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Writing on Air by Jim Paredes


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The field between right and wrong 0

Posted on May 26, 2018 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – May 27, 2018 – 12:00am

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about. – Rumi

Let me ask you.

How many people have you blocked people on social media because of politics? I am not talking about trolls or people who are paid to give you a bad time. They do deserve to be blocked. I am talking of relatives, friends, acquaintances you may have been close to in varying degrees but are estranged from right now. We used to see them on our timelines and media feeds but not anymore since we do not want them there because of their views and they probably are avoiding us, too.

These are hard times. The divide caused by political differences is so deep and contentious it has spilled beyond mere politics. It is so deep some see it as a battle of conscience. It has gotten so bad that many have resorted to cutting off relationships with each other.

We sever relationships because of irreconcilable differences. Or sometimes we do so but only for a temporary period. We are hoping that things pass and differences play out until they end and we can get together again just like old times.
It is good to remind ourselves that we are certainly not all alike. We will always have differences. We are all made differently. It is to be expected. After all, even when there were only two brothers in the world, Cain killed Abel.

Now these are easy things to say. It sounds so wise and enlightened when we say them. But when bitter differences emerge as they are right now, we find it hard to respond with coolness and tolerance.

In the quote above, Rumi talks of that space between definitions of right and wrong, good and evil, and all other dichotomies where none of these matter. Is there such a place?

I remember finding myself acting as a sponsor at a wedding with a politician I actually despised. I think he knew where I stood with regards to politics. I was in the exact opposite place of everything he was and what he stood for. But there we were, smiles and all. We even shook hands.

I observed him while we made shallow conversation. He was polite and seemed completely indifferent to what he knew of me. I was equally polite. Perhaps we both avoided the elephant in the room so as not to cause unpleasantness.
I was also observing myself. Here I was engaging the “enemy” in niceties, while secretly laughing at the awkward situation. But at the same time I was trying to open myself to see what saving grace I could find in him.

He was charming. He was genuinely funny. And he was close to the groom whom I loved dearly. That gave me a few reasons to lower my guard and look him straight in the eye and see more of his concealed humanity. (At least to me, it was concealed.) In short I was opening myself to that space that Rumi was talking about.

That space that Rumi mentions is an innate ability within us that can see things without judgment, bias or color. But this ability has to be awakened and developed. It is that field where we can transcend transgressions or faults. It is where we stop judging and condemning. Zen masters will say it is the state of true seeing. It is not stuck in the past or obsessed with the future. It is seeing everything fresh and new in the NOW.

Writer Eckart Tolle likes to ask, “What can possibly be wrong with right now?” The Present only goes wrong when contamination from the past and future come in and destroy its freshness. In reality right now is all there is. The Present is ever new and full of potential, while the past is over and the future may not even happen.

This space is where humanity stops defining, dividing and cataloguing itself according to race, nationality color, economic status, religion, sexes, etc. It is a place where our commonalities, not our differences, come alive and celebrate.

Natural compassion springs forth when hurts and cruel histories are set aside.

But does this mean that we should forget injustices and everything that is wrong in the world and just focus on the now so we can all be happier? I don’t know. I do not have enough wisdom to answer that with confidence.

But let me try.

Yes, we all live in the phenomenal world. Our life in this world is full of pain and pleasure, evil and good, etc. But beyond that world is where reality really is. And that reality is where that Oneness we strive for is real and achievable.

But unless more than half of humanity has awakened to the real world, the phenomenal world will carry on doing as it does. Hopefully, there are enough people right now that can keep the slow incremental evolution going towards more tolerance and love. We may soon end up in a happier, kinder place — at least enough to make us all mend fences with each other.

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2018/05/27/1818846/field-between-right-and-wrong#ehuFyQ3hUEwvI91F.99

She’s leaving home 0

Posted on May 20, 2018 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – May 20, 2018 – 12:00am

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I am feeling it.

In a few days, my eldest grandchild Ananda will be leaving Lydia and I to move to Paris and join her mom Erica who has found a life there as a chef. Since my daughter Erica left to study and work in Paris around two years ago, we have been Ananda’s guardians.

We are feeling a great impending loss. Lydia and I are getting quite emotional as the days go by. She and her mom lived the first eight years of her life staying with us.

We have been part of her life and she in ours. Lydia was with her a few hours after she was born almost 14 years ago. When I heard about her birth, I was in Miami doing a concert with the APO. That night I sang the song Batang-Bata ka pa for her — a song I made for Erica when she was born 25 years earlier. I felt so warm inside as the audience joined in.
I was shedding a tear as my voice cracked a bit.

Ananda was a sprightly child. Like her mother, she was very sweet, charming, animated, inquisitive, strong and had a stubborn streak. She is still like this today, always curious about everything and loves to ask questions. I, the ever doting Lolo always tries to answer as best as I can.

I used to spend a lot of time with her in conversation while at home, or in the car, and while traveling. I like to kid her a lot. I like to poke her sense of wonder or challenge her logic especially during train rides in Sydney as we observe people, and look out into the scenery. I invent ridiculous stories and scenarios and she would love them. Where we live, I would accompany her to the park to ride the swings, play on the slide, or walk the dog, or just run around.

The past year and a half, she has become a bit distant and stopped being as communicative with Lydia and me. We knew it was because she had turned into an adolescent.
I used to just spontaneously hug, or tickle her when she was younger. These days, physical contact has been reduced to a kiss on my cheek when she comes home and when she leaves the house.

There are many things that we as her guardians in Manila fight about with her. It can range from excessive use of the air-con, her sleeping at friends’ houses and vice versa, her going out without permission, the use of the car, her constant attention to her phone during meals, her spending habits, sassiness, etc. She can be very stubborn and hard-headed. Often, she has to be reminded about house rules.

One thing I notice though is that often, the very things that we fight about are also teachable moments for all of us. It is hard to raise children. Often, I have to remind myself that she is already a teenager and being one, she is beginning to claim a higher level of autonomy in the way she wants to live everyday life. But she still has to learn that as her guardians, we rightfully worry about her security and welfare. We impose certain rules. And yes, there is a curfew.

We will miss conversations on the table whenever she shares stories and opinions about anything. We will miss her silliness and sense of humor. We will miss her big smile, too. We will miss her spontaneous bursting into the song Halleluia at the top of her voice many times in the day. We will miss seeing the lights on downstairs at 1. or 2 a.m. as she has her past-midnight snacks.

She loves to play with her dogs and walks them around the neighborhood. She will be missed by them too, including Noodle her snake, her rabbits, and her two turtles.

We will miss raising and taking care of her.

When she leaves, it will only be Lydia and I in this house. Our home will be quieter. I would rather hear the sound of her favorite music wafting through the house coming out of her phone, or the sound of her steps on her way up and down the stairs. I will miss her shouting out loud to call someone instead of using the intercom.

We still want to be part of her new life as she grows up and studies in Paris. It will be a strange, new, challenging place for her. I wish we could still be there to protect and guide her, to encourage her, and to cheer her up when things get tough.

Letting go is always tough. One can be fraught with worry and anxiety. But such is life. People enter and leave our lives, some temporarily, others permanently.

At the same time, I am very excited for her. Just as I saw my own kids bloom when we moved to Sydney, I am sure Ananda will be fine and will thrive in this new atmosphere. There will be difficulties for sure. Her French will have to be more than just passable to cope with school and life in general. She will meet new friends. She will be intellectually and socially challenged. She will have to mature a lot more.

But I know she will be able to do it. She is more than a survivor. She will actually thrive.

I hope that in two years, she will be quite adjusted to her new surroundings. We are looking forward to the time when she can see her again and she can tour her Lolo and Lola to see the sights around Paris!

When I became a father, one of the things I realized was there wouldn’t be a day that passes when I will not think of my kids and how they are doing . Being a grandfather is no different.

We love you Ananda. Take care. Ingat. We will ALWAYS be around to help you anytime and in any way we can.

Au revoir notre chère petite-fille. Nous vous aimons toujours!

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2018/05/20/1816717/shes-leaving-home#Py88Bgoh8wxOmmyu.99

Mothermorphosis 0

Posted on May 13, 2018 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – May 13, 2018 – 12:00am

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Just the sight of her takes me to such places of bliss and inspires such feelings of sublime love that I can’t help but get all choked up. I don’t just love her, I need her, even when she doesn’t need me.

I am giving way to my daughter Ala Paredes Buencamino this Mother’s Day. I especially want to reach all new mothers out there with her beautiful article.

By Ala Paredes

Once upon a time I was part of a really hip, fun-loving club called Childless Adults. We had disposable income to blow on artisan coffee, avocado on toast in trendy Sydney cafes, happy hour cocktails after work, new clothes that we didn’t really need or like, and fancy dinners. Also, we had time to spare. Lots of time. Though I thought I was time-poor, I only learned the true meaning of time after I had a baby.

Every day, I woke up, put my best face on, dressed in a smart outfit that still made me feel cutesy-cutesy, and draped myself with tons of big, chunky, dangly accessories. Then I would get on the train to go to work at a job where I felt challenged, appreciated, admired and respected. Not all Childless Adults feel this way about their jobs, but I did. I was a youngish professional urbanite living in a trendy, hipster neighborhood, who lived on pre-prepared grocery meals, and whose life looked happy and successful on Instagram.
All that came to an end when I had a baby.

There are a lot of things you can’t possibly anticipate about child rearing before you become a mother. This is coming from someone who thought she had a good handle on what it means to care for a baby. Growing up, I had a younger brother whom I took care of with such devotion that after my mother came back from a month-long trip, he looked at her blankly and ran to me, his “mother.” I also had a little niece who lived with the family from birth so I’d had my own experience with rocking, burping, feeding and entertaining a baby. I had experience, and was not afraid to handle little humans. I was maternal.

But all new mothers walk into their new role with hope, excitement, trepidation and total naiveté. Taking care of someone else’s child is a world away from becoming a mother. It’s like the difference between reading a book about swimming, and actually jumping into a pool and learning to swim. You may have dipped your toes in the water or waded and splashed around, but when your own baby is placed into your waiting arms, it’s sink or swim, Mama.
Here were my biggest shockers about motherhood.

1. I never imagined that my baby would own my breasts. Never did I imagine that my modest breasts would suddenly become the most important part of my body. In the first three months, I felt like all I did was breastfeed, sometimes for four hours on end (this is where having Netflix comes in handy). Your baby will need your breasts when she’s hungry, scared, tired, bored, sick, when she needs to poo/fart, or even when she just wants to be close to you. She will guard the breast jealously, and she might cry when hubby plays with them. (As I write, I can just imagine my baby yelling, “You shall NOT pass!”, Gandalf-style, at my husband.)

If you choose to breastfeed, your baby will be on your boob so often that you won’t even bother putting them away in between feeds and will get used to walking around the house topless. Which brings me to my next one…

You may find it hard to feel sexy about them. It’s hard to keep an aura of mystery about them when they’re always exposed. Besides, it’s hard to feel sexy about them when they wax and wane around the clock.

They belong to baby for now.

2. I never imagined motherhood to be so animalistic.

My smart-cutesy outfits, my signature shade of lipstick, my big jewelry, my job, my glossy Instagram feed — all those marks of urbanity and sophistication, were stripped away the moment I went into labor — quite possibly the most animalistic I’ve ever felt in my life.

While humans are animals, it’s not often that we feel like an animal under our polished public personae. In labor and birth, you are no different from a cow giving birth to a calf despite the trappings of modern medicine surrounding you. Since I’ve become a mom, I often feel more like a mother wolf with her cub in her den, than a career woman in a nice, inner city apartment. Motherhood really awakens your basest biological instincts. Mommy can see danger, smell danger, and watches out for the predator lurking just past the protective circle of light. Mommy is up on her feet as soon as she hears baby’s distress signal. Baby in turn wants mommy’s animal smell, the touch of her skin, her voice, her heartbeat.

You spend so much time alone at home in various states of undress, in barely passable levels of hygiene, cuddling with your baby in bed sheets that haven’t been changed in so long that it begins to smell like the two of you. As the months pass, you begin to feel like you no longer belong to the civilized outside world. Whenever I leave the house dressed presentably, I feel like the wolf in “Little Red Riding Hood”: a beast dressed in borrowed clothes.

3. I never thought I would need my baby so much.

The first time I was given the afternoon off after weeks of living in my mom-cave, I walked out of the house swaying to Aretha Franklin’s Think (“Freedom!”), planning my glorious afternoon. Little did I know that I would get an anxiety attack midway and come rushing back home, only to find my baby asleep and unaffected in the care of my husband.

The umbilical cord may be severed at birth, but that doesn’t mean the baby stops being a part of your body. Before I gave birth, I had read The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine so I knew there was a complex interplay of hormones and brain chemicals between a mom and her infant. But to actually experience the profound effects that my baby’s touch, smell and voice had on me was something I wasn’t really prepared for.

I would be reduced to an anxious blob of Jell-O whenever I was away from her for too long. I found it impossible to fall asleep without her touch, and would instead writhe around in bed like a junkie going through withdrawal. The very thought of her would instantly make my breasts harden with milk, and I would then feel a crazed urge to run home, jumping over cars and pushing cyclists out of my way, to make sure she wasn’t starving. Merely imagining her hungry hurt my soul. And yet, my lovely baby’s smell would instantly restore calm and balance to my mind.

To this day, even just the sight of her, in real life or in photos, takes me to such places of bliss and inspires such feelings of sublime love that I can’t help but get all choked up. I don’t just love her, I need her, even when she doesn’t need me.

Who would’ve thought a mother’s separation anxiety can be just as bad as their baby’s?

So there you have it. If you’ve got Bun No. 1 in the oven, be prepared to morph into a half-naked, clingy, irrational, feral creature of the dark; one whose beating heart is about to experience the deepest levels of human love imaginable.

* * *

You can read more of Ala’s musings at https://bloodsugarmilkmagic.wordpress.com/

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2018/05/13/1814606/mothermorphosis#uIvQq9P62mXdbviM.99

Saving others and saving ourselves 0

Posted on May 06, 2018 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – May 6, 2018 – 12:00am

I mostly wear my heart on my sleeve. That means I readily express my feelings.

I tear up easily during emotional situations. I can cry while watching a movie. My empathy can be easily stoked. Yes, I do have my fair share of selfishness like everyone else, but I can also put myself in the shoes of others who have less in life. I am the type of person who expresses my outrage when I see injustice, discrimination.

While I often feel afraid to express my anger against authorities when I see corruption, dehumanization and evil at play, I almost always end up doing so because my empathy is oftentimes greater than my fear.

I “blame” my parents for the way I am.

Growing up, we saw our mom and dad open our doors to strangers and relatives who were in some sort of a bind and take them into our home. They often stayed with us a few days. Sometimes, some would stay for weeks, even months. Our parents fed them, nursed them, and took care of them till they were ready to go and live on their own again.

We had household help who stayed with us for decades. We treated them as family. One of them served us until she died. When she passed on, my mom gave her her own memorial plan for her to use.

Our parents’ example influenced us a lot.

We are 10 sibs in the family, and we are all our parents’ children. Coming from a big family ingrained in us the practice of sharing what we have and living with less. You learn to divide things equally. It also means that you learn to care and look after each other. In the process, you develop a greater sense of love, fairness and justice.

I have no sibs who are indifferent to suffering. We all see suffering and injustice as a big deal. We don’t always stop in our tracks every time we see suffering but we have an almost instant empathy towards people who are in bad situations. You might say we all wear our hearts on our sleeves.
I often think of what moves people to get out of themselves and really begin to think of others. One mover is pity. We see people in pain and we feel sorry for their lot. Sometimes, strangely, it is accompanied by a feeling of gratitude. We may be profoundly moved to tears but thankful and relieved it is other people who suffer and not us.

Empathy is a deeper engagement. Psychology Today defines it as, “the experience of understanding another person’s thoughts, feelings and condition from their point of view, rather than from your own.” You try to imagine yourself in their place in order to understand what they are feeling or experiencing.It moves you out of your own world and you find yourself wearing the shoes of the sufferer and feel their pain as yours.

Compassion goes even deeper. I found many definitions of compassion on Google. I quote one: “Compassion literally means ‘to suffer together.’ Among emotion researchers, it is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.” There is a strong component that we must not miss here. Compassion moves one not just to pity and empathy but to actually take action. You not only feel another person’s pain but you also do something about it.

Every time I see an appeal for contributions to save Syrian kids, or helping refugees in Marawi, or see the injustice brought about by EJK, I ask myself what I can do about it. Often, my immediate reaction is to say a prayer.

Images of suffering stare back at us from our monitors daily. The problems often seem so overwhelming that many times, you just want to move on to other more pleasant stories or funny news. You often justify your inaction by asking yourself what you can realistically do to effectively alleviate suffering of that magnitude. While we excuse ourselves by saying one can only do so much, we must remind ourselves that one can still do something, however small and seemingly insignificant.

I have learned to fight that feeling of helplessness by talking and meeting like-minded people who want to take action instead of copping out and just being indifferent. I am not content with just shaking my head and resignedly whispering, “Too bad for the victims.” Or say “That’s life,” and dismiss the suffering. When we do not act, there is a great chance that our capacity to care will lessen and our hearts become leaden. I would rather do something, anything — however small — that can relieve pain and encourage people to overcome their situation than nothing at all.

To be really concerned about something, our presence, empathy and compassion and action are needed. One is not being asked to solve the problems of the world by his/her lonesome. We can do much by being supportive of efforts that are already in place working to help others. We certainly need to go beyond Facebook, Twitter and social media to move the world closer to become a better place.

Activism is so important today. There is a battle going on for the soul of this nation, and of the world. Online is one battlefield. The other is the real world outside. Some people say that going to the streets is not their thing. But the truth is, when good people do nothing, the bad and the evil are emboldened to do more.

Pity, empathy and compassion mean we feel the pain of those who are treated unjustly and we commit to action to help them. This way we also weaken their oppressors and perhaps lessen the suffering in daily living. When we save others, we also save ourselves.

Food and love 0

Posted on April 28, 2018 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – April 29, 2018 – 12:00am

It so happens she likes cooking and I like eating! I am so lucky we are a great match on this.

I love watching my wife get excited about lunches she hosts at home. She puts her total being into it. She prepares and cooks food that is so good everyone raves about it. The glasses and plates are set on the table neatly. The wine, coffee, soft drinks, water and ice are by the side table. The dining area is spruced up so prettily and is ready to receive visitors.

She has done this countless of times for our friends and relatives. While she may complain that she is stressed, tired and that she has so little time to prepare before the guests arrive, everything gets done and ready on time.

Last Wednesday, she invited eight girl friends whom we’ve known for years, some for over four decades long. Everyone brought a dish. What a glorious, noisy, fun lunch it was. The conversation was lively, non-stop and these women talked about a whole range of topics. I could see them enjoying the food while laughing, teasing, sharing stories and mild chismis about people they knew.

They sat down to eat lunch around 2 p.m. I left for the gym past 4 p.m. By the time I got back close to 7 p.m., they were still around the table talking with the same gusto and energy. Lydia was ready to open and distribute the packed take-home food she gave everyone if they were going to stay for dinner. They left soon after. It was quite a lunch. Lydia was happy.
Almost every day last week, Lydia went out to lunch with different groups of friends. It started last Tuesday with her high school classmates from St. Bridget’s School. Last Friday, it was with the wives of my sibs who are in town. Today, we join her family for Sunday lunch.

In Lydia’s family, It is an understatement to say that food is important. Everything is centered around meals on the dinner table. There is always lots of food. When I say lots, I mean LOTS!

We are continually munching on something while talking. Before meals, there are chips, peanuts, fruits and other chichiria on the table. Then there is the big meal with about four to five viands and rice. After the lunch, desserts of chocolates, fried bananas, cakes, cherries (when in season) are served. Coffee follows. Then more chichiria is served. The table never runs out of food.

In my family, food takes second importance to singing, jokes, camaraderie, bonding, political talk and loud laughter. The food is never wanting but it is not as spectacular or as varied as my in-laws’ banquets.
At dinners, the Paredeses end the night with singing and loud banter. In Lydia’s family, they end the night still eating while conversing.

When we first got married, I always complained that she cooked too much that there were almost always leftovers. I thought it was wasteful. My mom always told me to finish the food on my plate.

For Lydia, cooking a lot is a natural thing. She used to tell me that a house must always have lots of food ready to feed its occupants and unexpected visitors who may show up. Food is always meant to be in big servings.

Her mother was the same way. They come from a family of 10 sibs. And my mother-in-law always liked to prepare for her children’s friends who like hanging around their house after school. She could whip up a meal for her kids and about six to 10 friends who often suddenly showed up. She loved having visitors and feeding them.

I also come from a family of 10. But we were not fed as extravagantly. Mom had a smaller budget but she somehow always made sure everyone was fed. We ate smaller portions. We were fed enough and well, but not in any grandiose way. No “unli” eating. And we ate breakfast, lunch and dinner on time.

My kids are more like Lydia’s family regarding their eating habits. They eat when they feel like it. Meal times are flexible. They have snacks anytime they wish, often skipping a meal in the process.

I used to be so different. Like clockwork, I actually got hungry at around 12 noon, and 7 p.m. at night. I did not like munching anything an hour before I ate because I wanted to enjoy a full dinner.

I have somewhat adjusted since living in a home run by my wife for decades now. I get an occasional urge now and then and I raid the cookie jar between meals. Or I sit with her and eat chicharon anytime. I now also have the habit of eating dark chocolate an hour or two after meals.

But I still have to learn to appreciate coffee as much as she does. Or have that occasional glass of wine which she loves. I get tipsy and red too easily. She has a far more sophisticated palate than I do, I must admit.

When she is not here, I often find myself going back to my basic eating. Nothing fancy. Just regular food to tide me over. I am generally okay with that. But as I get older now, I notice I want more and more of the good stuff.

In a life that is shared with someone, couples defer to each other about who should be in charge of certain things. I take the lead in certain matters, but I definitely defer to Lydia on everything to do with food.

It has been said that a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. While there are many other things I like about her, I must also agree with this saying. And my stomach agrees as well

It so happens she likes cooking and I like eating!

I am so lucky we are a great match on this.

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2018/04/29/1810309/food-and-love#U1EwuE2dZKds78Zj.99

Going beyond the tourist experience in Bali 0

Posted on April 22, 2018 by jimparedes

With author Jim Paredes (third from right) are (from left) Agnes Gervacia, Marivic Anonuevo, Violi Remo, Margaux Hontiveros, Ibu Mansri (mother of the teens), Screen Shot 2018-04-22 at 9.06.33 AM

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – April 22, 2018 – 12:00am

I have been to Bali a few times. I have seen almost all of its temples and a few of the rituals performed for tourists. I have admired the way the Balinese have retained their traditions and preserved their old houses and sacred sites. I also love the food, and the natives of this island for their easygoing ways and their friendly attitude towards foreigners. I have enjoyed shopping for souvenirs and I can still do it again and again.

But it was a different experience this time, during my last trip as guest of Air Asia Philippines. I joined a group of people invited by AirAsia chair Maan Hontiveros to attend a food festival. As it unexpectedly turned out, the food festival was not the big thing we came for.

In a conversation with a waitress at the hotel we stayed in, I learned a few things about some Balinese traditions. One of them happens to every Balinese person very early in life. Balinese babies are not allowed to touch the ground for the first 105 days of life. That is because they believe that newborns are still too close to the spirit world and so must be treated with respect and be protected lest they be contaminated by evils of the earthly plane. Babies are also seen as replacements of old relatives who have perished and therefore are treated like gods in some ways.

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Offering rites at the teeth-filing ritual at the Neka property
The waitress also told us that many Balinese babies are carried until they can walk. They mostly avoid crawling. When I asked why, she said that crawling was a trait of animals and was considered not good.

Another thing I learned about was the ritual of the teeth-filing ceremony and procession every Balinese person goes through between the ages of 16 to 18. It usually happens in July, but we were able to witness a ceremony that involved teenage members of the wealthy Neka family in Ubud. This elaborate ritual is one of the biggest events every Balinese goes through.

We were lucky to have been invited. Valentine Willie, a Malaysian and resident of Bali, was a longtime friend of the Neka family. He lived with them some 20 years ago. Some of us know Valentine from way back since he visits Manila quite often. He hosted a delicious lunch at his garden on the second day of our trip. He also invited us to try his masseur, which turned out to be one of the best massages we ever had. But I digress.

The teeth-filing ritual and procession involves the filing of the incisors and other teeth to remove their pointed edges. The teeth are filed to be aligned until no pointed tooth is evident. In doing this ritual, it is believed that six evils are taken away from a person. These evils are Sad Ripu, which is desire/passion; Nafsu (greed); Lobha (anger and resentment); Krodha (drunkenness); Mada and Matsarya (envy/spite); and Moha (confusion).

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High Priest of the Brahmin caste

The ceremony is a big event and something that families prepare for months ahead. The choosing of the date and the rituals are all done according to old tradition and the ancient Hindu calendar. The ritual is presided over by a High Priest of the Brahmin caste. Many guests are invited. It is a big social event.

When we entered the huge Neka property as invited visitors, we were all stunned. The house was filled with people and elaborately decked out with flowers and decor. Everything looked like a tableau of Balinese culture such as you’d see in paintings. Those of us wearing shorts were given sarongs and yellow sashes to wear to fit the occasion.

I felt like a National Geographic writer/photographer who was privy to a ritual the Western world had barely heard about. The splash of colors, the intricate ceremony, the chanting on top of a full gamelan orchestra playing, the elaborate offerings given to the Buddha, and the primal strangeness of everything gave me goosebumps. It was a spectacle that thrilled all our senses.

The ritual was to be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and would run for two days. The venue is open and welcome to friends. Guests show up in traditional fashion, and are fed sumptuous meals.

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Teeth-filing ceremony (Photo from Bali Star Island)

Three teenagers of the Neka clan were supposed to undergo the ritual. The teenagers are required to stay in their rooms one day before the ritual until they are called, lest evil spirits enter and possess them. I was able to take photographs of the ceremony except the teeth filing itself.

Our tourist guide described his own teeth-filing experience. He said that his whole head was shaking as it was going on. He had to take bed rest for three days afterward. The High Priest uses a small hammer, a file, and a carver.

This Bali trip will remain among my most memorable trips. As a traveler, it is good to go off the beaten track and immerse ourselves in the rituals of the places we visit. We learn a lot. By “going native,” we learn a lot more about humans everywhere.

The writer Thomas Wolfe said, “Culture is the arts elevated to a set of beliefs.” I say it is a way a people try to make sense of life, and everything about it.

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2018/04/22/1808108/going-beyond-tourist-experience-bali#C2YcSiIKLUti8L4m.99

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?

Nowhere.

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.


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