Conquering suffering

by Jim Paredes on Sunday, January 30, 2011 at 8:42pm

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated January 30, 2011 1

I am sure I have tackled this topic before. But one thing about great topics is that you can never define or completely map out their entire universe. Sometimes, you feel that you may have entered it through a new path and taken a different exit upon exploring it again.

It is quite astonishing and alarming that floods are occurring in the Philippines, Brazil, Australia and now in Saudi Arabia. These locations in separate parts of the world are experiencing similar weather patterns bringing varying degrees of devastation. And more of these types of weather aberrations are expected to occur.

I just came back from Australia to enjoy part of its summer season but I only experienced five regular hot summer days. This time of the year, the weather is normally quite hot, with temperatures varying from warm and balmy to something verging on a heat wave. But what I got was not the full-on summer that I expected. Apart from the five sunny days, the rest of my visit consisted of cloudy, muggy days that were slightly cold, and many times were even cold enough to require a jacket.

Weather like this can cause a lot of inconvenience, even extreme suffering, but I couldn’t complain considering that Queensland went through devastating floods that crippled around 20 percent of the economic output of the country. It was their Ondoy magnified about a hundredfold, if we consider the geographical area involved.

We may be living in modern times with its modern conveniences to ease suffering, but we can only do so much.

Mayhem, destruction and suffering have always been a big part of human history. There has hardly been a period when mankind has not suffered a war, whether a small or a huge conflict, involving large chunks of humanity. We have had plagues, epidemics, horrible acts of nature that have ravaged and killed millions of people everywhere.

A big part of life is about suffering. This is a given but, even if we know it to be true, it is still hard to accept. I can imagine that this aspect of our existence is a major driving force that has made religions prosper. Some unbelievers have pointed out that suffering is probably the reason religions have had to come into being. We needed to make sense of suffering. We wanted explanations. “If there were no God, it would have been necessary to invent him,” Voltaire wrote.

One might also surmise that science was also probably born of suffering. Man had to understand with his mind why things were happening in a certain way. And where some turned to a concept of God, others turned to reason and logic.

But I am more interested in discussing what suffering is and how people cope with it, rather than how religions or science probably came to be.

In Dr. M. Scott Peck’s phenomenal book, The Road Less Traveled, he starts off by stating categorically that life is hard, and that as soon as we accept that, it becomes easier. We stop resisting and we drop expectations. We simply must accept that it is a large part of human existence. In short, he says, it is taking the path of no resistance to suffering that will lead to its easing.

But one thing I notice is that even if we can accept M. Scott Peck’s words, intellectually or conceptually, the reality of suffering is far more daunting and painful when we are going through it. There is a big difference between an idea and a felt experience. When the word is made flesh, it discovers its nerves, feelings and emotions.

“The map is not the territory,” American-Polish philosopher Alfred Korzybski famously wrote. When we walk the road, we leave behind the drawn representation of reality and feel the sharp bumps on our feet, the heat of the sun, and we may even get lost.

I remember how we all suffered during Ondoy, although some suffered way more than others, as they experienced the loss of everything, including the lives of loved ones. How does one begin to recover from such a cataclysmic event? Now, when I see footage of the destruction in Australia, I ask myself how the people in Queensland will take their lives back.

I read somewhere that a day after Germany surrendered to the allies at the end of the Second World War, the employees of the Daimler-Benz company showed up at their ruined factories to take the first step toward normalizing their jarred lives. They simply picked up the pieces of what they once were and began to build anew.

And that is what we saw people do when Ondoy’s waters subsided. People began to clean the mud from their homes and pick up what they could still use and rebuild their lives anew. People restored one square meter of space at a time in the hope of re-conquering or recovering as much of the territory they lost to the devastation.

What saves us is the instinct to survive and thrive over diversity. While we may feel fear, uncertainty, pain, suffering and all that, the important thing is to continue doing what we must do in spite of how we feel.

When you survey the areas ravaged by the floods a year and a half ago, it is heartening to see that normalcy has returned in large measure. That’s because people did what needed to be done. The victims must have eased their suffering by first accepting their unfortunate situation and not wallowing in it, and then worked at disentangling the twisted ruins they found themselves in.

The tendency to fold up in the face of huge challenges is natural. Fear is natural. But people conquer suffering when they stare back at it until they are bigger than their fear.

Scott Peck observed that the way Christians and Buddhists look at Jesus and Buddha can be a bit skewed. He says that contrary to our impressions, there were probably more times when Jesus had a good time than the suffering he went through. He also surmised that Buddha may have suffered more in his life than the times when he enjoyed peace and enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. This is not an unreasonable proposition.

While much of life can be suffering, it is also other things as well. But for us to enjoy the other things, it is best to develop the skills that can contain the suffering aspect of our lives. Otherwise, much of what’s left that does not have to be painful becomes suffering, too.

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1) Got a new DSLR camera last Christmas? Great! Go beyond a point-and-shoot experience. Let me teach you how to use it. I would like to invite you all to my first workshop in Manila for 2011. I am offering a Basic Photography Workshop on Feb. 5, 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Venue is at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC.

2) I am inviting you to join my Songwriting Workshop on Feb 26 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. This is a fun, challenging workshop where the student is taught the elements of good songwriting from melodic, structure, lyrics, arrangements, etc. Classic hits are listened to from all genres and styles of music. The “hook” is discussed and applied at length. Most importantly, the student is challenged to actually write songs during the two day 12-hour workshop. Students must know how to play an instrument.

Visit, or write me at for questions and reservations. You can also call Olie at 0916-8554303 or 426-5375.

Getting over ourselves

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated January 23, 2011 12:00 AM

While listening to Karen Carp-enter’s languid voice singing her hits on CD, I was struck for the umpteenth time by a line from the song Superstar that goes, “Loneliness is such a sad affair…” While the phrase sounds redundant to me, it has never failed to catch my attention.

To me, loneliness and being sad are interchangeable, yet I can’t get myself to look at the line as sophomoric or an example of bad lyric writing. More than the seeming redundancy, what strikes me is the way the line pierces into me. I thought that it might be Karen Carpenter’s delivery that affects me, but when I heard Usher’s version of the same song, and I still felt the same way. Both affirm that loneliness is indeed a sad affair.

Anyone who has ever experienced loneliness knows that it is dark, desolate, dire and daunting. It is also heavy, painful in a deeply personal way. It can feel as if the whole burden of life has latched onto one’s back and won’t let go. One is trapped in this prison of negative feelings, and despair and ennui soon follow.

After nearly six decades of life on this earth, I have observed loneliness in other people and in myself and I have learned a lot about it.

It is important to note my use of the word “observed.” It is a coping stance that I have learned through years of dealing with the ups and downs of life in general. For many decades, I allowed loneliness to totally engulf me when it came, as many people do. Perhaps it was my artistic temperament, or my festering immaturity, or both that made it so intense and personal.

But in the past 12 years or so, I have learned to manage loneliness better. When I would find myself in this sad affair, I learned to step back and observe it instead of be it. While I feel something, I know that it is only a feeling, not a state of being.

In other words, I have learned that there really is a palpable difference when one says “I am lonely,” as opposed to “I have a feeling of loneliness.” The first is “full on,” since it equates the emotion with one’s identity. “I am lonely” is no different from saying “I am Jim.” To be lonely is to be one and indivisible with it.

The other is about merely watching the emotion, observing it while recognizing and even feeling it happening, as it plays out in oneself.

What I am saying is that loneliness can be experienced in two ways: the personal, and the “non-personal” or not-so-personal. The first is, in my view, a smaller human experience. It is small because it literally makes one feel small, trapped in a prison of sadness, and unable to do anything except wallow in the feeling. And sometimes, one can feel like there is nothing else significant going on in life and in the world outside of this feeling of sadness.

“I am lonely and the whole world is lonely.” Everything is reduced to grayness and sadness. It is joyless, and it is narcissistic. I think it was the psychologist Erik Erikson who observed that when a child is sad, he/she thinks the whole world is sad too.

On the other hand, the second type of loneliness has the potential of being an infinitely larger experience. Loneliness (and any other feeling for that matter) is put in its place and recognized as a mere aspect of the self, or a feeling playing out, and not as an all-consuming, defining self-identity. The whole detachment thing that Buddhism espouses touches on this in a big way. One’s identity is not necessarily what one is feeling. Because feelings come and go, they are merely passing states, not fixed and immutable definitions of one’s self. One can recognize it, and yet know that this too shall pass, as everything does eventually.

Am I saying then that feelings should not be taken personally? But when all is said and done, aren’t we persons and therefore wired to experience things personally?

I remember an old joke about the Buddhist concept of the “no-self” that asks, “If there is no self, then who is feeling this toothache?”

The answer is, pain, pleasure and other emotions are all real, but they are also illusions. No one can deny how easily a migraine can overpower a cheery attitude. It is compelling, no doubt, and it can take over all of you. But at the same time, by merely looking out the window, one can also see that there is so much more going on in the world aside from one’s state of distress. As I write this, I can feel the rumbling of my empty stomach while I see birds chirping away, perched on my neighbor’s TV aerial. And the wind is blowing through the trees while clouds are slowly massing into something that may bring heavy rain. It is clear that a lot of things other than my pain are going on in the world. And by merely observing and being sort of detached from what is happening, I allow myself some relief from my hunger. It is not that the pain has stopped. It’s just that I got bigger and am able to experience more than just my pressing discomfort by simply being present to other things.

When we take things less personally, we gift ourselves with a magic wand of sorts that can transform our smallness, our narcissism, into a beautiful expansive maturity. It is always an advantage to be able to occasionally rise above petty (and even important) personal situations and see what is playing in the big picture of life. When we can rise above ourselves, we allow life to play out as it should. We don’t get tired due to our resisting, controlling or lamenting why things are not the way we want them to be.

“Where the world ceases to be the scene of our personal hopes and wishes, where we face it as free beings admiring, asking and observing, there we enter the realm of Art and Science,” said the great Albert Einstein. In other words, he extolled us to get over ourselves in order to experience the sublime.

Another hero of mine, the philosopher Ken Wilber, observed that one way to know we have graduated from a certain stage of growth is when we can begin to see and talk about ourselves in the third person.

When we can’t rise above something, we are still trapped in it. We have to drop a lot of this identity stuff. In other words, when you don’t get in the way, you see everything else.

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Got a new DSLR camera last Christmas? Great! Go beyond a point-and-shoot experience. Let me teach you how to use it. I would like to invite you all to my first workshop in Manila for 2011. I am offering a Basic Photography Workshop on Feb. 5, from 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Venue is at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. Visit, or write me at for questions and reservations. You can also call Olie at 0916-8554303. Call or write now.

Today I am a Queenslander

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated January 16, 2011 12:00 AM

SYDNEY, Australia — It is a strange feeling watching the non-stop television coverage of the massive floods in Queensland. It is not because I am not a news junkie, or I am not turned off by tragedy. I am both. I feel strange because I have never seen such images of suffering brought about by natural disasters here in Australia, like those I have seen back home in the Philippines.

It is not that I think natural and man-made calamities do not or cannot happen in Australia. I know they do. But my knowledge of them has, until now, been on an intellectual level since I am a relative newcomer here. The worst experience I have had that comes anywhere close to a tragedy is nowhere near what I am seeing on TV right now. Two years after we moved in, my family and our little home here in Blacktown were subjected to a severe hail storm where ice pieces as large or larger than baseballs rained on our house and a relatively new car, leaving no less than 67 bumps on its body.

But that was nothing compared to what I am watching on TV today — bombarded with graphic images of people losing lives and property, going through physical and emotional suffering, and the heartbreak that accompanies a tragedy of the magnitude of what is going on in Queensland.

The size of the disaster area boggles the mind. The flooded area is larger than Germany and France put together.

Having spent most of my life in a poverty-stricken country like the Philippines, suffering is not new to me. I have experienced it firsthand and I have watched it on TV. In many ways, I am inured to images of hardship and have a high tolerance for it.

What makes this Queensland calamity very shocking is because of several factors. One, Australia is a well-planned country and one would expect that something like flooding has been factored into the design of its cities.

Two, Australia is a rich country and, in my simplistic mind, I have allowed myself to believe that rich people do not suffer as much as the poor. After all, they have a system that works for them. They have provisions, escape hatches, smart solutions for something like this.

Three, the magnitude of the disaster is beyond comprehension, leading me to believe that what people in Australia and in many parts of the world are dealing with is Mother Nature gone berserk. She is venting her ire on us for causing Global Warming, as she experiences hot flushes.

I would be dishonest if I don’t confess that I am not used to seeing white people crowding in relief centers, eating communally-cooked food prepared by disaster aides. I have scoffed at what I have imagined is the rich countries’ concept of suffering. But the sight of Australians fighting for their lives crossing raging waters, or waiting for rescue stranded on their roofs hoping for deliverance, has changed all that.

Images of cars floating on water and piling on top of each other shocked me when I first saw a lot of it during Ondoy. But somehow, such images seem much more magnified here where there are many more cars, trucks, boats, yachts, furniture, even shipping containers crashing into one another and onto lamp posts, houses, trees, buildings and bridges in the raging waters. Throw in horses, cows trying to tread water and finding a place to rest their heads on low rooftops. The scene is mayhem.

The number of causalities is quite big by Aussie standards (around 12 dead, 43 missing as of Wednesday afternoon) since the country has only a small population of a little over 20 million. (The relatively small population density all over the country actually helps keep the casualty number low.)

Another factor is Australia has a much higher level of disaster preparedness than we have in the Philippines. They have more resources for rescue, and keeping people safe. But Queenslanders were still caught flat-footed as the waters rose quickly overnight. The deadly “inland tsunami” that hit was totally unexpected.

A few minutes ago, I received an e-mail from a friend here asking for donations of canned goods, dry clothing, money — anything we can spare which will go specifically to the 3,000 Philos (Filipinos in Aussie speak) living in Queensland. When I read it, the whole impact of the tragedy sank deeper, completing the picture puzzle, mentally and emotionally.

Suffering is a universal experience. And knowing that fellow Filipinos are also suffering in Queensland removed the last remaining barrier to my full understanding and appreciation of what is going on. People are the same everywhere. Whether they are white, black, brown, rich, poor, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or whatever, people cry when they are in pain, when they are hungry, when they are homeless, and when they lose everything. And equally, other people take a pitiful gaze on the suffering and are moved to help those in need.

Compassion is built into us as human beings. People have a natural compassion, which balances things. Where there is injustice, we want justice. Where there is want and suffering, we try to alleviate it. Compassion in action is the practice of energy transfer. We balance things by transferring resources from one place to another. We share what we have — our material wealth, our time and our sympathy – to help those who are lacking in these. This energy transfer is like chi, or the life force that moves from sources that have an excess of it to others who have little of it and need it.

And yet, I often wonder why, if this is true, we sometimes choose not to help. I have noticed that most people, present company included, may genuinely wish others the best, and do want to help starving people everywhere. But what prevents us from sharing is the fear that we may not have enough for ourselves when the time comes that we need it.

We know from observing suffering in ourselves and others, that no race, social status or religious difference separates people when everyone is in the same place having a hard time. People in Queensland are reporting that neighbors whom they hardly knew or talked to are helping them, and vice-versa. Distinctions blur or disappear. Humanity is indeed one.

In my lucid moments, I believe that every person is an expression, an image, or a son or daughter of God. Only from this elevated view of ourselves do we become a collective, one humanity. There is no “other.” What we do for anyone, we also do for ourselves.

Today I am a Queenslander.

And Queensland is Bicol is Samar is the Sudan is Arizona. We weep with and extend compassion to all who suffer.

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Got a new DSLR camera last Christmas? Great! Let me teach you how to use it. I would like to invite you all to my first workshop in Manila for 2011. I am offering a Basic Photography Workshop on Feb. 5, from 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Venue is at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. Visit, or write me at for questions and reservations. You can also call Olie at 0916-8554303. Call or write now.

The weather, Commander Biatch and one hand clapping..

This summer in Australia doesn’t seem like a summer at all. It feels like a mild rainy season in the Philippines here in Sydney. Everyday now for almost a week, we’ve been getting rain daily in different doses at different times of the day. Or maybe I should compare the weather to Melbourne where the locals like to say they have 4 seasons A DAY! For one, we’ve been having warm and cold spells, sunny, cloudy and rainy times everyday. Crazy.

I should still be thankful though that New South Wales is not having he weather beating thah Queensland is getting these past few days. They are currently under 18 meters of flood water. It just crept so suddenly no one was aware that it had turned into an inland tsunami. The disaster area covers the size of Germany and France combined! Crazy. It makes Typhoon Ondoy in the Philippines look rather tame.

I am really convinced Mother Nature has turned into Mommy Dearest.

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I am not actually complaining about the weather. I like overcast skies more than the hot sunny sweltering days of a Sydney summer. Well, not all the time though. Right now, I am enjoying a slight breeze coming in through my window and muted sunlight and it feels good. It’s great for getting me in the mood to write my piece for this Sunday’s column in Philippine Star.

Every week, it’s a hide and seek game with my muse as she waits for me to decide on what to write. She shows up eager when she likes the topic. That’s when there is no hide and seek at all. Muse is a bitch and TELLS me what to write and I do so, pronto. I like it that way too. Other times, she can be so shy and almost timid in telling me whether she will go on with me as I write it, or disappear midway sometimes leaving me with an unfinished, un-fleshed out idea.

Ok Muse, what are you gonna be today? Commander Biatch or Shrinking Violet?

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I have not been writing on this blog as often as I used to. In fact I opened a new blog and put more of my casual thoughts there and pretty much made this one a library of the more formal articles I write for Philippine Star. This will change. I shall pour more of myself here as well. So it’s not going to be just me in a coat and tie here looking like some Makati dude on 24 hour projection but also a man in shorts or underwear and t-shirt, unshaven while holding a beer and just whiling the time away.

The yin and yang must never be separate. The brilliant and dense, the deep and shallow, the serious and fun must co-exist in the same place always. Otherwise, how would we know what we were experiencing if its opposite was not not within sight? The zen master who made the koan never wanted say it straight out, but it is true! The sound of one hand clapping is non-existent. You can’t separate pain from pleasure, or opposites from each other.

And this is how I plan on maintaining this blog a living, breathing one.

Our digital lives


HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated January 09, 2011 12:00 AM

Practically everyone I know now lives at least two lives. I am not talking about schizophrenics or those who have secret lives families, lovers, children, etc. that they hide from their friends and loved ones. I am talking about the everyday real lives of people and the slices of our own lives that we upload for the world to see. I am talking about our virtual, online lives.

This phenomenon, novel as it is, where we upload our thoughts, shout-outs, pictures, videos, reactions to everything happening around us, is certainly something new in the history of mankind. Recently, I looked at a site called the Facebook map of the world and was amazed that practically the whole Philippines was lighted up, signifying the number and density of users spread all over the country. Some countries were hardly even there Iran, China, Pakistan, etc.

As of the latest count, there are 19 million Filipinos on Facebook. We comprise 3.27 percent of all Facebook users in the world. Throw in Twitter (2.19 percent), Gmail, Yahoo, Multiply, Linked in, Hotmail, Myspace, etc. and you can imagine how many hours of our lives are spent in cyberspace. And there is also our legendary use of cell phone text, which amounts to close to 1.6 billion texts per day.

I am amazed at how easily we Filipinos have taken to cyberspace. The old labels that divide countries into First, Second and Third World are meaningless to one who has adapted to virtual life. Perhaps it is because chatting, connecting, sharing and keeping in touch with friends and family are important to us. While our e-commerce may be less developed than, say, Hong Kong or Singapore, we are quite adept and savvy at all other things virtual and online.

In many ways, real life is being encroached on and taken over by our online lives. Pictures are exchanged, videos are uploaded and shared, thoughts on blogs are forwarded, issues are discussed, jokes are told and retold, and people are poked daily without being in the same room.

Some people prefer to read the news online. I explore the Net when I wish to know more about what I want to buy, compare prices, or check on a movie schedule, or need instant answers to questions. In my own house, my wife and kids, much to my irritation, contact me through Gmail chat when they do not want to leave what they are doing in their rooms to ask me something.

Our lives have changed so much since we bit the digital apple, and it will continue to do so. Music stores all over the world are closing because legal and illegal digital downloading has made the music business model quite irrelevant. Sometime last year, I went to a wake and was rather amused to learn that the family of the deceased had made arrangements to have the body viewed online by relatives abroad who could not make it home for the funeral.

While people still give out real invitations to weddings and cocktails, I must confess that I check out the details online more than the actual paper announcement. I also RSVP via e-mail or Facebook. When I look for and see how few baby pictures I had, I marvel at how easily technology has made photographers of everyone. Cameras and film were expensive then. Now everyone has a gadget to take photos and videos and record voice and share these instantly with everyone. These days, a person can be conceived, born, and go through all the stages of life until death, totally documented via different media.

Digital life has opened up so many possibilities that, from a creator’s point of view, present unique opportunities and challenges for artists. Whereas the analog way of doing art was a collaboration between artist and imperfect tools to fashion tangible stuff into real life art objects, digital artists have it much easier. But because of this, the challenge is, an artist must come from a deeper place to express something unique. Not only is competition stiffer due to universal access to the same apps, but also because readily available digital tools can make “real” what used to be physically hard, if not impossible, to do.

The sheen, perfection and precision that can be achieved with a few mouse clicks, cut and paste, etc. can churn out what on the surface are seemingly better ‘masterpieces’ faster.

The process, though, makes us pause. If, for example, I, who can hardly play the piano, can stitch, copy and paste, input and quantize together the notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and play it back flawlessly, that makes the process of making music in the digital age less majestic and, in fact, manufactured. That’s why American scientist Jaron Lanier said that style in the digital age must come from the only place so far untouched by bytes and pixels, which is the soul.

But even with their downside, I am not one to turn my back on gadgets that make things so much easier. It’s the digital age, and it is here to stay. That’s why I chuckle when I hear my kids rave about having bought a record player and brag about their growing collection of vinyl records.

Last night, my son bid online for the Beatles’ “Help” album for AU$12. I thought it was a bit expensive considering that vinyl records, though admittedly cool, are analog products of a bygone era. But, I guess, for people who were born and grew up in the digital age, something iconoclastic such as a mechanical contraption that plays music in an analog manner has a big wow factor.

And that may be a good sign since there seems to be a hankering for less-than-perfect, non-instant, non-digital expression. I still enjoy bookstores; the feel of a book in my hand and the smell of paper are still attractive to me, even if I mostly buy only ebooks now.

Live musicians are an infinitely bigger thrill to listen to than canned music anytime. A hand written letter is more precious than the same letter sent through email. My approach to photography, even if I use a DSLR camera, is still to try to take photos good enough so I don’t have to use Photoshop, just like when I used to have an analog camera.

There is probably more information in cyberspace about almost everything and everyone now than there was five years ago. That’s because practically everyone now has probably attempted a shot at “15 megabytes of fame,” as M.G. Sriram describes the proliferation of blogs. Anyone who wants to know anything about anyone is bound to find something. Sometimes, I worry about what I upload, knowing that it will be on the Net forever. I constantly have to remind myself that, as some unknown author said, “You can’t take something off the Internet it’s like taking pee out of a pool.”

Cyberspace is so pervasive we sometimes need to remind ourselves that the Internet is not a substitute for real living, although I know many people who tend to believe it is so. If I could choose a metaphor, I would say real life is like having children and virtual life is like having grandchildren. When you have children, it is a 24-hour concern and there is no turning off from one’s duties. When you have grandchildren, it is delightful, wonderful and all that, but when they begin to get bratty, you can always switch off being a grandparent and return them to their parents.

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Got a new DSLR camera last Christmas? Great! Let me teach you how to use it.

I would like to invite you all to my first workshop in Manila for 2011. I am offering a Basic Photography workshop on Feb. 5, from 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Venue is at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. Visit, or write me at for questions and reservations. You can also call Olie at 0916-8554303.

Which wolf do we feed in 2011?


Much of so-called modern life, especially since the end of World War II, has been a battle between the optimists and the pessimists. Optimists like to point out that science, and all the new knowledge accumulated through the decades that have shaped the new thinking in the secular fields and even the new spirituality, have and will continue to affect the trajectory of humanity, leading it to a higher plane.

On the other hand, the pessimists have been sounding the alarm since the onset of the nuclear age that science and secularism have run completely amuck and have succeeded in destroying traditional values, the family, religion, education, politics, etc. They crow about how all this will redound to everything bad.

The optimists point out that the eradication of disease, and new medical breakthroughs have given a better quality of life to billions. Where people used to live under the specter of early death, in recent decades, life spans have been extended. The modernization of farming, food processing and distribution have made food available to more people. Women in many parts of the world, because of contraception and education, now lead better lives than their mothers ever did.

Enlightened thinking has given most of mankind universal rights, and even new interpretations to some religious traditions. This has fostered new understanding of their truths resulting in the inclusion of people of other traditions. We have glimpsed, at times, a kinder, gentler God who will save everyone from each other. Air travel and globalization have made people interdependent and have thus brought the world closer together.

But for exactly the same reasons, the pessimists see a different scenario. Science, freedom, secularism, universal rights have broken down the order in the world resulting in a loss of the balance of things. Terrorism, consumerism and materialism, the loss of morality and the breakdown of family values have taken their toll on mankind. Women are behaving more and more like men, and having fewer and fewer children. Gays now want to be taken seriously and marry. Science continues to challenge religion, resulting in a constant assault on everything we hold dear and know to be good and true. There are some religious people who believe that Mother Nature is behaving badly because it is punishing mankind for all its “sins.”

It is quite easy to equate optimism with modernism, and pessimism with being traditional, but it is not as simple as that. Many men of science can look at what is happening to the world and be appalled, while there are the so-called traditionalists who may be looking at the same things and see many good things going for mankind.

I have always been fascinated by this ongoing argument. I like judging things for myself, even if, admittedly, I side more often with the moderns, the liberals, the optimists.

But I do notice that people see the world based not so much on what is out there but more on who and what they are. We are programmed to see things according to the values on which we have been raised. There is a wide spectrum of views out there on every issue.

The big issues of our time — radical Islam versus the secular West, the war on terror, women and gay rights, reproduction issues, the debate between conservatives versus liberals within most religions, the push for greater democracy against more government control — will continue to haunt mankind in the coming decades. These are the battles being fought for the hearts and minds of everyone on the planet.

These issues are also playing out in the Philippines. There are the Abu Sayyaf and other extremists versus the duly elected government. There are the great debates on reproductive health and on women and gay rights that have their spirited partisans. There are also land reform and many other social justice issues that have plagued us forever.

And while the optimists and pessimists of the world continue to slug it out about whose image and likeness the world should be fashioned upon, we Filipinos have a similar fundamental battle going on right under our very noses which we hardly notice anymore since it has been quite protracted for decades now. This is the battle between those who still believe that we as a country can rise above our serious problems and finally soar, and those who do not. This debate going on inside most Filipinos is about whether we have the wherewithal, the talent and the determination as a people to finally move forward to a more equitable, more progressive society. In short, many are asking if we do have what it takes to be a great nation.

We have been mired too long in the muck of corruption, patronage politics, inequality and other negative things and these have made us insecure and doubtful of our own capabilities.

In almost every area of human endeavor — political, social, religious, economic — there is a yearning for change. Part of us yearns to see these real changes made palpable in our lifetime, while another part of us is too cynical to believe that any significant change can really happen. Many times, our ideals are at war with our lack of faith in ourselves.

It reminds me of a Native American parable about two wolves fighting inside every man. The evil wolf is filled with fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, inferiority, lies, false pride and ego. On the other hand, the good wolf is full of joy, courage, peace, love, hope, daring, sharing, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith. One day, a warrior asked the tribe elder which wolf will win. The Elder answered, “The one you feed.”

The wolf metaphor is a powerful one because we know from experience that the choices we make have the power to manifest their realities in our lives. In this New Year, we may wish to ask ourselves the same question each time we are torn between idealism and cynicism in the face of challenges.

It is time to change the diet upon which we have been feeding our spirit. In 2010, there were encouraging signs that made us optimistic. We pulled off a fairly good election and installed an honest leader. Baby steps towards reform and justice have been initiated and more will hopefully be coming. The indomitable Filipino spirit also manifested itself in the world in arenas such as sports, music and the arts.

Even while the world continues to wrestle with the problems that plague all of mankind, we in the Philippines while involved in these great debates must focus more on our problems and act very locally. Other countries like ours which were considered just five or 10 years ago as “developing” are now inching closer to a more developed status. We still have to get our act together.

To me, 2011 is the year of reckoning. It is the year we decide to either move forward in a major way towards our destiny of greatness as a people, or surrender to the inertia of our malingering mediocrity.

Which wolf do we feed?

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Got a new DSLR camera last Christmas? Great! Let me teach you how to use it.

I would like to invite you all to my first workshop in Manila for 2011. I am offering a Basic Photography workshop on Feb. 5, from 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Venue is at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. Visit, or write me at for questions and reservations. You can also call Olie at 0916-8554303.