photo by B. T. Newberg
This week, C Luke Mula challenges us to take a deeper look at the fundamentals. Why are we doing this? What do we hope to get out of it? Through a careful critique of the Fourfold Path, Luke advances our model of Humanistic Paganism.
A good deal of discussion goes on here about what Humanistic Paganism is exactly, and how we put it into practice in our lives. These are good and necessary things to talk about, but what I don’t see much talk of is why we identify with or adhere to Humanistic Paganism. In other words, what could possibly be rewarding about the types of practices that Humanistic Paganism prescribes? What is the practitioner getting out of it?
I want to look into this question today and discuss some of the implications of the answer. Before we do, though, let’s recap the Fourfold Path real quick.
First, there’s Exploration of the Five +1. This principle is about exploring the world around us with our five senses and the world within us through introspection. Through these we can construct both an empirically-testable understanding of the external world and a semi-empirical, semi-testable understanding of the internal world.
Next, there’s Relationship with Mythology. This is about identifying with the mythological, becoming intimately familiar with it, and incorporating it into our life development.
Third, there’s Responsible Action. This is about seeing what problems we as humans have caused in the world and taking the responsibility to fix those problems, while at the same time being conscious enough to prevent further problems.
Finally, there’s A Sense of Wonder. This is about never letting the majesty of nature cease to fascinate and inspire us.
Okay, that’s simple enough, but do these tell us why we’re dedicating ourselves to these principles?
I think that before we look at what we’re getting out of HP, we need to look at what we’re putting into it. That means understanding what types of actions we are taking when we put HP into practice in our lives.
Being and doing
Looking back to the Fourfold Path, we can see that there are two basic types of practices in Humanistic Paganism.
The first is simply exploring. Exploratory practices take an absolute focus on the moment, a forgetting of goals and drives, a simple act of being. These types of practices are about engaging the senses and exploring them to the fullest. They are about experiencing for the sake of the experience, for reveling in the substance of it, and for celebrating the fact that something simply is. For an excellent example of this type of practice, check out Thomas Schenk’s article on bicycle meditation.
The second type of practice is making a difference. This is the practice described by Responsible Action, and it is primarily about making consequential decisions. To fully take part in this element of the Fourfold Path, it isn’t enough to see an issue and do something insignificant about it; instead, we are called to truly make a difference in the world with our actions, to leave this earth and our fellow human beings significantly better than we found them. Here we are presented with the premise of “humans cause most of their own problems,” and we are required to respond to that premise with our very lives, an aspect of Humanistic Paganism I’d like to see talked about more often.
Of consequence and wonder
Now, with those two types of practices in our grasp, can we finally answer the question, “Why Humanistic Paganism?” I believe we can, and I believe that the answer lies in the two different senses of meaning you get from the practices of HP.
The first type of meaningful experience you can get out of Humanistic Paganism is the real sense of consequence from making a difference in the world. Seeing tangible consequences manifest as a result of our own personal decisions is an extremely fulfilling and meaningful experience, and it is why humanism in general has been able to become such a widespread movement. Even more, by taking responsible action, we create a story with our lives and forge new mythology with our very existence.
The second type of meaning we can get out of Humanistic Paganism is what is described in the final element of the Fourfold Path: a sense of wonder. This sense of wonder is a direct result of exploratory practices, and it only comes about by focusing solely on an experience for the sake of the experience. Through exploration, we can truly feel the wonder of the world; in it, instead of just thinking, we know the universe to be wonderful. The mystery of living consumes our senses, and our life is filled to the brim with meaning, even if but for a moment.
Putting it into practice
The thing about these two types of action and meaning is that they are mutually exclusive: you cannot fully commit to exploration and in the same instance fully commit to making consequential decisions.(1) Because of this, you have three options in putting Humanistic Paganism into practice.
First, you may want to emphasize the consequential aspects of it, and focus on taking responsible action in the world, with exploration playing a supporting role. Through this, you still have more of a sense of wonder than through adhering only to consequential practices, and you can understand your life story in a more poetic form than the consequential by itself would normally allow.
On the other hand, you may want to emphasize the exploratory aspects of Humanistic Paganism. In this approach, making consequential decisions takes a backseat to simply experiencing life. If a problem comes up that needs addressing, you’ll address it, but here you don’t go out of your way to take responsible action. The sense of wonder is placed first and foremost.
Finally, you may want to fully balance exploration with making a difference. And this is the tricky one. Because exploring and making a difference are fundamentally different types of actions, it is extremely easy to get lost in one and forget about the other. That means that if you really want to balance the two types of actions, you need to develop some practices in order to do so.
And that’s what I want to discuss here. So let’s jump into it.
First how are you practicing HP? Are you emphasizing one type of practice over the other, or are you balancing them?
And second, if you are balancing the two, what are some concrete examples of how you’re doing that?
C Luke Mula is the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. Endlessly fascinated by meaningful experiences of all stripes, he is constantly experimenting with ways to make life more meaningful, a process he calls “faith design.” He co-directs The Way to Actuality, a website founded to foster the discussion and discovery of Purpose wherever it can be found, regardless of religious or secular context.