of the impending rise in viewers or listeners, panicked by the storm.
 
Markets will be mobbed today. People will be buying huge jugs of water, as though nuclear winter was approaching, rather than a typical New England nor'easter. Water shortage will hardly be likely with two new feet of frozen water on the ground outside the door. Another symptom of the anti-scientific mentality of our times.
 
Storms become externalized mental metaphors for disability and death. Those who have not faced and accepted the inevitability of loss and death in their own lives find the anticipation of deprivation very frightening. Discomfort is part of the human (animal) condition. Deprivation due to sudden change is simply part of life inevitably. Sooner or later, we all experience deprivation of mobility, deprivation of breath, deprivation of life.
 
The unpredictable nature of storms in the seemingly predictable world of push-buttons, menus and remote controls is a helpful reminder for those of us who practice being in the moment. Our finest plans are simply paper in the roaring winds of inevitable change. Sitting with this awareness and embracing it are steps to liberation from anxiety. The most devastating storm is the storm of a panicked and desperate mind.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Chores

I am big on routine chores and a regular schedule for them. I made the remarkable discovery that even the most distasteful chores, like ironing, could be made less distasteful by simply doing them during a dedicated period each week. My happiest discovery came when I found that a weekly cleaning of my space after an initial blitz yielded an easily maintained level of shining floors and dustless flat surfaces. Previously I had postponed cleaning for weeks out of distaste for the process and then suffered through grueling catch-up.
 
A well maintained personal environment is priceless in the development of an uncluttered mind. Chores postponed add subtle stress and distraction. Learning to keep abreast of routine chores is a step to keeping abreast of more unpredictable demands on time and effort.
 
On the other side of boredom with routine chores is a certain pleasure in them. Thursday afternoons end with a satisfied appreciation with the shining floors in my bedroom. Tuesday nights bring the joy of slipping between crisp sheets on a turned mattress. Learning to appreciate these small pleasures is a form of opening the mind to life's most basic joys. These joys are often taken for granted by those who have not experienced poverty, homelessness or extreme disability.
 
Understanding the value of basic human needs which can be fulfilled simply by attention and routine opens the eyes to the shame of poverty in our wealthy world. Living simply and responsibly is the humanist way of individually being conscious and ethical in society. Words do not comprise practice. Practice is behavior and the shaping of the mind with healthy living. Learning to live simply and responsibly by tending my own life and my own environment opens my mind to how much can be shared with those who are less lucky in life.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Setbacks

Football fans are discussing the 35-minute electrical blackout which prolonged the annual Super Bowl game last evening.  The blackout actually seemed to energize the San Francisco team, which had been faltering prior to it. They did lose eventually to Baltimore by 3 points.
 
This makes me think of life's daily setbacks: Those minuscule obstacles which often arise to baffle a well-made schedule. I am also thinking of life's major setbacks: Disease, disability and financial ruin.  
 
I have had my share of both minor and major setbacks. As a recovering obsessive compulsive, I can experience normality as a setback, unless I practice mindful observation and patience. As a person with a nearly thirty-year struggle with HIV who survived a major cancer over a decade ago, I know a major setback when I see one.
 
Setbacks have been my greatest teachers. When I was a college student at age 17, my parents refused to give me the necessary written permission to enter Jesuit seminary. At the time, this seemed a huge setback. The Jesuits in authority made little effort to convince my parents to sign. I railed at my parents' hypocrisy as devout Catholics who would withhold their son from doing God's work. The real motivations for my wanting to join the Jesuits were actually quite worldly. Living in community with highly educated men, global travel and escape from my proletarian world as an urban commuting student living at home with people who were more angry than loving.
 
Not becoming a Jesuit was the beginning of my quest for understanding how to apply higher values to my secular life. Not becoming a Jesuit freed me from my Catholic inhibitions over being a homosexual person. Not becoming a Jesuit made me aware that my parents would pursue their own needs from me over my own needs for myself  as a separate person. Not becoming a Jesuit helped me to grow up very quickly from a sheltered and compliant depressive to a healthily angry adolescent. Not becoming a Jesuit was perhaps the best setback of my life.
 
I have learned to pay attention to setbacks, as opposed to rushing to sweep them from my path. This has served me very well as a practice. I am not of the Smarmy School of the religious, who couch setbacks in terms of spiritual tests. I find this approach too passive and, frankly, stupid. I seek to learn from the setbacks along the way. This seems the intelligent thing for me to do. As I open to learn from my setbacks, they seem less like troubles and more like quizzers, which test what I have learned from their predecessors.



Sunday, February 3, 2013

Winter


Winter is a good time for quiet reflection in New England. Cold days, gray skies, frosting of snow. Taking the cue from Nature is easy. Rest, think, stay warm.

Winter is a good time to recharge my reserves of energy. I do not resent the cold. I do not crave sunny beaches. I am here in this environment. I am present with it. I am learning from it.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Clarity

There is no substitute for mental clarity. A mind cluttered with anxiety, alcohol, drugs, or depression cannot be clear. Unfortunately, the poisoned or impaired mind does not see through its own fog.
 
Meditation is a way to mental clarity. A daily meditation of 15-20 minutes in a resting position anywhere gradually clears the mind of toxins. It is quite amazing.
 
There are no gimmicks to meditating. Some have packaged it and sold it. This has tainted its public perception. This has prevented many from just trying it without some magical formula, position or method.
 
Set a timer. Many people have timer apps on their smart phones. The timer allows you to not be concerned about accidentally falling asleep. If you do fall asleep, you haven't failed. You have gained a 15-20 minute nap!
 
Sit or lie down. Close your eyes at first. Breathe easily and all your diaphragm to move naturally. Just pay attention to your breathing and resist mental racing about chores, deadlines, or other distractions. Meditate for meditation's sake. It is your mental coffee break.  Allow worries, obsessions, thoughts drift through your mind without focusing on any one single one. Just keep breathing in a relaxed fashion. Make a commitment to yourself to do this every day. It helps to set a specific time for this each day.
 
Meditating for just one week should bring greater clarity to your mind. If it doesn't, try one more week. There is no grade here. This is simply a way of being good to yourself. There is no winning or losing, no competition.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Haste

The pace of modern urban life can be hectic. Busy behavior sometimes compensates for anxiety or depression. Accomplishments are not always advancements of personal growth or understanding.
 
Knowing what I am about in the moment requires an inner stillness which is not accessible when I am buzzing around mindlessly from task to task. If my concentration is on all the external stimuli of my environment, I cannot concentrate on who I am in the moment. I can be miserable and very productive at the same time. I can be happy and productive. I can be happy and unproductive. My quest is to be able to choose the productivity which bolsters my inner peace and happiness.
 
Habit is the enemy of discovery. But, chosen routine, honed with great concentration and awareness, produces mastery. The Middle Path runs between mindless habit and rigid routine. Hasty decisions of overstimulated minds seldom yield anything sustainable. I tell myself, "Breathe, seek calm, think, then move slowly ahead with patient understanding that value is not perfection."