Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes


Would you hug a stranger? 0

Posted on August 11, 2019 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – August 11, 2019 – 12:00am

‘Maybe we should stop being automatically fearful of each other. In life, we will all have to ask for help from people we don’t know.’

On a train from downtown Sydney a few years ago, I found myself sitting across from a tall white man. He was unkempt but not menacing. He was dressed like he was a tradesman wearing that signature neon green jacket. Normally, no one minds anyone during train rides. People enter, sit and get on and off without talking to each other. And so I was surprised when the man seated across from me called my attention to say it was his 53rd birthday tomorrow. I smiled and politely gave him my congratulations. I answered but without really meaning to continue the conversation. I remotely considered the possibility that he could be some kind of crazy guy. I avoided eye contact afterward.

After about two minutes, he addressed me again. He complained that his back hurt so much. I answered, “Is that so?” He kept on. And on. It seemed like he wanted a continuing conversation. I realized I was in a situation where I could not dismiss him and so I conversed with this man. I asked him why his back hurt so much. He said he was born with legs too long and so his back had been hurting for years. He opened his jacket to show me and judging from where his belt was, it did look like he had a short torso.

The next thing he said caught me by surprise. He said he wanted to commit suicide. I was stunned. I knew this was an “uh-oh” moment, to say the least. And I felt I was on the spot somehow. I instinctively looked straight into his eyes and said, “Please don’t.” I had hoped that his next words would be less disturbing since I really did not want to get involved. But he repeated that he wanted to end his life.

Here was a man who was clearly and desperately asking for help. This stranger had dropped his guard and exposed his deep loneliness. I was in full attention and heightened awareness.

I knew I was now in a serious situation I could not turn away from. I felt the magnitude of his pain. He continued talking. Actually, it was more like rambling. I could see his eyes swell up with tears as he narrated that he had lost his parents many years ago. He had no siblings nor a wife and children to come home to. He was miserably alone in his life. He repeated again that he wanted to commit suicide. At this point, I stood up from my seat and moved to where he was and sat down next to him.

I sat on his right side and put my hand behind his back. He started to sob while he covered his face with his hands. His elbows were resting on his knees. I put my left hand over his back, rubbing it as I said, “Please don’t commit suicide. Everything will be all right, sir.”

I did not know what else to say. He started crying uncontrollably. I pulled him closer and kept saying that everything would be okay. I told him that God was with him. I just kept on repeating the words, “It’ll be okay.” He seemed to be listening.

I caught myself hugging this stranger. Hugging is my instinctive way to give comfort and consolation. I wanted him to know that I was listening to him and was sympathetic to what he was going through. There were many other people on the train but they all avoided looking, much less having eye contact. They ignored what was going on.

I just sat there beside him.

Soon, the train had reached the station. It was where I was supposed to get off and transfer to another train to get home. I stayed seated beside him for a while consoling him as passengers got off and new ones came on the train. But I knew I had to leave very soon. I felt bad when I told him I had to leave. I whispered for the last time that, “God loves you, sir. Please don’t commit suicide.” I reluctantly left the train and went to my platform where the train home was ready to depart. I barely caught it. I entered a few seconds before the doors closed.

On the ride home, I sat quietly feeling a little guilty for not staying with him. It was a packed ride but I was alone in my solitude. I was emotional. It was quite a unique encounter I had just had. My mind was racing. Was it fate that I was put on the same train with this lonely man? I wondered if the man would actually kill himself. I wondered, too, whether I had helped him in any way or had done enough to prevent a stranger’s death by his own hands.

I wept silently and said a prayer for him. I prayed that somehow he could go past his feelings of suicide and make it through. I hoped he would go for professional help. I have helped strangers before but I had never faced a situation like this where I was actually bold enough to intervene in something so serious. I did not even know whether I was acting appropriately, culture-wise. Did I say the right things to make him feel better? I just hoped I did.

The next evening, I watched out for any news on television waiting to hear about suicides that may have occurred in the city. There were none. I felt some sort of relief. I will probably never know if he killed himself or not the following nights, or weeks, or even know what eventually happened to him.

I think about this incident often. It makes me wonder how many strangers out there are actually going through something so desperate that the prospect of suicide becomes an option. There are millions of people who live in big cities, and yet, ironically, one can still feel alone and alienated. So many people but no one to talk to. We are all going through something to some degree. But we are lost in our busy schedules trying to survive in this rat race, and we have unfortunately developed an attitude of not caring for others. And because of this, it has become a crueler world for everyone.

Maybe we should stop being automatically fearful of each other. In life, we will all have to ask for help from people we don’t know. I know many people, including myself, who have been beneficiaries of people’s kindness many times. I have also learned that a smile, offering a handshake, a simple hello can even lead to real, solid friendships.

By simply caring, we can all be more human again.

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2019/08/11/1942232/would-you-hug-stranger#FrvWCpJyWxLtiWCA.99

Love yourself 0

Posted on August 04, 2019 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – August 4, 2019 – 12:00am
You can’t give love if you don’t have it. You can’t be running on empty.
When the song The Greatest Love of All came out on the airwaves, I remember being baffled by it.

“The greatest love of all is happening to me.
Learning to love yourself, is the greatest love of all.”

I was intrigued. There was no mention of loving one’s neighbor or anything like that in the song. I actually thought that it was quite a selfish statement. It sounded narcissistic.

Growing up in Ateneo, we were always reminded to be “men for others.” It was the Ignatian way. We were taught to sacrifice and serve others, the nation. In the words of St Ignatius, we were “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.”

It was a bit close to the end of the ‘80s when I had an epiphany about the song. I was attending a human potential workshop and the facilitator asked us what we were most proud of among the things we had done in life and to write them down. It was a quiet moment of intense self-reflection. As I thought of my achievements and personal bests, the great moments of my short life paraded before me as well as the pains I went through getting there. It was a mixed feeling. I realized I had paid a price for everything I had done. I began to feel the pain and sacrifice I had gone through. While I felt that, I also felt proud that I had the courage and fortitude to do them all. I knew I could not have achieved what I had done if I did not love or motivate myself enough to write songs and express the gifts God had given me.

Then the facilitator asked us to put the list close to our hearts in the dark room while we relived what we had gone through in our lives. The song Hero by Mariah Carey played. It was a moment like no other. I was so emotional. My life flashed before me and I saw my strengths and also how vulnerable I was. I realized what the song The Greatest Love of All finally meant.

It’s been at least two decades since then and my understanding of self-love has grown deeper. We need to love ourselves completely and that includes all our pluses and minuses, our innate goodness and weaknesses. We need to unconditionally accept and be comfortable being who we really are. We need our own love and self-acceptance first to be able to love anyone. The truth is you can’t give love if you don’t have it. You can’t be running on empty.

To be an evolved human being is to know oneself so well that you are acutely aware of your own fine print. It demands constant self-evaluation and introspection. You must establish contact with your deep self so it can tell you how you have been living and what you actually want to do in life. It requires an intimate self-audit. It means we have to honestly look inward and ask the truth about ourselves: what really motivates us, what makes us tick, what are we passionate about, what is integral about us that we will never give up, what is important and meaningful, what are we ready to live and die for, what makes us happy. These are questions we will keep asking ourselves throughout life.

Before you can love yourself, you must accept that you are not perfect. Look in the mirror and embrace all your brutalities, anomalies, your shadow side and aspects of you that you are ashamed to admit. You must deal with them. Believe it or not, your shadow side actually bears gifts for you. Instead of suppressing them you must recognize their energy, and accept them fully and integrate them with the rest of you. You will discover that instead of sabotaging you, they can actually make you stronger and more authentic. That is the miraculous transformation you need to be able to do to generate love for yourself before you can share it with others.

Anger, for example, is not always a bad thing. Anger can remind you that your boundaries have been crossed and violated. It can actually protect you. It also reminds you that you have been allowing certain things to go on repeatedly and that it is time to stop.

Passion, libido are energies that can be used for artistic pursuits or building a legacy. They make you feel alive and productive and spur you to action.

Envy can motivate you to do better by pushing yourself more. If you explore hate, you may even discover a few things you hate about yourself. You will also notice compassion growing within you as you learn to be more accepting, to love and be at home with yourself. Self-acceptance actually makes it easier to accept others.

The thought of being kinder, or treating yourself like you would a precious object is what I mean. With self-love come self-confidence, self-forgiveness, and healing. When you respect and love who you are, you may even find yourself not being defensive about criticism anymore. There is much more to you than your perceived faults. You are not easily shattered to pieces by what others think of you. In fact, it may not even be worth your while to care about what people think. There are more important things to do than tumbling for other people’s approval.

“Self-care is never a selfish act — it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others,” said American author Parker Palmer in his inspirational books. You are a unique human being with the task of being who you are in this world.

When my daughter Erica finished her high school, I gifted her with a song that summarized all I wrote above called Live Your Own Life:

“Don’t take my word or anyone else’s/What’s right for me may not be right for you/I have my own dreams/I live my own story/And someday soon you’ll be living yours too/So enjoy your own joys/Gain from your own pain/Dream your own dreams/Dance to your own song/It’s the only way to go/It’s the only road you’ll ever know.

“Live your own life/Feel it so you know it’s real/Hold on to your own truth/Live life without any fear/Decide your own fate/With bated breath the world awaits/Make your own mark/All you gotta do is start.

“There are no two people in this world who’ve got the same point of view/There’s no one else who’s gonna live your life better than you/So cry your own tears/Believe in your own cause/Don’t be afraid if sometimes you feel lost/It’s the only way to go/It’s the only way you’ll ever know.

“Live life without any fear/Decide your own fate/With bated breath the world awaits/Make your own mark/All you gotta do is start/Everything you need is inside of you/You’re the fire and breath of your own soul.”

GREATEST LOVE OF ALL

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2019/08/04/1940285/love-yourself#0ER3IfJjHoP0w4eM.99

Why we need an inner life 0

Posted on July 28, 2019 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – July 28, 2019 – 12:00am 4 shares

I am amazed at how some people never seem to lose it. I am talking about people who always seem to be in control of their own personal situations. You never see them lose their temper. They know when to engage in an argument and when not to. And yes, they also know when to end it. They are not ruled by their own emotions.

They have a calmness about them that seems to permeate the room. People often defer to their presence. They almost always dictate the mood, and many times, also the topic when they speak without being forceful about it. People look up to them as leaders they respect.

I am not talking about big CEOs who intimidate others with their position and power. I am certainly not talking about some corrupt political and religious leaders — these temporal and so-called spiritual warlords who wield great influence and rule over the lives and consciences of their weak and ignorant subjects.

I am talking about people who seem capable of holding everything together in a way that inspires confidence and inspiration. I use the word “seem” because we do not see them 24/7. I am sure they also have their bad and weak moments just like everyone else. But what they do have that many do not possess is that inner strength, calmness, confidence and strength of character. They are centered on values they hold dear. All this while remaining humble.

Such people are special. I have met some engaged in different fields of endeavor and I know they spend time doing inner work, knowing themselves in all aspects and accepting themselves as who they are. People gravitate towards them because they emanate a wisdom and a bearing that shows they understand what is going on. They are also good listeners. That is why people are attracted to them.

I don’t know of any great person who does not have an inner life. Leaders in different fields such as sports, business, the arts, politics, religion etc. invest in quiet time, meditation, contemplation, prayer, tai chi, yoga, journaling, or just enjoy their time alone. They reflect a lot on what they do and what they want to achieve. They are guided by an inner compass.

They need this solitude. Life has too many illusions and delusions. Egos can easily be tempted and make people feel entitled to so many things. They need this balance between their inner and outer worlds. With this right balance, they can be as comfortable in solitude as they are in a crowd without losing themselves.

A person with integrity must not just walk the talk but learn to walk a fine line. Learning balance is so important. One must know when and how to adjust. As the late entrepreneur-writer Jim Rohn pointed out, “The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not a bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.”

A leader who does not have such skills rules by division and intimidation. He likes to instill fear. He bullies his enemies into submission. And he brings out the worst in people.

In today’s world, there are so few leaders who are willing to do the right thing. Populist leaders will say anything just to play to the peanut gallery or to fit the mood of the times. They will exploit the people’s basic fears and convince them that they alone can save the country. In reality, they end up making a mess of things. Their proclaimed love for their country and people is a lie. The weaker ones buy into their rhetoric.

More than at any other time, we need leaders who can challenge and inspire people to be and do better. Leaders who are not afraid to say what is true and right at the risk of their own popularity. “A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” This was articulated by former US First Lady Rosalyn Carter. In short, he/she must not just be an astute leader who can recognize consensus; he/she must also be able to inspire and sell their vision. And we need this now more than ever.

There are tough issues that must be faced squarely and with resolve. It takes moral courage to do so. Angela Merkel allowed a million immigrants into Germany because she believed it was the moral thing to do. Whether you agree with her or not, one can’t call her a weakling for doing this.

Obama, despite a hostile and racist senate and congress that blocked practically all of his legislative initiatives, was able to inspire his country to move forward. Mandela was able to lead a nation whose racist government once saw him as a very dangerous man. And yet he was the one who put an end to apartheid in South Africa.

I have sat with Vice President Leni Robredo a few times. I have never seen a calmer person. No, she is not “laid-back” at all. In fact, she is always actively listening, connecting, and diving into a deep pool of personal experience to answer questions. She has a lot of practical knowledge about governance. Before she was chosen to be the vice presidential candidate, I witnessed her impressively respond to 35 questions about governance and politics before a group of about 40 people. Her answers were not general at all. They were specific and nuanced, implying that she had been thinking deeply about the problems of our nation for years. She did not play to her audience with flattery or motherhood statements. It was amazing to see up-close a genuine leader with knowledge, strength of morals and conviction.

There is a Zen saying that goes, “What the superior man seeks is in himself; what the small man seeks is in others.” The superior man/woman knows where the levers of power really are and how to use them without losing oneself. There are too many small men in the world who have not invested in their inner life and believe that materialism and the acquisition of wealth and power are all that matters. That is very sad.

Sometimes, I like to gaze at the local political landscape looking for new leaders that will lead this nation into a better future. I see some promising ones who have started quite well. I hope they do not burn out too quickly.

And I do hope they cultivate an inner life. May their compassion awaken. May their strength of character, conscience and noble ambitions translate into good governance.

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/travel-and-tourism/2019/07/28/1938344/why-we-need-inner-life#Z1f1uWBTOuW38I16.99

Memories of rain 0

Posted on July 21, 2019 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – July 21, 2019 – 12:00am

The rainy season can get a lot of people jittery about many things. There are the floods, destruction, cancellation of classes and workdays, sicknesses and expenses to worry about. For some, it can also mean great loss of lives and property depending on their circumstances. While all these are real concerns that I, too, worry about to some degree, I have a more positive attitude about the season.

I mostly like the rain. The whole rainy season is, in general, a treat for me. I must admit that unlike many people, I like to see the dark clouds, the heavy overcast and the drop in temperature. I like the sound of light pitter-pattering on the roof and a heavy downpour. I even like the thunder and lightning. It feels awesome to see nature’s power flexing itself and doing what it was meant to do.

As a young boy, I remember sitting by the windowsill and watching typhoons come and go. It was awesome. The rains would be pouring sideways, depending on which direction the winds blew. I would sit for hours enchanted at the nature show going on. Strong winds would bend the trees and tall grass. Leaves would be flying all over the place. But the rain would make the whole garden wet and fresh-looking after.

Seeing lightning was, and still is, a thrill. My life Lydia always gets shaken by it. When lightning flashes, I count one to 10 while waiting for the thunder to follow. Depending on how long you count, you can measure how far lightning will strike (if it does). The longer you wait, the farther it is from you.

When I was around 10 years old, I was introduced to The Iliad and The Odyssey, which talked a lot about Greek gods and goddesses. During storms, I would imagine them causing all the ruckus that was going on in the heavens.

In grade school, I remember walking through floods along Santa Mesa to get to our house in Pureza from Ateneo. Flooding was frequent there. After walking through muddy water, we would normally wash our shoes and put them out to dry behind the refrigerator. The next day, they would be dry enough to use for school. Sometimes, they would be too dry, so they felt kind of toasty and hard. But we were of a stronger generation so we hardly complained about such minor issues. Suffering and inconvenience built character, as I learned later on. But that’s another topic.

One time, classes were abruptly canceled while we were already in school. There was hardly any public transportation to ride. I remember my brother Raffy and I started walking home from school hoping to catch a bus along the way. But the buses were few and far between and were filled up with commuters. We ended up walking the whole distance from Ateneo to our house. We arrived home soaking wet but exhilarated at what we had accomplished.

As a high school student, I remember walking up and down our street in Cubao during that big typhoon Yoling. Torrential rain was pouring but that did not stop my brother and me from going outside to play. The winds were extremely gusty. We would see parts of roofs flying all over the place. We were reckless, true, but we sure had so much fun.

Decades later during typhoon Ondoy, I was watching the rain from my room on the second floor as people on our street negotiated their way through the rising floodwaters. Soon enough, the waters had reached up to their waists. In a short while, it was already neck-deep. It all happened in just a few minutes. I had never seen floodwaters as high as that in our neighborhood.

I actually opened our gates so people could come in in case they wanted a respite from the floods. I would call them from my window. At some point, I knew the water would enter the house. Meanwhile, I had prepared for the inevitable. I made sure some of our furniture was put on top of tables to protect it from the waters. Even if our home was much higher than the street, the floodwaters still entered the house. Thank God it was just below knee-deep. But it was still distressing.

I had forgotten about my vinyl collection of about 400 albums, which I’d left on the floor of a storage closet. When the floodwaters had receded, I looked at the boxes of vinyl. It was heartbreaking. I decided to throw all the album covers away but kept the records to clean them later.

That night, I also opened my house to a few people whose homes were completely flooded. They stayed a few days. I remember feeling guilty about how small my concerns were compared to what many people were going through.

The very next day, my daughter Erica had turned our house into some kind of relief center where many of her friends prepared food packages for flood victims using their own money. It soon spread on social media. Random strangers would come and donate money and goods. Erica and friends were able to make thousands of relief packages that they themselves distributed in different places in Marikina. I was so proud of them. Rain can inspire people to do good things.

Rain also inspires people to make music. There are songs that are great to listen to during the rainy season. One of the songs I remember when I was about eight years old was a short ditty that was played over FM stations. The lyrics went,

Everybody’s talking ‘bout the weather.

If you don’t like the weather, change it.

It had a sweet melody and was sung lightheartedly by a female harmony group. I loved the sarcasm.

Some other songs come to mind. Ryan Cayabyab’s Tuwing Umuulan at Kapiling Ka (in all versions), Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, Pumapatak Na Naman Ang Ulan, and Rain by the Beatles. There are many more.

Two years ago, during a big downpour, I actually went outside the garden into the rain. With great abandon, I took off my shirt and went for it. I stayed under a tall downspout that collected water from the roof and had an extravagant shower. It was wonderful. I caught myself one moment shouting with delight.

It all came back to me — that primal joy I felt in my childhood when my sibs and I would spontaneously just run out of the house when it rained. There was no thinking about it. No hesitation. No asking permission. It was something that we knew was fun and we just jumped into it. As adults, we think too much sometimes and become too conditional about pursuing simple joys. Rain can be liberating.

Nothing tops staying in bed on a rainy morning. The softness and warmth of pillows and blankets are comforting. There is also mild melancholia that comes with it. It is a nice feeling. One can only sigh when faced with the powerful beauty of rain. We are helpless and resigned. We willingly surrender.

“The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.” This gem comes from poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

So let it pour. Keep safe and enjoy this splendor of nature as it refreshes the earth and our spirit.

(P.S.: I wrote this article while watching the rain through the window).

Small acts that can actually change the world 0

Posted on July 14, 2019 by jimparedes

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SHARES

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – July 14, 2019 – 12:00am

Life is hard. We don’t have to make it harder. The world is cruel enough as it is. I am making a list that is doable and can result in making life easier for everyone on an everyday basis. Some items may be easy. Others will need a change of attitude. I hope they become ingrained as habits.

Here goes.

1) I cannot say it more emphatically. Follow all traffic rules.

2) Always say “Please” and “Thank you.” Be sincere and look at the person you say these words to.

3) Try to lessen the noise level wherever you are. You can talk more softly while walking along streets, especially at night. Be considerate of your neighbors. You can also lower the volume of your car stereo when you are parked and your doors are open. You can avoid honking your car horn, too.

4) When you want something, as much as possible do not burden others to do it for you, especially if you can do it yourself.

5) When you are too angry, write down your feelings first. Wait a few hours before you decide to throw away that piece of paper or post it on social media.

6) Whenever possible, be aware of and respect everyone’s physical and emotional space.

7) Be kind and courteous to kasambahays, waiters, vendors, salespeople, taxi drivers, security guards, barangay tanods, small public officials who serve us daily.

8) When you have the sudden impulse to buy something, let the moment pass. If you still want it after a day, wait another day. Ask yourself if you really want it or need it. It is important that you know the difference. It happens often that a so-called must-have purchase loses its appeal shortly after you get it, and it ends up as trash piled up in your room.

You may ask, how does this make life easier for other people? It does because you will be one less confused person in this world. You will have more self-awareness, discernment and, hopefully, will do less harm to others.

9) Learn to really listen to people before giving advice. Everyone has something correct to say.

10) Change the oil of your car regularly. That simple act will save the lungs of people who have to breathe in your car exhaust.

11) No matter what the situation is, do not litter: do not throw out your garbage randomly. Especially, do not throw garbage out of your car. That is barbaric behavior and disrespectful to all sentient beings on the road. It is also dangerous. Look for a trash can. Or better yet, lessen your garbage by living more simply.

12) Learn restraint and judgment so you can stop yourself from participating in every argument that comes your way. In terms of your time and blood pressure, most of them are probably not worth it anyway. You do not need more stress.

13) When you can lift up peoples’ spirits in your daily grind, do so even with just a small gesture. Say something kind. Smile. Everybody is going through something. Maybe you can ease some of their pain.

14) Help old and disabled people cross the street when the opportunity arises.

15) Say no to one-time-use plastic bags. Refuse them when offered. Bring your own bag or container when buying stuff.

16) Do not encourage misogynistic, vulgar behavior even if everybody else seems supportive of it. Say no and show your displeasure.

17) When you are with people who are much older than you, consider the possibility that this could be the last time you may be seeing them. Be kind. Pay attention. Show compassion. Learn from every moment with them and treasure the lessons.

18) Do random, wanton acts of kindness towards strangers. As much as other people have helped you in the past, your simple act may actually be the prayer they are asking for. Trust that a kind act will always lead to good.

19) Do not pass on fake news. It is morally wrong and only makes the world a more cruel and confused place.

20) Get to know your neighbors. You don’t have to wait for an emergency to get to know them. Strike up a conversation when you can. It makes the neighborhood safer and friendlier and it builds community.

21) Keep your body active. Take long walks. Jump. Run. Do physical stuff repeatedly. An active body is less prone to depression and sickness. You will be one less person your friends and relatives will have to worry about. And that is good, right?

22) Look out for beautiful things throughout the day. Notice the flowers that sprouted in your garden overnight. Sigh at the sunset. Enjoy that wind that suddenly blew your way. Look for positivity and beauty everywhere in every moment. I like to imagine that everything in the world shows up because it keeps a sacred appointment with me. I must reciprocate. In this way, the mundane can awaken our sense of wonder. It can make us feel grateful just to be alive.

22) Have a few small snacks in the car ready to give to beggars. We used to do this off and on. Instead of giving money, which may end up in syndicates’ pockets, at least you can nourish these hapless people by giving them bodily sustenance.

23) Be less conditional when it comes to seeking happiness. Be happy with less. Be more accepting, open-minded and less judgmental. The only way suffering can become a blessing is if we embrace it. That’s how frogs turn into princes. And when you are happy and content, you automatically pass it on.

24) Check on friends and relatives who may be depressed or going through a rough time. A simple call or visit can do them wonders.

25) Finally, a special lesson for men. When using public toilets, please lift the seat so that the next guy who needs it for a bigger undertaking will not have to use the wet seat you may have left behind. It can be a big deal.

We’ve heard it all before — that we can all do something to make the world a kinder place. No one is asking anyone to be Superman or be the savior of mankind. If we all did something, no matter how small, things add up and can change quickly for the better. That is all that is asked of us.

How I want to go 0

Posted on July 07, 2019 by jimparedes

Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – July 6, 2019 – 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Last June was the saddest month I have experienced in a long while. Too many people I knew passed on. I attended four wakes. That was too much for me. I was not even able to attend all the wakes of all those I knew who died.

The ages of the deceased were varied. They represented the young, the middle-aged, the aging and the very elderly. It seemed like people I knew were dying at a faster rate than usual the past month. It was brutal.

My wife balked at attending all the wakes. She attended just one. Some of the wakes I went to seemed sadder than usual because some of the deaths occurred under sudden tragic circumstances.

Death is always a shock even when we kind of expect it to happen. The biggest shocks are those that happen almost without warning. One day a person is alive and seemingly in the pink of health. The next day, he or she are gone from the earthly plane.

While I was at the wakes, I tried to acutely observe everything that went on. I paid attention to a lot of things. I wanted to understand what death meant to all the people inside the chapels. For the departed’s immediate family, loved ones and close friends, the death is clearly a huge loss, an overwhelmingly sad affair. They bear emotional, mental, physical, spiritual and financial pain. A loved one is gone. There are regrets and could-have-beens that are expressed, or sometimes not. The pain cuts deep and personal. The time for any rectification is passed.

To other visitors, there is the sadness of seeing those left behind dealing with death with such great difficulty. There is also that awkwardness and inadequacy (no matter how sincere we are) of trying to express condolence and grief to comfort the feelings of those left behind, knowing that nothing we say can really replace the loss. And yet, we still express them. Well, because we have to. We also feel some loss. No one can restore what has been taken away. We can only sympathize and pray and hope it helps somehow.

When Jacqui Magno died, it affected me quite deeply even if I was already expecting it. I knew she was terminally ill. Knowing I would never speak to her or hear her sing live again was quite devastating. At the wake, I watched a collage of pics on the screen showing her at different times in her life. She was so alive, beautiful and filled with zest. I remembered all the different times when our paths crossed. I knew her as the best friend of an ex-girlfriend in college, a recording artist I produced, a fellow performer on stage, a friend whom I got quite close to on different occasions.

All that is passed and gone will never come back again. We all just have to move on as best we can. There is nothing else to do.

At every single moment, we are moving closer to death. That is a fact. Death is inescapable. There is nothing morbid about this. While we will never know when it will happen, one way I prepare for it is to be less attached to things that I can’t take with me in the afterlife. I must learn detachment. Another is to have a sense of urgency.

Coming home last night from a wake of a friend who suddenly fell ill and died of sepsis in less than 24 hours, it dawned on me how much time I was wasting doing nothing and not acting fast enough on important callings and dreams. I told Lydia that I still had so much music I wanted to write and record. I still want to help people in ways that would make them evolve into something better than what they know about themselves. I want to spend more time with my family, my friends and classmates, meet new people, travel to places that I have not visited, write essays, books, do a lot of photography. I also want to keep taking long walks and enjoy my body while I am still healthy. I want to touch lives in the ways that I can. I also want to continue my efforts at fighting for democracy and human rights in our country.

Years ago, I told Lydia that when I die, I would want my body to be thrown into the sea to be fed to the fishes. At least then, even in death, my carcass would sustain ocean life forms. I was very much into diving then. It was a less selfish option than being buried in a cemetery which deprives land from the living.

But after studying how difficult it would be to carry this out, especially for my family who found it too grotesque, I changed my mind. I now wish to be cremated. I do not want to be in a coffin with people gawking at me. But before I am disposed of, I wish to donate any healthy organs I may still have to help the living who may need them.

I also would not like the usual big flower arrangements at my funeral. They smell of death and evoke sadness. Instead, I would like people to use the money they would have spent for the flowers to help pay for scholarships for poor students. Instead of flowers, I want photos everywhere of friends, loved ones and memorabilia hanging on the walls. I would like my music to be played in the room, and fellow performers to sing songs for everyone. I want a celebration, laughter, but also moments of thoughtful reminiscing and remembrances. I would like some quiet time, too, where people can sit and meditate if they wish.

If it were my choice, I would still want to live longer. Much longer. I still have many things I would like to do. I do not want to die with too much unfinished business. There are things to settle, people to forgive and to ask for forgiveness from. Hopefully, I will use the time I have left wisely and purposely. I am aware it is not our choice as to when we will die. Our only choice is how to live the rest of our days before we expire.

At our age, the choice is to either slow down, do nothing and simply fade away when the time comes; or, we could use our remaining lives staying creative till the end, as we build up to that moment when we pass on like stars exploding in the night, leaving beautiful trails that light up the sky.

What a way to say goodbye!

That’s how I want to go!

There is a way out 0

Posted on June 30, 2019 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – June 30, 2019 – 12:00am

The waters have gotten murky again. I guess it happens. Life has been a blur lately. That is why I have started to meditate again. Let me tell you how meditation helps me find some balance and how it clarifies a lot of things for me.

Meditation opens the door to calmness, compassion, and spirituality. Let me explain how.

If you observe your thoughts, you will notice that there is a constant stream going on in your head every moment of the day. It goes on practically nonstop. We are preoccupied with it. And strangely enough, we are often not even aware of what these thoughts are doing to us. That is how confused and busy our minds are.

I began to be aware of this when I started meditating years ago. Sitting still in lotus position and facing a wall for 25 minutes at a time without moving is my meditative practice. It was unnerving in the beginning. Doing nothing was uncomfortable. My body wanted to rebel and move.

And it takes time to quiet down and stop the urge to scratch, or stretch, etc. And your mind is always so active. Many thoughts keep coming in droves. You can get carried away by them. They can pull you every which way emotionally. You can have angry thoughts, happy ones — all kinds of thoughts that can make you feel a lot of different things.

When you meditate, you learn to calm your mind. You are discouraged from entertaining thoughts. You are asked to detach from them and just let them come and go without engagement. It takes a lot of practice to do this. Often you forget to detach and, before you know it, the thoughts completely occupy you. But the more you meditate, the more you can have control over them.

The mind is very busy and can easily take control over you without your knowing it. Often, I feel that my mind controls me more than I can control it. It is only in meditative silence that I can tame it.

In Zen, the noisy mind is called “monkey mind.” It is always actively and uncontrollably moving, thinking, analyzing, dissecting, plotting or trying to solve problems. It is always in conceptual mode. It is always creating scenarios.

What your mind wants to do is to make you identify with its thoughts, feelings and, in so doing, create your self-image. In short, it makes up an image for you to identify with. You begin to believe that you are what you think and feel.

Spiritual practices that encourage meditation address this quite well. Meditation brings awareness. By becoming aware that you are thinking, all of a sudden, you realize that there is someone else watching you grapple with your thoughts and feelings. SOMEONE is watching you. Who is that someone?

That someone is the Witness. It is watching you having these incessant thoughts. That Witness is a vast being that is way bigger than the one doing the thinking. This Witness is the real you. It has always been there even before you were born, and it will continue to be there even after you die. But you only become aware of the Witness when you awaken to it.

When you do awaken, you will realize that you aren’t your thoughts. Why? Because thoughts come and go. Neither can you be your emotions and feelings for the same reason. They are all fleeting. A Zen analogy compares your thoughts and feelings to clouds passing by. They arise and leave. And what is the Witness? It is the spotless, eternal blue sky that is forever untouched and aware of everything, especially the thoughts that pass by like clouds.

It is so important to practice self-awareness. It makes you present to your “here and now.” You are in the ever-new present that carries with it the full potential to be anything you want to be. You are not trapped living in the past that has come and gone or some imagined future. You are where you should be. It makes everything so simple.

Dis-identifying with things of the world can really make us feel free. In full awareness, we awaken to the reality that we actually already have everything we need. Yes. Everything you need right here and now is already present if you open your eyes. This is powerful spiritual stuff. All this can put an end to a lot of anxiety and fear. Here and now is a blessing in itself. Writer Eckart Tolle often asks the question, “What can possibly be wrong with the present? Nothing.” It can only go wrong when we allow the past and the future to contaminate it. Otherwise, it is always fresh and new.

Just a few minutes ago, I had breakfast. I honored the moment by paying attention to it. I noticed how wonderfully crispy the skinless longganisa was. The melons were so juicy I could hear the crunch as I bit them. The present seemed like it was unraveling; everything was transcendent. The breakfast was a big deal. When you are present, there are no little things. Everything is radiant. In contrast, haven’t we had days when we can’t even remember the last meal we ate because we were hardly there? What a world of difference being present makes.

Meditation is a great life skill, especially in this day and age. The only problem with it is that people do not do enough of it. In this world of instant this-and-that, it is good to know you can jump off the runaway train and sit somewhere and just watch the world go by. Meditation reminds us that we can live our own lives with clarity and purpose and not get stuck in the maze of wants, needs, desires, obsessions, addictions and anxieties. We are not stuck in a world that is getting more crazy every day.

There is a way out.

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2019/06/30/1930549/there-way-out#Qt9EMpQdsgoApgpo.99

Dads make mistakes, too 0

Posted on June 17, 2019 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – June 16, 2019 – 12:00am

It is Father’s Day once more. There will be the usual greetings from children to their dads. Some of us dads may even receive cards, phone calls, kisses and hugs, and gifts from our partners and offspring. Lucky for those who do.

Some fathers may just see today as just another day in their lives. It starts and finishes uneventfully. It comes and goes without fanfare. It does not necessarily mean they are not loved nor cared for. Some families just do not celebrate it with hoopla.

I want to talk to fathers in this article.

The world has defined fathers as multi-taskers. We are supposed to be material providers, physical protectors and defenders, nurturers, cheerleaders, disciplinarians, the big man to run to when you have problems, the final decision maker and arbiter of fights in the house, the head of the family, someone to depend on to help you, someone who won’t fail you; the teacher, guide and moral guardian in life, the pillar of strength, etc. Fathers should be looked up to by their children as role models. That’s how the world has defined what fathers are.

Might I add that fathers are also one of the reasons that children do their best in school and sports. They need to hear validation from Dad (and Mom) that they are worthy and good children.

The job description above is a tall order. They are big burdens that fathers are supposed to carry out the moment they have children. For a father like me and many others, we are expected to do all these with patience, consistency and heart.

In real life, not all fathers are up to these tasks. Some have a hard time being material providers. Some are emotionally incapable of having meaningful or close relationships with their children. There are those who work abroad whose relationship and interaction with their children are limited through video chats or social media and the rare vacation from work when they come home and actually see their children. Fathers are also not shining examples of adult behavior all the time. We trip. We fall. We fail. We are not always mature. We are human.

Each family situation is different. There are many unique circumstances in modern life that make being successful in all of the above tasks impossible. There are also those who are deadbeat dads — those who have abandoned all responsibilities and obligations and have practically cut ties with their children. I pity them both. There is so much they are missing out on.

One thing I know is there are many adults who have issues with their fathers. Perhaps all of us do to some degree, be they minor or major. Some have deep unresolved issues that continue to play out in their adult lives.

I remember being part of a staff of a workshop called “Reparenting the Child Within” that was run by the psychologist Harriet Hormillosa. The aim of the workshop was to help you move on from childhood traumas by reliving them but this time as an adult with the right tools, skills and support to handle them better. The goal is to help you consciously move on from past experiences and be happier. With help from trained workshop facilitators, you can now go through your childhood crises better prepared as you consciously process and heal the pain you’ve carried through the years.

Harriet asked me to be present during one workshop and be a “substitute dad” to anyone who may feel a “father hunger.” In workshops like these, participants can talk to a surrogate father and tell him things they may have wished to tell their own dad, but never did. Or maybe they may want that hug from “father” who rarely showed affection.

Expectedly, there were very emotionally charged moments that I went through with some of the participants. I absorbed their projections and in turn I gave back some validation of their feelings. Some had very angry emotions of abandonment and shame. They were crying, shouting. They were highly strung. Some needed to say things they never got to tell their own fathers, especially those whose dads had passed away. I experienced confrontation, painful confessions, and different types of engagements that they so needed to go through. On my end, I asked questions to help them bring out the pain that had bound them to trauma. I did not defend nor accuse their fathers. I was merely present to what they were going through. I validated what they felt. Some needed a shoulder and a hug while crying profusely. I tried to exude love, compassion and understanding at all times. I hardly said anything. They just had to let it all out. It is an understatement to say I learned a lot from the workshops.

Our connection to our fathers defines us to a great deal for better or worse. They affect our choices in life in practically all aspects.

I am aware of this with my own children. As a father of three children, I have taken great pride and joy in helping my kids with their homework and many other things. I have had many conversations with them about all sorts of things and issues. We have had many happy times. But I also knew that they had some sort of resentment about my being away during long tours. I missed out on birthdays, graduations, etc. They also did not like being defined as children of some celebrity and living under my shadow. I wanted them to live their own lives and make it on their own.

The move to Australia was about giving them a chance at making a life for themselves without my fame or influence getting in the way. That was my gift to them. They always know they can come back home. But through their own efforts, they have built lives and careers there and found happiness and fulfillment.

At a certain point, children stop being children and parents cease being parents except perhaps in name. When kids get older, they begin to live their own lives while their parents try to move into a new chapter without having to tend to their children’s everyday lives. That’s a pretty hard move for parents to do. My children and I are at this point in our family life. We do care for each other but we also have our own lives to live.

As time goes by, more and more changes will happen to our family.

Parents who used to care for their kids will soon be watched over by their own children. Kids will realize that their parents do get older and get more vulnerable health-wise.

Our family is not there yet, thank God.

I would hate to be a burden to my children later on. I am taking care of my health to avoid this as much as possible. Time is moving fast. There are so many things to do and so little time to do them. I have one immediate goal I would like to do and that is to have a family vacation soon. With my children living in two separate continents and having kids and partners in life, it gets harder to plan these things where everyone can spare common time to be together. I am hoping we can pull it off next year.

I know Lydia and I have taught our kids many things. The most important are compassion, kindness, independence, and love for each other. These are essential things to teach your children.

As much as I have loved them, so will they love me back. They have done that many times and continue to do so. And I can only be a grateful dad.

A songwriter’s heaven 0

Posted on June 09, 2019 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – June 9, 2019 – 12:00am

Last Monday to Wednesday, I was in Club Balai Isabel in Talisay, Batangas. I was one of the coaches invited to help 29 kids from all over the Philippines who were invited to join the Philpop 2019 Boot Camp. Philpop Musicfest Foundation has held six songwriting festivals. And this is their fifth boot camp. The first four were held in different places around the country.

The aim of every boot camp is to help promising songwriters better their skills. These “fellows,” as they are called, auditioned to get in. Their transportation, board and lodging were paid for by Philpop. They were there to learn songwriting and life lessons from coaches like Ryan Caybabyab, Noel Cabangon, Trina Belamide, Gary Granada, Lara Maigue, Jungee Marcelo, Yumi Lacsamana, Marlon Barnuevo, Jek Buenafe, Davey Langit and yours truly.

The kids were eager to learn. Seminars were prepared by coaches with topics ranging from how to begin writing a song, how to be creative for life, arranging songs, how to write a musical, and so many more. Prior to getting there, they were already given assignments to prepare so that they would already hit the ground running when they got there.

One assignment was to put a melody to a set of lyrics given to them days before. When they presented their songs, we readily noticed how diverse the attendees were. Some leaned towards the blues, others liked rock ‘n’ roll. There were those who liked pop, soul, ballads, dance music, etc. There were those who played the guitar, ukelele and piano. Some came so prepared that their songs were already arranged on their laptops with drums and rhythm sections. But whatever style they chose, most of them were quite bold in presenting their studies.

It is quite important to present songs with energy. Ryan Cayabyab pointed this out — emphatically. Without that boldness and energy, listeners will lose interest within 15 seconds. So it is important to sing loud and make the songs as interesting to your audience as possible.

I gave a talk on how to be creative for life. As someone who has been doing creative work in many disciplines for years now, I gave them a few tips on how to keep creating (not just music) on a regular basis. I taught them how to access inspiration which, in truth, is already inside them. They just need to tap into it. I taught them how to go past the literal level and find enchantment, and write about it. Every time I give this particular talk, I feel I connect to my audience quite personally.

In camps such as these, the kids are given a few hours to create songs and present them to everyone. One specific assignment was to write a song for the 500th year anniversary of the defense of Lapu-Lapu against Magellan’s attack of Mactan. This idea was broached to Philpop by the head of Secretariat of the National Quincentenial Commission Ian Alfonso who joined us and gave a briefing on the project. The commission wanted to introduce a new way of looking at our history by focusing on the Lapu-Lapu narrative over Magellan. They wanted a song that would commemorate this once-in-our-lifetime historical event.

We were expecting only a few of the fellows to submit songs, given that they had less than three hours to do it. Lo and behold, 25 songs were auditioned. Twenty-three wrote solo works while two were collaborations. Some of the songs were very promising. The kids wrote in different styles and approaches. Some even incorporated rap. Hopefully, one of those songs will be chosen to be the official theme.

A big part of any songwriting workshop happens after dinner. All the work for the day is done. People are relaxed. This is the time when coaches and fellows are encouraged to perform and share their music. On the night before I left, Ryan, Davey, Noel, Yumi, Gary Granada, Jek Buenafe, Marlon Barnuevo and I sang some of our biggest songs. We also jammed a few OPMs from the ‘80s which we felt really stood out then. Two such songs were You by Jerry Paraiso, and a song written by Boy Katindig called I Will Always Stay This Way in Love with You. Everyone was singing. I had to stand up. I was so high on the music. We soaked it all in — the music and all the positive vibes and memories that flashed back. What a great feeling!

Soon after, it was the fellows; turn to take over the stage and sing their hearts out. They soloed. They also did duets, and even formed groups as they sang onstage.

Throughout the boot camp, I felt happy for these fellows. They were so lucky to be here getting breaks from foundations like Philpop and learning from and interacting with coaches who have made their mark on the history of OPM. They could present their songs in front of an appreciative crowd. They were in songwriters’ heaven.

I don’t remember being as lucky when I was starting out. We had none of these breaks. We were pretty much on our own, carving our own path to success. Today, the kids have all the support from institutions and even have the gadgets to help them in their songwriting.

Every artist since the beginning of time until now has had to learn to overcome rejection and fear. It will be the same for these kids. That’s part of the struggle. It is painful when your song is rejected. It is painful when you keep writing songs but do not seem to be getting anywhere, career-wise. But at the same time, these negative experiences build character and an intense focus on how to improve your skills and make you ready when the break comes.

The fellows I met in this camp seem open to learning new things and determined to meet the challenges ahead. I could see that glint in their eyes. There are songs to be made, auditions to join, albums to record, festivals to compete in. I am quite sure that in the not-so-distant future, we will be hearing amazing songs from some of them.

I would like to end this by saying thank you to the Philpop organizing team members Dinah Remolacio, Nini Santos, Gab Cabangon, Jared Kuo, and Luisa Hermida. The OPM team was comprised of Barbie Quintela, Danica Villaflor, Red Denoso, Alvin de la Pena. They took care of the sound system and video support. Co-presenters of the workshop were Maynilad, Meralco, Smart, National Quincentennial Commission and National Commission for Culture and Arts.

If you are a songwriter, watch out for the next Philpop Boot Camp. You may be one of those lucky enough to get in and have an amazing four days of learning and — who knows? — a big break could happen in your career.

This thing called depression 0

Posted on May 26, 2019 by jimparedes

This is my full article for my Humming in my Universes column on PhilStar. Unfortunately, I sent only half of it and that was the one that appeared on print.

I went to a wake three nights ago. It was that of a relatively young man who had ended his own life. He was bright, handsome, creative, intelligent, but very troubled. He was an artist.

When I heard about his death, I was saddened and felt a heaviness in my heart. It was so painful to be there but I felt the need to go. The deceased and I shared common relatives. I hardly knew his family but I did not hesitate to express the deep sorrow I felt to them. No one will completely understand what other people are going through. But I felt I had to give my share of comforting to those he left behind. I needed to do it too for myself. If you could measure my sorrow objectively, (which to me was very intense) it was nothing close to what they were going though. The heavy rain that was pouring outside could hardly match the tears in the room.

I had encountered him once before because my wife had asked for his services to create standing lamps for our new home. They turned out quite nice.

I stared at his photo near the urn which carried his ashes. His mother lovingly put her hand on it as she openly sobbed. There were no words. But you could feel the unimaginable loss she was feeling. It was so palpable. Her love and the pain of losing her son could be seen in her hand movements.

The world is so sad. Too many people are suffering from depression these days. To be more accurate, it has been like this for the past two decades and it seems to be on the rise. I don’t know why. I was talking to my brother Jesse who is now 82. He said that in his entire class, there was only one person who died due to suicide. He was in his early 60s when it happened. In my own class, I am not aware of anyone who had taken his own life. I am not saying there was no depression then. For sure there was except that they were most likely very rare and totally undiagnosed.

Today, it seems like an epidemic affecting many young people. No one knows why. Could it be genetic? Is there something about modern life that is causing it? I have met many young people who have told me that they are depressed or bi-polar. As a teacher during the past few years, my department always gave me a list of students in my class who were undergoing treatment for depression.

A lot of depressed kids may seem normal and carefree but are going through some private hell. We should always be on the look out.

So far, almost all I know about depression was what I learned from my own daughter Erica who has gone through episodes of it. I remember being so concerned every time she went through it. Lydia and I would spend many nights awake worrying about her. We made sure she got professional help. We even attended sessions with her to see how we may be contributing to it.

As a very concerned father I remember telling Erica that I completely understood what she was going through. I advised her to try to be more positive, to pray, be strong and I reminded her that I was always there for her.

She answered me pointblank and said, no, I did not understand what she was going through. She said I had no idea what she was feeling. No way. My advice of trying to be more positive, or praying more may be well-meaning but ignorant advice. Almost in exasperation and through tears, she said it was something she could not even describe much less explain.

That opened my heart to completely accept the situation even If I did not comprehend it. It was something alien to me. She was in a mental state that was so difficult to be in that the idea of ending one’s life becomes a palatable option to free one’s self from it. I just vowed to do my best. I readily conceded to her that I did not understand depression. But I had empathy for her suffering. I told her that we loved and cared for her so much. I begged her to pls call me anytime if she needed to talk for to see her.

And thankfully there were times she did call until she got out of it.

Erica has also learned a lot about her bouts with depression, too. She has openly written and talked about it. A lot of kids actually write her asking for advise which she answers with the advice that above all else, they should consult a doctor since every case is different.

The mother of the deceased said she had no idea her son was going through something. Sometimes, even the closest people of the depressed do not see it. And when they take their lives, they are all shocked because no one saw it coming. Only at hindsight do they realize that may things were already pointing in that direction.

There is a tendency among those left behind to blame themselves for the tragedy. Every person who dies elicits this kind of ‘I-should-have-done-more’ attitude among the living whatever the cause of death. When people die of suicide, this ‘guilt’ is probably much more intense. While it is understandable, I don’t think it is fair at all. Depression is so personal and so complex. If we really understood it, no one would want to willingly cause it on anyone. We would certainly make sure it does no happen.

Today, there is a lot of talk about mental and psychological health awareness. No longer is it a stigma to be depressed, or be bi-polar as it used to. There is a kinder attitude about it. People are less condemning and more understanding about it. There are numbers to call for help.

In our own circles, let us look after each other. Check on how everyone REALLY is. It is best to bring up the topic to remind people that there is always help if they need it.

Father Alex, a young enthusiastic priest who sang all throughout the mass at the wake gave a very gentle homily. He reminded us that whatever has happened or will happen to anyone of us, we must not forget we are all God’s children no matter what. And God has unconditional love for ALL his children.

His kind words eased the pain somehow. When I left, the rain had eased a bit.

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