Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes


Zen mind 0

Posted on September 24, 2020 by jimparedes

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 as it was when I wrote this).

‘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.

Knowing that the whole phenomenal world is perceived and appreciated through our body, senses and the grey matter that resides inside our heads, 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.

Watch the Official Video of Quarantine Baby 0

Posted on September 16, 2020 by jimparedes

Performed by Jim Paredes and Boboy Garrovillo
Arranged by Marlon Barnuevo
Video edit by Sammy Samaniego

New things I have learned recently about people and myself 0

Posted on September 13, 2020 by jimparedes

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.

Sanity check 0

Posted on August 23, 2020 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star ) – August 23, 2020 – 12:00am
Dear Readers,

How are you doing so far?

I hope you are all good. I know there is a lot we all have been dealing with. This COVID pandemic has changed almost everything.

I am fine since last time I checked. That was this morning. In fact, I check on my sanity almost daily. I hope my diagnosis of myself is accurate. It’s been close to five months since COVID-19 first struck fear in our hearts. A lot has changed since and, remarkably, I can say that I am not close to losing my mind or going crazy, breaking down, or anything close.

I have been trying to stay busy and have had some success at it.

Since two months ago, I have had two successful runs of my songwriting workshops online. I am at the moment conducting my third songwriting class and will be starting my fourth one in two weeks. I have also been preparing to launch other workshops via Zoom including a self-made creativity seminar that I have successfully run close to 90 times in the past. It will be the first time I am conducting it online. I am quite excited and challenged.

I am happy that people from the Philippines, US, Canada and Australia have responded to my music classes. I have also written and recorded three new songs, which I will soon include in a new album called
“Quarantined.” Watch out for it on Spotify, Apple Music, etc.

Despite all these activities that I have been doing, I must be honest and say they don’t exactly pay all my bills. But at least I am earning something. They also help keep me sane. I am quite grateful that I have found the will and courage to face this isolation and loneliness head-on and have turned it into a productive time in my life. I am empowered to discover that somehow, I am not entirely useless, nor powerless against this threat to mankind. I have been looking at COVID straight in the eye and have not blinked nor flinched. I am not paralyzed by fear and hopelessness. In some ways, I am even thriving. I am alive and well. And sane.

Sure, I miss my close friends. I miss hanging out, talking and singing with them. It has been quite awhile since we’ve been physically present under one roof. Time is passing. Things continue to be uncertain. Some days are tougher than others. But we are all here for each other. That is a comforting thought.

I am deeply saddened, though, that I have lost one sister to Alzheimer’s, two close friends to cancer, two classmates to COVID in the past 50 days. Their deaths were dramatic and shocking reminders that every single person in the world will eventually die sooner or later.

But in the midst of this time of imminent danger, I am not cowering in fear. Thinking of the possibility of sickness and death daily has, in some ways, been a blessing, strangely enough. I count each day and say a
“thank you” to God that my loved ones and I are alive. I also have become more attentive to other people knowing that every word exchanged with them may be the last one for a long time. Or maybe even forever.

Lately, I find myself being more forgiving of others. I have found a deeper well of patience, gratitude, and love that I have been drawing from and giving to people I encounter. And thankfully, I have also received these things back in great measure.

I will admit, though, that I have been suffering from survivor’s guilt ever since I left the Philippines last end of April. Here in Sydney, I know that I am much safer than if I had stayed in Manila. My wife and kids are relieved that I am here with them. I am less vulnerable staying in a place that has far fewer infections and fatalities than what we have in the Philippines.

My being away makes me feel more intensely for my classmates, friends, family, kasambahays and the rest of my countrymen who are fighting hard to survive a worsening situation. Every day, I read the official DOH infection and death count, and I feel like I get punched in the stomach each time.

Meanwhile, here in our humble Sydney abode, I find solace and peace doing housework, and helping Lydia with the daily chores around the house. I have learned that there is unexpected joy and inner peace in hanging laundry, sweeping, mopping and fixing things around the house. I look forward to delicious dishes that Lydia prepares for me every day. I exercise three to four times a week. Scheduled Zoom sessions with fam, friends and my students are moments I look forward to.

As I said earlier, I am not without money problems. But then again, who is not suffering financially? Many are in more dire situations. I am seeing more and more messages from strangers who post on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram desperately asking for financial aid to help them enroll in school, buy meds for sick relatives, stave off starvation, etc. I imagine and feel their suffering.

We are also dealing with a lot of craziness and stupidity everywhere. There are those who spread fake news, and those false voices leading people astray into the realm of ignorance, fear and denial of science. They are the ones who are continuously feeding this pandemic. I am constantly learning discernment.

I am resigned to the fact that the world has changed forever. I may never again feel the euphoria of performing for thousands of people physically present in a live concert. I may never again enjoy walking as carefree in public places, nor travel randomly to different destinations in the world like I used to. These are big losses for me.

This is the new world we have awakened to. And scientists warn that this will not be the last epidemic we will face in the foreseeable future.

But I also know that every crisis brings new opportunities and new situations. We do not have to live in fear of them. Perhaps we may even thrive in this new world. There will be new joys and passions to discover, and new goals to aspire for.

I wish you, dear readers, all the best in this time of uncertainty and existential danger. With God’s help, may we all be delivered from sickness, the death of loved ones, job loss, and financial instability.

Most importantly, I pray we do not lose our sanity. This is so important these days. Depression and desperation are understandably widespread. By keeping sane, we inspire others to remain sane as well.

Becoming a digital teacher 0

Posted on July 19, 2020 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star ) – July 19, 2020 – 12:00am

I have been teaching online for one and a half months now. I opened two classes on songwriting last end of May.

I have always loved teaching. I enjoy teaching especially in a classroom setting. I love the interaction between me and my students. I have been teaching on and off since 2001 and I have always showed up for every class prepared and ready to share everything I know about the subjects I teach.

Since the start of the pandemic, mostly everything has changed drastically. It seems like everything we used to do before has been altered somewhat by the dictates of safety and survival. And since social distancing is now the new normal, the traditional classroom setup, for the most part, has become a danger zone.

But because education must continue, it has now been reinvented to respond to the COVID-19 threat. Whereas before, a teacher had to be physically present teaching students face to face, all interactions now have been strictly online.

The Zoom app is now the new classroom. When I announced I was offering songwriting classes on social media, I was immediately amazed. Students of different ages signed up. My youngest student in class is 10 years old and the oldest is probably in her mid-50s. Geographically, there are no boundaries except for the time differences. Students signed up from places around the globe — the Philippines, US, Canada and Australia. I limited the total to 15 students per class to make sure I can pay attention to each student.

I hold one class on Mondays and Wednesdays, and another on Tuesdays and Thursdays. In Manila, classes start at 11 a.m. up to 12:30 p.m. Australia is two hours ahead and begins at 1 p.m. Meanwhile the time’s around 7 p.m. in California and almost midnight in Toronto. It is a prerequisite that all students must be able to play an instrument.

My biggest worry before deciding to hold classes online was whether I could adjust to a situation where I was not physically present for my students. I imagined that it would be quite “cold” compared to a traditional classroom setting that was warm and lively. I had also read articles about how Zoom meetings can be so draining. I have friends who run their businesses and meetings through Zoom and they complain that constantly looking at the monitor for hours can be vey tiring and energy draining.

Anticipating all this, I made sure that certain things were set up in a way that made conversation and exchanges less trying and more pleasant. For one, I make sure that I am properly lit so that people do not have to strain to see me onscreen. I also ask my students to face a good light source so that everyone can read each other’s facial expressions better.

I also make sure everyone is given their time to share their homework with everyone else and have the opportunity to ask questions as often as they wish. I also put up Messenger groups, and a page on Facebook for each class to make announcements, get feedback and comments on each other‘s creative work. They are encouraged to post their songs for everyone to listen and learn from one another. Lastly, I encourage everyone to consult with me privately about the class if they feel they need to.

I open the Zoom classroom about 15 minutes before class to make sure that everyone can fix whatever technical glitches they may experience before the session starts.

I have noticed that by constantly asking for feedback, my students are encouraged to share their thoughts about the lessons. I would hate to attend a class where a teacher talks for 20 minutes straight (or even longer) without interruption. I like rapport and I see it as essential for both teacher and students to develop. In truth, student and teacher are both changed after every session. Each one in the digital classroom takes something home.

In many ways, the methods I used to employ in a physical classroom also work in a digital online setting. A subject must still be presented in an interesting way. A teacher must be lively, and probing. He/she must be able to actively listen. And a teacher must ask students to “playback” the lessons to make sure they understood them.

A month and a half of online teaching has given me a purpose, a sense of being alive every day as I spend 90 minutes with my students from four countries. COVID has paralyzed us into fear for too long. I am happy to teach, and even happier my students are learning. I know that some of them will excel in songwriting someday soon. And I know all of my students will at the very least develop a keener perspective on how to listen to songs and write their own.

Throughout the ages, there have always been teachers and mentors. I imagine that centuries ago, teachers used the ground, slabs of stone or walls on caves to draw and communicate their thoughts to their students. It was a long jump from there to the use of papyrus paper, and another leap before man invented the blackboard. And now we have the digital classroom.

Throughout all the ages and eons of time, one mysterious truth remains true. It is this: when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. It also goes the other way around.

Only this time, it is virtual.

Feeling good despite everything 0

Posted on June 28, 2020 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star ) – June 28, 2020 – 12:00am
I know we don’t hear this very often from friends nor do we come across this sentiment easily these days. But here it goes:

I feel good.

At this exact moment while I am writing this, I can say I even feel great in all aspects.

It is the season of winter here in Sydney where I am living right now. I am happy, motivated, and feel a surge of energy returning to me. My body is strong. My disposition is positive. My spirit feels uplifted.

The specter of COVID-19 does not haunt us here in the way it does everyone in the Philippines and in many parts of the world. We have had zero cases in the entire state of New South Wales for more than two weeks now. I have not even worn a mask in days. And we pretty much live our lives almost the same way that we used to in pre-pandemic times. Even social distancing here is quite relaxed compared to how people practice it in Manila.

I am not sure if that is the main reason why I feel the way I do right now, although I know it surely brings a sense of relief knowing I and my family will most likely not be infected by this deadly virus. That is practically a certainty. And that is a big deal.

Or maybe it’s because it is winter. I have always liked the crisp air, the cold, the transformation that the season brings to everything. Winter makes me feel insulated and safe, perhaps because I am covered up in warm clothes, safe like a newly born infant all wrapped up in a hospital.

Or maybe because I may unknowingly be in a new cosmic cycle of life I don’t know about yet. Whatever it is, I am grateful that I feel the way I do these days.

Last night, I wrote a song the way I used to write 20 years ago. I put down the melody and lyrics very quickly. Done without too much effort. I felt a laser-like concentrated focus as I sat down with my guitar and a pen in hand while scribbling the words. The lyrics flowed abundantly. They left my hand so freely and naturally and rushed to affix themselves on the paper. The process was elegantly wonderful. And almost effortless.

The art of doing anything well is to do it with the least resistance. You simply flow into it. In many ways, you become it. You can compare yourself to a river. It knows where it should go. It knows its purpose. It does not make decisions nor feel any compulsion to do anything else. Its existence is its purpose. When I wrote the song last night, it was like self-validation.

I am happy because I have been in The Flow for the past few days. My mind has not been entertaining dramas and complications lately. This is not something I have willed to happen. I may have just unconsciously found myself not entertaining misgivings, or doubts or negativities that can often take over when I am in a creative mode. The dark forces are out of the room. Right now, I do not want intellectual analysis, self-criticism or ego to run my life. I just want things to simply unfold as they should. A flower blooms. The rain falls. The wind blows. All these happen without permission, reason or will. Life is as it is.

There is poetry and enchantment in everything. That is the vibe I have been getting from the Universe. And I have been in tune with this lately.

There are house chores that always need to be done again and again. I simply try to do them without fuss. Hanging the laundry, folding clothes, mopping the floor, sweeping the dust, fixing the bed, cooking breakfast —all these I embrace. And because I do, I have learned to delight in them. They only hurt when I try to resist or escape from the inevitable.

One of my favorite activities the past few months is exercise. I do this three or four times a week for more than an hour. I have been consistent for months now. I can proudly and truthfully say I am committed to exercising my body and to taking care of myself. I consider it a noble task each time I exercise. I am delighted when I defy gravity. It means I am alive. And each time I do it is a special time. Doing the routines is a challenge for my 68-year-old physique. At times, I am almost out of breath. But breathing in all that air while trying to slow down the pace and consciously watching my heart rate go down to normal gives me a psychological rush. There is so much going on inside of me. The mindfulness I apply to understanding my body can feel like a spiritual experience.

In exercise, there is the struggle to keep your body in good form, to do the reps, to finish each routine religiously. I have learned that I do not just withstand the pain; I thrive on it. The “No pain, no gain” mantra is real. The power of great effort indeed brings rewards. There is the release of endorphins that gives me a happy mood for many hours after. And there is also the feeling of achievement when I conquer myself.

I started this article by saying I feel great. I really do. But please don’t get me wrong.

I still am very much in touch with the news of what’s happening in the world, especially the Philippines. I hear from classmates, relatives and friends back home who are undergoing great financial and health crises. I read about the pain, fear and anxiety of life back home in these times. I also harbor some guilt that I am not suffering as much as the rest of my countrymen. Yes, I also feel all these negative emotions. I get frustrated, angry, anxious about where the country is going. Like many people. I also feel helpless.

But I notice that the more I feel the suffering of others, the better I can handle my own feelings of helplessness. For one, I do something however small to ease suffering when I see it. I write messages to people who cry out on social media. I condole with people I don’t know who have lost their loved ones. I help in fundraising efforts for the poor who face the specter of hunger. The irony is, while I open myself to more suffering, I feel the pain less. Why is that? I don’t know. Maybe an inner strength takes over when we accept how things are.

I have never attended as many Masses as I have these days. Thanks to the internet, we can have Masses daily without fear of getting the virus. This helps me feel calm down and feel connected to the Ultimate Power behind all things.

As we all watch and wonder what the future of life will be because of this pandemic, I have learned to continue living and figuring things out in my own little life. There is so much life to live. I cannot worry about the past and the future. Neither can I solve the big problems in this world. I know there is only the present to be lived. There is only THIS. Who knows with certainty how things will turn out? All I know is that in this life, there are tasks to do, moments to enjoy, causes to pursue and people to love.

Right now, I am grateful I am in this state.

On the cusp of change 0

Posted on May 31, 2020 by jimparedes

SUNDAY LIFESTYLE

Life always finds a way. I still believe this.

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star ) – May 31, 2020 – 12:00am
COVID-19 has been on our minds since January. It is now the eve of June and, more than ever, this deadly scourge continues to rule over all aspects of our lives.

The poor are helplessly trying to survive this pandemic. Many are falling into the cracks. The middle class is struggling. The rich and powerful are also not spared. Surely, they are also shaken in many ways, maybe even more than everyone.

In the future, the year 2020 will be remembered as the time when those who ruled the world economically, politically and even militarily found themselves humbled by this virus that has wreaked instability in everyone’s lives. They realized that they are not in control of everything. The year 2020 is the year of changing fortunes — mostly for the worst.

It’s unnerving for those in power to realize there is a limit to what they can do. What good is wealth when everyone else is sick? Travel is restricted almost everywhere. And even if you had your own plane, where in the world can you go where it is completely safe? With all your money in the world, you can’t even shop, eat out, or have a good time the ways you used to. For the moneyed class, the only great way to splurge these days is by giving to charity. Donating is one way to feel good while responding to a higher calling.

Nobody knows what the future may bring, but I do know it will not be the same future we imagined in 2019. A big lesson many are learning is that we can only plan so much. This pandemic is an extraordinarily shocking lesson for those who run the world. I am talking of presidents, CEOs, business, social, political and church leaders, scientists, men and women who wield power over the life and death of entire communities.

The pandemic has changed the world. There is no going back whether we like it or not. Many of the world’s old leaders, including those who created the virus, must step aside. They do not have the solutions to the problems. They are a big part of the problem. They must be stopped from shaping the future.

Barack Obama addressed a graduation class recently and told them that they may have to mature faster to be able to engage, survive and even thrive in this new reality. It is time to put an end to things that divide people. We must say no to racism, respect religious differences, accept ethnic diversity, solve the gap between the rich and poor, improve education and make economic opportunities more accessible to everyone, etc.

From all over the world, some of the most successful leaders who were able to contain the pandemic in their own countries have been women. They are Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, Angela Merkel of Germany, Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan, Sanna Marin of Finland. They are all exceptional leaders. I do not wish to draw a conclusion here about the sexes. But I do wish to say that we should not limit ourselves when choosing our leaders. Jacinda was also an actress and a disk jockey before becoming a politician. Merkel had a doctorate in quantum chemistry.

In many places in the world, societies are tentatively lifting quarantine restrictions hoping that the worst is over. But nobody really knows what the outcome will be at this point. I do understand the cautious advice of scientists who wish to proceed slowly and safely. I also get it that people need to go back to work, and that businesses have to run and services must get back to some level of normality. Whichever road we travel is fraught with what ifs and doubts.

I am still optimistic that we can restructure the world to something immensely more livable for everyone. COVID-19 has opened everyone’s eyes.

Life always finds a way. I still believe this. We are on the cusp of change.

I was quarantined in two countries 0

Posted on May 17, 2020 by jimparedes
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Meals would be brought three times a day and left outside my hotel room door.

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HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star 

) – May 17, 2020 – 12:00am

Last April 25, I got a call from Philippine Airlines asking me if I wanted to book a seat to Sydney. Airport activity in Manila had mostly ceased but the Australian embassy had commissioned PAL to allow flights for its citizens and permanent residents. The government wanted them to return to Australia ASAP.

Australia had already banned its citizens from leaving the country as a response to the pandemic. Except for its own people, no one was allowed to enter. And so I was very keen on PAL’s offer since I longed to join my wife and kids during this time of COVID-19. But upon arrival I would have to undergo a 14-day quarantine in a hotel before we could rejoin our families.

Almost two months earlier, I had sent Lydia to Sydney. She had just recovered from severe pneumonia last January after being hospitalised for five days. I thought that her being in Australia would be safer for her. She left hesitantly before the lockdown not knowing when we would be together again. It was uncertain how things would progress in the Philippines, and in the rest of the world. So when I told her about the call from PAL, she pleaded for me to take it.

I left at midnight on April 28, bound for Sydney. Every seat was taken. There was no social distancing. Thank God everyone was wearing masks. The crew on the flight wore something similar to hazmat suits, gloves, masks and see-through face covers.

We landed in Sydney on April 29 at 8:30 a.m. We were lined up and went through initial testing with thermo scanners, and after a brief interview we were brought to our quarantine residence for the next 14 days, the Park Royal Hotel in Darling Harbour.

We landed in Sydney on April 29, 8:30 a.m. Straight from the plane, we were lined up a meter and half apart in groups of 50 and went through initial testing with thermo scanners and a brief interview where we gave our names and seat numbers. Then we proceeded to immigration. After our passports were stamped, we picked up our luggage and boarded large buses that carried, at most, 10 people each to our destination.

We soon arrived at Park Royal hotel, a four-star facility near Darling Harbour. We were met by a police officer who entered the bus and told us to disembark one by one as instructed. When I got out I was asked to point out my luggage and a woman in military fatigue carried my bag inside the hotel.

Inside the lobby, police officers got our personal details and asked us to designate someone to call in case anything happened to us. After a lengthy interview, we were led to the elevators one person at a time. The woman soldier put my bag inside and pressed the 3rd floor button. When I got to my floor, I was met by another soldier who took my luggage and led me to Room 326. He had the key and opened the door. After I entered with my luggage, he closed it.

My room had two queen beds and a large window. This would be my world for the next 14 days. Definitely no visitors allowed. I was also prohibited from leaving my room. Meals outsourced from outside the hotel were brought in three times a day and left outside my door. We could not order from the hotel menu.

To be truthful, I was quite anxious about this forced isolation. I had already been in isolation in Manila for a few weeks and here I was at the start of another one in a smaller, more compact space compared to my house. I would not be breathing fresh air. I was afraid I would get claustrophobic soon.

Three times a day every day, nurses would call to ask if I noticed any symptoms like coughing, sniffles, fever, etc. I would always say no. But on the third day, I casually mentioned that I sneezed three times and ventured that it was due to aircon allergy. That triggered an alarm that got me tested for COVID-19. The very next morning, they swabbed my throat and probed deep inside my nostrils to get mucus samples. It did not hurt but it was uncomfortable. It was all done in about two minutes. They said it would take 24 hours for the results. Yes, I got a little anxious waiting. The next day, they informed me that I tested negative. Thank God.

Before the isolation, I made sure I had some definite routine and activities to do to fill up my days. I wanted to establish some sort of regularity, which I knew would help me. I vowed that I would not allow myself to fall into a depression. If you spend 14 days aimless, without any purpose or achievement, you can get very listless and depressed. I made sure I had a more or less predictable schedule to follow.

Exercising did me a lot of good. I would do four complete exercise routines every other day. On days without exercise, I would do some walking or would run in place. I actually made a path that traversed all across my tiny room; it took 100 steps to complete. In one five-day period, I was able to walk over 20,000 steps. I laughed when I saw the figure on my exercise gadget: I had walked so many kilometers without actually going anywhere!

In the mornings at 10 a.m. local time, I usually attended an online Mass by the Ateneo Jesuits. Sometime during the day, I would sign in online and join an international group of Zen meditators and do a 25-minute session sitting in lotus position. Those two activities were very helpful in maintaining my psycho-spiritual wellbeing.

All in all I had 40 meals throughout my stay. Breakfast was usually corn flakes, bread, yoghurt, a fruit and instant coffee in a paper bag. At noon, it was instant noodles, crispy sushi, salad and a huge sandwich. Dinner was steamed veggies, rice and beef cooked in a variety of Indian flavours, and some canned fruits for dessert. For variety, Lydia sent me some cheese, ham, biscuits, cookies, fruits, mixed nuts, etc. This augmented the nutritious but taste-challenged meals I was having daily. I am also thankful that my daughter Ala sent me two hot Asian meals via UberEats as a respite from the boringly predictable meals I was having.

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I spent hours looking out my window. The view to my right was a very limited view of the picturesque Darling Harbour, mostly blocked by a fence. In front of me was a skinny tall building, and on the right of it was an ongoing construction of a building that looked like a humongous ship made of glass and steel. On the left were two identical buildings owned by the Commonwealth Bank, which was dark and empty during the day but lighted and bustling in the evenings.

The days moved on, sometimes quickly, sometimes very slowly. On certain days, I could feel loneliness and ennui creeping in. But I probably drove them away each time by generating feel-good endorphins through exercise.

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My son Mio sent my guitar over. I was glad. I played it daily at whatever time I felt like. I was able to finish composing a song I had started in Manila and wrote an entirely new one.

On the 13th day, the morning before I left, the doctors and nurses went to my room to check on me one last time. My temperature was 36 degrees. Perfect. They then gave me my police and medical clearance and told me I could leave the next day. That afternoon, the hotel staff sent me a bottle of sparkling wine as a gift for finishing the isolation. I thought that was a wonderful, classy way to end my stay.

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I am safe and warm in our Sydney home as I write this. I am grateful to God that I am over this 14-day isolation. I know it wasn’t anything close to a Survivor episode or anything physically challenging. It was mostly a mind game that I overcame and won. In short, I was able to maintain my sanity.

In 14 days, I consumed less than a bar of soap and one small hotel-sized tube of shampoo. I used up less than two rolls of toilet paper, less than half of a regular sized toothpaste tube. I had one change of bed sheets, used three towels and only had two changes of clothing. I washed them alternately. To get my fix of vitamin D, I would occasionally open the curtains in the afternoon and bask in the sun for three hours while running in place or lying in bed. Unbelievably, I watched a total of less than two hours of TV all that time. I spent about 350 minutes or 5.83 hours in meditation, and countless hours doing jumping jacks, sit-ups, push-ups, cardio and core strengthening exercises, walking, running, playing the guitar, singing and writing new stuff. I also slept a lot and chatted with my siblings and friends.

I have gone through almost 56 days of quarantine in two countries, which means I ate 168 meals all alone. I know that, by itself, this is not so dramatic. But I am proud to have won this little battle against the imperatives brought about by COVID-19. The war is still going on and nowhere near ending. But I triumphed in reuniting with most of my family. We are safe and sound and without physical distancing. Wonderful.

The God of small things 0

Posted on April 26, 2020 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star ) – April 26, 2020 – 12:00am
The big story is still COVID-19. Practically 80 percent of all content in regular and social media is still about the latest updates on deaths, recoveries and new infections. Add the conspiracy theories, fake news and funny memes about COVID-19. That is what people are preoccupied with.

I notice that I have begun to turn off and drop out of the obsession, hysteria and preoccupation with this awful disease. I think I know enough about it. I have probably read too much and know a lot more than most people. And I am tired of being brought into a constant state of fear and being reminded to be vigilant daily. I have decided to ignore a lot of the articles passed on by friends, relatives especially those about the latest, newest concoctions to prevent or cure this disease.

Enough. No more.

People are stuck in their homes paranoid and bored. I think it was Marshal McLuhan, philosopher and ’60s media guru, who said that the price for eternal vigilance is boredom. He is absolutely correct.

Lately, I have started to become more interested in the little human stories I come across on social media about people I don’t even know.

I remember just weeks ago, I used to offer my condolences to the families of people who have died of COVID-19 perhaps once every three days or so on Facebook. Now I come across such stories so often that I actually offer my condolences a few times a day now. When I come across calls for prayer on Facebook, I actually answer back to let them now I am praying for them. At the end of the day when I say my prayers, the list of people I am praying for has become longer and longer.

One story that really affected me was about a young doctor from UST who got COVID-19. She was a young front liner. About 2 weeks ago, when the post first came out calling out for prayers, it seemed like she was a goner by the way they described her situation. She was so weak, and was intubated. Thousands of people must have read the call for prayers. I was one of them. I reposted her story on Facebook, Twitter and a few groups on Viber. The response was overwhelming.

Five days ago, her parents announced on FB that she had turned the corner and was being transferred to a regular room away from those who were still fighting for their lives in ICU.

I was also touched by pictures, photos and personal observations from ordinary people who have posted before-and-after shots of cities, countrysides, Manila Bay, rivers, etc — all showing palpable signs of environmental recovery. The air seems much cleaner. The absence of smog now allows people to see monuments and landmarks from far away, things that had stopped being visible decades ago.

I also notice people posting messages during their birthdays that decidedly have a more spiritual message of gratitude than the usual materialistic wishes.

In our own neighborhood, people have been sharing information on where to get vegetables, meats, juices, fruits, masks and other protective gear. Some kindly neighbors have even offered to give food to anyone who is unable to eat. Our neighborhood has called for idle hands to help pack goods (while observing social distancing and wearing masks) for the few communities of informal settlers near us. Things have changed. All of a sudden, you realise the abundance of good in the world.

My small stories go something like this: I go out to the garden daily and notice the minute changes Lydia’s plants are undergoing. I check on our big Lanka tree with seven hanging fruits. I walk on the grass without slippers to feel connected to the earth while I expose myself under the sun for a few minutes to get my daily dose of vitamin D.

As I do all these, I find myself being so thankful for everything around me.

I am once again sitting in meditation daily as I join dozens, if not thousands, of people around the world who are doing the same thing. We check in online when we start, and check out when we end. I also belong to many Viber groups where I catch up with friends and family daily, and so I still feel a sense of community, even in my isolation.

One thing I do to keep sane is to ask myself the moment I wake up what my goals for the day are. I am talking about specific things I need to do. They do not have to be many. What is important is to get them done to prevent myself from drifting day to day without purpose. Because of this, I have been able to establish some routine that help keeps me sane.

I have made exercise an important goal every other day. Not only do I feel strong, I feel good afterward with all these endorphins swimming around in my body. It is a struggle against laziness that I must overcome all the time. It makes me feel powerful to declare something and to actually do it. I have also become some sort of gym instructor to my kasambahays. I lead daily to exercise and help them keep fit and busy. Another thing we do every day is pray the rosary promptly at 6 p.m.

The rest of the time, I play the piano or guitar and try to learn something new, or even try to write new songs. I also sing a few songs a day to keep me in performance shape. I try to minimise my time on social media and have been successful.

This enhanced quarantine has made me more aware of the little stories that are happening to people everywhere, including my own little stories.

If you have a religious bent, you probably see the hand of God playing throughout the events all over the world. Right now, my life is in micro mode: I am more focused these days on how the God of small things inspires people to do the tiny but important chore of staying alive and sane.

How things are changing right now 0

Posted on April 05, 2020 by jimparedes
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star  April 5, 2020 – 12:00am

Indeed, the world is changing because of the COVID-19 virus. This is the growing observation and conclusion of many. There is fear and sadness and suffering all around. And people expect things to get even worse from this point until they get better. When we as a species get over this, I feel things will not go back to how they were. We are changing right now and, yes, the world is, too. We may be learning a few good things along the way.

On a personal level, here is what I am experiencing.

Because of fear of catching COVID, many families are now showing concern for the state of health of everyone in their household, including their kasambahays. People are checking on each other’s health daily. I have started giving vitamins to my maids and driver and getting them to do a few exercises with me every morning. I know they are getting bored. For their mental health, I have brought out our family collection of jigsaw puzzles so they can spend time doing something together. In our house, we have all become a “family” because of our concern for each other. We all know that any person in the household who gets sick threatens the health of everyone.

We also do one common spiritual activity. We all pray the rosary together every evening at six in front of our gate. This has been going on since Day 1 of the lockdown. I have learned to recite most of the rosary in Tagalog since my kasambahays recite them in the vernacular. This has become an important activity for us. Many in the neighborhood come out of their gates, too, and do the same thing. While observing distancing, we wave at each other as we pray together. We feel a unity with everyone on our street as we struggle to stay alive and safe in this age of coronavirus.

I notice, too, that people are more connected than ever through social media. News passes around instantaneously. Verification is fast. Fake news can easily be debunked. Everyone has become some sort of a media center. And just as quickly, requests for prayers, donations, and all sorts of support are quickly disseminated. There are many fundraising activities going on now and help is coming from many sectors. People are getting out of their immediate circles and are showing greater concern for those who are suffering the most in our society. People are also posting messages thanking our medical frontliners. This can only be good.

I feel that in little ways we be planting the seeds of genuine love and concern for others.

I have not worn shoes since the quarantine started. I have been going through my clothes lately and I noticed I have been wearing the same four sets of T-shirts and shorts in rotation for almost three weeks now. The value I used to put on a whole lot of things is now suddenly under scrutiny and review. And I do not even own a lot of nice stuff.

Take a look at the expensive stuff that you own. What good are your new clothes, shoes, fine bags, jewelry, your expensive car right now? Are they of any value in this time of quarantine? You can’t flaunt or even enjoy them, not when you can’t even go out anywhere. And not when you get news about friends, classmates, neighbors and relatives getting sick and dying. Enjoying your material possessions is probably the last thing on your mind as your own fragility and mortality continue to dawn upon you almost daily. You are now probably more appreciative and thankful for the simpler things — food on the table, another day without sickness. We probably notice acts of kindness more now than ever before.

We may be developing the attitude of gratitude on a massive scale. This can only be better for everyone.

COVID-19 has made us pay attention to the little things we do every day. More specifically, we must pay attention to what we do and how we act almost every moment. To some, it my feel like paranoia since we have to be constantly aware of everything we touch such as groceries, inanimate objects, bannisters, light switches, door knobs, etc. And of course, there is physical proximity to other people. All these may spell life or death.

In the beginning, it may be unsettling. But paying attention is actually an important step in living a higher quality of life.  Paying attention opens you to a higher consciousness because it makes you see a lot more of what’s really going on in your own life. I am talking of things beyond the manifest world.

Think of this quarantine as a forced retreat. It shouldn’t be hard to do since we are actually in the season of Lent right now. It is a good time to take stock of what we really value, and what the meaning of everything is. It is an opportunity to go beyond simply reciting prayers, into actually pondering what our mostly inherited religious beliefs really mean to us.

It is a time to meet our inner selves and get deeply honest.

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