There is a way out

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – June 30, 2019 – 12:00am

The waters have gotten murky again. I guess it happens. Life has been a blur lately. That is why I have started to meditate again. Let me tell you how meditation helps me find some balance and how it clarifies a lot of things for me.

Meditation opens the door to calmness, compassion, and spirituality. Let me explain how.

If you observe your thoughts, you will notice that there is a constant stream going on in your head every moment of the day. It goes on practically nonstop. We are preoccupied with it. And strangely enough, we are often not even aware of what these thoughts are doing to us. That is how confused and busy our minds are.

I began to be aware of this when I started meditating years ago. Sitting still in lotus position and facing a wall for 25 minutes at a time without moving is my meditative practice. It was unnerving in the beginning. Doing nothing was uncomfortable. My body wanted to rebel and move.

And it takes time to quiet down and stop the urge to scratch, or stretch, etc. And your mind is always so active. Many thoughts keep coming in droves. You can get carried away by them. They can pull you every which way emotionally. You can have angry thoughts, happy ones — all kinds of thoughts that can make you feel a lot of different things.

When you meditate, you learn to calm your mind. You are discouraged from entertaining thoughts. You are asked to detach from them and just let them come and go without engagement. It takes a lot of practice to do this. Often you forget to detach and, before you know it, the thoughts completely occupy you. But the more you meditate, the more you can have control over them.

The mind is very busy and can easily take control over you without your knowing it. Often, I feel that my mind controls me more than I can control it. It is only in meditative silence that I can tame it.

In Zen, the noisy mind is called “monkey mind.” It is always actively and uncontrollably moving, thinking, analyzing, dissecting, plotting or trying to solve problems. It is always in conceptual mode. It is always creating scenarios.

What your mind wants to do is to make you identify with its thoughts, feelings and, in so doing, create your self-image. In short, it makes up an image for you to identify with. You begin to believe that you are what you think and feel.

Spiritual practices that encourage meditation address this quite well. Meditation brings awareness. By becoming aware that you are thinking, all of a sudden, you realize that there is someone else watching you grapple with your thoughts and feelings. SOMEONE is watching you. Who is that someone?

That someone is the Witness. It is watching you having these incessant thoughts. That Witness is a vast being that is way bigger than the one doing the thinking. This Witness is the real you. It has always been there even before you were born, and it will continue to be there even after you die. But you only become aware of the Witness when you awaken to it.

When you do awaken, you will realize that you aren’t your thoughts. Why? Because thoughts come and go. Neither can you be your emotions and feelings for the same reason. They are all fleeting. A Zen analogy compares your thoughts and feelings to clouds passing by. They arise and leave. And what is the Witness? It is the spotless, eternal blue sky that is forever untouched and aware of everything, especially the thoughts that pass by like clouds.

It is so important to practice self-awareness. It makes you present to your “here and now.” You are in the ever-new present that carries with it the full potential to be anything you want to be. You are not trapped living in the past that has come and gone or some imagined future. You are where you should be. It makes everything so simple.

Dis-identifying with things of the world can really make us feel free. In full awareness, we awaken to the reality that we actually already have everything we need. Yes. Everything you need right here and now is already present if you open your eyes. This is powerful spiritual stuff. All this can put an end to a lot of anxiety and fear. Here and now is a blessing in itself. Writer Eckart Tolle often asks the question, “What can possibly be wrong with the present? Nothing.” It can only go wrong when we allow the past and the future to contaminate it. Otherwise, it is always fresh and new.

Just a few minutes ago, I had breakfast. I honored the moment by paying attention to it. I noticed how wonderfully crispy the skinless longganisa was. The melons were so juicy I could hear the crunch as I bit them. The present seemed like it was unraveling; everything was transcendent. The breakfast was a big deal. When you are present, there are no little things. Everything is radiant. In contrast, haven’t we had days when we can’t even remember the last meal we ate because we were hardly there? What a world of difference being present makes.

Meditation is a great life skill, especially in this day and age. The only problem with it is that people do not do enough of it. In this world of instant this-and-that, it is good to know you can jump off the runaway train and sit somewhere and just watch the world go by. Meditation reminds us that we can live our own lives with clarity and purpose and not get stuck in the maze of wants, needs, desires, obsessions, addictions and anxieties. We are not stuck in a world that is getting more crazy every day.

There is a way out.


Dads make mistakes, too

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – June 16, 2019 – 12:00am

It is Father’s Day once more. There will be the usual greetings from children to their dads. Some of us dads may even receive cards, phone calls, kisses and hugs, and gifts from our partners and offspring. Lucky for those who do.

Some fathers may just see today as just another day in their lives. It starts and finishes uneventfully. It comes and goes without fanfare. It does not necessarily mean they are not loved nor cared for. Some families just do not celebrate it with hoopla.

I want to talk to fathers in this article.

The world has defined fathers as multi-taskers. We are supposed to be material providers, physical protectors and defenders, nurturers, cheerleaders, disciplinarians, the big man to run to when you have problems, the final decision maker and arbiter of fights in the house, the head of the family, someone to depend on to help you, someone who won’t fail you; the teacher, guide and moral guardian in life, the pillar of strength, etc. Fathers should be looked up to by their children as role models. That’s how the world has defined what fathers are.

Might I add that fathers are also one of the reasons that children do their best in school and sports. They need to hear validation from Dad (and Mom) that they are worthy and good children.

The job description above is a tall order. They are big burdens that fathers are supposed to carry out the moment they have children. For a father like me and many others, we are expected to do all these with patience, consistency and heart.

In real life, not all fathers are up to these tasks. Some have a hard time being material providers. Some are emotionally incapable of having meaningful or close relationships with their children. There are those who work abroad whose relationship and interaction with their children are limited through video chats or social media and the rare vacation from work when they come home and actually see their children. Fathers are also not shining examples of adult behavior all the time. We trip. We fall. We fail. We are not always mature. We are human.

Each family situation is different. There are many unique circumstances in modern life that make being successful in all of the above tasks impossible. There are also those who are deadbeat dads — those who have abandoned all responsibilities and obligations and have practically cut ties with their children. I pity them both. There is so much they are missing out on.

One thing I know is there are many adults who have issues with their fathers. Perhaps all of us do to some degree, be they minor or major. Some have deep unresolved issues that continue to play out in their adult lives.

I remember being part of a staff of a workshop called “Reparenting the Child Within” that was run by the psychologist Harriet Hormillosa. The aim of the workshop was to help you move on from childhood traumas by reliving them but this time as an adult with the right tools, skills and support to handle them better. The goal is to help you consciously move on from past experiences and be happier. With help from trained workshop facilitators, you can now go through your childhood crises better prepared as you consciously process and heal the pain you’ve carried through the years.

Harriet asked me to be present during one workshop and be a “substitute dad” to anyone who may feel a “father hunger.” In workshops like these, participants can talk to a surrogate father and tell him things they may have wished to tell their own dad, but never did. Or maybe they may want that hug from “father” who rarely showed affection.

Expectedly, there were very emotionally charged moments that I went through with some of the participants. I absorbed their projections and in turn I gave back some validation of their feelings. Some had very angry emotions of abandonment and shame. They were crying, shouting. They were highly strung. Some needed to say things they never got to tell their own fathers, especially those whose dads had passed away. I experienced confrontation, painful confessions, and different types of engagements that they so needed to go through. On my end, I asked questions to help them bring out the pain that had bound them to trauma. I did not defend nor accuse their fathers. I was merely present to what they were going through. I validated what they felt. Some needed a shoulder and a hug while crying profusely. I tried to exude love, compassion and understanding at all times. I hardly said anything. They just had to let it all out. It is an understatement to say I learned a lot from the workshops.

Our connection to our fathers defines us to a great deal for better or worse. They affect our choices in life in practically all aspects.

I am aware of this with my own children. As a father of three children, I have taken great pride and joy in helping my kids with their homework and many other things. I have had many conversations with them about all sorts of things and issues. We have had many happy times. But I also knew that they had some sort of resentment about my being away during long tours. I missed out on birthdays, graduations, etc. They also did not like being defined as children of some celebrity and living under my shadow. I wanted them to live their own lives and make it on their own.

The move to Australia was about giving them a chance at making a life for themselves without my fame or influence getting in the way. That was my gift to them. They always know they can come back home. But through their own efforts, they have built lives and careers there and found happiness and fulfillment.

At a certain point, children stop being children and parents cease being parents except perhaps in name. When kids get older, they begin to live their own lives while their parents try to move into a new chapter without having to tend to their children’s everyday lives. That’s a pretty hard move for parents to do. My children and I are at this point in our family life. We do care for each other but we also have our own lives to live.

As time goes by, more and more changes will happen to our family.

Parents who used to care for their kids will soon be watched over by their own children. Kids will realize that their parents do get older and get more vulnerable health-wise.

Our family is not there yet, thank God.

I would hate to be a burden to my children later on. I am taking care of my health to avoid this as much as possible. Time is moving fast. There are so many things to do and so little time to do them. I have one immediate goal I would like to do and that is to have a family vacation soon. With my children living in two separate continents and having kids and partners in life, it gets harder to plan these things where everyone can spare common time to be together. I am hoping we can pull it off next year.

I know Lydia and I have taught our kids many things. The most important are compassion, kindness, independence, and love for each other. These are essential things to teach your children.

As much as I have loved them, so will they love me back. They have done that many times and continue to do so. And I can only be a grateful dad.

A songwriter’s heaven

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – June 9, 2019 – 12:00am

Last Monday to Wednesday, I was in Club Balai Isabel in Talisay, Batangas. I was one of the coaches invited to help 29 kids from all over the Philippines who were invited to join the Philpop 2019 Boot Camp. Philpop Musicfest Foundation has held six songwriting festivals. And this is their fifth boot camp. The first four were held in different places around the country.

The aim of every boot camp is to help promising songwriters better their skills. These “fellows,” as they are called, auditioned to get in. Their transportation, board and lodging were paid for by Philpop. They were there to learn songwriting and life lessons from coaches like Ryan Caybabyab, Noel Cabangon, Trina Belamide, Gary Granada, Lara Maigue, Jungee Marcelo, Yumi Lacsamana, Marlon Barnuevo, Jek Buenafe, Davey Langit and yours truly.

The kids were eager to learn. Seminars were prepared by coaches with topics ranging from how to begin writing a song, how to be creative for life, arranging songs, how to write a musical, and so many more. Prior to getting there, they were already given assignments to prepare so that they would already hit the ground running when they got there.

One assignment was to put a melody to a set of lyrics given to them days before. When they presented their songs, we readily noticed how diverse the attendees were. Some leaned towards the blues, others liked rock ‘n’ roll. There were those who liked pop, soul, ballads, dance music, etc. There were those who played the guitar, ukelele and piano. Some came so prepared that their songs were already arranged on their laptops with drums and rhythm sections. But whatever style they chose, most of them were quite bold in presenting their studies.

It is quite important to present songs with energy. Ryan Cayabyab pointed this out — emphatically. Without that boldness and energy, listeners will lose interest within 15 seconds. So it is important to sing loud and make the songs as interesting to your audience as possible.

I gave a talk on how to be creative for life. As someone who has been doing creative work in many disciplines for years now, I gave them a few tips on how to keep creating (not just music) on a regular basis. I taught them how to access inspiration which, in truth, is already inside them. They just need to tap into it. I taught them how to go past the literal level and find enchantment, and write about it. Every time I give this particular talk, I feel I connect to my audience quite personally.

In camps such as these, the kids are given a few hours to create songs and present them to everyone. One specific assignment was to write a song for the 500th year anniversary of the defense of Lapu-Lapu against Magellan’s attack of Mactan. This idea was broached to Philpop by the head of Secretariat of the National Quincentenial Commission Ian Alfonso who joined us and gave a briefing on the project. The commission wanted to introduce a new way of looking at our history by focusing on the Lapu-Lapu narrative over Magellan. They wanted a song that would commemorate this once-in-our-lifetime historical event.

We were expecting only a few of the fellows to submit songs, given that they had less than three hours to do it. Lo and behold, 25 songs were auditioned. Twenty-three wrote solo works while two were collaborations. Some of the songs were very promising. The kids wrote in different styles and approaches. Some even incorporated rap. Hopefully, one of those songs will be chosen to be the official theme.

A big part of any songwriting workshop happens after dinner. All the work for the day is done. People are relaxed. This is the time when coaches and fellows are encouraged to perform and share their music. On the night before I left, Ryan, Davey, Noel, Yumi, Gary Granada, Jek Buenafe, Marlon Barnuevo and I sang some of our biggest songs. We also jammed a few OPMs from the ‘80s which we felt really stood out then. Two such songs were You by Jerry Paraiso, and a song written by Boy Katindig called I Will Always Stay This Way in Love with You. Everyone was singing. I had to stand up. I was so high on the music. We soaked it all in — the music and all the positive vibes and memories that flashed back. What a great feeling!

Soon after, it was the fellows; turn to take over the stage and sing their hearts out. They soloed. They also did duets, and even formed groups as they sang onstage.

Throughout the boot camp, I felt happy for these fellows. They were so lucky to be here getting breaks from foundations like Philpop and learning from and interacting with coaches who have made their mark on the history of OPM. They could present their songs in front of an appreciative crowd. They were in songwriters’ heaven.

I don’t remember being as lucky when I was starting out. We had none of these breaks. We were pretty much on our own, carving our own path to success. Today, the kids have all the support from institutions and even have the gadgets to help them in their songwriting.

Every artist since the beginning of time until now has had to learn to overcome rejection and fear. It will be the same for these kids. That’s part of the struggle. It is painful when your song is rejected. It is painful when you keep writing songs but do not seem to be getting anywhere, career-wise. But at the same time, these negative experiences build character and an intense focus on how to improve your skills and make you ready when the break comes.

The fellows I met in this camp seem open to learning new things and determined to meet the challenges ahead. I could see that glint in their eyes. There are songs to be made, auditions to join, albums to record, festivals to compete in. I am quite sure that in the not-so-distant future, we will be hearing amazing songs from some of them.

I would like to end this by saying thank you to the Philpop organizing team members Dinah Remolacio, Nini Santos, Gab Cabangon, Jared Kuo, and Luisa Hermida. The OPM team was comprised of Barbie Quintela, Danica Villaflor, Red Denoso, Alvin de la Pena. They took care of the sound system and video support. Co-presenters of the workshop were Maynilad, Meralco, Smart, National Quincentennial Commission and National Commission for Culture and Arts.

If you are a songwriter, watch out for the next Philpop Boot Camp. You may be one of those lucky enough to get in and have an amazing four days of learning and — who knows? — a big break could happen in your career.