Enter: The Cloud

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star)

Time was, and it wasn’t too long ago, when hardly anyone cared about what was going on in places outside their own city or country. World events were the concern of world leaders and policymakers and the few souls who thrived on that kind of stuff. Now, with media and social networking, what is happening elsewhere in the world may as well be happening in one’s neighborhood. A natural disaster in Japan, a big war in Afghanistan, unrest in Tunisia, a scandal in New York, and a new pop craze in a country whose language and culture we hardly know anything about becomes fodder for everyone’s amusement or worry.

We have all become interconnected. Worlds, peoples, cultures, concerns crisscross geographical boundaries and rush into our laptops, cellphones and other digital devices and take a hold of our consciousness. The digital world is changing everything.

Almost everything can be converted into bytes and its digital form is practically within reach. The past 20 years have seen a transformation in communication never before witnessed in the history of man.

The world has become flat, says New York Times writer Tom Friedman. What he means is that it almost does not matter where one lives — New York, New Delhi, Rio de Janeiro, Manila or Seoul. Everything is within reach. Geography has lost meaning in many ways. A Filipino call center agent is servicing the needs of someone in Minnesota. A Russian geek is making websites for clients in Scotland. The economic crash in Greece is sending shivers to the Nikkei in Tokyo.

Where our ancestors looked up to the sun and moon and the stars to help them navigate their journeys, or arrange their activities throughout the year, we will soon have a fixture to assist us in living our digital lives: We will have the Cloud.

Apple, Google and other companies are making it possible for everyone to upload their whole digital library of songs, photos, essays — anything that can be digitized— into what they call the Cloud which will make them accessible to all the devices you own in an instant. In effect, we will no longer need memory discs in our computers since everything will be externally filed and kept somewhere.

And where is the Cloud exactly? It really does not matter where it is. It could be in Timbuktu or Kazakhstan and it would not make a difference. What is significant is the meaning of the Cloud on different levels. One may argue that our memories, and in a big way, our consciousness, are now “non-local.” We need not carry them physically.

This has ontological implications, in terms of how we see ourselves. While I use the Cloud as a metaphor, it seems to suggest that the view of consciousness as something trapped in synapses inside the brain that we carry in our body is being challenged. In many philosophical, spiritual circles, some argue that consciousness is not something that is inside us which science can measure but something intangible that pervades everything. Our brains, in effect, merely make it possible to detect and use it. Our brains are conduits. As the new Cloud computers will not need applications and will automatically access Google upon power up, we are the conduits of Big Consciousness tuning in to the reality around us.

Modernity opens all aspects of our lives to new ways of experiencing the world and ourselves. Think of governments, religions, educational curricula, cultures as operating systems. Some work well and serve the needs of its constituents and are easily upgradeable while others are less so. Some may need to be junked altogether.

The leaderships of the Arab states have seen the rise of “Facebook rebellions,” which their governments and traditional cultures were just not prepared for. In a recent speech, Syrian strongman Bashar-Al Assad grudgingly (albeit belatedly) acknowledged the phenomenon of the “electronic army”that the youth had formed to challenge his rule.

The religious rulers of almost all sects also feel the threat. Modernity is a tidal wave that they must either resist or ride. While many religious argue that tradition, dogma, and the like are values we need in a changing world, I realize that much of the holding on to ancient rituals, mindsets and thinking comes from the fear of the new.

I am not an atheist. I agree with all religions that there is a God and He/She/It is unchanging and eternal. What I hope many will wake up to is that it is our concept of God that must be upgraded to catch up with the dynamic one that continues to reveal His/Her/ Itself in ways we cannot immediately anticipate or fathom. God is too big to be trapped in the past centuries. To dig in and live in a literalist bunker is to become irrelevant and iconoclastic. Metaphors must change. There must be creative, perceptive ways to see in the God here and now, in His/ Her/Its modern glory and manifestation.

The sex scandal involving US Congressman Anthony Weiner would not have been such a sensation if it had not involved the novelty of new media. Twitter and Facebook are changing the ways we relate to each other. If cyberspace has become part of our nervous system, it is not too far-fetched to imagine that it will influence even our sexual behavior. More than at anytime, pornography is within reach of practically everyone. Chat with or without video as a tool of communication opens new ways of indulging in something as primal as sex. If we can enjoy sports, politics and entertainment digitally or cyber-wise, why not sex?

Alas, there is no escaping modernity. Whether that is good or bad is not clear. Let it be said that despite its blessings, our modern lives can seem like they are plagued with all the ‘modern inconveniences’ that can delude us from seeing what is real and what is not. Do we really need an ‘upgrade’ of gadgets/computers every few months? How much change can people take, and at what pace? We have both digital and non-digital lives that have their own separate and shared realities.

The world as we know it today can be confusing. We are poked, texted, tweeted, e-mailed, sexted, shouted at, dialed and called unlike any generation that has ever existed. We have real friends with unreal body parts like Bluetooth ear gadgets, headsets, silicon, etc. By definition, they are cyborgs — part human, part machine.

Despite all these new ways that we can interact as humans, it is not surprising that there still exists the alienation that many feel in their lives, that won’t go away. It is the human condition which is always yearning for something that is not there and will never be, that is to blame. This is caused by the refusal to be present to the here and now, as if happiness and contentment will always be found somewhere else, like modernity, for its own sake.

And I’m quite sure there won’t be an app for that for a long while.

Dads, be happy for your kids’ sake

It’s Father’s Day in the Philippines. Different countries have different dates for this occasion but they all fall at around this time in different parts of the world.

As a father for some 32 years now, I can tell you that this day that the world has designated to honor people like me feels different at different times in a father’s life.

Granted that when you became a dad, you embraced the role completely (as opposed to denying paternity or rejecting the role and responsibility of it), you will find that your feelings about this day are subject to the tides and years you have spent being one.

As a young father many moons ago, Father’s Day was always sweet. My children would make cards professing their love for me and I, in turn, would allow myself to be totally immersed in the warm fuzzy feelings, and the romantic idealization of being called the word’s ‘greatest’ dad. But these feelings last only as long as your kids still look at you as the sole repository of knowledge, wisdom, masculine love and protection, and the source of generous material largesse. Though just partly accurate, a French proverb puts it quite well: ‘A father is a banker provided by nature.’

But as your children move to their teenage years, their feelings about you change. To many teens, Father’s Day is no longer so special. They may or may not be available for or even excited about a planned family dinner to celebrate the occasion, depending on how they are feeling.

The home-made cards stop coming. If there are any cards at all, they are store-bought. The greetings become perfunctory, if they remember at all. Ironically, despite the memory lapse (which I suspect could really be more of indifference), it is also the time in their lives when they probably need fatherly advice and intervention the most, whether or not they acknowledge it.

At certain stages, Father’s Day comes with mixed feelings. It is not much different from say, going to confession. There is an ‘examination of conscience’ as you look at your kids, see how big they have grown, and how at times, you feel a great sense of alienation from them. You ask yourself what you have done correctly and with good intentions, and what you have failed to do.

And as they grow up and begin to live their own lives and face their own challenges, this weaning away from you becomes more pronounced.

As a dad, or perhaps more because I am a guy, I try and brush off any feelings of pain or alienation when my kids forget to call, or text or greet me on this day, or on occasions like birthdays, Christmas and the like. I try to make nothing of the hurt I feel and even rationalize that perhaps they were just too busy to have remembered to greet me.

Mothers generally are better at remembering such occasions, and God bless them for that. My wife reminds me of birthdays, wedding anniversaries of friends, relatives, etc. She even asks me what plans I have for occasions like today and may suggest a family activity like a special dinner. Or sometimes, she may just buy a cake, a small gift to make sure that I feel special somewhat. I suspect that without mothers reminding their kids, more than half of fathers in the world would not receive any kind of acknowledgement or greeting from their children on Father’s Day.

In this age when many Filipino families are physically apart because a parent is abroad as an OFW, Father’s Day has become even more of a red letter day. Though Father’s Day in the Philippines was not a big deal some 20 years ago, it is now a big holiday, thanks to commercialization. And to fathers who are living abroad where Father’s Day traditions have been big for sometime now, missing the family on this day becomes even more acute.

Thank God there are twitter, facebook and email to remind everyone not just to greet their fathers on Father’s Day but to sustain family closeness, relationships and spirits with absent siblings, children or parents. There’s also snail mail, and there are these special promos from telcos like Globe which offer services that keep families connected.

But all these are two-edged swords since it hurts more when people do not get any greeting knowing how easy it is to be connected or send out a message these days. To family members who are away, it drives home the point of how real being ‘out of sight, out of mind’ can be.

My eldest, Erica, is now in her early 30s. Ala, my second daughter is in her late 20’s and my son Mio is in his early 20s. Ala and Mio are in Sydney. As I write this, my wife Lydia is still in the US but will soon be flying to Sydney to join them. I have not been with them for sometime now and I really miss them a lot.

As a father who is away from two of my kids, I watch them from a distance with great pride, sometimes with some concern as they go through the joys and pains of becoming more and more their own persons. But I miss our long conversations, or even short but meaningful ones where I could get a good view of how they are living and shaping their lives and going for their dreams. I feel relieved to see them able to successfully navigate their way through some rough spots—love affairs, job problems, depression, etc. But I often worry whether I should have taught them more about life. As parents, we can do only so much, and yet, we can’t help feeling that our time as shapers and influencers in our children’s lives is shorter than it should be.

I cherish those moments when I have sat with my kids and was able to really communicate with them or when I felt that we shared something really special. There are always teachable and learning moments for both parents and children when they are all together. I am still learning, through experience, a father’s place in the scheme of things. But I know I connect with my kids in a special way when I am listening and understanding them as a friend or an empathizing human being, while still being a father to them when they need one.

‘If the past cannot teach the present and the father cannot teach the son, then history need not have bothered to go on, and the world has wasted a great deal of time,” wrote Russell Hoban, an American writer.

In a world where more and more options are open to young people and where the world has made it more possible for them to live anywhere and adapt a lifestyle that suits them, a father may feel both irrelevant and very relevant at the same time. For example, while I have always known that I could not possibly force my kids to take up certain careers, I also know that the greatest thing I can teach them is to how to succeed at being happy and pursue what makes them feel alive and creative.

Someday, I would like my kids to say about me the same thing that writer Clarence Budington Kelland said about his own dad: “My father didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.”

Maybe, one of the most important things a father can give his children is help them be the best, happiest human beings they are meant to be. And one way to do that is for them to see their father as one who not just pays the bills and sacrifices for them but also as a happy, creative, loving person.

Happy Father’s Day to all of us Dads everywhere.

Mastering life balance

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star)

I watched a feature on Discovery Channel last week about Christian Fabre, a successful French fashion businessman who lives in India. He owns a company that makes tens of millions of dollars every year and has carved a name in the fashion world. But that is not what is so amazing about him.

Many years ago, when he started his business in India, he experienced a great business and personal failure where he lost everything including his wife who abandoned him together with their child. He was absolutely devastated.

To cope, he went through a lot of soul-searching. He took up yoga. But the guru he learned from the most was a common leper he had met. Even if the man had lost all his fingers to leprosy, he seemed perfectly content. When Fabre got back his spiritual footing, he took the guru’s advice and went back to fashion, this time to succeed beyond his wildest dreams.

But that’s not the only transformation Christian Fabre went through. He eventually converted to Hinduism. The most paradoxical thing about him is that while he makes millions selling clothes, he likes to go through the day completely naked, believing in the Hindu tenet that “we are born naked and we will die naked.”

For every 10 days that he works, he retreats to his ashram for two weeks where he goes through his days in total nudity and asceticism. When he has to visit his factories or meet people, he wears saffron robes complete with bindi. A recognized Swami or an ascetic or yogi, he has been initiated into the religious monastic life. Aside from his Western name, Fabre is also known as Swami Pranavananda Brahmendra Avadhuta.

He has embraced the life of a holy man. In the documentary, I saw a person who seemed totally at peace. He has shunned materialism and now needs very little to live. He gives 56 percent of his company’s profits back to his employees and pays himself U$200 a month. His only luxury is the altar he built for the gods and goddesses of his faith.

There are more interesting things about Christian Fabre. He has never fired any employee and is known to sit with them, listen to their problems and give spiritual advice. He also does not believe in contracts. Wall Street, to be sure, is anathema to his ways and his thinking. Needless to say, I am very impressed at how this man has completely found a new life for himself.

He is an example of a person who is very much in the world but not being of it, which is a definition of Christian spirituality. How many people can actually free themselves from the pull of relatively much less materialism in their lives as this businessman-Swami has done?

Christian Fabre is extraordinary in the sense that he is able to balance the obvious polarities in his life. There is on one hand his extreme wealth and, on the other, his wholehearted answer to the call of ascetic spirituality.

It makes me wonder what the right balance is in how one must live life.

While they have their avowed mission to live among the poor and help the unfortunate, the institutional churches possess untold riches. I remember how troubled I was when I entered St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome for the first time decades ago. While it housed the bones and relics of the superstars of the Catholic faith, such as St. Peter and numerous popes through the ages, the opulence and grandeur, from the architecture to the art works, and the intricate gaudiness got in the way of how I understood and appreciated my faith. To be frank, (and I know this is a controversial opinion), it did not impress me as a holy place.

Before me were the ultimate power symbols of a worldly empire rather than an apt representation of the simplicity of Christ. It was the seat of temporal power of the Roman Catholic Church with its gold, its priceless art and other historical treasures displayed for all to see. It was, in my mind, no different from the palaces of emperors and potentates. I told myself that perhaps the real face of Christ can be found more easily among the poor in many parts in the world than here.

The contrast I saw between Rome and the poor was so stark, it was enlightening. As I grew in years and wisdom, I began to understand complexity and learned to accept the yin and the yang of things. Everything exists only because of its opposite. There is rich because there is poor. There is holy because there is profane. There is beauty because there is ugliness. And so it is even with the churches. Only in this context can many things be understood and one can accommodate two contrasting realities in some sort of unity.

The outer and the inner, the form and emptiness, the body as well as the soul must both be paid attention to. They are each other’s mirror image.

But then the question is, how should one balance all of these.

There cries in the heart of every materialist and atheist an indefinable yearning to make sense of an earthly existence, even if, in their view, it eventually ends without an afterlife. And every spiritual person who cares for his fellowman knows the importance of food, housing and the comforts that the material world can offer to ease the suffering of humanity.

I know people who are deeply dissatisfied despite the fact that they are living the life they have always strived for—security, wealth, fame, etc. Why is that? Some may ask: Are we supposed to choose between spirit and matter? Are we, in the end, being asked by God to leave our worldly ways and go completely spiritual?

Sometimes I am tempted to think that life would be simpler if I did that. I still have this yearning to someday live in an ashram or a monastery a few months.

But then, I have also met highly successful people who do not feel the need to choose between materialism and spirituality. Some of them practice Zen in the zendo in Marikina that I am part of. One of the most fascinating people I have ever met is a Zen Roshi (Zen master) from Japan who is also vice president of a big bank. He comes to the Philippines to give retreats to practitioners at least once a year. Speaking with him, I am amazed at his great ability to live in both the phenomenal and the spiritual world. I think it is his practice of non-attachment that makes him comfortable in any situation he is in.

A Zen saying goes, “Ride your horse along the edge of a sword; hide yourself in the middle of flames.” One needs to know and master this life balance.

While we all want to be happy, we must also not cling to happiness but instead allow every state to just come and go gracefully.

William Blake said:

He who binds to himself a joy

Does the winged life destroy;

But he who kisses the joy as it flies

Lives in Eternity’s sunrise.

Attachment is dangerous. One must accept life, however it shows up. The consequence of not accepting is to be trapped in choosing dichotomies, or choosing parts of life and condemning others. And we know where that leads to.

Coming to terms with our dark side

Lately, I’ve been attending cocktail parties, seminars and meeting new people where there is always an exchange of calling cards. I always end up apologizing because I have stopped bringing calling cards.

For one thing, I have no idea what to put after my name. I do too many things and listing all of them could make me seem like a jack-of-all-trades. Or it may seem like I am bragging about the many things I do. Or worse, it may even be misread as a sign of latent schizophrenia. (I am joking.)

Many years ago, my calling card had the following titles: “Producer, recording artist, song writer and wonderful human being.” I liked the last title best.

In truth we are many things. I am a son, a brother, father, husband, neighbor, Atenean, classmate, Filipino, migrant, musician, songwriter, singer/performer, writer, columnist, photographer, workshop facilitator, teacher, Globe user, blood type “O” donor, right-handed, and a host of many other identities.

Some people carry a single title all of their lives, such as Doctor Cruz, Father Santos, Professor De los Reyes, Attorney Camua, General Abueva, Architect Mabanta, etc., making it seem that only one thing defines them, above everything else that they also are. It is a choice people make. It shows the importance they place in the career or the calling they have chosen.

According to Carolyn Myss in her book Sacred Contracts, each person has about 13 dominant identities that represent him or her at any specific time in his or her life, even if their importance is hierarchical. In my case, among the many identities I have, perhaps “artist” is the most dominant, and husband, father, and the rest cascade down in the order of importance. This hierarchy is determined by how often these identities speak for me in the world I inhabit.

Myss says these characters or archetypes (to use Carl Jung’s terminology) are not all permanently with us. Some stay long, some only for a while, and when they leave, new ones come along ready to express aspects of ourselves that want to be heard.

Think about that for a moment. Consider these as aspects possessing an energy that must play out. Some energies may feel nice, and proper, and politically correct, and they are easy — an honor even — to introduce to the world. For example, a rich doctor does missionary work and he is hailed in his society as a philanthropist — a new identity.

But there are more complex, dark aspects of us that also express themselves in energies. Often, when they make themselves known to us, we are not ready to accept them. In fact, we shun them because they are not easily acceptable to society. These energies may come from our inner dungeons where we harbor our dark side, our more taboo aspects, such as sexual or psycho-spiritual energies that run counter to our public persona.

And here’s the tricky part: both Carolyn Myss and Carl Jung say that whatever these energies are, they must be allowed to speak because they are part of us. We cannot and must not deny parts of ourselves. Energy, being what it is, will find a way to express itself, whether sanctioned or not.

But how do we handle this? Do we dare allow, say, our sexual energies to play out freely? The straightforward answer is “yes,” but not in a way that will cause harm to anyone including ourselves. We must find the right way to do it.

First, we must acknowledge them. When we come to terms with their presence, they begin to appear less scary to us since they have been recognized. We may even befriend and begin to tame them. Joseph Campbell puts it well when he says, “The devil that you swallow gives you its power.” Our shadows do bear gifts. It is when they are shunned or denied that they behave scandalously.

Consider some famous and seemingly successful people who are caught doing crazy things like shoplifting. And the recent case of the former IMF head Strauss-Kahn, a powerful man held in such high esteem he was predicted to be the next president of France, who allegedly sexually attacked the cleaning woman in his hotel room. From a rational point of view, one would argue that these actions were totally stupid and inexplicable. I bet not even he could explain to himself such a moment of irrationality that took over him. I imagine that if he had been attuned and in conversation with his shadow self, there would have been less likelihood of this happening.

The next step in dealing with shadow energy is to find a way to express it so that it will give you its gifts. Sexual energy can express itself in aesthetic endeavors such as painting, photography, sculpture, dance, etc. This way, lust is transformed into an artistic drive, or even a muse or inspiration. It can also express itself as a newly bloomed charisma or passion for living. The energy is converted into something positive and even creative.

The act of recognizing that we have a shadow side opens us to greater understanding of others. A lot of us cannot imagine our parents, or some people we look up to, as being less than perfect, or even as sexual beings. While we may accept intellectually what they really are, many times, we would rather not “know.” Until we come to an acceptance of our own selves.

I have met a lot of people who stonewall or outwardly reject their offbeat energies, or “callings.” Some react with a siege mentality by “protecting” themselves with a religious morality instead of understanding that these energies are actually calling for them to grow further. At times, these archetypes demand that we live in a way that makes us truer to ourselves. And that can be scary.

We hear of the “perfect couple” that suddenly calls it quits, the pious priest who leaves his order or even the priesthood itself, or the old bachelor who suddenly comes out of the closet. Once in a while, it works the other way, where people we associate with negative qualities respond to positive energies.

I remember an ex-convict who used to be my pretty aunt’s bodyguard-chaperone when she was single. While he was a convicted rapist, he was very respectful and even protective of my aunt who trusted him completely.

Human beings are anything but simple, with both positive and negative forces within us. We must understand and harness these inner forces if we are to reach higher authenticity.

One of Carl Jung’s most quotable quotes is, “I’d rather be whole than good.” He understood that for him to be true or real, his actions may not always be sanctioned by society or be acceptable or congruent with prevailing norms or morals.

The gifted Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa said, “When dreaming, everyone is a genius.” Much of our creativity lies in our subconscious. When we dream, this creativity comes out to play. The trick is to allow more of the subconscious into our consciousness so we can live more creative lives.

When we do the inner work of knowing ourselves as much as we can, which means accepting and integrating all our aspects that show up, we allow more of what is possible in us to be creatively expressed. We become more tolerant and may even be more accepting and understanding of the changes we see happening in other people. We, and everyone else, become more real, multi-dimensional human beings.

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Songwriting Workshop in QC on June 11. From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. P5,000. Call Olie at 0916-8554303 or 426-5375 for all workshop inquiries. Or write me at ‘; document.write( ” ); document.write( addy_text66239 ); document.write( ‘<\/a>‘ ); //–> . Check http://jimparedes-workshops.com for details on all workshops.