Why we need an inner life

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – July 28, 2019 – 12:00am 4 shares

I am amazed at how some people never seem to lose it. I am talking about people who always seem to be in control of their own personal situations. You never see them lose their temper. They know when to engage in an argument and when not to. And yes, they also know when to end it. They are not ruled by their own emotions.

They have a calmness about them that seems to permeate the room. People often defer to their presence. They almost always dictate the mood, and many times, also the topic when they speak without being forceful about it. People look up to them as leaders they respect.

I am not talking about big CEOs who intimidate others with their position and power. I am certainly not talking about some corrupt political and religious leaders — these temporal and so-called spiritual warlords who wield great influence and rule over the lives and consciences of their weak and ignorant subjects.

I am talking about people who seem capable of holding everything together in a way that inspires confidence and inspiration. I use the word “seem” because we do not see them 24/7. I am sure they also have their bad and weak moments just like everyone else. But what they do have that many do not possess is that inner strength, calmness, confidence and strength of character. They are centered on values they hold dear. All this while remaining humble.

Such people are special. I have met some engaged in different fields of endeavor and I know they spend time doing inner work, knowing themselves in all aspects and accepting themselves as who they are. People gravitate towards them because they emanate a wisdom and a bearing that shows they understand what is going on. They are also good listeners. That is why people are attracted to them.

I don’t know of any great person who does not have an inner life. Leaders in different fields such as sports, business, the arts, politics, religion etc. invest in quiet time, meditation, contemplation, prayer, tai chi, yoga, journaling, or just enjoy their time alone. They reflect a lot on what they do and what they want to achieve. They are guided by an inner compass.

They need this solitude. Life has too many illusions and delusions. Egos can easily be tempted and make people feel entitled to so many things. They need this balance between their inner and outer worlds. With this right balance, they can be as comfortable in solitude as they are in a crowd without losing themselves.

A person with integrity must not just walk the talk but learn to walk a fine line. Learning balance is so important. One must know when and how to adjust. As the late entrepreneur-writer Jim Rohn pointed out, “The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not a bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.”

A leader who does not have such skills rules by division and intimidation. He likes to instill fear. He bullies his enemies into submission. And he brings out the worst in people.

In today’s world, there are so few leaders who are willing to do the right thing. Populist leaders will say anything just to play to the peanut gallery or to fit the mood of the times. They will exploit the people’s basic fears and convince them that they alone can save the country. In reality, they end up making a mess of things. Their proclaimed love for their country and people is a lie. The weaker ones buy into their rhetoric.

More than at any other time, we need leaders who can challenge and inspire people to be and do better. Leaders who are not afraid to say what is true and right at the risk of their own popularity. “A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” This was articulated by former US First Lady Rosalyn Carter. In short, he/she must not just be an astute leader who can recognize consensus; he/she must also be able to inspire and sell their vision. And we need this now more than ever.

There are tough issues that must be faced squarely and with resolve. It takes moral courage to do so. Angela Merkel allowed a million immigrants into Germany because she believed it was the moral thing to do. Whether you agree with her or not, one can’t call her a weakling for doing this.

Obama, despite a hostile and racist senate and congress that blocked practically all of his legislative initiatives, was able to inspire his country to move forward. Mandela was able to lead a nation whose racist government once saw him as a very dangerous man. And yet he was the one who put an end to apartheid in South Africa.

I have sat with Vice President Leni Robredo a few times. I have never seen a calmer person. No, she is not “laid-back” at all. In fact, she is always actively listening, connecting, and diving into a deep pool of personal experience to answer questions. She has a lot of practical knowledge about governance. Before she was chosen to be the vice presidential candidate, I witnessed her impressively respond to 35 questions about governance and politics before a group of about 40 people. Her answers were not general at all. They were specific and nuanced, implying that she had been thinking deeply about the problems of our nation for years. She did not play to her audience with flattery or motherhood statements. It was amazing to see up-close a genuine leader with knowledge, strength of morals and conviction.

There is a Zen saying that goes, “What the superior man seeks is in himself; what the small man seeks is in others.” The superior man/woman knows where the levers of power really are and how to use them without losing oneself. There are too many small men in the world who have not invested in their inner life and believe that materialism and the acquisition of wealth and power are all that matters. That is very sad.

Sometimes, I like to gaze at the local political landscape looking for new leaders that will lead this nation into a better future. I see some promising ones who have started quite well. I hope they do not burn out too quickly.

And I do hope they cultivate an inner life. May their compassion awaken. May their strength of character, conscience and noble ambitions translate into good governance.

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/travel-and-tourism/2019/07/28/1938344/why-we-need-inner-life#Z1f1uWBTOuW38I16.99

Memories of rain

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – July 21, 2019 – 12:00am

The rainy season can get a lot of people jittery about many things. There are the floods, destruction, cancellation of classes and workdays, sicknesses and expenses to worry about. For some, it can also mean great loss of lives and property depending on their circumstances. While all these are real concerns that I, too, worry about to some degree, I have a more positive attitude about the season.

I mostly like the rain. The whole rainy season is, in general, a treat for me. I must admit that unlike many people, I like to see the dark clouds, the heavy overcast and the drop in temperature. I like the sound of light pitter-pattering on the roof and a heavy downpour. I even like the thunder and lightning. It feels awesome to see nature’s power flexing itself and doing what it was meant to do.

As a young boy, I remember sitting by the windowsill and watching typhoons come and go. It was awesome. The rains would be pouring sideways, depending on which direction the winds blew. I would sit for hours enchanted at the nature show going on. Strong winds would bend the trees and tall grass. Leaves would be flying all over the place. But the rain would make the whole garden wet and fresh-looking after.

Seeing lightning was, and still is, a thrill. My life Lydia always gets shaken by it. When lightning flashes, I count one to 10 while waiting for the thunder to follow. Depending on how long you count, you can measure how far lightning will strike (if it does). The longer you wait, the farther it is from you.

When I was around 10 years old, I was introduced to The Iliad and The Odyssey, which talked a lot about Greek gods and goddesses. During storms, I would imagine them causing all the ruckus that was going on in the heavens.

In grade school, I remember walking through floods along Santa Mesa to get to our house in Pureza from Ateneo. Flooding was frequent there. After walking through muddy water, we would normally wash our shoes and put them out to dry behind the refrigerator. The next day, they would be dry enough to use for school. Sometimes, they would be too dry, so they felt kind of toasty and hard. But we were of a stronger generation so we hardly complained about such minor issues. Suffering and inconvenience built character, as I learned later on. But that’s another topic.

One time, classes were abruptly canceled while we were already in school. There was hardly any public transportation to ride. I remember my brother Raffy and I started walking home from school hoping to catch a bus along the way. But the buses were few and far between and were filled up with commuters. We ended up walking the whole distance from Ateneo to our house. We arrived home soaking wet but exhilarated at what we had accomplished.

As a high school student, I remember walking up and down our street in Cubao during that big typhoon Yoling. Torrential rain was pouring but that did not stop my brother and me from going outside to play. The winds were extremely gusty. We would see parts of roofs flying all over the place. We were reckless, true, but we sure had so much fun.

Decades later during typhoon Ondoy, I was watching the rain from my room on the second floor as people on our street negotiated their way through the rising floodwaters. Soon enough, the waters had reached up to their waists. In a short while, it was already neck-deep. It all happened in just a few minutes. I had never seen floodwaters as high as that in our neighborhood.

I actually opened our gates so people could come in in case they wanted a respite from the floods. I would call them from my window. At some point, I knew the water would enter the house. Meanwhile, I had prepared for the inevitable. I made sure some of our furniture was put on top of tables to protect it from the waters. Even if our home was much higher than the street, the floodwaters still entered the house. Thank God it was just below knee-deep. But it was still distressing.

I had forgotten about my vinyl collection of about 400 albums, which I’d left on the floor of a storage closet. When the floodwaters had receded, I looked at the boxes of vinyl. It was heartbreaking. I decided to throw all the album covers away but kept the records to clean them later.

That night, I also opened my house to a few people whose homes were completely flooded. They stayed a few days. I remember feeling guilty about how small my concerns were compared to what many people were going through.

The very next day, my daughter Erica had turned our house into some kind of relief center where many of her friends prepared food packages for flood victims using their own money. It soon spread on social media. Random strangers would come and donate money and goods. Erica and friends were able to make thousands of relief packages that they themselves distributed in different places in Marikina. I was so proud of them. Rain can inspire people to do good things.

Rain also inspires people to make music. There are songs that are great to listen to during the rainy season. One of the songs I remember when I was about eight years old was a short ditty that was played over FM stations. The lyrics went,

Everybody’s talking ‘bout the weather.

If you don’t like the weather, change it.

It had a sweet melody and was sung lightheartedly by a female harmony group. I loved the sarcasm.

Some other songs come to mind. Ryan Cayabyab’s Tuwing Umuulan at Kapiling Ka (in all versions), Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, Pumapatak Na Naman Ang Ulan, and Rain by the Beatles. There are many more.

Two years ago, during a big downpour, I actually went outside the garden into the rain. With great abandon, I took off my shirt and went for it. I stayed under a tall downspout that collected water from the roof and had an extravagant shower. It was wonderful. I caught myself one moment shouting with delight.

It all came back to me — that primal joy I felt in my childhood when my sibs and I would spontaneously just run out of the house when it rained. There was no thinking about it. No hesitation. No asking permission. It was something that we knew was fun and we just jumped into it. As adults, we think too much sometimes and become too conditional about pursuing simple joys. Rain can be liberating.

Nothing tops staying in bed on a rainy morning. The softness and warmth of pillows and blankets are comforting. There is also mild melancholia that comes with it. It is a nice feeling. One can only sigh when faced with the powerful beauty of rain. We are helpless and resigned. We willingly surrender.

“The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.” This gem comes from poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

So let it pour. Keep safe and enjoy this splendor of nature as it refreshes the earth and our spirit.

(P.S.: I wrote this article while watching the rain through the window).

Small acts that can actually change the world


HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – July 14, 2019 – 12:00am

Life is hard. We don’t have to make it harder. The world is cruel enough as it is. I am making a list that is doable and can result in making life easier for everyone on an everyday basis. Some items may be easy. Others will need a change of attitude. I hope they become ingrained as habits.

Here goes.

1) I cannot say it more emphatically. Follow all traffic rules.

2) Always say “Please” and “Thank you.” Be sincere and look at the person you say these words to.

3) Try to lessen the noise level wherever you are. You can talk more softly while walking along streets, especially at night. Be considerate of your neighbors. You can also lower the volume of your car stereo when you are parked and your doors are open. You can avoid honking your car horn, too.

4) When you want something, as much as possible do not burden others to do it for you, especially if you can do it yourself.

5) When you are too angry, write down your feelings first. Wait a few hours before you decide to throw away that piece of paper or post it on social media.

6) Whenever possible, be aware of and respect everyone’s physical and emotional space.

7) Be kind and courteous to kasambahays, waiters, vendors, salespeople, taxi drivers, security guards, barangay tanods, small public officials who serve us daily.

8) When you have the sudden impulse to buy something, let the moment pass. If you still want it after a day, wait another day. Ask yourself if you really want it or need it. It is important that you know the difference. It happens often that a so-called must-have purchase loses its appeal shortly after you get it, and it ends up as trash piled up in your room.

You may ask, how does this make life easier for other people? It does because you will be one less confused person in this world. You will have more self-awareness, discernment and, hopefully, will do less harm to others.

9) Learn to really listen to people before giving advice. Everyone has something correct to say.

10) Change the oil of your car regularly. That simple act will save the lungs of people who have to breathe in your car exhaust.

11) No matter what the situation is, do not litter: do not throw out your garbage randomly. Especially, do not throw garbage out of your car. That is barbaric behavior and disrespectful to all sentient beings on the road. It is also dangerous. Look for a trash can. Or better yet, lessen your garbage by living more simply.

12) Learn restraint and judgment so you can stop yourself from participating in every argument that comes your way. In terms of your time and blood pressure, most of them are probably not worth it anyway. You do not need more stress.

13) When you can lift up peoples’ spirits in your daily grind, do so even with just a small gesture. Say something kind. Smile. Everybody is going through something. Maybe you can ease some of their pain.

14) Help old and disabled people cross the street when the opportunity arises.

15) Say no to one-time-use plastic bags. Refuse them when offered. Bring your own bag or container when buying stuff.

16) Do not encourage misogynistic, vulgar behavior even if everybody else seems supportive of it. Say no and show your displeasure.

17) When you are with people who are much older than you, consider the possibility that this could be the last time you may be seeing them. Be kind. Pay attention. Show compassion. Learn from every moment with them and treasure the lessons.

18) Do random, wanton acts of kindness towards strangers. As much as other people have helped you in the past, your simple act may actually be the prayer they are asking for. Trust that a kind act will always lead to good.

19) Do not pass on fake news. It is morally wrong and only makes the world a more cruel and confused place.

20) Get to know your neighbors. You don’t have to wait for an emergency to get to know them. Strike up a conversation when you can. It makes the neighborhood safer and friendlier and it builds community.

21) Keep your body active. Take long walks. Jump. Run. Do physical stuff repeatedly. An active body is less prone to depression and sickness. You will be one less person your friends and relatives will have to worry about. And that is good, right?

22) Look out for beautiful things throughout the day. Notice the flowers that sprouted in your garden overnight. Sigh at the sunset. Enjoy that wind that suddenly blew your way. Look for positivity and beauty everywhere in every moment. I like to imagine that everything in the world shows up because it keeps a sacred appointment with me. I must reciprocate. In this way, the mundane can awaken our sense of wonder. It can make us feel grateful just to be alive.

22) Have a few small snacks in the car ready to give to beggars. We used to do this off and on. Instead of giving money, which may end up in syndicates’ pockets, at least you can nourish these hapless people by giving them bodily sustenance.

23) Be less conditional when it comes to seeking happiness. Be happy with less. Be more accepting, open-minded and less judgmental. The only way suffering can become a blessing is if we embrace it. That’s how frogs turn into princes. And when you are happy and content, you automatically pass it on.

24) Check on friends and relatives who may be depressed or going through a rough time. A simple call or visit can do them wonders.

25) Finally, a special lesson for men. When using public toilets, please lift the seat so that the next guy who needs it for a bigger undertaking will not have to use the wet seat you may have left behind. It can be a big deal.

We’ve heard it all before — that we can all do something to make the world a kinder place. No one is asking anyone to be Superman or be the savior of mankind. If we all did something, no matter how small, things add up and can change quickly for the better. That is all that is asked of us.

How I want to go

Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – July 6, 2019 – 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Last June was the saddest month I have experienced in a long while. Too many people I knew passed on. I attended four wakes. That was too much for me. I was not even able to attend all the wakes of all those I knew who died.

The ages of the deceased were varied. They represented the young, the middle-aged, the aging and the very elderly. It seemed like people I knew were dying at a faster rate than usual the past month. It was brutal.

My wife balked at attending all the wakes. She attended just one. Some of the wakes I went to seemed sadder than usual because some of the deaths occurred under sudden tragic circumstances.

Death is always a shock even when we kind of expect it to happen. The biggest shocks are those that happen almost without warning. One day a person is alive and seemingly in the pink of health. The next day, he or she are gone from the earthly plane.

While I was at the wakes, I tried to acutely observe everything that went on. I paid attention to a lot of things. I wanted to understand what death meant to all the people inside the chapels. For the departed’s immediate family, loved ones and close friends, the death is clearly a huge loss, an overwhelmingly sad affair. They bear emotional, mental, physical, spiritual and financial pain. A loved one is gone. There are regrets and could-have-beens that are expressed, or sometimes not. The pain cuts deep and personal. The time for any rectification is passed.

To other visitors, there is the sadness of seeing those left behind dealing with death with such great difficulty. There is also that awkwardness and inadequacy (no matter how sincere we are) of trying to express condolence and grief to comfort the feelings of those left behind, knowing that nothing we say can really replace the loss. And yet, we still express them. Well, because we have to. We also feel some loss. No one can restore what has been taken away. We can only sympathize and pray and hope it helps somehow.

When Jacqui Magno died, it affected me quite deeply even if I was already expecting it. I knew she was terminally ill. Knowing I would never speak to her or hear her sing live again was quite devastating. At the wake, I watched a collage of pics on the screen showing her at different times in her life. She was so alive, beautiful and filled with zest. I remembered all the different times when our paths crossed. I knew her as the best friend of an ex-girlfriend in college, a recording artist I produced, a fellow performer on stage, a friend whom I got quite close to on different occasions.

All that is passed and gone will never come back again. We all just have to move on as best we can. There is nothing else to do.

At every single moment, we are moving closer to death. That is a fact. Death is inescapable. There is nothing morbid about this. While we will never know when it will happen, one way I prepare for it is to be less attached to things that I can’t take with me in the afterlife. I must learn detachment. Another is to have a sense of urgency.

Coming home last night from a wake of a friend who suddenly fell ill and died of sepsis in less than 24 hours, it dawned on me how much time I was wasting doing nothing and not acting fast enough on important callings and dreams. I told Lydia that I still had so much music I wanted to write and record. I still want to help people in ways that would make them evolve into something better than what they know about themselves. I want to spend more time with my family, my friends and classmates, meet new people, travel to places that I have not visited, write essays, books, do a lot of photography. I also want to keep taking long walks and enjoy my body while I am still healthy. I want to touch lives in the ways that I can. I also want to continue my efforts at fighting for democracy and human rights in our country.

Years ago, I told Lydia that when I die, I would want my body to be thrown into the sea to be fed to the fishes. At least then, even in death, my carcass would sustain ocean life forms. I was very much into diving then. It was a less selfish option than being buried in a cemetery which deprives land from the living.

But after studying how difficult it would be to carry this out, especially for my family who found it too grotesque, I changed my mind. I now wish to be cremated. I do not want to be in a coffin with people gawking at me. But before I am disposed of, I wish to donate any healthy organs I may still have to help the living who may need them.

I also would not like the usual big flower arrangements at my funeral. They smell of death and evoke sadness. Instead, I would like people to use the money they would have spent for the flowers to help pay for scholarships for poor students. Instead of flowers, I want photos everywhere of friends, loved ones and memorabilia hanging on the walls. I would like my music to be played in the room, and fellow performers to sing songs for everyone. I want a celebration, laughter, but also moments of thoughtful reminiscing and remembrances. I would like some quiet time, too, where people can sit and meditate if they wish.

If it were my choice, I would still want to live longer. Much longer. I still have many things I would like to do. I do not want to die with too much unfinished business. There are things to settle, people to forgive and to ask for forgiveness from. Hopefully, I will use the time I have left wisely and purposely. I am aware it is not our choice as to when we will die. Our only choice is how to live the rest of our days before we expire.

At our age, the choice is to either slow down, do nothing and simply fade away when the time comes; or, we could use our remaining lives staying creative till the end, as we build up to that moment when we pass on like stars exploding in the night, leaving beautiful trails that light up the sky.

What a way to say goodbye!

That’s how I want to go!