It is in every one of us

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated October 30, 2016 – 12:00am

What if you could make things out of thin air? What if you could make something out of nothing?” I ask these questions when I am conducting a class in creativity.

Very often, our concept of creativity is what makes it so hard to create anything. We think the ideas come from our minds, specifically from our literal brains. We think we need to concentrate and focus and come up with an idea in our head and write it down on paper, to materialize it to the physical level. That sounds really hard, and stressful, if I may add.

I use to think that way. Sometimes, I must confess, I still do. That’s when I have a hard time coming up with anything.

I want to look at creativity as something magical and easy. I like to tell my students to look at creativity this way: that every possible thing that can be created has been created and is existing, floating somewhere in the universe, inside of us, and outside as well. The job of a creator is to simply allow himself to be the magnet that attracts these creations and bring them to physical life.

What really happens first when we embark on creativity is we make an intention, a declaration to create something. We open our entire being to inspiration which can always be found from within and around us, everywhere! The self-contained, self-inspired artists know this through experience.

You actually do not need an earth-shaking event or inspirational muse from the outside to get going. Some artists do it without much fanfare. They simply show up and create.

Can you imagine what havoc it would cause in our daily lives if we had to depend on, say, a love affair, or a world event to get us inspired? Imagine having to write 10 songs for an album where 90 percent of the material is about love. Do we have to fall in love so many times to write love songs? The answer is no. While it is true these things do help some people get inspired to come up with artistic work, it would be difficult to make it a requisite every time we create something. We must be able to draw inspiration from ourselves.

Creating something is as much a craft as it is art. We must develop skills to do what we must do. By continuously doing it with presence and attention, we can constantly unleash inspiration from inside us to make works of art.

Can drugs or alcohol be useful in living a creative life? Can it get you inspired? In truth, I am allergic to alcohol. I do not have any use for drugs at all. And I feel that some artists who find alcohol and drugs to be useful and must depend them to keep going will burn out eventually. It is not a sustainable way in triggering inspiration much less in maintaining it. Sooner or later, fatigue and numbness set in. And too much drug or alcohol use stunts growth, and dependence on them eventually blocks creativity.

I believe everybody is born creative, but not everyone is living a creative life. Those who do not think they are creative do so probably because of years of blockage. They have been led to believe by people around them that they were never creative. They have been terrorized, ridiculed, and convinced that they cannot do anything worthwhile in the creative field. They live in great doubt about their creative instincts. Before even trying, they’ve already given up. They will only try if they can be assured that they will be good at it.

The prescription for them is to slowly unblock and simply allow their innate creativity to flourish. We were born creative but through no fault of ours, we grew up with too many conditions to be creative. It may take years but it is possible to get it back to the point where you can “just create” with as little conditions as possible.

If you can still wake up in the morning and smile at a new day, or can laugh at something, or love a person, you still have it in you.

Hello, God

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated October 23, 2016 – 12:00am

I know I can always talk to you. I discovered this about 15 years ago when I read the book Conversations With God, by Neale Donald Walsch. The book impressed me so much it actually changed my understanding of you. It was such a radical change for the better. I even invited the author to come to the Philippines because I wanted many people to know that they, too, can talk to God.

We have talked quite often the past 15 years. Sometimes I just suddenly call on you, often very early in the morning, and you are always on. Don’t you ever sleep? I know that I can tell you anything. And I do. I have told you things I have not told anyone else. Some of them are quite shocking. But you seem to be cool with them. You don’t get shocked. That’s why I like talking to you.

When I first started having conversations with you, I could not tell if your answers were just coming from me. Were they just my own thoughts? I wondered. I was confused. Your answers seemed too real to come from me. One day, I gave that a long thought and came to the conclusion that it does not matter where it was coming from. What was important was I could feel the love, the affirmation that was coming from you.

I have tried to create a mental construct of what you are like. What can God possibly look like? I have seen many of your faces. Sometimes, you seem like a cool old man. Sometimes, I can’t see any face at all when we are talking. But I know there is an undeniable presence that announces itself clearly. I just sense a feeling that touches my whole being. It is a great feeling of being special. It is a feeling of awe and love that I can almost touch with my hands. God, I must admit you can be so physical, too.

Sometimes when we talk, I must admit I can’t hear you at all. I think I know why. It is probably because the answers I want are not what you are ready to give me. I am full of expectations and so I can’t hear your true voice and will.

During those moments, I close my eyes. I try to quiet my thoughts until it is so still I can sense you are there. When my mind is too noisy or dusty, all I hear is my own ego trying to capture God. But how do you capture someone that is not really separate from you? What a presence you are in my life.

Lately, I have not been praying to you in the way I am used to. I’ve started reciting popular prayers, and even if I feel you answer my prayers affirmatively, I feel that I am not fully present to you. I feel the closeness but I feel there is less certainty on my end that I am actually talking to God.

Maybe it’s because I’ve practically stopped meditating and so I am having difficulty quieting my mind. Lately, there are so many voices in my head that want to destroy the peace of mind I normally have. I think I have unconsciously allowed them in and they are taking too much of my peace from me. I know I have to do something about that. I have allowed too much of the world in that I can’t quiet it down. I want my empty mind back. I must go back to Zen meditation.

I think it was Meister Eckart who said, “God likes to visit when no one is home.” I understand that clearly. I should surrender expectations, concepts, pictures in my mind about you so that you can come in just as you are. I have to be without ego, and free of attachments as much as I can to feel your wonderful defining presence.

Please visit often and continue to have patience with me. I really want to know you! This time- and space-bound creature wants to meet the eternal and everlasting. I have a hunger that can’t be quenched. It is a hunger in my soul that wants to be fed and nourished. Please talk to me. And like a dog toward his master, I will delight in your voice and keep coming back.

A few days ago, I felt quite lucid and connected to you; I actually experienced a great talk with you. It was for no reason that I wanted to talk. No favors to ask. I didn’t want to ask anything from you since I did not want you to feel that all I do is ask. It was merely to open up my thoughts, feelings, secrets to you. I needed to just share them with someone. And just being open to you about them often already solves a lot of things. It is as if problems once stated or confessed point to their own solutions.

Many people come to me asking for advice on many questions about life. I try to answer them. When I can’t, I humbly admit I have nothing to say. When I can give good, inspired advice, I feel good. I feel like you, God.

During one intense Zen meditation years ago, that feeling of being God-like came to me. It was a feeling of intense humility but with searing enlightenment. I described it this way: “I honor God when I claim to be Him.”

I know many people will not understand that, but it’s okay, because I know You do.

Through my eyes, passionately

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HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated October 16, 2016 – 12:00am


I’ve hardly written about photography, which is one of my passions. I have been taking pictures seriously since I did my first magazine cover in 1997. I did commercial work, lots of it, many years ago. But mostly, I have taken photos for the pure love of it.

I’ve often tried to write about photography but I have always felt that words are inadequate in describing pictures. The pictures must speak for themselves.These days, almost everyone has a digital camera or a mobile phone that can take decent pictures, which has made many people instant photographers with Instagram as their medium. But that is just not so.We all live in the same world and often look at the same things. We sometimes even take pictures of the same subjects.

Yet the photographer’s eye sees things differently. The subject stands out more coherently, more beautifully, and the narrative of the photo is more focused and clear. There is a compelling quality to the photos.

I believe that a photographer must have the mind of a conspiracy theorist. He must be able to see things others do not and make the “connections.” He must be able to edit and present slices of reality as coherent short stories by themselves without irrelevant, extraneous details that could distract the viewer. He must catch the narration and capture it as clearly as possible.When I started taking pictures, I was using film, like everyone else at the time. With film, you have to know the theories and rules since you can’t see an instant playback of your shots.

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‘ Starry Wintry Night’

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‘My Spirit is Stronger than Cancer’

You can only take 36 shots per roll, and even less if you are using a medium format camera. You also pay for every shot so you tend not to be trigger happy with the shutter. You need to plan your shots and hope you get some good ones on every roll. And you have to wait a few days, with bated breath, until the negatives are developed and you can finally see your work in print.

A passion is something that gives one a purpose and an explanation for why one spends so much time, effort and money on it. It also has phases that one goes through while engaging in it. There was a time when I was obsessed with shadows in my photographs. I felt that the darkness highlighted the subject, giving it more depth and character.

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These days, I don’t think too much about anything when I shoot. I am just happy looking through the lens and capturing stories that appear in their own time and place. Through the years, I’ve taken photos that I am pretty proud of. Here are some of them.

Kensho (enlightenment) around the corner

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Lolo goes to cosplay

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated October 9, 2016 – 12:00am

Some cosplayers from CosMania 2016 held at SMX in Mall of Asia
As part of my “Lolo duties,” I had to give up my Sunday last week to accompany my grandchild Ananda to a cosplay event at SMX in the Mall of Asia.

Cosplay events feature people in costume, mostly dressed as Japanese or Korean-inspired anime characters, superheroes and robots, meeting up, interacting and having a lot of fun.

Ananda had been planning on attending CosMania 2016 for quite a while. I accompanied her once before to a smaller cosplay event. Last Sunday’s event was touted to be a big one. She had an intricate costume made, and wore a long, curly, black wig which her Lola Lydia ordered from to complete the look of Celestia Ludenberg, an anime character dressed in school uniform.

We left the house before noon. When we got to SMX, the place was almost full. All kinds of people showed up in their best fantasies. A sea of heads wearing pink, white, black and green hair filled the building. As I looked around at a crowd that seemed to get bigger every minute, I put on my amateur socio-cultural analyst hat and tried to understand what was going on.

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Here was a fun, vibrant subculture parading before me. I remembered readings by Joseph Campbell about rituals, costumes, masks and all things associated with tribes.

People in the olden days used to wear animal skins and paint white spots on their faces to emulate animal markings. They wore masks to look as fierce as the creatures they hunted. It was a way of summoning the power of nature, the spirits in the animal world to be with them.

As I looked at the characters in the room at SMX, I felt that these young people, though in modern garb, were doing the same thing, more or less. They were reliving that tribal thrill of possessing certain special characteristics via costumes, masks and accessories.

When a person wears a mask or a costume, or puts on a physical appearance that is different from what he or she is and that is compelling to look at, it is a way of dictating how that person wants people to relate to him or her. You command the way that people will interact with you. A monstrous or grotesque mask tells people that you are someone to fear. The people who came as Batman, Superman, Green Arrow and the like wanted to feel the awesome power, skills and personae of their idols who can rescue society and mankind.

The people in the robotic attire wanted to summon the awesome power of their destructive capability and potential. They had rockets, light sabers, lasers and weapons of mass destruction on their metallic bodies. It did not matter whether you saw their faces or not. They were not human. But they were dangerous and lethal.

Those who came dressed up to look like cute Japanese anime drawings wanted to embody beauty, youth, sweetness, with a touch of the innocent sexuality of the characters they admired. They put on colorful wigs, intricately designed costumes taken from cartoons and comic books, size-adjusting colored contact lenses that made their eyes rounder, cuter and quite mysterious.

I saw soldiers, Storm Troopers, witches, Pokemon Go characters, Suicide Squad characters, Johnny Bravo.

Famous characters (according to Ananda) were scattered all over the place. In truth, I hardly knew any of them, except perhaps, that yellow Pokemon, Pikachu.

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Famous characters (according to Ananda) like the twins Rem and Ram, Sailor Moon, Fairy Tail, Satella, Naruto, Pikachu, Miraculous Lady Bug, Baymax, Rocket Raccoon of Guardians of the Galaxy, Demon Lady, Gravity Falls; and Vocaloids like Hatsune Miku, Rin and Len were scattered all over the place. In truth, although they are famous to the young generation, I hardly knew or had heard of any of them, except perhaps, that yellow Pokemon, Pikachu.

It was quite an experience for me. I felt the excitement of the young people, and admired their daring to show up as the characters they fancied. They were bold and they indulged their imaginations and fantasies.

I saw the thrill on their faces when people asked to take their pictures. They gamely emoted for the cameras. They preened, posed and lived their adopted personas. Those who came with elaborate flair and style were the most sought-after subjects for photographers.

I must say I was hooked! I told myself that I would join the next cosplay event and come in a really loud, eye-catching costume.

Events like Halloween and Cosplay festivals are venues and occasions for expressing aspects of ourselves we do not reveal every day. Joseph Campbell wrote that when a ritual has stopped moving or touching people, it has lost its energy and capability to transform or lead people to mystery.

To the young, cosplay is a way of discovering and displaying the many aspects of who they are while being assured of mutual acceptance. It is a huge masquerade, a “come as you would like to be” party.

In cosplay, one is allowed to get out of reality and live out one’s fantasies even for just a few hours. For a while, you are allowed some vanity, exhibitionism, indulgence and crazy role-playing.

I think this is something we all need from time to time! Photos by JIM PAREDES