Sunday, June 30, 2013

Narcissism

The narcissism of individuals is a topic of frequent discussions in the realm of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. However, there is a greater narcissism which plagues the human species: The narcissism of groups.
 
The current debate and apparent progress for some in the gay marriage arena has exposed the narcissism of heterosexual majorities. This takes the form of a presumption that heterosexuals somehow control love, commitment and the right to have and raise children. They do not and have not throughout human history. The presumption is the symptom of their narcissism.
 
LGBT people are not immune to narcissism in groups. For example, there is a narcissistic group presumption among a growing segment of the gay population that serving in the military is a good thing for LGBT people. This is symptomatic of the contagion of a form of heterosexual narcissism as many LGBT people try to "mainstream".
 
The wonder of coming out to myself and others as a gay man in the 1960s was the wonder of establishing and owning my own identity as an individual human being. Yes, it was fraught with threats and danger. Even the police enjoyed victimizing us with impunity. The military didn't want us, an indication to me as a nonviolent person that I was definitely on the right path as a gay man with an ethical compass. That same ethical awareness discerned the basic wrong in marrying a woman to conceal myself for my personal safety and advancement in society at her expense. To do so would be intentionally narcissistic and misogynistic.
 
Gay men were once proud within their own circles of being nonviolent, creative and able to develop hybrid relationships which included sex, affection and long term commitment without State involvement. After all, the State was the enemy, the predator, who threatened our very lives. The Holocaust was not only a massacre of Jews, Communists and gypsies.
 
The Supreme Court's decision against discrimination in State marriage against gay/lesbian people was logical and just in the context of the U.S. constitution and modern understanding that sexual preference is most likely genetic. However, no State can grant me the right to love, to commit or to devise my own satisfactory human relationships. I was born with that right. I have lived that right without the blessings of any government or heterosexual majority.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Violence

A professional football player here in Massachusetts is a person of interest in three murders. It appears he participated in gang activity despite multimillion-dollar contracts which supported an extravagant lifestyle at the expense of the ticket-paying and gambling public. Is this surprising? Not really.
 
Football and hockey are particularly violent team sports. It is arguable that the whole attraction for many spectators is the violence, just as the attraction for race-car spectators is the potential for a burning wreck. This attraction to violence as entertainment runs deep in U.S. culture. It has extended its roots deeper with the successful marketing of murderous computer games to children.
 
Our society has gone from war-loathing in the Vietnam era to war-cheering in the last 10 years. The military, whose job is killing, has once again been elevated to the level of an honored segment of society. The veterans of World War II, like my own father, raised a generation of war-loathing sons who learned the effects of war from their traumatized parents. These sons and daughters took to the streets in the thousands to protest war and advocate peace.
 
Orwellian terrorism has been exploited to restore the military and the domestic police to arrogance. The fear of domestic violence at the hands of the much-touted terrorists is used to excuse slaughter abroad and spying at home. The most peaceful demonstrations in cities are intimidated by disproportionate police presence. The Occupy Movement was an admirable confrontation of this trend. But most Americans cowered in their living rooms and were ambivalent about that cause for socioeconomic justice.
 
Those who are violent in nature and training know the power of violence against the decent and peaceful. Gangster punks have shut down neighborhoods in cities across the U.S. with drive-by shootings of the innocent as well as their own. They have erected a media empire of violence in music, television and films with the aid of unscrupulous agents and promoters. And this empire differs little from the empire of professional sports.
 
Humanism, if based in justice and peace, opposes all forms of violence other than self-defense under direct aggression. Direct aggression, not perceived threat. Therefore, a humanist who practices his beliefs cannot support violent endeavors for money or power. Yes, it is that clear and simple.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Approval

There is a vast difference between opinion, support and approval. Opinion is a formulated idea in response to another idea or action. Support is an expression in thought, word or action of agreement with a thought, word or action. Approval implies certification of or authoritative permission for a thought, word or action. Approval implies some form of accountable participation, control or authority.
 
I recently stated my withdrawal of support from the American Humanist Association (AHA), based on a column written in its official journal by one of its directors. The article voiced a nationalism and militarism which I believe has been inconsistent with humanist ideologies since the head of Thomas More was removed from his body by Henry VIII. The director/author is himself a member of the military establishment.
 
I am not in a position to approve or disapprove of the position of the AHA. I hold no position within that organization for a number of reasons which predate the article in question. However, I did support the organization's work in thought and word by reading its materials, mentioning it here and regularly referring those who express an interest in humanist ideals to their site. That is the support I have withdrawn from that organization.
 
This age of readily typed e-pinions has duly the point of personal responsibility in supporting or not supporting organizations and media outlets. Many people seem to feel that simply typing a rant on the comment area of a Web page is enough. It means virtually nothing. It is simply a belching of opinion, often without the courage to self-identify. It is humorous catharsis at its best; public masturbation at its worst.
 
I believe this kind of clarity about words and ideas is necessary to truly live a mindful life. The one psychotherapy I participated in as a patient was based in words. It was called Neuro-Linguistic Programming. It was a hybrid of cognitive therapy and psychoanalysis. Very effective in my experience. It aided me on my path to living more conscientiously and compassionately.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Chi

Chi is a Chinese word for the universal life force which flows through everything. Other words like Ki, Qi, Prana describe this concept.
 
The demise of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) in the U.S. at the hands of our Supreme Court has me thinking of organizational acronyms. I would like to see a social movement of CHIs. CHI would stand for Committed Humanist Individuals. Actually, I would like to see a CHI Liberation Front, or CHILF.
 
This is an age of gangs. Bad gangs and not-so-bad gangs. There are the hip-hoppers and rappers. There are girl gangs. There is the Latino familia which can be  seen crowding together in department stores, hospital waiting rooms and other locations. There are Twitter gangs and Facebook gangs. And there are born-again gangs, orthodox gangs and jihadist gangs. "Family restaurant" is a code for heterosexual gangsters who don't want to associate with those who don't share their "family values".
 
Gangs among the more affluent and sophisticated are often called "communities". There is the Harvard community, for example. Harvard Clubs exist around the world. These are places where the Harvard gangsters associate and compare the blueness of their blood over drinks. There is the Bilderberg Group, a gang of celebrities, politicians and CEOs. They get together in five-star locations to discuss how they will continue to shape the world for the rest of us to their own advantage as the aristocracy. And so it goes.
 
CHILF (Committed Humanist Individual Liberation Front) would be opposed to becoming a gang in any shape. CHILF would have no scheduled meetings. If a spontaneous gathering of CHIs (Committed Humanist Individuals)  happened to get together, they would perhaps share stories of individual good deeds, aspirations and initiatives. There would be no professional CHIs. No CHILF fundraisers. No CHILF initiation rites. No CHILF Centers. No non-profit CHILF corporations. Yes, I am being somewhat facetious.
 
The basis of all sustainable goodness in the world is individual responsibility and commitment. Marriage and heredity have not per se developed goodness in the world. In fact, heredity from marriage is at the root of much of the illness and evil in the world, especially when associated with either generational aristocracy or generational poverty. Organizations, gangs, communities are only as progressive as the individual members. Therefore, I celebrate the individual humanist who, regardless of whatever group includes him/her, maintains his/her own practice of propagating mindfulness and compassion in everyday life.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Awareness

One of Maurice's Letters from San Francisco, 1987
Maurice Oullette died of AIDS in 1987 in San Francisco. He was an ex-lover and friend. He called me weeks before his death. I was living at the far end of the country, in Provincetown. Maurice had run away from Boston the previous Spring when he knew he was dying of Kaposi Sarcoma (KS). Actually, he didn't run. He took the bus all the way to California. I offered to buy him an airline ticket, but he would only accept the bus fare when he showed up with a small suitcase to kiss me good-bye. He had been planning to hitch-hike.
 
Maurice called from an alley in North Beach. It was raining. He had a hacking cough, a product of his smoking, his KS and pneumonia. The alley was behind the diner where he was washing dishes to get by, to pay the rent on his seedy boarding-house room and to pay for an occasional bag of weed to ease his discomfort. "I just wanted to say good-bye and tell you I love you," he rasped. I fought back my tears of helplessness and tried to get him to tell me exactly where he was staying. He wouldn't.
 
It was about a year later when a package arrived in the mail from Manitoba, Canada. It contained a drawing, one of Maurice's stunning sketches, and a caption, "Until the next time, Paul. Love, Maurice." A terse note in his sister's hand said Maurice had died the previous Fall. He had left instructions in his room. One of those instructions was that the drawing be mailed to me in Provincetown. The sister's note explained that Maurice was cremated and his ashes spread partly near his first partner's grave in San Francisco and partly in Canada, where he was born.
 
Last night I had an acute awareness of Maurice here in my room as I was falling asleep. It was a presence. Whether it was generated by my own sleepy neurons or by some other force is irrelevant to me. I have had these palpable manifestations of loved ones before. For some reason, I calculated the years since Maurice's death and speculated about reincarnation. He has been dead more than 25 years. As I drifted off, I remember wondering whimsically if some 20-something around me was in part a reincarnated Maurice.
 
This morning the local National Public Radio (NPR) aired a story of a 21 year old gay male prostitute who is struggling to avoid contracting HIV as part of his work. He was disowned by a homophobic family, as I once was at his age and as Maurice was at an even earlier age. Maurice had run to San Francisco where he too plied the world's oldest profession to survive. I, unlike Maurice and the young man on the radio this morning, was fortunate enough to have an education and professional skills. I went to work in a blood lab.
 
I share this as an example of one of the benefits of practice. Integrating these major life relationships and experiences of loss into some form of understanding of the human condition breeds compassion. Being open to my own mind and feelings places me within the world as it is. This makes me more likely to reach out to others, like a kid on the streets with bad breaks, from a position of equitable understanding, not supercilious piety or pity or exploitation.
 
I am still formulating my practical action in response to this experience. For now It is more important to keep my thoughts and feelings alive about poverty, homophobia and my need to help where I can. This is the sausage-making of humanist practice. It is not about just writing a tax-exempt check or throwing money at the homeless in doorways on the way to a privileged bourgeois life.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Clarity

I was recently walking on a street in downtown Boston when I was approached by a young woman in apparent Somali dress.. She had an older woman trailing her. She addressed the older woman as a mistress addresses a servant. The older woman seemed to cower under her orders in their native language. "Where is free housing?" she barked in my direction with an arrogance which surprised me. "Free housing! Where?" she became more demanding. I think she thought me a dullard. I thought and realized the Boston Housing Authority's offices are located one block from where we stood. I gave her directions. She set off with a fast and determined gait. The older woman struggled to keep up, several yards behind her.
 
There can be no clarity of purpose where equivocation and self-delusion reign. This is proven by governments daily. The current immigration debate in Congress is an example. The drag of illegal and poorly managed immigration on the quality of life in the U.S. for its taxpayers is ignored in favor of the benefits of cheap and controllable labor for contractors and some industries. Congress, charged with maintaining the quality of life for U.S. citizens, has been bogged down by foggy ideologies on both ends of the political spectrum.
 
Hard data is ignored in favor of emotional arguments about "hard working immigrants" and "family values". The reality is that illegal immigrants degrade salaries for native-born unskilled labor, undermine unions, place a property tax burden on homeowners who absorb the costs of educating their children, engage in a shadow economy which is a breeding ground for criminality, consume large costs in free medical care, etc..
 
By making immigration an emotional issue rather than a legal and scientific issue, Congress fails to do its job at the expense of U.S. citizens. From a legal standpoint, illegal immigration is illegal. It is a form of trespassing. It is a crime which could perhaps be rationalized justly by a political or cultural refugee who cannot navigate the immigration system to save his/her life. From a scientific point of view, it costs communities a great deal of money. It may make or save money for contractors and industries, but the tax laws ensure that the money that goes to profits from illegal immigration does not go to pay for the civil costs in education, law enforcement and health care.
 
The fluffy figures presented by academic economists in the pockets of lobbyists representing those who profit from illegal immigration which show that illegal immigrants bring profit to the country as a whole are misleading. A simple drive through areas predominantly occupied by illegal immigrants will open the eyes of the deluded. I grew up in this kind of community, which became impoverished by providing services to illegal immigrants from a working-class taxable population.
 
The job of government, like the job of living a conscientious life, should be based in science and clear decisions based on objective data. Those who are studying this data in the immigration debate are those who suggest increased legal immigration for those who bring value to American life and the end of immigration for those who simply cross our borders with disregard for law or fiscal responsibility to this nation and its communities.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Housing

I happen to believe that safe and hygienic housing is a human right, not a privilege. As I watch homeless individuals nodding off on sidewalks and near highway ramps, I experience anger at the politicians who allowed the selling off of state mental hospitals for development in the name of clinical progress.
 
Their much touted system of in-community housing for these individuals has been an abysmal failure. It is costlier and less effective than the old mental hospital campuses. A combined approach of the mental hospital campus and in-community housing as a stepwise treatment model would have been more effective, and probably less expensive overall, when accounting for emergency room visits, shelter beds and prison occupancy. Another government screw-up encouraged by capitalist privateers.
 
My neighborhood is currently witnessing a revamping of public housing. Old postwar city-operated housing projects (estates) are being leveled. In the place of these brick boxes, wooden townhouse-styled buildings are being built in rows. They are surfaced in bright pastel colors. They look like suburban condo complexes. Similar reconstruction has been taking place for two decades around Boston. Neighborhoods around the ugly old developments have been transformed by this cost-effective architectural fix.
 
I appreciate the visible expenditure of my tax dollars to this purpose. How superior to guns and bombs which are dropped on foreign civilians. How superior to subsidizing wealthy banks, wealthy food corporations and wealthy automobile manufacturers. How superior to buying technological spies to watch the public for any sign of resistance to the government.
 
My own experience of finding housing in this city has been time-consuming over the years. I moved annually as a renter to avoid astronomic rent increases. Later, as a homeowner, I climbed the housing market for nearly twenty years to get to my current residence, where I feel I am living comfortably. Boston has become a tough town for those without considerable financial resources who want to live in the city.
 
My humanist sense of justice and equality is offended by the capitalism of condoned homelessness and substandard housing owned by absentee landlords. Allowing these trends is an overt failure of government. Home ownership in the U.S. (approximately 45%) is the lowest since World War II. Massive corporations are buying up repossessed properties by the tens of thousands to be rented to the same population who have been foreclosed upon.  While academic economists and stockbrokers gleefully declare the end of the Great Recession, secure and affordable housing becomes more and more elusive for many in our society.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

History

Chinese Beach Scene
I am currently reading a text on the history of Scandinavia. An outstanding reminder about human history came from my reading. Human settlement has always been driven by population and its stress on environments. This accounts for the progression of homo sapiens from Africa to Middle Asia and subsequently all over the globe.
 
Where does a stressed overpopulated human species go now? Migration now goes from impoverished countryside to megacity. This is population compression, not the previous human population expansion. Expansion relieves pressure on solids, liquids and gases. Compression intensifies pressure on solids, liquids and gases. Pressure in Nature is stress in human beings.
 
Is there any wonder that murder rates are up? Is there any wonder why conflict is intensifying within national borders around the world? Technology alone cannot overcome the physical realities of limited space and time. If the human population is not adjusted to the human ecology, the human species, like any other which outgrows its ecology, will suffer a collapse. That collapse could come as plague, war or starvation. How it comes is less important than realizing that it will come unless the species becomes more responsive to and responsible for its own environment.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Fortune

Most good fortune in human lives is taken for granted. Understanding this comes with experience and age.
 
A strong and healthy body is amazing good fortune. A brain which functions well and learns readily is also amazing good fortune.
 
Much attention in the medically driven societies of the developed world is given to pathology and dysfunction. There is profit in disease and addiction. There is profit in brain malfunctions which display as mental illness. The bearers of genetic deficits, disease or addiction suffer greatly. Treating them, while motivated by admirable human emotions, yield profits for corporations which build less beneficent aristocracies.
 
Part of a healthy life is practicing the assessment and application of physical and mental strengths to compensate for vulnerabilities or weaknesses. Meditation is very helpful in this process. Quiet time for more active reflection is also beneficial. For some, a therapist is an invaluable ally in opening the treasure trove of their good fortune of birth.
 
There has been a rather schizoid split in the public consciousness concerning good fortune in life here in the U.S.. The current politically correct cult of Inclusion or Normalization tends to discourage the individual from skeptically looking at his/her particular fortunes of birth in contrast to others. At the same time, the upper ten percent of the population is actively accumulating inordinate wealth for themselves at the expense of social equity in society. This cult of Exclusion materializes in the form of gated communities and the luxury inner cities around the world where international economic aristocrats gather and indulge themselves.
 
True good fortune in life has nothing to do with money. It is highly individual. Discovering the good fortune in my own body and brain has taken me many years. In fact, some of that good fortune had ebbed away with neurosis, physical disease and age before I realized I had possessed it. Now I take time every day to assess and apply the good fortune in my life. This is a great support to my humanist practice of mindfulness and compassion.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Choice

We have all made bad choices. We are all fallible, even the dogmatically infallible Pope. The measure of an ethical person is what he/she does with the results of a bad choice.
 
I recently attended a civic association meeting where newly declared political candidates for the Boston city council were speaking in contention for the November election. One outstanding young man announced that he was formerly a drug addict. He has been sober/clean for ten years. He is currently working at a major hospital in a program to prevent HIV and Hepatitis C infections.
 
He took a question concerning a rash of methadone-addicted vagrants in our neighborhood. A private methadone clinic has been recruiting clients from far and wide for profit. Once dosed, the addicts, most of whom are unemployed and many of whom are mentally ill beyond addiction, simply hang around the area. They beg in the streets at traffic lights. They nod off in doorways.
 
The candidate had the courage to clearly state his opposition to methadone treatment. "Methadone killed my brother," he stated firmly. The general membership of the association, which tends to have an older demographic, looked embarrassed by his honesty. The candidate stated that he would oppose licensing more clinics sponsored by the drug companies which supply the methadone, paid for ultimately by taxpayers.
 
This man has been able to recognize his bad choices. He did something about them within his life. Now he is able to help others to avoid making the same choices as an example and a facilitator. This is a humanist story, whether the man who is its subject considers himself a humanist or not.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Humanism

 
At our best, we human beings are nonviolent custodians of the planet, its creatures and natural resources. At our worst,  we human beings are relentless predators who consume whatever lies in our paths for the sake of our own sensual and emotional experiences. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Marriage

Marriage is an institution. As a former psychiatric nurse, I have never wished to be institutionalized.
 
 
 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Murder

We are bathed in the accounts of violence in the city of Boston at present. The long overdue trial of Whitey Bulger commences with the testimony of a professional hit man (39 kills suspected), released from prison after only 12 years on condition of testifying at the trial of his former crime boss. The distribution of funds from a public charity to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombs is underway. The murder rate in Boston is already higher than it was last year. This is due largely to gun violence in gang-plagued neighborhoods.
 
At the same time, the U.S. government and national law enforcement stand in locked unity in defense of spying on American civilians at will. What is the worth of this spying if it does not curtail local violence on our streets? The answer is probably simple. The spying is not meant to prevent the murder of a Black or Latino teenager in a low-income neighborhood. The spying is geared to protect wealthy travelers on flights and cruises. The spying is geared to protect the glass towers of the insurance and finance industries. The spying is geared to protecting the financial and military profile of the U.S. government, as a representative of U.S. corporations, not of the citizens.
 
Perhaps the citizens of the U.S. would be more trusting of government if government secured the streets of all their neighborhoods against violence. If New York City can be safer than most major cities in the U.S. because of its wealth and government programs, there is no defendable reason for high murder rates any other city in the U.S.. Spying for a much hyped terrorist threat from outside the U.S. is overlooking the ongoing need for true Homeland Security within our own borders.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Propulsion

In the early days of the U.S. Space Program (NASA), satellites were propelled into orbit with a two-stage rocket. The huge bottom stage provided the early thrust. A second smaller stage propelled the satellite and additional stages into sub-orbit before they too broke away. I have often referred to mental images of these early launches which I watched on black-and-white TV as a child when I am dealing with the challenges of daily life, the challenges of practice.
 
Practicing mindfulness and compassion in the everyday world is a matter of thrust against gravity and inertia of conformity, selfishness or apathy. The first major thrust occurs with the adjustment every morning of the body and brain to face the oncoming day. For me, this entails twenty minutes of stretches and exercise, attendance to my hygiene, a healthy breakfast and writing this blog. My second stage of thrust occurs as I encounter each situation of the day. Striving to be open and candid in the face of the challenges of urban life often requires a power boost from within...a second stage, a third stage, and so on.
 
Practicing in this way eventually launches the mind and body into an orbit of consciousness and health. Maintaining this orbit for me requires that I launch myself into it every day in the morning. The fuel for my propulsion is a combination of resolve, responsibility, responsiveness, meditation, reflection and motivation born of my ethical belief system.
 
Space travel, like a humanist practice,  requires intensive application of consciousness and even more intensive preparation. There is no margin for laziness or lack of concern for others. Many elements must be brought to play for a successful launch, orbit and reentry. Just like living in the moment as a person who aspires to mindfulness and compassion. Each day is a journey and a return. Each day is a chance to propel the mind and body to higher degrees of awareness, understanding and well being.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Universe

If you haven't done this recently, I highly recommend you do. Go outside after dark. Find a place without urban lighting. Spend at least 10 minutes looking at a clear night sky. Once you've done this, you will have a clearer sense of your scale and place in the vast Universe. Take it in.  Accept it with deep breaths. Gain some peace with your short life span, your mortality, your inevitably small part in the vast wholeness of Space and Time. Allowing this reality into your brain fosters humility and compassion.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Progress

When I was young, in the 1960s and 1970s, the word "progress" was in frequent use. It was an age of the Space Race. It was an age of social upheaval. Assumptions of centuries were thrown in the air and allowed to shatter with a sense of creative glee. It was an age of Free Love.
 
Great leaps of social progress and scientific progress marked the time. Traditional marriage was questioned and discarded by many in favor of open relationships. Race was openly discussed as a barrier in society, as opposed to a God-given place in society. Religion was seen for its manipulative control and restriction of the human spirit. The judgment of sexual identity as deviant if it diverged from mainstream heterosexuality was debunked by social science.
 
This time has been dubbed an age of Inclusion. Multiculturalism, diversity, globalization and normalization are all active concepts in developed countries. At what price has Inclusion replaced Progress? And are they mutually exclusive or mutually inclusive?
 
Progress comes when the brightest and most expressive are lauded and encouraged to succeed for the benefit of all. Yes, "the benefit of all" means a form of passive social inclusion. The pioneering of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs brought benefit to all. Improved computers have accelerated health research and treatment. Improved technology has made workplaces more efficient and less sweat-labor-intensive. Improved technology has made devices for the home, which improve the quality of daily life, less expensive and more efficient.
 
Inclusion implies that all should share in an improved society equally. However, in the capitalism of our age, Inclusion means that all theoretically have the same potential for experiencing the benefits of progress. Theoretically. In practice, capitalism ensures that only a top elite gain all the benefits of progress at the expense of a huge underclass. The trickle-down effect is just that...a trickle, a drip, a seepage. Meanwhile, the base of the socioeconomic pyramid spreads, making the trickle less and less saturating.
 
While today's entrepreneurial social activists sell Inclusion with sanctimonious political correctness, those who rule through a lobbyist-controlled government in the U.S. pervert the concept to satisfy the greed of their handlers. This is not progress or true inclusion. This is ancient exploitation of the public wealth by the aristocracy.
 
Progress in the individual life often entails painful realizations and remedial action. Progress in science often entails failure and starting over. Progress in society often entails acknowledgment of dysfunction and political action, such as protest and nonviolent resistance. Progress, combined with Inclusion, is a positive and world-changing social movement.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Lines

President Obama has set a red line in regard to Syria's civil war. The use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government against its own citizens constituted that red line. Is that really a red line from the point of view of humanism or of human decency? Isn't the red line the use of military (or police) power in any country to oppress its citizens? Isn't spying on peaceful citizens by police a red line? Isn't bullying nonviolent protesters a red line? The line of intimidation and oppression is being crossed here in America every day by people with guns.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Practice


I use lavender to make my own household cleaner and deodorizer. I make a tea from French lavender flowers, which I purchase from an on line supplier. To the tea, as it cools, I add a small amount of rubbing alcohol. Later I add a small amount of biodegradable dish soap and some vinegar. Voila! An environmentally friendly and disinfecting detergent.
 
The lavender flowers impress me every time. They look like purple rice grains. Their odor is evident when they are dried, but they fill my whole house with fragrance when I add them to boiling water. The water turns a deep purple, deep enough to dye white cotton, I suspect.
 
Making lavender tea is like transforming a distracted life to a life of practice. A life beaten down into dry conforming habit without intellectual questioning is like dried lavender. It may seem perfectly respectable and livable, but its impact on its own brain and its environment is limited. A life of mindfulness and compassion is like lavender tea.. It stimulates the brain with wonder. It has an inevitable impact on its environment. Crisis is often the boiling water of the tea of practice.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Security

Some polls indicate that U.S. citizens are satisfied with the government surveillance programs instituted through the Patriot Act. They feel safe. Well, I would ask them these questions:
 
Did all this surveillance prevent the number of illegal immigrants to rise to more than 11 million?
 
Did all this surveillance prevent the massacre of children at Newtown, Connecticut?
 
Did all this surveillance prevent the Marathon Bombing in Boston this year?

Did all this surveillance find Whitey Bulger?
 
Is this surveillance really about protecting the public, or is it about protecting the government and the corporations which the government now represents?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Women

The future of humanity lies in the hands of women, not men. Poverty is propagated by the reproductive activity of uneducated and impoverished women. The effects of human overpopulation, which threatens the sustainability of human life on the planet, are magnified by growing human poverty. This is not the poverty of starvation. In fact, obesity is becoming a problem among the poorer people on the planet due to worldwide demand for affordable food from agricultural aggregates, who depend largely on genetically manipulated wheat, corn and rice to feed billions cheaply and unhealthily.
 
Sex education is vehemently resisted by religions dominated by men. Educated women in developed countries must lead the way to liberation from these religious impediments in order for the human species to prosper in peace. The last 30 years have seen victories of domineering men in this struggle. Religious hoodlums (Taliban and other fundamentalists in all religions) have bullied many women in the developed world into submission to male authority by adopting 'traditional' female roles. The resurgence in the Republican Party's domination in American politics has largely been due to this trend.
 
Many educated women have swallowed the myths of free market capitalism.  These myths foster the lie that all boats rise under corporate domination. Women have been seduced into token roles of power within the corporate culture. They have adopted the materialism and competitiveness of men. Their vision of the world is unimaginative. They are tied to all the assumptions of the past in an attempt to achieve monetary and social success. They are committed to hereditary wealth (aristocracy) and Libertarian nonsense about everyone having the same opportunities in life.
 
There are exceptional female pioneers throughout the world. They receive little press. Angelina Jolie's mastectomy gets more coverage than all life-risking sex education and female empowerment that many women are engaged in throughout the developing world. Millions of women die silently of undiagnosed breast cancer in the developing world for lack of education. Many women who stand up for themselves are brutalized and die at the hands of men.
 
The common rationalization for those of us who are comfortable in the developed world is: Change takes time. At the current rate of environmental degradation, the vast majority of human beings have little time for major change in the behavior of the species. Bringing another human being into this world should be an educated decision by a woman who has the means to provide for that child's needs. Millions are born every year without benefit of this kind of mothering. How long can this continue before disaster overcomes our species?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Breathe

There is a lot of talk in educated circles about the neurologic, physiologic and psychological effects of regular meditation. This is nothing new. Meditation is an ancient practice to calm the mind, mend the body and open the senses, including the so-called sixth sense. Meditation is a natural and easy method to sit, breathe and allow the mind and body to rest.
 
Breathe! So few of us are conscious of the shallow, anxiety-constricted breathing we do in our rushed urban lives. Yes, breathing is an automatic process, but healthy breathing isn't always automatic if a brain/body internalizes environmental or psychological stress. Most of us in modern life of the developed world are stressed by driving, walking in congested cities, struggling to make a living, etc.. There are many sources of daily stress.
 
There is one sure preliminary therapy for this internalized stress. The beauty of meditation as therapy is its capacity to open the mind to further steps to recovery from daily stress. Many urban and materialistic people find this somewhat threatening. They do not want a mind which tells them the true cost of their hassled and/or addicted lives. This truth lays responsibility for changing a life at the feet of the meditator. The calmed and liberated mind sees through denial and self-delusion.
 
Any person who sits or lies down daily in a comfortable quiet space for 15-20 minutes and does nothing but breathe slowly and consciously will eventually become an adept meditator. The results of adopting this practice will vary widely from one meditator to another. For some, it will be a springboard for self discovery. For others, it will be an effective tranquilizer. It will work for some as way of way getting through the day with fewer tears or less pain.
 
Breathe. Meditate. Reflect on your meditations. This is a wonderful way to becoming more fully human, more fully conscious, more fully compassionate.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Stasi

The MfS, Ministerium fur Statssicherheit, also known as Stasi, monitored and attempted to control the lives of East Germans under Soviet occupation. I strongly urge anyone who is too young to remember the Stasi to read up on it or watch some videos about it.
 
Any bureaucracy, such as government, can flip from an institution created by and for its supporters/funders to a institution manipulated by the few within to amass power and control over those same initial supporters/funders. Our U.S. government has been flipping in this direction since the aftermath of September 11, 2001. Those in government and those who seek to control government from outside of it have been given a 12-year pass on violating civil liberties of American citizens. This is extremely dangerous.
 
President Obama's minimizing of the current furor over the surveillance being conducted on the phones and computers of millions of Americans is a symptom of the problem. Americans should be outraged at these revelations. They should wake from their conformist sleep. They are not safer under a spying and controlling government, which is now being openly manipulated by corporate interests with the blessing of the Supreme Court, the Presidency and Congress.  
 
The bland politically correct and "it's all good" media brainwashing of the last decade has been engineered to dull the traditional American penchant for protest and skepticism. This is not paranoia. Paranoia is an irrational fear. Mine is a rational fear based on growing up as a sexual minority in times when the government placed men like me, judged as deviants, in state hospitals for electroshock therapy. Yes, this occurred in my own lifetime. Turning this around did not happen by sipping a cocktail and purring "It's all good."

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Truthfulness

Deflecting a question by answering it with vagueness is not truthfulness. President Obama's "Nobody is listening to your telephone calls" is an example. This may be the stuff of law schools and debating societies, but it is not truthfulness on a critical matter of government intrusion into private lives. In a media-driven culture this is a dangerous precedent. Lying has become more and more acceptable in the political arena. As newspapers yield to author-promoting Web content, the standard of objective truth in reporting has deteriorated.
 
Yes, I hope nobody specific in the government is assigned to listen to my specific phone calls, but the government is engaged in the business of 'listening' to our private and personal communications through computer technology. This is the truth of the matter, which President Obama wishes would go away, especially while he is wining and dining the Chinese President, who is presumably a master of government intrusion as a manner to clamp down on protest and civil liberties. Perhaps they had a good laugh over dessert about the hypersensitivity of American libertarians.
 
This form of mincing words over an important issue of civil rights is a form of government corruption. It is more subtle than taking lots of money to deliver a political promise made during an election. However, it is just as corrupting over time. Information is power. Power corrupts.
 
Mr. Obama ran as a religious moralist, a change agent, a peacemaker. He has performed as George-Bush-Lite.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Terrorism

Those who terrorize with the threat of terror toward a traumatized public are terrorists. Why would a democratic government spy on its citizens in secrecy? Has the U.S. become East Germany during the Cold War? Isn't the 'example' being set with Bradley Manning, tortured by our military while in prison, a form of terrorism? Isn't it meant to strike fear in the hearts of anyone who chooses personal ethics over blind loyalty? The greatest and most dangerous terror is the terror inflicted on a free spirit by conformist cowardice.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Denial

For those who deny the deterioration of our planet, I offer this link:
 
 
Every day I watch cars pulling in and out of urban Dunkin Donuts branches. Their single-use cups and boxes are littered everywhere. While I take some satisfaction in the knowledge that the litterers will pay dearly for their consumption of such junk, I am saddened at this vast example of human ignorance and denial of responsibility for maintaining this precious planet. No, Bambi, it isn't all good.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Buckets

I overheard a young person refer to her bucket list recently. The item from her list of things to do before she kicks the bucket (dies) was rather vapid. It was a luxury tourist experience.
 
I was impressed by the lack of grounding in this apparently educated and affluent person. I realized that she has been conditioned to be selfish and materialistic by her environment. So much so that she could not begin to see this in herself. Her companions nodded and giggled their approval of her bucket item.
 
Look around. Read the news. Learn about the status of the planet. A charter vacation to the tropics on a polluting ship is a short-lived phenomenon. Perhaps this is the unconscious drive behind this type of vacuous materialism. Watching a plate of goodies being gobbled up can make you consider grabbing one before they are all gone, I suppose. Especially if you are habituated to constantly satisfying your own appetite.
 
Kicking the bucket is inevitable, whether you have a list or not. Most human beings are familiar with lugging a bucket in some form or another to simply survive. Rather than helping them lug their buckets, most people in the wealthy world exploit those who lug buckets by demanding cheap manufactured goods and natural resources for food, fuel and water.
 
Rather than making lists of thrill rides to be experienced in a life, the true humanist is mindful of the general well being of all human beings and the planet. The humanist, in my opinion, concentrates on bringing value to the planet. This is not accomplished by spending great amounts of time and money on vacations and purchases of luxury goods. Consumption, despite capitalist propaganda to the contrary, does not magically improve the planet and the lives of all people. Consumer cultures depend on underpaid workers in non-consumer cultures.
 
It seems unlikely to me that some utopia of robot-powered luxury for tens of billions of human beings lies over the polluted horizon. This is the escapist refuge of the privileged geek...a virtual reality in a computer game or CGI film. The rebels in Syria may have smart phones, but they are still being obliterated by others with bigger machines powered by bigger technologies. The basic issue of lack of humanity, lack of human development, exists and grows exponentially with population.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Bulgers

William and Whitey
I begin by quoting from Wikipedia on the life of William Bulger, brother of Whitey Bulger, alleged serial killer and mob boss.

Bulger is a past president of the Boston Public Library Board of Trustees and continues to serve on the board. He is also Overseer Emeritus of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In addition, he is a former member of the Massachusetts General Hospital Board of Trustees, Museum of Fine Arts Board of Trustees, McLean Hospital Board of Trustees and Citizens Bank of Massachusetts Board of Directors. He joined the faculties of Boston College and Suffolk University as a lecturer of political science in 2004. Bulger lives in South Boston with Mary, his wife whom he married in 1960. They have nine children and 33 grandchildren. According to the Boston Herald list of State pensions, Bulger is currently receiving a pension from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts at a rate of $198,205.92 annually.[7]

What does this excerpt tell us about government corruption, the hypocrisy of "family values" and outward religiosity? As Whitey Bulger comes up for a show trial, which hardly represents any real justice for his victims, their survivors and the general public, his brother (and apparent enabler) lives a luxurious lifestyle on the public purse. This passes no standard of ethics. This corrodes faith in government. This encourages criminality in society.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Conflict

Conflict can become habituated in individual lives and in cultures. Ancient tribalism ritualized conflict in the form of regular raids by one tribe upon another. This promoted tribal cohesion and asserted territorial superiority. Male children were initiated into violence through these raids. This human behavior still exists in the world.
 
National Public Radio presented this piece on Israel. Commando tourism. This speaks for itself.
 
Conflict is hard-wired in capitalist cultures. When materialism and money rule, there is inevitable conflict over limited physical resources. With increased population and environmental pressures, conflict is likely to intensify. There is nothing which will stop this in the immediate future of the planet.
 
As an individual, I can choose in any situation whether to participate in conflict with others. This choice becomes easier when the conflicts within my own brain are resolved through personal practice. If I am healthy, meditate and focus on my life's priorities, conflict is relatively easy to avoid as long as I am not trying to profit from the loss of others.
 
Whatever control comes from winning a conflict is short-lived. Conflict does not end conflict. It breeds more conflict.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Action

All actions reflect upon my personal practice, and my personal practice should be evident in all my actions.
 
In 1988, I attended a national Buddhist convention in Worcester, Massachusetts. The Japanese organizers had chosen Worcester because it was a depressed industrial city at the time. Many of its factories were closed. Its few small colleges were keeping the city alive. A new convention center had been built to stimulate the city's economy. The organizers wanted to use their convention to promote good where it was needed.
 
I was very impressed with this approach to a national convention by and for people committed to creating good causes. I proudly participated. I volunteered  my services as a registered nurse in the convention infirmary. There was a remarkable lack of need of my services, I am happy to report. This was extraordinary because these Buddhists, being rooted in Japanese culture, staged some amazing group gymnastic activities during the convention as a method to build group cohesion and promote health as part of practice.
 
I observe the actions of non-profits here in the U.S. with a skeptical eye. From my experience in the AIDS service segment of society, I learned that many in non-profit corporations exploit them for luxury travel and personal networking at the expense client services. Conventions in luxury destinations within five-star hotels serve nobody other than the non-profiteers.
 
I understand the need to build organization to achieve goals. However, organizations which achieved the foundations of LGBT rights in the U.S. did this in dark church basements and dilapidated office buildings in marginal neighborhoods. The high-profile Washington lobbyists who now claim ownership of the LGBT cause simply parlayed those humble foundations into big business. After all, this country is now ruled by and through big business. Sadly.
 
There is a reason why my blog has no advertisements. I was recently urged by Facebook to pay them $10 a day to promote my blog's Facebook page. "To what end?" I thought. Does Facebook need my $10 a day? Hardly. I would do more good by distributing that $10 a day to homeless people on the street. My belief is that my words have value for me and my personal practice. I post them in a spirit of sharing and invitation to share if someone reads them. This action is evidence of and part of my personal practice. It is not a commodity or a performance, geared to achieve celebrity.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Skepticism

There is a lot of off-handed dismissal of skeptical people as conspiracy theorists. This is an age of denial: Denial of the value of science, denial of the value of good governance, denial of social responsibility. This is symptomatic of a culture of "Look at me.". The paradox of the "Look at me." culture is its use of leveling social media to promote the narcissist agenda.
 
Does anyone seriously believe the postings on Facebook tell a real story about the life of the poster? Is every life composed of flattering photographs and the humor displayed by shared links?  Is this virtual social process enhancing the actual public space?
 
Narcissism is enabled by virtual media. Self-delusion is enabled by endless self-promotion. So much time is devoted to developing a virtual persona. This leaves little time to actually work on developing a real persona.
 
Humanist practice, as I see it, entails being actually human and evolving through real behavior in real time. This takes a lot of time and effort. It leaves little time for playing with a Facebook profile.
 
If I am developing an actual sense of who I am with skeptical self-inquiry, I naturally require self-education and behavioral change to do so. I must question, challenge and experiment within my own life. Pretending I am celebrity material and then pursuing the business of becoming one without any substance to what I have to offer to the world is a dead end. Skeptically examining the lives of superstars will bear me out on this point.
 
Rather than striving for celebrity, the practicing humanist strives for personal substance. The person who practices mindfulness and compassion celebrates his own full experience of his humanity. This is a road to growth and joy.