What we need to become in the future

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated July 26, 2015 – 12:00am

Think of everything as in a state of flux and moving faster every day. The change that is happening is quick and quickly sweeping. Life and the world as we knew it 25 years ago is on its way to oblivion. If life had software to run it, it has been upgrading for some time now. And it is continuing to do so almost non-stop.

Just when we think that life’s latest operating system has been installed and is sufficient, a higher version is being set up.

That’s what it feels like being alive today. There has been so much change going on that I feel a new world order is taking shape and about to take over.

The technological advances have been mind-boggling. The socio-political and religious landscapes are under intense pressure to change as well. In many ways, push has come to shove. What used to be unimaginable is now the new reality, whether we like it or not. If we want to live in this new world and be relevant and useful, we will need to adjust, and quickly.

Animals adapt to new environments by evolving new survival instincts and acquiring new capabilities and characteristics. We humans need to do the same.

The following are some traits we will need to develop if we are to thrive in this

1. We must learn to think more inclusively. The idea of excluding or discriminating against certain classes of people and making them feel like outcasts belongs to the past. Gone are the days when slavery, misogyny, homophobia and racial discrimination were acceptable forms of controlling or managing society. There may still be a few vestiges left but surely, they are on the way out.

In many societies, wars based on differences in faith and politics are now seen more and more as uncivilized or even barbaric. It is simply not acceptable to disenfranchise people in one form or another based on political, racial, sexual, economic or religious differences.

The historical trajectory is pointing to ever greater freedom and opportunities for everyone. It will take time to fully realize this, but we will get there sooner than we think.

2. We need more tolerance. Now that we live in a world where gay marriage, women’s rights and racial equality have become more acceptable and has been legalized in many places, we must abandon the idea that certain faiths must rule the world and dictate the law. Human diversity demands that humanistic values, not exclusively religious tenets, be the basis of laws that govern society.

If the goal is to allow all types of people of different faiths, creeds and races to live in ways they wish without infringing on the right and freedom of others to pursue happiness, the management of the world must be based on more secular values.

3. We need a deeper understanding of God and religion that is not tied to outdated concepts. We need to free ourselves from a rigid understanding of religion and holy texts. Literalism kills faith more than anything else. For example, the holy books are nowhere near being authoritative when it comes to science, law and even history. They were not meant to be. In the Bible, you will not find a geographical map that leads to paradise or heaven, nor a scientific treatise on how the universe is made up.

Holy texts of all religions were written in a language that fit the times. And their point was to talk of experiencing God. They were written not as accurate physical descriptions of life or the world, but to draw us into the realm of the mysterium tremendum, the real and felt human longing where we as finite beings are drawn to make sense of the unexplainable and imponderable mysteries of life, the afterlife, God, eternity, etc.

4. Accept the reality of constant, never-ending learning and education to navigate this ever-changing environment. We know that many things that held true before are not true now. And the rate by which these so-called truths and facts reach their expiry date is accelerating. It was once believed that the world was flat. Not anymore. Remember when eggs, coffee, butter and fat were believed to be bad for you, and are now supposed to be “good”? I would not be surprised if further studies reach different conclusions later on.

5. Awaken to and fine-tune our sense of unity and oneness with all things. This is crucial if we wish to reverse environmental degradation. We cannot look at the world as apart from us. We must find our place in the entire scheme of the cosmos and play our part in healing the earth. We are not the rulers of nature but its stewards, protectors who are also part of the integral chain that sustains life.

Our economic systems must respect this and make major adjustments to protect the earth while opening more opportunities for everyone.

Runaway capitalism is passé. Running a business requires great social responsibilities that will mitigate its economic, social and political impact on the earth and its inhabitants. This will not be easy. The call of greed is difficult to tame.

6. We need more transparent politics. Politics must have a built-in mechanism that prevents the proliferation of unbridled power while being effective in pushing truly needed change. This has become more possible due to social media. Citizens will find more venues and opportunities to dialogue with their leaders. It will undoubtedly lead to faster and more efficient government service.

7. Lastly, a caveat. Modernity is not always what it promises to be. We must not readily succumb to the dictates and allure of modern life and its values. Humans are not commodities or units of production that must live feeling enslaved by the pursuit of money and material goods.

I believe children should be running and playing outside instead of being stuck indoors looking at their gadgets. Engagement with people face to face in the real physical world should be given greater value than digital encounters. Live interaction of people and real conversations are irreplaceable.

High-rise condos must not replace the great outdoors. Parks and open areas should be preserved and enhanced. People must engage in more relevant social, political and religious rites and rituals that give their lives more meaning. Progress is not about quantity of wealth but about the quality of life.

Modernity for modernity’s sake is empty, soulless. We must heed the natural call to love, to appreciate beauty, to have passion and meaning. This requires us to cultivate timeless values and make them part of who we are. The world will always need men and women of true character. Meditation, silence, respect for others, compassion, detachment, humor, lightness, intelligence, and the appreciation of all forms of art can help create more highly evolved humans the world will need to move towards a more promising future.

The future is certainly not a done deal. The world may still go crazy and enter a new dark age. But I am a natural optimist.

A few years back, one of my favorite recording artists Donald Fagen came out with a nostalgic album (“The Nightfly”) romanticizing the late President John F. Kennedy’s vision of a New Frontier. He wrote the lines, “What a beautiful world this will be. What a glorious time to be free.”

I want to believe we are going there.

Rain, emotions & my 63 seasons

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated July 19, 2015 – 12:00am

It’s raining as I write this. It is a pretty strong rain. There is a wall of sound of rain everywhere as water hits my roof. The impact of falling droplets on my tin roof is causing a droning white noise that dulls my hearing. But it also excites me. I don’t mind rain because I am comforted by the thought that the rain will not enter my house. In fact, I generally like it.

Rain means many things to everyone. People feel differently about it.

To some, it may be a feeling of fear of losing one’s property and belongings. I can imagine people in places prone to massive flooding. They can get quite anxious during the rainy season. They constantly worry if or when the rains will cause flooding inside their homes.

The rains brought on by tropical storms, especially during the past 10 years have caused considerable fear among many residents of Metro Manila and in many provinces. Global warming has changed things. Massive flooding along roads and major thoroughfares, overflowing waterways such as rivers, lakes, canals and anywhere water can gather now cause extreme anxiety among people living in low lying areas. For them, rains bring more damage than benefits.

Rain, for many has a rather sad and bad connotation. Unlike sunshine which suggests happiness, rain is gloomy. Where rain clouds are dark and foreboding, sunshine is positive and happy. Poets, writers talk of rain like tears, or rainy weather to describe the sadness in their hearts, or the soulful suffering of being left out in the rain. Rain is cold, damp and lonely. Sunshine is nice and warm.

I have gone through 63 rainy seasons. Luckily for the most part, my experiences of rain and the whole wet season every year in the Philippines have been mostly positive. As a young boy, I loved watching the rain from the huge windows we had at home. When I am in a high place, I would stare out into the streets for long periods mesmerized by this natural phenomenon. I also liked watching people scurry about as they avoid getting wet.
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When it rains, I imagine the earth’s water supply being replenished, its plants refreshed, and the air renewed, washed away of all the pollution man has put on it. I generally feel good when it rains.

Even when I see excessive rain that brings flooding and destruction, as much as I feel and empathize with the great suffering of many unfortunate people who live in low neighborhoods, I am fascinated by its sheer power and its great effect over everything.

Rain is atmospheric. It defines everything. It can seem like it is raining everywhere you look and as far as the eye can see. It can be all encompassing. It can’t help but affect you one way or the other. And this is why everyone has some emotional response to it.

Simply put, rain reigns!

And as a writer, I do understand rain as a metaphor for sadness, destruction, calamity, etc. But rain can also suggest joyousness, cleansing, the feeling of being refreshed, romance, lightness of spirit, etc.

During my last trip to Coron, I had a moment with rain that I will remember for life. I was with friends off a boat on the water lazily floating in the ocean wearing inflatable devices on a dark, muggy day. We were talking about the beauty around us — the majestic limestone mountains with lush greenery, the pristine waters. We could see monkeys amid the foliage and exotic birds flying by. It was jaw-dropping. In the midst of our conversation, heavy rain suddenly fell. The droplets were quite big as it showered down on us with great force.

More than anything, it felt like generosity and abundance were pouring on us. There we were floating on the ocean laughing like children as strong rain fell. It was beautiful and crazy. We were ecstatic. We laughed, cheered and shouted in awe. What a celebration. It was an unforgettable, awesome moment.

What a privilege it felt being vulnerable and completely rained down. We felt blest. We felt refreshed and giddy. We were God’s children playing in God’s kingdom and being witness to Her many miracles which we would normally miss out on or even enjoy. In ordinary circumstances, we would even shun and avoid rain. But here we were totally sucking it in, embracing it.

These days, everyone is talking about the weather. To me, rain is a brave and confident artist. I agree with whoever it was who observed that rain is oblivious to whatever its critics say.

Many songs have been written about rain. There are those that speak of raining in one’s heart. People sing of crying in the rain, or being alone and pitifully standing in the pouring rain. There is a song that urges you to walk through the storm with your head up high. There is also one that triumphantly brags about making it through the rain.

While I like many songs that are of this theme, my general disposition inclines me to celebrate rain more than cry over it. It’s just the way I am.

Someone once sang that he can never stop the rain by complaining. Good observation. As for myself, I am happy to hear laughter in the rain.

So when it pours, I’d rather count the pennies from heaven as I sing in the rain. What a glorious feeling! I don’t look for the sun since it is already in my heart!

What Marcos told me when I met him in heaven

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

The opposite side also has an opposite side.— Zen saying

Many of us have spent much of our lives struggling. We struggle over everyday problems, irritations and blocks that stand in our way. We struggle for better living conditions for ourselves and our loved ones. We struggle for a better society, a better breed of politicians to lead us forward as a nation with a better future. We struggle to keep healthy, and maintain a lifestyle we are accustomed to. One might say we struggle physically, economically, psychologically, morally and even spiritually.

In the course of our struggles, we make allies and enemies. We reject people who are not aligned with our moral, religious, social and political universe. We avoid or reject people who we feel are toxic.

I get so uncomfortable and agitated over political issues and personalities whom I feel are not morally fit to be in office. I feel the same way about some leaders of the Church. I think my moral judgments have basis since they are backed by facts.

I look at certain politicians with disdain and contempt, knowing how much they have stolen from our coffers and lied to us.

I have often wondered about how right I am in judging people. I know I do judge from a template of morality and values I was raised on. Everyone comes from his own upbringing and history. And yes, everyone judges. Maybe some are just more judgmental than others. I struggle with this often.

When I became interested in Zen, Buddhism and other religions, I realized that Christianity is quite an emotional religion. People can get passionate about their moral and religious beliefs. There is an emotional relationship to the “Father,” to Jesus, etc. Faith can be so compelling that people go out of their way to convert others. Often, they even impose their morality on others.

In people I meet in Zen, I see a dedication and passion to meditate but I do not see them rushing to judgment, or correcting things and making them right, or launching a crusade about anything. There is no active aggressive recruitment. Zen is very laid-back. To a newbie, this can be disconcerting.

I once asked my Zen teacher why she seemed to not feel the need or urge to change the world. She smiled and explained the concept of non-attachment to things, feelings and outcomes.

She said there is nothing wrong with activism, but in the pursuit of it, one must not permanently identify with the labels and feelings that go with it. Certain people are not necessarily “good” and their antagonists are not necessarily “bad,” even if, morally speaking, the “enemy” looks, acts and talks immorally. What is good for one may be bad for another.

Good and bad exist and necessarily so. Sometimes you know who you are by knowing who you are not. How can you know goodness without knowing evil? How can you experience joy without experiencing sadness? How do you know if, in the eyes of others, you could be the evil one?

The pair of opposites is always actively dancing to the key of life. The Zen master walks the thin line that separates the two sides but will not cling to any.

While that explanation was well and good, I asked myself if it isn’t a human duty to correct the wrong and fight for what is right. Isn’t it a human imperative to help end suffering? Should we not fight for, say, equality? Should we not fight corruption?

There is a Zen koan which asks, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” This koan stumps a lot of people probably because they look at the question literally. Koans are never answered logically or literally. One can only understand them by intuiting the meaning of the question. Only then can one attempt an answer.

In my own understanding, this koan points us to think of why humans frantically cut up life to separate the good from the bad, when it is impossible to do so.

The whole package comes with the two opposite sides tied up into a unity. Life is both hard and easy. Life is a gift and a curse. Life is good but can be tragic at times. The wise person, instead of trying to cut up this duality, must accept it and live with it “as it is.” Only by accepting opposites can things make sense.

But does this mean we can stop trying to change the world? No. The struggle to change things is also life itself playing out. Good and evil will forever search and find each other and have that confrontation. The ideal will always have to deal with the practical. The old order will be challenged by the new. All opposites will always appear and we must live with them. That is the conundrum of life. A line in Bhagavad Gita goes, “Be in the battlefield but be not the warrior.”

We must act as we should, according to the dictates of our conscience. But we must neither gloat in victory, nor cling to the side we choose. The world is around. Opinions, feelings and beliefs are merely clouds passing by. Do not be bound by them in the face of an ever-changing reality. We must detach if and when it is time to detach. Who we are is the eternal blue spotless sky. We are without attachments.

What, then, should be our attitude towards our adversaries?

Zen says to have compassion. Christianity says we must forgive. But justice must still be served in this phenomenal world where duality exists. But looking with compassion makes us see beyond the duality and see the Oneness of everything. There is no “other.” This is heaven’s portal available to all sentient beings living on earth.

In Conversations with God, Neale Donald Walsch posited that Hitler is in heaven because God loves us all unconditionally. If there is a hell, then His love is not unconditional.

I wondered about that when I wrote my first book. I imagined meeting Marcos in heaven and, without rancor or bitterness, asking him why he was such an a-hole while he was alive.

I imagined his answer. He said, “It was difficult. But someone had to do it.”