Join my online songwriting workshop

Announcing my 5th Online Songwriting workshop
When: October 3, 4, 10, 11, 17, 18, 24, 25 (Saturdays and Sundays)
Time: 9AM Manila, 11AM Sydney, 6PM Los Angeles, 9PM New York.
Each session runs for two hours. Student must know how to play guitar, or piano with some proficiency.
You don’t have to spend anymore time being angry, frustrated, sad because of covid. Learn a life skill. Grow. Get creative.
Send me a message for more details if you are interested. And pls share.

This is the 5th one I am running. Here is the syllabus.
Course Objective: To teach the students the discipline and the practice of songwriting by way of practical hands-on actual experience. Student will be required to write songs throughout the course

Course Outline:

Discussions on what makes a great song
Analysing parts of a song
Learning the craft of writing songs and jingles
Widening and deepening musical references and influences
Expanding knowledge of chord progressions
Notes on arranging
Lyric writing
Techniques on on melody generating
How to write songs even without inspiration by using techniques

Course Requirements:
Submission of all required homework
Student must know how to play an instrument

If interested, pls rite me at It starts this October 3.

Zen mind

Zen Mind
By Jim Paredes

( I wrote this years ago. I was amazed to read it. It was a moment when things were so clear).

‘No matter where you go or what you do, you live your entire life within the confines of your head’–Zen saying

I posted this quote on twitter and facebook and was quite surprised at how many people resonated with it. So I thought I’d explore the topic further.

That the whole phenomenal world is perceived and appreciated through our body, senses and the grey matter which resides inside our heads is a fact. And that has has many implications. Whatever is out there, it can be safely assumed that no two people can and will appreciate it in exactly the same way. Whatever we experience, even the collective ones, will have its own uniquely personal nuances that will make the same time, place and event different for each of us. Perception is always personal. Such is the uniqueness of being alive.

Around18 years ago, I read a question a writer had posed which asked, ‘Do you control your mind or does your mind control you?’ I was immensely fascinated by the question which shook my being completely. I started reading about the topic and in the course of doing so, I was led to the book “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” by Shunryu Suzuki, a zen master.

While the book did not actually answer the question, it led me to a greater field of interest. The book begins with the phrase, ‘In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s, there are few.” This insight, which to me at that time seemed so radical and which went against the grain of how the world was, questioned everything I knew about what an educated person should be. I started to examine what many believed to be the ‘learned’ mind as opposed to the ‘open’ or empty mind which the author was writing about.

I reflected on all the years and all the effort I spent in school learning facts, figures and bodies of knowledge. Much of it had not only changed since I learned them but some had even become irrelevant. I came to the conclusion that as much as learning them was necessary to pass my classes, the greater value was in learning to learn, to discern, to think things through and respond to whatever situation life presented. This was more important than having prior knowledge about anything.

And I also realised that knowledge itself is the same as any other possession in the world. One must not be attached to it like dogma but must be ready to dispose of it when it reaches its expiry date and when something more true and useful comes along.
Zen and Suzuki opened me to many dimensions of nuanced thinking about dichotomies and unities such as form versus emptiness, and form being emptiness itself and vice-versa. It pointed out how our minds are constantly pulled here and there by conflicting concerns and spoke of a state where one can rise above all that and rest on a clear, empty mind. Not only that, reading the book gave impetus to my meditation practice which continues to this day and probably will never end.

The mind is a wondrous thing. But it must be mastered or it can drive you crazy. And the person who can explore and understand his own mind will know that a big part of it is the cultivation of ones’ inner life and how it opens itself to states, levels and lines of subtle thoughts, insights and experiences. It begins with thoughts but soon becomes something bigger which is consciousness.

When I started to do zen meditation (zazen) with regularity, I began to notice that aside from what I knew of myself, there seemed to be a witness that made possible my knowing this self. The witness watched this self that resided in my body that appeared to live a life. It was a rather small self compared to the one witnessing it.

This witness watched the small self who was called Jim Paredes. It could see this self as a third person. It was like there was two of me. The witness was vast and borderless, an infinitely larger SELF. And recognising the witness who was making itself aware as consciousness was a huge awakening of sorts for me. I discovered that I was actually infinitely bigger than I ever imagined. I was more than my personality, or the persona as the world knew me. I was the entity who could see behind the details, the labels and the name of what the world saw.

There was, in fact, the big ‘I’ and that was my true self.

I was not just the one living Jim’s life but the one witnessing Jim’s life being lived, while watching everything else in the world that was unfolding and arising.

Coming to this epiphany was like the Universe had opened itself to me in its full splendour. It was a state of full consciousness as clear and empty as the sky. Life’s events, thoughts and concerns were mere clouds that floated by. All of a sudden, there was no individual thing that existed. Everything and everyone was of the Oneness playing out. It was like what Osho, the yogi said, where one ‘falls in tune with the whole’. The limits of time and space could be surmounted and glimpses of eternity could be experienced in the mundane world. There was no such as thing as an ordinary thing, much less an ordinary life.

The brain is a body of nerves, synapses and stuff where a lot of things happen. It is located in the cranium or the skull. This is where one might say, our knowledge is stored physically. But there are states of mind that go beyond the plane of knowledge and ordinary perception. To be in full consciousness or in an awakened state is to realize that there is a reality that goes beyond what mere senses or regular cognition can speak of, and that the one who perceives this, this consciousness, is non-local. Truly, the exploration of the mind beyond logic, ego and into awakened consciousness can lead one to spirit.

No, I do not smoke anything to have such experiences. And before I sound any more esoteric, I do not claim to be in this state 24/7. But I will admit I have been there a few times, even if at other times I still get lost in the pull of everyday emotions and concerns. And yes, I still have blind spots and my ego can still want to be in control, and it still desires to win quite often. But the profound experience of awakening to the witness has made the landscape and contours of my inner life quite different. What used to be just thinking before seems to have moved toward the greater state of being consciously aware.

And all this has nothing to do with acquiring knowledge or achieving any intellectual feat. It has everything to do with not trying to grasp anything and letting things go. The practice of emptying the mind and making room for the untainted, unblemished present unfolding is a spiritual exercise. You see things just as they are, without artifice or spin. A Japanese zen master could not have put it any simpler when he said, ‘”Don’t seek the truth; just drop your opinions.”
And what used to be a constant battle to escape the world and its attendant pains has become more and more an acceptance and accommodation of it.

If, as the saying goes, everything we do or experience happens within the confines of our head, we may as well awaken the mind-spirit to its eternal radiance and “borderlessness” so that the entire Universe and more can fit inside it.

New things I have learned recently about people and myself

By Jim Paredes

Yes, I already know all about the covid protocols. Wash your hands often for at least 20 seconds. Wear a mask and face screen when you are with people. Observe social distancing. Avoid crowds. I think I already know everything I need to know and find comfort in practicing them. I have stopped searching on the net for covid related articles.

For today, I wish to write about the other things I have learned and the changes I have noticed in the way everyone has been coping with the situation. Some of my observations are obvious. Others, maybe not so. Here they are.

1.Many people all over the world are suffering physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, socially and financially.

2. Joblessness in practically all sectors of the economy has been unprecedented. Financial difficulties, are already hitting practically everyone.

3. It is not wise to rely on government. In our case, government does not know what it is doing and is bereft of any plans to get us out of this situation. To put it bluntly, the government is inept and incompetent to handle this pandemic.

We are all on our own.

4. Enrolment in schools is at an all time low at 30 percent. Kids who cannot afford to buy computers or tablets have a hard time participating in school. For young parents who still have jobs, it is a hard choice they face. Do they stay home and help the kids with school, or do they go out to work?

5. Starvation is real. It is haunting a lot of homes and communities. Even convents and seminaries where young people train to be priests and nuns are suffering from lack of food and money. A lot of them now depend on income from food they make and sell to various communities.

6. It used to happen once every few weeks. But everyday now, my friends and I increasingly come across posts on social media about people in our circle getting covid infections and deaths. It is getting too scary.

7. I have become more productive since I got to Sydney. The isolation has made me more mindful and therefore creative. I have been writing songs quite often.

8. I find myself praying more than ever. Every night before sleeping, I have my time with God and ask for protection for my family, friends, relatives. I include all of humanity in my prayers and everyone may be safe and free from all harm.

11. On social media, there is so much emotional content going on. People are expressing pain and worry. It is a stressful time. American writer Neale Donald Walsch once wrote that people at anytime are always coming from just two emotions: love or fear.

There are people who share more happy, hopeful and positive stories and memes. And there are those who are angry, scared, panicky, and depressed. I swing from one pole to the other quite often. I see people readily offering encouraging words or just reaching out with kindness and sympathy to strangers who need them. I also see more messages now from people who are down and out asking for financial help.

12. I am happy that Lydia and I are getting along quite well in our empty nest in Sydney. Even if money is tight, things are relatively easy. We are almost always just at home sharing the house, conversation, watching TV together, doing chores and feeling good about it.

13. Zoom, for friends and family has become the new dining table. My sibs and I zoom every Saturday morning. It is so much fun that we all look forward to it. We have never been closer. We love each other and express this freely. And yes, we laugh a lot. Too much sometimes. We keep each other sane by being insanely ridiculous during these conversations. I don’t think there is any other family like ours. In this department, we hit the jackpot big time.

14. I am learning that the more I am present and care about the suffering of others, my own pain becomes easier to handle.

15. I am learning that there are infinitely more things to notice, enjoy, and be grateful for despite the travel limitations and social distancing that the pandemic has forced upon us. When you notice how the plants grow, or how the weather changes at different times of the day, or how the sunsets can be so beautiful, this lockdown existence can seem so blessed and beautiful.

16. My children seem to be adapting quite well to the restrictions brought by the lockdown. They have been acting responsibly as far as keeping themselves safe from Covid. While everyone has been suffering from some financial setbacks, they are realising that they are more creative and a lot tougher than they thought they were.

17. I am always in awe of Lydia’s culinary skills. I praise her quite often. She thinks I am so easy to please. Maybe so. But my appreciation is so real and obvious I have to compliment her aloud a few times each meal. She answers me saying how OA I am, but I think she likes it!

18. Ironically, while we all cannot be physically close to friends and classmates, my friends and I have become closer than ever. Perhaps it is because of the fear of losing each other during this pandemic. In fact, we have already lost two in our barkada the past 2 months although not through Covid. The rest of us are talking more and sharing thoughts, opinions, jokes, frustrations almost non-stop. We are always there for each other and the two new widows in our group. There are still blessings even in the dark moments. At least no one feels abandoned and alone.

Generally, I notice kindness everywhere. One would think that a life threatening situation would make people be less reachable, or inaccessible as they retreat into their own comfort zones. I notice more people helping each other and caring about others. I see people reaching out with concern when anyone is having a hard time. Maybe kindness has always been in abundance but I am just more observant now.

19. Despite the closure of churches, I am probably hearing mass more than ever before through social media. And yes, I am finding it more meaningful and appreciating it more.

20. Every time I mop, vacuum, clean the house, throw out the garbage, etc., I am actually doing the epic job of fighting entropy. Sounds like a big task, doesn’t it? Physics will tell us that it is the nature of things to naturally go to rot and to pot. The job of humans is to fight entropy so that others may have better lives. We fight decay, deterioration and keep things in good` condition. Some people must hold the sky up for others. I may be operating in the small physical space of my little home but I believe little efforts add up to something greater.

21. I have always been a people person. I love being around people and talking to them. But I have learned to take social distancing quite seriously. I am aware of people on trains, buses, in shopping malls and supermarkets who do not wear masks nor practice social distancing. I walk away from them. When I am close to people and must share a space momentarily, I hold my breath until I am at least already 2 meters away.

22. A lot of people have expressed on social media that their main aim is to focus on surviving 2020 and 2021. While that is admirable and logical, I just want to point out that more than just surviving this mess, we can all watch in awareness at how everything including ourselves is changing. It is fascinating, inspiring even. There are lots of takeaways we can get from this.

Life is still full of poetry and gifts. There is still so much of life to live. Love is alive perhaps more than ever. I hope we all awaken to this sooner than later.

I know we will not only survive 2020 and 2021. Even with all the difficulties, it is still possible to thrive in many ways, although it is more difficult financially, and materially. But whatever and however the world looks like after all this, we can learn to be better humans now so we can rebuild our lives easier and better later.