Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes


On becoming an adult 0

Posted on September 24, 2016 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated September 25, 2016 – 12:00am

Often, we look at children and wish they would never grow up. They seem perfect as they are — cute, lovable, with innocence so pure you wish you could protect them from the world so that they remain so forever. We want them kept safe from the turmoil and tribulations of life. We wish it could be possible. But life is not meant to be lived that way.

Every grown-up has a clear memory of when and how their innocence was broken, when their childhood came to an end. We have all experienced that primal pain of being kicked out of Paradise and thrown into the circumstances of our own space and time, our own reality with all its pain and suffering.

I lost a chunk of my innocence at age five when my dad died in a plane crash. Many more events happened after that which made going back to Eden an impossibility.

Something had to “break” us to drive us out of our safe cocoons and force us to be vulnerable to pain. Today, as a much older person, I can say that this is the only way. Otherwise, what gifts we were born with will never come to fruition.

Childhood is a magical place. We all have some good and bad childhood memories. But this stage doesn’t last too long. It gets rougher especially when we inch into adolescence. The teen years escalate our angst and insecurities as we evolve into grown-ups.

But being grown-up does not necessarily mean being an adult. We may look like adults because of the size and development of our bodies, and because we have reached a certain age. But in truth, adulthood requires so much more from us. One of the things it requires is control over our selves. There is an entire range of emotions we must rein in and/or indulge when needed. We also must learn to delay gratification and get socialized, meaning we must learn to live as productive, peaceful, law-abiding and generally good individuals, parents, citizens, bread earners, members of the community and the society we live in.

We must learn important traits like compassion, decisiveness and discernment. There are also lessons like accountability, grasping complexity, humility and the taming of our ego from the autocracy of our infantile stage to a more functional one that does not sabotage our intentions. Many leaders make mistakes when they cannot control their insecurities and their toxic need to have their egos massaged.

Adulthood is about being in control of oneself, and making conscious, well-thought-out decisions that affect others aside from ourselves and taking responsibility for them.

I am in awe of how the most powerful man on earth, Barack Obama, can stay calm and focused and do his job well without being ruffled or intimidated by the cruel politics, crises and problems he must deal with every day, and how he can still manage to smile and stay inspired and inspiring. When he deals with his adversaries, it often seems like he is the only adult in the room.

The modern-day philosopher Ken Wilber wrote that every man must learn to balance and manage five areas of his life. These are: money (earning, spending, saving and being trustworthy and honest, living within one’s means); career or work (knowledge, learning, passion, reliability); bodily intake (food, drugs, alcohol, substances that affect physical, mental health); inner work (character building, self-control, spirituality, esthetic appreciation); and relationships (love, sex, obsession, affection, fidelity, compassion).

Most people are weak in one area but are functional in the rest, which is, generally, still manageable. But when we fail at two or more areas at the same time, our lives become too dysfunctional and we need intervention.

If, for the most part, we can handle all five areas at the same time, one might say we have reached a high level of adulthood.

Everyone goes through the childhood phase, and if we don’t die early, we grow up. But not everyone who grows up becomes an adult. Just look around and observe many grown-ups and older people.

So what happens when we get to old age and have not reached the level of adulthood? I am not a psychologist but I see people as either happy or unhappy.

What I observe is this: Grown-ups and old people who have not learned the ways of adulthood become trapped in an unhappy life of their own making, pulled and pushed aimlessly by unsettled personal issues, and uncontrolled emotional outbursts. Where they should have generally made peace with their past and present, they have unexplained bursts of anger, regret, bitterness and a feeling of being lost in a largely unexamined life. They are cynical and angry and often lash out at the world without realizing that in order to control the world, one must first have some degree of self-control.

On the other hand, there are people who seem happy, calm, who have grown in wisdom, age and grace. They have the passion to do things and dreams to accomplish, even at an older age. They are not lacking in purpose. Every day, they discover new meanings and connections that make their lives richer. They have a calm, cool and serene way about them, too.

More importantly, they have a great sense of self-acceptance. They can move on from the past and are at peace and accepting of who they are in the present. They can move on when they commit mistakes and look back at their blunders and folly and embrace them as teachable moments.

It is not easy being an adult. It takes conscious and deliberate inner work. But not achieving adulthood as one gets older guarantees an infinitely more difficult life.

As we age, we realize more and more that we are spending more time alone. We might as well start growing up and learning how to be good, pleasant company.

God’s neatest trick 0

Posted on September 17, 2016 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated September 18, 2016 – 12:00am

I have attended four wakes since last Sunday.

As one ages, the rate of deaths within one’s circle increases — slowly at first, and then it accelerates as one gets older. But even at age 65, four wakes in one week is pretty much. And as I write, I am told there is still another wake I have to go to tonight. A classmate died of dengue.

The first wake was of a good friend’s mom. She had been sick for some eight years, most of which she spent on life support. Several times in the past, when she was on the brink, the family decided to resuscitate her. For years, she had not spoken and could not even recognize her relatives anymore. Cared for by nurses, she had hardly any engagement with anyone else.

Surprisingly, when she passed away, my friend’s family still went into shock. Even if, at the back of their minds, they expected her to die any moment, the actual moment and the reality of death still caught them off-guard. My friend felt helpless and did not know what to do. It took two days for him to grasp and accept the reality that he had lost his mother.

The second wake was that of comedienne Joy Viado who was in the same mortuary as my friend’s mother. I met Joy more than two decades ago when she auditioned for and got a slot in a performance scholarship program put up by OPM (Organisasyon ng Pilipinong Mang-aawit) for unknown artists. I remember how even when she was new and raw, she was quite funny. She had already honed her performance instincts. Joy suffered from complications due to diabetes, which led to a stroke.

I thought about how relatively young she was. There is no rhyme or reason that explains when someone’s time is up.

On my way out, I saw that another friend’s sister was also interred in a room on the second floor. The circumstances leading to the death of this woman were tragic, macabre even. She died of gunshot wounds in what looks like an execution, an extrajudicial killing. She was left for dead complete with a cardboard sign that claimed she was a pusher.

I entered the room and immediately saw my friend whom I have worked with on acting jobs in teleseryes. I hugged her, expressing my condolences. I tried to imagine how hard it must be to lose a sister under such painful and demeaning circumstances. When she narrated how it happened, I could sense that she was trying to be objective but her rage and sadness shook her composure. It was with great effort that she succeeded in finishing her story. I did not stay long. I hugged her again, whispered comforting words and left.

On another day, I went to visit the wake of the father of a close friend in another mortuary. The scene was more pleasant. The room was big and the chairs and sofas were spread out to look more like a big comfortable living room. There were clusters of chairs surrounding low tables, perfect for entertaining the different groups of people who visited.

My friend’s dad died after heart surgery. He actually struggled hard to keep alive and at times the doctors felt that he would actually make it. But suddenly, like a thief in the night, death came and snuffed out his life.

The love of family was everywhere. Happy pictures and video clips of him singing and playing with his children and grandchildren were shown. The conversation was light, even cheerful, as family members talked with their guests about their dad. Even as my friend said that losing her dad was devastating, she could smile and even giggle as she reminisced over fond memories of her father.

Death is probably the biggest event in anyone’s life. Even while it is inevitable, it almost always comes as a shock to loved ones. And where one goes is an uninsured mystery.

I have always thought of death as the neatest trick God has ever done. For the living, it is one of the greatest mysteries. The questions we ask about death are among what the Buddhists call the “imponderables.”

Billions of people have died yet no one has come back to say what is out there after the great passing. For the one who dies, it is the final, much-awaited unraveling of that mystery.

Philosophies and religions have their takes on what comes after death. But no empirical, scientific evidence has been found to tell us what to expect.

It is only faith that can convince one that there is an afterlife, even if many do not need persuading. As for me, the lack of proof notwithstanding, I believe that in death, we graduate to a different plane, sphere or level of being. I am not sure how to describe it but I know that the before and after of the short life we live is book-shelved by eternity. We have existed from the beginning of time and will continue to do so after death.

Life is that brief moment in our specific time and space where we can accomplish our mission.

Death ends time and space on earth. But I believe that we were already in timelessness before birth and will continue to be there after life as we know it has ended.

Keep the light burning 0

Posted on September 03, 2016 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated September 4, 2016 – 12:00am

Last Monday, I went to my old school, the Ateneo de Manila, where I joined a gathering in front of the Church of Gesu. We were there in response to a call for prayers for the victims of martial law, and for the Supreme Court to be guided in its decision on the President’s plan to bury Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Similar gatherings were also held in different places in the country.

As I was praying with the crowd, I noticed that there were very few people my age who were present. The crowd was composed mostly of young people, students from Ateneo and nearby Miriam College, as well as seminarians, priests and teachers, most of them millennials.

That gave me a feeling of hope. Here they were present, even if they had no direct experience of martial law. I smiled, pleased that these young people had taken it upon themselves to become educated about the past and speak out in shaping the future they want.

After a short prayer, we lighted candles and walked somberly in procession, singing church songs. It was getting dark. It was windy, too. We were having a hard time keeping the candles lit. In my mind, I was asking myself if the flames flickering out was an ominous sign. Were we destined to fail? But I also asked myself what it meant that we kept lighting our candles again and again — which probably spoke more truth about the people involved. In this time of darkness, we were doing our best to keep the light going. I felt hopeful.

While the procession was going on, the names of Ateneans who were killed during the dark days of military rule were broadcast through a megaphone. We prayed for each one of them. I teared up when I heard the names of people I knew, classmates, fellow students on campus in the Seventies. The names Manny Yap, Jun Celestial, Billy Begg and Edgar Jopson brought back a flood of memories of campus life when many of our college classes became sit-ins, venues for discussion on the relevance of our education, and what it ought to be.

It was a time of anger and confusion. Things were changing rapidly. Many of us were not the students our parents expected us to be. We dreamed a different future. We were adopting different values. Many of us were either hippies or activists, or both. We were rebellious and we questioned everything.

We walked along the campus road leading to Gate 3. It was a short 10 to 15 minutes until we reached a little corner near the pedestrian overpass where we stopped. Outside our circle was Katipunan Avenue with cars passing by, oblivious to what we were doing. We said more prayers. By this time, all our candles were lit.

It was a nostalgic moment for me. I have attended many mass actions before. This one felt different for so many reasons. There were more young people than old. They were the organizers and leaders of the event. I felt my age creeping in, not because the procession was tiring. It was not. While I felt hope, I also felt sadness that decades after we got rid of martial law, Marcos is still imposing himself on us with his family’s insistence on giving him a hero’s burial at LNMB.

What a disgrace! What infamy! While we have moved forward in so many ways, our politics is still so dysfunctional that an issue such as this can dominate the headlines and derail us from the gains we have made since EDSA.

We Filipinos have always had a problem with our heroes. Since the days of the Katipunan, we have managed to turn a blind eye to the cads, traitors and villains who have ruined our lives. We always seem to be oblivious to truth and indecisive in dealing with the traitors in our historical struggles.

After EDSA, we also fell short in dispensing justice to the thieves, unrepentant cronies and killers of the Marcos regime. We simply allowed them to return after a brief exile in order to stage their social, political and financial comebacks.

That night, as we gathered, I prayed that the emerging millennial leaders will be more decisive and courageous in correcting the historical injustices in our society.

In a few days, the Supreme Court will decide on the issue of Marcos’ burial. If the justices decide to allow the burial at the LNMB, we know that we must do more to ensure that our interpretation of history prevails. We mustn’t stop. The candle may be snuffed out, but only momentarily. We just have to keep lighting it again and again and continue the march.

Such is the call of vigilance, the prize of which is truth and justice.

The need to connect 0

Posted on August 27, 2016 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated August 28, 2016 – 12:00am

I want to write about addiction. It is clearly the scourge of our time. Right off, I would like to say that I am no expert on the subject. I only write based on my limited experience.

I first got interested in the topic almost two decades ago when I met people who told me about their journey to recovery from alcoholism and meth use. Their accounts moved me and left me extremely curious about addiction and how to deal with it.

They talked about the many rehab efforts they went through before they finally succeeded in quitting. Some rehab centers physically harmed and beat up addicts. But there were other enlightened programs that spared them from violence. The ones that worked according to them were the latter.

From what I have gathered, addiction is a multi-faceted problem. It is not just an extreme physical longing for a substance. It also has emotional, psychological and spiritual dimensions to it.

Recently, I watched a “Ted Talks” episode where the speaker told of a lab experiment with rats. They were put in solitary cages and given a choice to drink pure water or some that was heroin-laced. All the solitary rats chose the heroin-laced water and sooner or later became addicted.

In another experiment, scientists put many rats together in a large cage and gave them unlimited food. They also had space, a wheel to run on and a lot of opportunities for sex. The two types of water were also offered. To their surprise, the rats consumed the pure water over the heroin-laced one.

The same speaker also said that during the Vietnam War, 20 percent of the US soldiers were using heroin during their stint fighting the Vietcong. The US military establishment was worried that when the war ended, many soldiers would come home heroin-addicted. But strangely enough, it did not happen. There was no heroin addiction boom that followed. Many went home and merely resumed their normal lives.

In their explanation of why the results are what they are, the researchers concluded that a key factor that prevents addiction is “connection.” When individuals (and rats) live in a community where they were connected with loved ones and friends, they were not attracted to drugs.

It is no wonder then that sick people who are given massive doses of pure heroin in hospitals to fight pain do not turn into addicts when they return home and connect with their loved ones.

Loneliness, boredom, alienation and social deprivation may be central in making people susceptible to addiction. Everyone is looking for love, for peak experiences, and the feeling of being whole. Drugs can delude us into thinking we can get these things chemically.

The few people I talked to who survived addiction affirmed that reconnection was a big factor. And, they added, the struggle also had a strong spiritual dimension.

Going through the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-Step Program was a game-changer. This program is a searingly honest examination of oneself aimed at getting right down to the core of who you are. In the process, you encounter and hack away at all the bullsh*t and delusion that feeds the addiction. It is a severe reality check and yes, it is life-changing.

The AA 12-Step Program has been around for decades and is still recommended by many professionals who treat addiction. It has saved many lives.

Going back to connectedness, it seems to make sense that when people feel secure, loved and in touch with people who matter to them, drugs lose much of their allure. Being connected also means being in touch with one’s own thoughts, feelings, dreams, the sense of what is right and wrong and our deep humanity. In other words, it means staying grounded.

In real life, many of us are not. I often forget or deliberately ignore my inner callings. It is too scary to know oneself sometimes. It is easier to live hiding behind the masks that we wear in the world and believe in the delusion that we are being real.

I do not have the stomach for extrajudicial killings or the willingness to give up due process even if I support the campaign against drugs. I value our hard-fought human rights. I am glad it is not in my hands to decide who lives or dies. I know people who are addicts. I love some of them even if I know how much their families have suffered because of their addiction. I do not wish it on anyone.

A successful recovery is always inspiring because it is a story of redemption. While rehab is expensive and unaffordable to many right now, it is perhaps one of the rescue mechanisms that we really need to solve this huge drug problem. We must do more of this in place of killing people outright. I personally believe in second, third, sometimes even fourth chances. I have seen people recover from drugs permanently.

Look outside our families and into our larger communities. Do you see much connectedness? Are people reaching out to each other? Do we have real personal relationships with people who live near us?

Everyone is going through something difficult at any given time. It is so easy to not care. After all, we do not like to be bothered by problems that do not concern us.

While not all of us are called to actively catch pushers or users, we can volunteer to be our brother’s keeper. We can initiate healing connections with people who need it. Let’s start with our own families, relatives, friends and neighborhoods.

We need to connect with each other now, more than ever.

Answering the call 2

Posted on August 21, 2016 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated August 21, 2016 –

I watched the movie Ignacio de Loyola a few nights ago. It is a wonderful movie. I was impressed with the script, the acting, direction and the entire production. Needless to say, I loved it. I must confess that it touched me in many ways, both good and disturbing.

As a dyed-in-the-wool Atenista from my first day of school in prep to my college graduation, the Ignatian ethic was always being rubbed on me.

Watching the movie brought back a lot of memories. The letters AMDG (Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam) was something we wrote on top of our test papers. We wrote it on every essay we crafted, every assignment and exam we took. It was written on the blackboard daily. The Loyola crest shown in the movie was painted on the chapel doors, and the Prep School gate. Early on, I memorized St. Ignatius’ prayer for generosity which goes:

Lord, teach me to be generous.

Teach me to serve you as you deserve;

to give and not to count the cost,

to fight and not to heed the wounds,

to toil and not to seek for rest,

to labor and not to ask for reward,

save that of knowing that I do your will.

I find much comfort in this prayer to this day.

What disturbed me in the movie was not anything about its technical or artistic aspects. The elements that a good story told in that medium were well executed. What I found troubling was the story of Iñigo himself. He was a man of high social standing, a true knight in the most traditional sense who was willing to fight for the glory of love, honor, and loyalty to his king and country. And he most certainly did all that, until complications set in.

In a battle to protect the motherland, he suffered a broken leg which left him with a limp — a crooked gait that ended his dreams of knighthood and all its attendant glory and pride. Crippled and recuperating in bed for four months, he had nothing to read but the lives of saints and of Christ. There, in the midst of pain, despair, regrets and boredom, he accepted God’s invitation to leave his old life and walk in His path.

Watching the movie, Iñigo’s response to the call made me feel afraid, for my own sake. It was the path unknown, the one less traveled. I felt that if God called me to a life of service, I would probably find every excuse to refuse Him.

Would I be willing to be a foot soldier who would deny all my worldly connections if God demanded it? The answer is, I do not know. If I said yes, I would probably argue with Him every step of the way.

If we truly listen, God is probably calling us to do something, but we are too distracted or cowardly to hear it. Is it something dramatic or earth-shaking? We do not know. But I am sure it is something that will shake our individual lives if we follow it.

Some are called to live big lives that can affect a lot of people and change a lot of things for good or evil. Smaller callings, though not as dramatic, are as important. Touching one life with an act of kindness could set the wheel turning for a series of events that could lead to something bigger.

When you look back and review your life, you will catch themes and meanings that can give you an idea of how you have spent your time, and what is important to you. Or it may suddenly dawn on you how little you have done that matters to you or to anyone.

We moderns like to think life is about the pursuit of happiness. Ignacio reminds us that more than the worldly pursuit of happiness, however we define it, life is about obeying God’s will for us. It demands sacrifice, obedience, and discernment.

It is so simple yet so radical. Are we ready? Many of us are probably not and never will be. Perhaps that is why great unexpected interventions happen in life, like what happened to Ignacio. Fate brings us great disappointments to break us out of our comfortable lives and pursue a new path. It may not be the path of least resistance, but a more challenging one that will make us happy, not with riches but with meaning and purpose.

Learning how to detach 0

Posted on August 14, 2016 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated August 14, 2016 – 12:00am

I see myself as a more or less easygoing, happy individual. I can live without spending much. I am not really picky about what I eat even if there are certain foods I won’t touch, mostly for health reasons. I don’t need to dress impeccably. I do not need signature clothes even if I am happy when I am gifted with some. I am what I would describe as a low-maintenance person.

I know many people who are the same. We are generally optimistic and adaptable people who can, most of the time, take disappointments and setbacks.

There are people who tend to be the opposite. Mostly, I find that they are unhappy, lonely and discontented with what they have. They are always looking somewhere else for solitude, peace and satisfaction. They are generally pessimistic, expecting the worst in any situation. And not surprisingly, they experience more disappointments than the optimists.

Whichever type of person we are and whatever our default mood is, we cannot be perpetually happy or sad. Being human, our moods change all the time. We are all capable of running the whole gamut of emotional highs and lows.

One of the things I am continuously learning to do is to step back and watch myself as I go through my experiences. Even when I am going through some intense moments, I am often able to watch myself as a third person and I find that I can detach on some level even as I am emotionally involved.

Maybe it is an adult life skill to be able to cope this way and not get overwhelmed by emotions and feelings. It is sometimes good to distance one’s self from one’s moods. Sure, you can be happy, but don’t cling to the feeling. Just enjoy it as long as it lasts. And when in the midst of overwhelming sadness or anger, it helps to be able to tell yourself that this, too, shall pass. You must be able to let it go after

And so it is with every mood we have. They are too transient to own and keep. They are like storms, or a carnival that visits, but don’t stay long. Thank God.

But being able to detach is not the same as being in denial. Denial is pretending an ugly mood you are feeling does not exist. It does.

I remember a woman I met in Zen training who had been a practitioner for years. She told me a story. One night, she woke up at 2 a.m. Her teenage son had come home late driving the family car, which had smashed headlights and a broken fender. He reeked of alcohol. She got angry and scolded him. Her son retorted by asking, after all her years of Zen practice, why was she so angry and livid? Shouldn’t she be calm, collected and speaking to him softly? Shouldn’t she be more forgiving? She looked him in the eye and told him that this ugly mood was where she was at right then, in the moment, and she was not going to pretend otherwise and deny it.

I laughed because it broke the stereotype of what it means to be on a spiritual path like Zen. The truth is there is nothing special about Zen practice. We don’t walk in the clouds. We are not above others. We are still human, though perhaps a little more conscious about our being human and more accepting of it.

Detachment is also not indifference. You could be involved in a drama, an argument, or whatever the situation is. You can even participate with passion. But you know deep down this is just something you are doing at the moment. Like a movie, it begins and ends sooner or later and has nothing to do with who you really are.

That capacity where you can distance yourself from what you are feeling suggests something intensely profound. For one, it raises the question: Who is the one experiencing and who is detaching? Is there a bigger “you” that no mood, event or experience can affect or alter? Who are you, really, without your moods or feelings? Who are you without your opinions, thoughts, biases? Do you know who you really are?

These questions are something to ponder and can lead to bigger questions. It may take more than a lifetime to find the answers to them.

Ten things I owe the world 0

Posted on August 06, 2016 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated August 7, 2016 – 12:00am

We breathe the same air. We live on the same planet. Our own survival depends on one another. We are capable of the same feelings. We have the same dreams. We all need food, homes, education, jobs, security, opportunities, human rights, freedom, happiness.

Everything each of us does has an effect on someone or something. It may seem small or insignificant but it does create some kind of ripple in someone’s life. Even when we are alone, our state of mind, our consciousness, the thoughts we have and the things we do, matter somehow. They either make us better or worse than what we are. And that matters every time we engage each other. When we grow physically, emotionally, spiritually, the world is impacted positively, however small. And when we are selfish and irresponsible, the impact is negative.

When a person enters the world, he or she is mainly concerned with “finding him/herself.” Yes, there is a “self” to discover during the early time in our lives. When we get older, we redefine that same self as something bigger and inclusive of more people, until it collectively becomes all of mankind. We lose the small egotistic self and discover that, indeed, “we are the world,” as the song goes.

I have been thinking lately about how things are going in the world, and I have not been happy with what I see. People seem to be more prone to and affected by negativity than positivity. Bad news reigns. More often, pessimism gets more traction than optimism. There is a scarcity of goodwill, tolerance and kindness.

It could be just me. I don’t know.

But since we all live and affect each other, I would like to think that while we, individually, want to pursue happiness, we must also think collectively. The connectivity we share as humans forces us more and more to think collectively and consider the rest of mankind, even when we make many individual decisions. World events, and even social media have shown us how we affect each other. Good and bad things go viral and probably define how we view things on a daily basis.

In short, we cannot live just for and by ourselves. There is no escaping from one another. Here is list of some of the things I believe I owe mankind, if I am to live and love and pursue happiness in a world-centric way.

1) I owe every human being the recognition that he is more than a statistic, a nationality, a part of a race, a member of a social class and gender. Everyone is a person, a human being, unique, with a personal history and a purpose on earth.

2) I owe everyone respect just as I want respect from everyone.

3) It is my duty to honor, promote and defend everyone’s human rights.

4) In choosing between something that degrades humanity and something that uplifts it, I must choose the latter.

5) I must try and love everyone as well as possible. It is important to try and see God in everyone. Even my so-called enemies have what in Zen is called “Buddha nature.” If I cannot love fully, I must at least insist on giving the minimum required, which are respect and justice.

6) I owe it to the world to keep educating myself so that I may understand more and thus deliver the compassion and love that are most needed.

7) I owe everyone, especially future generations, a better, healthier, more sustainable planet.

8) I owe it to everyone to consume less of the earth’s resources and when possible recycle, revive and renew the planet.

9) I owe it to humankind to stand on the side of hope, positivity and, when faced with negativity, hate and hopelessness, to pursue positive action.

10) Lastly, I owe everyone a life of purpose for myself that makes me happy and creative. The happier I am, the more I can give. I cannot give what I do not have. And that purpose that makes me happy, helps me make life better and kinder for everyone around me.

This is not pie-in-the-sky stuff. This is a turning moment in the history of mankind. Values we built through the centuries that promote rationality, human rights, inclusivity, equality, tolerance are being challenged. And once in a while, we have seen that the world has a capacity to go berserk, as history has shown us. The polarization seems to tell us that we must either move upwards in evolution or move backward. Now is the time to consciously be aware and do the right thing.

The world needs help. Sometimes, what is demanded is a big act of compassion. Sometimes, a smile or a “thank you” is enough. We must do what we can to spread more kindness and happiness around.

Committing to staying sane 2

Posted on July 23, 2016 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated July 24, 2016 – 12:00am

I am sure I am not the only one who feels this way.

Many people I know in the Philippines and in many parts of the world feel a collective letdown at how the world has been running lately. I am talking about the challenges hurled at the values and beliefs humankind holds dear. Things most of us believe in — like human rights, fairness, tolerance, freedom and justice, openness, science, logic, diplomacy, the unifying aspects of religion, the equality of all people and races — are now being questioned.

Racism, bigotry, terrorism, intolerance and an utter disbelief in science and logic have built up to an all-time high in the past 30 years. People seem to be fact-resistant, unable to analyze fairly. Nor do they have a wide enough grasp of history to understand what is happening. Many people I have met recently have no clear idea of events that transpired in the world in the past 40 years. These seem to be beyond the limit of their comprehension, too ancient to be analyzed, much less understood or valued.

Many easily buy into memes, lies and manipulation created to convince them to rally behind wrong causes. Serious reading of anything beyond a few paragraphs is a dying practice.

Ironically, at this moment when technology, the Internet and Google allow us practically unlimited access to knowledge, wisdom and data, more people seem to be ignorant about what has transpired that has shaped our societies and the entire direction of mankind itself. With so little knowledge and even less wisdom, many people have become absolutists, dogmatic and thus easily gullible.

I have often wondered why this is so.

Perhaps the array of knowledge on the net is too overwhelming, intimidating and complex to be understood or even bothered with. It is way too challenging for people who want things simple.

More and more, I see people turning to oversimplified positions that quickly deteriorate into insults, threats and shaming, in place of listening and arguing politely and — yes — rationally.

For example, the fight against addiction and drugs in our society through summary killings seems to be accepted by the majority. When the dangers of abuse are brought up, these are airily dismissed and instead the question is posed: “Why are you afraid?” They posit that one should only be fearful if one is a drug addict or supports drug use. And anyway, the rich and privileged would never be affected by the drug menace (unless, of course, their kids happen to become addicts). They take aim at the questioner personally so that no intelligent conversation or investigation of the issue is possible.

The Brexit vote happened because many older people in England are afraid of diversity and multiculturalism. They are not comfortable with certain foreigners. Not surprisingly, that may be the only issue many of them knew about the EU when they voted. Then there is ISIS and its cruelties and barbarism, which is a big scourge to mankind, especially to the great majority of Muslims who view Islam as a religion of peace. The world seems to be in serious turmoil.

Most people are afraid of the unknown. They are afraid to evolve, to think larger. Many easily believe the rhetoric that blames immigrants for all the problems in their countries. And so their allegiance to the values of tolerance, openness, and even democracy are easily suspended.

How did this happen? Who let the dogs out and the riff-raff in? There is no simple answer. I notice, though, that ever since people have had easy access to the Internet, many have felt the power to express their views, but not own the responsibility that goes with the power. There is much hate and ignorance in social media. The world is going mad. There is too much mistrust, too much heat generated but too little light produced, too much negativity and hostility. I worry that the deteriorating discourse in social media may be the new norm and direction.

The imperative challenge to every thinking person or for anyone who cares about mankind is to remain sane amid the ignorance, racism, intolerance and viciousness spreading in the world today.

Recently, I was with a group of people whom I respect, and after a long talk about the state of our country and the world, we held each other in a tight hug and vowed to stay sane in a world that seems to have stopped thinking and has turned its back on the values that promote equality, human rights, and decency.

I cannot help being fearful that the direction of human evolution will be the result of this epic battle between the forces of light and darkness. We must believe that, in the end, the sane will outsmart the negative and ignorant. Each one of us must therefore choose the side of good. This means choosing democracy over dictatorship, education over ignorance, moral values over values that dehumanize us.

Mankind paid a lot to overcome the Dark Ages and experience the Age of Enlightenment. It was a huge evolutionary step that made societies kinder and more egalitarian, offering greater opportunities for everyone. Admittedly, more of this has to happen. I trust that a more evolved humanity can make life on this planet better for everyone.

In the face of the strong dark forces that fuel the present deterioration in civility, it is my fervent hope that more people commit to being sane and civil. Reason, logic, goodwill, understanding, tolerance, patience and collective action to move higher up the evolutionary ladder are what we need. This is the only way to prevent mankind from going whole-hog crazy.

A dad moment 2

Posted on July 16, 2016 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated July 17, 2016 – 12:00am

Precious and few are the moments I get to spend time with my kids these days. They are all grown up now, living abroad and have lives of their own.

That is why last Thursday night was a special occasion. I had dinner with two of them, Ala and Mio, in Sydney where they now reside. Together with Kaylee, Mio’s girlfriend, we had dinner in Newtown, one of Sydney’s suburbs, at a delightful pizza place.

When our kids are young, we parents tend to worry too much. We are often on the lookout for their safety, their health, and their moral and ethical upbringing. We tend to be protective. We are always looking out for them like they are helpless creatures that won’t survive without our guidance. We are in a constant state of vigilance, concern and anticipation of anything that may happen. We are constantly thinking of what is good for them, giving them opportunities, supporting and leading them to the right direction.

Often, I find myself contemplating awful scenarios, and if I was asked to give up my arm, or even my life for any of them, I know I would gladly do so without hesitation.

But no matter how hard we try, we will never be perfect parents. We will make mistakes. All we can do is give our children all the love we can give. And our kids, even if they are heavily influenced by us, will come into their own in this world And that is how it should be.

It was a great feeling to be with Ala and Mio. We talked about a lot of things — their lives, mine, our relatives and friends, what the future will bring. and some what-could-have-beens. We also laughed. All this as we devoured our delicious pizza.

I remembered my mom. When I was 27 years old, like Mio is now, she would quietly enjoy watching her kids interacting, smiling with pride in the midst of our conversation. I felt like my mom last night. I sat there watching my kids unfold and express themselves and delighting in how wonderful they are. They had intelligent opinions. They were passionate. They were eloquent. They took pride in their work and their achievements. What I noticed is that they are quite comfortable being who they are. And best of all, they have grown into loving adults. And they get along.

After the dinner, we went to a bookstore that was still open. It was a secondhand bookstore that had an interesting collection of books, CDs and old vinyl records. I was amazed to know that Ala has read a lot of the classics as she pointed them out while we examined the shelves.

As I watched Ala and Mio go through shelf upon shelf of old and new books, I was beaming with joy and pride at my son and daughter. I was also happy to see that they are readers, a rarity now among millennials who like very short reads that are mostly summarized, having neither the time nor patience for real reading. Ala and Mio, and even Erica, who is in Paris, all like books.

As I looked at them, all I felt was gratitude and pride. I felt a deep sense of family bonding, even if my wife Lydia and Erica were not with us. To this father, seeing that they have gone a long way in creating their own lives that in turn nurture them and the people they love is a great achievement. I affirmed to myself that Lydia and I had raised them quite well. The sleepless nights, the hard, tedious daily work of raising them were all worth it. The hours spent reading to them, teaching them their ABCs and 123s and engaging them on many levels, the times when we had to dispense tough love for their own good — these things have all paid off.

As we walked back to the car on a cold wintry night, I had my arm around Ala. When we dropped her at her place, we said our goodbyes. I whispered, “I love you, anak. Ingat.”

I leaned back in the car. Mio had his music on. We sang along with his girlfriend all the way home. What a great Dad Moment.

To be vulnerable 1

Posted on July 10, 2016 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated July 10, 2016 – 12:00am

Most people are afraid to be vulnerable.

When we think of vulnerability, we imagine being defenseless, without any protection.

We fear that we are exposed to trouble or potential harm, that someone or something may hurt or destroy us.

To be vulnerable is to be at the mercy of outside forces. Anything can happen and it can leave us hurt, powerless, destroyed.

To be vulnerable is to have no security, no assurances of being safe or well, to be subject to uncertainty and risk.

We are born vulnerable. A newborn baby is extremely fragile. Even if we are born healthy, we can die in a day or two if we do not get the necessary sustenance, or if we are left exposed to the elements. An infant is totally dependent on other humans to survive and to thrive. It is completely helpless.

And yet, helplessness is a kind of power as well. When a baby cries, doesn’t a parent drop everything to check on what’s wrong? It makes people around the baby act, show concern and fix whatever is the matter.

All of life is vulnerable to something. There is a physical law called entropy that threatens all physical and material things. Everything tends toward decay: everything rusts, rots and eventually gives way to destruction. If we do not actively prevent things from crumbling, they surely will. It is nature’s way.

One might say that vulnerability is part of the human condition. While we fear it and go out of our way to protect ourselves, our loved ones and the things we own, we really do not have ironclad protection. Life will always hurt us, somehow. And in the end we will all die.

But what if, instead of hiding or worrying about our vulnerability, we embrace and accept it? What would happen? Will we get hurt? We could, or maybe we won’t. Anything is possible. But to relax and let down our emotional, psychological and physical defenses, to let go of certainty and just open ourselves to life, can be liberating.

When we do, we allow the world to change and shape us. We open ourselves to new experiences like love, learning and change. We open ourselves to creating and being re-created.

Criss Jami, an American poet, essayist and philosopher, wrote: “To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.”

This is so true. In a world that controls people with exaggerated fears of danger and failure, it is awesome to see people who defy these dictates and succeed in what they set out to do. You can’t get anything done without exposing yourself to some risk.

How can you start a business without risking anything? How can you love someone without the risk of pain and loss? How can you grow and mature without leaving your comfort zone of truths and beliefs that may no longer work for you, and embrace new ones? Everyone who has lived has gone through pain, error and loss. They have also learned a lot about authenticity and being true to oneself.

“Real dishes break. That’s how you know they’re real,” wrote the late Marty Rubin, a gay activist and writer from South Florida. To be vulnerable is to live life in a magnified manner. Joys and hurts are felt deeply. But all of living is more intensely experienced.

Sometimes, it is better to be sorry than safe. Even when you are hurt there is something to be learned. The more vulnerable you are, the stronger you become.

As you begin to awaken to your inner strength, you realize that your true identity lies beyond your physical appearance, ego and feelings. Your essence is divine. Only the ego gets hurt. Your authentic self is invincible.

So drop the heavy armor. Feel the wind on your body, allow your being to come alive and declare yourself to the world. To be vulnerable is to be free — and alive.


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