How to live a thousand lives

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated March 30, 2014 – 12:00am

I am told that fewer and fewer people are buying books. And, I suspect, those who do are reading less and less the challenging books written by great minds. People today want ideas presented to them in summary, for easy consumption, like articles on Facebook, and the 140-character limit of Twitter.

This is tragic.

I was at a book club gathering recently where writers were asked to give their thoughts on reading and writing, and to briefly discuss their favorite authors and books. It was such a pleasure to listen to what everyone had to say, even if some authors gave very short talks.

I have maintained a blog for 11 years now. I have also been writing this column for some seven years, and I have authored four books and plan to write more.

One thing I learned about writing is that you cannot maintain the regimen and come up with consistent output without eventually exposing yourself. In my talk, I said that writing is something like being gay. Sooner or later, you must out yourself. Your words will betray, or more accurately, liberate you. You can’t help it.

While there are myriads of subjects to write about, it won’t be long before you go beyond so-called objective writing and reveal your own thoughts, feelings and convictions. You may run far and wide, posture and hide, pretend or claim otherwise, but in the end, as a writer, you will end up confessing your life!

Reading changed my life. I can’t imagine life without it. While I have my favorites, I have read all kinds of books. I have always been interested in almost everything and that’s why I started reading at a young age.

I was introduced to reading early. As a very young boy, I read Aesop’s Fables, Hans Christian Andersen, Robert Louis Stevenson’s children’s poems, among others. At age seven or eight, I got a book on the Iliad and the Odyssey for Christmas. It had lots of drawings for young readers. I loved it and read it over and over again. I also read the Hardy Boys series. I actually had an active library card!

In high school, I read some Graham Greene and Mark Twain. I loved the dark, sad world of Edgar Alan Poe and memorized his poems and a few others. I also read The Catcher in the Rye, Catch 22, and all the readings assigned by my teachers.

In college, I encountered the works of Ayn Rand, Allan Watts, Aldous Huxley, Kahlil Gibran, Shakespeare, Amado V. Hernandez, Jose Rizal, Rio Alma, Carlos Castaneda, and many more. I never read book lists or reviews. I would go to a bookstore, browse and buy what I liked with money saved from skipping meals and soft drinks. And, often, I reread them.

One of the authors I have learned most from is Neale Donald Walsch who wrote the bestselling Conversations with God series. I read the first book at a time in my 40s when I felt lost, and I got hooked. I remember reading certain chapters and stopping to physically hug the book because my whole being resonated with what I was reading. I even invited the author to come to Manila and give a talk at the Meralco Theater.

It was wonderful spending time with Neale Donald Walsch whose books have touched the core of my being. At that time, I had three book clubs running discussing his works. I told him I had written one book and he encouraged me to write some more. He even wrote the foreword for my second book, Between Blinks.

Another author whose works and words I devour is Joseph Campbell. Someone had recommended I read The Power of Myth. Soon after, I was reading everything he wrote that I could get my hands on. I even ordered his books from the US. I am so fascinated by the wisdom of this intellectual who has a grasp of the history of civilizations, religions, myths, etc. And, antiquated as they may seem, Campbell makes these subjects interesting enough for moderns to connect to them.

His theory on everyman’s life as a hero’s journey is part of what I teach at the Ateneo. His tirades against literalism plaguing the big religions today have freed me to embrace and appreciate the greater endless mysticism of spirituality. Campbell is not an easy read, but is definitely worth the time.

The writer who has influenced me the most the past 12 years is Ken Wilber. I randomly picked up A Brief History of Everything in a bookstore one day, and after plodding through 50 or 60 pages of difficult reading, I found my bearings. I have since read practically every book and essay he has written.

Wilber is quite prolific. He writes about mysticism, ecology, spirituality, philosophy and psychology, with a touch of Zen. His work can best be summarized as “integral thinking.”

To me, Ken Wilber has gone deeper than any writer in his understanding and expression of the “inexpressibles,” the hard unanswerable questions that have fascinated and challenged mankind since the beginning of thought. And he does so with elegance, wisdom and insight. Try out his easier reads, The Simple Feeling of Being, or One Taste, and enjoy the company of his boundless consciousness.

I also appreciate the works of Eckhart Tolle whose books The Power of Now and A New Earth are truly life changing. I have attended book club meetings discussing his writings.

My last memorable read is Over the Edge of the World by Lawrence Bergreen, a fascinating but terrifying account of Magellan’s circumnavigation of the world. If you like history and are fascinated by what the early cultural encounters between East and West were like, and all the cultural trivia, this book is for you.

I often wonder what will happen if people completely stopped reading books. What kind of world would we have? What will we talk about? What will happen to conversation? If I may put it more profoundly, how will we evolve when people stop sharing big, elaborate thoughts, stories, ideas, and concepts that need greater attention span than what we are becoming less capable of having? How will we move humanity forward?

I look at reading not just as an act of gathering information but knowing and engaging with great intimacy and detail the lifework of truly interesting and evolved persons.

Books are monumental efforts. They take time, energy, engagement and great insight to create. To read them is to imbibe and share, discuss, apply and pass on their ideas to others.

I believe in the care, feeding and nurturing of our minds as much as I do the different parts of our bodies and being.

The whole idea behind reading is to have bigger more expanded lives. George R.R. Martin, writer of A Dance with Dragons, wrote, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”

I think I will pass by a bookstore and acquire a few more lives.

25 life lessons

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated March 23, 2014 – 12:00am

If you ask each person in the world what are the most important lessons he/she has learned in life, you will get a universe of answers. Each life is lived so personally, every single one having a unique point of view with stories to tell and lessons learned from specific times and places.

Instead of writing about a single subject this week, here’s a random list of top-of-mind lessons from my own life journey.

1. While it is good to give generously, it is equally important to learn to receive graciously.

2. It is not always an all-important concern to be right or even to correct every wrong. Sometimes, it makes more sense to just be calm and accept things as they are, even if they are far from ideal.

3. Contrary to what a lot of self-help books say, it is important to have some ego. It is a reference point you need to navigate life. But make it a small ego — small enough that it does not worry about changing or dropping positions and opinions. An enormous ego that cannot overcome pride and change its views when necessary can be disastrous.

4. Learn to look at yourself in the third person, the way you look at other people. Learn detachment. It becomes easier to understand and forgive oneself and others. It helps when you don’t take yourself too seriously.

5. Do your best at all times. Sometimes you will be better than ever. At times you will be less than good. You are not always brilliant. However it turns out, know that you are actually already doing your best considering your state of being at every moment.

6. You can’t always be your kids’ best friend. And you shouldn’t aspire for it. More important than needing a best friend in us, they need good parents.

7. Do not flinch when giving tough love. If you don’t give tough love, out of pity or whatever reason, you will be dispensing what is called “idiot compassion.” It will destroy a person.

8. Be passionate about something — a sport, a hobby, a cause, anything. You will learn a lot about how to live life through your passion.

9. The less you need anything from the outside world to feel good, the happier you will be, wherever you are and whatever your circumstances.

10. Have control over your mind. Practice to make it calm, focused. It is there to serve you, not to drive you crazy with anxiety. The way to do this is to not be attached to the past or any future outcome. Just be in the here and now!

11. Do not ever lose your fascination with the world. If you miss seeing the enchantment happening every day in your life, you are not living it as you should.

12. You will die someday. Think about it every chance you get. It will teach you how to live.

13. Do not be afraid to smile at strangers. Everyone wants to do the same thing but not everyone is as brave and bold as those who actually do it. Courage, like smiles, is contagious.

14. Once you bring children into the world, no day will pass when you will not think of them, no matter how old they already are.

15. Teach your kids rituals, values, customs, family and social traditions. It will give them a sense of who they are and their place in the world.

16. Learn to say yes and no with conviction and finality. This is a vital life skill.

17. In matters of love, there are very few who are wise. And even the wise will make huge mistakes.

18. As much as it is fashionable to disdain politics, it is important to understand and engage in it. Politics affects us in every way and so we cannot leave it to politicians alone.

19. Don’t wait for apologies or thank yous. If they come, great! Even if you never hear them, it does not mean that people did not feel remorse or gratitude. Just be content in knowing you did the right thing.

20. Do not remain in your comfort zone. Pretty soon, it gets stale and can become a toxic zone. Move forward. Embrace the unknown and meet the “you” you haven’t met. When you engage the unknown, you realize that, more often than not, you can actually handle it.

21. Do not identify yourself with your feelings, moods, status, wealth. They come and go. Identify with things that have never changed and will not change. It may take you a lifetime to awaken to what these are. But you must know them.

22. Religion is a franchise on God which, when you think about it, is way too big and complex a reality to brand. If your religion works for you, great. But even if you have never joined a formal religion, you will still experience God. God is inescapable. What’s important is to just love and be kind to people. That’s the best way for others to know there is a God.

23. Avoid the literal, uncreative life. Literalism strangles and kills. A life lived without poetry or art is hardly a life. It is the same when reading holy text. Don’t read it literally. It is not so much about science or history, but more about opening us to the greater truth, the sacred mystery of what we can never measure or completely explain.

24. Sex and lust are part and parcel of being human and we will deal with them throughout our lives. Learn when to control them and when to let go. Learn appropriateness. Give selflessly and receive with gratitude.

25. As much as you cultivate your taste, mind, manners, faith, make sure you put as much effort into cultivating and expanding your sense of humor. It is the reset button of life.

Surviving women

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated March 16, 2014 – 12:00am

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 12.03.59 AM

Today, the third Sunday of Women’s Month, I will dare to write about women.

As a male member of humanity, I’ve always known they were different. Quite early, I caught on about how differently they thought and behaved and reacted to situations. They seemed softer, more fragile, more sensitive than men. At least that was how I was led to think — until I grew up and learned a bit more.

As I got older, I began to relate to women in a gamut of ways. They were girls, women, classmates, the opposite sex, chicks, the female gender, the feminine. They were also mothers, sisters, aunts, lolas, maids, lovers, confidantes, best friends, dates. Lastly, they were infinitely complex creatures who were the meaning of life, the love object, the reason to live, the source of great pain, pleasure and aliveness.

But they are also known in some quarters by derogatory descriptions, such as “broad,” “bebot,” “pokpok,” “cheapipay,” “bimbo,” “kabit,” “kulasisi,” “bitch” — and many other insulting terms.

I must admit that while 99 percent of the time I relate to women mostly as belonging to the first batch, I have met a few who impress me as possessing qualities belonging to the second grouping.

But wait: before half of humanity starts throwing invectives and possible sharp objects at me, please read on.
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I do not delight in insulting or demeaning women. I write as a simple man in awe of the opposite sex that seems to possess so much power that its members can be anything they wish to be: from saints to sinners, goddesses to bitches, virgins to whores, nurturing and protective mothers to cold amazon warriors, damsels in distress to Joan of Arc types, holy nuns to GROs, etc. There isn’t a shade or personality trait women cannot be capable of.

They are, at best, pretty hard to understand. I have seen very happy men in great relationships who have experienced their women both as significant others and, at times, as very significant bothers. “Can’t live with them. Can’t live without them,” as the saying goes.

This must also be true for women relating to men. While love, tenderness, affection, and everything nice and fuzzy are much-appreciated gifts from women, in the eyes of men, they can also be devastatingly rough, cruel, wounding, and manipulative.

There are two songs in my head that are playing as I write this. One is I’m Every Woman as sung by Chaka Khan:

I’m every woman
It’s all in me
I can read your thoughts right now
Every one from A to Z
I can cast a spell
Of secrets you can tell
Mix a special brew
Put fire inside of you
Anytime you feel danger or fear
Then instantly I will appear…

I can sense your needs/ Like rain unto the seeds
I can make a rhyme
Of confusion in your mind
And when it comes back to some good old-fashioned love
I’ve got it, I’ve got it, I’ve got it, got it, baby.

The other is Billy Joel’s She’s Always a Woman to Me:

She can kill with a smile, she can wound with her eyes
She can ruin your faith with her casual lies?
And she only reveals what she wants you to see
She hides like a child, but she’s always a woman to me.

She can lead you to love, she can take you or leave you
She can ask for the truth, but she’ll never believe you
And she’ll take what you give her as long it’s free
Yeah, she steals like a thief, but she’s always a woman to me.

Ohhh, she takes care of herself
She can wait if she wants, she’s ahead of her time
Ohhh, and she never gives out
And she never gives in, she just changes her mind.

And she’ll promise you more than the garden of Eden
Then she’ll carelessly cut you and laugh while you’re bleeding
But she’ll bring out the best and the worst you can be
Blame it all on yourself ‘cause she’s always a woman to me.

Sometimes I am baffled when they say it is a man’s world. The truth is, women can so easily wrap men around their pinkies. In fact, even when they show what seems to be weakness by crying, they are actually showing their strength, and more often than not, they get their way.

My mother is the strongest woman I have ever encountered. I can say that Mom is the not just the best mother anyone could have had but she was also a great Dad. She played both roles since my dad died when I was only five. She was beautiful, sweet and nurturing, yet she could zap you with tough love without hesitation. She never treated her sons like sissies. She called us out when we were wrong. She taught us to own up to everything we did. We siblings fondly refer to her as our mother who wore G.I. boots.

But she was also soft. She was very kind. She shared what she had. And that softness appeared to me as great strength. She seemed always to be uncomplaining, ready to embrace hardship if sacrifice was necessary to help the many people who came to her in need.

My sisters are strong women too. They are all passionate and intense in varying degrees. They are great influences on how I view and treat women. Since they are all older than I am, I saw them go through their different boyfriends until they got married. By watching them, I saw the type of men they disapproved of and those they admired, which was instructive. Their judgment has guided and stayed with me throughout my life.

One of the most important and difficult things a man must do constantly is to try and understand women. To start with, all men I know take a long time to get past the sexual attraction we feel for women, much less becoming comfortable with and calm about it. It’s a life-long task: libido must be tamed, trained and used within a consensual context that, at the very least, should not be harmful to anyone. At best, the expression of one’s libido must be emotionally, physically and psychologically beneficial and pleasurable to all involved.

Perhaps God purposely designed it this way, that a man must experience women, study and learn from them, suffer and be enraptured and enamored of them, be rejected and affirmed by them, and be tamed to be able to live with them. In short, men must become the best men they can be.

There is a Hindu saying that goes, “By no less than a God should a God be honored.” A man must work on being a man to deserve a good woman.

That women are complex creatures is best exemplified by Coco Chanel explaining her relationship with men and the world: “It’s probably not just by chance that I’m alone. It would be very hard for a man to live with me, unless he’s terribly strong. And if he’s stronger than I, I’m the one who can’t live with him… I’m neither smart nor stupid, but I don’t think I’m a run-of-the-mill person. I’ve been in business without being a business woman, I’ve loved without being a woman made only for love. The two men I’ve loved, I think, will remember me, on earth or in heaven, because men always remember a woman who caused them concern and uneasiness. I’ve done my best, in regard to people and to life, without precepts, but with a taste for justice.”

Perhaps the best way to survive a woman is by simply standing before her in awe.

Just Water

Drips one drop
To the next
A flood of concerns

And yet I find
No real fish

No sign of anything
Nurtured or nurturing
Live or living

Just water

But the rippling pools
On the surface
Are thoughts
Of you…

(Poem I found I had written a few years ago. Can’t remember exactly. Lydia must have been away.)

Let it go

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated March 9, 2014 – 12:00am

First, a little Zen humor: “Master, is it okay to use email?” a Zen student asked his master. The Zen master replied, “Okay. But no attachments, please.”

When people ask me about the recordings I have made, they are surprised when I tell them I do not have a complete collection of APO songs, or even of my solo creations. “Don’t you have the desire to keep copies even for posterity?” they ask. After all, these recordings are an integral part of my life’s work.

I used to be an avid collector. When I was in grade school, I collected body parts of animals. I was into scouting and nature exploration and I had among my precious possessions some wild boar teeth, rabbits’ feet, deer antlers, sharks’ teeth, dead parrot beaks, and colorful feathers from exotic birds.

But my most prized possession was the complete hide of a leopard that my bother Ducky had brought home for me from Laos where he worked during the late ‘50s. My classmates who would stay in our house during weekends were in awe of my strange possessions. At one point, I cut off the leopard’s tail so I could bring it wherever I went.

Later, I got interested in collecting watches. I would buy all kinds of cheap and not-too-expensive timepieces during my travels. At one time, I had more than 30 watches. I just loved the way watchmakers could create diversely designed timepieces that essentially did the same thing. The more weird-looking a watch was, the more I was attracted to it.

I also had quite a collection of vinyl records that I had built up since the ‘70s. I loved records and would buy two copies of my favorite ones since playing them too many times made them sound scratchy sooner or later. I listened to my Beatles collection so often that some of the records started to skip after about 200 plays. When the CD became the standard format for music, I set my record collection aside for storage. But alas, Ondoy came and for the first and only time, my house actually flooded and my entire vinyl collection was submerged.

I felt bad throwing them away. But what else could I do?

I have pretty much stopped being a serious collector of anything for more than a decade now. Save for my computer files and digital photo collection, I have really nothing to show anyone who asks me, except for a few books and CDs. I don’t even have a place for my trophies and award plaques. They are scattered all over my house, some are stored in boxes, and others are lost.

At one time, while I was cleaning my desktop files, I was stumped, unable to decide what to throw away and what to keep. It was my son Mio who showed me the way. “Be heartless,” he told me. “If you haven’t looked at a file in six months, trash it.” I was actually thankful for the suggestion because in no time, my desktop was cleaned up. And to this day, I don’t really know what’s missing.

Collectors deal with a lot of attachment issues. Over time, they acquire sentimental junk that they treasure and have a hard time letting go of. Aside from the money spent, they experience the desire for something and the joy of eventually possessing it. Items loved and collected carry stories important to those who possess them.

Someday, I would like to have a complete collection of my musical works for my children to keep. I feel no attachment to owning a physical representation of them since I have them all in my head anyway. I would rather collect memories about the songs and how people were touched by them.

I want to live the rest of my life with less and less attachment. For sure, eventually, everything will go. That includes friends and loved ones, and things we own and treasure. We should also throw in a few memories, biases and opinions that give us too much pain and prevent us from moving on and having a fuller life of loving.

Letting go of attachments is hard but the tradeoff is, every time we do it, we become lighter and freer. With the right perspective, the material loss becomes a spiritual gain. I have seen “poor” people who have nothing but their possessions, and I have seen people who subsist on very little yet live very rich lives.

Maybe the question to ask is, how much is too much for one to feel rich and how little is too few for one to feel poor? It’s hard to find the right balance and each of us may have a different answer.

But of this I am sure: people who have an inner fullness are the happiest people around. To them, the question is immaterial whether they have enormous wealth or hardly own anything. I admire Bill Gates’ father who advised his son to give away half of his enormous wealth, which his son did without hesitation. I also admire many poor people I have met who genuinely offer their food to any stranger who steps into their humble abode.

I was quite amazed to learn that a Zen teacher who visits and gives yearly sesshins (retreats) in the Philippines is a vice president of a huge bank in Tokyo. Yet he carries himself without the trappings of one who is so blessed materially. There are cynics who may say that the reason he can behave so simply is because he has no financial problems. I don’t know whether he does or does not. I would like to believe it is his inner peace that makes him compassionate and less attached to material wealth. This shines through when you meet him.

I do not believe there is anything inherently wrong with riches and pleasure. When they are there, I say let’s enjoy them. But to cling to them and pursue them doggedly above all else turns them into a great source of unhappiness.

The hardest attachment to let go of is expectation or outcome. Is it possible to let go of these? Every religion has something to say about the potential of wealth to lead us to evil. But most of them promote the expectation of going to heaven by doing good. So why should we let go of expectation?

I will give the final word on the topic to the controversial guru, Osho, who said:

“Don’t be attached to the things of the world, and don’t be attached to the things of the other world, because things are things. It makes no difference whether they are of this world or the other world — attachment is the problem.”


Posted on March 02, 2014 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated March 2, 2014 – 12:00am

One of the things every person must figure out in his life is his relationship with money. It is important to have a healthy attitude towards money. Too much attachment to it is not good. People can be driven to corruption, addiction and moral decay when they obsess too much about it. Too little concern may prove costly too in the sense that one may throw it all away needlessly and uselessly. The Chinese saying, “A fool and his money are soon parted,” comes to mind.

Everything has a price tag if we look through the value system that runs this world. The system after all is controlled by economists, bankers, politicians, and they all subscribe to the materialistic equation that money is power and power is money. And needless to say, everything from the economic point of view has a price tag. And the more money one has, the greater one can have a life of consumption.

This article is not about the price and value of things, people, etc. In fact, I will be exploring what has not been touched by the value of money. It is about what is priceless in life that is worth pursuing.

“Priceless” means you can’t put a price on it. It can’t be bought, or sold. It is something we can only appreciate if we get out of the realm of economic and material values that dominate our lives.

I was reading an article called “Giftivism: Reclaiming the Priceless” by Pavithra Mehta. It is based on a movement a few people founded to simply do good and encourage its spread. It is called Servicespace. It is composed of successful Silicon Valley people who started by doing websites for free. They believe in people’s natural ability and desire to give and connect to others. What they have set out to experience is the practice “unconditional generosity.”

They have three guiding principles which surely make no logical sense to the business world they live in. For one, everything they do is completely voluntary. No paid staff or employees. The second is, no fundraising is to be done. They rely on their own resources. And the third is, they focus on small acts. No grand schemes or big outcomes expected.

Naturally, people who work with the usual business models have predicted they would not scale, they would not sustain and they would be aimless without a big project. But their reason for doing what they do is to experience for themselves the value of things that cannot be measured. In short, they were searching new experiences and forms of value. They want to discover the meaning of “priceless.”

The idea has caught on with 500,000 members worldwide. They have put up sixKarma restaurants in different parts of the world where the menu has no price. The customers get a 0.0 bill at the end of the meal and are told that someone who came before them has gifted them with the meal and if they want to continue to pay forward, they can donate. Or they could decide not to pay, too.

Let me share here a portion of Mehta’s narrative.

“One time we had a computer scientist serving tables. At the end of the meal one guest who was skeptical about the whole pay-it-forward idea handed him a $100 bill, ‘You trust me to pay it forward,’ he said, ‘Well, I trust you to bring me back the right change.’ This wasn’t part of the plan. Our volunteer ran through a list of options in his head. Should he split the money 50:50? Should he try and calculate the price of the meal? Suddenly the answer came to him. He handed the $100 bill back to the guest, and then opened up his own wallet and added an extra $20. In that moment, both waiter and guest experienced a mini transformation and ‘got’ what Karma Kitchen is about.”

Their idea is to create experiences that are impossible to monetize like acts of kindness and generosity, etc. A few other examples of these are giving one’s time helping others, or paying the toll fees of the car behind. While the time spent and the toll may be measured, the intention of doing it with kindness cannot. The experience of both the giver and the receiver is priceless.

It is not about the money but about believing that people have it in them to be generous. When you experience something like it, you open yourself to the flow of giving and will do your part to continue it.

In the whole process, people develop more trust in each other. And because it is unconditional giving, it stops being a transaction where people are constrained to give each other things of more or less equal value. It becomes a new relationship where people simply experience the spirit of giving without money or worldly value in mind. And that is priceless.

I know some of you dear readers will find this absolutely crazy. Will it work? Here’s another narrative where Mehta talks about her uncle, Dr. V, who did something really extraordinary.

“In 1976 he and his five brothers and sisters started an 11-bed eye hospital in India called Aravind. At Aravind no one who needs care is turned away. They do 60 percent of their surgeries for free. They don’t do any fundraising or accept donations. And yet it is a fully self-sustaining enterprise. How does it work? Patients can choose if they want to pay or not. The revenue from paying patients goes towards covering costs for the others. The quality of care whether you pay or do not is world-class. It’s a brilliant, elegant and breathtakingly compassionate system that really works. Today Aravind is the largest provider of eye care on the planet. Over 38 million patients seen. More than five million surgeries performed. It has redefined the impossible. Harvard Business School has been studying it for years trying to understand how a place that breaks all the rules of business still succeeds. The thing is Aravind doesn’t succeed in spite of the fact that it breaks these rules. It succeeds because of it.”

Every day that passes, I find myself believing less and less in the value system perpetrated by the world. It is dangerously unsustainable when so many have so little and so very few own so much. Sometimes I ask myself how much I must do for money and how much I should be doing just for love.

In the end, the question is about how I want the world to be. Should I continue to invest my time and efforts to a world of unsustainable, uncaring consumption, or a more sustainable world that runs on kindness and giving?

If we all asked this question, we could really change ourselves, and — who knows? — the rest of the world may follow.
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Forget being perfect

Posted on February 22, 2014 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated February 23, 2014 – 12:00am

I’ve been on overdrive the past two weeks with too many things that I need to do. It seems like I don’t stay too long being preoccupied with thinking and doing just one thing. I have been multitasking, using my different skills lately to get all my commitments done.

I did an acting stint for a public service video last week. I wrote some music for a documentary last Monday. I also fulfilled my weekly writing commitment for this column. There is also an online project I am involved in now which I will write about soon. I am also in Bali at the moment to attend a Samsung conference as I write this.

On top of that, there is the little house Lydia and I are building at the back of our property which I check on a few times a day. I am also working on a few commissioned songs that are slowly being written inside my head. On Monday, I will be performing a few songs with the AMP band for a tribute to the late musician/arranger Eddie Munji whose contributions to OPM are epic. A few more speaking engagements, photography gigs are scheduled in the next month. I really have my plate full.

Compared to how I was then — and how I used to do these things 25 years ago — I am much calmer now. At that time I would get too hyper and stressed out doing everything I had to. While I had no doubt that I would get them all done, I would practically be running on empty with very little sleep, with a not pleasant disposition until I finished them. But hell, yes, I would get them done and it did not matter to me whatever shape or state I was in after.

Those were the days when I was a dyed-in-the-wool perfectionist. I would leave nothing to chance. I would have all the bases covered. I proudly considered myself as someone who always went the extra mile to get the job done well all because I had said yes to it.

Looking back now, I can see what a thoroughly driven man I was then. And as I go reminiscing about those days, I find myself feeling physically and emotionally tired, with a blur of unpleasant feelings coming back to me. That’s because I was too hard and unforgiving of myself and others.

Perfectionism is a hard master. Things always had to be perfect to a ‘T’ or else it was a failure. I could not stand the idea of being relaxed or cavalier about mistakes being made. I felt that I had to hold the standards up and always made sure that everything was working to a high capacity with seriousness and dedication. I must have been so difficult to work with then.

I was doing a lot of work with APO then and I knew that my drive for perfection was taking a toll on my two friends. I was always pointing out mistakes and hardly recognizing or acknowledging the good and positive things being done by others or myself. I was like this for years.

One day, after some words were exchanged between the three of us, I decided that I would stop being a perfectionist and just let things flow. Just like that, I made a resolution and mostly followed it. I stopped nagging and listened more. It did not mean that I stopped caring or that we would stop rehearsing and allow our standards to go to pot. It just meant that I would stop being obsessive and trust that things would get done without me having to always be the catalyst.

In no time, I noticed a general improvement in our relationship as a group and as individuals. As I got calmer, the atmosphere was more relaxed and creative. I began to notice that more and more, the two other guys took more interest in the music, spiels and the performances we did. And things were more enjoyable because we were more spontaneous about it.

One of the things I learned because of all this is that perfectionism is a crazy thing. I noticed that instead of bringing out the best, it actually brought out the worst in me, and the people I worked with. I became obsessive, unpleasant, and felt I carried an unjust burden because I cared more than the others. At least that’s what I believed I was doing. And carrying that burden must have caused a resentment in me which made me a nitpicker and a fault-finder.

Today, as I find myself being swamped with work, I feel I can be less stressed about it than I used to be. And I can carry it out with more joy and pleasure. Sure, there are deadlines. But I know I will meet them better if I do not worry too much. I work by “watching the flow” and going with it. And the easiest way to be in the flow of things is to simply show up and start the work. By simply being present and beginning the work, my creativity immediately awakens and begins connecting, piecing disparate objects and making new creations. It’s like I can readily summon my powers to do what needs to be done while remaining relaxed.

The perfectionist in me used to make things appear harder than they were. For one thing, I never felt completely happy nor content despite all the work I put in. Nothing was trivial. Everything was way too serious. Strangely, even a rough draft had to be close to perfect or I could not continue. Everything just had to be better, or the best all the time. And so I ended up repeating myself quite often, since I followed a tried and tested formula that had delivered before. In the process, I would severely criticize myself for being predictable.

I know a lot of young people who think perfectionism is a wonderful thing. They see it as one trait that separates them from others. Maybe it seems like a good thing to them in their young age. But sooner or later, they will realize it is not a sustainable attitude.

They will soon discover that their best work still awaits them when they discover the inspiration one can get just by being present to the flow. Fresh ideas and spontaneity will emerge, and they will feel a personal joy and satisfaction that is more sustainable.

My simple advice is this: Relax. Pay attention. Work hard but joyfully. However your work turns out is the state of the art of where you are right now. Compared to before, you will either be better, or worse, or just the same. Accept that and make peace with it. There are better ways to do the work than trying to make everything perfect.

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The many shades of love

Posted on February 18, 2014 by jimparedes

Love is one of the most beautiful things one can experience. It can also be the most confusing, frightening, traumatic and foolish emotion that can befall anyone.

It is easy to say “I love you” to people we love. And if we live long enough, we will experience many kinds of love, in different shades, involving many kinds of people and situations. We may experience love in different doses, some too little, others too much, depending on the circumstances and the decisions we make.

Motherly love probably has the most impact on the formation of our personalities. To a mother, loving her child is a primal experience; many women feel totally overwhelmed with an entire gamut of emotion when they have a child.

When the dice were rolled, we ended up with the mothers we have, for better or worse. As humans, we first experience love and also rejection from our mothers. The abundance or lack of love, the nurturing qualities and neurotic dysfunctions of mothers are passed on and leave their marks that their children carry for the rest of their lives.

I can say that I am very happy and grateful to have been born into this world through my mom.

There is also fatherly love, which gives off a love energy, which is nurturing in a masculine way. Unlike the motherly kind, it expresses love by protecting, materially supporting, guiding the children, and showing physical strength. Its affection can be distant but constantly reassuring. While a mother’s love is unconditional, a father’s love expands and pushes you to measure up to something — an ideal, an ambition. Ideally, fatherly love cheers you on as you set out to claim your future, and encourages you when you fall short of your dreams.

Sibling love is a kind of “identity” love. It affirms a sense of connectedness, context and bonding that children feel for each other as the offspring of the same parents. Brotherly and sisterly love can make us feel very much at home and teaches us a lot about sharing, competition and camaraderie. It also promotes the value of loyalty to family in an intimate, comfortable way.

Love among friends is probably the easiest kind of love, if you have the right kind of friends. In such a relationship, everyone gives and receives voluntarily. When it is good, there is no one to impress; it’s a come-as-you-are kind of connection. Such bonding may last a few weeks, years, or a lifetime with people coming and going as they wish.

Love of country is somewhat similar to family love except that the circle is way bigger. It involves a relationship with society and geography, and demands that we subscribe to the myths, values, history and interests of the groups that live in it.

Except for its broad coverage, love of country is hardly different from the love we have for, say, our alma mater or any large organization we belong to. Think of the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry or the EDSA experience. On an emotional level, love of country is felt as the stirrings of nationalism or team spirit. It is a “tribal,” ethnocentric kind of love.

Universal love is experienced by people who have a genuine concern for all of humanity, and all things, living and non-living. People who feel this are the kind who join Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and World Wildlife Fund. They are the environmentalists, mediators, peace advocates, and the likes of Mother Teresa. They go beyond all borders, feeling empathy and compassion for the nameless and faceless suffering masses and working to improve their lot. Their love for humanity is boundless.

I have purposely saved the best and most obvious kind of love for last.

Romantic love is the kind of love we cultivate and offer paeans and unending devotion to, especially at this time of year. To the overwhelming majority the world over, it is the most sought-after experience of love.

To put it simply, romantic love is like all the different types of love described above, but laced with fuzzy, warm, intense and erotic feelings, and the entire range of emotions we are capable of, both pleasant and unpleasant. Romantic love may include different grades of relationships from “puppy love” to the real full-blown deal.

Whether requited or unrequited, romantic love involves adoration, intense physical attraction, a strong erotic desire, and obsession. You can also throw in passion, pain, alienation, extreme pleasure, great calm, contentment, belonging, an unquenchable desire to be with that special someone, and even a fleeting out-of-body experience of being in some kind of heaven.

Romantic love can be a totally powerful physical, mental, and spiritual experience that stretches us in ways that can surprise us.

Love is one of the big deals in life, if not the biggest. We may strive for money, power, fame, health, beauty, and whatever else, but mostly, the motive for these acquisitions is we want to be more attractive, and thus more lovable, to others.

Why do we have such a need to love and be loved? I honestly don’t know, except that it feels good. All I know is, despite the foolhardiness of falling in love, it is way more foolish not to engage in it. Perhaps, despite all the pains associated with it, we were born to love and be loved.

But what do you do when romantic love wanes, as it does, eventually? If you stay around long enough, another form of love takes its place. As the psychologist M. Scott Peck wrote, the death of romantic love can be the start of true love.

We can make love grow deeper through the years by loving unconditionally. Loving truly means to stop searching for, enumerating or finding reasons, justifications or conditions for loving someone. When love moves beyond the original lure of physical, mental, psychological and sexual attraction that started it all, it becomes an act of the will, a decision to love, unconditionally.

You love and continue to love because you have chosen to. No ifs,? and/or buts about it. You have become a true lover. You are love itself. No conditions apply. Nothing else matters.

May all those who are in a romantic relationship reach the stage of True Love.
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Over the hill and picking up speed

Posted on February 13, 2014 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated February 9, 2014 – 12:00am

Screen Shot 2014-03-04 at 2.54.26 PM
Illustration by REY RIVERA

“If you think you will be too old when you finish if you take up a new study or course or anything now, well, guess what? You will still get old even if you do not take up whatever it is.. Just effing do it if it needs to be done. Time is slipping by. Maybe some of you needed to hear this.”

I posted this message on Facebook and got immediate positive responses. A lot of people related to it instantly. Many reposted it. Some who are in their 30s, 40s and 50s talked about being back in school or taking online classes, and looking forward to doing something new.

I notice as I get older that as much as I am thinking more and more about my age, I am also thinking less and less about it. While it is true that I take care of my health so that I can live strong, sane and trouble-free for as long as I can, I do not necessarily think of it as a factor when I am pursuing things I like to do. As the creator of Peanuts, Charles M. Schulz, said, “Just remember, when you’re over the hill, you begin to pick up speed.”

That’s exactly how I feel.

Last week, I traveled to two places in five days —Lagen in El Nido and Naga City. I will be going to Bali in a few days. I really enjoy traveling with my camera on hand. I am always thrilled to be in a new place and on the lookout for that scenery and moment that is waiting to be captured digitally and experientially. I can sit with people I’ve just met and get a terrific conversation going. I am totally fascinated by the stories shared by strangers I encounter. I feel that my understanding of human nature and the human condition expands after meeting new people, and I am easily inspired.

There are young people who are of the mindset that if they don’t “make it” early in life, if they don’t get the trappings of success, the good job, the high position, the prestige, etc. before they reach 30, it will be too late to succeed in the greatest possible way. I find it sad that they are so hard on themselves.

I believe that while it is good, or even great, to have a job or a career, one must also have passion for what one is doing. You may have the most glamorous high paying job but if your heart is not really in it, you will not be able to sustain it or be truly productive.

Something will eventually have to give. If it is the job that has to go, it’s a small price to pay in the pursuit of happiness, and being free from something that does not sustain your entire being. But if you keep the job to keep the money coming, it is your soul that you could lose, and that would be a tragedy.

When I was growing up, my mother told me that it did not matter what I wanted to be. What mattered was that I would try to be the best in my field. Together with that advice was the suggestion that if I loved what I chose to do for a living, my passion for it would make me excel.

One of the benefits Australia offers to its people is the availability of education at any age. Aus Study, as it is called, allows anyone to pursue studies later in life. And since returning to school and studying may not be financially easy, they offer a stipend of about 700 Australian dollars (AUD) to help adult enrollees through.

But while that is available, sadly, there doesn’t seem to be a mad rush among Aussies to go back to school, which gives truth to the old saying, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t force it to drink.”

Age does not have to be a hindrance or an excuse to avoid pursuing new interests or learning new skills. There are opportunities for anyone who is interested. Everybody will get old physically, but not everyone has to have an old, inflexible mindset.

Sophia Loren once remarked that, “There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.”

Understanding and internalizing this is probably one of the best life skills everyone, young or old, ought to learn. There are young “old people,” and there are old “young people,” if you know what I mean. The point is to be ageless, and not let physical age matter too much.

What really matters is becoming alive to your own life, to live and be so interested and absorbed with life that you want more and more of it so that you feel more expanded and see enchantment in everyday living.

Grandma Moses, one of America’s painting icons, started her career as an artist when she was in her 70s. Picasso never stopped painting, and ever so playfully, until he died. Paul McCartney at 71 is still writing songs, cutting records and touring the world doing concerts.

The late radio and TV writer Andy Rooney pointed out, “It’s paradoxical that the idea of living a long life appeals to everyone, but the idea of getting old doesn’t appeal to anyone.”

The world has had a wrong view of what aging is all about. But I personally feel I do not have to live my age in stereotypical fashion. To age does not mean to just slow down one’s intake of life, even if one does not have the health and the strength left to do it. Knowing that “the end” will eventually come makes it imperative that if there is still something you want to do, you must not wait too long to do it.

Time is precious. It is wiser to spend it doing something new than wasting away and not doing anything at all.
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Culture wars

Posted on February 01, 2014 by jimparedes

Almost everywhere I look, I seem to sense a clash of ideas and opinions about a lot of things. In the US, there is a war of values about practically everything. In politics, religion, morals, etc., both the conservatives and the liberals are fighting for dominance as each side tries to win elections and approval so they can shape their society’s agenda towards the future.

Culture wars are when people of contrasting beliefs debate, argue and try to gain political power and cultural dominance in the hope of shaping society’s mores and laws to conform to their own set of values.

In the Philippines, the same thing is happening. There are culture wars being fought in many areas even if some have just started and their intensity is more subdued, at least compared to other countries. Let’s look at some of them.

Religion is a battlefield. This is a wide area where many contentious issues are being fought right now and will be fought even more fiercely in the immediate future.

Firstly, there is a silent competition that has been going on for sometime now between the Catholic Church and the Born Again evangelicals with many Catholics moving away from their Mother Church and joining different Christian congregations. One might say it is a low- intensity conflict but it often erupts when fanatics on both sides try to argue their positions.

There has also been an ongoing very noisy war over the issue of reproductive health which has spilled not just in social media but also in the streets and even inside the church itself. The conservative elements of the society are predictably anti-RH while a great number of citizens and even the President himself are for the RH law. Issues relating to contraception and sex education continue to be fought as we speak. Recently, the anti-RH people filed a TRO against the holding of an international convention on reproductive health in Manila. The courts threw out their appeal.

I am sure even more battles will inevitably be fought over other issues like divorce, acceptance of gay rights including gay marriage, and I will not be surprised if sooner or later it will even extend to abortion rights.

It is interesting to note that within the conservative Philippine church, many sense a reluctance among our bishops to follow or fall in line with the pronouncements of the more liberal Pope Francis on various issues. Many in the clergy seem intractably entrenched in old dogmatic positions. Even the Pope’s austere lifestyle and his views criticizing careerism, materialism among the clergy seem to go directly against the lavish lifestyles and practices of many church leaders. After all, some of these Princes of the Church have not only been enjoying the material trappings brought about by their religious power and influence but have also gotten used to entitlements coming from government and some officials.

Another culture war is being fought over politics and the economy. These are big items where the busiest, most vicious battles are being fought everyday.

Although we are a professed democracy, our leaders have mostly come from within the elite. Dynasties have ruled the political landscape for ages now. But now more than ever, the move towards reform and full democratization is real and more citizen participation in governance is really gaining traction. This, of course, is a direct challenge to dynasties, the elite and the protectors of the status quo.

President Aquino’s reforms, which include decisive steps he has taken against corruption, are already adversely affecting some institutions and a few powerful people. These and other steps towards the leveling of the playing field in many areas of our economic and social life are popular with a majority of people. For the first time, the political status quo is being shaken in quite significant ways.

In the ’80s after EDSA 1, when changes were instituted, the status quo hit back by staging coup after coup against the government though always unsuccessfully. These days, there is definitely more political stability. The shooting war has become a culture war and is being fought between the reformists on the one hand who want a more open, inclusive, just and functioning society against those who continue to benefit from the old way of doing things amid a corrupt system we have been suffering under through the years.

Issues such as corruption, the delivery of justice, PDAF, DAP, FOI, the present anti-cybercrime law, economic reform, taxation inclusive growth, the peace process, etc. are just a few lines drawn on the sand. And even if the President is not always on stream with the more progressive sectors, he is generally seen as an ally of the reform constituency.

The pressures of climate change bearing down on everyone will soon eclipse many issues as storms, typhoons, etc. become more severe and more people are affected everywhere. After all, the weather affects everyone, rich and poor alike.

The culture wars in the Philippines are being fought in many fronts and in varying degrees. In the sexual arena, save for the topic of contraception, the conflicts are actually still relatively quite muted. That’s because we, as a people have already been quite accepting of LGBTs and so this is not as big a deal as it is in the US. We hardly hear of hate crimes committed against them.

By the measurement of the UN, Philippine society ranks high in women empowerment. And while we do not generally discuss sex as openly as say, the Americans, we have become more open and accepting of unwed mothers, pre-marital sex, separations, etc. in our society.

There are other potential issues that may erupt as full blown culture wars in the future and some of them may actually be about culture. They may seem small and insignificant but they can potential become big. There is the issue of OPM vs foreign music which will be fought in media, on stages and theaters across the country. The emergence of alternative cinema is a welcome addition to the cultural dreariness of commercial cinema. I sincerely hope the movement for better, truer, more commercially independent films becomes a dominant force in the near future.

The last culture war I wish to point out is the one that will dominate the scene in the coming years. It will be all about modernization of almost all aspects of our socio-political and economic lives; how much of it we want, what direction we want to go and how fast we want the pace to be.

PNoy’s Tuwid na Daan may still turn out to be a major impetus towards the start a real modernization movement. Try to imagine the pay-offs that K-12, the peace process, the taming of corruption, openness, transparency and greater citizen participation will have on our society. And the way we are easily adapting to social media and technology is certainly not a hindrance but a big component of modernization itself. Very soon, social media will make it very simple to get national consensus on issues much faster.

Even the tiny improvements on weather forecasting have started to pay some dividends even if we are far from state of the art in weather prediction. Our calamity preparedness and saving lives and property have greatly improved, if the UN is to be believed.

Culture wars release pent up energy and new imaginings of what a nation can be. I am hopeful that many times they result in good things .

I leave you with a quote from American writer Terrence McKenna which goes, “The imagination is the goal of history. I see culture as an effort to literally realize our collective dreams.”

By all means, let’s expound on our ideas and push for values we think will be good for the nation. Let the culture wars continue!
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