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HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated August 30, 2009 12:00 AM
I was talking with my son a few months ago and he was saying, half-smiling but half-seriously, that he was running out of time in getting to where he wanted to be as a musician. He is a guitar player in a band in Sydney. He is 20 and soon, he worried, he would be too old to be a big star. I looked at him for a few seconds for any indication that he was being sarcastic, or joking, but I did not see anything of the sort. The kid was stating something he was really feeling.
I could only shake my head and explain to him what a ridiculous notion that was. He was far from being too old to be anything. But no matter how I explained it, there was no convincing him. He said that there was something spectacular about being young, talented and successful, like Mozart and other child prodigies.
That is true, of course, and I admired him for setting himself up for such a big goal or achievement, but I also had to tell him that it does not really matter how old one is when one becomes successful. The important thing is to try your best and be as successful as you can be.
When I think about it, I‘d say that I am pretty much a late-bloomer myself. I did not have the capacity to understand or think things through until I got to high school. And even in high school, I did not feel as bright as some of my other classmates. It was only in second-year college when I felt that both my mind and my personality began to bloom. It was then that I felt my mind awakening.
Come to think of it, growing up was a time when I heard a lot about child prodigies and super-talented kids who finished college at 12 years old, math whizzes, and the like. But instead of being fascinated by them, I wondered if I was normal! When I saw the yawning gap between them and me, I came to the wrong conclusion that I was not good enough. It was a crazy conclusion, I must say.
Sports-wise, I was such a klutz. I could not even dribble a basketball. The total time I spent at play on a basketball court in all my years in school was probably no more than two minutes. As soon as I got on the court, the coach would pull me out because it was obvious I had no business being there at all.
It was only in my mid-thirties that I began liking sports. I got into swimming, biking, running, and in my late 40s to early 50s, I went into scuba diving.
It also took me years of being a member of the APO to overcome my shyness. Sure, I could perform on stage with Danny and Boboy, but was not half as friendly as they could be outside of a concert setting. For one, I was uncomfortable being a public figure. And being admired made me feel uneasy. It took me many years to feel at home in my chosen career.
Looking back, I am thankful that success in my musical career did not come in my teens. It was hard enough to handle all the pressures of being famous, successful or viewed as being talented in my late 20s. How would I have handled it at, say, age 15?
I have seen a lot of child stars grow up to be adults and the first thing I notice about them is that most if not an overwhelming number of them never grew tall, or even look like adults like the rest of us. They mostly retained the small frame, the childish look, and the cuteness they had as child stars.
Look at Vilma Santos, Niño Muhlach, Aiza Seguerra, Roderick Paulate, Maricel Soriano and Jolina Magdangal. I wonder if it’s because their body-minds knew that being diminutive and child-like were the traits that made them successful and so they were not ready to let go of those “survival” traits when they became adults.
I have also met people who have bloomed rather late in life. My mother–in-law, while being artistic all her life, only began to become prolific and intense about art at age 64 when she took up Chinese brush painting. I have friends who, in their 50s, shifted careers or seriously committed to new hobbies and passions and are now starting to be recognized in their new fields. Better late than never.
If today’s kids have a fear that they are over the hill at such a young age, we baby boomers feel the opposite: We are still good and up to doing a lot of things.
Perhaps awakening to life may have something to do with it. The slowing down of the body (not too much, but just enough) may be the ingredient that can wake us up and be remind us that time is running out and we must seize our passion before it is too late.
A recent article in Psychology Today made the case for late bloomers being the driving forces behind many of the things that have shaped our lives. Charles Darwin was written off by his own father but astounded the world with his evolution theory at a late age. Ian Fleming began writing the James Bond series at age 45. Grandma Moses started painting at age 70.
The magazine article explains that intelligence that lies inside us may take time to gel. It seems that some genes and sections of the brain take time to be ready before they kick in and show their brilliance. The analogy given is that of an orchestra: some sections may be more coordinated while others take time to get into the groove of the play. But when they do, it is serendipitous!
The opposite may be what happens to child prodigies. While their genes may seem to kick in earlier, there is no guarantee that the prodigy will remain one forever. Some of them lose it and the very thing that propelled them to fame may fail them later on.
All these facets of intelligence develop better with proper direction. And the direction that psychologists talk about is what makes one passionate. Passion can become the central headquarters that summons the ingredients needed to get to what we want to do in life.
I believe that the unknown quantities that suddenly appear in our lives are there to awaken us to a bigger space potential we did not know existed. The passion that awakens us is what makes us dive into the unknown, scary at it seems, and emerge feeling alive, accomplished and victorious.
So, if you’re feeling restless at age 50, don’t complain. Observe and see what it is that makes you feel alive. Who knows? The best part of your life may still be waiting to be lived.
And so, Mio, don’t despair. There is life beyond being young and talented, and not yet making it. There is time for success, however late it happens. A slow glorious sunset is always more impressive than a fleeting high noon.
Hi people in Australia, (and Philippines)
I’d like to ask for your help if you’re willing to give it.
I am selling quality, A3 prints of my artwork at a give-away price to help my friend, Jasmine Mendiola, pay for her son’s hospital bills in Manila. Mio is 5 years old, wants to be an artist, and has been diagnosed with leukemia. Jasmine is a single mom, works 3 jobs, and needs all the help she can get.
She has documented how she and her community are working together to beat the cancer at http://www.miofightscancer.com/
All proceeds of this go to Mio’s hospital fund with the exception of the small amount I need to make even more prints to sell for this fundraiser.
I will be selling for 15 dollars. If I have to post it to you, it’ll cost a little extra for postage.
15 dollars can be a meal at the foodcourt here in Aus, but it goes a longer way in the Philippines. It would really be able to help her out.
E-mail me at email@example.com if you’d like to buy or if you’d simply like to help. On display is a photo of the artwork I’m selling, and Mio’s pic,
Thanks everyone! Have a wonderful day and let’s be thankful for all the good things that come out way every day.
Note: This is for people in Aus since I don’t think I can handle conversation rates and transferring money internationally right now. If you’re not in Aus and would like to help, please visit miofightscancer.blogspot.com to find out how.
PS. For people in the Philippines, I am willing to handle orders for 1200 Pesos each. I can have it here in Manila by third week of November and sent to you. All proceeds will go to Mio’s mom who has tons of bills to pay.
Extraordinary lives: Ninoy and Cory Aquino lived and died for the country. It would be the greatest tragedy to let their legacy go to waste and not do what needs to be done.
It’s been 26 years since Ninoy Aquino was treacherously assassinated on the tarmac of the Manila International Airport. Just a while ago, I joined a short, solemn march from the Makati fire station to his statue on Ayala Avenue to honor this man who made the supreme sacrifice of offering his life for his country.
I’ve always wondered what thought processes he might have gone through in turning his back on the idyllic life that he, Cory and their kids had in Boston and returning to certain imprisonment, if not death in the Philippines. As everyone knows, prior to their life in the US, Ninoy was in jail for seven years and seven months, and was released from prison only because he needed a heart bypass operation, which he refused to have done at Imelda Marcos’s Heart Center. There was also, of course, much pressure from the US government to have him released from prison and the emergency surgery was a convenient excuse that the dictator used to force him into exile. Thus was Ninoy given a chance to live something closer to a normal, easier life for three whole years.
To be sure, no one asked him to return home. He had done enough for the cause and no one would have faulted him if he chose to remain in the US with his family. But Ninoy, who was then in his 50s, was looking at a bigger destiny than what was readily available.
Prior to Cory’s death, I was starting to believe that Ninoy’s legacy was in peril. The youth did not know his story, except that he was the father of Kris Aquino. Those who believed in him, or were touched by his death and campaigned for Cory in ’86, had become cynical and had joined the rest of our countrymen in their indifference to the scandals that surrounded succeeding administrations.
Many thought that the Filipino whom Ninoy believed was worth dying for, had forgotten why he died in the first place. Or so it seemed until Cory passed away. When she died, people awakened to the realization that we did have a moment in history when our president was not corrupt. We actually had a leader who selflessly dedicated her life to our country, even after she left office and until the day she died. And they showed their appreciation by giving her a great sendoff: Cory’s funeral procession will be remembered as one of the greatest outpourings of love and appreciation in our history.
Inside the Manila Cathedral during the funeral Mass, I looked at every politician in the room and I imagined how they must have been sighing in envy at the adulation Cory was getting, and wondering how many would actually go to their own funerals when they die.
To commemorate Ninoy’s death and Cory’s life, I have listed 26 things I commit to on Ninoy Aquino’s 26th death anniversary. Some of these have to do with the coming elections while others are things that I think all Filipinos should be doing in our daily lives.
1) I will register and vote in the 2010 elections.
2) I will actively review all the platforms and background of the candidates and choose with my conscience who to vote for.
3) I will actively support the candidates I vote for.
4) I will actively engage my preferred candidates in discussions in support of their good programs and to influence them to support other programs that I believe to be positive.
5) Despite automation, I will support citizens’ efforts to safeguard the ballot.
6) I will think through all issues clearly and keep myself informed so that I can make better decisions about them.
7) I will do my work to the best of my ability so that I become a source of pride and inspiration, and not of shame, to my family, friends and public.
8) I will support all efforts to promote peace and justice that will positively impact the lives of the majority of our people.
9) I will use whatever celebrity status I have to promote causes that will uplift the consciousness of our people in ways that empower them.
10) I will work for the passage of the reproductive health bill in this Congress, or in the next one.
11) I will not refrain from speaking my mind on issues, especially those that pertain to how the arts and media sectors can be more responsible to our public.
12) I will continue to write and sing songs that inspire and elevate the spirit and sensibilities of my audience.
13) I will make myself knowledgeable about grassroots issues in my immediate neighborhood and help in any way I can in resolving the problems in my community.
14) I will strive to live a more environmentally correct lifestyle. For one, I will bring my own water (bottled from home sources) so that I will not need to buy bottled water and pollute the landfills with plastic.
15) I will live as simply as I can.
16) I will support efforts that will make higher quality education more accessible to more people.
17) I will read literature in Pilipino so I can communicate and discuss things more intelligently with more of our countrymen.
18) I will take personal responsibility for all my actions.
19) I will strive to get out of the habit of blaming anyone when something goes wrong, and instead offer solutions when possible.
20) I will continue recycling conscientiously at home.
21) I will write to the media and encourage others to make their views, opinions and objections known when government and other institutions, including the media itself, cross the line.
22) I will obey all laws and follow traffic rules to the letter.
23) I will never bribe my way out of any situation.
24) I will support and show appreciation when I see government officials and functionaries doing their jobs well.
25) I will keep my home and every environment I inhabit clean and garbage free.
26) I will support and encourage excellence and correct thinking when I see it among our countrymen and I will bring home, from every place I visit in the world, lessons that can help make life better for our countrymen here at home.
I thank God that I have not been called to die for our country since EDSA 1, although there have been moments I think I probably would, should the need arise.
But it is one of the legacies Ninoy left behind, when he and Cory helped us get our freedoms back, that we no longer have to die for our country. Instead, we are called to live for it with commitment and integrity. This civic call can no longer remain unheeded. It is time to stop playing deaf. It is time to listen, and to act.
It would be the greatest tragedy to let this second shot at national redemption go to waste by not doing what needs to be done. Let us all be part of an awakened citizenry that will transform this nation in the peaceful but determined way that Ninoy and Cory showed us.
What’s on your list?
Close encounters with National Artists
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated August 16, 2009 12:00 AM
I am lucky to have met and worked with four National Artists as teachers, mentors and collaborators. Of course they were not National Artists then. They were simply brilliant people I looked up to because they were very good at what they did.
Three of them were my teachers at the Ateneo de Manila — Rolando Tinio, Bienvenido Lumbera and Virgilio Almario. The other one is Salvador Bernal, “Badong” to those who have worked with him as a set designer and costume-maker.
Virgilio Almario, or Rio Alma as he is known in the literary world, was a gentle teacher who taught me Pilipino poetry. I remember that he looked so young and clean-cut, not at all like the mental picture I had of what a poet would look like. Instead of the long, shaggy haired, beatnik weirdo that I imagined him to be, Rio Alma was quite the opposite. He was so neat, and would sometimes even wear a Barong Tagalog to class.
He was so good in Pilipino and I was impressed not just with his fluidity in the language but also that he used words I had never even heard of. I was a hopeless inglisero then, having been schooled all my life under the Jesuits who at that time discouraged the use of anything except American English.
I imagined that Rio must have been frustrated at his Atenista students, many of who had no real appreciation for poetry, much less the Pilipino variety. But he got me personally interested in his own work and that of E. San Juan and Amado V. Hernandez (another National Artist!) whose books I bought at the Erehwon Bookstore on Katipunan with my hard-saved baon.
It was from Rio Alma that I first began really appreciating Tagalog and the possibility of even writing in the vernacular. And my one subject with him served me well when I actually began writing songs in the ‘70s when we started OPM.
It was from Amado Hernandez’ Ibong Mandaragit that I picked up the word “tigang” which I used in my song Nakapagtataka to rhyme with “maramdaman.”
The late Rolando Tinio was a fun teacher. I enrolled in two of his subjects: English Literature and a Pilipino subject, the name of which I can no longer recall. Rolando was loud, challenging, outlandish, funny, and often went for the jugular when he felt he needed to jolt us to a bigger consciousness. He did so by raising his voice, arguing with us, in his theatrical manner with fingers flying all over, to make his point. He could be ridiculously funny and entertaining in a very witty way. His putdowns and his comments were always quotable.
I remember one classmate (who now holds a prominent place in the GMA administration) who raised a point that was too long and winding. Rolando looked him straight in the eye and asked him seriously if he had a headache, which got the class giggling. When my classmate replied in the negative and asked why, Rolando answered, “Because you’ve been sitting on your brains for too long.” We roared with laughter!
And yes, he did awaken many of us. At a time when 90 percent of what we knew and aspired for in the world was largely American, Rolando introduced us to literature from different countries. He awakened our sensibilities to the seriousness and relevance of theater (his passion), the issue of language, and discernment in all things during those days when the political atmosphere was polarized. He was just brilliant.
During Martial Law, the APO was invited to sing for the political detainees at the YRC in Fort Bonifacio, a detention center for political dissidents. It was there that I ran into a former teacher at the Ateneo, Bienvenido Lumbera. It was a pleasant reunion under difficult circumstances.
A few years after his release from detention, I called Bien to ask it he would be interested in collaborating on a musical I had in mind. He was about to leave for Hawaii then on a grant, but he was excited to collaborate with this upstart songwriter who had these crazy ideas about what would have happened, like if Rizal and Bonifacio had actually met, or how Josephine Bracken and Maria Clara would have wooed the national hero.
It is amazing that we got the work done through exchanges of snail mail. He worked on the libretto of Bayani in Hawaii and I wrote the music in Manila. To me, writing the music came so naturally, it seemed to come out of my sleeve. And Bien’s lyrics were brilliant! We were not only on the same wavelength, we were on a roll.
The entire production, from the songs to the direction, production design, staging, execution, was pure magic. Bayani was very well received. But sadly, Bien was away and he never got to see the musical. He had to content himself with the reviews.
I worked with Badong Bernal in Bayani where he went wild and wonderful with the sets and costumes. For those who saw the musical, it was quite impressive to see bridges appear and disappear, and the walls of Intramuros move about the stage when the scenes changed.
The APO also worked with Badong in some shows before and after the People Power Revolution. He did set and production designs for Kuh Ledesma — we were her favorite guests then — and he designed some of our costumes. One of our favorite performance costumes made by Badong, which people remember to this day, was a unique shirt that allowed us to change its look by simply snapping on various built-in designs. It was so creative.
Common to all these National Artists I have met and worked with is their passion and effort to achieve excellence in whatever they did and continue to do. And they were so good, they could not help but rub off some of their talent on the people they worked with.
Last August 8 at the CCP where artists of all kinds of disciplines gathered to mourn the “Death of the National Artists Awards” in protest against this year’s shoddy list, I saw Bien, Badong and Rio. My Pilipino poetry teacher had gained weight, I thought, and with his hat he came across a bit like Pablo Neruda. Badong and Bien had aged, but they still had that glint in their eyes that suggested they could still wow their countrymen if they wanted to. I was thrilled to see other National Artists there like BenCab, Napoleon Abueva, Arturo Luz and F. Sionil Jose who left me in awe when he called me over to say that he reads my Sunday column.
I am so privileged to have worked with some of the best people in their fields, and I am thankful to have been exposed to their genius. They have inspired my work ethic and creativity no end.
Last April, Sydney Pinoys enjoyed the inimitable Jon Santos and his performance which left everyone very entertained and we all talked about it for weeks and weeks. Well, our second production is happening soon.
Mark the date this early. November 14, 2009 is a red letter day for Pinoys in Sydney Read and know why.
Mega-Rhythm Productions, Jim Paredes and WESTERN UNION
are proudly co-presenting the beautiful hit-making chanteuse
Ms Joey Albert– Live in Sydney
She will have extremely funnyman Norman Mitchel from Manila as special guest and Sydney-siders Brian Browne, Claudette Punsalan, Ian and John Manaloto.
It will be a night of nostalgia, and great standard songs which Ms. Joey Albert has immortalised. It will be a moment of romance and loads of laughter which (again) I promise you will not forget for a long time..
When: November 14, 2009
Venue: The Lyceum at Castle Hill RSL
Tickets: 55 AUD (GOLD) and 65 AUD (VIP)
Please call 0410 618 299 (CONRAD YSIP) or 98363494 (Ala or Mio Paredes) for reservations, inquiries, etc. Get your tickets early. As of now, without the formal announcement, we are already getting reservations. Don’t say I didn’t warn you guys!
Other sponsors are Bernie Biz, Ezyhomeloans, AVG Pest Control, Le Colonial, Highlights, Glocomm.
Official posters and flyers out soon.
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated August 09, 2009 12:00 AM
Cory Aquino after Ninoy’s death at Times Street, 1983.
The first time I saw Cory Aquino was on TV. She had just arrived from the United States and looked every bit like the grieving widow. On TV, she expressed her grief over her husband’s death, put the responsibility of Ninoy’s assassination on the Marcos regime and demanded the release of all political prisoners.
The last point particularly impressed me since my mother and stepfather were political prisoners in Bicutan at that time. I just had a feeling then that there was more to the soft monotone and the non-political body language that spelled “housewife” more than “politician.”
I saw her once in Bicutan when I was visiting my parents. She came bearing rubber slippers for the detainees and to talk with and console them. At the time, the detainees were composed of two factions, the social democrats and the national democrats who were constantly trying to discredit each other. Cory reached out to both, perhaps realizing that they were all in jail because they loved their country, and she could certainly identify with that.
Cory was a calming presence. She could sit with hardcore communists and hardnosed politicians and melt their intransigence by simply knowing how to listen to them. She was almost non-threatening with her soft voice and kind demeanor, which were assets during those highly polarized times. And yet behind it was a woman of steel who must have decided earlier on, during Ninoy’s incarceration, that the way to peace was not more of the macho posturing that invariably brought violence but through a commitment to listen in a healing way.
The death of Ninoy had a profound effect on me. It forced me to confront my artistic identity and authenticity. Sure, I knew the craft of a songwriter-performer, but was I a true artist who dared express myself freely? If so, why was I reluctant to express my outrage at what was happening? From small tentative steps APO taken after Ninoy’s death, we became emboldened artists who took up the cause of ending the dictatorship and promoting democracy in the way we knew best — though songs and humor. One might say, we walked on the edge and even jumped a few times. Lucky for us, the net always appeared.
I remember listening to a lot of speeches, reading a lot of opposition materials, attending countless rallies and even as I did a lot of the latter, I must admit I often wrestled with my own fears of the martial law forces. But I did it anyway because each time I saw Cory Aquino stand on a makeshift podium and confront the regime head on, it inspired me to do my share in the struggle for democracy.
There was something riveting about an unlikely candidate, a widowed housewife standing up to a dictator who held all the cards. Her courage was simply contagious. It was like seeing the story of David versus Goliath playing out in real life.
Cory’s term as president was tumultuous, largely because of the disloyalty and lust for power shown by elements of the armed forces and her former defense chief Juan Ponce Enrile. It was beset with endless coups and natural calamities.
I bristled at the fact that the soldiers always got away scot-free only to stage the next destabilization effort, even if they failed miserably each time. And yet, I wonder now if a less forgiving, more “macho” leader would have succeeded in preserving the democracy that we fought hard for in EDSA. We could have easily gone back to another dictatorship, given the temptation to use a strong hand to deal with the many crises. Perhaps we did need the kind, maternal symbol that was Cory Aquino to help heal the rifts among her fighting children.
In truth, there were very few moments that I was in Cory’s presence where we actually talked. I blush when I remember how speechless I always became in her presence. But each time we did meet, she made sure I felt her appreciation for my participation in the cause.
In the last few years of her life, there were times when Cory’s magic seemed like a spent force. The rallies she called people to attend were miniscule compared to the magnificence of the People Power shows of force of earlier days. People seemed to have lost interest in her singular message of preserving the legacy of Ninoy and his belief that the Filipino is worth dying for. But she plodded on. It did not seem to matter to her how many showed up. It was always about the message.
And yet, the news of her death, though expected, came as a shock. It was like a pall of gloom had suddenly descended on us all. We realized that we were orphaned. We had lost an icon, a mother, a leader, a friend, a decent human being. She was a benign shining spirit whom we presumed would always be there. Especially in these days of quiet desperation, her maternal mien was a comfort zone. At the wake, not a few people asked in all sincerity, “Who will be the symbol of democracy now that she is gone?” Indeed.
Cory’s death has surfaced a lot of feelings aside from grief. Some of it is probably plain nostalgia for those who walked with her in the journey to EDSA, but I suspect there is a lot more to it. People know integrity when they see it and respond accordingly.
It was heartwarming to see throngs of people in avenues break into wild applause as her casket passed by. It was an affirmation of the good she had done, a recognition of her decency and integrity as a person and her untiring efforts in expressing tangibly her love for our country.
To me, the people’s spontaneous reaction is proof that we are rediscovering what it’s like not to be cynical. The tears shed, the huge crowds, the compassion and intense interest manifested everywhere has rekindled for some the candle of idealism which everyone thought had long melted away.
Even aging EDSA warriors like myself were starting to believe that the ideals of EDSA belonged to a bright but short era that had already passed. But what is shaping up seems to suggest that reports about the death of EDSA 1’s meaning may have been premature and exaggerated.
Even if I have a good feeling about it, I prefer to be cautious and say that it remains to be seen if indeed the spirit of EDSA has been rekindled. The coming days will tell us for sure. But speaking for myself, Cory’s death has reawakened my idealism. I want to help get this country back on the road to fulfilling its manifest destiny of greatness.
Joseph Campbell once said that doors closed to others will open to you when you respond to the call of your life’s mission. Cory was “just a housewife,” as Marcos once sneered. And he was right. But what he did not count on was this housewife’s admirable courage that brought him to his knees. The stars aligned for her because she did not flinch once she decided to take up the challenges of her time.
When I visited President Cory’s remains in La Salle Greenhills, I saw old friends and fellow street warriors weeping. Since I was one of the first in line, I had the privilege of blessing her remains with holy water. As I bade farewell to my leader, my muse and my inspiration, I tried to hold back my tears but I was unsuccessful.
Death can make a person larger than when he/she was alive. The symbolic is always more potent than the literal. It’s probably because symbols have a built-in open-endedness that grows more and more as people engage them and imbue them with powers greater than what they had in life.
And so Cory and Ninoy’s heroic tale will be counted among the noble stories that will continue to inspire us as a people for generations to come.
Ninoy’s funeral was the way it was largely because of the way he died. Cory’s was the way it was because of how she lived.
Today we are again at a crossroads as a people. We either awaken and resume our march to the Promised Land or continue adrift wandering aimlessly in the desert. EDSA 1’s work remains unfinished business. Just as Ninoy passed the torch to the reluctant Cory, she has now passed the torch to us. Like Cory, we only need to say “yes” to rise to the occasion and rekindle the candle of idealism that was lit in ESDA 1.
It’s time to be our own heroes.
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes Updated August 02, 2009 12:00 AM
I’ve been having intense bouts of loneliness lately. Perhaps it’s because I miss my family, or maybe because there are long periods when I am not doing anything and so I do not feel productive or even alive. There is something to being busy that makes one feel useful and this absence of productivity is a void that needs to be filled.
Which is why I have been pondering the question of loneliness for some weeks now. Actually, it’s not just loneliness I have been dealing with but a whole range of emotions from A to Z. No, I’m not going through all of them — I’m just trying to understand them, to figure out what they do to people and why they work the way they do.
If I sound dispassionate when I discuss this despite the fact that the subject is emotional, it is because I want to understand emotions in a useful way that will hopefully be of help to myself and to others.
We express ourselves and say things like, “I am lonely,” or “I am happy,” and the like. When you really look into it, the very way we express our emotions is symptomatic of our misunderstanding of the nature of emotions and our own nature as human beings experiencing them.
When we say we are lonely, we declare an identification with that emotion. We are bonded with it. We are IT! In a real way, we believe we are the emotion we feel. Yet, the fact is, loneliness — or whatever emotion we feel — is not our identity. It may seem very real but we are in fact, not it.
The emotions we feel may be strong or weak, intense or light, pleasant or unpleasant, but we are not our emotions. Why? Simply because emotions come and go — and we remain. So at best, they are mere states we go through. This is a very important point.
Try to imagine that you are a screen in a movie house. Every few weeks, there is a different movie that is playing. One week it’s a Western, then it’s a psycho-thriller, then a drama, then a comedy. And yet, whatever is projected on it, the screen remains unaffected in any permanent way. When the story ends, the screen remains just as it was before the movies were projected on it. It’s inherent, clear and blank nature is intact.
Perhaps a better way to express loneliness is to say “I feel lonely” instead of “I am lonely.” This puts feelings in the right perspective and makes them manageable. We dis-identify from them without denying them, and because we do this, they become easier to deal with.
This goes for all feelings that we go through. Feelings really just come and go; often they are a lot of ado about nothing. I am not suggesting that feelings are to be treated lightly. I know that sometimes, it is hard not to feel anything, and sometimes they can really be powerful, overwhelming even. They are not to be denied, but we should not allow them to reign over us permanently or absorb them completely into our identity as persons.
Emotions are difficult to deal with because often, both we and the people who press our buttons, identify completely and falsely with our emotional states. We believe that there is such an intimate personal ownership of what and how we feel that our reactions to them come from a literally toxic arsenal that either makes us attack someone or defend ourselves. We are movie screens behaving badly, believing we are the movie that is playing.
And this identification/ownership of emotions extends way beyond the frontier of emotions into our opinions, preferences, biases, possessions and even our convictions. We forget that many times in our lives, we have changed our minds about how we feel or think about people, places, and issues big and small.
Shouldn’t this give us, at the very least, some pause each time we get caught up in an argument? Is the sound and fury we expend in order to win worth losing or destroying friendships and relationships? When we lose an argument, we only just lose an argument. Nothing more. We are not our opinions and our passions. Nothing has been taken away from who we are.
I once witnessed a Russian poet, whose name escapes me, reading his own poems. He talked about how we identify with things and relate to them like they are our own clothing. He said that we “wear” our houses, our status, our wealth, our positions, our power like they are really important and lasting. He then asked the crucial question: Who really is the wearer if we remove all of the “clothes” we wear. It was a piercing analogy of what man has been trying to ask himself since time immemorial.
But no clear answer will be forthcoming unless we can refine our definition of who we are. And this we can do by seeing who we are not.
At this time when we are entering the election season, passions will flare, opinions will be expressed strongly, and everyone will try to convince everyone else about what this country needs to progress, and other such issues. We will glorify some people and crucify others. That’s how it has always been and that’s how this coming election season will play out.
Regardless, I am personally going to make the effort to remind myself that, at best, all intense passions expressed during this period are only opinions and are not intrinsically part of the people who express them. And more importantly, they are temporary. In other words, I must dis-identify from harboring permanent negative feelings that may overcome me towards any person who openly supports a candidate I may dislike or an issue I may not agree with.
In 2001, at the height of the frenzy when Erap was being condemned at EDSA right before he gave up the presidency, I remember standing in the midst of the angry crowd and just quietly listening to a Zen koan playing in my head, which asked the perplexing question, “Does a dog have Buddha nature?” I was amazed that even when I was being strongly anti-Erap, I could still view my feelings with some distance. While I held on in my political views, I was not invested in them enough not to see that there was a bigger human being behind every sin he was being accused of.
And even as I hold on to my belief in justice, responsibility, accountability and all that, I recognize in everyone that indelible purity that never leaves us, just like the blank screen in a movie house. Could it be that we are also, in the end, neither our opinions nor our sins?
That’s one of the most searing questions I have asked myself. It makes forgiveness and self-forgiveness much easier.
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It’s going to happen tomorrow. “Tapping the Creative Universe Workshop” is on. Join me on August 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10 at 7 to 9 p.m. and discover the joy and aliveness of the creative life. I will awaken in you the life force that will make you creative and joyful.
Please call 426-5375 or 0916- 8554304 and ask for Ollie, or write me at firstname.lastname@example.org for questions or reservations. You can also visit http://www.tappingthecreativeuniverse.com for the syllabus, FAQ and testimonials from people who have taken it. Do not miss out. Definitely the last one in a while.