Walking the edge

Sunday, July 1, 2007

I concluded the 32nd run of my “Tapping the Creative Universe” workshop on Monday night. What a great bunch of people I had for participants. There were students, housewives, executives, artists, engineers, a lawyer, a horse trainer — all in all a wide sampling of different types of people who gathered together for six nights to discover aspects of their own creative selves.

The reasons people join the workshop are just as diverse. Some of the participants surprise me by being there. For one, they are already functional proactive people and hardly need to be motivated. But they find themselves in some kind of slump and are looking for an “oomph” to propel their lives into higher gear. Some others are there out of plain curiosity and that is good enough. But there are those who take the workshop for bigger, deeper reasons.

There is something so challenging, beautiful and inspiring about people who join because they are confused, in pain or low in spirit in a major way. There are participants who have battle scars from bouts with life’s endless struggles. Or at least, that’s what life seems to have done to them lately. They join to find some way out, a relief from old habits and ways of thinking that have brought them to the rut that they are in. They have realized that more of the same existing mindset is not going to get them out of where they are. The old paradigms have stopped working for them. Many truths they believed about themselves and about life that used to seem right have suddenly and sadly reached their expiration date. Like old, spoiled medicine, these truths have become not only useless, some have even turned toxic. It’s time to open the window, toss them out and let the sunshine in.

Some people join the workshop because they are in between careers, dreams, relationships, or experiencing turmoil and feeling lost due to sudden downturns of fortune. It could be a loss of a job, a separation or mid-life. Many times, it’s a general “blah-ness” that won’t go away. They are looking for something to get them out of their inertia, to move to life’s next, hopefully more creative phase.

Whatever their reasons for being there, I realize that the success or failure of a workshop of this kind hinges on how much the participants are willing to take risks, to “walk the edge” and to try out new ways of engaging life.

Some like to dabble and acquire knowledge but only theoretically. They are not rigorous in doing assignments and like to take things in small doses. But there are others who perform the tasks conscientiously, and probe deep into the concepts that are presented. They question, test-run and embrace or reject them, but only after experiencing them firsthand. You can see them awaken to their own natural brilliance and it is wonderful. In my experience, these are the people who get the most out of the workshop and turn their lives around.

Giving workshops is an exceptionally rewarding experience for me. It is a journey I take with all the participants as they walk the edge of their experiences and learn new things about what they can do and what stops them from doing it. I feel like a boatman taking them aboard this little vessel across their sea of disappointments, blocks and dysfunctions to the island of dreams, awakened potentials and possibilities.

In the process, they meet and enjoy the company of fellow travelers, relish the scenery, stare in awe at the sunsets and the beautiful islands, while sometimes fearing the waves and imagined monsters that may surface and rock the boat.

Somewhere along the way, when they look back at the direction where their journey began, there are those who worry because they no longer see a familiar shore. Looking forward, they see no destination. It is both scary and exhilarating. But one must necessarily give up the comfort of the familiar to discover what lies ahead. The unknown, while it both fascinates and terrifies, beckons. In time, they realize that the solution to all the fears and anxieties about being on a journey is not to turn back but to plod on until a new shore appears.

This workshop is a stretch. It is not easy since it is scary to constantly try new things at the pace the workshop demands.

I try to emphasize that to live creatively is to necessarily move away from your comfort zone from time to time, and to live more and more in unknown territory. Why? Because you can’t learn anything new in your comfort zone. The known will not teach you anything you do not already know. Just staying there will surely lull you into complacency and apathy and will sap your energies. But the unknown will flex you, and stretch you into something bigger than what you know of yourself. It comes with a certain fear but also awakens a daring attitude.

When we face the unknown, we discover aspects of ourselves that we did not know we had. We surprise ourselves with what comes out of us. When we do conquer it, we realize that every unknown is just another aspect of ourselves that we haven’t met yet.

As has become tradition, this batch of TCU graduates each chose a name to boldly identify them – “Buddha Killers” – in reference to the Zen koan that says, “When you meet the Buddha, you must kill him.” It simply means that they are committed to challenging themselves and ditching mindsets and assumptions when these no longer contribute to greater creativity and growth.

I feel very good about many people in this group. I know they will impact the world in positive ways. And I am happy to have played a small part in their growth. Just knowing them has expanded me already.

Givers and takers

Sunday, June 24, 2007

In the course of my travels and the shows I have done, I have met many people and some have really stood out. I am not talking about famous people. I am referring to fellow Pinoys, ordinary people with whom I have had unique interactions. Here’s one. It happened more than 10 years ago. I was doing a lot of TV work then, specifically a noontime show called Sanglinggonaposila. After every show, fans would usually be waiting outside the dressing rooms for the performers to come out so they could pose for pictures and get autographs. I would usually mingle with the fans to get it out of the way before I even washed off my makeup, changed my shirt and fixed my stuff. Then I would have lunch at 2 p.m.

One afternoon, after I had done all that and was about to go out for lunch, my assistant called my attention to a young woman waiting outside who had asked to talk to me. I could sense that it was not good news for me, since I knew from experience that from time to time, there are people who go to celebrities with their sob stories seeking financial help. It had happened to me a few times and it was not pleasant having to deal with strangers, especially those in need of help but whose stories you couldn’t even verify. And it’s painful to turn anyone away.

Against my better judgment, I let her into the dressing room. A few awkward quiet moments after she entered, she began telling me her story. Between sobs, she claimed she was a nursing student who needed money to be able to take her final exams. She was without resources and had no one to turn to. I listened, feeling some annoyance that she had come to me instead of, say, a public official, or some other celebrity in the studio. When I told her so, she said that she had spent the entire afternoon the day before waiting for a certain public official at his office in City Hall, but he never showed up. And the first celebrity she went to asked for something indecent in exchange. And so, she said, she decided to take a chance on me.

For some reason, I began listening to her story with more interest. I asked her the usual questions — where she was studying, what year she was in school — and after dialing a number which she said was the office of the registrar in her school to verify the amount she said she needed, I took out my checkbook and issued her a check.

It was something new for me to be as rash as this. Like most people, I have always been wary of strangers who come up to me asking for money. “A fool and his money are easily parted,” the Chinese saying goes, and I had always made sure I was never going to be anyone’s fool, certainly not because of some unverified sob story meant to squeeze a few thousand pesos from me.

When I got home, I told my wife what I had done and she looked at me with incredulity. How could I be so stupid? She was so sure I had been the victim of a scam. Immediately, I began to have doubts about the wisdom of the compassion I felt. Was I duped by a sob story? I felt like a fool.

That night, as I mulled over the incident before sleeping, I reminded myself that if it was just about losing money, I should not worry so much since I had thrown away bigger amounts on more useless things. I knew that when I gave the girl the check, I was coming from a good place in my heart. If the young woman’s story turned out to be false, then it wasn’t my problem. It was hers. I fell asleep soon after.

Around three or four days later, I saw the same young woman with her mother, all smiles and beaming as I entered the studio. Even before I could settle inside
the dressing room, her mother, who was dressed very simply in probinsiyana clothes, approached me and thanked me profusely for “saving” her daughter. She narrated how just a few days earlier, it had seemed that their only recourse for tuition money was to compromise her daughter’s virtue, until her daughter mustered the courage to talk to me. She expressed her gratitude by giving me a whole kaing of fresh mangoes which, she said, they had brought all the way from Batangas where their family resided.

I was happy that my hunch was correct and that my random act of compassion had not been for naught.

Fast-forward to some four years later. The APO, together with some other entertainers, were in Tokyo to do a number of shows. On our first night, our Japanese host invited us to a club for some karaoke and entertainment. As I entered the club, I noticed that almost all the waiters and guest relations officers (or japayukis as they are derisively called) were our kababayans who greeted us with excited voices.

From out of the blue, a young girl approached me and said, “Sir Jim, do you remember me?” I stared at her for some time but I could not place her. “I was the nurse whom you sent to school,” she said. I was shocked to see her working in the club. After I found my seat, she asked to sit beside me and proceeded to call her friends. She told them proudly that I was the one who helped her finish her nursing course.

I asked her what had happened to her nursing career. She narrated how she had lost her job as a clinic nurse in a government office that was revamped when President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo came into power. Her boss, an Erap appointee, was dismissed along with his entire staff. In the meantime, she was working in Tokyo for a few months while awaiting approval of her petition to work in the US.

In a circuitous way, I asked her what her job entailed since I had a negative impression of what japayukis were involved in. To my surprise, and this was verified by almost every long-time Pinoy resident I met in Tokyo, she explained that she sat with Japanese customers, conversed and sang Karaoke with them. That’s all. Her job did not entail going out with the men, and no, she was not a prostitute. I felt embarrassed.

She then asked me what my schedule was for the next day. She said she was free in the morning and she could help me shop for gifts since she knew where the bargains were in that über-expensive city.

The next day, we met at a big department store and I chose some pasalubong for Lydia and my three kids. She was carrying all the stuff while I looked for some gadgets I could get for myself. Soon after, I noticed that she had disappeared. I found her at the counter paying for my purchases. I ran to her and insisted that I pay for them, since they were my gifts. She raised her hand and motioned me to stop, saying that it was now her turn to do me a favor, and while the amount may not come close to what I did for her years ago, she was now in a position to return the favor with gratitude.

I was touched — and stunned speechless. I could not muster any words and I noticed a lump growing in my throat. I opted for silence, knowing that there are some tender moments that are best left alone.

In life, we are both givers and takers, and I believe that every act of kindness we do somehow takes root and blossoms into more compassion, more kindness, more hope for mankind.

Everyday wisdom

Sunday, June 17, 2007

I thought I’d write about practical things this week — lessons that everyone can learn and apply in everyday situations. I surveyed relatives and friends and asked them for some nuggets of practical wisdom I could share with my readers. I told them that it had to be the kind of wisdom that came from direct experience, which only life itself and years we’ve spent living it can give. Here are a few I learned on my own and some I solicited from friends.

1. Live below your means.

This has been my mantra ever since I started earning money, and even when I was in school. I have made it a habit to be frugal and always save for a rainy day. I actually live simply, although my wife will disagree since I buy a lot of cameras and electronic stuff. But the truth is, every gadget I have bought has paid for itself and more.

I’ve had this habit of setting aside as much as 60 to 70 percent of whatever I earn for savings and for future planning. It is a practice that has served me well and it is something I pass on to newcomers in showbiz. It is pathetic seeing upstarts buying expensive cell phones, Rolex watches and big Expedition pickups only to watch them part with the stuff later when their careers plateau.

2. Apply different standards when talking to men and women about love.

Truly, women are from Venus and men are from Mars, especially when it comes to love. For example, the memories of men and women operate differently when talking about their past loves. I am not just talking about men forgetting anniversaries and women never forgetting their partners’ indiscretions. Their memories just work differently.

As an example, and as a rule, men like to inflate the number of women they have had to bragging levels, while women like to downplay the number of boyfriends they have had, perhaps to appear more innocent and chaste!

3. “If you want to eat steak, don’t buy the whole cow.”

This was my driver’s comment when we were talking about how some married men end up having not just girlfriends but second and even third families.

This is good advice as well, which is helpful to those who think that they really want something — say, buying a vacation house — when all they really want is to go to the beach occasionally.

I’ve always wanted to own a yacht but, thank God, I have never had the kind of money to actually purchase one. And I probably will never buy one, ever since I came across a joke popular among boat owners that their two happiest days were the day they acquired their boat, and the day they sold it!

It saves a lot of money and trouble if one can be clear about what one really likes.

4. Tread carefully when talking about religion or politics.

A musician friend stresses the fact that these two domains have claimed more lives in human history than anything else. Religion and politics are so potent, they can arouse passions so strong — both constructive and destructive — that can consume their followers with the zeal to convert, or more likely, to conquer in the name of God or country. And the need to “win” or be proven “correct” is as attractive as the ring’s compelling allure in the epic Lord of the Rings. If you don’t believe me, just ask Gollum.

It would take a wise person to avoid being sucked into such an argument, or to be able to wriggle out of one with dignity and humor intact.

5. Be nice to the people you meet on your way up. They’re the same ones you will meet on the way down.

The nature of showbiz and life itself is volatile and uncertain. However high or low your peaks and valleys, or how wild the ride can get, the people you work with, like makeup artists, musicians, production people, fans and the other “little people” in the studios, will be the constant witnesses who tell others how you have treated them. They will be there when it’s your time to leave and they will either give you a round of applause or wish you good riddance.

6. Be nice to anyone who serves you food or has to poke a needle into you.

With some incredulity and shock, I have heard firsthand from some waiters how they spit on food or put dirty stuff on plates when they have to serve grouchy, catty or unkind customers. I imagine there could be some nurses and medical assistants who take secret pleasure in making things uncomfortable for people who do not treat them with the respect they deserve.

All in all, it pays to be polite and patient with people even if their service may be unsatisfactory. And if you feel the compulsion to complain or give restaurant staff a piece of your mind, it is best to do so only after you have eaten the food.

7. Never say never.

Many times, I have been bewildered at how circumstances and situations can change so much that I find myself doing something I have sworn never to do again. Sometimes, we feel that we have written something off with finality, and then life brings us back to it. Only this time, we have no choice but to engage it again. Haven’t we written off certain people or made final decisions on something, only to find ourselves facing them again and again?

8. Truth is stranger than fiction because fiction, at least, tries to be logical.

I am paraphrasing Tom Clancy. Life can indeed be unpredictably illogical, irrational and can produce totally unexpected outcomes. A guy buys a lotto ticket for the first time and wins P100 million! A housewife beats a seasoned and powerfully entrenched politician and becomes president. Or how about a country experiencing “people power” for the second time?

9. Murderers and rapists are more trustworthy than thieves.

My grandfather was Director of Prisons in Muntinlupa when my older siblings were growing up. And an uncle was Assistant Director of Prisons when I was growing up. They knew and understood human nature. One of the things I remember as a child was the household help the family kept. In my uncle’s quarters were “living out” prisoners, reformed murderers and rapists who had served part of their sentences and were out on good behavior. My grandfather had this theory that people who murder or rape, or commit a crime of passion, are easier to rehabilitate and trust than people who plot and premeditate to steal and plunder.

My grandfather’s youngest daughter (my aunt), as a beautiful teenager, was chaperoned by this small funny man we called Patok, whom I discovered later had been an inmate in Muntinlupa for rape. In my grandfather’s eyes, thieves and robbers were generally incorrigible. He just could not trust them, period. His judgment seemed correct because the reformed inmates who were his household help kept his home neat and tidy, and served him and his family loyally and well.

10. We cannot change other people. We can only change ourselves.

Pity those who marry with the mission to straighten out and convert their spouses, for they will fail. And I’m not just talking about marriage. Gerald Jampolski, the spiritual writer and psychologist, says: “Peace of mind comes from not wanting to change others.”

On a visit in Manila a while back, he talked about the many years of stress he spent trying to change his mother, until he got tired and gave up and just learned to accept her totally for what she was. It was only then that he saw his mother change from a cantankerous, unreasonable and angry woman to become a more pleasant, easygoing and loving person. He says that it happened because he was the one who changed!

The Craziest Thing I’ve Ever Done

This was originally written many years ago for Metro Mom Magazine. I am sharing it for Father’s Day.

One of the craziest things I’ve ever done was to become a dad. I use the word “crazy” not because I did not give fatherhood some thought before I became one but because one can NEVER give it enough thinking to anticipate its full ramifications.

To start with, I never liked children as a young adult. Children were just too….young! As a newly married man at twenty-six, what could I possibly see as “enjoyable” with children? They cried a lot, ate a lot, took much of one’s time, were inarticulate and cost a lot to raise. And yet, 9 months after getting married, my wife and I decided to make one. And in the next ten years, we had three of them, Erica, Ala and Mio.

Having children is a defining experience, just like drugs or going to jail. In the early weeks after they are born, you find yourself zonked out of your bright and alert self due to intense sleep deprivation. It’s amazing how you find your way to work and fake being productive at all. And yet I did. With my first child, I was able to write the song “Batang-bata Ka Pa” many sleepless nights after she was born. I remember one of my first gulp-stuck-in-my-throat realizations after Erica came into this world. It was the inescapable truth that I will never experience another day without this child of mine tugging at my paternal instincts of protecting and nurturing a loved one. I will never ever be alone again. The bond is there as long as one of us is alive. It’s like being feet-cuffed together. We are both our own jailers and prisoners. I must at all times, live my life within the confines of our father-offspring relationship and make sure she is well-cared for, loved, nourished and protected. She in turn must try not to upset Daddy so much and must be charming enough to earn her keep. Boy oh Boy! I’ve just been trapped into fatherhood!

With all my three children I was an active father. I personally taught them their ABC’s and 123’s. I always tell people that one of the perils of active fatherhood is being condemned to go through grade school as many times as the number of children one has plus one if you count your own experience. I have spent countless hours reading to them Dr. Seuss, Robert Louis Stevenson, William Blake, etc. and answering as best I can every question they’ve asked. “Why is the sky blue?” “Why is red that color?” “Why is God invisible?” “Why do boys have penises and girls vaginas?” I really can’t remember the answers I gave but trust me; one usually comes up with a satisfactory answer when needed. In questions of sex, you can tell your answers were “good” when they lose concentration as you talk and immediately run outside or opt to play with something else.

To this day, I am a busy resource person for my kids. For Erica and Ala who are in college, not only am I a walking thesaurus but also an adviser on papers they write for their classes. I am also their Filipino grammar teacher. For my son Mio at the Ateneo Grade School, I am much, much more. I review him and try my best to make his Waterloo subjects like Araling Pilipino and Pilipino as enjoyable as possible. Many times, it is akin to standing on my head while spewing fire from my mouth just to get him focused.

I have also gone through the wringer which is the difficult but ultimately rewarding task of teaching them the “birds and the bees”. To my teenage daughters, I compared sex to owning a wild horse. If you don’t train it, it will take you where it wants to go. But if you train it, you can take it where it should go. I also told them that in relationships, if you find yourself in a situation where you are not in control, then you are potentially a victim. So be smart and always know the consequences of your action. Make sure that at all times, wherever you find yourself should be where and what you wanted or intended to be. Be street smart about guys! My son Mio should be having his talk with Dad soon enough since he’s turning twelve already, if I can just get him off the PlayStation for a moment.

One of the truly great things I learned from an ate of mine on how to raise kids is “to teach them everything you know that is useful.” Simple enough. The other things I learned from my mother are the values of striving to be the best, strength of character, courage to stand for one’s convictions and trustworthiness. All these of course, must be done with great love, patience and compassion. Personally. I try to NOT instill more guilt than kids naturally develop on their own. I truly believe that guilt has no great value to teach us. In fact, what it does is to make us feel that we are inferior, and undeserving to live a life of reciprocal loving because of a mistake we have done. It makes us deny our own God-nature.

Lastly, the experience of being a dad has always been, and in the end will always be, at best a mixed bag– thankless but rewarding. It was Khalil Gibran who said that our children are not really our own. They merely came into this world through us. I would like to add then that the biggest moment that will come to us as parents will probably be the time when they finally spread their own wings, fly off into the bigger world and outgrow us!

I just hope that when the moment finally comes, I won’t be crying so much looking for the other person on the other end of the foot-cuff!

Musa Dimasidsing

I am breaking two personal rules with this entry: expressing anger and writing about politics.

Musa Dimasidsing, the district supervisor who was shot dead, was the election official who exposed the election fraud and other anomalies in Maguindanao. I was so shocked and deeply saddened when I heard it on the news a few days ago.

I tried to imagine being in his place. Here he was, a teacher who probably taught a lot of important values to his students and was probably so troubled by what he saw in Maguindanao–the cheating, the fraud and the outright disenfranchisement of his fellow Filipinos. He had to do something.

He must have thought of his choices very intensely. On the one hand, he could just keep quiet and pretend that nothing happened, and it would have been the safe thing to do. After all, everyone seemed to be doing exactly this, resigning to the fact that this is just the way it had always been. Besides, what can one man do?

On the other hand, he could stand up and speak out the truth about the hypocrisy that is the election practice in the place he lived. For sure he knew there were risks, and he must have thought about the consequences. He probably faced the inevitable question that haunted him and that was, what is the right thing to do?

He knew exactly what he had to do and to hell be damned. He exposed the fraud that he saw. One night, gunmen came and snuffed out his life.

A few days before, Commissioner Abalos was belittling all the complaints about Maguindanao and implying they were mere hearsay. It was only when media had exposed the blatant cheating that he cooled his heels about recognizing the CoCs from there. He had no choice if he wanted to salvage the remaining shreds of his tattered reputation.

I am so sickened and angry that evil men can carry out out their plans to sow fear on the people of Maguindanao. I am so angry that our politicians are involved in this. Regular, ordinary people will not cheat just to cheat. Our politicians do not give a rat’s ass about the democratic process, and that is the saddest truth about it.

If the death of Musa Dimasidsing is to mean something, we must express outrage and let our leaders know about it. The Garcis of Comelec should be ostracized and punished. The Comelec, if it has any decency left should get to the bottom of this and punish the perpetrators. And yet, I know that as I write this, I sound just like another angry writer to our newspapers whose sound and fury will MOST LIKELY amount to nothing.

BUT THEN AGAIN, IT MAY AMOUNT TO SOMETHING IF ALL OF US EXPRESS OUR OUTRAGE. For Musa Dimasidsing and what he stood for and paid dearly with his life, we must rage against the cheating machine and topple it because it tramples on our rights to freely choose our leaders.

Sex and the Divine

Here’s a subject I tackled previously in my blog at http://jimparedes.com. I originally wrote it for Blogadahan, a website. I reworked and rewrote it and submitted it to Philippine Star for my regular column on their Sunday Life section but they thought it was more appropriate for a Monday article. It came out last June 4, 2007. Enjoy this!

A Woman’s Sex

It has the original mouth but remains wordless;
It is surrounded by a magnificent mound of hair.
Sentient beings can get completely lost in it
But it is also the birthplace of all the Buddhas of the ten thousand worlds.

–A poem by Ikkyu, a Japanese Zen Buddhist priest and poet

Now I’m sure I have your attention. No one can escape sex. It’s one of the primal urges we are born with. A male fetus gets a hard-on every 30 minutes. That media is so sexually charged is because they know we can’t resist the allure of sex.

Sex has to be one of the biggest stories in most people’s lives. Woody Allen likes to joke (with more than a grain of truth) that a man spends the first nine months of his life trying to get out of the womb and the rest of his life trying to get back in again! And not surprisingly like all big stories, sex carries with it all the conflicting feelings—pleasure and pain, affirmation and guilt, pride and shame, seriousness and comic laughter, holiness and profanity, etc.

Sex is one of life’s great renewable resources. It will take a special kind of person to tire of it. This crazy, paradoxical thing called sex actually makes the world go around. Everyone who was ever born has wondered, fantasized, and pined for it. It is definitely one of the big ticket items in this lotto game called life. When choosing a partner, you’re always hoping for the right sexual chemistry.

Sex is the reason for its own pursuit. Certainly, it commands respect. It is smarter than many of the smartest people I know. I’ve seen people jeopardize relationships, health, money and future in pursuit of sex. And I’ve also seen people’s lives enhanced when they awakened to their sexuality, when every flirtatious glance promises an invitation to a bigger dimension of life, a promise that is hard to resist.

There is a lot to what Freud said about sex being the great raison’d’etre for everything we do. He says a young man grooms himself, becomes an athlete, gets A’s in school, etc. because he wants to make himself more attractive to those he desires to engage in horizontal activities with. Why does a man want to get rich, get a high position, own a lot of goodies? Isn’t it because by doing so he becomes more attractive to women? The joke about the Mercedes Benz being the greatest aphrodisiac for women says a mouthful.

And for women, there’s the whole make-up and fashion industry. Speaking of make-up, anthropologist-writer Desmond Morris who wrote ‘The Naked Ape’ speculates that wearing lipstick is an unconscious attempt to reproduce what a vagina in heat looks like, and it comes from our primate past when we were still walking on all fours. Can you possibly miss the connection?

Scientists suggest females in all mammalian species desire partners who can support their offspring and so they look for powerful, strong alpha males to impregnate them. And they say that generally, women are more faithful than men (perhaps in exchange for security) since their goal is to find males who can protect and assure survival of their offspring.

Males, on the other hand, want as many offspring as possible. Males spew out six million sperm cells every time they come while women only release one egg every 28 days. Males are more prone to having a number of partners, or ‘quantity’ to assure progeny. Women go for ‘quality’ and so they usually have sex with the assurance of having good offspring.

OK, enough about sex in its basic form, content and intent. If the title of this piece is to be accurate, I must bring this discussion to another level.

Freud’s observations only go so far. Surely, the reason why sex is so attractive goes beyond reproduction and ensuring the continuation of the species. There’s got to be more going for it than that. Sex is a great and wonderfully pleasurable act that can be enjoyed on several levels.

Sex is so—elastic! It can be a solitary experience not worth talking about or it can be THE best, most memorable event in one’s day or week or year. Like many people, I have enjoyed sex on different levels–from the earthy, sensual, purely physical up to, I dare say, the divine.

When it is with The Right One at The Right Moment, sex is an out-of-this world experience; its intense, sensual pleasure can touch the very core of who we are. And the identity of who we are which unravels when we surrender to that awesome pleasure vortex of sex as we let it take over us completely, is nothing short of heavenly, cosmic even! Separate human beings meld and awaken, even if only momentarily, as the very Universe itself. Orgasm is the Big Bang recreated (pun intended)! As millions of sperm are released when a man comes, so do millions of stars explode in empty space– supernovas coming to life.

There are those who may believe that any talk of sex vis-a-vis heaven is not only inappropriate but contradictory, or even antithetical. But M. Scott Peck says that it is not unusual to read spiritual, mystical writings of saints and monks in practically all religions that are dripping with sexual overtones. Teresa de Avila, for example, wrote that sexual language was adequate for explaining the love between the soul and Christ. A line in Songs, which goes, “Let him kiss me with his mouth’s kisses!” is both sexual and spiritual. A medieval nun’s journal I read (I can’t recall who), she would implore God to ‘break me with your battering ram!’ And aren’t nuns’ vows akin to being ‘married to Jesus’?

In Indian religions where Tantric sex is practiced, lovers gaze at each other as if they were gods and goddesses. And Tantric deities are of course known to consort for hours! Sex can indeed be a stairway to heaven. The metaphors are quite telling. There are many more examples. M. Scott Peck, after observing the sexual-spiritual connection, posits that the spiritual among us ‘must be horny’, and then he turns the tables and asks, ‘but are the horny spiritual?’

An intriguing question, and my answer to that is, like Peck’s, a ‘yes’. Sex, and all other activities that are potentially addictive are, to lesser degrees, gateways to ecstasy or heaven. But just like the mythical Icarus who flew too close to the sun that melted his wings and killed him, these potent gifts are only good when utilized in moderation. Alas, contrary to popular belief, too much heaven can be toxic. And mindless, unconscious, meaningless sex can kill its very appeal and attraction by making its endless mystery a profanity.

Sex, where one is consciously awake, alive and present to its great mystery and the loving exchange taking place, is infinitely better than sex for physical release alone. (For that, you don’t need a Significant Other, just any body will do, even your solitary own). Where the former engages in intercourse with ALL of the universe till there is nothing else but ecstasy, the latter is simply the rubbing of skin to relieve an itch!

The French refer to an orgasm as ‘le petit mort’, which literally means ‘a little death’. We ‘die’ into the experience by surrendering to the shuddering pleasure of an orgasm. We forget we are living in the mundane world for a brief but eternal moment as we enter heaven.

I realize that many people may not be comfortable with the idea that of a connection between sex and the divine. The conventional wisdom is that the two are anathema to each other, and never the twain shall meet. But it is precisely because sex and the divine are yin and yang that makes them such a dynamic unity. While they seemingly repel each other, they are also irresistibly drawn to one another.

It’s just one of God’s crazy paradoxes—that one can have a piece of absolute heaven while being firmly on terra firma.

* * *

Come join the 32nd run of my cutting-edge workshop called “Tapping the Creative Universe.” Like hundreds who have taken this effective workshop, you will discover aspects of yourself that will surprise, delight and inspire you to achieve the greatness you were meant to in your life.

Sessions are June 18, 19, 20, 21, 23, 25, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at 31 M. Jhocson St., Loyola Heights, Quezon City. Tuition is P5,000. Call 426-5375 or write to emailjimp@gmail.com for further inquiries or a full syllabus.

Recognizing our original face

Sunday, June 10, 2007

I have a confession to make. As of today, I have something in common with the Viva Hot Babes and about half of the sex sirens in show biz.

I am now wearing implants! Yes, two of them — wonderful round ones, except that they are not on my chest area but on my big brown eyes.

After much hemming and hawing, I finally had my premature cataracts removed by the very gentle and skilled Dr. Benjie Cabrera of the American Eye Center and replaced with artificial ones. The lenses I was born with developed early cataracts and instead of opting to wait till they get ripe before having them removed, according to the old protocol, I opted to have them done now. Why wait till I get old and spend years with bad vision?

Thanks to technology, new things are now possible and the procedure is quite simple and painless. I had one eye done one day and another one on the next day, and I feel like a different person looking at a new world. It’s as if I took off a pair of sunglasses that had made my world progressively darker the past few years. It will take a few days for my vision to stabilize but I am sure it will be an improvement from how I saw everything prior to the operation.

Since yesterday, I’ve been thinking about this procedure of having something I was born with like my optical lenses taken out and replaced with an alien substitute. It used to be the stuff of science fiction — of creating part human-part machine creatures. I have been “upgraded.” Do these implants now qualify me as a cyborg, or part-man, part-technological wonder? Have I turned bionic?

More and more, as technology replaces parts of our bodies and functions — our eyes, our hearing, heart, breasts, kidney, etc. — and alters us with implanted machines and stem cell flesh and blood products, we will be forced to redefine who we really are in the modern world. But before we think that people are pondering this for the first time in human history, think again. Zen philosophers have considered this question for centuries.

“What was your original face before your parents gave birth to you?” an old Zen koan asks.

If you shaved your head, used whitening lotion till you lost your kayumanggi complexion, gained/lost weight, had plastic surgery, or whatever else could be done to alter your appearance, would you still be you? Okay, that’s fairly easy to answer since all of the above are mere cosmetic improvements.

But what if you had a face transplant which, incidentally, is now possible? Or an identity change like what people in witness protection programs go through?

And what if what changed was even deeper? Let’s say you were once a shy person with low self-esteem and, over the years, you did your homework in coming to terms with yourself and did what was necessary to build up your self-esteem and you have now become a confident person. Can you say you are still the same person as before?

Or what if it was the other way around? What if you used to be a loving, happy person, but because of something that befell you, some trauma, for example, you have become a withdrawn, bitter and lonely character? Can you say you have changed?

Who are you, anyway? Are you what you look like? Are you what you own or have acquired? Are you your status? Your wealth? Your reputation or educational attainment? Are you the name that you carry, however nondescript, vile or prestigious it may be? Are you, as people seem to think, your personality? Who is it that possesses the possessive word “your” in the previous sentence?

For many or us, it is our life’s work, or our family, or our beliefs that define us. On many levels and in the gross, functional world we live in, perhaps it may be so. But on a deeper but more perennial level, in the reality where the eternals are the only things that ultimately count, none of the above may be a valid definition of who we are.

We cannot be any of the above — our reputation, wealth, name, achievements, life’s works. Why? Because none of them will last forever. They will, as we all know but tend to forget, eventually fade away.

Everything that is ever born must die. This was one of Shakyamuni Buddha’s big realizations. Even as much as we like to remember the dead who were close to us, we cannot even claim that their loving personalities were who they really were since those characteristics went with them when they died. While they live in our memories, our memories will eventually fade to oblivion as well.

And so we ask the question, “What is real?” The Zen answer is it is that which has no beginning and will have no ending. It is that which was never born and never will die. This is the reality of Spirit, the one that was there as God’s artisan before the universe was born. It is that which bares witness as we live our temporary lives with all their fleeting drama and history.

Granted that everything will eventually die, does that mean we are not real? We are not what we think we are. What we really are is what is real. To know ourselves is to go deep into the very source of seeing the countenance of our original face. And what was our original face before the world shaped our identities, our personalities, status in life, etc.?

Before you dismiss all this as a futile exercise in sophistry, or you may even concede the trueness of it but feel that it really has no practical application in our modern existence, think again.

Delving into what is real and what is not can give us a healthy perspective when dealing with losses and gains, happiness and disappointments, and all the other exigencies that govern our transitory existence. But it will only be of help to us if we constantly open ourselves to the grandeur and majesty of the answers we get when we ask the Zen question above.

We may even discover that from the point of view of the only thing that is real, nothing is ever lost and nothing is really ever gained. In the truest sense, however, and however life treats us, literally, nothing in this world can ever blemish, alter, improve, or diminish the timeless beauty that is our original face.

It is perfect as it is. No implants or upgrades needed ever!

* * *

Come join the 32nd run of my cutting-edge workshop called “Tapping the Creative Universe.” Like hundreds who have taken this effective workshop, you will discover aspects of yourself that will surprise, delight and inspire you to achieve the greatness you were meant to in your life.

Sessions are on June 18 to 21, 23, and 25, 7 to 9 p.m. at 31 M. Jocson St., Loyola Heights, Quezon City. Tuition is P5,000. Call 426-5375 or write to emailjimp@gmail.com for further inquiries or a full syllabus.

Bringing enchantment to everyday life

Humming In My Universe
Philippine Star
June 3, 2007

One of the great comforts of modern living is also its greatest bane. I am talking about the blessing and the curse of living where everything is available and already processed for us. From food to music to knowledge, things are served to us already tested, pasteurized, homogenized, pre-chewed, preserved, pre-approved, certified, and properly hyped and ‘spun’ so that we have very little leeway to experience anything outside the manufacturers’ intent.

I am amazed to realize that I am probably eating immensely better, dressing far more comfortably, or even living more sensibly, health-wise, than say, Queen Victoria, Napoleon Bonaparte or Julius Caesar who were the most powerful movers and shakers centuries ago. I am baffled at the thought of how people of other times coped without Tylenol, toilet paper, antibiotics, cars, or even Nikes. World leaders may have ruled over empires and the lives and fates of nations, peoples and civilizations, but their experience of what comfort and convenience were do not come close to what we have now.

And while it is easy to see the good in all these conveniences, the entire setup has made us more prone to alienation and ennui than any other civilization before us. Modern living, though invented to make our lives more productive and meaningful, can make us feel lost in has actually created a world of shallow consumerism where everything we do or own seems to stare meaninglessly at us in the face and makes us more angst-ridden than ever.

Not too long ago, when I was a child, our kusinera bought all our food fresh from the market. The meat sold was prepared by the butcher himself, the chickens were ‘native’ and probably raised by the seller herself, and the veggies did not have insecticide.

The music we listened to and liked did not need a video to be attractive and wonderful. The singers and artists had to know how to do their stuff really well and impress their audience with very little help from TV, promo people and big corporate sponsored backing to ‘sell’ their songs.

Going further back a few centuries when man needed to hunt for food, it was even simpler. There were the hunter and the prey. The activity involved killing animals to feed oneself and the family. Since there was no refrigeration, man only killed what was needed. There was no hoarding. Life was basic: Kill or die.

In spite of the seeming savagery, there was a beauty to it that is lost in the modern acquisition of food. The hunter respected the hunted because he had much to learn from it. There was a ‘participation mystique’ they shared which led to mutual respect. The respect led to rituals that paid homage to the animal after it was killed. In the end, it was like the animal had ‘sacrificed’ itself so that the hunter could live.

The ritual was important for the hunter since it wiped away his savagery and guilt. And underlying all the sacredness of the activity was the beautiful ecological message of the cycle of life which, put in simple terms, meant that the killed animal would come back to nourish him again since it was treated with respect and not killed wantonly.

In the old days, the food one gathered nourished not just the body but the spirit itself. The sacredness of food could not be missed.

When I was a young boy in the ‘50s and early ‘60s, every time we dared not to finish our food, our mother always reminded me and my siblings about the starving people in China and elsewhere. To this day, I almost always leave my plate clean after every meal. It was perhaps the way I saw food prepared then and the threatened scarcity of it that has made me treat food this way.

As moderns, what can we do to get the magic back? How can we achieve some kind of participation mystique with what we eat, listen to, and every other activity we do? The answer could be the key to bringing enchantment to our everyday life.

Let’s start of by asking simple questions like where the food on the table came from. Beyond a certain point, I am sure that we will not get accurate answers. This is where imagination can come in. For example, we can ponder on who sold the fish to us. What kind of person is he? Does he have a family? Where did he get it? The questions, answered by our imagination can open us up to a sense of wonder at the interconnectedness of things and how a particular object has found its way to us.

In my case, I add a dash of faith which raises the level of curiosity. I consider the possibility of how things that come to us were ‘meant to be’ with us at a particular time. When I do, curiosity leads me to the ‘discovery’ of some sort of ‘sacred conspiracy’ that has brought all these little, mundane stuff of life together in one place.

All of a sudden, I am not ‘just eating any fish’ but am being nourished by a special one that has been sent to me. And every thing around me, both seen and unseen, begins to acquire its own special-ness that was not originally there. All things become special objects, everyone is a sacred messenger and every experience is there for my evolutionary ascent to greater consciousness.