Why do we pray?

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated March 1, 2015 – 12:00am

Lately I’ve been praying again. It is not that I ever stopped. What I mean is I have been praying formally again. I have gone back to the rosary, and to doing a few prayers like the “Prayer of St Ignatius.”

For years, I have been meditating. That was mostly my way of praying. I still meditate. It gives me a sense of peace, calm, silence and an opportunity to get to know myself in a deeper way.

Perhaps it is my wife’s devotion to praying the rosary daily that has led me to take it up again.

I have noticed that there are a few reasons why people pray. One obvious reason is because they are asking God for something. They see God as the great benefactor who can give us anything we want and need.

There is nothing wrong if we pray to God or the saints and ask that our wishes and needs, our Daily Bread be given to us. We all need, want or desire some things which are beyond our capacity to obtain by ourselves. We have questions we want answered. We ask God and saints to step in and intervene in our lives, to bless us and answer our prayers.

Prayers are an invocation to power. We do not have that power over certain situations we are in and we often cannot affect outcomes to be in our favor or interest. And so we turn to God to make it go our way.

We pray that God Himself, the most powerful entity in the universe, shows up and provides what we need.

Another reason for prayer is to express our gratitude for favors granted, for things we already have and for expressing awe as we see the wonder of life unfolding before us.

I do not doubt the power of prayer. I have seen prayers answered quite a few times, mine included.

I notice that to pray for whatever reason demands that we give ourselves humbly to God and ask that our favors be granted, our pleas recognized. Our humility is given not to please the Benefactor; God does not need praise, or anything else. We don’t have to do so since God does not have an ego. We humble ourselves to get out of our own egos and open ourselves to possibilities of divine intervention in our lives.

That is why humility is integral to prayer. We are not demanding. Rather, we are imploring for help, recognizing that we are in a weak position of want and/or need. And humbly, we muster faith and dare to trust that whatever the outcome is God’s will.

Even when we say a prayer of thanks, we still implore with humility. We express gratitude because it was through the Benefactor’s power that we were blessed with what we received.

It is the same in meditation. I feel a sense of humility and wonder about the awesome nature of life and the universe. I find I am in a state of gratitude for having seen the creation of God manifesting everywhere. I feel small and humbled even if I feel the Oneness with everything. I also feel so insignificant since I have disappeared into One. I cannot grasp the entire blessed reality unfolding in front of me and it is probably because I am a mere human.

Lately, I hear and read of so many of my friends getting sick, dying or falling into dire straits. I feel a helplessness since many times, all I can do is send out empathy and compassion to them. I cannot materially help everyone. Often, all I can offer are words of encouragement and prayers.

Sometimes, there is a cynical side to me that thinks all this compassion talk and “niceness” really has no effect on the suffering of others and amounts to nothing. Yet there is a bigger side that says that our prayers and kind words do mean a lot if they are sent with sincerity. And yes, they do alter the situation both for the sender and the receiver. People always remember kindness and it inspires them to pass it on.

Reciting formal prayers and meditation can have the same effect in us. Both lead us deeper into our own interior lives where we discover our weakness and our strengths and come out the better for the experience.

“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” So says philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. I find this to be true for me. I continue to deepen my understanding of humility, trust and gratitude especially when prayers are answered. When I feel they are unanswered, I sometimes feel devastated. But after the disappointment sinks in, I either turn cynical, or learn even greater humility and trust as I ponder the idea that perhaps a greater intelligence and plan is unfolding beyond man’s understanding.

It draws me closer to the Divine even as I ask, “Why, God, why?” and “What’s next?”

The wisdom of being wise

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated February 22, 2015 – 12:00am

That may sound redundant, but please read on.

It takes a lot of experience over a lot of time to learn a lot of things and become a certifiably wise person. I am not referring to the pursuit of scholarly or academic knowledge, although that can bring one closer to wisdom; I am talking about real down-to-earth wisdom one gains from having lived through the different stages in one’s life.

Facts help you find and identify things. Knowledge prepares you to navigate situations similar to what others have faced before. But wisdom helps you make decisions where there are no clear signs that indicate whether they are correct or wrong. All you have is the situation and the best response you can make, based on your experience, to come out alive — and wiser.

It takes wisdom to survive a strange situation, like being in a jungle or forest where there is no clear path, and one must clear one’s own track, make one’s own path to get out of there.

I do not claim to be wise. I am certainly not a sage. But I am always in search of answers to real questions and situations that have plagued humankind. Here are some of them — hypothetical but practical — that we all have faced or will face, and my own my thoughts and hypothetical answers to them. Some of these questions I have answered differently at various ages and stages of my life.

1) When should one hang on to idealism and when should one give it up for practicality?

I have faced this question many times. When I was growing up, my Ateneo and family upbringing emphasized idealism. I pretty much still believe that idealism plays a big part in holding the sky up for everyone. People will say I am idealistic, for example, because I believe that politicians should be honest.

I do. But this belief has been tempered by real life and my Zen practice. I have learned that, like fish that cannot survive in pure water, politicians who live in the trickiest environment must realize the folly of being purist and inflexible. One must learn the art of compromise and adaptability.

Politics is dealing with the practical world. And the moral and the popular are not always the best of buddies.

There will always be tension between the practical thing to do, which could be illegal or legal but not moral, and the ideal, which may not be doable in a practical world. After talking to many honest people in politics, I have learned that being practical does not mean being resigned to the ways of the world and merely accepting the way it operates. The practical can mean going for a win-win situation.

Take the matter of achieving peace. Suspending notions of moral superiority and being more open and getting off one’s high horse to talk peace with one’s sworn enemies — this can lead to a cessation of hostilities that will end a war, save lives and deliver development and services to the most vulnerable victims of armed violence.

The good people in government I’ve talked to all agree that one can survive the political jungle without being corrupt or losing one’s ideals. Sometimes, you just need to scale down what you want done into smaller tasks so that you can pursue them without having to fight a Goliath every time. Good deeds and achievements that accumulate and create more good can change the toxic default culture operating in our society.

The ideal can be achieved by accepting the real world as it is and working from there. There are ways to get things moving without having to oil the wheels of corruption. But first you must accept reality, not to be swallowed up by it, but to be able to change it: calmly, systematically, a little at a time.

2) When does one continue to fight and when does one give up and surrender?

I always believe in giving any endeavor my best efforts. I also try not to get attached to the outcome of my endeavors. And while I have goals, I concentrate more on the work I need to do. Doing my best is my concern. The outcome has to be secondary because no matter what it is, I will have to accept it and work again towards improving on it.

But when can we allow ourselves to quit?

I say there should be no quitting if what you are going for is worth the effort and has meaning to you. You may stop for a while to rest but only to fight another day.

But it may also happen that somewhere along the way, the goal itself may lose its value, relevance and attraction to you. If that happens, you just have to be honest and admit that the dream has expired. Then it is time to quit.

3) Knowing when to leave something alone.

One of my favorite songs is Billy Joel’s Leave a Tender Moment Alone, which is about allowing a “sigh” moment to just be. Don’t explain. Don’t stop. Just let things unfold as they should.

This refers to people who tend to get hold of a situation and control it, like many of us do.

One may argue that it is important to be in some level of control over one’s life. One can’t just be a leaf being blown by the wind. However, it is difficult to recognize when one should be in control and do something and when it would be better to leave things alone.

This is a problem for people who are very responsible and are have many duties. While that may be mostly good — noble, even — in truth, responsibilities, duties, callings, important as they are, can and do become attachments themselves. We all need the wisdom to determine when we must let go of them, or at least not try to control what happens and leave the pieces to fall into place by themselves.

It is the same thing when one knows the truth and feels duty-bound to reveal it, without considering the consequences. Sometimes, if you want your truth to be heard and accepted, you must walk lightly with it and not ram it down people’s throats.

Knowing if, when and how to express such truth involves the wisdom to know the right time, the appropriate occasion, and an understanding of who will receive it and how it will be received.

Clearly, wisdom is something one can grow into, like age and grace. But it does not mean that the years will automatically deliver wisdom. You still have to choose wisely as you get older.

Love abundantly

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated February 15, 2015 – 12:00am

Since it was Valentine’s day yesterday, I wish to share with you my thoughts about love and a few other things. Without the promise of chocolates, roses, an expensive dinner, a concert and the possible prospect of an exchange of bodily fluids after, I hope I can get you to read on.

I believe in love. I believe in creativity. I believe in abundance.

I believe in all three because I think that, deep down, they are all the same.

In my creativity class, I tell my students that whatever creative endeavor you do, it involves expanding yourself. You show up and explore and say yes to something unknown to you. You must risk. You must pay attention. You must learn what works and what doesn’t. You must also discover that creativity coming from the most truthful part of you will bring out your most beautiful creations. And at the end of every creative act, you feel that you have become a bigger person.
Let’s take a look at love. Love is about extending yourself to another.

You also show up and spend time with the person. You also open yourself and become vulnerable. You also give freely. You also take risks. You may even get hurt bad, but no matter. You just do it.

You both explore the world of feelings — your own and the one you love. You offer everything you have — your time, resources, emotions, even your bodies to each other until the feeling of individual separateness vanishes and there is only one of “you.” You end bigger than who you were before you loved.

Sure, you may get hurt and feel broken, but trust me, as you move on, you will reach a point where you will be thankful for the love you gave and received. Abundance is a wonderful feeling. No, it is not based on how much you earn, or the riches you have accumulated. It is far bigger than that. A person rich in assets and money may feel poor when his net assets get smaller. He may feel poverty creeping in and be unhappy even while enjoying the luxuries that his lifestyle offers. On the other hand, a
man with hardly any assets can feel an overflowing abundance. Small things like the extra money saved, or an unexpected small windfall like buying something at a bargain price can brighten up his day.

The truth is, you can give the richest man in the world a million dollars and it would hardly change the way he feels. Give a poor man P10,000 and he will be ecstatic.

What is evident here is this: the feeling of abundance has nothing to do with money. It has nothing to do too with one’s socio-economic status. Abundance comes from the feeling of gratitude you feel just by being alive.

If you want to feel rich and abundant, the secret is to learn gratitude. To learn gratitude, you must awaken to it. And it is a spiritual awakening that must happen to see in full view God’s gifts everywhere. To do that, you must learn to overcome fear and show up for your own life, and pay attention and expand your understanding. When you do that, you will feel so lucky and abundantly blest every moment of your life. We are all born creative. I know some people may doubt hat. They look around and see really creative people and feel that they are nowhere close to being like them. I can understand that. But please read on.

I repeat that every single human being is born creative and has something to contribute. But somewhere along the way into becoming adults, many of us acquired blockages that made us doubt our innate creativity, our capacity to love and create and feel abundance. Our parents, schools, societal mores, people, institutions and even our religions may have done it inadvertently in the name of raising us “properly.” They boxed us in, “straightened” us out with fear to make us ready for “real life.” While it may have done us some good and serves us to a point, it also limits us since we also learned to fear, sometimes irrationally, to doubt ourselves, and to always choose to be on the “safe” side.

The mission for each one of us is to overcome these blocks that prevent us from being who we were meant to be. The job of becoming an adult is to reach our full potential. In short, we must overcome our blocks and fears to be able to love, create and to live our life in abundance.

It is a life-long mission. We never stop growing because there is no end to our capacity to experience love, creativity and abundance.

We were born to love and yes, we will never stop loving till we die. We may feel heartbroken but we are still in some form of love state.

I talk about love here in its many forms like love of parents, siblings, partners, humanity in general. There is also the love of one’s country, nature, God, and life itself. Love is a limitless resource and love awakens love. It begets it. No act of love gets wasted. And it multiplies when cared for properly.

“It is an absolute human certainty that no one can know his own beauty or perceive a sense of his own worth until it has been reflected back to him in the mirror of another loving, caring human being,” said the American author John Joseph Powell.

To awaken the love inside oneself and to share it with others is life’s true meaning. Why else do we do what we do if not to attract more love and to give it away? Think about it. This Valentine, may you experience love in its most creative manifestations and in great abundance. And may you pass it on to everyone you meet. It’s the thing that the world needs.

India–exploding with life!

If you fancy yourself as a real world traveler, then a trip to India is a must!

My wife Lydia and I and a few friends happily found ourselves in Jaipur, Rajhasthan a charming, quaint and ancient city near Delhi in the northern part of India a few years ago. We were there to attend a conference and see some sights during our free time. It was around October and the weather was just right, not hot and not cold. A light shirt was all I wore while we explored a few places in this ancient land.

When one steps out of the plane and into India, be ready to leave behind most of your western concepts and attitudes about a lot of thing from food, smells, hygiene, accents, sense of order, clothing styles, etc. India is India, an ancient country and one of the cradles of humankind. And the sooner you can adapt to the fact that this strange land and its customs and traditions have existed and flourished way before you or even western civilization were even born, the sooner you can dive into its rich, vibrant and fascinating culture.

Jaipur is known as the Pink City because its palaces and buildings are all in the shade of pink as it has been for centuries. There are numerous tours and excursions within the city that one can sign up to. I remember visiting the different palaces—the City Palace, Galitore, the Amber Fort, and many more—each one a must see! The Jaigahr Fort was a real standout perched on top of a mountain. We needed to ride elephants to go up the long, winding entrance. The royal fort had rooms of palatial grandeur and opulence, some studded with jewels on its walls.

Our tourist guide explained that centuries ago, the royalty in India were so obscenely rich that visitors were offered bowls filled with jewels for the picking when they entered their palaces, no different from the way one would pick peanuts from a bowl! And if that weren’t enough, the same palace had a saffron garden as big as a football field and it was there because the king wanted the sweet smell of saffron wafting into his chambers with the tunes played by musicians throughout the day.

We also had a great time exploring Sariska National Park, a wildlife sanctuary 107 km outside of Jaipur. We stayed at the Sariska Heritage hotel, former palace built for English royalty who loved to hunt in the colonial days. In the morning, we woke up early and rode an open jeep to drive through the forest in the hope of seeing tigers. To our surprise, we were invaded by a host of wild white monkeys whose idea of fun was grabbing our bags and things as we sped away!

India is a land of contrast, or at least in seems so to western eyes. While the palaces are opulent, there is a lot of poverty almost everywhere. Beggars, lepers, street people can be seen sleeping all over the sidewalks at night. And yet, in some strange sense, I got the feeling that in a real way, things were exactly as they should be. As I gazed everywhere, I saw a placid people who seemed resigned to their karmic place and at peace in what would normally be a depressing existence, at least through an outsider’s eyes.

Shopping in Rajahasthan is cheap and a lot of fun. One can buy carpets, brass, crafts of all types that are unique and beautiful. Books and medicines, due to government lifting of copyright restrictions are also dirt cheap in India.

If you are into gastronomic pleasures, Indian food has a lot to offer as well. I remember bringing a lot of ‘emergency food’ with me when I got there just in case I did not like the local fare, only to discover 5 days later that I had actually gained weight eating all that great cuisine. Just make sure you bring bottled water at all times when exploring outside your hotel. People are generally very friendly and even helpful. Oh, and make sure you always bring a camera.

Per square meter, there is more life in India than one can find in most places anywhere in the world. I remember standing by the sidewalk and together with about 100 commuters waiting for the bus. I also saw vendors selling vegetables unmindful of the cows that were eating their produce. I also gazed at a snake charmer, a monkey trainer by the side, a few beggars, hawkers selling textiles, brass, a Saddhu (religious renunciate) in some sort of trance, and doves on top of a pole, and so many more. Quite simply put, India is just exploding with life.

If you want a destination that you will not forget, Rajastahan in India is it. By the way, we were not able to visit the Taj Mahal for lack of time. But despite that, we experienced and saw more than what we ever bargained for.

The way it was, seriousness and Bruce Jenner

When I started this blog many years ago, I treated it like a journal. I wrote anything and everything on it. Any topic was fair game. And I could be light or serious depending on how I felt as I wrote at the moment.

Later on, this blog sort of became serious. Lately, I’ve just been posting my rather serious essays which I write for Philippine Star every Sunday.

I want to put back the anything goes feel that it had before. So expect the unexpected from hereon.

* * *

The opposite of the sublime is the ridiculous. The opposite of the sacred is the mundane. With seriousness, it’s levity, lightness, humor. I like living and having a house on both sides of any world I inhabit. And even while I have experienced living in wonder and reverence for everything quite often, I’ve also harbored a not-so-secret place for the sacrilegious, too. It would be so boring to live a life in one dimension, or with a single theme.

That’s why I get a laugh when I post jokes on twitter or facebook and some take the statements seriously.

Me: I will be opening an eat-all-you-can-pay resto soon
Follower: Tell us where. We will support you.

Me: Leftists and Rightists have the same problem. Both are NOT ambidextrous.
Follower: Which one are you?
Me: Ambidextrous.. All though at times I’m an amputee
Follower: Thank you sir!


* * *

I know what it’s like to change my mind, my opinions, my preferences, my taste in food, fashion, music, books, religious and spiritual beliefs etc.. I do it quite often.
But there are certain things I can’t imagine changing at this stage in my life. I don’t think I can take up drugs at this point in my life, or suddenly want to go to discos, or start to drink and gamble.

That’s why I am so perplexed at Bruce Jenner who wants to change his sexual identity. At past 60, now he wants to be a woman! What happened, I ask myself. Did the sexual hormones and pheromones overload in the Kardashan house have anything to do with it? Was he suppressing this all his life or is this something that kicked in recently? I am not judging him. At past 60, I would certainly want to do what I’ve always wanted to do. If that is the case with this once ‘Greatest athlete in the world’, then I would say to him to go all out for it.

But please, whatever you do with your body, do not get a Kardashan butt!

#BruceJenner #Kardashan

* * *

Does social media make us more evolved?

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated February 8, 2015 – 12:00am

When something monumentally tragic happens like the encounter between government troops and rebels in Maguindanao, people are naturally riveted to the news. It doesn’t take too long before everyone begins to express his/her opinions on social media even while they are based on very scanty information available. I guess it is a natural reaction to trauma. We are expressing ourselves as we are processing everything in real time, and it may not always be coherent.

You can see this happening all over social media lately. Many people are shooting from the hip. They are flying off the handle emotionally. We are flooded with opinions, condemnations, taunts, memes, insults, hashtags either in support or against P-Noy or some government officials, etc.

During these times, Facebook can become a very noisy, angry place. You will read all shades of opinions coming from the extreme left to the farthest right, from serious thinkers to kibitzers, from the educated to the ignorant, but mostly from regular ordinary people who are just plain angry, sad or confused.

So many seem to be standing on their soapboxes and ranting away. And why shouldn’t they? One of the easiest things to do is rant and, chances are, someone out there will read it and agree, and the “ranter” gets to feel some sort of validation. Personally I like those who can rant but do so with some insight. The others I just ignore.

I do recall Andy Warhol once saying that in the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes. It seems that in today’s world, that quarter of an hour, brief as it is, may have become even shorter — as short as it takes too read a tweet or a post, or a blog entry. There are just too many people talking.

While opinions may be many and varied, I mostly search for those gems that are written with sobriety and are well-thought-out, especially during times like these. They come from deep knowledge and experience, with factual backing that rings true with authenticity. They are worth sharing, and I often repost them.

Opposite these are the hysterical ones who feed on our anger and biases using insults and twisted logic. As an example, any article that calls the President “Abnoy” is definitely not worth the time of day. And its writer automatically merits being blocked from my sites. I also try to not take seriously opinions that are based on mere speculations, rumors and the like.

The very nature of social media is democratic. Everyone can have access to any site. It also means that both the intelligent and the not-so-intelligent can use these platforms to shout out their thoughts. Sadly, truth, wisdom, wit and insight are not equally distributed to everyone. These are accessible only to those who devote time, discipline, effort and patience in understanding and analyzing the nuances and complexities of given situations.

It is equally sad that the lazy people who do not spend the time and effort to read well-analyzed and researched pieces outnumber the people who wish to understand more.

Having said that, I still look at all this democratic access for everyone as largely positive. Sure, it can be annoying and even downright worrisome to read how other people can hold certain opinions or be so ignorant about a lot of issues. Yes, even ISIS, terrorists and hate groups are on FB and Twitter. But I still think that the more venues people have for expressing themselves, the better it may be in the end for democracy. Why? Because I like to believe that the best ideas eventually win out.

The discussion of issues is often dynamic and on a national level. Sometimes it is even on an international scale. People all over the world can comment on what’s going on anywhere in the globe. People become more aware of how other people live, what their values are and how their societies confront and solve problems. Things are more transparent. This alone can cause expectations to rise among peoples who are not treated right by their governments and their outdated value systems.

And social media can alter behavior, too. Before Pope Francis came, regular and social media did a wonderful job of disseminating information about the list of activities and the security protocols people had to follow. People were prepared. They complied with the rules. There was order even if you could feel the exuberance, excitement and the devotion everywhere.

But reading social media the past week has been a gloomy or an angry experience for many. There are too many people that you wish did not have access to Facebook. There is so much blaming based on “facts” that are largely hearsay. I am hoping that all this negativity will disappear once the facts emerge.

The Internet can be a cauldron at times. It can really generate a lot of heat. But sometimes it also brings some light. I have seen people who love to rant respond to reason and change their minds after reading responsible posts. It has happened to me a few times where I felt I was called out for what I posted and presented with a contrary view which I ended up adopting. It can be humbling but I see it as part of getting to be a better adult.

Here’s hoping these teachable moments also happen more and more and to everyone.

Maybe social media is something man subconsciously created to speed up evolution. I don’t really know. But it’s nice to think it is true.