Wii, Sikhs, and artists

My body aches from too much Wii!

Grabe. The past two days, I have rediscovered  Wii sports and I have been playing tennis, bowling boxing and baseball and my sore arms are the price I pay for all that fun. ha ha. I have not been excercising for some months now and I guess nabigla ang katawan ko. Will probably play some more later on.

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We live near a huge Sikh temple along Meurants Lane here in Glenwood. It is am imposing structure which you can see even along Sunnyholt which is a main thoroughfare in these parts. I’ve been wanting to go inside for the longest time.

A few days ago, I finally went inside. I took a detour from my afternoon walk which would have taken me near Woolies ( a supermarket) and instead proceeded to the Sikh Temple. I asked two devotees outside if and how I should come in. They asked me to take of my shoes and put an orange hanky on my head as a sign of respect.

When I went inside, I saw a few devotees and some sort of ‘priest’ who called me to his side and welcomed me. I asked if I could take pictures and he obliged. He also asked that his picture be taken. He was friendly and emphasized the universal mesage of his religion which is. “God is One’. He also asked me to partake of something he gives all devotees, a sweet cake-like food that I imagine is like their Holy Communion. He asked me to return another day and eat with the devotees and listen to Indian music. I probably will and will take a great amount of pictures.

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Last Saturday, I attended the birthday party of Edd Aragon, Sydney Morning Herald’s award-winning caricaturist at his Ermita-like house in Kings’ Park. It was a fun night as it always is when we visit Edd and Menchie’s place. The sala has an array of combo instruments and everyone is free to pick up a guitar, drumsticks, sit by the piano and play to your heart’s content. And that’s exactly how the party played out.

It was also great to see people I had not seen in awhile–Ding and Irene Roces, Mario Aldeguer and Lenny, and a few others I met early in 2006 when I had just moved. It’s great to be in the company of artists. Good food, great conversation everywhere.

Edd’s house is also an art gallery and prominently displayed were some of his black-lite art. It’s medium of painting where you need black light to see the work. Here is a fascinating off-beat portrait of the most off-beat person in the Philippines, Pepe Smith!

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Visited the city a few days ago just to get out of the ‘burbs’. I passed by St. Mary’s Cathedral which will be the center of the World Youth Day to be held in Sydney this August. It was being spruced up inside and I could not stay long since there as dust all over.

The whole city is gearing up for it since they expect 500,000 visitors from all over.

While I was there, I also went to see the Bienale. This is the cutting-edge, city-wide art exhibit which Sydney hosts every two years. I went to the exhibit at the Art Gallery at the NSW Museum.

I was amazed as I approached the majestic building to see ‘grafitti’ written on its facade–the museum’s way of honoring the wild, rambunctious spirit of the Bienale, I suppose.

The works were fascinating–from performance art, paintings, film, installations, etc.. I sat with a guy named Ross whose ‘work’ was to interact with anyone who sat down with him. We had a twenty minute conversation which was to say the least, fascinating.

The two pictures of painters here are actually an on-going cat and mouse game. One is painting all the walls white while the other is painting all the walls black. They eventually will get on to each others’ spaces and that’s the point. This goes on till the closing of the festival.

There was a feminist who exhibited a short film of herself and six other scantily clad women and a man who were wrestling, cavorting and just plane body-rubbing all over the place while black paint, dead fish, raw chicken and paper were thrown all over them. I could not make sense of it, frankly. I read more about the artist and an interesting trivia I got was an event that contributed to her rise in the feminist art world. In one exhibit, she read poetry where the manuscript it was written on was taken out from her vagina!

Uh…. yeah. Cool. uhmm.. I suppose..



Sunday, June 29, 2008

Do you really think it is weakness that yields to temptation? I tell you that there are terrible temptations which require strength, strength and courage to yield to. — Oscar Wilde

I love quotations, and I love Oscar Wilde, who is one very quotable guy. The other quote I read by him about temptation was actually simpler. It went, “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it… I can resist everything but temptation.”

That’s really quite witty and funny. The scope of the temptation he was referring to includes the usual ones — gossip, overeating, laziness, infidelity, drinking, excess, jealousy, pride and the other human weaknesses.

The other quote, however, speaks of something else and these are the greater temptations we are confronted with in the course of our lives. I am talking of something which every person who lives past adolescence will probably face at least once. These temptations are not the kind that prey on our mere human weaknesses. These have a far more noble purpose and, despite their good intentions, they are great vexations to the spirit. They have to be since they push one to choices that are hard to make.

Such temptations are about reversals, about-faces, cancellations, admissions of failure to live up to expectations. They can also be about sudden, drastic changes or redirections that happen in one’s life. These temptations are not aimed at our common weaknesses but at our other vulnerabilities, the issues and truths we hide from ourselves, denials that want to be heard.

These are the temptations that bring us to the brink of what we know of ourselves and what we are afraid of, because we are not yet ready to admit them. And they aim for the jugular because, in a way, they tempt their prey into committing a form of “death by suicide.” How? They lure you into giving up an old identity for a new one, but with a promise of a resurrection in a higher plane.

I speak of people who approached the fork in the road when it presented itself, often under very daunting, painful and dicey circumstances; those who took the daunting step of changing the course of their lives dramatically and proclaiming their newfound selves to the world.

For example, gays who have come out of the closet, or priests leaving the Church; or the opposite, of unlikely people who suddenly embrace the religious life, or couples who after much contemplation and searing honesty decide to separate, or people who turn away from their comfortable, lucrative occupations and embrace a life or career that surprises or shocks everyone, or those who risk their lives to speak the truth under extremely challenging circumstances. In sum: people who risk disappointment for liberation.

To name a few, think of the Duke of Windsor who gave up the throne to marry his love, a commoner and a divorcee. Or the senate witnesses who threw caution to the wind and blurted out what they knew. Or — somewhat less politically correct but dramatic no less — high-profile people who have admitted to being gay or lesbian, at the risk of public condemnation.

For sure, the temptations they succumbed to are of a much higher order. And they must have suffered through the decision-making process where the choices were to remain living a life that may have started out seemingly authentic but was becoming more and more of a lie, or to answer a calling that seems better than the hellish status quo they had found themselves in.

What a predicament. Turning points usually are. To stay on is to be in a sort of a death zone. To move forward may bring a reprieve, a release or a promise of a new, more energized life. Nothing is guaranteed. But before one actually makes the decision, all alternatives and scenarios may seem dire. What brings the person to the brink of deciding is what Oscar Wilde calls “great strength and courage.” Ironically, these transitions involve not just accepting pain but unleashing strengths that we’ve always had but which have remained hidden, waiting to express themselves at the right time.

Going back to the examples above, I imagine every gay person I know who at certain phases in their lives may have struggled to deny who they really are. Realizing how difficult that can be, some may have attempted to maintain a dual identity. But at a certain point, there must have been the great temptation to totally come to terms with their “different” sexuality, accept it and eventually feel the freedom of being themselves. 

I recently had a conversation with an ex-priest whom I know took his vows quite seriously but discovered through the years that his calling may be somewhere else. It takes a lot to accept the higher calling of being true to oneself at the risk of disappointing others.

Comedian George Carlin, who passed away last Monday, realizing how meaningless his safe comedy had become some 20 years ago, put an end to his material and surprised himself and his audience by metamorphosing into a bitingly funny social critic. While he was happy to transform into his new identity, he lost lucrative contracts in Las Vegas because his new material did not sit well with Middle America.

A wise man once cautioned metaphorically that one must not delve into spirituality unless one’s hair is on fire and spirituality is a lake. This accurately describes the great discomfort and disillusionment with one ‘s life that a malcontent must feel which gives him little choice but to succumb to the higher “temptation” and thus be released.

But once one surrenders, there is no turning back. A new life is born and expresses itself. And when that happens, the gods will demand the payback. This involves going public with the message of one’s transformation. We have seen people who have had intense religious conversions convey, shout, preach their message of redemption at every occasion and become quite annoying to the unconvinced. I suppose that’s part of the deal. But to fulfill one’s part better, one must do it, not just with courage, but with convincing power. More than just talking about it, one’s life must be living proof that saying “yes” has renewed and opened one to new paths.

One surrenders to such a monumental and worthwhile temptation like a suicide bomber, taking along as many people as possible, so to speak, by the power of one’s example.

Must heaven wait?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

SYDNEY — A friend told me about an interesting article he received from the Bishop of the Parramata Diocese, a shire in New South Wales, here in Australia. The Bishop was quoting a Vatican official as saying that the modern church does a lousy job at communicating what heaven is like to the faithful. He said the visions the church communicates about heaven are outdated, borne out of an agricultural era when life was hard, and so the utopian vision of heaven and its divine reward was pictured as sitting on a banquet table and indulging in good food and drink with the Lord. For those who toiled and worked slave wages, heaven was a place of plenty.

When you think about the imagery, this is hardly an unreachable aspiration in today’s world where one can experience sumptuous eating as often as one wants to, or can afford to, sans the Lord, of course.

To bring the discussion further, in response to the bigger question of how a vision of heaven can stimulate and inspire people to live good moral lives, the bishop posited the question, “Does heaven have an image problem?”

I find the bishop’s question as intriguing as it is stimulating and even entertaining. For sure, the metaphors that used to excite the faithful may have dramatically lost their appeal as times have changed. Except for farmers and those living in an agricultural base, the metaphors of vineyards and seeds may not excite too many people; many might even remain indifferent, simply because they cannot relate to the imagery.

There is also the cryptic image of St. Peter standing by the Pearly Gates with a big book where the names of the faithful are supposedly written, if we have been good. If we have not been on our best behavior, our names will not be found there and we do not get to enter heaven. Instead, we either go to some halfway house for some rehab called purgatory, or worse, if we have been really bad, we descend to hell where we will burn forever.

In the Muslim faith, there is much ado about the dozens of virgins that supposedly await someone who dies while performing Jihad. That’s the male heaven, I suppose. What’s the female heaven like?

In Hindu heaven, it is said that “there are many celestial gardens. Here sport persons of meritorious acts. Neither hunger nor thirst, nor heat, nor cold, neither grief nor fatigue, neither labor nor repentance, nor fear, nor anything that is disgusting and inauspicious; none of these is to be found in heaven. There is no old age either… Delightful fragrance is found everywhere.”

Every religious belief, I suppose, has its own take on what eternal life is like. The common thread that runs through them is that every heaven is expressed to some degree as a place or state where there is absence of pain and the onset and non-stop experience of pleasure in physical, sensual, psychological, spiritual and even sexual terms. It’s a materialist view, to be sure.

You begin to realize that a lot of what we are depriving ourselves of in the name of living good lives here on earth can actually be enjoyed without us having to die. So why does heaven have to wait? Because religion tells us that this is what it means to be moral. Why? I don’t know. To many, part of keeping to one’s faith is the unquestioning acceptance of that tenet.

One thing for sure, though, is that it is only through the limits of the human mind that we have imagined what heaven is like; and thus, we may all be way off the mark.

Nevertheless, while we are at it, let me wear my modern man’s thinking cap and imagine — in my stressed-out, burned-out, worried-sick-about-the future soul — what the divine end is all about and share with you the heavenly visions dancing in my head.

1) Heaven is a state where we can get as much good, healthy, healing sleep (complete with sweet dreams) as we can possibly want.

2) Heaven is where we feel no pain or discomfort whatsoever.

3) Heaven is a place where we have all the time and concentration and energy to be in every moment, enjoying what we do, whatever it is.

4) Heaven is a place where we are totally accepted as we are, and just as we are totally accepting of others, so are we by others.

5) Heaven is where we can have all the answers to the great questions of life, such as “Who am I?”; “What is the meaning of it all?”; and “Who is God?”

Throw in the answers to the lesser questions, like “Who really killed Ninoy?” “Did Bush actually win the US elections?” “Will Pops and Martin ever get back together again?” All these will be known. I just don’t know whether anyone in heaven will care to know the answers. The irony is, while everything unknown will be known, we will probably have lost our taste for petty concerns or even for judging others.

6) Heaven is where we experience unconditional love where we meet and radiate nothing but love. We will see everyone we have ever loved but will know how to love them perfectly this time. We will also discover that we will love everyone we meet there.

Love also means we are welcomed and accepted by God regardless of how we have lived our lives. What is “unconditional love” if not that? Anything else would be exceptions, stipulations, conditions or “fine print” and therefore not unconditional.

7) Heaven is where we can indulge in every known and still unknown sensual, physical, mental, spiritual, heavenly pleasure without any guilt whatsoever.

8) Heaven is where we experience ourselves in the biggest, most wonderful God-like way and where we realize we are One with everything and that there is nothing outside of the Oneness.

9) Heaven is where we are in a state of bliss, where we lose all identity of ourselves totally and thus have no need to worry or defend ourselves, or attack anything or anyone. It is the state where all causes, missions and injustices that used to attract, concern or arouse our attention have forever ceased.

10) Lastly, we will knock ourselves on the head when we realize that heaven is a place we may have already sensed and enjoyed but had forgotten while we were on earth. During our more awakened moments, we may have intuited and taken great joy at the wonder of a few waking seconds and thus discovered God’s little hiding places right in the center of our daily lives on earth.

By the same token, during our sleeping state, we may have, more often than not, discovered hell.

A wise Buddhist put it so well when he said, “The wise man makes his own heaven while the foolish man creates his own hell here and hereafter.”

And so I ask, must heaven wait?

From heat to cold, old to new

Jun 20, ’08 12:12 AM
for everyone

I’ve been in Sydney for a week now and am getting good sleep. And the cold of winter is most likely responsible for it. I am eating well too and suspect I am gaining some weight.  The presence of my family is also very healing for me. I was suffering bouts of loneliness in Manila during my last visit . The heat, the absence of most of my family and the depressing news about oil, rice shortage, etc. were all beginning to get to me. I am glad to be here.

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I am also getting a lot of new voice and guitar students on top of my old students and I am enjoying really enjoying my sessions  with them. My Saturdays are really full teaching.

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My son Mio took the citizenship test the other day and he pretty much aced it. He was feeling good after the test knowing that once he gets his citizenship, new doors will open for him.For migrants, the oath-taking is a major turning point. He hopes to be sworn-in in a few weeks. I am happy to be instrumental in  helping him expand his horizons.

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I have been watching new Pinoy Dream Academy 2 and I find myself undergoing some sort of a deja vu experience. Here they are again, a fresh bunch  of kids with raw talents who will be going through the euphoria and pain of having a shot at stardom. Some will learn, some will not, some will hopefully find their nitch in the biz. Hopefully, all of them will find some value in being part of all this.

During my stint as headmaster two years ago, I found the job rewarding but pretty exhausting as well. I felt I could easily get attached to the kids and so had to  make sure I maintained a certain distance. My main aim was for them to learn their skills, develop a professional attitude, become better persons and give them a platform from where they could have a career if they wanted one after the run of the show.

The nitty grity  of the task–of passing on a good attitude  and right values towards work and their colleagues, and the tackling of the issues that prevented them from personally waking up to their talents, personality, and confidence was tiring but rewarding at the same time. I saw them  laugh, cry, complain, gush, backbite, support, help, and encourage each other throughout the 16 weeks. We wanted them to be the best they could be and to develop the life skill of approaching one’s artistry with constant creativity.

There was also the whole reality of it and that was, it was a TV show. The producers, with all their 64 cameras available 24-7 took care of catching on to threads that they weaved into stories for the viewers. The company, and all teachers would be briefed on the state of the students at the start of the day so we knew what was happening at all times.

The best and worst parts of the job happened on Saturdays where they showcased their talents and where one of them would get eliminated. As their teachers, we pushed them hard to give them the skills to deliver heir best performances but alas, one had to bow out each week. It was edifying on the one hand since we saw them give their heart and soul but wrenching on the other hand to have to be instrumental in choosing who must go and who must stay.

All throughout, I was always warning the kids of the transient character of being in this business. One day people will be fawning over you. The next day, you are day-old bread, or yesterday’s papers. The only thing that can keep you there or at least within striking distance of fame is to hone your talents and be able to deliver every time you are given the chance.

My secret agenda when I accepted the job of  headmaster in an popular TV show was to be able to pass on some values which i felt were wanting on TV. I wanted people to see the value of hardwork, a positive attitude, creativity, gratitude and the capacity to awaken to one’s inner talents, and the awareness of living in the  present. I feel that in a world of intrigue and out and out ‘gamitan’ which showbiz can be, one can still have a lightness, a compassionate attitude  and project redeeming qualities to one’s audience. I hope we were able to do some of them.

To the teachers, Ryan, Kitchie, Joey, Monette, congrats and enjoy the roller coaster ride. I know you will give them the best you’ve got!

Celebrating what’s good about us

Sunday, June 15, 2008

On the 110th anniversary of the Philippine Republic, I began thinking about our country and its current state. The one thing that comes to mind immediately is the number of reasons why we should feel sorry for the state of affairs we find ourselves in, and I don’t have to enumerate them. We Filipinos have our common and shared disappointments, plus our own individual complaints, to be sure.

So, today, I thought I’d write about the reasons why we should celebrate our being Filipino. I do not want to discuss anything complicated. I am not talking here of some of the so-called mystical or spiritual reasons why we are special (being the only Catholic country in Asia, for example) as some people like to point out.

We have all heard the cosmic explanations of why we as a people are a cut above the rest and that we have a special mission. I do not subscribe to this easily because, according to Joseph Campbell, every nation and people believes it is the chosen race. And of course, believing this does not necessarily make it so. Having said that, it is not out of place to point out that every race has its unique qualities, and we are no different.

How we are different is what I want to talk about, and in that sense, I can talk about our being special.

The great Jesuit historian Horacio de la Costa pointed out that no people have a unique monopoly on characteristics, and that people change throughout the run of history. Qualities which may seem repulsive at one time may become endearing at another, and vice versa. Here are some qualities that, to me, still by and large serve us well at this time.

1) We are an adaptable people.

We seem to be culturally wired to absorb any culture and immerse ourselves in any language, and we can be fluent and even thrive in the new set-up. I also include here corporate and political cultures. We seem to have a knack for sensing which buttons to press in every new environment we get into. We have all heard the success stories. Go to any country and you will not find many Filipinos who are on welfare. That in itself says a lot. Of course, we can also find examples of Filipinos who do not adapt well, but they are more of an exception than the rule.

On the whole, we can also say that we are not as prone to the ghetto mentality which a lot of other nationalities resort to when they settle in a foreign country. This also underscores our ability to fit in. We do not need to physically transplant the Philippines for us to feel at home when we are abroad. We find virtue and advantage in adapting, wherever we are.

Lately, though, I’ve been wondering how the runaway prices of fuel and food will affect us. Already, it has left us all reeling in shock. We are already complaining but things will still get worse. I can only hope that our vaunted adaptability, which has served us well up to now, will help us weather all this without our social fabric being torn by rioting and strife.

2) We are a talented people.

Filipinos can and do shine easily in many fields, especially in the arts and music. In every entertainment club or hotel in Asia, the top talents are Filipinos. We also have the likes of Lea Salonga and Arnel Pineda who have shown the world the caliber of talent that we can produce. Lately, we have been wowed by Charisse Pempengco. While I was impressed when I saw her display her stuff on Oprah and other American TV shows, I noticed that my reaction was prompted not so much by her talent (which, though formidable, is not so rare in the Philippines) but by the way she wowed her non-Filipino audience.

We have also seen the Filipino shine in academics, sports and science all over the world, despite the fact that the training we get at home is probably generally below world standards.

3) We have “heart”!

I am talking about how much we put our heart into what we do, so much so that the beneficiaries of our work do feel the care and passion we put into it. If you have ever been hospitalized abroad, you know what it’s like to be assigned a Filipina nurse. I met a businesswoman who owns a nursing home in New Zealand. She liked to tell the story of how her white elderly patients initially resisted the presence of non-white Pinay nurses who cared for them in the facility. But by the end of the third week, the same people who complained were whining when the Filipina caregivers took a day off.

This is not surprising since we have been trained to be respectful of older people and to serve them with tender loving care.

In the field of music, I notice we generally play with more feeling than other nationalities, who may be more adept in the technical aspects. In the ‘80s, I was able to work with some Japanese jazz artists in a recording setup, and one thing I took note of was that while the Japanese musicians may have been more technically “perfect” and were well-versed in academic theory, they lacked the emotional depth that our musicians could easily summon. They were so amazed when the Filipino musicians they hired could instantly soar into fantastic improvisations. And we do this quite naturally.

4) We have a great sense of humor.

It has been said that comedy is “tragedy plus time.” The whole meaning of this statement boils down to the fact that most of the stuff we find funny has its origins in something tragic. Humor is our coping mechanism to transform tragedy into something more palatable. Think of our endless stream of political jokes, for example. When a problem or a national crisis breaks out, it doesn’t take long for text jokes to spread in response. An Italian comic once commented that “we laugh because we do not want to cry.” More than anything else, it may be our ability to find humor in almost anything that has saved us and continues to do so. One might say that humor is our “national reset button” when things go wrong.

5) We are generally a happy people.

Many surveys have pointed out that, despite our troubles, we Filipinos rate ourselves as quite happy. Many people will argue that what seems to be a state of happiness is actually ignorance or a “Pollyanna” view of life. I believe that for the great lot of Filipinos, it takes very little to feel grateful, or to be cheerful. We can even smile while we talk about our grave problems.

Compare the images of EDSA with that of the Iranian revolution. While we indulged in a fiesta-like atmosphere, in the latter, we saw nothing but grim and determined faces and a seriousness that is very alien to us.

There are many who will not agree that some of what I have listed here are positive traits, because they see that, as a people, we may need to let go of the lightness with which we approach life and adopt a more serious mien. In addition, many will argue that we need more discipline and assertiveness in place of our willingness to readily accept a situation and fit into it. They are probably right.

But I feel that the next few years will be transformative for the Filipino. I do not believe that the way our politics is playing out now will continue to be acceptable to our people. Change will have to happen in the next few years since leaving things as they are will only make our lives more unbearable. And that means we may have to cultivate new qualities to face the new situations that lie ahead.

Once again, I know our adaptability will save us.

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Why I blog

Sunday, June 8, 2008

I  have kept an  active blog for some years now. You can find it at http://jimparedes.com. I would like to share with you an e-mail I received from a reader. “Anonymous” wrote:

“Jim, just wondering why you (and your children) open yourselves up to the public this way. You are so open to the public that they feel they have earned the right to make comments on your characters and your lives. Just wondering, that’s all.”

That’s a valid question.

When I was younger (sometime in the late ‘80s), my generation went wild over CB radios. I had one in the car. My friends even had base stations where they played traffic controller for all CBers in the area. My radio in the car was on all the time. In fact, I wanted to drive just so I could CB. One could “enter” a conversation with anyone by saying, “Break… Break.” The mantra of that time was “10-4, good buddy!”

It was great fun because you could reach out to people and you didn’t even have to know them to talk to them. We even had aliases and it made everything all the more mysterious and thrilling. One could be anonymous and that was part of the thrill. All one could grasp of the other in terms of an identity was a voice and an alias, and one’s imagination took over to fill in the rest. One could be a nerd or some Plain Jane but, through a unique voice and a made-up handle, one could project him/herself to the world as exotic, wild or sexy. And sure enough, one would get noticed!

In the age of the Internet, the excitement antes up even higher. There is a dynamic working here that makes blogging a real blast!

One gets the chance to dialogue not with one or two people at any given time but with the whole world — that is, if you can get everyone to visit your blog site. With the relatively heavy traffic I generate, I get a kick knowing that a certain number of people from different continents read my thoughts and resonate with them. I get a thrill knowing that when I express what I think is a unique experience, I get a response from somewhere affirming the universality of what I thought was particular to me alone.

“Of course! Why not?” I almost have to say this out loud as I realize that my feelings of loneliness, happiness, doubt, joy, wonder, bias, fear, humor, irritation and my hopes and dreams are shared by so many other people everywhere. There is an affirmation felt on both ends. It’s like I look up and smile for a satellite camera and the whole sky beams back my image.

But why expose myself to comment, some of which can be downright negative and nasty, as my anonymous reader asks? It is because, deep down, we all need to connect to others. We are alive when we are connected. My own yearning to connect is heightened and colored by my artistic bent. I am an artist. Artists must create, and must release their creations to the world in more ways and with more urgency than non-artists do. It is in my nature to communicate. It is therapeutic for me.

A writer writes with the hope that the world will read what he writes. I make songs so that people will sing them. The very nature of creativity is to take wings and fly, catch someone’s imagination or land somewhere where it can embed itself in someone’s life and thus make its mark on the world.

In the Christian tradition, we are told that God made the world in His own image and likeness. A book, a song, an architectural design, a poem, a painting or any other work of creation is a creator’s way of trying to be God-like. How? By making his/her own imprint on the world. In my case, writing/blogging is just one way of making my mark by conversing and sharing my thoughts with inhabitants of this place called cyberspace. I write and leave behind my own image and likeness. There is a layman’s theological explanation to this: Just as it is God’s nature to be everywhere, it is within us as heirs to divinity to attempt to do likewise!

If I had been an American Indian two centuries ago, I would have been adept at smoke signals in my need to communicate with people in the distance. If I had been a caveman, I would have carved drawings in my cave. Expression and creativity are natural impulses.

Just as our cells multiply, I wish to multiply my presence in the world. In sexual terms, gustong magpalahi. Do you ever wonder why a man releases six million sperm cells when only one is needed to create life? My theory is because life likes to express its own abundant self.

The risk, of course, is that one can get criticized, condemned, laughed at, just as one can receive praise and adulation. That’s okay. It comes with the territory. The very act of being alive is to accept the risk of being exposed to the ups and downs, the ying and yang of living. Where there is light, there must be shadow. Opposites exist to validate each other.

In the cyber age, I dare say, it is better to blog, even if I get criticized, than not to blog at all!

Paintings, movies, shows, pictures and writing


Last Sunday, I had the good luck of sitting next to an old ex Jesuit priest (kinda) who used to be my teacher. He invited me to lunch after so we could talk and so I could meet  his artist friend Joey Velasco, a painter of strong Christian tableaus in very contemporary fashion. Since I was going to have late lunch with my in-laws, i went  with them for awhile to chat while they ate.

Joey gave me a whole set of copies of his works and I must say I am very impressed with them and am very grateful.

The images are so strong and their local flavor makes it so impactful to Pinoys visually and emotionally.

This is quite an innovation from the usual Last Supper we see in many Filipino homes.

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I’ve been wanting to do it.

I finallly watched Indiana Jones last night after an earlier attempt at going to Eastwood two days ago  and cancelling because I could not find parking. I watched the late show and I really enjoyed myself. Spielberg can really tell a story.  I loved the whole Amazon chase. It was terrific. Won’t talk too much about it since my son has not seen it yet and he may be reading this blog.

But I guess we can expect more Indiana Jones sequels since the mantle has been passed somewhat. Or didn’t you notice the not-too-subtle hint? OK, I’m quiet from here on.

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I am down to my last two shows this weekend before I go back to Sydney. Everyday, I check the weather over there and I’ve noticed that these days, there is a 30 degree diffrence in the temperature between Manila and Sydney. It’s been so hot lately that even with a fan directed to my body, I am sweating like crazy. I know my electric bill will be painful since I’ve been using the aircon quite often lately.

Bahala na. In a few days, I will probably be missing this while I complain of the cold naman.

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Been meeting with APO and brainstorming for our 40th anniversary bash at the Araneta Coliseum this September 20. I am really getting excited about it. We will have a full complement of technical support in both equipment and personel. It will be an audio-visual treat. Our lightsman Mike Rodis will be flying from the US. He is a Filipino who does lights  for big artists in the US like Michaqel Buble, Tony Bennet, Natalie Cole, and some young acts as well.  Often, he joins us coming from some big show the day before. He drops everything to join us when we tour the US because he simply enjoys APO a lot.

Will tell you more about  the show when the date is nearer. I promise you an anniversary that it is not be missed. Tickets are already moving this early. What a thrill.

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The last thing I feel like doing these days is to write.

I have been on photography mode lately and I find it is easier to express myself visually than with words. But then, each time I sit and write, I still manage to come up with something. I feel that the best way to write is to simply show up and write. I have been keeping a blog for a few years now plus writing for the Philippine Star for more than a year and Hills News in Sydney for a few months and I guess the habit of writing with a deadline has made me a more or less functional writer at my worst and a pretty decent one at my best.

If good writing is something of a game of chance for me, then it follows that the more I write, or take pictures or whatever I do repeatedly, the better I get at it. Practice makes one accident prone to doing something well.

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Is there a bodhisattva in your life?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

According to Buddhist belief, a bodhisattva is one who delays his own enlightenment or ascent to heaven in order to save others by leading them to their own salvation. They are the heroes who help get others liberated first before they enjoy their own liberation.

I think of the people who enter our lives and wonder who the bodhisattvas are. Some of them are obvious. I remember an uncomplicatedly clear example, that of a Japanese woman who clearly saw my confusion in a busy train terminal in Tokyo one day. Despite the fact that it was rush hour, she took the time to ask me where I was going, guided me to the right platform, and waited until I got on the right train. Bless her!

I have no doubt there are many more who appear in our lives. But do we notice them? There are simple ones and there are more meaningful encounters. Who are those who guide us through the lessons we need to master by pointing out the obvious mistakes we should have learned earlier but keep repeating? These are the everyday bodhisattvas in our midst.

The bodhisattvas who leave an indelible impression are teachers, therapists, best friends, confidantes, parents, gurus, etc. Some may even be strangers who have unintentionally found their lot in with ours. I am talking about unexpected chance encounters with people who are good for us. We recognize them because they patiently stay with us and tide us through the process of working out our pains and issues as we go through the fire, converting the black, ugly coal of our indiscretion and addictive behavior into diamonds that we can keep as hard-earned treasures.

True bodhisattvas will do whatever it takes, including, and especially, tough love where they risk their own alienation from us just so we may move on to a more enlightened and liberated state. They call us on our bullshit when we ourselves can’t see it. We may reject them at first, or fear them for their persistence, but we end up learning from them. Have you ever had a strict teacher who intimidated you but made you a better person? They help us reorient the way we see our own identities so that we may consciously choose to “lose our small selves” and find the big Self!

Then there are the pseudo-bodhisattvas, those who derail our journey to authenticity by “saving” us the trouble of having to go through pain. Most of them may be well intentioned, but unlike true bodhisattvas, they are far from “awakened.”

These are the people who unwittingly peddle toxic love — well-meaning friends, parents, people who love us but who do not know better. They allow or tolerate us when we are crazy because they do not have the heart or the guts to hurt us by telling us off. They pretend we are behaving normally when we are not. In psychoanalytic parlance, they are co-dependents or enablers. Why? Because they claim and believe that sparing us a few painful words is an act of love. It may feel like love but it might not be what’s good for us. They mistake their “idiot compassion,” as Ken Wilber puts it, for the real thing.

And then there are others who are out-and-out toxic and want nothing else but to lead us down the road to destruction and further separation from Self. These are the ones who play on our weaknesses, who deceive us, who pretend to want to help us go through the pain of addiction by feeding it, or making us believe they are easing our trauma by our not facing them.

They do so by numbing our minds, sometimes with drugs and at other times with wrong thinking to counter the painful nagging that screams from our consciousness telling us that something is wrong. They insinuate themselves into our lives until we begin to “need” them. They keep us occupied and entertained with noise, shallowness and vacuity, and busy with frenzied activities, or numbed with substances so that we can avoid all suffering.

In place of heaven, they keep us lost in an intermediate bardo world of confusion, a plane where we are neither “here nor there.” Their aim is to permanently trap us in the cage of the small self. They divert us from true self-discovery. They keep us isolated from ourselves. They prevent us from walking the path that leads to the heart of fear so we may never conquer it and move on to who we are really meant to become.

But even when we are in the grip of such people who are not good for us, I believe there are always other people whom we can run to if we open our eyes. In a confusing situation, to be able to tell them apart — that is the first step in freeing ourselves.

The other important task is to ask ourselves which one among the examples above are we to other sentient beings who walk this earth. At times, I know that I dish out idiot compassion when I should be serving tough love. If we are to become bodhisattvas, we must learn that there is pain we ourselves must go through if we are to liberate others. We untangle the knots in people’s lives and suffer with them in the process while we remain untangled throughout.

Where do bodhisattvas come from? What type of thinking leads one to become one? I suspect it comes when we awaken to a perspective beyond our own local, personal setting. And when we do, we are able to widen our identity to include others. The wounds of war, for example are the same in every part of the world. In a profoundly holistic way, one can claim that there is no peace if there’s a war going on anywhere on the planet. The same type of thinking goes for the environmental movement and all other liberation efforts everywhere.

There was a Chinese policewoman in the news, a young nursing mother who showed up for work to breastfeed infants rescued from the ruins of the recent earthquake. In an interview, she said that she could not help but do for these children what she does for her own child. She saw her own child in every child that was rescued.

The true bodhisattva therefore does what he or she does for “selfish” reasons, and that is to save him or herself. Except that to the bodhisattva, the “self” is the whole world, or the entire cosmos if you will. Instead of taking a solo flight to freedom, the bodhisattva opts to go back and take all of humanity to heaven.