Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes


Look who’s talking

Posted on January 18, 2015 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated January 18, 2015 – 12:00am

Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.

— Gautama Buddha

I have pondered the above quote many times. I still do. It takes a lot of living to really know, to be confident and sure about what you really believe in.

Since the time we were born, we have been fed rules, guidelines, laws, so-called truths, dogmas and beliefs by authorities such as our parents, caregivers, teachers, public officials, friends and religious leaders. We were instilled with habits to help us go through life.

Our minds and hearts were shaped and molded by what others believed to be true and good for us. They taught us to fear authority and to fear being ostracized. We were classified, categorized and forced to live in boxes. Conformity was rewarded. Individualism was frowned upon. And we all felt the need to be accepted and so we all complied with society for the most part.

For many people, this arrangement is fine and is as it should be. They have no problem with this state of affairs. There are many people who are comfortable living their lives without the need to probe, or to question how and why things are as they are. To a certain extent, we are all like this.

But there are some who are not always too happy about things being as they are. There are certain aspects in the conduct of their lives where they digress from the rest. They have a great need to express themselves not in the way everyone else does.

This feeling of being different happens at certain times in our lives. When I was a teen, I often asked myself why I generally found it difficult to fit in. Most kids my age seemed happier than I was. That’s how I felt. Maybe I felt that way because I was too intense and self-conscious.

It took me a while to get out of my shell and express myself. And I did this mainly through music. Writing came much later on.

We are often faced with situations where we are made to react by expressing our opinions. When I was much younger, I often caught myself sounding like the people I admired. I still do at times. Sometimes, after saying my piece, I would notice that I sounded like my mother, or some teachers that had made an impact in my life, or some authors I had read. I could hear their voices in my head as I spoke.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps they did have a great influence over me and have made me what I am. Perhaps.

Sometimes though, I notice that my reactions are knee-jerk ones and, yes, borrowed. In short, I feel safe expressing them because they have come from authority figures. In fact, I may have never even encountered firsthand the life experiences or situations being talked about, yet I judge and opine about them all too quickly.

As I got older, I realized that personal experiences do shape our opinions and are more meaningful and relevant than opinions or thoughts we have borrowed from others. What is real is more valuable than the theoretical. Real-life experience is indeed king!

There is a saying in Zen that goes, “When you meet the Buddha on the road, you must kill him.” This is one of those koans meant to shock at first in the hope that it brings you to a state of deep insight. It may take months to make sense of it. After much thought, to me, this means that one can have many teachers and believe in many ideals but it is our own experiences that we must trust in the end. And they may be contrary to the teachings we may have grown up with. Experience, more than the words of teachers and authority figures, is still the best teacher.

When I wrote the song Batang-bata Ka Pa for my firstborn child, I included a line that went,

“Nais ko sanag malaman

Ang mali sa katotohanan.

Sariling pagraranas

Ang aking pamamagitan.”

I knew that while my precious, helpless little baby was totally dependent on me, there would surely come the day when she would have to explore and find her own truths, and these may not necessarily resonate with mine.

We all have to individuate at some point and discover what we really believe and what is true for us. It may take a lot of pain and we will encounter mistakes and tough lessons. It takes a lot of courage to get over the fear of becoming ourselves. But it is the way to go.

But some never get there. They live in the safe zone of what has been told to them. They are content with that. They like things cut and dried. They like the safety and assurance of someone else telling them how to live. They avoid the fear of speaking in their own voice. That’s way too scary.

One of the things I try to make a habit of is the art of stepping back and observing myself in the third person. While I speak and interact with people, I also look at myself and what is happening as some sort of “unattached witness.” I catch myself bullshitting at times, but also being authentic at other times. The witnessing helps me know more about my true self and define my own opinions as opposed to merely speaking in borrowed voices.

“Look who’s talking” is something I ask myself when I speak. It makes me clearer and more real to myself.

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