The in-between time

Humming in my UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes
The Philippine STAR 12/31/2006

One great big event is over.
Christmas, that moment we anticipate all year long, is almost always a big event for everyone, especially for the children. How can it not be? Christmas is a time when kids get a crack at the jackpot, acquire the goodies they’ve long desired from Santa, their parents, aunties and uncles, ninongs and ninangs.

For us adults, it is a time for giving, which means frantic spending, spending and more spending. We work ourselves into a frenzy decorating our homes to welcome friends and loved ones. For an increasing number of Filipinos, Christmas is all about coming home as balikbayans from somewhere abroad, or being visited abroad by relatives from home.

In the Philippines, Christmas is the culmination of a three-month build-up that starts with the first Christmas carols played over the radio in September and continues into the “ber” months until the end of the Misa de Gallo on Christmas Eve. All over the country, everywhere you look, you see reminders of Christmas or the anticipation of it. The malls, and almost every business establishment and office, are decked out with boughs of holly and trimmings weeks before the event itself. You would have to be deaf to miss Christmas since the noise and gaiety are all over the place, courtesy of the radio, your neighbor’s TV and, closer to Christmas, the pesky neighborhood carolers.

Then a week after Christmas is the other Great Big One – New Year’s Eve. It’s party time and, for many people, it’s time to gorge and drink themselves blind. There is just no chance of life returning to normal until after all these bacchanalian rituals have transpired.

Call me a Grinch, but there is something about this entire holiday season that stopped appealing to me years ago. I feel, and I’ve heard many people say, that the Christmas season, as we know it now, is overrated. All the excess that accompanies Christmas has killed the thrill of it for me, and dimmed the glow that I used to feel even just thinking about Yuletide.

Christmas is simply too nerve-wracking a time, what with the traffic, large crowds at the malls, the obligatory gifts one must give. While stuck in holiday traffic in the past, it has crossed my mind that Christmas as we know it now should only be celebrated once every two or three years.

The entire buildup to the season has become too stressful. There is a neurotic “need” to celebrate and have fun at all cost. Why? Because it’s Christmas and one should be happy at Christmas. There is even a “politically correct” way to be happy during the holidays, and that is to celebrate it materialistically – to feel good by receiving or buying the latest this or that – a view peddled by big consumer companies and commercial establishments.

Surely, one cannot fail to see the madness of the whole thing. I find the entire ideal being peddled of resolute partying and materialism distasteful, trite and vulgar. And that is why I have largely dropped out of that Christmas scene.

To me, the most interesting part of the season is the six-day period after Christmas and before New Year’s. Usually, during those in-between days, I just go into a drift until the evening of December 31. While we get to see friends and family, eat party food and exchange gifts, compared to Christmas and New Year’s Eve, these days are not spectacular. They are even less than ordinary because there is really nothing happening anywhere.

The days stand out in their simplicity between two elaborately celebrated occasions. If we were talking music, they would be grace notes in between loud and memorable themes, or the rests or silences between notes played fortissimo. They could also be compared to the moment between inhaling and exhaling, or the gaps between words, the links that hold the beads of a necklace together. They are understated and uneventful days, but they are necessary and crucial to my sanity.

During those in-between days, I slow down. I have no agenda and spend my time not so much at rest but with nothing specific and necessarily useful to do. The days between Christmas and New Year’s are for on-the-spot indulging in whatever I fancy. I sleep as much as I want, go on the long drive I’ve always wanted to take or just lie down and read a book, take a long walk, or sip wine in the evening while staring at the sunset.

It is a time when the body recuperates, the spirit stops being purposeful and goes on being mode; a time to take stock of the year just passed and reflect on how we spent, wasted, enjoyed or hated it. Perhaps we were even oblivious to it. It is a time to weigh things and determine what they’re worth to us, a time to let go of some of our dreams and unresolved, energy-draining concerns, to mourn losses and failed endeavors. Or it could be a time to celebrate our victories and relish good memories, draw up new dreams and aspirations and plan on new sights, vistas and involvements for our spirit to meander in.

When I allow my body and my spirit this down time, I find that I become more grounded and I am able to make more realistic and meaningful New Year’s resolutions. During this hiatus, I try to synchronize myself with the New Year ahead, and the new shot at renewal and redemption that it promises.
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Do we know it’s Christmas?

Humming in my UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes
The Philippine STAR 12/24/2006

Early on Wednesday morning, December 20, my next-door neighbor’s house burned down. Chinchin Gutierrez, an actress and my friend, woke up to fire engulfing the abode she shared with her mother. Luckily, neighbors came to the rescue and helped carry her very sick mother out of the house. Visitors who were using the studio at the back of my house immediately rushed them to the hospital. In the process of saving her mother, however, Chinchin sustained wounds and burns on her arms, legs and face.

As I write this, I am in Sydney, having just arrived from Manila where I’m still in a state of shock trying to grapple with the reality that the house beside ours – which had been there since we moved into the neighborhood 20 years ago and which had I visited on several occasions – is no more. Now reduced to ashes, the only things left are the tiles on the bathroom wall and a few standing twisted pieces of metal. Gone is the physical structure whose walls housed the memories of Chinchin’s growing years and the home that nurtured her and her mother who is sick with diabetes.

From accounts I have received, the people in the neighborhood watched with a sense of fear and loss as the flames consumed the house quickly. There was a collective feeling of horror at the sight of seeing a part of the neighborhood’s communal memories go up in smoke.

Despite the embers that were showered in the direction of my house, we were spared.

In truth, I must admit that I don’t quite know how to react when people text, call or tell me how lucky we are that our house did not burn down. I know that I am lucky but it’s hard to be gleeful about it when I am aware that my friend Chinchin and her mother have lost everything.

Five days before I left for Sydney, I was talking to another good friend, Eloisa Mathias, who was telling me about the tragedy that hit Bicol, where she comes from. The recent storm buried wide areas in mud, killing close to 2,000 people, and making it difficult for those who survived to continue living the lives they are used to. She told me of a cousin who was bitten by a rattlesnake that had been swimming in the flood waters. He died three days later because no help could arrive to save him.

A lot of tragedies have been hitting people too close to home. It has become too close for comfort. For many of us, tragedy is merely a mental concept – it only happens to other people. And so we can take our breakfast while watching the horrors in Darfur on the morning TV news, or read about the gruesome realities of crime, calamities and corruption in the newspapers as we drink our coffee.

I am reminded of an admittedly funny cartoon sketch I saw many years ago about a proverbial dumb blonde who, upon reading the headlines that screamed “Nuclear War!!” burst into tears worrying about the possible loss of her new job.

What is it about a tragedy that seems to release a feeling of unity and empathy with suffering among some, while others feel a sense of relief at being lucky because they were not the ones hit?

In the song Do They Know It’s Christmas, there is a line that goes, “Well, tonight, thank God, it’s them instead of you,” which has always made me feel uncomfortable. It highlights feelings of separateness and alienation that hit me severely.

While I completely understand the sentiments of those who are spared from suffering, at the same time I feel there is something in it that is reflective of an inner poverty. It comes from a point of view that looks at life as an “either/or” situation wherein someone must lose for another to gain. It seems to imply that I am okay, only because I am not the one suffering.

When I feel united with those who suffer, I feel sad but better at the same time. Why? Because I know my own comfort zone is less sustainable because part of the bigger world it belongs to is bleeding. While that is distressing, it is also reassuring since while I suffer, I feel the empowering reality that I am part of something greater than my own skin. It is no surprise, therefore, that people who experience compassion for those who suffer are also capable of joy when others are joyful. They tune in to the larger experience of being part of humanity and not just a tiny, insignificant existence others like to call their “life.” They are one with all aspects of the human experience. There is no “other.” There is nothing outside.

I so admire people who work for Doctors Without Borders, Greenpeace and other such advocacies, who see the role of their tiny lives in the greater scheme of things. In fact, their lives are not tiny and insignificant at all but are dynamic parts of a greater whole. The whole relies on them to keep the entire system that is human life running.

For this Christmas season, I have vowed to reflect further on the significance of my own life in the scheme of how the universe is unfolding, or at least how I wish it should be. I am putting myself in a terrifying and humbling but empowering place and imagining the extremely remote possibility that my birth into this world is as significant as the birth of a Child 2,000 years ago.

Why? Because I feel we honor God when we attempt to think great of ourselves. “All these and more shall you do,” Jesus said. What are the ramifications of that? If that were so, how much of my own life have I wasted in not fulfilling my mission orders?

Or maybe I should think smaller so I do not get too overwhelmed by what I sometimes think is a latent “messianic complex.” But I know I can make a difference in the immediate reality I am involved in – the people I meet every day and those within my immediate circles who need help. All I want to do this Christmas is to ask the many suffering people I meet if they do know that it’s Christmas, and help them have a good one.
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Endings, beginnings and greetings

Got off the plane in Melbourne from Manila for an hour’s stop before proceeding to Sydney yesterday at 8:30 AM. When I turned on my cellphone, I saw a text from Krip Yuson asking if I was alright since he heard on DZMM that the house of Chinchin Gutierrez, (friend, actress and my next door neighbor) was burned to the ground.

I immediately called Manila and discovered that all my neighbors were out in the street watching the firemen douse the fire and assisting in the rescue of the Gutierezes. I also learned much to my relief that our house was spared and that everyone from our house and Chinchin’s was safe even if Chinchin and her mom had to be rushed to the hospital. The only casualties were 5 dogs that were left in the cage.

It’s so shocking how the fortunes of men can just so easily change in a matter of minutes. Gone is the house that had always been there. The realization of the temporal nature of everything was delivered so brutally and with such finality. I was so rudely reminded that everything we think we own is actually just borrowed and that includes our own lives. Ramana Maharshi, one of my favorite gurus says that only that which has no beginning and no end, and does not change is real. While that may be true, as humans we are attached to people, houses, memories and all these things that cause is to be sentimental and it is hard to let all of that go, And it is especially heart-rending to have to give up all that in one single blow.

Chinchin, her mother and two maids lost everything they owned. Knowing Chinchin, she may not be comfortable about my announcing this but since I heard her manager say the same thing on TFC, I will say it here. They are in dire need of financial help. If you want to help make their Christmas a fresh start, please feel free to send anything their way. Write to me at for details.

It’s over. Pinoy Dream Academy, the reality show I did for 4 months is finally finished. We did our final hurrah last Dec. 16 and what a farewell it was. It delivered on every expectation that people had. I am so proud to have been part of the show and so humbled to have witnessed the scholars whom we taught and nurtured for 4 months, deliver a punching, heart-stopping presentation.

Yeng, Panky, Ronnie, Irish, JR, Chad did not disappoint.They wowed everyone including themselves. They truly deserved to be in the Final Six. I am quite happy that it was the audience that decided who would win since it was getting increasingly hard for us teachers to decide on the fate of the scholars. We would have been happy whoever placed since we felt they all had reached a development stage where they could really perfornm already.

It was a four month exericise wherein we continiously surprised our audience and even ouselves. Television as we know it in this country has many givens. Nevertheless, we taught the scholars’ stuff which we worried would bore the audience, etc. but the audience as it turned out loved it. I have so many great memories of PDA and am glad to have been instrumental in the scholars’ training and part of their narratives of personal redemption.

As an older artist to these young, and green wannabes, I feel rejuvenated and have learned much from watching them embrace the lessons and excercises fearlessly. I must thank them, and the staff, and the station and all of you who watched, texted, wrote and invested time watching it. If you want to see more pictures, click here.

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It has been quite a year for me. During the past twelve months, I had migrated with my family to Aus, lived in two houses there, established a life in this foreign land that is slowly turning into a real home. I have also seen a revival of APO’s music on a scale that continues to amaze us. It’s still hard to believe it but once again, we have teens who are watching our concerts, asking for our autographs, pictures, singing our songs and buying our music in the form of CDs and ringtones. It’s a crazy world and I love it.

I have also become a regular columnist for Philippine Star. Frankly, I am quite surprised at the number of letters I recieve regarding what I write.

Also, I have had the unexpected pleasure of suddenly gaining a new nickname–that of ‘Headmaster’, thanks to the power of televison. Pinoy Dream Academy, a show I originallly turned down because it was just a ‘reality show’, had reignited my belief that TV does not have to always be patronizing and dumb. In some way, we provided content that amazed, excited and inspired our audience. And in the process, I really enjoyed myself.

Lastly, I wish to end this piece by greeting you all with all the beautiful, inspiring thoughts and feelings that Christmas can convey to the weary heart. May we all be like children awake to the wonders of life. May we experience the delight of Christmas the way Charles Dickens described tiny kids anticipating Chrsitmas night with ‘visions of sugarplum dancing in their heads.’ Lastly, may the peace that a Wonder Child brought to this world find its way into you and may it affect all your dealings with everyone.

As a bonus, here’s a unique Christmas picture.

Merry Christmas everyone!

killing the Buddha

Humming in my UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes
The Philippine STAR 12/17/2006

Years ago, my friend, the singer and activist Leah Navarro, told me that she only discovered at the late age of 14 that there was no Santa Claus. She recalls being crushed and totally beside herself. It was innocence betrayed. At the time she told me the story, she was already in her 20s and was actually quite amused with herself while narrating it.

Ala, my second daughter, surmised at age eight that Santa must have gotten the gift she received one Christmas at Shoppersville, our neighborhood supermarket, since she noticed it was so similar to the one she had seen there. It didn’t take her long after that to realize that Santa was really her Mom.

Before age 10, my older daughter Erica discovered where all her lost baby teeth (and those of her brother and sister) were stored. They were not in some faraway place inhabited by the Tooth Fairy but inside her mother’s jewelry box. And that put an end to the myth of the Tooth Fairy.

As adults, we enjoy pulling the wool over our children’s eyes with mythical stories and fairy tales about Santa, the Tooth Fairy and others. We even feel it is necessary for them to go through this stage, because it gives them so much fun and heightens their sense of wonder and mystery.

But there’s also a sadness that comes with the shattering of one’s innocence. For some, it is a trauma that they easily recover from and can even laugh at later. But for others, it can be a very tragic experience as one is jarred by the stark truth that one’s strongly held beliefs are nothing but a charming but outright yarn.

Just the same, the death of innocence is a necessary step in growing up, and when properly understood, it can be liberating. Everyone must necessarily be thrown out of Eden. And it does not end when we leave childhood; it is an ongoing process. There are many more Santas and Tooth Fairies to whom we will be giving the boot along the way to adulthood. And by the way, adulthood is not a fixed destination, which means we will probably continue killing myths for the rest of our lives.

The list of Santas and Tooth Fairies in our midst is long and varied. There are the institutions and beliefs we have held dearly to at one time in our lives that have let us down. There are the people we admired – teachers, mentors, parents, personal heroes – before whom we have knelt in adoration in our pantheon of role models whom have disappointed us in one way or another.

The process is usually something like this: you put institutions and people on a pedestal, and you are devastated when you discover things that show them to be less than what you believed. You can feel like a big fool and will probably go through the predictable range of reactions – disappointment, anger, heartbreak and even disgust at yourself for believing in them in the first place. Or maybe your reactions could be directed at the world in general for being such an imperfect place.

Such is the way of life. Our idols are routinely reduced to irrelevance, or a size closer to being mere mortals, or at times, even lower. And we feel betrayed and lost, until the next idol comes along.

Please note that this is not a cynical statement but one that honors the dynamism of everything around us.

There is a Zen saying which goes, “When you meet the Buddha, you must kill him.” Reading this statement initially made my head turn 180 degrees around. I was actually shocked and intrigued. It seemed so irreverent, so mind-boggling. It was only when I reminded myself that the saying was not meant to be a literal fatwa against the Buddha that I began to take a step towards understanding it.

The saying is a koan – a puzzle of sorts, a device meant to stump the Zen practitioner into getting out of intellectualizing enlightenment. It is something that a Zen teacher says to a student to test how much enlightenment he has experienced. There is, of course, no one definitive “interpretation” or answer the teacher is looking for, but there is a territory of understanding and experience that a student must be familiar with (gained through years of practice, not just reading) before he can attempt to convey a valid understanding of any koan.

In my limited understanding, this “killing of the Buddha” business has something to do with extinguishing the illusions we live by. We are constantly enamored by “the next big thing” in fashion, technology, books, music, trends, philosophies, passions, etc., only to find that they are fleeting and capricious. It also has something to do with outgrowing some of our “truths,” and yes, even the idols and ideals we meet along the way.

For example, there are the parents whom we idolized for their solid characters, their great knowledge and wisdom only to discover when we became adults that they had their moments when they were quite the opposite – weak and full of contradictions. Or there is the religion we wholeheartedly accepted in full innocence and trust as literally true when we were young and naive, only to find out that many things taught to us were only mythical and not factual. Or there could be the mentor, from whom we learned everything, suddenly becoming outdated, irrelevant, small in vision and annoyingly pedantic.

We find to our sadness that they seem to have stopped growing, or at least have not done so at the pace we have. With what we have experienced, we have grown bigger and have, in fact, outgrown our mentors. We have killed the Buddha, so to speak, and we have become him.

While I love my parents and teachers and am grateful that they have taught me many things, I have stopped automatically embracing many of the things they passed on to me as true, since I have now have come to my own conclusions based on my own experiences. But I do so with deep humility and gratitude at the private, if unwilling, passing of the torch from them to me. I am now responsible for my own life, not they. And I know my own children and the students I have touched will do the same, if I have taught them anything at all.

I paid homage to this life truth in my song Batang-bata Ka Pa where the father castigates his son and tells him to take his word on things, and the son replies that he must discover things for himself. The greatest tribute we can give our parents, mentors and teachers is to outgrow them as we come into our own.

Killing the Buddha is not an easy, bloodless matter. It is hard to detach one’s self from the truths we have attached ourselves to, but which now have reached their expiration date. When we begin to doubt them, or when they become irrelevant to ourselves, what are we to do? Do we stonewall the new truths presenting themselves or are we open enough, brave and truthful enough, to embrace them and arrive at a new understanding? Is the Buddha ready to kill himself so that a better version of the Buddha emerges?

As always, the slaughter of innocents and illusions is a messy affair, but to take charge of one’s life is to do exactly that as honestly and courageously as we can.
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True love among men

Humming in my UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes
The Philippine STAR 12/10/2006

This is a love story but about a kind of love that is not always written about. It speaks of a love that men are not comfortable talking about, and will rarely ever admit to, but something they surely enjoy. And that is the love men share with each other – the love men have for other men.

Many of my classmates and friends have golf, poker and drinking buddies and the activities they indulge in pretty much define the topics they talk about and share. In my case, I have two lifelong friends with whom I can talk about practically anything.

I am referring to two people I have been associated with for practically my entire lifetime. They are Danny Javier and Boboy Garrovillo, two people I can unabashedly declare that I love.

We began sharing our interest in music in 1969 in school, and since then we have practically been inseparable. Together, we have shared our lives and times, the good and bad and all the others in between from those innocent college days to the present. I actually first saw Boboy in 1957 when we were in prep at the Ateneo but I said my first words to him in fourth year high school when we traded guitar chords and decided to sing together to represent our school in a contest. We met Danny in freshman year in college also at the Ateneo.

Collectively, the three of us have written and recorded hundreds of songs, performed in thousands of concerts, done enough television to sometimes hate it, sang through martial law and two revolutions, and espoused many causes.

We have gone through many sleepless nights and long days inside recording and TV studios, on stage, in airplanes, cars, vans, buses, auditoriums, rehearsal halls, hotels. We have been filmed, given interviews, signed countless autographs, posed for pictures with thousands of people, taped shows, done commercials, danced, sang, joked and worked our asses off while enjoying ourselves.

Among us, there have been four marriages (Danny has had two), nine children, one grandchild, and countless travels and crazy experiences that would last more than our three lifetimes combined.

Before any of us got married, our prospective partners already accepted our friendship as part of the territory. In fact, for a long time, our children actually believed that they were all related by blood! Each of them has at least one APO godfather. We jokingly (but with a good dash of truth) say we know enough about each other to write the definitive book that will either glorify us, or send one another to jail.

Danny, Boboy and I have been a threesome forever. This probably is as close as male bonding can ever get.

In our earlier years when we were much younger, more competitive, hungrier and more ambitious, we were constantly on red alert, on call, ready to respond to the demands of showbiz at the drop of a hat. We were on the make and were eager to be famous, make our mark, have a hit record, have another, maintain a streak of hits, buy our houses, our cars, our musical gadgets and other big toys for big boys, our exotic vacations. We worked hard and we were sharp and ready for action 24-7! We were a S.W.A.T. team ready to conquer a big corner of the entertainment scene.

It’s been 38 years since we met. We have watched ourselves shine, rise and fall, win and lose, become depressed and angry and we have been there for each other every time. We have cried for each other’s children when they went astray, and shared the pain of losing our parents, leaving spouses, illnesses in one another’s family, lost fortunes and other disappointments. We have also seen and helped each other rise from the ashes again and again.

Sure, we have had our excesses as individuals; but thank God, it has never happened to the three of us at the same time. Someone is always sane enough to remind the other two each time they’re going crazy. Yes, we have definitely been good to and for each other.

We have been asked many times if we ever fight. Of course we do. And some of them have been pretty major. The song Awit Ng Barkada was written by Danny at a time when we were not getting along. I learned later on that he meant it to be a swan song for a friendship that he felt was slipping away. Luckily, we have learned to resolve our differences and have stayed long enough together to continue singing the song.

Resolving fights and hurts quickly is a skill we learned early enough since we realized it would be impossible for us to do what we do as APO if we hated each other’s guts, or disliked each other. The stage is a very honest medium; insincerity will always surface. So we have always kept our friendship honest and I think our audiences have sensed this.

We have seen each other’s faults, failures, and flaws, and have profited from each other’s talents, gifts and instincts. The best part is, we have accepted each other as we are and continue to do so even as we each go through our personal journeys that take us everywhere else. We have always believed that APO can only benefit as we grow individually and expand our shared wealth of experience. We know that as individuals, we are each no more than Clark Kent, but as a threesome, we are bigger than the sum of our parts.

We would not be the APO we are today without the great respect, sincere affection and, yes, love, we have for each other. For all his toughness, Danny can at times disarm Boboy and me not only with his sharp humor and talent but with his expressions of deep affection. Sometimes, an arm around one of them expresses it all for me.

Just so this public declaration of love for my partners is not misconstrued, I must share with you the usual answer we give when people ask us how APO has lasted this long. No matter which one of us you ask, the response invariably is: “No sex!”
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Poisons in the right doses

Humming in my Universe
Philippine Star
December 3, 2006

When we were young and immature, maturity seemed like some far-off place that we would never reach. When we were growing up, big people would dangle the word before us like it were some special state of being to aspire for, and when we attained it, doors would open for us. Maturity was the ticket to driving, drinking, having a serious relationship, earning our own money, living on our own and being left largely alone to be ourselves and make our own decisions.

Now that I have been legally an adult for many years, I realize that the descriptions of maturity forced upon me as a kid were both overrated and underrated.

As an adult, I miss being carefree and irresponsible. I miss being immature and reckless and sometimes I allow myself some latitude to be a bratty kid again who must have instant gratification.

I have largely controlled my gadget hunger for the ‘latest’ and the ‘best’. And I don’t always enjoy making decisions about my life. Sometimes, I just want fate to take over so I have someone to blame if things don’t work out.

I found this take on maturity in Ken Wilber’s writings. In his view, maturity has something to do with how well we can relate to, control, balance and handle the following topics: sex (including love, affection and relationships), food (and all other substances we use on our bodies), work (including ambitions and preoccupations), God (including religion, art and the unseen but ‘felt’ spiritual states) and money (including desire for all material things).

These are areas of human activity that every adult must deal with properly to be able to live functionally. In life, all these ingredients add up to a powerful, potent brew. Not being able to handle even just one of these well can lead to a lot of trouble, not to mention major dysfunctions in one’s life. But it happens more commonly than we think.

We aren’t always on top in our own lives. Who hasn’t ‘lost it’ even once? I am talking about being overwhelmed or shortchanged because of unreal expectations, deception, not being committed enough to a type of work or taking on too much work, not knowing how to handle money (like losing it over a bad purchase or a reckless investment), abusing one’s body with food and substances, indulging in liaisons we shouldn’t be in, etc. Yet there is no escaping these ‘poisons’ in our life.

Who was it who said about women—‘can’t live with them, can’t live without them’. This applies as well to all of the above ingredients. And even when you take vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, you will still have to deal with them—probably more so–since, as Carl Jung said, what we resist persists.

We must find some modus vivendi with these ‘poisons’ so that we can use them for our own ends and not be consumed by them. We must be skillful and know how much or how little to indulge in them. We must utilize them in dosages that are not only manageable but helpful and appropriate. When we do not, they can be addicting or even lethal.

We’ve all heard of people going down the deep end with sex and gambling addictions, people who are workaholics, bulimics and anorexics, alcoholics and drug junkies, people who are blinded by money, compulsive shoppers, people hooked on power and a distorted sense of superiority. All these are manifestations of mishandling or misuse of one or more of the above.

What about addiction to religion? Is there such a thing? Actually, we can be addicted to anything.

John Bradshaw describes addiction as anything or any activity we do repeatedly and obsessively with the end purpose of altering our moods to escape reality. This includes the use of substances, including food and drugs, that we take into our bodies with the same end in mind.

If we engage in an activity just to feel good and then use it repeatedly to escape our problems so that we become dysfunctional without it, then by Bradshaw’s definition, it is an addiction. I remember hearing a Jesuit compare religion to salt. One must have it in the right doses. Too much or too little is not good. I listened to him with some incredulity then. But he wasn’t the first to express a similar view. Karl Marx called religion the opiate of the masses. Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar criticized Jesus’ followers as having ‘too much heaven on their minds’. Who was it who said that saints are hard to live with?

Moderation is the key. Basically, I think what the definition of addiction also implies that we do not really need anything from the outside to be happy, and that putting ourselves in a situation of needing and obsessing on anything or anyone to the point that we need a constant fix makes us lose our autonomy and opens us to the feeling of being incomplete. Then before we know it, we are hooked. We are not enough. Our happiness and reason for living has become dependent on something outside.

When we find ourselves in this situation, even the world will not be enough. We discover that we are devoid of creativity and the capacity to be happy just by being ourselves. When the Dalai Lama first came to know about anorexia, he was astounded that anyone could actually be like that. And then he cried realizing the suffering and self-loathing that anorexics go through.

The idea, I believe, is to indulge in these poisons with full attention and mindfulness. Because being mindful makes us aware when what we are doing is already bad for us. Mindlessness gets us hooked. Mindless actions can easily become addictions while conscious ones make for good practice. We become aware of the difference between our real needs and our wants.

Then we can begin to live a real life in the real world.

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