In the battlefield but not a warrior!

I have just come home from the Metropop thing. Man! I continue to be amazed even if this is my fourth participation with this contest. The 1st time was in 1981 where we (APO) won second place with the song Ewan. The second was in 2000 where we did not place as interpreters. The third was as judge two years ago, and the fourth was tonight.

Arnel, I thought (and everyone backstage, performers and composers agreed) did such a great rendition of my song Parang with his Don King hairdo. But alas, we did not place even if everyone thought we would. To be honest, I had no expectations. I purposely, deliberately did not allow myself to cling to any. Although the temptation to do so was great because of comments backstage and the thrill of competion, I’ve seen enough Metropops to know that it’s an anything goes kinda thing. I absolutely loved Bayang Barrios’ Malayo Man Malapit Din song and expected it to garner a top place. Agot and I were betting on it. and it did.

Working with Arnel and Ernie Baladjay (my arranger) was such a joy. That was the real reward. I felt I had understood Bhuddhist tenets and practice of non-clinging tonight by not putting any conditions to that. I was happy no matter what. Win or lose would not change it. And I feel good writing this because I pretty much stayed the course of non-conditionality without being aloof. or indifferent. “Be in the battlefield but be not the warrior”, ika nga ni Arunja sa Bhagavad Gita.

The thrill of meeting a lot of new friends and working with good musicians is immeasurable. I recommend every songwriter reading this to join Metropop. It’s one of the few things in the Philippines with integrity still intact. It is an honest contest which does not defer to stardom or seniority or reputation in choosing its winners. We may agree or disagree with their decision but I think we can all say that it is a REAL contest.

Mabuhay ang OPM. I’d like to know what you thought of the contest. Feel free to criticise. I take it rather well.

I will end this now cuz I’m reallly sleepy. One consuelo I have is that at least I don’t have to skip Sunday lunch and be in SOP to be congratulated again as a winner! Ha ha. Why do I imagine snickers from readers of this blog?

I’m excited about a few things coming my way soon.

This Saturday, my song Parang will participate as one of the finalists in the Metropop Song Festival. Arranged by Ernie Baladjay and to be interpreted by Arnel Ignacio, this 40’s inspired song with a jazz touch will be on slot 12. I am so happy with the way things have turned out. For one thing, I submitted this entry on the last day of submission simply because a friend had recorded his entry in my studio. Nakisabay lang ako. I got in, he didn’t. Months later, I was surprised to get a call from a friend. I had even forgotten that I had joined and so was surprised when informed that I got in as a finalist!

The whole story of how Arnel Ignacio became my interpreter is a story in itself. I saw him on SOP when we were presented to the public as this year’s Metropop finalists. He was wearing drag for a novelty song he had just performed when he approached me and asked to audition as interpreter of Parang. (Just try to imagine what an effort it was on my part to take this man wearing a woman’s dress seriously when he asked me if he could try out for the song). I politely nodded and told him to show up the next day. He was the last to audition among 3. He just blew me away when he sang. Few people know that funny man Arnel is a music major and sings jazz very well. He listens a lot to Harry Connick, his favorite artist.

Everything about this song has been pleasant from the time I wrote it (ages ago) to the present. Working with Ernie and Arnel has been something else!. Things just seemed to blend seamlessly. To be honest, win or lose is not even important anymore. I already have a nice song and all I am looking forward to is a great performance on Saturday night. I will sit and enjoy this to the hilt!

The other thing I am looking forward to is my upcoming creativity workshop which will be on Dec. 1, 3, 5, 8, 10, 12 at 7 to 9 PM each night. It will be at Forbes Park on this run. The last time I did this was in San Francisco. This will be the 22nd time I run Tapping The Creative Universe, an unblocking of creativity workshop. So far, I have 18 students and I am expecting more to sign up this weekend.

This workshop gives me such a big high. How can it not? I meet new people from all walks of life–housewives, CEOs, artists of various disciplines, nuns and priests, students, expats, etc.. The workshop guides them as they rediscover their lost creativity. The breakthrough process is something to see as they meet their blocks and overcome them. The individual and collective “AHA” is palpable.

And it is always heartwarming to hear that days, weeks, months after the workshops I have given in the past, I often hear that some of them have applied the principles and practices they had learned to their lives in major ways. Some have suddenly become painters, entrepreneurs. Some have published books and poems they had long wanted to do. Some had done “walk the edge” stuff they had always wanted to accomplish but could not in the past.. In short, their creativity, now restored had allowed their dreams to take flight!

I could keep on giving these workshops forever. In fact, I may run it in Melbourne in the coming months. Sana!

If you are one of those who are attending this monday, see you soon!

Life On THe Cusp

I’ve been reading a book called Life On The Cusp, an anthology by more than 20 assorted writers including Sylvia Mayuga, Randy David, Jaime Zobel de Ayala Sr., Ana Alejandrino, Mariel Francisco, yours truly among others. What is fascinating about it is each writer’s description of what life is like for them now, and most interestingly including the journey that led them to the present. Throughout the narratives, the reader learns not just tidbits about the writers (Randy loves motorcycles, Jaime Zobel scuba dives, Ana Alejandrino teaches Qigong, etc..) but about the wisdom culled from the pathways, and highways of their life’s journey. Lessons learned from disappointments, turning points, failures and successes abound.

If you want to read about people in our midst and their extraordinary take on life, buy the book. Wisdom, insights, disappointments, joy everywhere. And yes, great writing too.

The range and breath of experiences are something else. One can read about the lives of a monk, activist, educators, late-blooming people who took radical turns in their lives. I am not sure though if the reason why the book resonates with me is because I am in my early 50’s and so I identify with people who have had a more or less long journey time-wise. If you’r ever in a bookstore, do take a browse. You may like it, or know someone who will.

There goes the neighborhood!

I just came down from Baguio last night ((thursday). I left at 2:00 in the afternoon, right after APO did its performance for the Manila Bulletin-sponsored lunch during the weeklong Ad Congress. I dreaded the thought of getting stuck in monumental traffic jams within Baguio and on the way back to Manila and so opted to leave soon after my work was done. It was a good show considering that aside from the three songs we sang, we basically just conducted a raffle–not one of my favorite activities.

Baguio weather was pleasant–not too cold and not warm. But the hordes of delegates and their smoke emiting vehicles were just too much. Parang naging Divisoria! As a Baguio resident ( I consider myself one since I own a house there), I find it obscene how the lowlanders can just come up, drive the prices of goods in the market sky high, spread the smell of diesel everywhere and just trash this city of pines. Alas, this magical place seems destined to rot as commercialism dangles money to monopolize Baguio’s charms which were once offered freely. Its once quaintly narrow streets have become tight roads lined with parked cars on both sides, its trees and posts filled with advertising. Many honeymooners, boy and girl scouts, and ordinary lovers of nature know what I am complaining about–they who go there for the air, the greenery, the sights, the charm of a small city and not the circus that is the Ad Congress.

One may ask what right I have to be pontificating about what other people do in Baguio? Mind you, it is certainly not just my ownership of a house there! I spent many, many summers there, not to mention countless visits as a young man in pursuit of fun and frolic with barkada and special female friends. In fact, I honeymooned there and I still do occasionally when Lydia and I can escape and leave everything behind. I’ve also had many retreats, campings, concerts and long walks all over John Hay, Burnham Park, and its many trails, tried many of its small and big restaurants, met many of its artists, etc.. In short, Baguio is part of the biography of my heart and spirit, and so holds sacred meaning to me, and to countless others

And so, instead of partying away with the crass set, I opted to retreat to Manila. But I look forward to going back when all is once again quaint, quiet and fresh , a condition in Baguio that admittedly, even without the ad congress is sadly becoming a rarity.

Teflon Day!

Know your mind as the sky;

Allow everything to pass on through,

The clouds, the lightning, the winds,

All of it, even the blue itself.

Don’t even get caught on the blue.

See and hear whatever arises,

But don’t grasp at anything.

Don’t even get caught on the sky.

– Journeys on Mind Mountain

One of my favorite sites I visit daily is among my links called When I read yesterday’s entry, I felt like a strong wind toppled me from my judgment throne and set me free. In this age of hate politics, entrenched opinions, burning issues and distrust that seem to plague us, the quote above reminds me to regain my equilibrium.

A favorite Zen question which asks, “What was your Original Face before you were born?” comes to mind. It was an unblemished face, for sure, needing nothing and content in its completeness. Very much like the sky that is described above. The issues that plague us are transitory clouds which the sky never really worries about.

Just for today, I will not turn on the radio and TV, and will limit socio-political discussions. Most of all, I will not get into arguments and will abandon any need to win, or prove a point. Today is Teflon day. Nothing will stick! No temptations, attachments. Just watching the comings and goings of the world.

I will shut the noise and just BE.

No have to’s and no should be’s.


Blessedly basking in the Wholeness.

Everyday is a good day!

Love and Death

I was witness monday night to a most astounding performance at Merks in Greenbelt3. The place was packed with friends of Toti Fuentes, great pianist, arranger and a truly wonderful human being who was to do his (probably) last concert in his life. You see, Toti, whose musical career spans more than 30 years and who has played with everyone in the local scene and a lot of greats in the US like Sergio Mendez, Tony Orlando, Natalie Cole, Mariah Carey and many others is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that is quickly debilitating him. In his pre-cancer days, he was a man of hefty built. But the ravages of his sickness have reduced his frame to a little more than one half his size. Nevertheless, he was dapper in his white suit despite the weakened frame.

He started with the Charlie Chaplin classic, “Smile” which was a stunner since the lyrics which everyone was singing in his head went “Smile though your heart is aching…” There were songs like “I’ll Be Seeing You” which took on a somberly sad tug at the heart. He also played crowd favorites like his Stylistics medley which got everyone singing aloud. A few foot-stompers like Rocky, and other fast numbers got everyone euphoric as he attacked the piano with his usual enthusiasm complete with loud, boisterous shouting, and his signature theatrics. He had tender moments too when he expressed his love and appreciation for his friends, notably his wife Jonie. Voice cracking with emotion and shortness of breath due to illness, he lovingly narrated how he met his partner for life while TNT-ing in the US.

And all through out, there was this collective awe of the moment, THE MOMENT, when this man we all loved was present before us sharing his abundant gift of music, and all of us including him knowing that perhaps this was to be for the last time. There, in the middle of a mundane place like a nightclub, the shroud of truth about everyone’s mortality was being lifted for all to see reducing everyone to awe, humility and yes, fear and terror. Death was partying, nightclubbing while the living could only watch aghast!

And yet, while we all stared at the precipice, the inevitability of everyone’s mortality, the love we all felt for Toti, and for each colleague in the room (we were all old friends) was palpable. With camera on hand, I took pictures of everyone I had ever worked or interacted with before— musicians, performers, singers, managers, radio people, etc.. hoping to keep the moment a little longer.

Life is truly short and fleeting. And yet, even when time takes everything away–body, health, talents, wealth, fame, reputation, passions and purpose –everything we ever built up as a hedge against death, I would like to believe that there remains something, the only true thing that matters, the only thing that time cannot kill. And that is the radiance of love!

Today, Toti leaves for the US for treatment. I hope that doctors can do something for him. Toti, I thank you for your deep friendship, loud laughter, great love and passionate music. And yes, your timeless performance that monday evening will not be forgotten. It’s as real as the love you always embodied.

And in the end, when the applause and the bowing are over, only love remains.

After all, everything begins and ends with it.

Ego Tripping On Fleeting Glory

I just came from Anvil Publisihing and they informed me that my three book set will be out by 1st week of December and it will be P890, less 20% if you are a Laking National Bookstore card holder.

Meanwhile, allow me to bask in some fleeting glory and share some feedback from readers of Writing On Water:

—“Just checking if your two other books are in National Bookstore. Am enjoying this one. Makes me think about my own attitudes towards life and human relationships”–texted by Marjorie Villarama, New Zealand,

—“Thanks for sharing about your mother-in-law…diba siya yung pinuntahan niyo sa States? I’ve ALWAYS admired the way you looked at death…for that, thanks. Since PG, my brother, died only months ago, I could relate….really relate.

the foreword: Ganda…and tama siya!…

Your words dance like merfolk…sad, but accepting…collaborating and corroborating with life’s breath and tears. The ripple turning into a tidal wave…I like the way you described life…and how connected everything and everyone is…Naimagine ko pa ikaw surfing talaga…nakita ko how you were naka-hang ten, though metaphorarically speaking lang, parang nakita ko pa yun.

Yeah, I guess biographies are like that. (I liked it when you said “But even such timelessness is fleeting)–Lara Veronica Garcia, Manila.

–“I have been waiting for this 3rd book… I have begun reading it and it’s mind-blowing. Sometimes I have to re-read the page a couple of times but I totaly ” get it” . It’s like somevbody putting very eloquently what are just random, disorganized ideas floating in my own head constantly, dying to be understood. ” —Michele Gemperle, Manila.

–“Love your book. I have been reading it nightly since that day I got it. I like your prose and the depth of your emotions — beautiful work of art! Every time I read it, I flow. Thanks for sharing this gift. I hope that there are more people who get inspired by your writing.”–Imee Alcantara, Manila.

Feel free to send comments. I will print them (but may edit for brevity purposes).

Trying To Be Above The Fray

Got home early evening from Sydney yesterday. While still inside the plane right before coming out, texts started pouring in about the Davide crisis and the rally scheduled today, the airport tower crisis and more angry texts regarding the situatrion here. After arriving at home and having dinner with my family, I checked my email and more of the above were vying for my attention and emotional involvement. I’ve been to many trips and coming home is often a sad thing to do. Sometimes, you get a reality slap in the face and not the sampaguita of hospitality you expect. But hey! It’s home. I remind myself that as much as things can be upsetting, I must walk through it with compassion and grace and not get sucked in or hooked and lose my peace. This is what it means to “be in the world, but not of it.”

To all those who wrote me asking permission to link up my blog with theirs, please go ahead! I am honoured you ask!

I would like to share an email I recieved. It’s a letter from Sis. Christine Tan. I don’t know if yo’ve heard of her but she was one of the most real people one can meet. She passed away recently. The letter contains all other pertinent information. Read it. A bit long but worth it!

Here it goes:

Sr. Christine Tan was with the Board of Trustees of the Bantayog ng mga Bayani. She died last Oct. 6. She will be one of the heroes enshrined on the first week of December.

Sister Christine shared this essay with a friend, who was told to keep it to herself. It was shown to her brother Bienvenido Tan for the first time four days after Sister Christine died at the age of 72.

Sister Christine Tan, her story

I was a little girl, six years old, when I noticed my mother kneeling by our small altar on the second floor. She had tears on her cheeks. I approached her, asking, “Mama, why are you crying?” She whispered into my ear, “Papa lost all our money in the stock market.” After a while, Papa came home from his law office. There was the usual pulling off his shoes and handing him slippers, the usual meal, prepared with such care and love, the lively conversation among a family with seven siblings, all of school age. There was no sign of tears, no reproach, no snub.

I was a little girl, 11 years old. It was World War II. As weeks turned to months to years, we noticed how our family possessions were dwindling. We sold our lands and jewelry, one by one.

Every meal was skimpy. We never had rice, only rice that looked like soup, extended with corn. Sometimes we had slivers of sausage so thin, I thought it was a special kind of transparent sausage. I noticed that Mama, always the last to eat, was anxious that each child would have her fill. She never said she was hungry.

I observed how Mama would unearth her elaborate sayas, long kept in trunks, and one by one rip out their seams and sew them into dresses for her six daughters. I also marveled at how my sister could bake cakes over charcoal in an old kerosene can, selling these cakes at nearby cafes to help purchase our basic needs. Overnight, Papa’s hair became snowy white.

It was in this family where I experienced silent suffering, steeled determination, love poured out. It did not take long to wonder why such gifts poured into my frail hands. It was Feb. 6, 1954.

I remember the evening I left home to become a nun. Then, we had to take the plane to Los Angeles, California. Then, we just walked to the plane as there were few passengers. My mother was sobbing. The guards kept glancing at her. My siblings were crying, my students were weeping with their heads down, while Papa was smoking his cigar. As I was undergoing this trauma, I lost all strength to walk those steps to the plane. I felt I would die. I said I would just stay home, it was all a mistake. But angels carried me, and I reached the plane without ever looking back. That was the saddest day of my life.

The first 16 years of religious life were placid. I cannot recall a single sorrow or problem or even joy that made any dent to the core of my being. It was only when my convent-formed consciousness expanded to national consciousness, when the arena of my vows gave way to the battlefield of injustice and poverty, of oppression and torture, that I had to take a stand, and with this, incurred the ire of those who held power. I therefore think of my religious life as a blaze of colors, shades of suffering and misunderstanding, hues of joy and ecstasy, deep tones of struggle and search. There was perennial search in all waves of my life—the search to find God, the search to be authentic, the search for justice within and outside the Church, the search for true freedom, the search of my people for a taste of a life that is human. This search led to pathways totally unknown and to acts of daring which only God could have planned. It was therefore logical that I would be comfortable in a spirituality that was not Western, in a milieu that was not clean, but dirty and phlegm-pocked, in an apostolate where confrontations were made with heads of state and armed military, in ashrams and Buddhist zendos instead of marble churches, where, when reaching that point of stillness, the whole world would evaporate and all become green.

On the other hand, I would feel ill at ease in my own Church where our words seemingly control and coerce, where we are often told what we cannot do. I would feel ill at ease in the company of hooded nuns in our tropical climate, in meetings where rhetoric multiplied ad infinitum, in conversations that dealt with the health of our inner organs, instead of trying to reach for the stars, so that our lives make a difference in the misery of the poor.

It was with the poor that I felt comfortable. In the dirt and foul language, with drunken men, in shattering noise where no one seemed to sleep, it was here that God was at ease. It was here that I found Jesus.

I remember the day we decided to leave the grounds of our provincialate, to share our lives with the majority of Filipinos, the unwashed. There were five of us, and the only reason we had to changing our mode of life was to find Jesus. We found two rooms with no floor, and no toilet, in the armpits of Manila, the fifth district.

While this change of address brought about a change in my priorities, it was my introduction to Asian spirituality that toppled me over, and caught me gasping for God. It was in Saigon, Vietnam, when grace knocked me down. I had a Vietnamese friend who had a doctorate from Paris, and who was steeped in Eastern spirituality. We were close friends, sharing the same thirst for political and spiritual liberation. I visited her often on my way to some other destination. In her home, she had a garden with a hammock beside a small pool. One evening we sat there together, when words long smoldering in my heart, tumbled out as I uttered, “Anh, teach me to pray.” She responded, “Christine, sit on this hammock. Gaze at the stars and keep your mouth closed.”

That was the beginning of a paradise within me, a world so scintillating that it pierced through my senses into the outer world, transforming my thoughts, plans, deeds, dreams, into a flaming passion for justice and peace.

But life was not all justice and peace. How I loved my community, my congregation. With nostalgia, I remember a nun, one who shaped my values by what she did. She was our superior during those days when one kissed the superior’s hand every time she handed you anything. Superiors then stood on pedestals. But this one tasked herself to clean our washrooms every morning until they glistened and smelled good. She was one who noticed when sisters were lonesome and tried to make days bright by adding raisins to our breakfast bread. She was one who sang to the mountains and trees, the nipping air, the endless sky, when no one talked about ecology. She would also give a bath to Igorot children, caked with dirt and lice, in our spotless convent bathroom, when strict cloister was an imperative from Rome. How I loved this nun.

There is another nun, living until now, whose heart shines pure, who can think no malice of anyone, who walks the slums during the heat of noon as her varicose veins pop out, who never complains about food, even when hot soup is served cold and cold salad is served hot, whose addiction is the poor, who does not mind lugging boxes—sometimes as many as 57Ñfull of used clothes, food, soap, noodles without packs, as long as they reached the poor. She is one of whom the Benedictine, Sr. Joan, says: “What is more disturbing to the status quo than an experienced religious elderly, who cannot be controlled, cannot be threatened, cannot be punished, who is obscenely alive.”

Now, 71 years old, 48 of which have been spent in religion, 22 of which are spent until now, living in the filth of the urban poor, several years spent atop the pinnacle of power, as provincial, chairperson of the major superiors, founder of several religious and human rights organizations but with more years not understood by the majority of religious, I hear nothing but a song in my heart.

How healthy it was to be misunderstood, especially by those who mattered, how faith-filled it was to be the enemy of the dictator, the target of rightists. How liberating it was not to be swept by the tide. There has been no criticism or censure that has not melted into nothingness in the stillness of Asian meditation. There has been no fear that has not vanished while merged with God, partner and lover.

As for adulation, positions, praises poured on me—they are just bubbles that disappear with a sneeze. As to the institutional church, that monolithic fort of mitered men, how I suffered from their arrogance. Once during martial law, when we major superiors dared oppose the dictatorship, I was summoned to Rome. I remember the 14 doors that I passed through, only to be told by a cardinal that if I did not cooperate with our regime, I would be excommunicated. I sighed, not because of the senseless threat, but because of the thousands of pesos spent on fare, when this could easily have been done with a single stamp. But these too are bubbles that make no dent.

Thus is my story where “I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, to live deeply and suck all the marrow of life, to put to the rout all that is not of life, and not when I shall die, to discover that I have not lived at all.”

They say that we are all drops of water in an ocean, totally lost in its expanse and depths. But some drops sparkle.

No Worries, Mate!

Sydney is an incredible place. We went to see the city sights yesterday and the first serious question that comes to mind is who built all the wonderful buildings, monuments, roads, infrastructure, drainages, bridges, etc.. when their population is not even 1/4 of ours. There are less than twenty million people in all of Australia and yet, it is such a modern place. Carpenters and construction builders must be making oodles.

Australia is not all cosmopolitan though In fact, there are great swathes of land so huge that if some aliens transfered all the Philippine islands in the middle of Aus, the Aussies wouldn’t even know we were there. Also, the 12 deadliest snakes in the world are found in Australia. Strangely enough, New Zealand has NO snakes!

Our Melbbourne concert last week went VERY WELL. We performed at a new theater called BMW Edge. It’s an all glass building with metal lego-like scaffolds, bars and frames all over. Really postmodern. The world can be seen from inside and vice-versa. It made us feel like being in an aquarium. The concert was preceded by cocktails and that was cool. It was a small venue and we had a full house.

A day after the concert, we rode a bus to Sydney which is a thousand miles a way. On good roads and a great bus, it is so pleasant a ride. The scenery is breathtaking as you pass through endless vistas of pasture, hills, valleys, lakes most of them pristinely untouched.

The past two days, we’ve been traveling along the pacific coast of the New South Wales area and, what can I say! The beaches are beautiful in a wild, fun and potentially dangerous kind of way. The gigantic waves, or hypothermia can do you in. It is remarkable how the Aussies have established a relationship to water. Every Aussie is taught how to swim in school! The whole character building thing revolves around team-working, lifegurading, and stuff like that. They seem to have so mych respect for their environment.

Sorry for abruptly ending right here. Alas, I am only able to write this through the kindness of my host’s internet connection here in Sydney. Mo0re when I return on the 9th!

Love this country!