Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

Archive for March 5th, 2011

Self-inspiration 3

Posted on March 05, 2011 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star)

The less routine, the more life. —Amos Bronson Alcott

I wish we could take out a lot of that. But every single day, we go through the routine of waking up, grooming ourselves, eating, sleeping. In between, there is the commute, to school or the job, and other duties and commitments that need to be attended to. Doing the same thing day in and day has been known to kill one’s spirit.

“Habit and routine have an unbelievable power to waste and destroy,” wrote Henri de Lubac. It is difficult not to agree.

The weekend is the respite. I could not believe how many responses I got when I asked my Twitter friends to complete the sentence, “Sundays are for…” A great many of the tweets were about how special Sundays are because they are off the routine of having to wake up early, go to work, school, etc.

But if you live long enough, even the days that we deem “special,” such as Sundays and holidays, can become ordinary from sheer repetition. Repetition makes them routine, and eventually humdrum and boring.

The challenge is really in how to look at anything that we have to do over and over again with a fresh perspective each time.

On good days, I try to look at anything, including an old routine, with excitement, wonder and a purposeful perspective. It does not matter how many times in my life I have brushed my teeth, changed my clothes, had breakfast, and other ordinary activities. I can create a personal excitement about them. I don’t have to make things up or fool myself. I just have to be in a state of gratitude and mindfulness.

The philosopher Heraclitus once said, “You never cross the same river twice.” It’s always a different time, and a different “you” that is doing what seems to be the same old thing. The idea can be mind-boggling.

It’s all about attentiveness. It is a great coping activity. Every spiritual seeker discovers this eventually. What attentiveness does is we hold the activity we are doing in our consciousness and give it importance. And that alone makes it so. When we hold it, we discover many things — details that we would have been blind to if we did not pay attention. I might even say that when we are mindful, we actually imbue what we are paying attention to with reverence. When I do photography, there is something special that transpires between the subject and me. In the face of a beautiful sunset or breathtaking scenery, I approach it with complete mindfulness, and yes, respect and reverence. Sometimes, I just sit in front of it for a while to establish a moment of “rapport.” Its beauty is clearly eloquently expressing itself before me. I must show a corresponding worthy reaction, an appreciation that honors its timelessness.

I may have the skills and the knowledge to get the right settings and push the right buttons on my camera, but unless I truly “see” what is before me, I may not capture the essence of its beauty. Every photographer knows that a beautiful subject alone does not guarantee a good photo. The one who attempts to capture it must be equally worthy of the honor.

As a young boy studying in a Catholic school, I used to wonder how priests could say Mass every single day and still get a lift doing it. I don’t know if priests get inspired each time they say Mass but I am sure they would like to be. I imagine that the ritual of putting on vestments, the prayers and the invocations do the work in preparing them properly.

It is probably similar to the routine and practice of serious artists, craftsmen and athletes. A ritual is done to set the mood, to prepare oneself, and to invoke the muses and spirits so that the activity becomes meaningful and transformative.

Every time I put on my performance clothes as a member of the APO, I felt that I was preparing to do something special. The costume set me apart from my audience. It reinforced my mission that I was there to fulfill a promise to give them a moment of magic, where I take them to a kind of altered state, away from the ordinary routine of their lives, to a place where they have never been. As the song in the musical Pippin says, “We’ve got magic to do.”

Being able to do this in everyday life is quite a trick. It is important that one learns to enchant one’s own life. This means being able to awaken oneself to one’s own situation with all its little details, and engaging it with power and inspiration.

But one might validly the question, “What if I am not inspired? What if there is nothing out there, no beauty, or anything fascinating enough to awaken to?”

My answer may seem unreal, until you have discovered it to be true in your life. It is this: You are your own inspiration. You are the fire and breath of your own soul. You do not need anything to build a spiritual fire within because it is already there.

The capability to be joyful and to see the details that can make the difference in ones’ life are spiritual muscles that get better and stronger when used often. While some may find life’s ultimate meaning in some big, glorious epiphany, maintaining its magic in our lives is “the practice.” It is the practice of constantly being inspired.

When I teach creativity, songwriting or photography, I always point out that the good photo, the bright idea, the great song is not guaranteed. When you are able to produce it, consider it as just an accident. However, the practice of showing up and doing your craft or art, or anything on a regular basis, will open you up and make you more “accident prone” to do great work. As Julia Cameron pointed out in her wonderful book, The Artist’s Way, “You take care of quantity. God takes care of the quality.”

Whatever we do often creates a pattern or a “muscle memory.” It’s good to be aware how often we fall into cynicism and negativity. If we practice it often enough, especially if done so unconsciously, it becomes an ingrained attitude. “The chains of habit are generally too small to be felt until they are too strong to be broken,” wrote Samuel Johnson. How true!

But if we choose self-inspiration, we may even transform every routine into an experience imbued with purpose and joy.

* * *

1) Go beyond a point-and-shoot experience. Let me teach you how to use it. I would like to invite you all to a workshop in Manila. I am offering a Basic Photography Workshop on March 12, 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Venue is at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. If you enroll in this class, you can get a discount from Canon when you buy cameras and accessories.

2) Join my Songwriting Workshop on March 19 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. This is a fun, challenging workshop where the student is taught the elements of good songwriting from melodic, structure, lyrics, arrangements, etc. Hits from all genres and styles of music are analyzed. The “hook” is discussed and applied at length. Most importantly, the student is challenged to actually write songs during the one-day workshop. Students must know how to play an instrument.

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