Human Mind Spirituality

What Is It Like to be a Human Being?

How to Use Humanizing Habits of Mind to Create a Spiritual Consciousness

More men become good through practice than by nature. —Democritus1


A basic principle of the quadrune mind model of spiritual consciousness is that people are not born either spiritually enlightened or spiritually fallen. Also, being spiritually conscious does not mean having a holier-than-thou attitude or a particular religious tradition. Rather, it requires a set of behavioral, emotional, and intellectual skills that must be learned, practiced, and mastered. Failure to do so can leave us stuck at a pre-Human level of consciousness,2 one that we have mastered, perhaps many years ago. Once mastered, these pre-Human mentalities reinforce themselves in our brain through our repeated pre-Human behavioral, emotional, and intellectual habits. We become convinced that everything our pre-Human mind tells us is the only true, real, and important way to “know” the world and ourselves.3 On the other hand, success at mastering the skills of the spiritually conscious adult allows us to live more from our Human consciousness, the mind that drives us to reduce suffering and increase healing for all beings and the earth. 


We often talk about habits and routine in relation to the reptilian mind, which is the mind that governs our instinctual, survival behaviors as well as those times when we are on “auto-pilot.” But in fact, as many wellness writers have noted, we can learn to harness the power of habit to replace unhealthy habits with healthy ones. In the quadrune mind model, this would mean replacing self-survival-oriented habits with habits that support our spiritual growth and the good of the world. With deliberate practice we can use these and other habits of the Human mind to create and strengthen a more spiritual consciousness of life and everything in it.4

These habits cannot be practiced in a vacuum, nor can we only think about them conceptually. We develop our spiritual consciousness through our interactions with others, and these habits are meant to change the way we think about life so that we can more lovingly interact with all beings we encounter, from our closest friends to strangers to a stray animal on the street. We hope these habits of the Human mind will be useful to you for your own sense of life’s meaning and purpose, in both good and troubling times.5

30 Habits of the Human Mind

Travel to places, near and far, and learn to see them as part of my own home, sharing the eyes of people who live there.

Not play life as an elimination competition game to win.

Realize that my biases do not make me a good judge of character, just a confident one.

Closely examine beliefs that I hold with 100% certainty.

Understand that being proud of a vice does not make it a virtue.

Identify the temperamental pettiness of tyrants and bullies as infantile narcissism and have the courage, stamina, and humanizing skills to respond appropriately to their dehumanizing demands.

Be a critical consumer of current news and recorded history, avoiding sources that incite in me fear of the other, self-righteous anger, or desire for violent revenge, thereby obstructing my higher reflective thinking.

Be aware that my pre-Human minds do not typically offer me options to ponder, which is precisely their seductive appeal in troubling times.

Not have “enemies,” defined as people I would go out of my way to harm.6

Evaluate the content of my mind and the level of my consciousness separately.

Treat all people respectfully and compassionately, regardless of their level of consciousness, intelligence, status, or any other relative trait. 

Believe that people were failed by others before they learned how to be failures, hurt by others before they learned how to be hurtful, and healed by others before they learned how to be healers.

Recognize that decency is not stupidity and goodness is not weakness.

Remember that letting go of my death grip on life is not the same thing as helplessly giving up.

Be a friendly person instead of just having friends. 

Know that not every thought needs to be expressed and be able to not express it.

Realize that I influence the structures and functions of my own and other people’s brains with each interaction.

Understand that the trauma I help cause one generation of a population can delay, or even prevent, the humanizing spiritual development of their unborn children because of epigenetic effects; consequently, for example, crimes against humanity are also crimes against humanity not yet born.

Not expect to ever know how “The Story” ends; therefore, not feel responsible, or capable, of writing “The Ending” myself.

Be willing and able to take the long view of the past and future as context for the present.7

See movies, view art, listen to music,8 and eat foods9 of other cultures without prejudging them. 

Be familiar with languages other than my own.10

Be familiar with the lifeforms on earth and how we all fit dynamically together.

Explore alternatives to culturally endorsed greed as the driving force of my life.11

Supplement “thoughts and prayers” with personally engaged, skilled practical help, such as cooking, cleaning, repairing, housing, driving, listening, reading, babysitting, shopping, etc.

Replace “thank you for your service” with a willingness to engage life, and the people in it, unarmed.

Be a better healer in the world by acquiring first aid, animal care, and plant and garden care skills.

Understand that the first explanation of why I help is, “Because I can.”

Consciously live playfully and slowly now and then. 

Realize that my good moral and ethical behavior isn’t good enough for a Human being.12

Related Post

Why Meaning is More Important Than Happiness

Postscript, November 24, 2022: Wagner, M., Lybarger, T., & McGuiggan, J. (2019). Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: A visual history. New York: Clarkson Potter. “His spoken message is simple, but the message of his life is not simple, because the message of his life is goodness in action.”–Tom Junod [p. 321].

Postscript, December 13, 2022: Schoberg, D. (This story originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Rotary magazine). Peace Corps volunteers and Rotary members find meaningful connections. Rotary International. “The relationship between Rotary International and the Peace Corps, made official with a 2014 partnership agreement, has its foundation in the organizations’ shared values. The mission of the Peace Corps — ‘to promote world peace and friendship’ — is one Rotary has embraced for more than 100 years. And the Peace Corps’ chief areas of focus — agriculture, community economic development, education, environment, health, and youth in development — have much in common with Rotary’s.” [Two examples of potentially Humanizing service organizations—as described by the quadrune mind model. Providers and recipients benefit, as must be true of any humane relationship].

  1. Democritus was an original thinker in ethical theory, setting high standards of personal integrity and social responsibility, without invoking supernatural sanctions. Indeed, it is probably the banishment of supernatural and non-material agencies by atomic theory that upset Plato so much and subsequently led to its neglect for over a thousand years. Democritus argued that one’s own consciousness of right and wrong should prevent one from doing anything shameful, not the fear of breaking the law or being vilified by public opinion…. 

    “‘One must either be good, or imitate a good man. It is a bad thing to imitate the bad and not even to wish to imitate the good. More men become good through practice than by nature. Do not say or do what is base, even when you are alone. Learn to feel shame in your own eyes much more than before others. Repentance for shameful deeds is salvation in life.’” University of Massachusetts Boston

    [In the quadrune mind model, ethics and morality are under the domain of the new mammalian mind. Primates have been seen to exhibit moral behavior as shown in this Frans de Waal video. The Human brain/mind provides a standard of a higher “good” than ethical or moral behavior. Human nature should consist of unique characteristics of how the Human brain/mind interacts with the world—behaviors that had not existed in the history of biology before the appearance of humans. We can live like other animals, but that is not who we are. In the quadrune mind model, the Human brain/mind is not just an ethical decider, it is the architecture/architect of spirituality].

  2. See our websiteblog posts, and Study Guide for details of the quadrune mind model of consciousness.
  3. See our previous post, What Is It Like to Have a Mind?, for a deeper understanding of the pre-Human minds.
  4. We believe these Habits of the Human mind can help us “flesh out” (instantiate) spiritual consciousness as it might be lived in a real life.
  5. Fisher, M. (2022, July 12). Is the world really falling apart, or does it just feel that way?: By most measures — with one glaring exception — people around the world are better off than ever. So why doesn’t it feel that way, especially to Americans? New York Times. “People naturally look for patterns in the world. Experience something once, especially if that experience is traumatic, and you will start to see it everywhere.

    “For Americans suddenly attuned to say, domestic threats of election theft or civil unrest, similar events playing out overseas will suddenly feel much more visceral.

    “That can add up. A handful of far-off crises that Americans might’ve dismissed as unrelated to one another 30 years ago can, today, seem connected. It might even feel like proof of a global breakdown.” 

    See also: Aktipis, A. (2021, May 29). In case of Apocalypse, follow these 7 stepsNature Human Behaviour. “When the shit hits the fan, will the selfish survive or will cooperation thrive? We have been interested in how humans behave in times of disaster for over a decade, studying societies around the world to look at how they deal with risk, running experiments in the lab to see how people help (or not) when somebody is in need and using computer simulations to see when generosity is evolutionary viable. 

    “What we found surprised us. As evolutionarily minded researchers, we expected people to cooperate mostly when they were in situations where they could eventually get paid back for the help they gave. Reciprocity has long been the commonly accepted explanation for cooperation among non-relatives. But that’s not what we found. Instead, what we saw was that people gave generously to others who were in need without expectation of return.” [This research shows how to build community resilience in accordance with certain principles].

  6. I came across this definition of an “enemy” from some forgotten source. So far, I have been unable to recover that source. Most definitions of an “enemy” are reactive, based upon the harm that another person wants to do, or has done, to us. However, the “habit of the Human mind” definition of an “enemy” used here is much more consistent with the quadrune mind’s philosophy of spiritual consciousness.
  7. Hazen, R. M. (2013). The Origin and evolution of Earth: From the Big Bang to the future of human existence (Course No. 1740). Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company. From the course overview: “Minerals are fundamental to the story of Earth in many ways. Not only are we living beings nourished by minerals, but minerals provide the resources and energy that are crucial to modern civilization. Beyond that, the evolution of minerals has played a central role all across the surface of the planet and throughout its interior. Minerals turn out to be much more than beautiful crystals; they provide outstanding clues to our origins and they are major players in a drama of unimaginable scope….

    “[Robert M. Hazen] recounts Earth’s story through 10 stages of mineral evolution. Each stage resculpted our planet’s surface, introducing new planetary processes and phenomena. By stage 6, life was an integral part of this process, and you learn that life is ultimately responsible for almost two-thirds of the mineral species on Earth—thousands of unique crystals that could only exist on a living world.” [A mineralogist’s longest of long-term views by which we can deeply contextualize the present, especially in lecture 47].

  8. Greenberg, R. (2016). Music as a mirror of history (Course No. 7340). Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company. From the course overview: “Professor Robert Greenberg of San Francisco Performances… [gives] a fascinating and provocative premise: Despite the abstractness and the universality of music—and our habit of listening to it divorced from any historical context—music is a ‘mirror’ of the historical setting in which it was created. Indeed, certain works of music do not just mirror the general spirit of their time and place, but can even explicitly evoke specific historical events. As Professor Greenberg demonstrates in this course, music carries a rich spectrum of social, cultural, historical, and philosophical information, all grounded in the life and experience of the composer—if you’re aware of what you’re listening to….” [Emphasis in the original].
  9. Albala, K. (2020). Food: A cultural culinary history (Course No. 9180). Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company. From the course overview: “[F]ood offers a deeply insightful lens on human history, shedding new light on the evolution of social and political systems, on cultural interactions, economic empires, human migrations, and more. Through food culture, we see how primary biological needs have shaped all human lives through the ages. The history of food is the history of human life at its most elemental, its most intimate, its most essential. It’s also a story of ingenuity, creativity, and remarkable human behavior to rival any other aspect of culture.”
  10. McWhorter, J. (2019). Language families of the world (Course No. 2235). Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company. From the course overview: “Language, in its seemingly infinite variety, tells us who we are and where we come from. Many linguists believe that all of the world’s languages—over 7,000 currently—emerged from a single, prehistoric source. While experts have not yet been able to reproduce this proto-language, most of the world’s current languages can be traced to various language families that have branched and divided, spreading across the globe with migrating humans and evolving over time….

    “While most animals communicate in some form, language—complete with grammar, syntax, dialects, vocabulary, and so much more—appears to be a uniquely human trait. When we understand not just the nuts and bolts but the extensive history and cultural power of language, we better understand ourselves, as well as the world and the people we share it with.” 

    John McWhorter reports that many languages have a specific grammatical form to indicate when something exists in a state “against expectations.” For example, seeing a “crumpled loin cloth,” which is expected to always be smooth. In American English many people label a coincidence that somehow seems more meaningful than expected as ironic. For example, “Isn’t it ironic that you called just as I was planning to call you?” 

    More interesting for the quadrune mind model is the research finding that “Empathy was strongly associated with several aspects of irony comprehension and processing, suggesting that emotional reasoning abilities are important to development of irony comprehension.” We conceptualize the positive correlation between irony comprehension and emotional reasoning (or cognitive empathy) to be indicative of the new mammalian and, potentially, Human levels of consciousness.

  11. Marchese, D., & Amado, B. (Phot. ill.). (2022, July 17). This pioneering economist says our obsession with growth must end. New York Times. “Growth is the be-all and end-all of mainstream economic and political thinking. Without a continually rising G.D.P., we’re told, we risk social instability, declining standards of living and pretty much any hope of progress. But what about the counterintuitive possibility that our current pursuit of growth, rabid as it is and causing such great ecological harm, might be incurring more costs than gains? That possibility — that prioritizing growth is ultimately a losing game — is one that the lauded economist Herman Daly has been exploring for more than 50 years. In so doing, he has developed arguments in favor of a steady-state economy, one that forgoes the insatiable and environmentally destructive hunger for growth, recognizes the physical limitations of our planet and instead seeks a sustainable economic and ecological equilibrium.” [Biologically, out-of-control growth is known as cancer. Out-of-control economic growth represents much of humanity’s metastatic relationship with earth, perhaps especially since the Industrial Revolution. Daly’s model would seem to move economics from the dominantly self-serving pre-Human mentalities toward a more Human level of consciousness, more in line with our responsibility as skillful stewards of the earth].
  12. Silverstein, S. (1964). The giving tree. New York: Harper & Row. “And so the boy cut off her branches and carried them away to build his house. And the tree was happy.” [This is what it’s like to be a Human being].

5 replies on “What Is It Like to be a Human Being?”

Does the “30 Habits of the Human Mind” require one to be consciously aware of the shortcomings that are a part of the human existence and a desire to move from the ordinary to a higher level?

Yes, but I think the model can appeal only to a person who already feels a sense of dissatisfaction with their religious traditions, personal state of being, the endlessly inconsequential arguments of morality and ethics, and the world in general.

This model offers an unequivocal description of how the spiritually mature, fully conscious adult human being is “meant” to live in this world. However, it is completely neutral on the path a person might have taken to achieve this state of “awakening.” The “30 Habits of the Human Mind” is one possible resource to the aspirant.

The authority for this model arises from the structure and function of the human brain; especially, the contribution of its most recent development, the prefrontal cortex. For example; as Paul MacLean explained the prefrontal cortex’s “mindful” contribution to humans in his description of the meaning of life, “What does it tell us about the meaning of life when we can now say that for the first time in the known history of biology, we are witnessing the evolution of human beings with a concern not only for the suffering and dying of their own kind, but also for the suffering and dying of all living things?” [Page 10 of the Study Guide].

Thank you for another thought-provoking question. I look forward to many future opportunities to discuss these matters with you.

Hi Paul, thank you so much for your question! I would answer a little differently, by considering the 30 Habits in and of themselves. While I would agree that a full understanding of the quadrune mind model requires understanding the problems with living primarily from a pre-Human mentality, I do not believe that practicing the “30 Habits of the Human Mind” requires understanding the quadrune mind model or the pre-Human (or even Human) minds.

Anyone who began practicing these recommendations would benefit personally and be a healing force in their community and the world, whether they understood why or not.

Thus, my answer varies from Tom’s in that, I believe, he is considering the post as inexorably tied to the model, whereas I am considering the habits as stand-alone practices, removed from the model, in answering your question.

To expand on that point, one certainly does not have to understand or know about the quadrune mind model to live primarily from the Human mind. Obviously, many individuals throughout history have been Human-minded before the model came along. (The goal of the quadrune mind model, of course, is to encourage more people to live more of their lives from the Human mind, but it is clearly a step too far for us to claim to have the only path to the Human mind.)

There are many actions that one could take to act in a Human-minded way (and I believe act is the key here, because feeling and thinking are the realm of the pre-Human minds) that are not included on this list. Likewise, there are many motivations and experiences that can lead one to live more from a Human mind. These certainly include understanding the quadrune mind model and the shortcomings of living from our pre-Human minds, but could also include a love of humanity that celebrates the preciousness of all life. It is my belief that a person acting from love for the best parts of humankind, without any thought given to the shortcomings of humanity, could treat people in a Humanizing way that reduces suffering and increases healing, the hallmark of the Human mind.

In short, I believe the habits will cultivate more Human-mindedness in and of themselves, whether the individual is aware of and motivated by a desire to grow beyond the limitations of the pre-Human minds or not.

We would love to hear your further thoughts on this topic, Paul!

Lots of great stuff ( and even some ideas ) here! In addition to the 30 habits, there’s the stuff in the footnotes! Democritus is one of my new heroes. Then there’s the mineral guy and the growth guy! Thanks to you both!

Thanks Allan. There are often some hidden treasures in the footnotes. I agree with you about Democritus. Hazen’s development of the theory of coevolution of minerals and life is stunning.
It’s also hopeful that the unsustainable pursuit of profit through “growth,” which is destroying human lives and the planet, is getting some mainstream steam.
As always your comments and support are greatly appreciated.

Comments are closed.