Intimations of mortality

Sunday, September 23, 2007

I’ve been feeling out of sorts lately. The best way I can think of to describe it is this: I feel emptied out. If I were an ocean, the water would have dried out exposing life forms that are twisting and gasping to keep alive. It’s a strange feeling and it is not pleasant or comfortable. And my curious nature, which thankfully has not evaporated along with my feelings, knows that something is definitely up. I have been observing my own life for too long not to suspect that I must be entering a new phase or something.

Getting downed by dengue and being hospitalized not only left me tired and listless but also made me discover new feelings I didn’t know I had about aspects of my life before I got sick. Where before, I had an effortless, light and happy-go-lucky stance, I now feel heaviness. Where before, I felt energetic and positive that I could do almost anything I set out to do, I now sense that there are limits to what is possible. I know it is the state of my physical body that is responsible for this since I still do not feel that I have completely recovered my strength. But I also feel there is more to it than that.

At a certain point in Blacktown Hospital, when I was close to being delirious and I was not making sense to my doctors, and Lydia had to finish my sentences for me because I would lose my train of thought, I found a part of me that remained quite lucid and clear, watching my feverish, pain-wracked body go through the illness. This part of me calmly watched and I remember it thinking that if I was nearing the end of my life, then so be it. Let it be.

It was uncanny. There was a bigger me that had reduced everything physical and empirically real about Jim Paredes into a third person, an “it,” a phenomenon no different from anything else arising in this space and time called life. There was someone else aside from my mind that was witnessing it all and this “witness” was unaffected and calm. I have actually met this “witness” on other occasions and it has always had that ineffable quality. I knew it was there and that it was also me. Could it be that the “witness” part of us could actually be bigger than our so-called lives?

And what constitutes a life anyway? For many, it’s how much knowledge one acquires, or the pursuit of material goods, or the so-called peak experiences that make us feel alive such as travel, romance, sex, adventure, conquest of the unknown, sensual experiences, overcoming danger, the thrill of acquisition, fame, adulation, progeny, or creating monuments and signposts to our own greatness. I have looked at and lived life in these ways many times, and it’s been great!

The pursuit of all of the above makes sense while I am indulging in them. And while I am alive, they will probably continue to do so.

And yet, when I find myself face to face with mortality, all of a sudden, all of these wonderful life pursuits lose their charm. Life is without color or vitality. In a flash, the amazing human body, the charming personality or the talented instrument that made all of the above possible, delightful and attractive is rendered powerless and pitiful. In my case, I was reduced by a mosquito bite to someone incoherent, pitiful and helpless. I could not even perform the elementary task of explaining to my doctors how I was feeling.

In the logic of the world, the state of sickness and death is meaningless and tragic. But in the eyes of the “witness” who is watching all this, what is happening is simply what is happening. And I am not being redundant here. The witness neither judges nor condemns but simply watches as it has always done.

Which brings me back to what I am feeling right now, this emptiness, this drying up of the ocean that is my life. With the water drained out, what was hidden to me is now exposed. On the dry bed, I see a mishmash of things that I have not given the importance or appreciation that I should have, and things I have wasted my time and resources on. The water, synonymous to unconscious denial, missed opportunities and unheeded callings, had covered everything and gave the impression of a placid peacefulness and balance, which was actually not there.

One of these “denials” and unheeded callings is my relationship with the people I love. The whole dengue episode has made me appreciate Lydia and my family and friends so much more. They are eternal companions in this life journey, and yet I have not been a good fellow traveler who paid attention to their needs and their company as much as I should have. I realize now how much more present I should be to them.

I thought I already knew what love meant and that I was capable of giving it in great big doses, until I was showered with so much more of the real stuff in my time of need. I saw a selflessness coupled with a cheerful willingness to help that really touched me to the core. And for that I am not just grateful but regretful that my capacity to reciprocate may not be as great.

I also discovered that there is so much more of what one can and one needs to do in the limited space of a lifetime. I feel like I should, on a daily basis, make at least one contribution to this world that will cause it to be more expanded, creative and compassionate.

Every day can be purposeful — and liberating. Our encounters with others, casual or otherwise, can make someone’s day. We can improve the way we use our time by doing something meaningful like creating love and giving it away, instead of just sitting in front of the TV and being mindlessly engaged, or flitting from one “kick” to another as if that is what life is all about.

In the coming days, the ocean that is my life will fill up again and I will feel more energetic and actively get into the thick of things once more. But this downtime is something I will make use of.

I remember talking to a psychologist many years ago who asked me what question I thought God would ask when I met Him face to face. I was dumbfounded. All I could think of was how much I had achieved in this world and I was trying in my mind to connect it to the parable of the seeds and talents. Seeing the confusion in my face, she smiled and calmly raised the possibility that all God might ask is, “Did you love?”

I have never forgotten that.

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I am announcing the 36th run of my Tapping the Creative Universe Workshop. It is where participants uncover, face and overcome the issues that block their productivity, creativity and joy.

The sessions will be from October 1-5, and conclude on Oct. 8. The workshop is from 7 to 9 p.m. at 31 M. Jocson St. Loyola Heights, Quezon City. Cost of the workshop is P5,000.

For reservations, call 426-5375 or 0916-8554303 and ask for Ollie, or write to for inquiries and a syllabus. For those who inquired before and who have been waiting for the right moment: Don’t miss it this time!

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