Summer Festival

Apologies for my lack of posts recently. We’re back up and will be posting for the remainder of the year.

A Humanist Year’s major festivals occur four times throughout the year, at the solstices and the equinoxes. These are times for celebration. They are times when we laugh and sing and come together with others to revel in the turning of the year. They are also often transitional times between the liturgical seasons, times when we separate from the previous season’s concerns and refocus our attention on new topics and new ways of thinking and interacting with the world.

The Summer Solstice marks, literally and metaphorically, the brightest day of the year. In astronomical terms, it is the day with the most sunlight. In Humanist terms, it is World Humanist Day, a time for special pride in our Humanist community. The Solstice is also comes at the height of the Season on Flourishing, a time for rejoicing in all that is good in life. Join us this week as we celebrate the Summer Solstice, World Humanist Day, and AHY’s Summer Festival.

Read this excellent and thorough treatment of humanism as a worldview.

Read the current Humanist Manifesto (and it’s forerunners).

If you want more information, Wikipedia is the way to go. That article has a wealth of information, including links to follow-up on and a list of (the many) Humanist organizations.

I do want to highlight a few specific Humanist organizations:
The American Humanist Association is perhaps the closest thing we have to a central organization.
The American Ethical Union is essential to the history of Humanism and is still the best example of Humanist community.
The Foundation Beyond Belief is an organization of Humanists doing good in the world. It is the place to go for Humanist philanthropy (consider donating!).
The Secular Coalition for America does a lot of very important political work around Humanist issues (consider writing a letter to your representatives!).
The Secular Student Alliance is a wonderful resource for university students looking to get involved in the Humanist movement.

Take a look at the IHEU’s World Humanist Day website for ideas about how to observe this important holiday.

Reflect on and discuss with others what being a Humanist means to you. How does it influence your day-to-day life? How does it relate to your other identities?

Read or watch Humanist works of art. Take a look at, for example, Star Trek or the His Dark Materials trilogy.

Sing Humanist songs.

Get together with a Humanist community near you. If you do this only once a year, now is a great time for it. Let this week of Humanist unity be the impetus for finding out what Humanist community is all about. Here is a great list of local groups which are affiliated with the American Humanist Association. Also well worth checking out is the American Ethical Union’s list of local Ethical Culture Societies. The Sunday Assembly is another great organization with local secular gatherings to look into.

Plan a pilgrimage to a Humanist landmark – perhaps the AHA or AEU annual conferences (the AEU one is next weekend!) or the grave of a famous Humanist.

Have other suggestions for how to celebrate the Summer Festival? Let us know!

Season on Flourishing – Freedom

● Read Sir Isaiah Berlin’s seminal work on political freedom, “Two Concepts of Liberty.” This fascinating article analyzes two concepts – what Berlin calls negative liberty, which has to do with freedom from constraints, and positive liberty, which has to do with being part of the ultimate source of those constraints. It traces the historical development (and abuse) of these two very different conceptions of what it is to be free.

● World Press Freedom Day is next week. Take a look at UNESCO’s website to learn more about this important holiday.

● Read this article by psychologist Jonathan Haidt about the role of freedom in the current culture wars in the United States (it uses Berlin’s concepts of negative and positive liberty, among others).

● Play this fun philosophy game which introduces you to the debate surrounding the question of what it means for our wills to be free.

● Listen to some songs about freedom (there are a lot of them out there).

● Donate to Freedom House, an organization which champions the cause of civil liberties and human rights across the globe through research, advocacy, and direct action.

Have other ideas for how to celebrate Freedom Week? Let us know!

Season on Flourishing – Earth Week

This is week five of the Season on Flourishing.

Wednesday is Earth Day, so this week we reflect on our place in nature and our relationship to the earth itself. We humans often act as though we were separate from and above the natural world of plants and non-human animals. We act as though our concerns were radically different from those of the rest of nature. In reality, of course, we are very much a part of that world. We are special, we are different in many ways, but many more are the ways in which we are the same. Many more are the ways in which our fate is bound up with the fate of the earth we live on. For our own sake as well as that of the rest of nature, we must use the power we have over our environment well.

● Watch the official Earth Day Network educational videos and do the associated activities.  These are great to do with your children, but they can be engaging at any age. For a more in-depth perspective, take this fantastic online course in environmental science.

● Read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. This book about the dangers of pesticides is a classic of the early environmental movement. Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction is another interesting book detailing the often disastrous effect that we humans often have upon our environment.

● Watch An Inconvenient Truth. This famous documentary about global warming has won numerous awards and has been credited with re-energizing the environmental movement.

● Go be in nature. Go hiking, have a picnic, do whatever it is that will get you out into as much wild as you can find. Appreciate that experience. Be mindful of it. Turn your attention to the wind as it blows through the trees, to the grass beneath your feet. Revel in the peace and serenity of the glade and the breathtaking majesty of the mountain.

● Gather berries and edible plants (make sure they are safe to eat first). Go hunting if you have a permit. Make a feast out of nature’s bounty.

● Watch “Planet Earth” the miniseries. This amazing BBC documentary is visually stunning and offers a fascinating look at the biodiversity of our planet.

● Join or start an official Earth Day event. While you’re looking into that, check out the rest of the Earth Day website. It has a wealth of other stuff, from t-shirts to twitter handles, to help you observe the holiday.

● Observe the holiday by observing plants blooming! Moreover, you can participate in democratized science! Project Budburst and Nature’s Notebook are two really cool projects which use lay observers to track important environmental changes.

Plant a tree. Nothing says you care about the future of our planet like making the long-term investment in air quality that is a tree.

● Buy a high-efficiency appliance to cut down on your energy usage.

● Donate to the Earth Day Network or the Natural Resources Defense Council. These organizations are doing important work which is worth supporting.

● On the political front, sign the Earth Day Network petition urging political leaders to phase out carbon pollution. More importantly, think about the environment when making political choices. The people we elect in the coming years will have a huge impact on the environmental policies of our nations. Make sure that you vote for someone who takes that responsibility seriously.

Have other ideas for how to celebrate Earth Week? Let us know!

Season on Flourishing – Physical Health

This is week three of the Season on Flourishing.

Everyone wants to be healthy and fit, but that is easier said than done. It takes hard work, dedication, and (most frustrating of all) time. Let this week be an opportunity to start that journey to better physical health, a reminder of something you’ve been wanting to do but never quite got around to. As has been often said, if you don’t have your health, you don’t have much. If you have your health, you can get everything else. Medical technology is so good these days that a lot of problems can be fixed, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Make it a priority this week to work on your physical health in the most basic and important ways – watch what you eat and get some exercise.

● Tuesday is World Health Day. The theme this year is food safety. Take a look at the official website for information about food safety issues around the world.

● The Fooducate app is a quick way to get helpful nutritional information about your food by simply scanning the bar code on the packaging. It even suggests more healthful alternatives. Is it a perfect tool? Of course not. This app has a particular definition of healthful food that may not fit your individual diet. No nutritional tool can remove your responsibility to experiment and see what works for your body. But it can help you be more informed. It can help you quickly get more information to consider when making choices in the grocery store.

● The American College of Sports Medicine, the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world, has a lot of cool fact sheets on a variety of exercise related topics.

● Cook Better! There is an overwhelming wealth of cookbooks to choose from. Two classics which will teach you to cook basically anything and everything you might want to cook are Rombauer and Becker’s The Joy of Cooking and Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything.

For a cookbook of a more manageable size, try Leanne Brown’s Good and Cheap. This is a PDF which Brown put together as a project for her Masters Degree in Food Studies. It grew out of her desire to help people on food stamps eat more healthfully and is full of incredibly cheap, easy, quick, and delicious recipes. Moreover, the book emphasizes flexibility and gives you a good sense of how to use ingredients in different ways. And you can’t beat the sticker price of free.

If you want to learn about the science behind cooking, check out What Einstein Told his Cook by Robert Wolke.

Finally, for those with a little more time to devote to learning about cooking, here is a great list of free online cooking classes.

● Following up on our mediation from last week, try mindful eating this week. When you eat, pay attention to your food. Pay attention to how it tastes and feels, and think about the long journey it took to your plate.

● Work Out! The most effective exercise plan is the one you actually do, so be more active this week (and into the future) in whatever way works for you. Make an exercise plan, join a gym, or just get outside (it’s spring – enjoy the fresh air!) and play a game (an excellent way to get exercise without it feeling like work). You can also think about small changes to your daily routine which increase your physical activity (walk or bike instead of driving to work, take the stairs instead of the elevator). Yet while you’re doing these small, manageable things, remember that it can be a good thing to push yourself. You can’t know your limits until you run up against them.

If you’re still not sure how to start working out, here is a great introduction from the folks at Reddit. If you need a little motivation, try a commitment device like Gym-Pact. It pays you to exercise (of course, if you don’t follow through, then you end up paying someone else…).

● Cook for someone, especially someone who might not be able to do it for themselves.

● Exercise (at whatever level) with someone. Having a companion is one of the best ways to stick to an exercise plan.

● As you cultivate and celebrate your own physical health and that of others, remember that not everyone is as able bodied as you might be. Donate to an organization which supports the rights of people with physical handicaps like the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund or the National Organization on Disability.

Have other ideas for how to celebrate Physical Health Week? Let us know!

Season on Flourishing – Mental Health

This is week two of the Season on Flourishing.

We tend to only hear about people with serious mental illnesses whenever some such person is violent or when a famous person commits suicide. In reality, the vast majority of people with mental illnesses are not scary (they are more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators of violence). They are mostly like everyone else. The appearance of a mental illness does not fundamentally change a person. Understanding how mental illnesses work will help dispel the fear and misunderstanding which surrounds these conditions.

More generally, it may be helpful to think of mental health by analogy to physical health. Everyone has a body and must take care of it. While some people have diseases which affect their physical health dramatically, we recognize that everyone is somewhere on the quite large spectrum from very fit to very unhealthy. Mental health works the same way. Though we often only think of mental health in relation to mental illnesses, we all lie somewhere along the mental health spectrum.

And it is important for everyone to care for that part of their lives. Why is that people who go to a therapist seem crazy but going to a doctor regularly is seen as good sense? It is widely acknowledged that a healthful diet and moderate exercise is the most important part of caring for your physical health. So too, taking your mental health seriously and caring for it as part of your daily routine goes a long way towards being happy and mentally strong.

This week we think both about those people who suffer from specific mental illnesses and about promoting and cultivating mental health generally.

● The National Alliance on Mental Illness has a great website with a wealth of high-quality, easily accessable information about mental illness. Take a look to get the facts and statistics about mental illnesses, to get descriptions of different conditions (including warning signs and treatment options), and to get advice on dealing with one’s own illness or helping others deal with theirs.

● The problem with mental health advice for those without a clinical diagnosis isn’t that there is not enough of it, it’s that there is far too much of it, and most of it is terrible. The self-help culture in this country does a lot of damage by taking useful tidbits and making them seem like panaceas, drastically oversimplifying mental health and giving false hope to many. The road to happiness is not short, nor is it easy, but it is there to be walked and there is reliable research on the topic. Here are some of the greatest hits of that research.

● Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a company which manufactures anti-psychotic medications, created a virtual reality simulation of what it is like to live with Schizophrenia. Watch this brief ABC News 20/20 description of it and then this slightly longer video simulation.

● One way to care for your own mental health is meditation. Read this article promoting meditation by no less a secular thinker than Sam Harris. When you’re done with that, check out these guided meditations from the researchers at UCLA.

● Donate, volunteer, or take political action to help people suffering from mental illnesses.The National Alliance on Mental Illness has a great action-oriented page on their website. The information you need is all right there.

● You can also attend a community discussion of mental health issues.

Can you think of other ways to celebrate Mental Health Week? Let us know!

Season on Flourishing – Art

This is week one of the Season on Flourishing.

There are endless debates about what constitutes art – as if being art were some mysterious property that some objects had and others did not. As soon as someone defines artistic boundaries, though, someone else comes along and produces art which defies that definition. I think there is a reason for this. I think art is best understood, not as a noun, but as a verb. Rather than delineating the set of artistic objects, we should be thinking about relating to the world in an artistic way and cultivating artistic experiences. Specifically, I think relating to the world artistically is to see things in a non-practical way. Seeing things in a practical way is to appreciate their usefulness. Relating to things in an artistic way is to appreciate them for the immediate pleasure they afford. To look at a desk and think about how many things you can put on it is to appreciate that desk practically. To look at a desk and appreciate its color or shape is to appreciate that desk artistically. To eat and conceive of your food as nourishment is to relate to that food practically. To eat and revel in the taste of your food is to experience it artistically (it should be clear from these examples that we can relate to things in both ways at once). Standard art objects – pictures, pieces of music, etc. – are easy to relate to in an artistic way, but we should not think that they are the only things which are amenable to such artistic experience. How do you live life more artistically? Cultivate a practice of being more aware of what is around you. As you are walking down the street, turn your attention to the green of the grass and the blue of the sky. Think even of the chill in the air as a particular experience to be savored. That is living artistically.

So is making your own art.

The key here is to enjoy the process of creation. Don’t worry too much about the quality of the product. Make what you like making and don’t feel constrained to traditional art forms – Try a new recipe? That’s art. Put on a new outfit? Art. Be flexible and see where the experience takes you. Then, set whatever you have made aside. You will appreciate different aspects of it after you get some distance from it. If you want ideas about where to start or help making things, try these great resources:

● is a smorgasbord of interesting DIY projects with helpful step-by-step explanations. If you can think of it, it is probably on there. has great plans for “crafty” projects like clothing and papercrafts.

● Want to try your hand at singing? Here is a guide from the BBC with lots of practical advice for beginners.

● Want to make your own music on your computer? Check out this FAQ to figure out where to begin and then download this free software to make it happen.

● Dance. Turn on some music, close the blinds, and just do it. Or go to a club, if that’s more your scene. If you’re not sure how to start, check out this fun, helpful video explaining the two-step.

● Start thinking about National Novel Writing Month (in November). It’s a long ways off, but it is a wonderfully supportive community and is well worth waiting for if your interest has been piqued by Art Week.

You can also engage with art other people made.

The first step is to just watch and enjoy. You don’t necessarily need specialized knowledge to appreciate art and you shouldn’t let complicated art forms intimidate you or stop you from starting. If you want some ideas for where to start or want to come to a greater appreciation of some particular art form, here are some resources.

World Poetry Day was this past Sunday the 21st. Check out the Poetry Daily website. They post one poem a day. These poems are of various styles, from both well-known and lesser-known poets, and they are all of high quality. Also, National Poetry Month is coming up in April. has a fantastic list of ways to engage with the month, from a poster to political action and, of course, poetry.

● If music is more your speed, you can learn more about it by training your ear or by exploring the world of music theory. You can also listen to the delightful symphonic piece “Peter and the Wolf.” It is a half-hour piece written to introduce children to the different instruments. Excellent for children of all ages. Or why not hit two media with one stone and watch a movie about music. Amadeus (about the life of Mozart) and Across the Universe (a compilation of music by the Beatles) are two great places to start.

● Also, don’t forget about the art that no people made.

● Finally, try new things which you wouldn’t normally like. You are capable of appreciating almost anything; you just have to figure out how to approach it and what is good about it. Ask someone else what they find compelling about a particular artistic experience and try to see it that way.

Finally, engage with Art Week by helping other people make and/or appreciate art.

● Help someone appreciate something you like in the way that you do. Describe to them what you like about it and why you like those things. Share your knowledge of the thing and your perspective on it.

● Beautify not just your own life, but also the lives of others, especially those who might not have the resources to do it themselves. Donate something you’ve made or volunteer your time beautifying someone else’s space.

● Much of the art world is very decentralized. Support your local artists whenever you can.

Have other ideas for how to celebrate Art Week? Let us know!

Spring Festival

A Humanist Year’s major festivals occur four times throughout the year, at the solstices and the equinoxes. These are times for celebration. They are times when we laugh and sing and come together with others to revel in the turning of the year. They are also often transitional times between the liturgical seasons, times when we separate from the previous season’s concerns and refocus our attention on new topics and new ways of thinking and interacting with the world.

The Vernal Equinox, on March 20th, marks a beginning. It is not an entirely new beginning, but rather a culmination of what we began at the New Year and the time when those efforts begin to bear fruit. It is a time when we look back on the preparatory work of the past season, celebrate the life we have built for ourselves and for others, and renew our commitment to the project of living well. At the Winter Solstice, as light began to come back to the world and the days began to lengthen, we celebrated our hope for the future. Now, at this time when the day and night are of equal length, when daylight finally overtakes the darkness, we celebrate the fulfillment of that hope and look forward to the long, halcyon days ahead. There is still much to do in those coming days. We will maintain and build upon our previous work, we will face new challenges and rise to new heights. And here, at poised on the edge of spring, we look forward to that good work.

● Indulge in the symbols of the season – those images and objects which remind us that the promise of spring is the promise of renewal. Decorate your home with spring flowers and other symbols like the green man. Eat eggs (regular, chocolate, whatever), which are an age old symbol of new life, or have an egg hunt with your children. Take your kids to a pet store or zoo to see all the baby animals (especially the bunnies). Visit a farm where they make maple sugar. Maple sap, which has been locked up in the trees throughout the frozen winter months, has just begun to flow. In surrounding yourself with these symbols, you celebrate the vitality that is metaphorically and a little literally in the (warm, fresh) air at this time of year. Also, check out Seanan’s sermon on the Chinese New Year, symbolic actions, and the effectiveness of living as if good things are coming to you.

● Along those same lines, get out and enjoy the springtime. Walk in the warm(ish) weather, observe the green shoots and buds, smell the fresh rain (or melting snow). Grill outside, even if it’s a little cold, to anticipate and celebrate the coming summer months.

● Use this time to reflect on your New Year’s resolutions. Have you been keeping up with them? Did you entirely forget what they were? Take this opportunity to recommit to those goals (or modify them, if necessary). How might what we learned and experienced in the Season on Cultivation help you achieve them?

● Clean your house. Throughout history and across cultures, people have used spring cleaning as a way to reinvigorate their lives after being shut up for the winter months. Throw open your windows, wash your sheets, beat your rugs, and feel renewed and ready to engage with the months ahead.

● If you like ballet, watch these two great spring-themed pieces (or just listen to the music). The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky is a ballet which depicts an imagined ancient Russian sacrifice. It is a powerful piece, and an important one in the history of music. It also caused a riot in the theater when it was first performed.

In contrast, Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Spring is a much easier-access piece, though no less moving. It is a beautiful depiction of pioneer life.

● For those who knit, there is a vernal equinox shawl! How cool is that?!

● In the larger narrative of A Humanist Year, which follows the archetypal arc of human life, the Spring Festival is a time to celebrate youth, and especially the transition from youth to mature adulthood. In the Season on Origins, that narrative focused on the gestational period of our life, the Winter Festival marked our birth, and the Season on Cultivation was devoted to our early growth. The Spring Festival thus comes in between that growth and the mature concerns of the adult Season on Flourishing. Take some time during this week to honor the young adults in your community or in your personal life. Set aside special time to spend with them. Enjoy their company and be a mentor to them as they make this momentous transition.

● As much as this Festival is about young people, it is also about people of any age who are new to the narrative of A Humanist Year. If you have enjoyed these blog posts or find the arc of the year interesting or helpful, please tell someone else about it. Invite new members into this community.

Have other ideas for how to celebrate the Spring Festival? Comment below!