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Writing on Air by Jim Paredes


Archive for April, 2010


In praise of the virtue of knowing nothing 5

Posted on April 26, 2010 by jimparedes

In praise of the virtue of knowing nothing
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated April 25, 2010 12:00 AM

Information overload is a state when too many facts, figures and data are swimming in your head that you can’t even begin to process or derive patterns or conclusions that can be meaningful to yourself or someone else. The feeling is one of over-saturation, of being engulfed and swallowed up by information that is endlessly boring and useless.

Surfing the net can give you that feeling, what with everything everyone has to say about anything so easily accessible. Experts come out of the woodwork with every possible explanation of or theory about whatever it is you are looking for.

I used to think that was so cool. Well, most of the time, I still do, but not all the time anymore.

No doubt, the world looks up to people who know a lot, or are “certified” as wise and knowledgeable because they have master’s degrees and PhDs, or other academic recognitions. We who are in awe of them like to think they are experts whose sound advice is worth the money and adulation we give them.

This article is actually in praise of the opposite. It is about the virtue of knowing nothing — in praise of people whose minds and judgment come from a blank, unwritten page. It is in praise of people who do not cling to knowledge and wear it like armor to intimidate others or to protect their reputations.

Sensei Roshi Suzuki, a Zen master, describes such an uncluttered mind as a “beginner’s mind.” It comes from nowhere and owes nothing to anyone. Unfettered by political correctness, bias, fear or judgment from one’s peers, it is not afraid to be wrong, or different, or original, and is not concerned if one’s insights are ordinary or unique. It simply sees things as they are. It does not seek to impress for ego aggrandizement or any other motive. One can say that a beginner’s mind sees clearly. It is the paradoxical opposite of what we all strive for.

I am not out to knock knowledge or expertise per se. I am merely pointing out the mistake of clinging or attaching to a fixed, unwavering, closed mindset. Often, we hear descriptions of people whom the world considers as bright, intelligent, sharp and wise but, alas, they seem to be full of themselves. They have a condescending attitude towards those who, in their view, are less than they are. They see themselves as authorities and are so lost in the power and stature that the words “authority” and “expert” have bestowed on them that they begin to lose the usefulness of the knowledge that got them to where they are in the first place.

What passes off as their wisdom on a subject seems to be nothing but posturing, or an attempt to impress, which comes off as fakery, arrogance and superiority. It stops being about what they know but the fact that they are supposedly knowledgeable.!

Here’s a Zen story I love:

A university professor went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master quietly served tea, the professor talked about Zen. The master poured the visitor’s cup to the brim, and then kept pouring.

The professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer restrain himself.

“It’s overfull! No more will go in!” the professor blurted.

“You are like this cup,” the master replied, “How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

As the story suggests, the person who is empty of motives, ego and attitudes, can see clearly. Why? Because he is not invested in anything. He has no reputation to protect, and has no need to win or be brilliant.

In a sense, a beginner’s mind can be subversive. It will call anything as it is, and that can certainly rock the boat. I am reminded of the little boy in The Emperor’s New Clothes who was the only one who saw through the hypocrisy of the “knowledge and expertise” that the hucksters had claimed to have to intimidate the Emperor into wearing an invisible fabric, or be called ignorant because, he could, in truth, not see anything. But the boy had received no briefing and no information on what he was supposed to see. He had an empty mind, bereft of artificiality in seeing and perceiving. Thus, his mind was more discerning of truth and he saw hypocrisy as it was.

An empty mind does not fit or mold the world outside into pre-existing theories. It does not distort what it sees to fit what it already believes. Rather, it comes up with theories about the world based on what it sees and experiences. And even while it does, it is ready to jettison its findings and discoveries when new facts present themselves. One might say the empty mindset is always in a flux. Something is always being thrown away for new things to come in.

These two mindsets, the “full” and the “empty” minds, are always at war with each other. Creationists versus evolutionists, dogmatists and conservatives versus liberals, secular versus religious — everyone is trying to present his case to the rest of humanity and win them over to his cause. As both sides claim to seek the truth, deep inside — while I do not question their motives — I would like to say something about how they perceive things.

Zen takes all this truth-seeking to a more cryptic but deeper level when it admonishes its adherents, saying, “Don’t seek the truth, just drop your opinions.” It can be exasperating to the crusading, purpose-driven mind to hear such words. In an election season like what we are going through in the Philippines, this advice can sound nonsensical. How can we campaign for our candidates when we are supposed to have no opinions about them?

Perhaps what the Zen master means is that the truth is availably clear if we let go of all pre-conceived ideas and opinions. By not entertaining the call of ego, the need to be right, the power of peer pressure, we can arrive at the bigger truth, which goes beyond choosing the right candidates. We can begin to see who we really are without attachment to our opinions and attitudes.

And the big truth is, we are not our opinions. We are not our preferences. We are not even our mindsets. If we were all these, they all would be fixed and unchanging.

So let us continue campaigning for those whom we believe will lead us best. But when it is time to drop the fight, let us do so with little effort and no sense of loss. This is good to know as we reach the end of the election season.

Soon, we will need to clear all this political campaigning from our heads to make room for the new concerns and tasks required by the collective living of our lives.

* * *

Have you been shooting pictures almost exclusively on automatic settings? Do you understand the buttons and functions of your camera?

I will be giving a workshop on Basic Photography. This will be a hands-on experiential approach which will cover basic knowledge of the DSLR camera and its functions, techniques on lighting for outdoors, indoors and including studio lighting, composition, the use of different lenses, portraiture and landscape techniques, motion or action photography, and a whole lot more. This is a one-day workshop on May 2, from 1 to 7 p.m., at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. Cost is P3,500.

We will proceed immediately to shooting pictures as we discuss the theories. I will work with a limited number of students only.

One requirement is that you must have a DSLR digital camera capable of manual settings.

The vow to wow 3

Posted on April 18, 2010 by jimparedes

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Illustration by REY RIVERA

Every nation that has progressed has done so through innovation. In the US, Japan and many other countries, innovation after innovation have made their lives not only easier but more prosperous. In fact, a lot of the wealth of these countries was brought about because their citizens innovated and the world bought their products.

Innovation was the story of the 19th and 20th centuries. Wave upon wave of new scientific discoveries led to actual product development that reached the marketplace and generally made life more convenient, efficient and productive. The automobile, the airplane, the microwave oven, electric toasters, television, etc. have shaped the evolution of man. One can say, for example, that Wi-Fi and the Internet comprise parts of man’s new nervous system in the sense that anything that happens in the world now can affect him almost instantly.

And yet, there seems to be something ancient and “outmoded” about innovation. Umair Haque, a writer and strategist for media and consumer industries, refers to innovation as a “relic” of the industrial age. No doubt, innovation as the power concept was the blueprint that brought us to where we are now. He proposes, though, that there is something new on the horizon and it may require that we innovate innovation itself if we are to move forward.

It is not enough, for example, for businesses to be purely entrepreneurial in approach. They can’t continue doing their job of selling with just profit as their bottom line. This kind of thinking, Haque argues, churns out products that offer little in terms of anything fundamentally new. And to make it worse, this mindset leads to a lot of pollution and waste without really changing consumers in a fundamental way.

“Innovation means, naively, what is commercially novel,” Haque points out. It does not change anything fundamentally. It merely “variates” on already existing themes. Thus, you have “new, improved” consumer products that have not really changed in any meaningful way in years. Look at your toothpaste, deodorant, even your car.

What we need now is not just the entrepreneurial spirit to innovate but the creativity to make really new stuff. Where the old concept of innovation largely improved things, adding creativity would create game-changing products and services. Haque calls this radically different concept of doing business, the ability to create awesomeness.

Awesomeness, according to Haque has four pillars.

The first is ethical production. The services and products we make and sell must be mindful of their impact on the world in many ways. Body Shop is an awesome company because it helps indigenous people in the Amazon develop ingredients while saving the forests.

The second is about making “insanely great stuff.” We all know what it’s like when we come across products that not just surprise and delight us but also change how we do things fundamentally. The iPhone and iPod, and now the iPad, are just some of them. Most people now buy their music through iTunes. The concept of going to a geographically existing music store to buy albums is fast disappearing. These Apple products have certainly given us a new way to engage the world.

The third pillar is love. How awesome is that? Haque points out that people who work in Apple stores, for example, are so excited to show the awesomeness of their products, versus those who work in other electronics stores who simply want your money. They love their work and their products, and it shows.

The fourth is about adding not just value but “thick value.” This is not about merely improving a product by adding bells and whistles, as has usually been done. That merely creates “thin value” which is not great or lasting. Thick value means thinking about the customer and innovating the product with love. People who make thick value can’t wait to share the awesome experience of their products or even their upgrades with the world.

Awesomeness is something we recognize when we see and experience it. It changes us and gives us a depth of experience that is delightful and fundamentally new. This experience can only be created when the people who are making the products or offering the services love what they do.

We have seen awesomeness throughout history. Shakespeare, Thomas Edison, Walt Disney, Picasso were awesome. In my list of contemporary people, I would put the Beatles, Steve Jobs, Michael Jordan, Michael Jackson, Chef Ferran Adria of El Bulli restaurant, Quincy Jones, Manny Pacquiao, Muhammad Ali and Barack Obama in my pantheon of awesome people. There is something cutting-edge and magical about them that is probably why they are leaders in their field. They engage us not only on one level, but touch us in ways that catch us, not just in awe of them, but also in awe of ourselves when we enjoy what they offer and root for them.

Umair Haque calls these four pillars the Awesome Manifesto. If there is a phrase to summarize it, I would call it “The Vow to Wow.”

This mindset of awesomeness, wherever it is applied, asks its adherents to show up in the world at their most creative, open and engaging best. Its aim is to change things while surprising, delighting and inspiring its audience. It is never condescending by selling anything that is mediocre or average. What it offers must have that “wow” factor, the ability to make you rave, and convert you to become an involved and engaged fan or even a disciple.

I have to admit that Apple products affect me in exactly these ways. The reviewers of the new iPad point out that despite its flaws, the iPad can engage you on an emotional level, so much so that once you hold it in your hands, you can hardly let go of it. Can the love the engineers, scientists, planners and awesome people at Apple have for their work pass this on to the products they make? I believe so.

Through the prism of everyday life, one might say that being awesome is all about being creative, open, happy and sharing that happiness with people we encounter. It is infectious, contagious and can get people you meet emotionally engaged with you. Some might say it is charisma. I think it is more than that. The love factor plays a big role in it.

Awesome people are what we need to experience the world as an awesome place.

* * *

Have you been shooting pictures almost exclusively with automatic settings? Do you fully understand the buttons and functions your camera has to offer?

I will be giving a workshop on Basic Photography. This will be a hands-on experiential approach which will cover basic knowledge of the DSLR camera and its functions, techniques on lighting for outdoors, indoors and including studio lighting, composition, the use of different lenses, portraiture and landscape techniques, motion or action photography, and a whole lot more.

This is a one-day workshop only from 1 to 7 p.m. We will proceed immediately to shooting pictures as we discuss the theories. I will work with a limited number of students only.

To join, you must have a DSLR digital camera capable of manual settings.

Date: May 2, 2010

Time: 1 to 7 p.m.

Place: 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC

Cost: P3,500

Please call 426-5375, 0916-8554303 (ask for Ollie) or e-mail me at emailjimp@gmail.com for questions and reservations. Leave your contact details when you e-mail to reserve a slot.

An amazing pet story 6

Posted on April 12, 2010 by jimparedes

Boboy Garrovillo, my APO buddy told me this amazing story which I would like to share with you.

Boboy’s brother Rene had a friend who was in Shanghai recently. Like all tourists, she wanted to go pass by the market there. She saw a lot of things that attract all tourists but what stole her heart was a litter of ‘chowchow’ dogs that a vendor was selling. They were so cute and furry and lovable and she decided on the spot that she would buy one and take it home to Manila. She also bought a small cage to go with it and so she took the pet on the plane back to the Philippines.

The pet took to its new habitat quite easily. But it was hardly two weeks in her home when the maid rang her up in her office one afternoon sounding quite distressed. In an alarming voice, the maid said, “ATE! Yung tuta natin, nasapian yata!’ (Our dog, it seems it has been possessed by a spirit). She asked the maid why, what made her say that. The maid, in her agitation simply urged her to come home and see for herself what was happening.

Lo and behold, when she got home, they saw the puppy walking upright on its hind legs around the house! Could it be ‘possessed’? Shocked and distraught at the unusual sight, they decided to bring the pet to the veterinary clinic nearby.

The young doctor, examined the pet thoroughly. After awhile, he went to the two women who were awaiting the diagnosis. The doctor said, “There is nothing wrong with your pet’. The two women were wide-eyed and confused! The doctor clarified his statement by saying, ‘It’s actually not a dog’.

“It’s a bear!’

The woman ended up donating the ‘dog’ to Manila Zoo.

Thoughts on appropriateness 2

Posted on April 10, 2010 by jimparedes

Today at 12:43am | Edit Note | Delete

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated April 11, 2010 12:00 AM

Carl Jung, who founded analytical psychology, observed that what is true in the morning of one’s life may no longer be true in the afternoon. Our views, values, attitudes and preferences understandably change. What may seem crucially and achingly important when one is young may become less so, or even not at all, later in life. Things temper out. Raging fevers die down. Causes we used to be ready to die for when we were younger become less compelling as we age.

In my early days of Zen practice, my sensei (teacher) asked me to mull over the question: How do you know when something is appropriate? It baffled me then and to this day, I continue to ask myself this same question before I act on anything. Sometimes I apply the question to a situation that is asking for a moral response. Sometimes, the question asks me to make a wise, reasoned response to an issue, or even age-appropriate behavior when it asks me if I am acting my age and not my shoe size.

Just asking this question can solve many problems and put a kind of order in a person’s life. It can also make one come to terms with a lot of situations. Clearly, this question posed by my sensei was meant to go beyond situations of social etiquette or political correctness.

For example, in terms of personal appearance, I have decided that regardless of media’s cult of youth, there is nothing wrong with the fact that people do age, and so I will not overly concern myself with my thinning hair, or my slowing body. This means I will not try to defy age with botox shots, and neither will I ever wear a wig or anything meant to make me appear younger than I am. I accept myself as a man in his late 50s who, like everyone else, is growing older by the day. That, to me, is an appropriate response to this situation.

This question of appropriateness can come in handy in a heated argument. By simply asking it, we can stay cool, and avoid flying off the handle and saying things that we may regret later on. We become more detached and rational, and so our responses can be more measured and, well, appropriate.

Apriest I know once posed a situation to prove a point. He asked how we would react if we entered a department store where everything was wrongly priced. A can of sardines is priced, say, at P150,000 while a diamond ring is being sold for P5. A pair of slippers would cost P80,000 while a Rolex watch would sell for P9.99. We would sense that something is wrong, of course. His point was that, often, we do not accord the appropriate value or attention to things and people in our lives. We devalue the important things and are blinded by and give more importance to stuff of little or dubious value. When we do this, we are acting ‘inappropriately’.

So what does it mean to act appropriately? How do we know when we are responding appropriately to a situation?

We all know the metaphor about throwing pearls before swine. This figure of speech implies that in certain situations, there is a severe disconnect between the giver and the receiver. The giver confers something of value to those who have no way or are incapable of appreciating the value of what is being given. The gift, it would seem, is inappropriate.

But there are times when we find ourselves in situations where the only thing we can offer is something that will be hardly understood, much less accepted. We are, in a sense, contextually out of place. I can think of many people I know who have joined elections with lots of idealism but discovered soon enough that no matter how much they pushed the message, or regardless of their compassion for their countrymen and their pure intention in wanting to serve them, they have not succeeded in being elected. The good guys often do not make it. Instead, the bad ones more often do.

Jesus faced the same situation. His message was not something the people of His time were ready to accept. One may argue that even people in our present time are not ready to accept it. This opens up the question of whether idealism or even noble intentions have an appropriate place in many areas of life.

But maybe my Zen teacher was asking me to think more deeply about appropriateness than the examples I am giving.

Is it right that one must change one’s message to be “accepted”? Or, to put it another way, does being popular and acceptable and having a message everyone likes to hear make one “true”? But what if it is something you yourself do not believe in? Appropriateness is not only about political correctness.

I would like to posit that the idealist, regardless of whether he has an audience or not or whether anyone is listening, is in the place where he is needed and, in the wider scheme of things, he/she is always in the right place.

Why? Because one cannot help but be one’s self. You are what you are. Can a tiger change its stripes? Can a dog behave like a cat? When I was a kid, I often listened to and memorized a record about Tubby the Tuba. The audio story, which stressed the need to Be Yourself, pointed out that “an octopus would look quite ridiculous knitting sweaters at the bottom of the sea. So, be yourself!” That’s a message that is hard to forget.

In today’s world, being true to one’s self is one of the hardest things to do. Life pulls us in every which way with demands on our time, resources, concerns and emotional investments. Gone is the simplicity of the idea of a straight line that connects two dots. Too many conditions enter the picture and change how we must proceed from one point to another, from having a dream to accomplishing it without being pulled astray by illusionary points along the way.

When I am confused, as I am sometimes about what to do with my life after APO ends this May, I remind myself that I am a creative, an artist, and I must proceed from there. I must accept that as the first given. And that means that I must do the stuff that my being an artist-creator is supposed to do. It has always been so since the morning of my life, and even now, as I approach late afternoon.

I feel this sense of an expanded identity when I create, write, do workshops, teach, sing, perform, meditate, or when I just open myself to creative space. That’s when I know that I am in the time and place and situation where I am meant to be.

I am behaving appropriately!

* * *

Have you been shooting pictures almost exclusively on automatic settings? Do you understand the buttons and functions of your camera?

I will be giving a workshop on Basic Photography. This will be a hands-on experiential approach which will cover basic knowledge of the DSLR camera and its functions, techniques on lighting for outdoors, indoors and including studio lighting, composition, the use of different lenses, portraiture and landscape techniques, motion or action photography, and a whole lot more.

This is a one-day workshop is happening on May 2, from 1 to 7 p.m., at 113 B. Gonzales st., Loyola Heights, Quezon City. Seminar fee is P3,500.

Participants must have a DSLR digital camera capable of manual settings.

We will proceed immediately to shooting pictures as we discuss the theories. I will work with a limited number of students only.

For reservations, call 426-5375, 0916-855-4303 (ask for Ollie) or e-mail me at emailjimp@gmail.com. Leave your contact details when you e-mail to reserve a slot.

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Posted on April 05, 2010 by jimparedes

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Posted on April 01, 2010 by jimparedes

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