Go out and play

Go out and play
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated September 1, 2013 – 12:00am

Sometimes I just feel like dropping the ball with everything and just disappearing for a while. Life can be so busy that one needs a respite, some breathing space. And since the metaphor I am using is “breathing,” what I am saying is I need to exhale, too. You can’t keep on taking the world by breathing in everything. You have to expel the air you take in.

Once in a while, I feel the overwhelming pull of obligations and engagements that I must attend to and I feel trapped. Don’t get me wrong. I like being busy and doing a lot of things. I like people, too. But there is also a need to be alone at times, to hear one’s thoughts and feelings, let them go and just disappear into the silence within.

“Disappearing” can mean taking an hour’s walk, going to the gym, traveling to a new place nearby or just going off on my own with just a camera. Turning off the Internet helps. Meditation helps a lot. Shutting the world off and just playing the guitar and piano can really do it for me, too.

Basically, the point of all these activities is to have some solitude where I can stop reacting to stimuli, and instead instigate conscious action on my own. It is saying “no” to responsibilities, pressures and the push and pull of life even for a while. It is stopping all the sirens and alarm bells of fixed schedules and must-do’s and just going somewhere and watching one’s self unravel aimlessly and naturally without all that poking and prodding from the world.

I know some people doing NGO (non-government organization) work who are perennially tired and often seem like they have lost their zest for life. They seem always swamped with work, pursuing their mission to help the poor and other altruistic endeavors. They do not earn much but they do a lot of work. And those tasks we all know can seem endless and really daunting.

These people usually start out full of idealism. They commit to a life of helping the poor and the downtrodden. It must be very rewarding to see the fruits of one’s labors pay off. It is a good feeling when you can change the trajectory of people’s lives to better circumstances. But sometimes, compassion fatigue can set in. When it happens, the commitment to stay the course is there but the feeling is gone. Knowing how conscientious some of these NGO types are, they will still show up to do the work even if they don’t feel like it.

Soon, they feel the physical and spiritual fatigue. They become tired and numb to the psychic rewards they used to get from helping others. Where before they had joy in the work, now the high is gone. This dry spell can last for weeks, months, even years. Meanwhile, they live with the drudgery of responsibility and duty accompanied by some guilt because of how they feel.

I can identify with this since I participate and lend time and effort to many causes. After awhile, it does get tiring. You want to stop caring. But being the person that you are, you tell yourself that you simply have to continue doing it.

An NGO friend narrated to me how he woke up one day and realized he had nothing left to give, at least for that moment. He felt he had been running on empty for quite a while. There was nothing to joyfully give or share. What he had left was the absence of fulfillment and joy that used to go with the work, and a certain bitterness. He woke up feeling that he had given so much of his time and personal effort to a cause that now seemed meaningless, and even thankless. Where before he gave happily and never counted the cost, now he caught himself doing just that.

I can only imagine what it is like for good, dedicated government employees who are underpaid, overworked and often despised and ridiculed by those whom they serve. Or how about priests, nuns? How do they cope? Where do they “disappear” to?

I know that there is great reward in giving and being generous and being responsible for other people. These capacities also define what being an adult means. And the world needs more responsible adults.

But being an adult and everything that goes with it must be a sustainable endeavor. How does one do that? The answer is, by not always being an adult. Quite simply put, one must take a leave from being the stiff, ever responsible, answerable grown-up who carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. One must take time to play. Yes, play! And the more often we play, the more balanced we become as adults.

“Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature, says American author Tom Robbins.

I agree with this. Extremely serious, dogmatic men and women who take no time to have a good laugh, or indulge in activities that make them happy, are terrible guardians of the world. These are people who do not like spontaneity, candidness who end up destroying their spirit and those of others with heavy doses of seriousness. They can be academicians, businessmen, politicians, ideologues, or from any kind of occupation. They are people who have no time to notice the poetry found in simple living. Their perfectionism, their total adherence to rules and duties without question can be soul-killing. They are joyless, tired adults whose sense of “duty” inspires no one, not the least themselves. Their fearful response to life prevents them from seeing the value of the invisible and the symbolic aspects of richer living.

Whoever it was who said “the price of eternal vigilance is boredom” knew that all work and no play makes us all dull, boring and joyless.

So do yourself and the world a favor. When you feel you need to rest, refresh, recharge or rekindle, just stop whatever you are doing. Go out and play. Do what makes you happy and fully engage what you are passionate about on your own terms. The world will be a better place when happier, more functional adults also play, not just work.

Why I’m optimistic

Why I’m optimistic
Rappler.com POSTED ON 08/31/2013 6:10 PM | UPDATED 08/31/2013 6:21 PM

One’s greatest friend and one’s greatest enemy is one’s mind. It is where our knee-jerk responses are formed. The mind is so strong that one must either control or be controlled by it.

In many ways, the formation of our personality, our state of happiness or unhappiness and how we live life is directly affected by our minds.

Growing up during the oppressive Marcos years should have made me cynical about politics. But it did not, and it is probably because, despite the oppression and the seeming hopelessness of our situation at the time, I saw ordinary people awaken and transform into courageous citizens who risked life, limb and property to fight for freedom, truth and justice. Their bravery inspired me.

I felt alive in the light they cast which drove the shadows in retreat. Their light overpowered the darkness. They stood before forces much bigger than they and did not give up until they kicked out the dictator.

On the other hand, I also saw many people become cynical because of what they went through during Martial Law. On the surface, they were not too different from the brave ones. They too complained and criticized, but the difference was, they stopped there. Eventually they simply burned out, never translating their anger and disgust into action.

There are among us the whiners and whingers who, despite their seeming to be on high ground, are actually disempowered. Thinking that resorting to cursing is enough, they talk and talk, complain, criticize, point out, accuse, diss, blame the world, other people or even themselves for every wrong that they see. I have seen people who do this all day. And I’ve seen this behavior flare into a national past time. I have also seen that absolutely nothing happens when that is all people do. Problems and issues never get resolved.

To change things, one must take action.


Together with the complainers, the most toxic company we can find ourselves in are those who wallow in unwarranted pessimism and cynicism. They believe that everything that is happening is wrong or will go wrong. They talk tough, but often I detect that they are totally intimidated by a world which they have defined as having no escape from its past history.

In their view, negativity is monolithic. There are no cracks for the light of serendipity and synchronicity to possibly enter.

Such people feed on their negativity like a dog that has over-chewed a bone and sucked all sustenance from it, but still won’t let it go. They are fixated on being cynical. And when things go wrong as they “predicted,” they gloat and proclaim how “right” they are.

They complain about everything and do nothing, not even read up on a topic to get enough information that will allow them to have an intelligent conversation and make an informed choice. Their default mode is pessimism and gloom. It looks to me that they feel entitled to a better world without contributing anything to it.

For example, there are many people who like or are supportive of PNoy’s reforms but argue that the country’s future is doomed because there is no candidate in the horizon who is straight and honest enough to take his place. And so they say that the Philippines is hopeless.

In response, I always point out that it was only 4-and-a half years ago when we were sure that Manny Villar would be our next president. He had everything going for him — logistics, money, popularity — and he started his campaign early. But we all know how things turned out.

There was also the Corona impeachment trial and conviction. Remember how we felt that Corona would get away because we initially thought the prosecution was weak and inept and that the Senate would not shake the status quo? Further along, our legislators managed to pass the Sin Tax and the RH bills that everyone was dead sure would never become law. And who has not been surprised at how far the Askals and Gilas have gone?


The first thing we must do is believe that there are things we can do to get us to where we want to go. If we cannot believe we can do it, then surely it cannot be done. I am not being a Pollyanna here. I am not into magical thinking either. There is much to be optimistic about.

I am talking about how successful people do it. They have visions that take shape and the word becomes flesh. I am talking about how they have ambitions, dreams, how they recognize the hard work that needs to be done, AND actually showing up to do it.

Take a look around you, and you will see great people showing up and doing great things everyday. They are the ones who hold up the sky for everyone else. They keep the world turning.

It cannot be denied that our country has many problems. But this only means that there are lots of opportunities for people to do great work. The inertia of the past has often brought out the worst in our leaders and in ourselves. It is therefore right to call for vigilance. Vigilance means paying attention to people and processes, working and fighting for what we want and getting it. It is a doer’s world.

Beyond stereotypes

Another manifestation of cynicism is when we fall into the trap of either/or thinking, when we feel we must always give up one thing for another. This is often caused by a failure of imagination, a lack of openness, and fear. Either/or thinking presents an artificial range of choices, or more accurately, the lack of them. It forces us to see things only in black and white and as stereotypes.

A few examples: “All politicians are corrupt. So anyone who runs for public office must be corrupt.” “You’re either with us, or against us!” “If we want a fresh start, we must kill this generation of Filipinos that have been corrupted.” I know my last example seems extreme but I have heard this said by different people not less than 10 times during random political discussions.

Either/or thinking is powerful when you want to reduce choices into just two. It is effective in making propositions. And it is a tool often used by demagogues in a deadly manner. It breeds intolerance of a middle ground or compromise. It appeals to those who do not want to enter the world of complex thinking, where often, more choices present themselves because entering complexity demands that we study more. And very few really want to do this.

Sometimes, I admit there may just be two options left in a situation. Just the same, I do not wish to assume that either/or thinking is mostly the default option in life.

More often than not, I lean on the side of optimism and hope, sometimes cautiously, at other times enthusiastically. This I owe to the many people I have met who, despite great disadvantages in life, have managed to turn the tide in their favor.

People have told me I am too trusting and naïve. Maybe it is because when I hear someone give reasons why something cannot be done, I look at them initially as excuses and demand to hear how and why it SHOULD be done. It is true that I have had my disappointments with people, but trusting in the goodness of others, in people’s ability to strive for a higher self, has generally been a validating experience for me.

I believe in fresh starts. I look to the future and I see “Yes” more than I see “No.” I also believe in not holding on to attitudes, opinions and points of view that do not lead me to a higher experience of growth, joy and happiness. The drive to do something worthwhile almost always overrides my fear of failure. Early in life, I must have subconsciously chosen this positive path, and since it has worked for me, I have consciously adopted it.

Henry Ford was spot on when he said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.”

We all have our own relationship with the world. Imagine our attitudes as the stipulations in our contract with reality. We may have chosen them ourselves, but most likely, we acquired them from others (parents, teachers, role models, etc.) without our even knowing it. In whatever way we acquired our attitudes, it is through them that we experience the world.

That’s why I am optimistic because when I am, the world always opens up to more possibilities. – Rappler.com

Jim Paredes is a singer-songwriter of the Apo Hiking Society. He wrote the song which became the anthem of the 1986 People Power revolt, “Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo.” An activist through music, he’s taken his messages online through social media. He is also a columnist for The Philippine Star.

Rage against corruption

Rage against corruption
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated August 25, 2013 – 12:00am

We all are aware that many of our public officials are corrupt. I have talked to quite a few people who even assume that perhaps all of them are. I must disagree since I personally know honest people in government. But even so, we have all heard about kickbacks, tong, grease money changing hands and the skullduggery that happens in politics. In every scandalous situation we read about, we assume what we hear is probably true or has a ring of truth to it since we think the worst of our public officials.

So why are we all so completely and totally enraged by the revelations about the scam and deception linking many of our officials to a certain Janet Napoles who allegedly was their conduit to their pork barrel? Didn’t we assume this kind of thievery was going on all along? Wasn’t that the practice? So why are we screaming bloody murder?

I guess it is one thing to imagine and suspect guilt and quite another to get confirmation that we were right all along. For many years, we have been talking and complaining about corruption to the point that we had grown tired and just accepted it as par for the course in politics. The system is indeed rotten and does not deliver justice because the corrupt run it. Proof of that is, very few corrupt people ever go to jail. Every time we vote, we simply choose the less corrupt among them.

But reading about the testimony of whistleblowers lately detailing the extent of the corruption, the lavish lifestyle of the Napoles family and our officials, and getting confirmation from COA regarding the veracity of the amounts misused, misrepresented, stolen outright was shockingly scandalous. All of a sudden, corruption had specific faces, and had documented histories and identities. What we had suspected to be true all along really happened. It wasn’t just our cynicism that led us to imagine it. It was and is real. And much, much bigger than we ever thought or imagined.

The P10 billion being mentioned is a huge sum of money. It is like stealing P100 from every Filipino. And there are 100 million Filipinos. And that amount is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

Despite being brutally beaten up by weather disturbance Maring the past few days, the anger and focus of the people on the issue have not simmered. On the contrary, the rains have further brought to light the failure of government through the years to spend on meaningful infrastructure projects for flood control and anti-poverty programs that would have alleviated suffering. People see the ugly face of Janet Napoles and her cabal of corrupt politicians as the cause of uncontrolled flooding and all the suffering we are all going through.

What if the 10 billion that went to corruption had been spent on real programs that actually solved our perennial problems? Many surely are asking that as they suffer through high water, homelessness, hunger and life-threatening situations. They gnash their teeth knowing the money that could have helped them has gone to finance the bottomless greed that continues to feed the luxurious lifestyle of our corrupt political leaders.

And while many have been feeling quite upbeat about the reforms that are happening now under P-Noy, the extent and the gravity of the problem of corruption that has come to light is something that still shook a lot of people — enough for a great many to have a sinking feeling in the gut that things are still far from being okay. There is a lot of work that needs to be done.

And who is supposed to clean this up? A few good men against the majority in government who are mired in corruption? It is quite disheartening.

But on the other hand, I would like to think that the Janet Napoles scam unraveling daily may be one of the most providential things that could have happened. Why? Because it can be a tremendous impetus for the structural reforms we need to undertake. I have not seen reactions from people as visceral as this in a long time. People are outraged and want to punish the guilty. Meanwhile, the politicians, especially those who have been implicated, are deafeningly quiet perhaps in fear of fanning the dissent further with any utterance they make.

The line in the sand, the boundary that marks the threshold of tolerance, has been crossed and the polite, passive silence has been broken. The patience has dissipated. People are mad and dying to express their disgust in more aggressive ways and are demanding swift action.

The call for action on Aug. 26, called not by the usual street parliamentarians but by ordinary, regular, unknown people outside the political circle has spread virally through social media in so short a time. It has taken on a life of its own with people inviting other people to join. Normally apolitical people I know have expressed their desire to participate. And there is a common agreement among the motely group of organizers to not allow past and present politicians to give speeches. Nor are banners, placards expressing yellow, red or whatever sentiments welcome but partisans can join if they want. It is all about ordinary people — friends, neighbors, the ordinary Filipinos who are simply enraged and are demanding answers to where their hard earned taxes have gone. They want punishment for everyone who is guilty.

P-Noy, who had been inexplicably and excruciatingly silent at first, finally spoke last Monday to say that charges would be filed against the guilty. And while he has suspended the spending of PDAF, he has also said that he was not for abolishing it, but rather creating more stringent safeguards for its use. Since the demand of the organizers is for the abolition of pork barrel altogether, I am not sure how this will fly. Every single day, new revelations and developments are being added, like ingredients to the boiling pot of dissent.

So far, the majority of people I know in social media are going. I, too, will be there. To this veteran street protester, this call to Luneta feels refreshing because the program will be different. The people stepping up to the plate and assuming responsibility for the organizing, logistics and other stuff are all new faces. Even the official statement is informally written and does not read like the usual manifesto.

To me, all this is exciting. Something new is happening. Clearly, the ordinary, regular people want to speak in their own, honest voices. Let us be there to listen and support them.

Comfort zones

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated August 18, 2013 – 12:00am

It is nice to be comfortable, to feel at home, safe, in a world that unfolds in a predictable manner. It is a great feeling to be financially comfortable, to have enough money and not have to worry about paying bills. When one goes a little beyond having just enough money, life starts to get more exciting than comfortable. As more money comes in, it becomes exhilarating. But while one is beyond being uncomfortable, one is not in relaxed comfort either. Way too much money may begin to feel like a burden to carry. It is anything but comfortable.

To be able to appreciate comfort, one must have the ability to determine what feels “just right.”

Being in a relaxed state is how a comfort zone feels like. After a long, challenging day at the office, or a long trip, it is great to come home to people and things that are familiar — wife, children, the family home, the things inside the house that make you feel at home because you bought them and put them there. You know where your slippers are. You like the familiar scent of the house. You like the food. In fact it was especially prepared for you. The sounds you hear tell you that you are home.

There is a great assurance one feels around familiar things. There is comfort in routine. Whatever it is one is doing, one is relaxed because of one’s familiarity with the setting and the situation.

There is also the aspect of comfort when you know you do not have to try very hard. You are relaxed physically when you surrender to inertia. You lie down instead of sit. You get out of your tight clothing and slip into looser ones. You obey the demands of your body. You eat when you feel like it, and sleep because you can’t help it. Physical comfort is surrendering to the pull of gravity and entropy.

It is wonderful to feel comfortable.

Some people can be “picky” in their comfort. By this I refer to people who cannot use toilets except those in their own homes, or eat food prepared by someone other than the cook they are used to. They also find it hard to sleep in a new bed.

There are people who wear only branded clothes and accessories. There are also those who do not express their own opinions but those of others whom they feel carry weight and command respect. Such people seem to be comfortable being associated with status. It is their way of gaining approval. To be accepted, not to be singled out or criticized, to live within the confines of strict political correctness is where their comfort zone is. To each his own.

However, there is also such a thing as too much comfort. I can get restless being stuck with the familiar. When I stay at home too much, I get cabin fever. When I keep doing the same things in the same way, I get tired and bored. When we relate to people the same way all the time, contempt for one another is inevitably bred. When these things happen, I am tempted to break out of the mold, to try new things, travel, explore the unknown and unfamiliar paths, or create new ones.

It is great to experience comfort in love, in one’s religion, and be happy with one’s self. It makes one sure of things that matter and a sense of who one is. But at the same time, too much of the familiar leads to stagnancy and boredom. The magic disappears. Clinging too much to the familiar and comfortable can feel like one has built walls around life itself. The unfamiliar, the unknown is stopped from entering. When this happens, the comfort zone once cherished for being nourishing and life affirming becomes stale and can even turn one’s spirit toxic.

Looking back, there was a time in my life when I stopped finding comfort and solace in my understanding of the religion I grew up in. I felt it had become too small, too constricting and too unreasonable in my everyday life. It stopped nourishing me and giving me spiritual comfort.

But far from straying from God, my stepping away from religion opened me up to a bigger spiritual understanding of God, life and myself. I felt the presence of God outside the box, outside the franchise that religion and dogma had trapped God in. I felt that God could not be contained or summarized in words, or even a set of strict beliefs. And I found a God who was so inclusive, there was nothing that was not God. When this happened, I knew I had stepped out of my comfort zone.

My world was transformed. I realized that the search for God I had been on all my life was a useless endeavor. How could I search for something that was never lost and in fact was always present and unavoidable? What a crazy, rich and beautiful reality I awakened to!

But where I found ecstasy, I also discovered suffering. Where before I yearned for constant comfort since it meant freedom from pain in all ways, I learned to accept discomfort and pain as part of life. I learned to accept diversity of views, beliefs, customs, and embrace the difference. I allowed points of view that I once found threatening into my understanding. In short, my heart opened up to a greater compassion than I had ever experienced. I felt I had a wider grasp of suffering, going through moments of being one not just with those who suffered but with everyone and everything else. I felt a quantum leap in my spiritual growth when all these things happened.

I believe that understanding and growing in spirituality means constantly challenging one’s understanding of life and of a God who draws one ever deeper into mystery. The more you know God, the more you know how little your understanding is and will ever be. And yet the spiritual imperative is to continue to try to understand and accept Him. And that is not a comfortable thing to be doing at all.

It is the same with love. To love a human being is to extend, or offer oneself to another. And it can give us a wonderful warm feeling. But it also demands sacrifice and trying again and again and giving till it hurts. To be able to do this sustainably, one must tap the deepest recesses of one’s compassion and discover therein a wellspring of love that flows unconditionally. One must see a glimpse of God that lies within us.

I know now that a lot of the good things in life actually lie outside our comfort zones. To venture outside the familiar is to sharpen one’s senses and perceive the invisible presence, the ultimate reality that is waiting to be discovered. It is also about developing one’s courage, to live ever bigger and greater than we ever imagined ourselves, and yet remain vulnerable and open to whatever shows up.

I am not advocating asceticism. I want to be happy and possess material things like everyone. And I am certainly not against comfort zones. It is a place to heal, to replenish, to relax and to rest. But the idea is not to maintain these zones as closed sets within fixed borders, but to keep moving the fence to include ever greater unknown territory and allow one’s self to get to know the unfamiliar and make it part of one’s comfort zone.

To maintain a comfort zone, one must let new stuff in, otherwise it becomes a zone where things become static, unchanging until they grow old, wither and die until it becomes a zone of spiritual death.

Exploring the heart of things

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated August 11, 2013 – 12:00am

Illustration by REY RIVERA

What’s inside?”

Every time I see a gadget that thrills me, this is the question I ask myself. While I marvel at cellphones, cameras, printers and the like, I am even more interested to know details about how they work. Knowing about the technology behind things, the processes involved in the making of wondrous toys such as these, can get me really excited.

I also like reading history and knowing about how events and people can affect the trajectory of humankind’s unfolding future.

In short, I am a curious guy who wants to understand how things work and how people’s lives unravel, and how they affect everything. I am not really a techie, nor am I a historian or a psychologist. I just want to know what things are made of and what makes people tick.

There is so much to know. There is so much to understand and appreciate. And while I may fully grasp how a gadget and all its features and functions work, I have no idea how to make one if I had to do it from scratch. That explains why I have the penchant for pushing products to the limit, dismantling them, attempting a fix if I find anything wrong, and putting them back together again.

It’s the same attitude I have towards people. I like to know their backgrounds, their thoughts, their traumas and highpoints and everything else I can possibly know that has contributed to making them who they are.

We were born curious. We were born to ask questions. We were born to seek knowledge and attempt to get answers to almost everything.

This urge to know and understand the world is already evident among very young kids who can barrage us with so many questions. “Why is the sky blue?” “Why is it raining?” “What’s the moon made of?’’ During their “why” years, the questioning never ends. Many lose this curiosity in adulthood for various unfortunate reasons. I am thankful I have not. In fact, I wish to know a lot more stuff than I already know, now even more than ever as I get older.

The quest for answers to questions that have real, clear answers is easy. Science helps us with this all the time. But to seek answers to the imponderables, those questions that have plagued mankind since time immemorial and continue to do so, is difficult. But we all want and need to know the answers to them even if just to be assured that the tenets of our faith are indeed true and right.

Is there a God? Where is heaven? Is there life after death? Where do we go after death? These questions baffle us. Many wish we could turn to science for the answers so that they can feel a real assurance.

But sadly, science is not where we can find answers to these questions. Many scientists are even skeptical about God. They will tell you that the heavens have been explored and there is no “heaven” that has been found “up there.”

Understandably because of this, many religious people have shunned science to keep their faith intact. For them, to keep the faith is to stop asking for worldly proof. I, for one, believe that science is not the right instrument we should use to answer these questions satisfactorily. I know that is another essay altogether but just the same, let me dip into it a bit.

The clash between science and faith seems to come from the lack of understanding of the functions and the limitations of each other’s domain. To put it very simply, science is good at explaining the factual, the literal, the empirical, while the domain of faith lies in the world of symbols and the realm of the holy.

Joseph Campbell differentiates the domains by saying that the literal (science) is denotative while the symbolic (religious) is connotative. The literal will explain in measurable terms the physical world we live in including ourselves. The symbolic will coax and lead us to an experience of deep, open-ended mystery. Both are within the sphere of human experience within a reality we can never completely fathom.

Things become crazy when religion attempts to “prove” that, say, God made the world in seven days, or tries to pinpoint where the Garden of Eden is, or how Noah could have built an ark and collected all the animals, or exactly where heaven is.

“Literalism kills,” Campbell says. Faith is not meant to be appreciated in the literal sense. Holy books must not be looked at like scientific papers, and to treat them as such is to misuse and therefore denigrate them. To deem them as literally “factual” will simply not hold up to scientific scrutiny.

Science also oversteps when it dismisses felt spiritual experiences like enlightenment or being in the presence of the holy, etc. as purely psycho-neurological phenomena. It is in way over its head. Its explanation of consciousness and what it really is has so far been anything but complete. Its sole exclusive “faith” in the verifiable is myopic. Quantum physicists will be the first to tell you that.

But as humans, we feel the need to look into the heart of things and search for answers we can believe in.

After so many decades of living and seeing how the world continues to change, I have come to my own understanding of what the heart of things is all about. Life at its core is intrinsically “empty” or lacking in meaning or even having any permanent attributes. Life is essentially a blank. We put the meaning into it.

It is true that when we are born, we inherit a context of meanings passed on to us by society. This context is the software by which we try and understand everything. However, we all have seen in our own lives that meanings, beliefs, practices can and do change through time. Virtually nothing is written in stone. Everything is in flux.

Life is a field of open space where forms of life arise and die off. When we are awake to it, we can be what we want to be and can experience what we wish. It is eventually our call what we want to make out of our own lives.

While we are essentially free, the only thing we cannot avoid is the penchant to make meaning and sense of everything. This is why one philosopher has cynically described being human as being condemned to creating meaning endlessly.

And yes, we can and do change life’s meaning again and again when it does not serve us anymore. We do this each time we upgrade our science and faith to accommodate new facts and spiritual experiences.


HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated August 4, 2013 – 12:00am

I have been doing a lot of housework the past month. I’ve put some deal of effort fixing our little patch of garden in our modest home in Glenwood, NSW. When I arrived weeks ago, the grass was high and the weeds had taken over. They have been lording it over the other plants we had previously bought and put in the long plant box.

Garden work is a huge industry in Australia. You can always call someone to cut your grass, trim your hedges, decorate your garden, take out the weeds, landscape your entire lawn but all that will cost you. The Ilocano in me decided that I could do a lot of that by myself. I just refuse to spend 40-plus Australian dollars to cut the grass when I can very well mow it by my lonesome.

The day after I arrived, I spent an hour bent down pulling out weeds at the back of the house. The next four days, I had a terrible backache. When the pain had subsided a few days later, I went back to do more work taking out more weeds but decided to do some body stretching first. It worked. I also got the mower going and cut the long grass.

Surprisingly, I found solace and enjoyment doing all this. I admit, it’s not my favorite chore. Maybe it’s the idea of being in touch with ground soil or grass which some people say is a “balancing” and even healing experience. I have a friend in the US who encourages everyone he knows to walk barefoot on grass, or beach sand or any soil to get the magnetic energy we need from the earth. Or maybe it is the fulfillment I get seeing something chaotic and ugly turning into something more simplified, minimalistic and beautiful. Whatever it is, it works for everyone here. The garden looks better and I feel good because I fixed it. And Lydia is happy.

I experience the same peace and solitude when I manually wash the dishes. I feel I actually “liberate” each plate. It can have a somewhat religious feel to it, like forgiveness and the washing away of sins. I wash each plate and utensil in peace with full devotion, freeing it from whatever has sullied its surface and restoring each to its original state. If I were a priest and dishes were people, I should have saved many souls already.

It’s the same with vacuuming and mopping the floor. I comb every space, nook and cranny and free it from toxic substances and dirt. By doing so, I have driven away the infidels and restored the kingdom.

There is really no end to housework. That thought may get some people depressed, but for me, it is a perfect metaphor for living everyday life, or maintaining a relationship. Nothing is ever static. Dust gathers. Rust never sleeps. One must respond to situations. One must always try to clear the obstacles, stop the decay, fight the tendency to slack off, preserve and protect what is valuable, enhance the beauty and value of everything around us, and throw out trash and what is not needed or harmful. In short, one must always hold the sky up. Otherwise, things turn chaotic, confusing, depressing and even toxic.

In this country where labor is expensive, a lot of citizens have learned to do and fix things by themselves. The D.I.Y. (Do-It-Yourself) culture is alive and well here. You can go to a store called Bunnings and buy what you need to make anything. When you watch TV, you will notice that aside from cooking shows, there are a lot of programs about home repairs on primetime. That’s because everyone can relate to doing repairs or building things by themselves.

D.I.Y. is practiced here more than in Manila. In the Philippines, despite people complaining how very busy they are, many have maids, drivers, househelpers to free them from a lot of chores. People are available to help you 24/7. When you live abroad, you notice that time is more precious and rare. People work hard and do things themselves, so much so that you need to plan and set aside time to see friends, take time to enjoy yourself, do housework, and get everything done while working to keep body and soul together.

Life is hard, and the only way it becomes easier is to accept it as it is. That’s what writer M. Scott Peck once wrote. Every time I come back to Sydney after a long stay in the Philippines, I remind myself of this as I struggle to figure out and do even the simplest of things. When I stop resisting and just surrender to doing it, I am able to do things well and correctly. Then I feel a sense of satisfaction.

Aside from housework, I have also been working on my next album the past two weeks. I have been listening to the musical accompaniment of the songs I have made and already arranged and have been studying how to phrase my lyrics in the most natural way. That involves some rewriting and trying new approaches to how I sing the lines. I am also exploring new musical and vocal inflections, putting in new subtexts or meanings to how I will interpret my new songs in the studio.

I have been writing and recording for decades now. I have been doing this for years but now I see the whole process I have been doing with greater clarity. Songwriting is like giving birth. It doesn’t end after the child has come out. One must feed, care for, nurture and enhance its capabilities so it can reach its full potential. In short, one must love it for it to shine and love you back with its beauty.

From the mundane to the profound tasks of life, it’s pretty much a Do-It-Yourself endeavor. Other people’s lives can and do encroach on ours but we all have a lot of living to do on our own. We are all answerable and responsible for our own plant boxes and gardens.

The singing duo Seals and Crofts wrote a line years ago that still rings true for me. It goes, “My life is but a song I have written in many ways.” In short, it’s a D.I.Y. life.

In a somewhat tragic-funny, sardonic kind of way, it is not surprising that people have gotten killed while singing My Way. It’s a song about how one has lived and those singing it do so with conviction, and understandably so, even if it irritates others and provokes them to violence. After all, it’s a song about how one has lived life, D.I.Y. style.

But on a more serious note, we may as well do things well and as best as we can. We must so that the good we do can later on speak louder for us than the bad we have done.


HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated July 28, 2013 – 12:00AM

I am fascinated by psychics. There are so many kinds of them: fortune tellers, people who communicate with the dead, people who can move objects, healers, people who become channels, intuitive people who can amaze you with what they know and leave you wondering how they got to know it.

There is something irresistible about a stranger who tells you things about yourself that he or she could not have had prior knowledge of. And how about someone who can predict the future with amazing accuracy?

I have met and heard of many so-called psychics, a lot of them fake. But there have been a few good ones with real abilities.

My mom met an Indian diplomat years ago who, from out of the blue, told her that he saw a big explosion in her life. That was a few years after my dad had died in a plane crash.

When my mom went into a coma for two and a half years before she died, a woman psychic whom we had never met sought my sister out because she had been dreaming of an elderly mestiza lady who had a message for us. The woman claimed to have the gift of communicating with the comatose and the dead. We brought her to my mother’s bedside and they had a “talk.” The messages my mom supposedly told her to tell us were spot on. She was the real thing.

When I was growing up, I heard family stories about a woman called Sion. She was a helper in our ancestral house in Bangued, Abra who, from all indications, was slow, dull and ignorant, until she got into some sort of trance. In Ilocano, this phenomenon is known as lugan, where a spirit suddenly takes over a person and uses him or her as a medium or channel. When it happened to Sion, all of a sudden, she would be articulate, witty and intelligent, speaking in the same voice and manner as one who has recently died, or one of our ancestors. She would speak in an educated manner, even spouting Latin at times, as she engaged in long discourses with people in the house.

I found it amusing and amazing that my relatives who ran for public office in Abra would ask Sion what their chances were of winning the elections. And it was said that she would predict the results with uncanny accuracy! Sion lived a long life. In her later years, she became a fish vendor in the market until she died more than a decade ago.

Recently, I met a woman psychic here in Sydney who sought me out and found me through a common friend on Facebook. She wrote to me claiming that she had dreamed of me three times in one week where she saw a vision of the two of us surrounded by the colors blue and gold. She saw this as a sign bearing psychic meanings. She felt I had something to tell her and she had something to tell me as well.

We arranged a meeting in the City. Lydia and I met Tintin at a shopping mall and proceeded to a Laksa place to eat lunch.

She told me about herself, how as an 11-year-old decades ago, officials of the Marcos regime would consult her about how events would unravel, and how she was able to predict most of them with great accuracy. Her relationship with them did not last long though, and soon she wanted nothing more to do with them. She felt something was not right since she was being used for personal gain. She felt they wanted to “own” her. So her father hid her from them.

Tintin also narrated how she has defied medical science at least twice: the first was in a car accident in Manila where she felt her spine snap. But she got out of the vehicle and walked to the emergency room. Doctors could not believe how she was able to walk unaided to the hospital, and withstand the excruciating pain.

The other time was here in Sydney where during a routine medical checkup, for no explicable reason, she asked her doctor to check her iron levels. When the results came, the doctor immediately sent her to the hospital and called on specialists. Her levels were unbelievably and impossibly high, past the toxic mark. It should have immediately killed her but she felt nothing at all.

After about two hours of talking over lunch, I learned that throughout her life, Tintin has been guided by some “forces from up there” that communicate with her and tell her what to say and do during important moments. She has learned to trust them and when they “take over,” she merely complies and says what must be said.

Among her officemates in Sydney, she is reputed to speak her mind fearlessly. Her bosses listen to her because, despite her aggressive, often confrontational manner, she speaks with logic and credibility. On a personal basis, she astonishes her bosses when she tells them intimate details about their lives.

Tintin said that she is physically, emotionally and psychologically spent. She often feels that the “forces” are playing games with her life. The weight of carrying the “gift” she has been given is at times too much to bear. Lydia and I noticed at times during the conversation that she exuded the aura of a tortured soul, one who is tired and weary. Sometimes, she wants nothing more than for the “forces” to stop and use someone else for their purposes. But she knows that the prospect of that happening is highly unlikely. So she was seeking me out to “help” her.

She describes the source of her powers as “forces of good” that are angelic in nature. Another psychic she met long ago told her that she was, in fact, a “general” of one of the powerful angels and that she has been thrown back into the world for a mission. Tintin believes she has a mission to tell the world some important messages since she has seen reality from a rarefied, divine point of view.

But how to do it? She says she does not have the platform or the communicative skills needed to deliver the messages in a clear, palatable way. She had heard of my workshops and asked what she could learn from it to organize her message.

I asked her point blank if she was afraid people would see her as crazy. She said that many people already think she is crazy so that is not an issue.

We ended the afternoon by promising to meet again after a week.

That night, Tintin wrote me a long e-mail where she asked if I could be her “validator.” I took that as someone who could help clarify and communicate her message, and keep her grounded.

I do not quite know what to think, or how to feel about this. She told me many more things that I would rather not talk about, and perhaps never will. Throughout our conversation, she was animated, highly intuitive and down-to-earth. It must have been because it was a Friday, a good day for psychics. Tuesdays and Fridays are supposedly their “power” days.

Tintin will be coming to our house next Tuesday for lunch and we will continue our conversation. By then it should be clear to both of us whether or not the dreams she had pointed her to the right person.