Awakening to a conspiracy

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated October 23, 2011

We did not choose our parents, or relatives. We had no choice in choosing the sex we were born with. Consider the geography of where you were born, and I am pretty sure it was not your choosing.

A few other things were pretty much determined for us as well — our place and ranking, sequence–wise, in our families, left or right-handedness, social class, our DNA that pretty much determines the unfolding and the unraveling of how our physical bodies play out in terms of height, complexion, hair color, body type, eye color, general health, intelligence, etc.

If you were hardware, you were pretty much pre-configured when your parents had you, with a lot of software apps and bugs thrown in. With the proper food, nutrition and care, one can say that you will generally be expected to play out your life within some expected parameters. If you were born short or sickly, for example, you probably would avoid certain athletic activities, like basketball, as you grew up.

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. There are many stories about people who broke with their past, went against their history and pulled off incredible surprises, and in the process, told marvelous stories of unlimited human potential.

But let me go back to where I started. I wish to explore the view of archetypal psychologist James Hillman who suggests that perhaps certain things were meant to be. In his book, The Soul’s Code, he wrote about the strangeness of certain human stories: a stranger comes to town, has a night of passion with a local girl who conceives a child after the brief encounter. Hillman suggests that, perhaps, the heavens conspired for these certain gene types to meet and result in humans with specific characteristics and talents to be born and carry out certain specific divine missions. In short, the meeting was pre-ordained to produce the “right stuff.” What a staggering thought!

Now walk with me on this and extend that idea further: that everyone you meet, and every place you are in, and every circumstance you find yourself enmeshed in is divinely meant to be. I know that the very concept of pre-determination goes against the grain of freedom, free will and the belief that one is the architect of one’s own life, concepts that are so ingrained in the modern mind.

But the very idea that everything that happens in life is part of a divine plan playing out has its many epiphanies. Sometimes, as I amble along my favorite walking paths in the Ateneo campus in Loyola, I spot new floral buds in a bunch of varied plants, or fallen leaves beautifully scattered about in artful randomness. I also detect the chirping of different birds, the growth of new grass, the cloud formations, other strangers traversing the same path, and a million other things happening. In those moments, I allow the idea of pre-determination to take hold and think that these are actually phenomena thrown along my life path for me to acknowledge and appreciate.

When I go with that thought and consider that their showing up at that exact moment in my life is a fulfillment of their divine mission and “appointment” with me, I reel in pure delight and enchantment.

The exquisiteness of the timing, the perfect divine staging is impeccable.

When I extend the idea to other activities like my meals, for example, I can’t help but have a holy appreciation for the rice, the fish and vegetables on the table, and the glass of water that is served me. I wax mystical at the particularity of the specific objects in front of me and I am left to wonder even more.

If I imagine that this particular fish on the table is here to keep his appointment with me for this specific meal held at this time and place, then I marvel even more at the elaborateness of the “conspiracy.”

This conspiracy is endlessly intricate and goes ever deeper involving countless people, events and things: from my maid who prepared and cooked it, to the market vendor who sold it, to the fisherman who caught it, to the ocean that nourished it. It goes on and on to the beginning of time itself. Could these be more than just random human activities at play here?

Einstein once said “God does not play dice,” implying that there is an intelligence unfolding in the universe, and the events that unfold are not as random and mindless as they seem to be. Perhaps it is true. I really don’t know.

But what I do know is that our intelligence is not evolved enough to figure out everything, including the simple question we often ask when things go wrong: “Why do these things happen to me?”

Sometimes, I am tempted to go along fully with the thought that everything does and will indeed happen as well and perfectly as they should, regardless of how we feel about it. We don’t know what they are, or when, much less why they happen. But having the frame of mind that events in the world are keeping their “appointments” awakens me to the genius who wrote the appointment book.

And being awake to this is the most holy way I can respond to such an eternal, elaborately divine effort. It awakens me to the notion that my own life is part of the big conspiracy, the cosmic plan. When I pay attention to any small thing — a scenery, a flower, a person, a conversation, a glance; when I notice the ordinary; when I have empathy, I may be consciously doing my part in the scheme of things. Paying attention is my way of fulfilling the “appointment” to the best of my ability.

I am not being self-absorbed here thinking that everything happens exclusively to a “me” that is experiencing everything. The universe does not revolve around me. I humbly submit to the reality that I am also a cog in someone’s wheel of life experiences. I play my part when I meet other people and probably play it very well when I am attentive, loving, joyful, compassionate and non-judgmental.

The implications of are mind-boggling. For one, it opens me up to the idea that every mundane thing, event, every person is special. But then, when everyone and everything is “special,” nothing is really special — a sure paradox.

In a paradox, words trip and talk in seeming contradiction to capture a reality too big to imagine, as in “One must lose his life to gain it.”

And I know for certain that, where there is paradox, there lies a beautiful, eternal truth.

* * *

1) If you have been using your DSLR camera like a point and shoot, it’s time to learn how to use it properly. Basic Photography Workshop on Oct. 29, Saturday. 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. You must have a DSLR. Call 0916-8554303 or 426-5375. Or write to jpfotojim@gmail for questions or reservations.

2) Tapping the Creative Universe (six-session run): A cutting-edge experience. The most soulfully liberating workshop you can attend! Nov. 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 21 from 7 to 9 p.m. Call or write for info. Or check

What keeps you up at night?

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated October 16, 2011

Someone on Twitter asked me the question, “What keeps you up at night?” I answered quite truthfully that I almost always fall asleep the moment I lie down. I’m a sleepyhead. But that is not to dismiss this important question lightly. I know that every person has issues, worries or mysteries that keep him or her stupefied and awake at night seeking answers to questions, some of which may in fact never be answered with certainty. Or perhaps people simply just wonder for whatever reason.

I would like to share what would keep me awake at night, but don’t expect anything deep and profound — I told you I usually fall asleep the moment my head hits the pillow. Today, I am swimming in shallow, silly shoals speculating on topics that will do nothing to make you a more intelligent, informed or profound human being after reading. But you might agree that the following random thoughts and wonders could give one pause, perhaps for a few seconds, before drifting into dreamland.

1) I would hate to be a cow or a pig, or a chicken in the Philippines because after being raised in a farm and killed, parts of me would be served to Filipinos. There is nothing wrong with that unless they are seated around a table with people they don’t know very well. I hate it because I know that when it comes to the end of the meal where the last piece of meat is left on the plate, people would be too polite to go for it and it would mean that despite my ultimate sacrifice of being butchered and served as food for other species, I would not be consumed fully.

That would be unconscionable. It would be like a kamikaze pilot who fails to hit an enemy boat directly and instead crashes into the sea. Or perhaps a suicide bomber who only manages to detonate one of many sticks of explosives and ends up with only a broken arm. What a waste of purpose!

2) I remember reading that after Abu Sabaya of the dreaded Abu Sayyaf was killed, the military went through his knapsack and they were astounded to discover that this ruthless, cruel bandido actually had a bottle of Eskinol skin care lotion with him. Whoa!

Just try to imagine this man who was responsible for the murder and misery of so many people actually took time and effort from his busy schedule of kidnapping, killing, maiming, torturing, ambushing, hiding, haranguing, etc., going the extra mile to take care of his skin. This business of facial cleansing must have been important to him. Was he a fan of both Bin Laden and Belo? A dangerous terrorist who exfoliates?

It makes me wonder if this terrorist ever panicked in the middle of, say, an encounter with enemy forces because he suddenly remembered — in the middle of a shooting war — that he had not done his beauty regimen that day.

3) Now that Steve Jobs has passed away, everyone seems to be speculating whether he would be changing things in heaven if given the chance. I’ve seen cartoons suggesting that he would upgrade Moses’ tablets, or that he would give St. Peter an app for better identification when someone shows up at the Pearly Gates. I think Steve would probably continue to be active with the latest “big idea” he had before he died. Through his awesome presentation skills, I think he would try and talk to whoever is in charge and convince Him to convert all of heaven into… “The Cloud”! And he probably already had the app with him.

4) With the RH bill now in full deliberation at the Senate, I am hearing some pretty far-out stuff from Senator Enrile who opposes the bill. He said that “masturbation is a form of abortion.”

Now that is astonishing. However, I am pretty sure the good senator knows what he is talking about. And I am dead sure that the reason he has survived the rough and tumble world of politics for endless decades is because he has had to be tough and ruthless to rule over the male population of this country who are, from all accounts, vicious mass murderers who think nothing of what they do. Kudos to the good old senator for being the lonely voice in this sea of wanking Hitlers and Pol Pots.

So here’s some cool advice to all men. If ever you feel the urge to “abort,” and your religious fervor is not strong enough to stop you, just think of the imperious Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile holding that gavel. And think of the gavel as some sort of hammer. And then think of the rapper MC Hammer. Then sing his hit song, Can’t Touch This.

It may save your soul.
5) Sometimes, I can’t imagine how one company can buy out another company just like that, considering that those running it know little or nothing about the operation or the business of what they had just purchased.

I took a flight on a new local airline recently. Before the flight, I saw the plane being refueled. I was quite surprised to see that they did not punch the tank with a big straw.

6) The universe is a dynamic place. Everything is expanding all the time. Simultaneously, stars are being born while many are dying. The earth alone turns on its axis at 500 miles per hour. So how come things aren’t flying off their handles and scattering all over the place? That’s because of gravity. The complexity of it all can give one a religious experience.

If the poet William Blake saw “eternity in an hour,” I may have grasped both eternity and infinity when I recently saw a kid put a Slinky on an upward escalator.

7) Since flooding is becoming more and more the new “normal” in many areas, let’s all try to come up with new ideas to counter this. Here’s one:

With rains filling up the dams to their breaking point, the release of water is necessary even if it exacerbates the situation. Well, what if streets that flood easily and dams that fill up were provided with thousands of huge sponges tied to strings from side to side so that they could just lower the sponges down to the flooded parts to absorb the water, and then lift them up to dry?

Okay, I didn’t say it was a great idea. But it kept me up a few minutes last night! What keeps you awake at night?

* * *

1) Oct. 22, 2011: Walking Photography Workshop. We go to a place and explore it with our cameras and our eyes. Call 426-8375 or 0916-8554303. Time and venue to be announced depending on weather forecast. Call or write to if you wish to reserve a slot or be informed.

2) If you have been using your DSLR camera like a point and shoot, it’s time to learn how to use it properly. Basic Photography Workshop on Oct. 29, Saturday. 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. You must have a DSLR. Call 0916-8554303 or 426-5375. Or write to jpfotojim@gmail for questions or reservations.

2) Tapping the Creative Universe (six-session run): A cutting-edge experience. The most soulfully liberating workshop you can attend! Nov. 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 21 from 7 to 9 p.m. Call or write for info. Or check

Achieving authenticity

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated October 09, 2011

When I was a young man, there was only one kind of beer on the market — San Miguel Pale Pilsen. Today, there are so many variations of beer out there and so many competing brands to enjoy.

And if you want a soda, there is the classic soda as you know it, then there’s “lite,” or “zero,” or other sugar-free versions. Even when you download applications for your phone or laptop, you can get a free “lite” version to try before deciding to pay for the regular or full app with all the bells and whistles.

It seems offering variations of things has become the norm. People want to feel that they have a choice.

In matters of love, one can also find the “full-on” version, and the lite version. Like all things, there are levels and stages of love and commitment, in varying degrees. You can be seeing someone but not be committed, or maybe just be slightly committed, or somewhat committed — or “it’s complicated,” as the Facebook status goes. Or you can be completely and irrevocably committed to love however and whatever unfolds between you and the person you love. That’s the “classic” version.

Religion has a somewhat similar approach. It offers more or less two types of experiences, but unlike the examples above, they are almost alien to each other in function, approach and effect on one’s life.

Think of religion the way 99.99 percent of us have experienced it, especially when we were young. It was introduced in our lives through ceremonies that made us feel good. It gave us a sense of order about both the seen and unseen worlds and the dimensions of human experience. It mapped out the heavens and the earth. It introduced us to a code of conduct, a morality that gave us a sense of affirmation when we were on the right path, and a discomfort or guilt when we strayed. It gifted us with a relationship that was personal between an Almighty God and each of us individually. This grace imbued in us a sense of importance, an identity as children, followers and loved beings of a special, unique God.

Religion has given us a clear and separate identity, a sense of comfort brought about by membership in the Church and allegiance to God and the dogmas that are to guide us in all our relationships with the world and people, and yes, even with our inner selves. It keeps us circling around its orbit through rites and rituals, communal prayers, stories and myths found in religious texts that have been passed on from hundreds, even thousands of years back.

The function of religion is clear: in exchange for our faith, the divine will fortify us. It will heal and save us. It will restore us from brokenness. And for quite a number of people, that is somewhat close to their religious experience.

From another point of view, the writer Ken Wilber says that organized religion can do all that, not unlike a balm that eases pain, or alcohol that dulls the loneliness, or drugs that induce temporary forgetfulness. But it will not stop the incessant existential itch that makes us crave, want, desire or grasp at things and people. Neither will it give us the feeling of true oneness with the universe. This is because religion does not go to the heart of the problem, which lies in the very nature of the separateness of self.

Religion, in Wilber’s view, does two things: it is either “translative” (more common) or “transformative” (very rare). When it is translative, religion simply entices one into a comfortable, simplified, pre-chewed experience of the Divine. Religion will not rock your boat; far from it. Religion will comfort you and save you from ever meeting or knowing the deep, unsettling and even disturbing aspects of yourself. But it will alleviate suffering by providing you with new ways of dealing with emotions and problems, or looking at yourself and others. It will protect you from the horrible, shield you from what may be a great, mortal blow to the ego, and content you with some peak experiences that will not deeply alter your consciousness. It may ease your pain but will keep you enslaved by an insatiable ego. In short, it will not transform you.

On the other hand, there are the extremely few people in the history of all religions who have experienced religion in a radical, transformative way. For them, God did not appear as a gentle, calming, even polite presence that made them feel good. The Divine was not embodied as a calm, patient, reassuring presence or experience but more like an incarnated tough drill sergeant who made life hell. Religion did not console them but tormented or devastated them. It did not save them, but shattered them completely into tiny unrecognizable pieces. It did not protect their ego but crushed it. In short, it went for the jugular to transform them by killing their made-up identity to get to who they really were.

Think of Gautama Buddha, Saul who became Paul, St. Teresa of Avila, Eckhart, Maimonides, Sri Ramana Maharshi, some Zen masters like Bodhidharma, etc. You can find a few from every religion. They all went through the wringer and came out with a boundless enlightened consciousness.

This is not saying that the translative is not a valid religious experience. It is a comforting realm that works for the many and has a vital role in society. But among the many, there are the few who will first go through the translative phase but will tire of it because it can only take them so far until it ceases to console their restless spirit.

The translative religious experience gifts the many with legitimacy. Numbers can console and give one an assurance of being on the right path. But for those who forge beyond the beaten path to answer a fearsome call and traverse at the forest’s edge of what lies beyond even death, or anything familiar or comfortable, the gift or the promise dangled before them by the transformative is authenticity.

And it is authenticity that strikes at one’s core. It is “meeting” the Divine without anyone present, most of all a “you” standing in the way. As Wilber describes it, the self is blown to smithereens and made into “toast” by the radiance it encounters. And the space the ego self used to occupy is taken over completely by the One.

The Christian mystic Meister Eckart once said, “God likes to visit when no one is home.” Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a Tibetan teacher said, “There is only ati (spirit).” They are talking of the same thing.

The transformative therefore is the true revolution of the spirit. It does not accommodate or legitimize the world but, in a way, subverts it in order to transform it. Jesus was a transformative figure more than a translative one.

The world has seen very few individuals who have lived transformative lives, and yet these few have brought humanity to levels of consciousness higher than ever before. And just like in the past, truly transformational figures will pay a heavy burden for it since that is the price of authenticity.

It carries both a demand and a duty. You will meet the Divine but hardly anyone will believe you when you talk about it. But you must proclaim it anyway. You will speak of it but your words will be misunderstood, but you must still say them anyway. Your life will be an enigma to others and to yourself, but you must live it with conviction. Authenticity means boldly venturing out and doing a David to a vulgar Goliath world.

There is no “lite” way to live transformatively. The experience is full-on, classic!

* * *

1) The Art of the Nude — A photography workshop on Oct. 15 (Saturday) from 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Write to for questions and reservations. Limited class.

2) Walking Photography Class — Explore a place and learn to capture light, tell a story, frame a photo, and more under different lighting conditions and settings. Class is on Oct. 22. Venue to be announced.

3) Basic Photography — Oct. 30 from 1 to 6:30. This will be at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. Call 0916-8554303, 426-5375 or e-mail.

On sex, God and time

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated October 02, 2011

There are areas of our lives that need constant watching and evaluation, that need our attention in a conscious way. These are not duties in themselves although there are some responsibilities involved. We are instinctively and primordially drawn to them and so we cannot help but deal with them. I am talking of sex, God and time.

Our personal growth and evolution are closely tied to how we face issues related to them and how we navigate the stages and levels of understanding and accommodation of these powerful ingredients in our lives.

I remember watching the Ms. Universe Pageant with my daughter and her friend, who were both 12 years old, and I openly commented on how gorgeous and sexy one of the contestants was. My daughter and her friend immediately responded (jokingly) that they were going to “tell Mom” what I just said. I felt that their comment was a signal for me to finally but deliberately talk to my age-appropriate daughter about the birds and the bees.

One of the first things I told her was that sexual attraction is something everyone experiences and, in fact, is a mainstay in our lives. We will all be dealing with the sex urge for as long as we are alive. Sex is an unlimited, renewable resource, one of the key factors that make us feel alive. And we will always find people who are beautiful and even desirable, but we cannot always have access to them for obvious reasons. And so the earlier we find ways to control the sexual urge, the better for us.

As a grown man, I have a different view of sex than I did when I was, say, 14. At 14 and up to my 30s, my mind may have been preoccupied with it 90 percent of the time. These days, it preoccupies me less although I still feel it is one of the most marvelous things about being alive. I can still look at a beautiful woman and feel that rush. But now, I feel that more of the woman must be present. It is not just her physical attributes, but also her mind, emotions, conversation, life’s work or purpose, humor, passion, empathy, etc. that will make me even remotely want to get interested in any allowable intimate way.

A wife or a life partner can be continuously interesting because over time, all of the above can show up in them. And all of them are “on the table,” so to speak, when it comes to sex. The act itself can have a different meaning and flavor because the points of intersection are greater and wider.

When one is young, the physical aspect seems like it is everything. The urge can be “oceanic” and can encompass everything for a while. But as we get older, the struggles and phases we have lived through over the years may unleash new energies that make the experience of sex different. If the metaphor is wine, it would be less tangy, more subdued perhaps, and more full-bodied. Sex as a 10-, 20-, 30-year affair is way different than the one-night stand every young guy fantasizes about.

Does this mean that one is better than the other? The point is, sex is so wide an area of human activity that we will be meeting and dealing with it until we stop breathing. When we change, it too changes. And through the years, its pleasures can become more nuanced, or we may even choose to have less of it, depending on where we are at given times in our lives.

The same thing happens in our relationship with the divine. A man I met once told me that his faith had not changed since he was nine years old. The catechism he knew then is the same as what he knows now and he has never questioned it. My experience is the opposite of his. I do believe in God. I have never doubted His existence. The world and life itself are too awesome and there are too many questions that pop up which the rational mind cannot fathom.

And therein lies the rub. The more our knowledge grows and the more we fathom and solve the mysteries of the universe, the more we realize how much we do not know. With every step forward in our understanding of life, the divine seems to pull us deeper into its eternally spacious, vast and endlessly amazing mystery. The ground of God is endless and will never be fully covered. I feel that my understanding of God just gets bigger and greater and there is no end in sight. This leads me sometimes to realize that maybe there is nothing that is not God.

That may be a bit too pagan for some people, but one thing I know is, the more I question or ask about God, the bigger God gets.

From my personal journey on this subject, the topic of God is elastic. God can be as small or big, meaningless or meaningful, kind or cruel, etc. as we want Him/Her/It to be. It’s one of those topics one will never ever outgrow because, strangely enough, God seems to stop growing only when we stop growing.
Now, let’s talk about time. We are all born in the field of time and space. And while we may defy the limitations of space and geography through modern technology, like air and space travel and the Internet and other great new wonders, we cannot defy time. Not even Belo can do that. We are here for just a lifetime. And that is not the same for everyone.

When I was a child many years ago, time always seemed too long. Christmases, birthdays only arrived after months and months of waiting. The three days between Good Friday and Easter Sunday seemed excruciatingly long since my mom imposed a ban on music, TV, radio and other media on those days. School took forever and a day. Being “grown up” was never going to happen.

As a teen, it did not get any better. The angst that accompanied passions of lust, ambition and dreams made any waiting unforgivably difficult. It’s a “now” world for young people. I meet fewer kids today who are willing to put in extra years at the university to get more than just one degree.

Even as a young husband then, I felt that the nine months that pregnancies took were just too long. After about the sixth month, I would reach my limit of waiting and almost “forget” my wife was even pregnant. In my mind, I must have half-considered her state a semi-permanent condition and found an accommodation with it. Then I would be utterly surprised when the moment would finally come and she would deliver.

These days, time is an hourglass with the grains descending to the bottom faster than ever. There is little time left for the many things I still want to do. How much of the past should I concern myself with? How much of myself should I still invest in the future? Or should I just spend every waking hour being in the moment?

Truth to tell, that has been my strategy for some time now. When I think of my childhood and the small God I knew then, it seems like a time lost forever, a story told with judgment and finality, a closed book. The jury has spoken.

But when I review my life and everything else with the understanding of God as I know Him now, I look at the past as connected to where I am now and where I will be tomorrow. My life story is not linear in its narrative but spiral, ascending still in a continuing unfolding of new, expanded meanings and understanding. God is still revealing Himself and, yes, He is also still revealing me to myself in this limited field of time and space. I still love life and much of my libidinous energy continues to drive many of my life’s passions in new, creative ways.

I love it that the fascination, and accommodation with sex, God and time isn’t anywhere near ending.

* * *

1) Join me in a Songwriting Workshop on Saturday, Oct. 8. Learn what comprises good songs and songwriting from melodic, structure, lyrics, arrangements, etc. in a very hands-on workshop. Students will actually write songs during class. It is from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Call 0916-855-4303 or write to for questions and reservations. P5,000.

2) The Art of the Nude — A photography workshop on Oct. 15 from 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Write to for questions and reservations. Limited class.

3) Walking Photography Class — Explore a place and learn to capture light, tell a story, frame a photo, and more under different lighting conditions and settings. Class is on Oct. 22. Venue to be announced.

My silver lining

Last Saturday, I flew to Davao to attend the Silver Linings 2011 gathering of breast cancer survivors. Weeks before, Kara Alikpala, its founder and dynamo, had asked me to come and address the crowd.

I must admit I was hesitant for a couple of reasons.

One, although my wife is a breast cancer survivor, I feel unworthy to talk about it before people who have suffered so much more than we have. I do not feel comfortable speaking about cancer with any authority.

Two, it is painful to talk about it even years later, and I did not want to find myself in a situation where my emotions can get the better of me in public.

But at the same time, there was a voice within me that said I should go and speak, just from my experience and not from the stance of some learned authority, and trust that my message would get through to some people who may need to hear about what we went through. At the very least, I would not do any harm and I could even do some good.

And so, I found myself at the Royal Hotel in Davao City on Sept. 17 before a large gathering of cancer survivors.

I was to speak in one module and moderate another. I was to share the topic “How husbands cope” with Bobbit Suntay. I had given a talk about this before and so I knew it would be a breeze. But Bobbit Suntay’s experience is infinitely deeper than mine and, truth to tell, I don’t know if I could have risen to the occasion as courageously, as wisely and gracefully as he did, had I faced his situation.

I cannot forget my memory of him years ago, outside the office of my wife Lydia’s oncologist Dr. Lopez, which he and his wife Jackie also visited. We were leaving the doctor’s office with smiles on our faces because she had just declared Lydia cancer-free after chemo and radiation. Bobbit and Jackie were about to enter the office but they were to hear the unexpected opposite news: that Jackie’s cancer had spread aggressively and had reached the tipping point.

I spoke first. I had no notes, mental or physical, preferring to be totally spontaneous. I told the story of how Lydia first noticed a concave indentation on her left breast while we were in New Zealand on a holiday. True to her procrastinating nature, it took her months to get herself tested and when she finally did, she was devastated to learn she had a malignant tumor.

The morning she told me, I had to leave for Baguio for a show that evening. Having to leave her and drive, perform, and then drive back was one of the hardest things I ever did. We also had to tell our kids, family and friends soon after. Then there was the surgery, the shaving of her locks in anticipation of the effects of five cycles of chemo and radiation which she would have to undergo.

Midway during my talk, I mustered a few funny moments to share to lighten the mood, like the feeling that ran through me as I watched Lydia throw up an anti-vomiting tablet that cost P700. I wanted to pick it up and give it back to her. But soon enough, the pain of it all came flooding back and I had to pause awhile a few times as I held back my tears.

Soon after, the questions came. To summarize my responses to the many queries, I said that the way we coped was that Lydia and I shared the experience like we both had cancer. Lydia did not have cancer alone. We had cancer. It was a struggle that we faced together, trying to give each other unconditional support.

Bobbit pointed out the need to not play the hero. He said that husbands of cancer patients must not hesitate to ask for help because even the strongest pillars of strength need support. He also advised husbands to learn all there is about the disease, and to take care of themselves because two sick people cannot possibly improve the situation.

I felt inadequate and even powerless trying to answer a question of a woman who was obviously of little means about how she could cope better financially. Cancer is an expensive illness. I felt financially challenged by it, and I wonder how the poor manage, if at all.

The module I moderated was about the topic, “How to tell loved ones about cancer” given by Dr. Karen de la Cruz, a psychologist and a second kidney survivor. I found the session quite interesting since there were some in the audience who shared their stories. When telling children they have cancer, she said it is better that the parent who is closer breaks the news. Also, it is important to be at the same height physically when you break the news, meaning the parent and child must be seated. Also, you do not have to paint the entire picture. Just give them enough facts that they can understand as of now.

There were 1,600 women at the gathering from all over the country. Many came from Manila, such as the members of Icanserve, a cancer support group who came to help. The symposium was a constant stream of meeting people, hearing their stories of shock and pain and the faith they discovered to believe in healing and the courage to deal with their disease.

Many women speakers spoke of “hot flashes” caused by the medicines they were taking. It may have sounded like a joke but I pointed out that these were probably more like “power surges” since they were fighting for their lives. This gathering of cancer warriors was no different from a group of war veterans sharing their battle stories. I detected the glint in many a teary eye as they recounted their ordeal and shared their pride in having fought and won their battle against breast cancer.

But in a way, the battle is never won decisively. After the cancer surgery, chemo, radiation and years of taking medicines, cancer can still come back and, at times, it does. One may be clear for years until one day, a new lump is discovered in the breast area or somewhere else. Vigilance is really the key.

We will all die someday. This is a truism that everyone understands and accepts intellectually until we are confronted with the possible death of a precious one. As I shared in my talk, prior to Lydia’s diagnosis, I believed cancer was something that happened only to other people until it happened to us.

I was happy to have met husbands of new breast cancer patients who sought me out to ask questions on how they could be of better help in their new situation. I know it takes courage to open up since most men are not easily eloquent, talking about their personal suffering, or anything intimate for that matter. We also heard a male breast cancer patient who must have mustered a lot of courage to openly share his experience. I salute them all for being there.

On the way home, I thought about my initial hesitation about attending the Silver Linings event. I asked myself again the reasons why I hesitated against my actual experience of being here. Was I uncomfortable as I thought I would be? Yes. Did my worst fears materialize, that I would cry while sharing my experience? Yes. But was I happy I did it? A resounding YES. Why? Because there I met truly brave people who were unconditional about their desire to be alive. They did what it took to stay alive.

On my end, I was happy to have shared my relatively small experience that will hopefully help a few more men, women and their families find their silver lining to cope better with cancer, and live longer.

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1) Join me in a Songwriting Workshop on Saturday, Oct. 8. Learn what comprise good songs and songwriting from melodic, structure, lyrics, arrangements, etc. It uses a very hands-on approach. Students will actually write songs during class. It is from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Call 0916-855-4303 or write to for questions and reservations. Classes are P5,000.

2) The Art of the Nude — A photography workshop on Oct. 15 from 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Write to for questions and reservations. Limited class.

3) Walking Photography Class — Explore a place and learn to capture light, tell a story, frame a photo, and more under different lighting conditions and settings. Class is on Oct. 22. Venue to be announced.