Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

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I can hear the humming 0

Posted on April 21, 2018 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – April 15, 2018 – 12:00am

If eternity has a sound, this must be what I am hearing. The hum wakes up my entire being. It is saying volumes.
Right now is a good moment.

Everything is perfect just as it is. It is night. The universe is awake, alive. The stars are shimmering and planets are moving around their orbits in great precision. Every atom out there is where it should be. Playing all over the outer and inner worlds is a dance that is not only scintillatingly beautiful but so well choreographed. Everything is in perfect balance!

My room is lighted. Outside is darkness. I feel like my bedroom is the control room of a spaceship penetrating space. It moves seamlessly without friction. It is floating into the heart of everything unknown.

The controls of my spaceship are not in some hi-tech console. I do not even have a console. I am not pushing buttons or moving levers and joysticks. All I have is an awakened consciousness that knows how to navigate this moment. I feel very settled where I am right now.
When my mind is without baggage it seems omnipresent and everything is within reach. Zen masters used to say they could drink the Pacific Ocean in one gulp. I understand what they mean right now. I am everything out there and everything is also in here. I know myself and everything is part of me and vice versa. There are no boundaries that separate me from anything. There is no other. Or maybe there is no me.

The silence is wonderful. Now I can hear everything. As contradictory as that sounds, it is true. My focus goes to the source of where the sound of ALL emanates from. There is a humming in the universe. There is. It does not sound like anything we have heard. It is a loud silence. That’s how I describe it. The hum wakes up my entire being. It is saying volumes. If eternity has a sound, this must be what I am hearing. It is as clear as a bell but it cannot be expressed in words nor measured by any device. And it is in dialogue with me. I have just one answer to it and the word is reverberating in my whole being. The word is “yes.” Yes to everything.

There is nothing inside or outside that offers resistance or friction.
There is nothing to worry or care about. The world is a mess. It is also so beautiful. The contradiction is built into the moment. And yes, it is necessary. It is good. It is bad. It is. Everything is balanced perfectly. This state of being cannot be real if one or the other is missing.

Moments like this have happened to me before. Sometimes it is the result of intense Zen meditations. Sometimes it just happens for no reason. I ride with it. It is intense but there is a kindness and calm to it. It does not rock or shake you, forcing you to go to some mental plane. It is as simple and effortless as light suddenly appearing and blessing everything.

One time it happened while I was driving a car in Tagaytay. All of a sudden, I experienced a clarity about everything. The clarity was not in relation to big questions being asked or answered but more about the calming of the need to ask or know everything. I did not need to search anything. It was all there! There was nothing to need, to want or to desire. Life simply flowed. I was aware of it, as it was aware of me.

The Tibetans have figured out all the levels and states of consciousness. There are Tibetan words to describe a whole range of them — from gross, subtle to causal states, each one built on top of the other in ever-expanding consciousness. Tonight I am somewhere in one of those higher states.

There is a joyful feeling to it. Sometimes it is close to being ecstatic. There is also a deep sense of peace, resignation and a warm feeling of gratitude. There is a great sense of freedom. It feels like nothing can tie me down. My spirit is everywhere. Also, I find myself filled with wonder and gratitude.

While it happens rarely, I ask myself why there is a quaint familiarity to it. There is that feeling of affirmation, a feeling of coming home. You know it is real. Could this be our natural state before the world screwed us?

Some of you out there may have experienced something close to this. I know the writer C. Joybell C has. He phrased it like this: “Last night I lost the world, and gained the universe.” Amit Ray also said, “Your greatest awakening comes when you are aware about your infinite nature.”

We are like dragons — creatures that are reptilian but can fly. While we may be earthbound, we can dream and taste heaven.

To accept the contradictions is liberation itself.

Life is as it is. Things are what they are. Allow the reality of that to sink in. Once you accept it, there is nothing else to do. You are free. Your spirit is awakened. Your innate unconditional joy, calm, full awareness and compassion may just suddenly spring forth.

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2018/04/15/1805915/i-can-hear-humming#yysoZveOpOGTMdIo.99

The Lio experience 0

Posted on April 12, 2018 by jimparedes

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HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – April 1, 2018 – 12:00am

I remember asking for a plastic bag since we were going on an island tour. I was pleasantly shocked when they said they do not have plastic bags on the island.

From out of the blue, I got an invitation to go to Lio Resorts in El Nido to write about the Lio festival and a list of other activities. I made plans to go to the town of El Nido in Palawan before but it fell through. But here it was, suddenly being presented to me. I readily said yes.

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Up Dharma Down performs at Lio to the delight of the crowd

I flew in on a 48-seater plane together with some writers and bloggers. from Manila. In one hour, we were in Lio, a place that is everything Manila is not. It took a five-minute ride from the airport to take us to our hotel. We were greeted by a gorgeous beach, breathtaking scenery, fresh air, total absence of traffic, big wide open spaces, lots of trees, sand on our feet and hotel staff who were more than friendly. I actually felt their eagerness to make our stay a comfortable and an enjoyable one.

Lio is a tourism estate amid very tall coconut trees. It’s on an island along Baquit Bay in El Nido. It has four hotels, three of them a stone’s throw from each other. Each also caters to slightly different markets. Hotel room rates range from P5,000 a night to P9,000.

Lio has different restaurants and bars that serve a variety of dishes and drinks. It is a well designed complex. It was built by Ayala Land. Very few trees have been taken down. Those that were taken down are in a nursery and will be planted somewhere else. The area’s topography was not altered to fit into development plans. Instead the opposite happened.You will see no artificial hills. There are no structures above a second floor. And the forests in the 300-plus hectares remain lush and green.

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Everything is within walking distance. The beach is quite an attractive one. The smooth white sand extends more than a kilometer and a half. The waves are big enough for both swimming and surfing. And you get a magnificent view of Kalaw island, home of the highest mountain in El Nido.There is a beautiful jetty that extends a few hundred steps to Baquit Bay, which is the perfect spot to appreciate the mountain. Just staring at it especially in the late afternoon towards sunset is quite a visual thrill, as clouds cover parts of it and the sun rays paint the horizon in different hues of grey, pink, orange, and red.

The whole estate has been designed to be sustainable and kind to Mother Nature. I remember asking for a plastic bag to put my dry clothes in since we were going on an island tour. I was pleasantly shocked when the front desk said they do not have plastic bags on the island.
There is also a small artists’ haven where locals and people from nearby sell their crafts and arts. The merchandise is wonderful and, best of all, inexpensive. I bought myself a bunch of drinking straws made of bamboo for use at home. I promise to buy more on my next visit.

The festival itself was held last March 23. It was open to guests of the hotels and the general public free of charge.

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Shopping at a small artists’ haven where locals and people from nearby sell their crafts and arts.

From 4 p.m. up, there were games along the beach, murals being painted by artists.The public was encouraged to join. There was story-telling to kids emphasizing the care of the environment by women from the Haribon Foundation. By 6 p.m., there was DJ Cam playing music along the beach as people enjoyed the sunset.

At around 8 p.m., we gathered around a big tent for the concert. It featured four acts, three of them local. It started with Mike and Lyka, an acoustic duo from El Nido, followed by Woopis, band from Puerto Princesa that not only rocked but regaled the crowd with their hits and funny songs. It was followed by a drum ensemble called Kawangis Tribu, also from Puerto Princesa that got the crowd dancing. The closing act was done by one of the country’s best OPM bands, Up Dharma Down. The crowd was enthusiastic. They applauded, sang along and had a great time.

What a night!

We also toured a few islands in El Nido. Most impressive were the Big Lagoon, and the Seven Commandos islands. We wanted to see more but there was hardly enough time.

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Author Jim Paredes at the Lio Beach in El Nido Palawan

I am quite a traveler and have been to many islands and resorts. This is one of those places I will remember not just for its spectacular beauty, its wonderful staff but also for its respect and kindness towards Mother nature.

I will be back there soon!

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/travel-and-tourism/2018/04/01/1801543/lio-experience#b0r8TmYWcHVpDdj5.99

Imagine: It’s easy if you try 0

Posted on March 25, 2018 by jimparedes

Imagine: It’s easy if you try

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – March 25, 2018 – 12:00am

All of us have imagination but many lose it through the years. As a result, we look at the world and see no poetry or enchantment. But we can keep it alive by recognizing it and practicing it as often as we can.
I have always had a sense of wonder ever since I was a kid. I could look at a wooden table and get very curious about the varied hues of brown on it. I would find pictures on the table that came from the wood grain or the way it was cut. I would see all sorts of things and make scenarios and stories about them.

I would also push it and imagine where the tree came from, what kind of tree it was, or who may have cut it. I would try to learn how this particular table ended up being a part of our family’s worldly possessions. My curiosity was endless.

I also liked gazing at the night sky. I love doing it to this day. Decades ago, Manila’s night sky was still awesome. You could still see a sky filled with stars. There was no pollution to cover or lessen the beauty of the heavenly bodies. There were stars that were big, and there were some that were small. Some twinkled beautifully. Some stood still. Some looked near and some appeared to be very far. There were clusters of stars that were aligned or arranged in certain patterns. I would try to make some order out of those who were in some strange patterns. It was like connecting dots. Stargazing always left me marveling at how awesome the universe was.

The beauty of words also fascinates me. As a kid growing up at the Ateneo, we were made to memorize poems and then recite them in class. I loved Edgar Allen Poe’s poems, especially “The Raven” and “The Bells.” “Crossing the Bar” by Alfred Lord Tennison was a poem I learned in grade 6 that has stayed with me since. I often catch myself reciting it at dusk or when I am near the ocean.
I remember reading Edward Arlington Robinson’s “Richard Corey” for the first time. As much as I loved it, I also found it quite shocking. I memorized it for both reasons. Decades later, I remember driving with my kids. I started reciting Richard Cory to them. It was late evening. From the rear view, I could see most of them already fast asleep. Or so I thought. When I got to the last line they all screamed a loud “Huh?” Everyone was suddenly wide awake. If you do not know the poem, look it up. I do not want to deprive you of the shock at the end of the poem.

If you’ve ever wondered or continue to be fascinated with beaches, sand, water, the stars and planets, or just about anything in nature, it is because there is something organic inside of us that awakens at nature’s presence. We were born to engage in mystery.
All of us have it but many lose it through the years. And most people lose a lot of it.

As a result, they look at the world and their lives and see no poetry or enchantment. They are stuck in the routine of living daily, trapped in the literal world of work, struggle, boredom. In short, they live a life lacking in joy and meaning. Almost everything is dreary and boring. They have stopped asking questions long ago, and have accepted life as such — without poetry and wonderment.

As adults, whatever is left of that organic curiosity, we must keep alive. And we can do so by recognizing it, and practicing it as often as we can.

Time was when our toys were abstract things. It could be a can of sardines with some homemade wheels put on its side, a sled made out of cartons, or random pieces of anything that we imagined or shaped into something. These were products of our awakened creativity. These days, I observe that kids are given toys that are too realistic, thus depriving them of imagination. Instead of becoming creators of their own toys, they become consumers of toys made by others for profit.

Sometimes, I feel that so much of the loneliness and alienation people suffer in the world is because what used to give them joy has now become the very source of their anxiety. Where they used to express freely as children, they now contain or hold back for fear of being wrong, laughed at or compared to others. Where we used to make sense of the world by making ‘conspiracy theories’ as we saw them, now we want others to connect them for us. We do not want to be answerable for our thoughts and actions. We want other people to figure things out for us.

What would life be without imagination, or without the pursuit of what makes us curious about everything? Where would our joy, meaning, passion and purpose come from?


We would all end up living dull lives.

We do not need more products, or services that will only whet our insatiable appetite to want and crave for even more stuff. What we need is to be happier, more connected with each other.

Einstein, for all of his dedication to something so measured and precise such as science, actually praised imagination more and even suggested that it is greater than knowledge. “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination,” he said.

Imagination creates new possibilities and connections. It can bring joy and open us to see the poetry that already presents itself daily in our lives. That creates more wonder, passion, joy and enchantment.

That is how we should live.

The joy of teaching 2

Posted on March 18, 2018 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – March 18, 2018 – 12:00am

What hasn’t changed from a teacher’s point of view is the presence of students who have a great passion and an insatiable desire to learn. Every generation has them and they inspire us to go the extra mile to be better teachers.
The last year I was a student at the Ateneo was in 1973. That was the year I finished college. I have been teaching at ADMU for about 14 years now on and off since 2001. I have taught three different subjects under the communications department.

I have been on both sides of the classroom. I have stood near the blackboard as an instructor, and I have also been a student. I have had many students since I became a teacher. More often than not, my classes are full. Sometimes I accept beyond the quota of 25 students per class. You can say I love to teach.

I notice that students during my time and the students of today are quite different. I guess that is to be expected. After all, it has been 45 years, and times have changed so much. Technology alone has made many things easier for students today but at the same time, it has made certain things harder. Most importantly, it has altered the ways students and teachers relate and interact.

During the ‘70s, the only access students had to their teachers were during class hours, and a few scheduled appointments during the week. If you were absent in class, your only recourse was to ask classmates what happened and ask what the homework was.

These days, technology has made a lot of things more convenient. Lectures can be videoed. Assignments can be submitted via email. Classes can have their own Facebook pages where students can share ideas, or catch up with assignments they missed out on because they were absent. Once in a while, teachers (if they wish) can continue an extended discussion of a topic that was not taken up thoroughly in the classroom on Facebook.

Two weeks ago, I had to leave for the US to attend to a family matter. While I was there, I still continued with my songwriting class in ADMU using Apple’s FaceTime app. My students talked to me in real time with my moving image flashed on a big screen. They could ask questions and I could answer them as if I was physically present. It was amazing.

As a student in a very analogue world then in the ‘70s, we actually held books, opened pages and read them. Yes, we read entire books. There were rarely summaries of books available that you could read quickly. There was no Wikipedia then. Also, copy/paste had not been invented. No computers. You actually had to write down things on paper before transferring them to a typewriter. Typing was tedious. Erasing was a hassle. And papers had to be submitted in physical form. The digital world did not exist yet. No email. One might say we gave more time and effort in doing our assignments.

It was also a less permissive and enlightened time then, and a bit more formal when it came to how students showed up in class. There was a stricter dress code. And teachers then were not advised or warned by their department if certain students were going through certain psychological problems.

These days, students show up in shorts and slippers. I have LGBT students who even cross-dress. I am also informed by the department and sometimes by the students themselves when they are going through depression, some personal crises, etc.

I also notice that the knowledge base of today’s students do not go as far back in time as compared to what we were aware of then. We knew a lot about history and social movements of the past. For example, many do not even know, or lack a familiarity with the Beatles, and other music that transpired beyond 30 or 40 years ago. When I ask my songwriting class to listen to songs of the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘60s, they are amazed at how vibrant the music was then.

In many ways, I would say that the students of today have it far easier than we did during our time. I know many teachers who give high grades too easily. Sometimes I can be one of them. I guess it is because I am of the baby boomer generation, and we tend to over-encourage and readily reward them just like we did with our own children.

One thing has not changed. Just like the students before, the women generally seem to get higher grades and do better than the men. They try harder. Why? Maybe it is because girls in our society are raised to be “ate(s)” and are expected to take charge and care for everyone, or at least act more responsibly.

I always make myself available to my students for individual consultation. I also always make sure that everyone is on stream with the syllabus. If I have to repeat or return to a subject already discussed because it was not well understood by my students, I do so.

What hasn’t changed from a teacher’s point of view is the presence of students have a great passion and an insatiable desire to learn. Every generation has them. They are the ones that inspire teachers to go the extra mile to be better teachers.

I have had students who wrote me letters of appreciation and thanked me personally for the semester they had with me. It took me a while to do the same with my old teachers. After graduation, my generation embarked on our own lives which took us to many directions. It was only the invention of email, Facebook, Viber, and the traditional class reunions that made it possible to find some and personally thank them.

Character 1

Posted on March 10, 2018 by jimparedes

Not on PhilStar

By Jim Paredes

I know this is a Sunday column. I want to give my readers a good read that can entertain, or inspire. The truth is, I find it hard to write that kind of column right now. I am too upset about the goings on in the world and in my own country. I don’t want this column to be a rant although it will be a little of that. But I will ask uncomfortable questions in the hope that we may open ourselves to answers and solutions to why the world seems to be going crazy.

Many beliefs we grew up with and have taken for granted are now being aggressively challenged. I am talking of the freedoms we fought for, the constitution that has guided this nation, due process, decency, and what I see as the rapid decline in morality of leaders and many of their followers all over the world.

It seems that the landmark battles we won in the past that installed democracy, strengthened human rights over the decades are suddenly being threatened.

Misogyny, racism, fascism, fake news are on a big comeback and they are threatening to lord themselves over everyone. Configuring signs of a dangerous new world order are appearing.

Everyday, as I peruse the news I ask myself many questions that bother me.

Why do some women laugh at anti-women jokes? What kind of people are they who laugh when the President says he should have been given first choice to rape a missionary? Why do they laugh when the President says the armed forces should shoot women rebels in the vagina? What kind of women and men find these funny?

And why is it that there is little outrage over the injustice of Leila DeLima being in jail on trumped up charges? Why is our congress illegally defying the Ombudsman’s orders to fire a proven thief within its ranks? Why is Supreme Court Justice Sereno being illegally and forcibly taken out? Is a fascist state looming 32 years after EDSA?

And why is it that our officials seem to be siding more with China on issues involving our islands in the West Philippine Sea? Cayetano and Roque sound like they are lawyering for China. Why do our technocrats not speak out against the onerous terms that the Chinese are imposing on loans when Japan’s offer is so much cheaper? Do they want us to pay more taxes to China? Or is it because Japan has conditions that make sure that the money is spent for what it is intended for?

And what is wrong with the constitution and why are they rushing to change it? And why can’t I believe that these people behind the haste are doing it with the best intentions in mind for the country?

I also ask why a country like the US refuses to see that easy access to guns are the cause of the many killings that have been occurring for decades now. The figures are clear. Why does government decide in favor of those who believe that anyone can possess guns and that they should be able to carry them at all times? Bob Dylan once asked, ‘How many deaths will it take till we know that too many people have died?’ So far, the answer is still blowing in the wind.

And what is this resurgent racism and fascism all about? How did this resurrection happen? And where did their supporters come from?

Fake news has become an epidemic. When I see people believing in fake news, I feel sorry that they are degrading themselves by not thinking, and not discerning properly. By refusing to think things through, they are dehumanizing themselves. And those who spread them are worse. They are outright liars, deceivers, and deniers of the light.

History called the people who fought on the side of the democratic forces during World War 2 as the greatest generation that ever lived. I know I am simplifying things a bit but the sides were quite clear. When you got down to it, it t was democracy over fascism.

These days, those two sides are staring at each other and are heading for a rumble. Yet, not too many people are alarmed. Why don’t more people see the situation with urgency? What has made us stop discerning properly? Facebook? The internet? Gadgets and distractions of modern life? Apathy? Wealth? Moral decay?

I often ask myself: Are people all over the world suffering from a lack of character? As a child, I went through rough times when I had to live without getting what I wanted or sometimes, what I needed. The consolation I got from my mother was that at least, suffering built character.

It built patience, understanding, discernment, discipline, leadership, compassion, and strength to overcome hardship. One would think that deprivation would make people subservient and lose the capacity to dream. In my case, it challenged me to strive for a better life. It also taught me that there are times when passivity is the right response, and when actively challenging the status quo and outrage were necessary and useful.

In times of great turmoil, character is everything. Character determines how things will turn out. As writer F. Fitzgerald said, ‘character is plot’.

Are there enough people with character who will stand up for what is right? I frame this conflict as the battle between good and evil. It goes beyond political questions I do not think I am exaggerating it. Too many people are turning their backs on logic, reason, compassion and kindness, and abandoning their moral compass. Many have clearly chosen to side with evil and are going out of their way to intimidate, threaten and discourage good people.

One rule that applies to the world and everything is the law of entropy. Things rot, wither and die. The tendency of everything is to disintegrate and eventually get destroyed. Perhaps the reason why the world is still alive is that there are still good people holding the sky up and preventing mankind from destroying the world and each other.

I imagine these good people that stare down the law of entropy are those with character.

As the crises unfolds, many things will be revealed about ourselves. True character will out. I just hope there are more who are of good character who will come to the rescue and win this epic moral battle that is playing out everywhere.

Mostly, I played the guitar to make her sing 0

Posted on March 05, 2018 by jimparedes

Mostly, I played the guitar to make her sing

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – March 4, 2018 – 12:00am

I have lived a full life as a performer and a songwriter. I knew songs could move crowds to sing out loud and dance. At one point an old woman stood up from her wheelchair and slowly walked up to me to give me a hug

I left the Philippines on Feb. 23, 2018 to go to the US. The past four days I have been in a hospital in California visiting a relative who has been sick and confined there. I wanted to cheer her up so I made sure I brought something she has always enjoyed. I brought a guitar. She was one of those people who really encouraged me to get into music when I young.

I wanted to sing to her and make sure she had had a great time. I and my sisters Meiling and Babsy were there for her.

She had slowed down quite a bit since the last time saw her. She can barely get out of bed, much less stand and walk by herself. She also gets tired easily so we are lucky to have more than four hours with her in a day.

I made sure she remembered the old times when we all shared happy moments We talked about childhood friends, relatives, happy times. I retold old jokes, and reminisced on crazy experiences. I chose songs that reminded her of home, family, love and friends. Mostly, I played the guitar to make her sing and just enjoy herself.

She remembered all the lyrics to the songs. For three afternoons, we settled ourselves near the nurses’ station and I just played my guitar and sang. Patients would pass by. Some made requests. Some would linger around for about four songs. A few stayed around the whole time we sang. One day, we sang for almost three hours.

In between songs they would talk to us about how great it was to listen to our singing that were part of their childhood and teenage years. Some would quietly cry. Everyone thanked us profusely.

There was a woman who first caught our attention by shouting, “I am so stupid. I want to die,” over and over the morning we arrived. She was a tough one. But every afternoon, she would hang around with us and tell us how much she loved the songs we dished out. She listened attentively and even sang along.

There was this long-haired guy who had a guitar in his room. He sat on his wheelchair as he paid attention to every chord I played. At times, he would borrow the guitar. He missed playing. His fingers had lost their muscle memory to play with conviction. He loved the Beatles.

A well-groomed man in his early ‘60s grooved with every song. During a break, he expressed that he had been living with constant pain all over his upper body for years. He said it was the first time he felt pain-free just by being there and enjoying the music.

It was no surprise that most of the staff in the hospital were Filipinos. All over the world, Filipino nurses have earned their good reputation. The nurses, the office people, the utility men always serve their patients with that love and respect we give to elders back home. There is always more than the usual amount of laughter you hear in hospitals run by Filipinos. They are friendly and like to joke with the patients and always give encouraging words.

On my last day, the staff arranged for me and my sisters to play at the big cafeteria so more people could watch us. As I stood on stage, I smiled and introduced myself and my sisters and told them that we would be singing a few songs. I sang two English songs, one a medley of Paul Anka’s version of ‘90s songs, the other was When I Met You, a hit song I had written some 30 years ago. They went quite well. The next two were Ewan and Panalangin, which I dedicated to the Filipino staff. I then played a couple of Everly Brothers songs on the piano and ended the gig with Hey Jude. The response was enthusiastic. They sang along aloud. We, performers and audience felt wonderful.

It was the most unusual gig I have ever done. It was impromptu. The technicals were not great. It was a simple audio setup. No fancy lighting. No band. I was not in a performance outfit. I did not charge a fee. But we sang with all our hearts and played to a crowd that was dying to be reached out to — and loved. At one point while I was singing, an old woman stood up from her wheelchair and slowly walked up to me to give me a hug. I hugged her back.

I have lived a full life as a performer and a songwriter. I know songs could move crowds to sing out loud, and dance and clap their hands. But this was one moment when I saw the power of music heal broken spirits and lift them enough to add a smile on their faces, a spring to their step, and joy and love in their hearts, even just for a moment.

Counter-intuitive advice 0

Posted on March 05, 2018 by jimparedes

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HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – February 18, 2018 – 12:00am

You live and learn. You live to learn. That’s a constant in a life. It is instinctive. We learn from the day we are born to the day we die, unless we willfully refuse to learn.

When I think about it, some of the best lessons I have learned were those that seemed to initially go against the grain of things. In many ways, some even seemed counter-intuitive at first. I know some of them will not make sense to a lot of people. They may even shun these lessons. But to me, they opened my eyes to a bigger life. They were not always pleasant but they turned out to be valuable.

Here are some of them:

1) It is better to be sorry than safe.
Okay. I know. The opposite of the statement has always been one of the most important lessons we’ve ever heard from our parents, guardians and teachers. I will be the first to admit that this has saved me from many potentially harmful or unpleasant predicaments.
At the same time, trying to stay on the safe side is not always a great place to be. Staying safe and silent can become a copout, preventing you from practicing what you believe in. Sometimes, as a conscious, concerned human being, you must speak out and go against the madness that rules the world. You will face resistance. You will be cursed and condemned. It will hurt. But you have to do it if you wish to stay true to yourself.

As an artist, I subscribe to this a lot, too. You will never break ground unless you are willing to risk failing. You have to try something new, create something novel, not something derivative. You must go against the tide if you want to be heard.

In the event that you end up sorry, at least you know you learned something. Too often, being safe means being boring and conformist. When you go out and explore beyond what you are sure of, you could end up feeling triumphant, or you could end up regretting. Mistakes can teach you a lot about yourself. At the very least, you experience and discover something new.

2) Don’t ask “Why me?” Ask “What’s next?”
I learned this from the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.
In life, we will face disappointments. A big one can stop you in your tracks forever. It could kill your soul. What will decide whether you die or rise from disappointment is your attitude towards it. Instead of asking the world the usual “Why me? What did I do to deserve this?”, ask the simpler question, “What’s next?” If you linger too long in victim mode, your heart will become leaden and you will permanently give up on what you wanted to do. You will lose self-confidence and dream smaller.

So at the onset of disappointment and failure, immediately pick yourself up and ask, “What’s next?” In short, if you bump against a door that won’t open, try the next one. And the next, until you get to the right one.

3) “You take care of quantity. God will take of quality.”
This is another lesson I learned from Julia Cameron. Many times, repetition is what you need to do anything well. An athlete who keeps running the same track daily will one day realize that he has just beaten his own personal best record. And soon after, he breaks the school record, then the national record, etc.

My Zen teacher used to urge us to sit daily in meditation. Enlightenment is not something to seek, he would say. It will happen when it happens. It will happen maybe on your 46th sit, or your 98th or maybe 500th sit. Who knows? One thing is sure, though. It won’t happen if you do not do your sits. And when it happens, it will be an accident.

As a songwriter, I know that not every song I write will be good. I have to write a lot to accidentally make a few good ones. It’s as simple and crazy as that.

So if you want to be “accident prone” to perfection, enlightenment, or anything of value, you must keep repeating your process and go for quantity.

4) “If you meet the Buddha, you must kill him.” — Master Linj, founder of Rinzai sect
Clearly this is metaphorical. And like most koans from Zen, there are many ways to understand this. I have a few takes on this. For this article, I wish to share one of them and it goes something like this.

We were born to live and learn. We must be ready to constantly learn ever new things, lessons and realizations. We must be ready to outgrow and surpass our teachers, idols and authorities, especially in our understanding of life. There are no final goals and ideals to achieve and rest upon. Every time we reach a certain level, we must go past its gate. There are no end goals. We must surpass everything, including ourselves. When we have become the Buddha, we must also kill ourselves. (This is metaphorical, of course.)

In short, live and learn. Live to learn. And keep learning while you live.

5) Lastly, be the first to forgive.
It goes against the grain of how ego wants you to live. The truth is, this kind of pride can be toxic. Don’t let negativity stick. Let it slide. It does you no good. Extend the hand of forgiveness!

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2018/02/18/1788771/counter-intuitive-advice#OAHvMscytd8rTIj1.99

I started a joke 0

Posted on February 11, 2018 by jimparedes

It was an experience I will forever remember with a smile.

It was the last day of an artists’ conference in Shimane, Japan some 20 years ago. Seventy-nine artists from all over the world had gathered together to discuss how artists through their art can help save the environment.

In the previous two days, we had attended many discussions and talks. Speakers from all over the world had shared their expertise and knowledge on the environment with the hope of inspiring us.

Every night after the talks, artists of all types — dancers, singers, actors, poets, writers — took center stage and made each night special. Actually, it was not just special — it was magical.
I remembered a dancer from Indonesia who did an impromptu performance while holding a tree branch. One by one, he slowly took off the leaves… and eventually his clothes followed. Music was played by a koto player from Japan who attacked the strings of her instrument in a fierce manner. I had never heard the koto played like that before. Their synergy was amazing. The music intensified while the dancer’s movements got bolder and faster. Or maybe it was the other way around. They were so in sync with each other that everyone was in awe watching the performance with tears in their eyes. To me, it was a bold statement about allowing oneself to be vulnerable.

There were other performances in the first two days that were also very exciting. Singers who sang ethnic songs. Poets who read their poems in their native languages. There were painters who showed their paintings to the crowd.

On the last night, when all the talks and the scheduled activities were done, some artists called for a “comedy night” in which each participant would share no more than two jokes with everyone. It was to be an impromptu contest as to who could tell the funniest jokes.

Most were excited. We noticed some participants seemed baffled. But they were game enough to be there.

It was quite funny to watch the participants deliver jokes. Some had great timing. Some flubbed their punchlines. Regardless, people laughed. They were happy and in a good mood and supportive of every participant’s efforts.

The Americans and Europeans were mostly predictable, at least in my view. Being exposed to western culture, I knew half the jokes that they were sharing. I had heard them before or read them in joke books.

The Koreans did a performance which involved cutting a pencil in two with a crisp dollar bill. It was not funny but it was entertaining to watch. Many of us smiled in amusement and knew something must have gotten lost in translation when we were explaining what the contest was about.

There were some who did gymnastics, others did card tricks, a few jokes were told that were mostly more entertaining than funny. But we all laughed at the effort. We were having great cultural camaraderie.

A delegate from Bhutan was called upon to recite his joke. He was among the baffled ones I mentioned earlier. He looked at us and said that they did not have jokes in Bhutan. People were astonished at first, and then laughed. They refused to accept what he said. Surely, the Bhutanese people laughed at SOMETHING, they said! They egged him on. The young man thought for awhile and then started to tell a story. It was a long-winded story that lasted three to four minutes. After the last sentence, he laughed very hard. We all looked at each other. None of us got the “joke,” if there indeed was one. But we all laughed at how odd it was that he laughed so hard!

More people shared jokes. There were a few big laughs. Some were funny because they were not exactly funny in the way we were used to. Some were ridiculously funny.

Soon it was down to just two countries: Estonia and the Philippines. I had become close to the Estonians, Tom and Tarmo, who were famous and known as the Urb Brothers in their own country. Their first joke was political. It was about Gorbachev trying to pick up a woman by pretending he was Frank Sinatra. It was a little funny. It was a bit of an impersonation. The other joke was funnier but I can’t remember it now.

It was my turn. The first joke I told was about a supposed contest that was held in the biggest arena in the Philippines. It was a contest between contestants from the US, India and the Philippines on who had the most children.

So during the final judging on the most children, an announcer’s voice came booming from the large speakers in the venue,. “From the United States, please welcome Tom Harrison with… ONE HUNDRED FIFTY-TWO CHILDREN!” The audience roared and applauded as the American triumphantly walked around the stage and took a bow.

The announcer then called out the next contestant. “Next candidate is Aadesh Ghandi from India with… FOUR HUNDRED FIFTY-SEVEN CHILDREN!” Thunderous applause broke out and people rose in a standing ovation. The Indian bowed a “namaste” to every direction of the crowd and took his place onstage beside the American.

Finally it was the Philippines’ turn. The announcer bellowed, “From the Philippines, please welcome Isagani de los Santos…” and before the announcer could mention the number of children the Filipino had sired, the whole coliseum erupted in bedlam with most in the audience screaming, “Daddy!”
“Daddy!” “Daddy!” “Daddy!”

The joke went over very well. I could hear everyone laughing and clapping. I had a big smile. I then followed up with my last piece.

I started by explaining that in the Philippines, a great majority of males undergo circumcision during childhood.

“In my hometown, there is a famous doctor who has been circumcising Filipino children for decades. What he does is he actually collects the foreskin of his patients and stitches them together to make unique wallets.”

Then the punchline: “When you rub the wallet, it transforms into a duffel bag.”

The room went wild. People were laughing their heads off. My Estonian friends knelt and bowed in mock praise. Then every person in the room rose and clapped for everyone who participated. Many gave me a thumbs-up. They agreed the Philippines had won, hands down. It was a crazy, exhilarating evening.

There is no question that art is effective and can be a great driving force that can inspire everyone. But there is something about humor. It can shake a room with laughter and make people feel better instantly. Laughter is truly the best medicine.

As I packed my clothes that evening for the trip home the next day, I smiled and shook my head. “What a night!” I told myself.

And what a unique way to end a conference.

The culture quest 1

Posted on February 04, 2018 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated February 4, 2018 – 12:00am

I’ve always been curious about culture and languages. When I visit a country, I try to learn a few words and understand why people think and act the way they do. Each country has its own way of doing things. Each one has its own unique traits.

I look at individual cultures as a particular way a people have defined the world and how they must live in it. Culture is a set of myths, beliefs, values, ideals, rituals, rules, signposts expressed and embedded in its language and customs. Each peoples’ shared history and the symbols they have created guide them and shape them into a community where they find belongingness and purpose. Culture is like a road map that tells people where to go, how to live their lives in a manner that gives them some sort of assurance that their lives have meaning and value. It gives people a sense of the universal order and their place in it.

I look at cultures and try to understand how they have handled life’s great questions, imponderables and mysteries like death, the afterlife, the future, God, love, the meaning of being human, sex, eternity, art, politics, ethics, etc. I am also curious about how they relate to the weather, their attitude towards foreigners, and their own fellowmen.

I want to think that each culture has made attempts to make sense and understand and define all those topics I mentioned above. After all, how can a community exist without having notions, ideas, explanations, opinions or some kind of philosophy about what existence means?

Take sex, for example. Have you ever wondered why some cultures are quite comfortable with it and why some have many hangups about it? How is it that there are cultures that celebrate sexual intercourse, sex organs, nudity and sensual pleasures while there are some that suppress all these? In Japan and Nepal, statues and images of phallic symbols are quite common. India produced the Kama Sutra. All throughout Europe, nude statues abound. Meanwhile, in many other cultures, there seems to be some palpable fear about sex which, in practice, has resulted in the subjugation and slavery of women.

Have you ever wondered why some cultures subscribe to just one deity? There is the claim of the one true Christian God who came to save mankind. But there are also cultures with many gods and goddesses who rule their own domains that affect the lives of humans. D.T. Suzuki, a Zen teacher, once expressed his bafflement about some Western religions in this way: “God against man. Man against God. Man against nature. Nature against man. Nature against God. God against nature. Very funny religion!”

There are cultures that are more comfortable with science and abstract concepts, while others make sense of the world through concrete and personal experiences. For example, some express distance not through meters or miles, but by how long certain human activities last while traveling certain distances. A place could be “two cigarettes” away.

Language carries within itself a defined reality, and as bilingual Filipinos, we experience two different “realities,” so to speak. For example, we can have an English Christmas or a Filipino one. We also switch languages depending on who we are talking to, and what the topic is. We can even switch in mid-sentence.

To experience culture, you must adopt its mindset. The Western experience of death means showing a lot of restraint in expressing emotions. Death is looked at with finality. The dead are gone forever. In the Philippines, dealing with death is anything but restrained. We ask those left behind to give a blow-by-blow account of how the departed passed on. During wakes, we eat, play mahjong, drink, laugh, cry and we never leave the departed alone. And after he/she is buried, we have nine days of prayer that follow and we mark the 40th day as special. And every year we take notice of the death anniversary. It is common to believe that when a butterfly is fluttering about, we see it as the dead visiting us. The soul is in a parallel universe. The loved ones may be physically gone but they are still somehow with us.

There are some things visible to one culture but invisible to another. As an example, Filipinos are more attuned to the presence of spirits and ghosts than Westerners are. We have more words for rice. We have words that are untranslatable. Language also determines what we hear. A cock crows a “cocka-doodle-do” to the American ear. To the Dutch, it sounds like “kukeleku.” To the French it is “cocorico.” To the Filipino it is “kukutaok.” As another example, Westerners admire and extoll individuality. We, on the other hand, see more value in belonging.

When I look at countries that were never colonized, I notice with admiration how they seem to have so much character. But when you read their history, you will notice that they also learned much from other cultures through trading and migration. Mahatma Ghandi once said, “No culture can live, if it attempts to be exclusive.” Despite my nationalistic sentiments, I concur. No culture is static. It must continuously grow.

In this modern age, cultures will brush upon each other with ever-greater frequency and intensity. No culture can remain uninfluenced and untouched. If it insists on being “pure,” it may eventually perish.

In the end, the embracing of cultures everywhere can only expand us as human beings. As Jawaharlal Nehru put it, “Culture is the widening of the mind and of the spirit.”

Three troll tales 0

Posted on January 28, 2018 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated January 28, 2018 – 12:00am

We have all had our own troll experiences and I know that they are almost always unpleasant and disturbing. No one relishes being insulted, called names, and threatened.

Everyone I know has tried to answer trolls by being civil, rational and reasonable. They initially show patience and even try to elevate the discussion. Very rarely has anyone been successful.

Trolls are the most despicable people in cyberspace. Often, they use fake names, fake accounts, post fake pictures of themselves and use the most foul language you have ever heard in your life. They also abuse you with threats of rape and murder of your family.

Basically, they try to push your buttons to make you angry or to silence you into submission. They want you to be afraid and watch your back, and protect yourself from further troll attack by not expressing views against the Duterte administration. They bully you into silence.

I have experienced being the favorite of trolls a few times. I would wake up and find my timeline and inbox teeming with hate comments because I posted my thoughts on issues that put Duterte in a bad light.

I have analyzed troll behavior for sometime. They often come in waves, always with the same message and some even using the exact same words. They are not spontaneously sent or expressed by ordinary people. These are concentrated efforts from troll farms calibrated to intentionally intimidate and to silence. It has been proven again and again that these types of trolls are paid to do this.

But I have also encountered “sincere” haters who take the time to harass people and get satisfaction from doing so.

One such person sent me a threatening letter. Amid the usual expletives, he said he would be happy to see me die. I answered him by asking him to apologize or else I would write to the company he worked for and tell them that he had threatened me. I noticed that he had listed two companies that he worked for on his page. He answered in a cocky manner challenging me to do it. I sent both companies an FB message with a copy of his threatening message to me. I suggested that their companies deserved better people to work for them.

Company no. 1 immediately answered and said they would look into it within the day. The other replied that the person was not connected with their company anymore, but his wife still was and that they would talk to her about it.

Within a few hours, company no.1 answered me to say that they had a meeting with the troll employee and decided to terminate him. I thanked them for the quick response but suggested a way for the troll to keep his job by asking if they would consider a change of mind in the event that he would apologize and promise not to do it again. They answered that they had already decided and it was the best thing to do considering that they were a service company.

From company no. 2, I got a message saying they had talked to the troll’s wife, and she wanted me to know she was very apologetic about what her husband did.

The next morning, I got another threatening letter from a young man who worked overseas. I told him that his message was uncalled for and I told him the same thing: that I would write to his boss and show the letter he sent. I also noticed that the company he worked for had its headquarters in the US. I told him I would send the same letter to the US headquarters to make sure that proper action would be taken to address what he did. US companies take these things very seriously.

He laughed and and said “sure,” as if to challenge me more and show he wasn’t afraid. So I sent the letter to his company’s email address.

I then asked him where his hostility was coming from and why he was threatening me. He said he was angry because I was always criticizing the President.

We then had an exchange about freedom of expression and I said that civility was important if we did not want our country to descend into chaos. I pointed out that we were both coming from a place of genuine concern for our country’s future.

When I sensed that he had simmered down a bit, I asked him if he thought his letter reflected the values that his parents had taught him while he was growing up. I said I was a father with a son his age. By this time, we had been chatting for about 15 min.

I noticed he had a sudden change of tone. He suddenly apologized. He said he had noticed that I had been talking to him all this time without using any expletives despite his lack of civility. He said he had been wrong about the impression he had of me. I acknowledged his feelings and said that politics can sometimes bring out the worst in anyone. We continued talking for about 20 min. I asked him if he wanted me to withdraw the letter I sent. He said it was alright and he would talk to his boss himself. He apologized again profusely. I readily accepted his apology with no fuss. Strangely, I was humbled by it. I said that this exchange was a teachable moment for me as much as it was for him. I learned that if we allow it, our humanity can shine through and destroy walls. I said I was ready to let the issue go. As a final gesture, he asked me if we could be Facebook friends. I gladly obliged and thanked him for his friendship.

Two days, later I received hate mail from an elderly gentleman who was connected with the Padre Pio Foundation. He cursed me and wished me ill will. I answered him and said that I was a believer of Padre Pio and that the Saint had affected me in many good ways. I told him his letter left me wondering why Padre Pio’s influence seemed to have affected him in a negative manner. I suggested to him that I would share his message on Facebook and open a discussion on how Padre Pio had affected people. I said I would be interested in hearing from anyone who may be able to explain how Padre Pio’s miraculous powers had gone awry with him.

After a few minutes, he wrote back and apologized. That was the end of that.

I am not sure if my proposition to have the conversation go public was the factor that made him change his mind. Probably not. I would give the credit to Padre Pio who most likely intervened and converted him.

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