Surviving midlife

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Maybe I’m a man

Maybe I’m a lonely man

Who’s in the middle of something

That he doesn’t really understand.

— Maybe I’m Amazed

by Paul McCartney

Everywhere I go, I seem to bump into people who suspect their mid-life crisis has begun, or feel they are smack in the midst of a full-blown one. Being in my mid-50s, it is not surprising that a lot of my friends are into mid-life crisis. But what surprises me is that many people I know in their late 20s or early 30s are already showing signs of its onset.

A brief search of Google says that mid-life usually begins “at age 40, give or take 20 years.” So, in effect, most adults you and I know are probably in this phase of life to varying degrees.

Carl Jung was one of the first to identify this phase and call it what it is. Regardless of whether midlife crisis is triggered by personal tragedy — like the death of someone close or some catastrophic events — Jung says that in every case, midlife occurs in five phases:

1) Accommodation, where we live life according to the expectations of others. This happens early and is the context in which mid-life sets in.

2) Separation, the phase when we wake up to find that our lives have largely been about accommodating others’ expectations, and begin the process of rejecting the “accommodated self.”

3) Liminality, a period of doubt and uncertainty where we live aimlessly, seemingly without purpose.

4) Reintegration, when we begin to deeply answer the question of who we are and become comfortable with the new identity that emerges.

Okay, this is as far as I will quote from books and stuff. From hereon, I will be talking about my own mid-lifing experience, which I still am probably going through. Here are a few things I noticed when I felt the onset of my midlife crisis some 20 years ago.

• The term “midlife crisis” is inaccurate. The turmoil and events that proceed after it begins suggest that the word “crises” is more apt because one goes through definitely not just one, but many episodes of the same themes which play out a lot. If it’s not one thing, like worrying about who I really am and my purpose in this life, it’s another, like questioning my beliefs and membership and loyalties to certain institutions. Or it may be beating myself up about my perceived lack of something to show in terms of achievement at certain points in my life, or (strangely enough) not caring one bit about it at other times.

• There is the onset of boredom which is not what we usually feel when we have nothing to do, but a deep gnawing ennui that leads not to questioning but to depression. It is puzzling when all of a sudden you find yourself outgrowing certain activities, and even certain friends. Almost overnight, you feel a change in yourself in relation to the world you operate in. Somehow, what used to satisfy no longer does. Like a teenager, you find a big part of you does not fit in.

• The screw tightens even more. I found myself questioning the very basic things I took for granted — my capabilities, tastes, opinions, vows, faith and motivations. In a profound way, I was turning my world upside down with questions to find out what was on top and what lay under it. In the process, I stumbled on some of the many masks and roles I did not know I was wearing. I continue to discover others. And as I unmasked myself, I discovered that the world was unmasked as well. There is a John Mayer song I like because it sums up a big “aha” moment I had years back:

I wanna run through the halls of my high school

I wanna scream at the top of my lungs

I just found out there’s no such thing as the real world

Just a lie you’ve got to rise above.

• There is the painful realization that most of what seemed true earlier in your life is quickly nearing its expiration date. And yet, it is so painful to part with these beliefs, even though you know you must in order to be make space for the new truths that are unraveling. Discerning what to throw away and what to keep is a daunting order and takes a lot of courage and reflection.

Imagine that your house is on fire and you have a few short moments to run in and pick up your valuable stuff. What stuff do you actually pick out? Unless you are consciously aware of what you need to do, you may unthinkingly rush in and pick up your high school Playboy magazine collection in place of a family heirloom.

• There is a flurry of activities that one engages in that seem in retrospect all about the vain attempt to hold on to the power of fading youth. My sister-in-law calls her 40-ish husband’s new BMW “the midlife crisis car”! Many men and women go through physical makeovers — the tummy tuck, lipo, implants, nose jobs, sexual enhancement drugs, etc. The few times I tried to stop dyeing my hair, I got annoyed at having to repeatedly explain why my whole head of hair was suddenly white. So I resumed the dyeing. Sometimes I stop just to defy the world. I worry less now about my receding hairline but I admit to taking Chinese herbal drugs to slow it down.

• When we let go of attitudes, beliefs and ways that don’t work, there appear newer ones that take their place. This will happen repeatedly until we find the right ones that apply to this new stage in our lives. We are like a house in renovation except that the dust has not settled and so we are not sure what we really look like inside. But be assured that there is a lot of activity happening there.

We can also compare ourselves to snakes in the sense that we must shed off old skin periodically to continue living in a supple, energetic new body. I noticed that when Sangliggonaposila, a noontime show I was involved with 10 years ago, came to an end, my life was thrown into turmoil. My usual income stream dried up big-time and I felt washed out.

But in place of the frenetic triviality I was engaged in for a living, I discovered silence, which in turn led me to more introspection and reflection. I also discovered many hidden talents and interests I did not know I had as I began to practice Zen, write books, articles, blogs, got into teaching, designing and facilitating workshops, photography, diving and taking long walks.

I felt a personal renaissance, an immense growth spurt which continues to this day. I can definitely say my life is being powered by my second wind.

• Lastly, I am more forgiving of myself now. I find myself in a better place regarding my accommodation with personal faults and weaknesses. Whereas before, I would beat myself up over perceived failures and character flaws, I am now less severe and am even accepting of my imperfections. I also notice that I have become less judgmental of other people.

Which is not to imply that I am in a blissfully peaceful place at all times. I have a long way to go before I master jumping over the wide fault lines on the terrain of midlife.

Life continues to pull the rug from under my feet in varying intensities but years of practice has helped me cope better. Sure, doubts and cynicism continue to plague me and I still play the people-pleaser role on occasion. But I am learning to say it’s okay when I am not 1at my best and express my opinions more spontaneously than merely saying what is expected of me out of political correctness.

To paraphrase Joseph Campbell, I am beginning to enjoy and appreciate the pleasure and privilege of being my true self, warts and all.

The art of dreaming and awakening

Humming in my universe
Jim Paredes

What would you rather be, a man of riches or a man of wisdom?

I think about this a lot and the immediate temptation is to say I would rather be rich because I can work on the wisdom part when I already have so much money and I can afford the luxury of doing nothing and developing my own wisdom. Besides, with my riches, I can buy the wisdom of others so I can live without that much wisdom for now.

The underlying premise here is that the arena of the temporal is for the present while the more spiritual quest of wisdom can be deferred.

The temporal world is where one invests and expends his energy with all of his power to make a mark. It is where dreams are pursued and fulfilled.

I think of taipans, leaders, and powerful people I have met. All of them have an urgency to do something, to plan, act on and fulfill their dream of greatness and the acquisition of financial, political and personal power. They all seem primed to seize those moments of luck and opportunity that will make their visions a reality. In truth, they are mostly impressive people and you feel a sense of the possible when you are around them.

On the other hand, there are wise persons waiting to be discovered. When you do find them, they are mostly older, without the swagger and arrogance that people on the make have. While age is almost always a trait of the wise, it does not come automatically with aging. If it did, then surely, there would be so many of them around. But alas, there are not. There are many old people who never quite cross the bridge to being wise and remain foolish and trivial all their lives.  They are sad, tragic individuals. The mark of the wise is a calm, at peace demeanor, the propensity to act on the world tempered by the lessons learned in younger days. Surely, the ravages of time on their bodies have something to do with it as well.

I used to think that the older and wiser men and women became that way because they had sated their lust for anything that could be lusted for and so had no other place to go but to retreat and focus on lesser pursuits. But as I find myself moving deeper into the Territory of the Old, I realize two things: One, that the paramount characteristic of desire and lust is its insatiability. In other words, one does not necessarily lose them no matter how old one gets. One simply must decide to temper and control desire and lust, or sublimate them for other goals. And the practice of doing this creates wisdom. Like a blacksmith, one must learn to deliberately shape the metal into something more useful for the later stages of life. And two, I realize that the pursuit of wisdom is not a lesser calling but something  nobler and higher than the pursuit of power.

To explore and conquer the external world is the agenda of those who dream of a better future. Their dreams are what keep them going and they will not rest until they achieve them. In fact, such dreamers are seized and compelled by their dreams. It is easy to see why the world needs them.

On the other hand, there are those who, instead of dreaming and conjuring future scenarios in their own image and likeness, may engage the inner world and, all of a sudden, discover that they have built up a different equity. They awaken to their own true nature and are at peace and awake to their unity with everything as it is. They discover a mind that is vast and endless, not restless or frantic, not seized or compelled by anything, but still ready to react and act on the world.

And when they do act on the world, they do not feel the need to do it for themselves, at least, not in the same way that the dreamers do. They discover a larger self.  They do not give up their freedom when they do what they choose to do. The mark they wish to leave is not some external infrastructure that will last long after they have gone, but a legacy that  inches up the consciousness of everyone they encounter by a few notches.

In place of acquisition and empire building, the activities of the wise are more focused on teaching and mentoring others and sharing nuggets of wisdom picked up along the way of a long life well-lived.

In a paradoxical way, one can say that the dreamers, while concerned with temporal results and issues, actually live their lives directed at some distant future that is still to be made, while the wise who are less concerned with comings and goings, and one might say, the passions induced by the world, live closer to the present.

The dreamers are lords of the temporal plane. The wise go in and out of the temporal and the eternal. The dreamers are building a future heaven on earth for themselves and others, while the awakened are telling everyone that heaven is already here and now.

Are being wise, and being a dreamer mutually exclusive? Does one have to be one or the other?

Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and others like them are known to share a lot of their wealth with programs that uplift others. I once attended a sesshin (zen retreat), and I was surprised to find out that the Roshi who was conducting the retreat was not just someone whose lineage extended to zen masters of centuries past, but was also vice-President of a big bank in Tokyo. And his comportment and demeanor showed not the slightest conflict between the two. He makes a trip every year to the Philippines to conduct sesshins here because he thinks the quality of zen practice here is quite high. I had a long conversation with him and I was quite impressed to have met a master whose spiritual moorings were deep and sincere. The clarity of his mind shimmered. I could palpably sense his compassion, which I have not seen in a lot of  so-called  ‘holy’ people.

So how does one become rich and wise at the same time? Can one live in the material world and be spiritual too? Actually, one has no choice but to do both, if one wants to live a balanced life. As long as you are alive you must feed both body and soul. But to maintain the balance, remember Christ’s admonition about serving two masters. The Bhagavadgita says something similar about ‘being on the battlefield but not a warrior.’

The truly wealthy are those who can detach from wealth when they have to. And it takes a lot of inner work and wisdom to do that. In short, one must learn the art of dreaming and being awake at the same time.

A weekend that would not go away!

May 14, ’08 4:00 AM
for everyone

I had not been to Dumaguete in ages. I was pleasantly surprised that despite the new establishments around, the city had retained its quaintness and small town charm. I was glad to be there.

APO, our band, our staff and our managers Betta and Butch Dans and their three kids flew in to Dumaguete early last Saturday morning to do a concert for a private company that evening. Everything went great, Good crowd, good performance. Couldn’t really ask for more.

Usually, APO, band, staff and management go home the next day to free the producers of the burden of having to spend extra to entertain us. But since Boboy is from Dumaguete and he and his family talked excitedly about dolphin watching along the Tanion Strait, a passage way to Cebu, I decided at my own expense to stay and join Betta and her family the next day for this exciting activity.

It was a one and a half hour car ride and another hour boat ride to the Tanion Strait. And there they were—schools of dolphins of all sizes swimming in crisscross fashion along and around the boat. To say that it was a thrill is putting it mildly. It’s really exhilarating to see these beautiful, playful mammals in their natural setting, not in some aquarium or theme park but right in their own habitat. We were screaming with glee as they appeared, breached, jumped and swam close to us. At times they would disappear but then would suddenly make themselves visible again by splashing and jumping not too far off from us. We would in turn go in their direction for a better view.

After the moments with the dolphins, we took lunch in a spacious hut on stilts in the middle of a submerged sand bar. It was quite an experience to be around one of the most beautiful sites of Negros province.

We capped the evening with a sumptuous dinner with the Garrovillos at Bingbing’s, Boboy’ Ate.

The next day, I awoke to strong rain. I got dressed, ate and left the hotel for my trip back to Manila only to find out that the flight was canceled. Bad weather made the visibility impossible for landing. The afternoon flight was canceled as well and I immediately resigned myself to staying another night. Too make things better, Boboy invited the group for dinner at one of Dumaguete’s foreign owned restos and it was a wonderful night capped at his mother’s house for some coffee.

Again, I awakened to heavy rain the next morning and even darker skies and although I felt that our flight would be canceled again, I still dressed up and headed for the airport. Sure enough, it was canceled, and we headed back to the hotel for some breakfast.

I was beginning to feel like it was a weekend that would not go away. I was restless and wanted so much to go home. I was down to my last smelly shirt and I had already postponed my Manila workshop run for a day. I knew I had to find a way home that Tuesday.

After getting some advice from the front desk about how to get to Cebu, (I figured that they will always have flights to Manila from there), I went to my room, pondered on this jump-to-the unknown adventure and decided to go for it.

I flagged a pedicab for a twenty minute ride and headed for the ferry dock. There was one going to Liloan in Cebu at 11 AM. While riding the cab, I was adrenalin charged and caught myself repeatedly telling the pedicab driver to speed it up so we would not miss the boat. In turn, he told me while chuckling that we were running out of gas! I told him to just drive as close to the dock as possible and if his vehicle stopped, I would just walk from there, rain notwithstanding.

Luckily, we did not run out of gas and reached the dock. I bought a ticket and hopped on the fast boat. In twenty minutes, I was in Liloan and boarded an air conditioned bus to Cebu city. It would be a three hour and 15 minute ride through small and medium sized towns while watching two entertaining Bruce Willis movies.

Quite a pleasant ride actually. Nice scenery. On the bus, I made friends with a woman seated behind me who was also going to Manila out of Cebu. We agreed to just share cab fare from the bus station to the airport.

When we got to the station, we caught a cab and headed straight to the airport through excruciatingly slow traffic. I was worried I would not catch the flight. Once there, I ran to the Cebu Pacific ticketing office and arranged for my seat on the 4: 25 flight. We got to Manila around 6:20 because of some delays caused by late passengers in Cebu. From the airport, I rushed home to a waiting class of TCU students. After a few minutes setup, I opened the workshop!

I have not had a day this hectic for some years now. All throughout the transfers from pedicab, to boat to bus to taxi and to a plane and another car ride to my QC home, I kept on singing a line from the song ‘Get Here’, which goes, “I don’t care how you get here. Get here if you can.’ I did!


Talk about an adventure.

Coming home

Sunday, May 11, 2008

I’m back in Manila after a little over a month in Sydney and upon arriving at my house and spending the first night here, I noticed myself going through it again — a depressing feeling coming over me. I’ve noticed this pattern occurring every time I come back to Manila: I return to the Philippines feeling disoriented and kind of  sad, like my heart and mind are forced  to be in two places.

While everything here is familiar, it is way too familiar. I am not talking of friends or relatives but the place in general. Nothing seems to change for the better. I think of the contempt that familiarity supposedly breeds as I see the decay and mayhem when I drive through different parts of the city. There is an inertia in this city that drags my spirit down as I see the soot on the buildings, the snarl of traffic, the general disorder that is the normal state of affairs here.

In many places, I see the classic sign of entropic decline, as if the city has stopped taking care of itself and is allowing itself to wither and disintegrate. I seriously ask myself if it is just my mood at the moment or if I have become that type of Filipino who one often meets abroad who does not see anything good in this country anymore.

I know the answer can’t be any of that because I know I do love this country. Perhaps it is the privilege of being able to travel a lot and live in another place and see how much more charming, benign and beautiful many cities are compared to Manila. If a few articles ago, I wrote about what I would do if I had the power to change things nationwide, this time I would like to indulge the idealist/control freak in me and ask questions and make suggestions on how things in Metro Manila can be made better in little and big ways. I write this without looking at the costs involved. All I know is that they will make this city so much more livable and esthetically pleasing. My suggestions:

1)  The MMDA should issue a directive that orders all structures, buildings and establishments along main roads to be freshly painted every five years and for their immediate surroundings to be kept sparkling clean. There must be a department or bureau that will issue esthetic guidelines to rethink or re-imagine Metro Manila and give the city character and a look that is positive. There are places in India, Israel, Greece and other countries where the building code stipulates the colors that every establishment must use. That’s not a bad idea to follow. If we have to give tax rebates for the city to get spruced up, let’s do it. But enforcement must be strict with heavy fines imposed for non-compliance.

2)  Re-zone the city so that commercial and residential areas are clearly separate.

3) Finally phase out jeepneys and old buses within a short period of time — no more than three years. They have had their glory days. It’s now time to modernize transportation so that there are less cars on the road. And more trains, please.

4) Make the main roads billboard-free. Many major cities in the world show off their city buildings, public art and architectural structures along their main thoroughfares, not display crass pictures of celebrities hawking products and services.

5)  Scrub the public walls and roads so that they look brighter. Put art in as many places as possible. One of the most amazing sights for me was seeing the Moscow subway for the first time in 1990. It was bedecked with chandeliers stripped from the palaces of the Czars when the Communists took over. It was also quite impressive to see big proletarian art decorating the underground corridors.

6)  Build bigger statues and monuments that people can actually mill around. Recently, I saw the new statues along Roxas Boulevard and I thought they were incredibly puny. Some of them were so tiny they were practically just life-sized representations of the people they honored. In effect, they projected a smallness, not the bigger-than-life greatness of the people they were intended to extol. It’s not hard to imagine that many of the statues go largely unnoticed by people passing by in their cars. And they are in areas so cramped, people can hardly congregate around them.

7)  The media should project the city and its people more realistically and with more dynamism. And they should feed the cultural soul of its citizens.

One of my pet peeves is FM radio in the Philippines, which seems quite divorced from its local setting in the way it conducts itself. FM radio stations should drop their emulation and adoration of the US formats and play more OPM, current and not-so-current favorites. And even better, the disc jockeys should stop putting on American accents and make us listeners feel like we are in America. It would be great if they put on a more local flavor. Listening to some of them makes my hair stand on end. The way they try so hard at sounding like their LA counterparts makes me (and a lot of people I know) cringe. The airwaves should express what we are as a people, not emulate our ex-colonizers!

8)  And can our TV newscasters please stop sounding like sensationalistic bad news bears? GMA-7’s Mike Enriquez and everyone at ABS-CBN sound like they are out to scare and terrify us. The whole siren-like, in-your-face approach to news seems primarily to elicit fear, panic and depression among viewers in place of simply informing them. I believe that more calm and objectivity, not to mention less shrillness and overacting on the part of those who deliver the news, can make life less stressful and more bearable and still keep us informed.

9)  Promote the virtue of silence in the streets. Our streets are way too noisy with people honking their horns on the road in traffic and when they “announce” their presence as they get home. People who walk along the streets at night talk too loudly and seem unmindful that people in their homes may already be sleeping. Generally, we could all be more considerate of our neighbors by toning down our noise level in public.

10)  Clean up all the waterways so that they can  be beautiful once again and be used for public transport at the same time. Don’t tell me it’s not possible. The Thames in London used to be a cesspool but, with political will, they cleaned it up.

11) Where we can put the phone cables and power lines underground, let us do so that we may see the skies without these ugly lines obstructing our view. Believe me, this simple act will transform any neighborhood into a cleaner one.

I know there are readers who will be dismissive of all these suggestions. I myself would have scoffed at such an article years ago. I would have dismissed it as a rant of someone who has the option to live somewhere else. Perhaps. But I believe that the reason why many Metro Manilans, or Filipinos nationwide, are inured to ugliness and decay is because they do not see the slow deterioration of their lives. In my case, brief absences make my senses more alive to the changes and I can really see the decline. It’s no different from seeing people on TV every day versus seeing them only once a year. You notice age catching up with them more when you don’t see them often.

Lastly, like everyone else, I have heard all the logical excuses as to why change cannot happen. We have analyzed enough and have been paralyzed as a result for way too long. I believe though that the imperative for things to change is greater than all of the excuses for us to find ways to go around and finally do what needs to be done.

* * *

This is the second to last announcement on the upcoming 40th “Tapping the Creative Universe Workshop” which runs from May 12 to 17 and concludes May 20, 7 to 9 p.m., at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. Please call 426-5375 or 0916 855-4303 for a syllabus and reservations.

Visit for a look at what it is about.

This workshop will transform you.

Heat and cold, kicking ass, moms and last calls

May 5, ’08 4:07 AM
for everyone

It is so hot I don’t have a shirt on practically the whole day. I have the fan pointed at me and I still feel sticky. This is Manila heat, and it seems I have never gotten used to it. It seems like it’s getting hotter every year.

On the other geographical center of my life where most of my family are in Sydney, it is freezing and it’s not even supposed to be winter yet.

One good thing about Sydney winters are the spectacular sunsets. It’s just amazing how the sky seems like it’s blazing, and yet one looks at it wrapped up in jacket and warm clothes.

Truly, Aus and Philippine life are almost opposites in many ways.

I miss Mio, Ala and Lydia. It was a good time to be there last month where I reconnected with my kids.

They have really grown up so much since the last time and seem more sure-footed about life, school, and stuff. Well, mostly. That’s why they still need parents to be around once in a while. I live for talks I have with them. I was quite touched that on the way to the airport, Ala gave me a letter she wrote by hand that expressed her gratitude to Lydia and I for all the support we continue to give them. Mio and Ala are so independent they can find their way around everywhere.

The consolation I have is that Erica, Dada and my adopted daughter Gina are here with me in Manila. Dada talks A LOT!! She is quite amusing and can really engage you. Erica is so busy. It will be her birthday by May 7. I still remember writing the song Batang-bata Ka Pa when I brought her home two days after she was born. Can’t believe how time flies!

* * *

Had a good time with Danny and Boboy last weekend. We did a show in a tiny town past Toledo in Cebu. We had a live band and it was pretty hard work. It was a long drive to get there, and it was HOT on stage. I was also still tired ffrom an overnite trip from Sydney two nights before. But, it’s work I really enjoy. We are a tight team and we can really kick ass on stage.

Thanks to Allan Restauro of Cebu for these great pics!

I have a feeling we will still be around way after the Stones have retired. That’s Mick, Richard, and yes, Barney and Fred, too!

* * *

Mother’s day is coming up. My wife posted this pic on her site. This was taken years ago . Now, only Boboy’s mom is still around. I remember this pictorial since the three APO mom’s were so game about it. I guess they must have felt some sort of bonding too knowing that their sons have been friends for a long time. I miss my mom. She was always grateful to see me every time I visited her. Every son is his mother’s child, if you know what I mean.

* * *

This is the last announcement for the 40th run of TAPPING THE CREATIVE UNIVERSE workshop.

WHEN: MAY 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 19

If you want to visit the TCU website and know what the worlkshop is all about, click on my pretenscious ‘guru’ pic below. Couldn’t help it. They donned it on my head when we went to India years ago. heh heh.

Call 426 5375, or 09168554303 for information and to reserve a slot.