What survives

The Philippine STAR 03/25/2007

I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown

And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.

And on the pedestal these words appear:

“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:

Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,

The lone and level sands stretch far away. — Percy Bysshe Shelley

I remember on reading this poem how it absolutely boggled my mind. Here was a towering man, Ozymandias, a once powerful ruler who built monuments believing they would make him immortal, only to be unceremoniously reduced to rubble, subjected to the cruel ravages of time. The poem by Shelley is based on Ramses, the king of ancient Egypt. And even while Ozymandias, strictly speaking, is a fictional character, the poem is a slap to the face of anyone who has fancied vain ideas of leaving behind works and deeds that will live forever.

As an artist, I must admit I have pondered the idea of leaving an immortal legacy. Will I ever be remembered for anything? I used to ask myself this question many years ago. It’s a nice, romantic and sentimental thought to entertain especially when people tell me that, in their opinion, I have written songs that will last a long time. All that fawning can make a person pompously vain.

The question stopped bugging me at the onset of my spiritual journey which began with my introduction to Zen practice. I have accepted the incontrovertible temporal fact that everything within the dimensions of time and space is perishable. All this (fame, youth, money, and all things that comprise our sense of who we are in our comfort zone) and everything else shall pass. And at my age, I can see much of my youth and my hair going really fast. Nothing lasts forever. We can’t take it with us. This is a mantra I never fail to invoke during both the high and low points of my life.

On March 17, 2007 was the 50th death anniversary of my father. If someone had told me that fact about his own father, I would probably just politely nod and shrug it off. Why? Because it’s hard to imagine how anyone would care to remember, or even honor, the life of anyone who died that long ago. My father, unlike Ozymandias, built no great monuments. He was recognized in his time but he was not as nationally known like President Ramon Magsaysay whom he died with in a plane crash in Cebu on March 17, 1957. All he left behind in this world were his wife and family.

We, his children, remembered him on the 50th anniversary of his death. My siblings in Manila attended a Mass where each one paid tribute to Dad by way of remembering their moments with him when he was still alive, and interestingly enough, his “presence” in our lives even after his death. It was a moment of tears and nostalgia for a man who loved his wife and family and left a positive, lasting imprint on everyone he touched.

I am in Sydney and so was not able to attend. But away from home, I had my “moment” with Dad as well.

Last Saturday, I was driving the car on an errand to buy food for my granddaughter when, all of a sudden, Dad came to my mind. Actually, it was more than that. I actually felt his presence in my car, as if he was sitting beside me. Of course he wasn’t there, not literally. But I knew he was there in spirit.

I told him how much I loved and missed him. I even asked him how he was, and he said he felt great. I also told him that I believed someday we (Mom, him and all 10 children) would again be together. In my mind, I even told him that I knew that when we all die, everyone will realize that he and us are actually one and the same spirit. There are no individual spirits, not the way we know it. We are all One, waiting for everyone to wake up to the reality of our Oneness. I felt a warm smile from him, as if he affirmed my statement.

When I asked him when we would be together again, he answered, “soon.” And here is the strange part: instead of getting scared by his reply, it gave me such an assurance of the beauty of life, how we must pay homage to it and show appreciation for everything, knowing how unsure our tenure on earth is.

I do not know what he meant by “soon.” But if “soon” means I will not be living long, it does not freak me out in any way. Perhaps there is another, more cryptic meaning. I don’t know. Of course, there are those who will say that it was all just my overactive imagination at work. “Talking” to the departed is understandably dismissed by many as crazy. That’s because stories about “otherworldly” or divine presence are almost always difficult to prove empirically. All I can say is I felt this one intuitively to be real. I just knew that Dad was there with me at that time.

Shakespeare said cynically of Julius Caesar (through a monologue by Marc Anthony), “The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones.” I can believe that happening to people who have karmic debt — evil men who killed many, or affected the lives of others in negative ways. Whatever good they did will be overshadowed by the bad they have done. But even that, I suppose, will be forgotten by time.

Thinking of my Dad, I realize that love, such as he gave, has survived 50 years, perhaps because it’s the only thing that’s real in this fleeting world. He must have performed his daily chores as a father, husband, provider, teacher, citizen and member of his community with joy and love because that is how people remember him. His laughter could fill any room. He affected people in very positive ways. And though he may eventually be forgotten through time even by our children’s children, his love will live on. I know because I see it in our family. The love he planted when he was alive has grown into a tree inside us. Unlike Ozymandias’ cold temples and monuments of stone, Dad’s legacy was a giving tree, and its fruits will nourish his progeny for generations to come.

As Is Where Is

At long last!!!

I’ve had it in the back burner for quite sometime now. I actually finished writing my 4th book more than a year ago. It took quite long with my editor and layout artist, but we finally got it finished. I got a hard copy yesterday and it looks pretty good and reads even better.

As Is Where Is can be ordered here. I decided to have it available through lulu.com, a virtual print-on-demand publisher so that it is accessible to anyone in the world. Depending on where you live and how soon you want it, the book can cost anywhere from around 15 USD to 20 plus dollars. The website will have all the info.

In case you do order, please write and let me know how easy it is to do it, or whether you encountered any problems. I’ll see what I can do. And feel free to write a review at Lulu.com.

If you want to know what the book is all about, it’s a spiritual journal I made which spanned a little over a year. I ruminated on topics on the human condition such as happiness, awareness, being alone, suffering, samsara, satori, creativity, tsunami, sex, love, God, Goddess, nothingness, growth, cancer, death, zen meditations, and a host of other stuff. It’s similar to my other books but the entries are longer and (I think) more intense.

I still do not know if it will be available in Manila bookstores in the next few months since I still have to talk to a publisher. That could take sometime. But whether it eventually becomes available there, at least it’s accessible now anywhere on earth.

Our 1st year, wanderlust and election ‘sinat’

It’s been one year since we moved as a family to Sydney. Among the 6 of us, it was only Ala who actually did a straight year of stay here. All the rest of us went back to Manila for varied periods of time. Nevertheless, we all felt that psychologically, we all crossed the Rubicon a year ago and made this place our home for now. Ala had some friends over and had an FOB (fresh of the boat) party to celebrate our immigration to Aus. Erica was kidding when she suggested that the theme of the get-together should have been ‘nautical’.

Soon I will be going back to Manila to join Danny and Boboy on a US tour. I am having a hard time thinking of leaving again and being away from my family. I actually feel a deep sadness about it. It takes a lot of calming, and philosophising to accept this situation for now. It seems like at this point, I am not destined to cool my heels too long in any place. I’ve always wanted to travel and the truth is, I have insatiable wanderlust. It has always been a passion for me—until now. These days, I just want to stay put in Sydney, teach guitar and voice to my students, be with my family and do simple things.

On a lighter note, Danny teases me about my crazy migrant status–a Filipino migrant in Sydney who goes to the Philippines to earn money for his family in Australia. Ang tawag niya sa akin ‘AUSSIE W’. Ha ha.

It’s election time in Aus and all I can do is shake my head at the disparity of my experience of elections in the Philippines and over here. Perhaps the main difference from a visitor’s point of view is the lack of annoying, dirty campaign posters, streamers or vehicles with loud speakers extolling candidates and playing their insulting, mindless jingles. In place are radio and TV spots that run mostly negative campaigns on each candidate. It’s much less of a circus than what we have back home. No actors, boxers, or disgraced people running for public office. And I have not heard of any election related murders or violence that has happened here. The issues are laid out well in the few handouts that we’ve received at home. Oh, and we got a check from the Premier of New South Wales to help us with family expenses. An election c’mon to be sure.

All in all, the sedateness of the event is striking, and yes, so Australian. If our election passion can be described as a burning fever, theirs is a sinat, hardly detectable. Laid back sila talaga. The only aspect that shocks me somewhat is that everyone is required by law to vote, or pay a fine. That only happened to us during the Marcos regime. But as an Aussie told me, you don’t have to put any name on the ballot if you don’t want to. And you can vote by mail days before if you plan to go out of town on election day.

Coming full circle

The Philippine STAR 03/18/2007

It’s Sunday and you may have already heard a homily by the time you read this but allow me to share with you a little Zen story. I posted this on my class e-group and one of them suggested I ruminate on it for my Sunday column.

‘There was once a stone cutter who was dissatisfied with himself and with his position in life. One day he passed a wealthy merchant’s house. Through the open gateway, he saw many fine possessions and important visitors. ‘How powerful that merchant must be!’ thought the stone cutter. He became very envious and wished that he could be like the merchant.

“To his great surprise, he suddenly became the merchant, enjoying more luxuries and power than he had ever imagined, but envied and detested by those less wealthy than himself. Soon a high official passed by, carried in a sedan chair, accompanied by attendants and escorted by soldiers beating gongs. Everyone, no matter how wealthy, had to bow low before the procession. ‘How powerful that official is!’ he thought. ‘I wish that I could be a high official!’

“Then he became the high official, carried everywhere in his embroidered sedan chair, feared and hated by the people all around. It was a hot summer day, so the official felt very uncomfortable in the sticky sedan chair. He looked up at the sun. It shone proudly in the sky, unaffected by his presence. ‘How powerful the sun is!’ he thought. ‘I wish that I could be the sun!’

“Then he became the sun, shining fiercely down on everyone, scorching the fields, cursed by the farmers and laborers. But a huge black cloud moved between him and the earth, so that his light could no longer shine on everything below. ‘How powerful that storm cloud is!’ he thought. ‘I wish that I could be a cloud!’

“Then he became the cloud, flooding the fields and villages, shouted at by everyone. But soon he found that he was being pushed away by some great force, and realized that it was the wind. ‘How powerful it is!’ he thought. ‘I wish that I could be the wind!’

“Then he became the wind, blowing tiles off the roofs of houses, uprooting trees, feared and hated by all below him. But after a while, he ran up against something that would not move, no matter how forcefully he blew against it — a huge, towering rock. ‘How powerful that rock is!’ he thought. ‘I wish that I could be a rock!’

“Then he became the rock, more powerful than anything else on earth. But as he stood there, he heard the sound of a hammer pounding a chisel into the hard surface, and felt himself being changed. ‘What could be more powerful than I, the rock?’ he thought.

“He looked down and saw far below him the figure of a stone cutter.”

This has got to be the modern parable for everyone. Every day, the world sends us messages about how terrible our lot is, how much we are in need of improvement and that only the newest, latest, biggest, fastest, best product, gadget, process or service available will save us. And so we should rush out and buy it.

I fall for this quite often. The pitch of modern living is steeped in materialism and says, basically, that we are not enough as we are. We are incomplete and do not make the grade. We need to be saved, made over, improved, rescued, polished, altered, refurbished, added on to, delivered, born again so that we can begin to feel better about ourselves.

I have met many people who by the standards of the world seem to “have it all” but are so desperately lonely. Their low happiness index is not anywhere commensurate with the abundant material blessings showered on them. It makes me realize that what we strive for is usually overrated. And I suspect it is not so much because the world over-promises but because we over-expect. We imbue upon material, transient objects and longings the unquantifiable quality of eternal bliss, which these things just can’t give us.

It may also have something to do with lack of gratitude. People who have no sense of gratitude are never happy with what they get. They are stuck, hung up on some ideal they just won’t let go of. The result is, almost always after they get something, they immediately devalue it because there is something better out there, or it was less than what they had imagined it to be. They view life as a continuous cycle of disappointments and letdowns and lash out at the world for their own loneliness and inability to find contentment.

Grateful people, on the other hand, can be happy with anything that comes their way. Whatever shows up is accepted, processed, integrated and converted into something of value. They are able to cull wisdom and joy even from seemingly tragic events that come into their lives. The ungrateful ones, on the other hand, feel that they are forever singled out and victimized by life.

Happiness and sadness are simply states of being that, oddly enough, we choose to be in. But those who choose happiness choose it consciously, while lucid and awake. Those who choose sadness do so while asleep.

And there’s the paradox. Man will always search for happiness as he has done since the beginning of time, even if the search, as immortalized in books and movies, like the search for God, is ultimately a lost cause. Why? Because you cannot find something that was never lost to start with. So stop searching. Instead, wake up to life as it is and see the grace in that, because therein lies deliverance.

Everything we need is inside us. The spirit, the force, the kingdom is within us. If happiness depends on the external world, how come there are poor, crippled people who are happy and rich, healthy ones who lead wretched lives?

T.S. Eliot put it so well: “We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

Like the stone cutter, we will all travel full circle.

It’s Summertime!

Philippine Star
March 11, 2007

It’s that time of the year again and I can’t help but smile at the memory of it. At the onset of summer, I can’t help but think of the time-honored rite of passage young boys in the Philippines will be undergoing.

When I was a kid, there was an ad that appeared in the papers as early as March that read, “It’s summertime! We offer painless, bloodless circumcision, tule.” It was posted by Dr. Garma’s Clinic in Cubao and it instilled terror in many young boys who shuddered at the prospect of having their foreskins surgically removed, even if it was supposedly ‘painless and bloodless’, as the ad claimed. After all, circumcision strikes at the heart of manhood and all of its Freudian implications.

I was eight years old. My brother Gabby, who is four years older, grimly announced to me and my younger brother Raffy that we were going to be circumcised that summer. I remember being in the shower and taking a deep breath as I swallowed my fear even as tears flowed down my cheeks. My brother Raffy screamed in terror and tried to bargain for another year before undergoing ‘the cut’. After all, he was only seven years old.

The doctor who was going to do the procedure was a family friend, a genial man named Dr. Jimmy Rivera whom we privately called “Doctor Scissors’ because he had also circumcised two of my older brothers. He was kind and friendly, doing house calls when we were sick and looking after the health of the family. But to Raffy and me, his friendly and reassuring demeanor completely vanished overnight, at least in our eyes. All of a sudden, we feared him. The very mention of his name struck absolute fear in our hearts.

I remember having sleepless nights before the procedure. But on the day itself, I surprised myself when I meekly volunteered to go first, even as I let out a big scream when the first injection penetrated my flesh. That must have hexed Raffy big time since he started yelling even before it was his turn, trying to convince Doctor Scissors to delay the procedure shouting, “Next year na lang, Doc!

That summer stands out in my memory as an important year when I experienced the same rite of passage my kuyas had gone through. Being circumcised was a big deal. I felt big and strong like them and even if I was not yet a man, I felt I was on the way to being one.

It’s funny how the simple cutting of the foreskin can mean so much to a boy. Years later, I discovered why that small procedure has such important significance. Definitely, it is intrinsically linked with being a grown man. Reading Joseph Campbell, I found out that earlier tribes in many cultures established the practice of flagellation of young boys for a logical purpose. Mutilation changed them. The very act changed their appearance and the ritual itself converted them psychologically. It signaled that they were now young men.

But why did they punish their young bodies with piercing (as in tattoos, earrings, wounds, scars and the like)? The reason was so that their own mothers, who were their primary care givers would not ‘recognize’ them, since they now looked different. Gone is the boy. He has become a man and therefore must now look like a man and behave like one. It’s an elaboration on the theme of the death of innocence. The infliction of pain is the gateway to the adult world.

When I had my own son, I made sure he went through the same ritual my brothers and I did. I was lucky that his pediatrician immediately discouraged early circumcision since I had decided to make the event a bonding experience between us when he came of age. And that is exactly how it turned out when he went through it the summer when he was 11. He went through the whole gamut of emotions — anticipation, dread and excitement. After the procedure, which earned him a Playstation from an uncle, there was a noticeable confidence and pride about him, the same feelings I remember having many summers ago.

If you think that I am batting for the late circumcision, you are correct. Whatever medical reasons there may be for circumcision at birth, I believe that it deprives our sons of an important experience when we succumb to the practicality of getting it over with before they can even feel the pain. I suspect that when we deprive them of this rite of passage, they grow up less sure of themselves and their place in the world. At the very least, when boys are circumcised at birth, they and their parents lose a great opportunity to bond later on.

Rituals are important. When I was in grade school, we had to wait till Grade Four before we could wear long pants. In my family, we had to wait to be 18 before we could drive. There were clear markers and delineations that put us in a sure place even before we crossed them. It was clear exactly when we became ‘adults’ – when we ‘earned’ the status. The world itself confirmed it with its rituals.

So much is lost when we make it too easy for our kids by giving them forged licenses to drive, allowing them to take alcohol too early, showering them with too much material goods or becoming overprotective. We undermine their growth when we shortcut the protocols or worse, ignore the rituals they need to assure them of where they are in the world.

The problem lies in the fact that so many rituals have become meaningless and not enough new ones are taking their place. For example, the debut, which announces the coming of age for young women, is fast fading away.
Some old rituals are mutating to new expressions which we can only begin to recognize and make sense of by paying attention.

For example, Joseph Campbell suspects that teenagers are getting their bodies tattooed and pierced for the same age-old reason that earlier tribes and cultures did. They are announcing to the world through self-mutilation that they are no longer children. They are now part of the tribe of people their age. They are letting us know that they no longer want to be part of the safe and innocent cradle of mother and father and childhood. And true to form as the archetypal parents, we are ‘shocked’ since we do not ‘recognize’ our own children when they do it.

If we don’t give our children the opportunity to grow up and find their place through the rituals of entering adulthood, they will go and create their own rituals that mean something to them and their milieu.

So to all my fellow parents, especially fathers, who will be bringing their sons to Doctor Scissors this summer, this is one of those times when it’s all right to make a Big Deal of a small matter. ###

Books, pics, music, happiness index, and our house

I am getting a lot of inquiries about where to find my books. Some people can’t find them in the usual bookstores. I asked my publisher about this and she suggested that if anyone tells me he/she can’t find it in a particular store, I should let my publisher know which store and she will replenish the store immediately. So please tell where you went and could not find them when you write me to complain.

Meanwhile, for Australia and New Zealand residents who are interested in purchasing my first three books (Humming In My Universe, Between Blinks, Writing On Water), you can order through me. I brought a few dozens over for people looking for them here.

My fourth book will be ready for release very soon. I have just ordered a copy of the final edit and once I give it a look and approve it, I shall announce through this blog how to purchase copies. Right now, it won’t be available through the usual bookstores. But you can order it via the net and it will be delivered to you anywhere you are in the world and depending how fast you want it, the price will vary. Thanks to the wonder of publish-on-demand technology which makes these things possible. More on the book hopefully by next week when I have it.

With regards the inquiries on my photos, those wishing to order can write me at emailjimp@gmail.com. I am proud to say I have recieved a few orders from here and there. You can view some of them at the photos section of my multiply account.

* * *

I am currently back in Sydney enjoying my family and the cooling weather. In many ways, one can say that Sydney is the anti-thesis of what Manila is. Where Manila is chaotic and dirty, Sydney is predictable and spic and span. Where Manila is getting warmer, Sydney is getting cooler. Where Manila is cheap and has a continuous party atmosphere, Sydney is expensive and quite sedate, and may be boring to people used to Manila’s hectic pace.

They will also be having elections here soon but unlike Manila, one can hardly feel the fever. Aussies are also required to get out and vote or pay a fine. That only happened during Marcos’ time in the Philippines!

* * *
I have resumed classes with most of my guitar and voice students and have gained new ones. This is only for a brief moment since I won’t be staying long again. It is really fun to teach. There are some students who have great interest in music and I can see that it will play a major role in their lives later on. I see myself in them when I was young. The guitar was something that attracted, intrigued and obssessed me. It was the key to a world waiting to be mastered and I plunged head on and learned as much as I could, or so I thought. Some 41 later, I feel I should have given it more attention, and maybe taken lessons!

* * *
The happiness index in our Aus household seems much higher than the last time I visited. I thought then during my last visit that my kids and Lydia were doing OK. Now I feel they are doing fine. Ala is back in school taking her masters and is quite pleased with everything she has learned and achieved since she moved to Aus. Mio won’t readily admit it but he is already having fun here. He actually enjoys his classmates now and is quite a popular kid in school. Erica had her first taste of selling her Peace Joe line of clothing merchandise at Glebe Market today and sold a decent number of items. She was quite excited at the reaction of people to her stuff. I am so happy that she is enterprising enough to do something like this. Lydia is confident in this new place and is quite adept at directions, driving and doing ecerything that needs to be done.

Me? I need to cool my heels longer here and get more familiar with the place. I still get lost and do not have much confidence going around. But in time, I know I eventually will catch up with everyone. But I am happy to be around the people I love and am enjoying every minute so far.

* * *

Just like all the houses we’ve lived in, our Glenwood place is getting its increasingly large share of visitors. As I type this, there are a bunch of Mio’s classmates talking loudly and laughing boisterously out in the garden while partying. Tonight, Erica’s friends are coming over as well for wine and cheese. Last night, we had a few friends over for dinner. Last week, Lydia’s sister Rosanne visited from the US and more will be coming this year. While I was away, Lydia would invite people alomost weekly for dinner. This is a good house.

Tired but happy

Danny, Boboy and I just finished our 10th and final show for this last tour which took us through Zamboanga, Bacolod, Cagayan de Oro, Tacloban, Davao, and of course Manila. The last stretch (Tacloban and Davao) were particularly tiring. We left on an early flight last friday to do the show in Tacloban on the same day. The show finished close to twelve midnight and as luck would have it, my room was close to the lobby with a band playing till the wee hours and so I hardly had any sleep. I was up at 5 to catch our flight to Davao which took us first to Manila before enplaining for Davao. Crazy schedules.

We were exhausted by the time we reached Davao. We slept in the afternoon to be functional enough to do the concert at Central Bank that evening. Once again, we fiished close to 12 midnight and I tried to catch some sleep before waking up at 5AM to catch my flight to Manila. With the help of a sleeping pill which I try not to rely on, I was able to doze off a bit. The worse part was that waking up early to get on an early flight did not pay off since PAL was three hours late! Ugh!!!

All in all though, it was a great stretch. Doing concerts for APO’s old crowd and the ever-increasing younger set that watch us now is always rewarding. It feels good to have our songs appreciated after all these years especially by the next generation who seem to find us three old men ‘amazing’.

But despite the adulation, I still felt lonely quite often during this visit to Manila. Perhaps it was only the moments on stage that freed me from the loneliness I felt being away from Sydney where my family is. For some reason, it is quite easy to feel the reassuring ‘THIS is all there is’ mantra while I am performing that keeps me present to the moment. Maybe it’s because the unfolding repertoire makes being present and impermanence easier to appreciate. I am literally just enjoying the fleeting fame.

Loneliness in Manila has a different flavor compared to the loneliness I feel when traveling elsewhere. When I am touring America or Europe or any other place, the newness and unfamiliarity of the places we go to makes loneliness more bearable. It does not cut the way loneliness in Manila feels like. Being in my house which I shared with loved ones before, and now finding it empty is painful and melancholic. A consolation though is the whole changed scenery makes one pause and ruminate more about life and impermanence which are great spiritual agitations that remind us we are on the path. Pero mahirap pa rin.

Writing is both a curse and a beam of grace. Before I actually start writing my weekly article for Philippine Star, I notice a heaviness building up in me. I am beset with fear, doubt and inertia about writing. I am stumped by the perenial questions most writers face which is, what to write about. What do I really want to say? But often, the moment I sit down and commit to write, something does happen. It’s like inspiration always shows up when we go through the trouble of asking Her to. And yet, the fact that it happens 99% of the time is not reassuring enough for me. Often, we fixate on the 1% that things will go wrong. I guess that’s the accompanying angst that writers go through. It’s a paradox. Without the accompanying doubt, the beam of grace like the cavalry that comes to the rescue, is worthless.

I am exhausted physically. Lately, because of the number of shows, I have not been getting enough quality sleep. And I actually get mild anxiety attacks about not being able to sleep enough. What if I am not rested and can’t sing well the next day? What if I get sick? Full of ‘what ifs’. I know those fears are there because I project too much into the future which is not yet. Only centering myself in the present helps me. And yet the thing is, I don’t even remember to do it qucikly enough when my anxieties start. But at least I do remember eventually each time and only then manage to get some rest.

— A pleasant surprise greeted me in Tacloban. I got a hero’s welcome when we visited the STEFTI school. Five years earlier, I gave a team building workshop to a group of teachers, administrators of a renowned school there who had decided to go on their own and establish a new school with the values and goals that resonated with them. It was a time of uncertainty and doubt then as they struggled to find the star to guide their collective journey. My job then was to facilitate a workshop that helped them with their Vision/mission and action statements.

Five years later, they invited APO to see what they had established– a new school with a sizeable enrollment and an impressive academic standing nationally. STEFTI placed second in the NAMCYA nation-wide 3 years ago. It was heartwarming to see this community so vibrant and full of life in Tacloban. They presented dance and song numbers and then honored me specifically with a board resolution proclaiming me as a member of the school.

In the midst of all the hoopla and gratitude they showered, I was beaming inside because I knew that the workshop did amount to a great outcome. I was so grateful to have been part of something that gave birth to something wonderful.

A memorably funny thing happened when we got to the Zamboanga leg of the tour three weeks ago. We got off the plane and walked to the airport and were greeted by military personal with long arms who I suppose were there to guard the airport. As we entered the terminal, we could here them sing ,
‘Heo na, Heto na, Heto na..’ and they sang all the way to the refrain of Doobidoo.

We had definitely arrived! ha ha ha.

My house of spirits

The Philippine STAR 03/04/2007

Ihave been living practically alone in my Quezon City house for the past month. Since my family moved to Sydney, much of our furniture and other objects I used to see and use every day are no longer there. They have been shipped to Australia and now decorate our home there. It’s a new experience to see this once-bustling house that we lived in for 20 years so quiet and so Spartan. Gone are the cozy nooks for intimate conversations, the corner tables laden with picture frames, the dining sets and sofas where we sat to chat and while away the time.

In place of all that is missing are large open spaces between the few pieces of furniture that we left behind and which make the wide wooden slabs of the floor stand out more. Even the bed sheets and towels I use are few and frayed, practically discards. The TV sits quiet in its corner. I rarely turn it on these days.

Just less than a year ago, this house was bustling with life, with my grandchild Ananda’s gleeful squeals and boisterous shouts booming everywhere, her toys scattered all over the place, and the constant stream of visitors who used to drop by almost daily. Now all is quiet and still. The meals prepared for me by my solitary maid, Nita, are now simple affairs with only one or two viands.

While I occasionally miss my family and the sumptuous and varied meals that Lydia likes to have on the table and the little culinary extravagances she likes to surprise us with, I have to say I am enjoying the simplicity of my life these days. I wake up, do my Zen sits, fix my bed, do my morning ablutions and a little exercise before breakfast, open my e-mail, read and write on my blog, and do whatever needs to be done for the day.

Whenever there is a void, nature finds a way to fill it. In the absence of my family, I have noticed a lot of things about my house. I have a more heightened sense of awareness about everything. For one, where I live in Quezon City, and I suppose most parts of Manila, can be very noisy. It seems noisier now than I remember it being. There are the roaring tricycles and vehicles with drivers who toot their horns at all hours, even early in the morning. There are also people who talk loudly while walking on the street, even at 2 a.m.

In my room, I see my CDs, old books and magazines, statuettes and knick-knacks stacked neatly on the shelves, untouched for some months now and I recall lines from a poem by Eugene Field that I memorized as a child:

Time was when the little toy dog was new,

And the soldier was passing fair;

And that was the time when our Little Boy Blue

Kissed them and put them there.

I marvel at how loyal and accepting inanimate objects are of their role as mere possessions or toys for us to use in whatever way.

This house I live in is 36 years old and has been maintained quite well, and seems to like communicating with the people it shelters. I can tell because it makes occasional creaky noises as it stretches or contracts its wooden parts. Sometimes, the stairs make a sound like unintentionally overheard soft laughter. When the wind blows through my window, my shutters sound like they are complaining as they make bristling sounds. The sofa in the sala seems to hold its breath all night in anticipation of the morning sun that begins to bathe it at around 7 a.m. I know because the otherwise shabby couch looks positively radiant at that time.

My favorite spot for doing my Zen sits is the door to my bedroom. Its glossy whiteness helps me blank out all thoughts and desires as I attempt to simply and uncomplicatedly come to terms with whatever 25 minutes of sitting and doing nothing can bring. Simply put, I try to accommodate life as it is. I must have spent hundreds of hours by now in front of this “door to enlightenment” throughout my years of Zen practice.

When I am sitting, I often wonder about the history of this particular portal. What kind of tree was it cut from? Who cut it? What forest was it taken from? How did it get to be “my” door? Although my questions remain unanswered, I like to think I pay my door the respect it deserves when I ask them.

When I want to blow my mind, I look around and dwell on the thought that every object I see has an appointment to fulfill with me in this lifetime and that’s why it is here. In such moments, I can’t help but feel the Divine in everything. I am definitely on holy ground everywhere.

I think of a habitat like my house to be a living thing. It may have been assembled from 10,000 diverse parts (wood, tiles, nails, cement, mortar, bricks, linoleum, paint, steel bars and sheets, etc.) but I believe that something that has lasted this long without collapsing, imploding, exploding or disintegrating, is testimony to the fact that it is somehow alive.

Perhaps there are spirits that inhabit houses, that’s why they seem alive. My wife thinks there are spirits who inhabit our house and all my kids and the maids claim to sense spirits in the house and in the garden. Maybe I’m just dense or insensitive because I don’t feel what they feel and I have never seen or even sensed the presence of anything less than human here.

What I know is this house is alive and it remains in fine shape because of the years of nourishment, love and happiness that were exchanged within its walls by the people who have lived here.
* * *