We are one

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated February 28, 2010 12:00 AM

As I go about doing my chores and obligations and relish my joys and pleasures, I can so easily lose my center and be taken over by the compelling call of the material world. Life can give you every argument as to why you should commit to working hard, making more money, having this and that consumer item, having such and such marvelous experiences here or in another part of the world, owning things of “value,” committing to this ideal or belief, etc. It can make me feel life, as it is, is wanting.

Throw in the fact that election season is here and it is almost impossible for many of us to turn away from the noise of the campaign and not get hooked by the partisan nature of it. We look at other people as either with us and our candidate, or not. It’s “them” vs. “us.” No doubt, all this can shake our equilibrium.

One of the things I keep reminding myself is one realization that I have experienced many times and which has become part of my spiritual practice. This is the truth often spoken of in practically all religions and many mystical writings. I am talking about the experience of “Oneness.” We are One.

I dare say, I have had experiences of it. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say, I have been awake to it many times on different occasions.

Oneness is perennially there to be experienced by anyone. It is the blending of subject and object. To put it more practically, it is the experience of losing one’s ego identity and melding with the rest of life. It is when you and the rest of life and all of its details are a singular experience.

It is really quite hard to express it since, as Ken Wilber correctly points out, if you can talk about it, then it has become a third person (“it”) or an object, and therefore, a separate thing, not anymore the Oneness. Attempts to completely capture the experience immediately reduce it to a concept, and so it stops being the Oneness. It stops being so simply because Oneness is not an “it.” Oneness is everything.

Oneness is indescribable, though it can be experienced. But since we have to live with words, let us try to get close to describing it even if we do not succeed in capturing it. To simplify, think of what it’s like to lose yourself completely in the act of great lovemaking where two become not just physically united, but totally “one” in all aspects. It is so intimate an experience that boundaries can vanish. Reality is experienced as “special.” One might even say that the participants “disappear.” The doer and the act have become one. There is only the wave of this experience arising in the endless field of everything.

Oneness can show itself in the most mundane experiences. When I experienced Oneness the first few times, I suspended disbelief and imagined that the world and all its sentient beings could, in fact, be enlightened or experience the Oneness as well. I was always looking for signs everywhere. I saw the Internet, for example, as a physical manifestation of the Oneness experience everyone wanted to have.

In pop music, certain lyrics grab me and excite me when I sense the feel of the Oneness in them, such as the opening line of John Lennon’s I Am the Walrus which goes, “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.” Michael Jackson’s We Are the World describes my own relationship with all that is. The Stylistics’ song, You Are Everything (and Everything Is You, seems to me to be operating within the reality of Oneness as well.

As a consequence of my epiphanies, I have a mindset that believes that the awakening people have experienced is always confirmed or reciprocated by the experience of the world becoming “awakened” itself. We become One consciousness with everything, just as a drop in the ocean is one with the entire sea in its wetness.

How does this play out in everyday life? My experience is that it opens me up to other people more easily in terms of listening to them, showing understanding and compassion. I am them. When the consciousness is strong, I am able to live moments when I know I am personally steering the experience of Oneness itself in the choices I make and the things I do. And it is a sacred, blessed feeling to even just be alive. “Being” itself is all there is.

But one might ask, and rightly so, how anyone can feel good about the rottenness of the state of the world? This is a valid, practical question. The answer is complex, and maybe not even logical. First of all, awakening, consciousness and all that is not about feeling good or bad, or whatever. It is a simple but radical recognition that one is alive. In fact, there is no “one” to speak of. There is only the aliveness. The feelings felt at any moment — fear, anger, love, or whatever else, are incidental and have nothing to do with all this.

In a true consciousness state, I can see my essence and know that I am not my feelings, my thoughts, my personal qualities, my worldly possessions and properties. All these are transient and temporary. The still point, the silent watcher, or the one that experiences everything — that’s me. And I am eternal. I am all moments, awakened or not.

There is a paradox here, and that is while all this temporal stuff and you are part of the Oneness, they are also not you. What you are is consciousness, and that is the totality of the experience itself.

Thus, when you cry for Haiti, you cry for yourself. When you feel for your country, you feel for a larger collective that is you. And this extends to all of humanity, even to all of life.

In this election season, where passions are escalating daily, how does the enlightened mind treat its political adversaries? The answer will seem unenlightened and it is this: In the way that it must do. One must still campaign and try to win and work as hard as one can to achieve one’s goals. But the enlightened consciousness reminds us that despite all the demonizing of “the enemy,” and the elevation to sainthood bestowed on our own candidate, this is a transient phenomenon arising in the field of consciousness itself. Essentially, it does not touch nor sully the awakened mind. The phenomena we are dealing with and all the meanings we attach to them are essentially “made up” to be experienced. After we are through with the elections, we move on to the next experience.

On the Larry King Show a few days back, the Dalai Lama was asked if he loved the Chinese authorities who were cruel to Tibet, his homeland. He candidly answered that though the hardliners can be irritating, he loved them just the same.

Consciousness is not about changing things but coming to terms with them as they are. Strangely enough, the moment you do, the thing you want to change but cannot often seems to suddenly have the capacity to do so. I have experienced this many times. Maybe my belief that I did not already have something was preventing me from having it.

But even if nothing changes, a more important thing has happened. We have changed! We no longer need to have what is not ours because, in truth, we already have it. We are everything, and everything is already us. Our “enemies” are our fellow sentient beings. Actually, they are us.

Whether we win or lose, nothing changes, although it will seem like everything has changed. That is the irony of consciousness. It watches, and experiences its own multi-layered reality and complexity.

* * *

LAST CALL: I will be giving a workshop on Basic Photography on March 6, 2010. This will be a hands-on experiential approach which will cover basic knowledge of the SLR camera and its functions, techniques on lighting for outdoors, indoors and including studio lighting, composition, the use of different lenses, portraiture and landscape techniques, motion or action photography, and a whole lot more.

This is a one-day workshop only from 1 to 7 p.m. We will proceed immediately to shooting pictures as we discuss photographic theories. I will work with a limited number of students only.

Requirements are: you must have an DSLR digital camera capable of manual settings. The workshop is Saturday, March 6, 1 to 7 p.m. at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. The cost is P3,500.

Please call 426-5375, 0916-8554303 (ask for Ollie) or e-mail me at emailjimp@gmail.com for questions and reservations.

‘Families are like fudge-mostly sweet with a few nuts’

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated February 21, 2010 12:00 AM

Family first: (back row) Tictac, Lory, Meiling; (second row) Raffy, Babsy, Jesse and (front row) Gabby, the author Jim Paredes and Ducky.

We had a family reunion in Manila recently, after almost 15 years. My two sisters, Tictac and Babsy, with their husbands Doug and Ivan, flew in from the US. It was a pity that Aping, who lives in Florida, had to attend to his wife Mary, who is recovering from an illness. But succeeding in getting nine out of 10 siblings in one city was quite a feat in itself.

Allow me to say at the outset that I am one lucky guy to have been born into the family I belong to. It is an understatement to say that I just love my family.

Jesse, Ducky, Babsy, Tictac, Aping, Meiling, Gabby, Lory and Raffy are my nine siblings. I am the second to the youngest, coming before Raffy. We are not exactly a young family. Jesse is 73 this year and Raffy, the youngest, is 57.

This reunion was a long time coming. My sisters Lory and Meiling prepared everything — the itineraries, the logistics of board and lodging, the schedule of activities, the parties, and the people to inform about our coming reunion.

I cannot even begin to describe how great it is to have siblings you genuinely love and get along with so well. I’ve heard of many families whose members somehow never managed to get close and are even estranged. Some are even hostile to each other. That is sad!

Our family has quite a different story, even if our history is quite complicated. Relationships among us were sometimes less than harmonious at different times in the past. There were the quarrels — big and small, tampuhans — long and short, misunderstandings (major and minor) that families normally go through. But fortunately, we always managed to find ways to overcome them. At this stage, we all find ourselves so affectionately close to each other and basking in the warmth of family love. And that is one of the most wonderful things in the world I can think of.

Someone once said that “families are like fudge — mostly sweet with a few nuts.” This, I think, is an apt description of the Paredeses, except that at times, there are more nuts than fudge. When we are together, the fun, the jokes, the puns, the ribbing and the teasing play unabated. There are funny, embarrassing episodes and nicknames and monickers from the past that have achieved lore status and which we have told and retold over and over but still manage to get a laugh out of everyone each time.

And throw in a guitar and the singing can go on for hours, often extending to early morning. I remember that when we were growing up, we were always singing — at home, on the beach, in the car — with my sibs. Aside from the fact that we are quite a musical family and we did not have the luxury of a car radio, we always broke into song while riding the car, mainly to prevent the family driver (our mom) from suddenly praying the rosary the moment there was a lull in the noise level.

I recall countless hours riding our old Taunus with my sibs and just singing away to our hearts’ content. While the activity of singing was our excuse for being less than prayerful, we probably still managed to please the Creator. Who was it who said that singing is twice as glorious as prayer?

For the big night of our reunion two weeks ago, we invited cousins and friends who had lived with us while we were growing up. Our cousins, Sally and Cris Bermont, lived with us for a time when we were kids and despite the rationed meals and the often rough accommodations, they say that those years under the strict supervision of my mom were the best years of their lives. That is quite a testament to how the love — and fun — we shared made up for the material shortcomings of our growing-up years. And it is true, love was something we gave to anyone and everyone who graced or shared our home.

For the reunion, my sisters even arranged to bring back from retirement in the province two of our dearest household help who took care of us when we were all much younger. It didn’t take long to transport everyone back to the happy, colorful and rambunctious moments of our youth as we exchanged stories and reminisced about our childhood pranks, memorable incidents and the people in our old neighborhood that comprised our golden collective memories.

All of a sudden, it was like we were back in the home our parents built on 76 Boston Street in Cubao, the setting of much of our wonder years. It is true that it was also the place where we experienced great upheavals as a family, which began with the death of our dad and the resulting decline in our fortunes. Yet, even the pain we went through has become a precious jewel in our treasure chest of memories.

How can that be, I asked myself amid the warmth of the storytelling among my sibs? How can pain be transformed into something good, even something to re-experience? I wondered, but only briefly, realizing that above everything is the love we all have for each other. Our cups did runneth over, but we did not realize it until years later.

The genuineness of how Mom and Dad loved each other and their children must have permeated each of us. I know this because we see in each other not only our obvious flaws as human beings, but more importantly, the beautiful reflection of the patience, caring and love that our parents had for each other.

There are other potent elements in the brew. I am talking about the colorful heritage of our Paredes and Misa lineage. The Paredeses are of down-home genuine Ilocano origins and the Misas (through our grandmother, Lucia Erquiaga) come from a line of rebellious Basques. These two great bloodlines, whose styles and values are sometimes as contrasting as fire and ice, liquid and metal, black and white, frugality and extravagance, discipline and laxness, have melded in each of us. Knowing this, it is easier to make sense of the loudness of voice and laughter, the swagger and recklessness, the shining idealism and strength of character in each of us, and the healthy tolerance, generosity and forgiveness we all seem to have learned more of as we got older.

It is difficult to describe objectively the qualities of something I am part of. It’s like trying to find something that is inside, outside and all around you at the same time. But objectivity is not something you would expect of one who tries to capture something as primal as one’s family.

We are like a vortex of love. The love we have is inclusive. It blurs all delineation and sucks in everyone who comes in close contact. Everything is experienced whole and complete, even if the love itself is shared by the many.

A Sufi saying goes, “I am a drop in the ocean and the ocean in the drop.” To put in a really corny way, we are both kapamilya and kapuso.

After a most enjoyable night we spent at a beach house a few days before my Stateside sibs went home, I felt quite depressed. How precious and rare these moments we have shared will be from now on, as we are all getting old.

It is true, we had no choice which family we were to be born into. I know some people who find reason to complain about this. But the thing is, our sibs didn’t mean to be born into our family either. It’s just the way it is.

My siblings have gone home and our lives are back to normal. But the emptiness is temporary since it is filled by the memories of a really great reunion week and the gratitude I feel that fate and fortune has made me a sibling of nine loud, outrageous, funny, talented, generous, crazy and wonderful stragglers in this life.

A writer, Ashleigh Brilliant, wrote, “If you don’t believe in ghosts, you’ve never been to a family reunion.” Mom and Dad would have been happy to be with us. Actually, we are sure they were there.

* * *

I will be giving a workshop on Basic Photography on March 6, 2010. This will be a hands-on experiential approach which will cover basic knowledge of the SLR camera and its functions, techniques on lighting for outdoors, indoors and including studio lighting, composition, the use of different lenses, portraiture and landscape techniques, motion or action photography, and a whole lot more.

I will work with a limited number of students only.

Attendees are required to bring an SLR digital camera capable of manual settings.

The workshop will be held March 6, 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. Cost of session:?P3,500.

Please call 426-5375, 0916-8554303 (ask for Ollie) or e-mail me at emailjimp@gmail.com for questions and reservations.

Fathers and sons

Fathers and sons
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated February 14, 2010 12:00 AM

My son Mio left on Monday morning to return to Australia after a two-month holiday. He came to Manila intending to stay for only three weeks to spend Christmas with the family, since he did not want to disrupt his pretty much settled life in Sydney. Instead, he ended up staying eight weeks connecting with family, and with old and new friends.

Most parents feel anxious about holding serious conversations with their kids for fear that, one, they may turn off their kids and spoil a precious and rare moment just talking about things such as values, dreams or the direction of their lives; two, they feel that any kind of advice they give may be taken as “pontificating”; and three, they are largely uncommunicative, and are just not used to talking about the “important stuff.” They would much rather play the part of being the “fun parent” that their kids will remember.

But openness and communication are important. From who else will our children learn the things we want them to learn, except from us, their parents? Friedrich Nietzsche said it best: “What was silent in the father speaks in the son, and often, I found in the son the unveiled secret of the father.”

The conversation I had with my son Mio on his last visit is something I will remember. I hope he will remember it too.

I entered his room late one night to discuss something trivial. I was going to leave after the short conversation but decided to stay on and get further chitchat going.

Soon, we were talking about what he wanted to do with his life, and not too long after, we touched on the subject of school, his love life, smoking, relationships and personal family matters. I was amazed and happy at how candid both of us were with each other. I was happy to know that he is doing okay in school. And he did promise to quit smoking “soon.”

We also talked about relationship issues. I told him about intense relationships I had when I was his age and the anguish I felt after every breakup. I told him that the affairs a young man goes through and the experience of extreme feelings for someone happen to everyone. But I added that it is always wise to allow things to simmer and see how they really stand between two people, without the pull of desperation, the hunger for another person’s love or approval that can cloud judgment.

In other words, I advised him to keep things cool and low-key and not allow himself to be lost in the swirl of emotions that can take over someone who thinks he is in love. Feelings of affection are “oceanic” and compelling and I broached the idea that, perhaps, these feelings can also be experienced with other people as well, and are therefore not really unique between two exclusive persons. Often, it may be biological more than anything else.

Loving feelings may not always be true love. A little caution can lead to discernment, and that can’t be bad.

We also talked about what he wanted to do after college, even as he expressed doubt and hesitation that I would take his dreams seriously. He candidly said that he is considering becoming a musician. I smiled, and told him that being an artist myself, I was not in any position to object to his wanting to be one, too. I advised him that nothing is ever guaranteed in life — success, prestige, money, etc., even as I assured him of my full support. But if he wants it so badly, I suggested that he go the extra mile and enroll in some courses so he can sight-read musical charts and play gigs with as many artists in as many different genres as possible. It can only enrich him. It is something I wish I had done when I was younger.

I have not forgotten what it was like to be a young man. I had dreams that were so intense, and yet I had fears that were so great, I felt that they were dragging me down. Even if I didn’t have a great mentor who kept me focused, I met many “advisers” along the way, at the time when I needed them, and so managed to stay the course and unleash my innate power to succeed.

To be young, I remember, is to often feel invincible, health-wise. One can skip meals, stay up all night, drink booze and still be functional the next day, as Mio can easily do at his age. Health is not a concern for them. That’s because in the mind of the young, serious illnesses only happen to other (older) people, not to them.

At my age, I am not as flexible physically as my son, and am a lot more cautious. Even if my health is quite good, I need my rest, good sleep and the right sustenance. This means that I must plan not just my day but, more and more, my life. The carefree feeling of just doing anything I want is a thing of the past. The body must be prepared to do it and so planning is necessary.

The invincibility felt by the young brings with it a certain cockiness that they know better than older people who have had similar experiences. Many young people feel that their situation is so unique and only they know what to do about it. But this same cockiness can easily crumble when glitches happen and their plans do not play out exactly as expected.

One of the hardest lessons that a young man must learn is how to balance the real and the ideal world. It is simply impossible to demand for ideal conditions. Yet many do, and when the absence of the ideal stares them in the face, many simply give up.

While it is good to be idealistic and pursue what is right, it is also necessary to accept what one cannot change and make the best of what cards one is dealt. One cannot keep complaining about why things are not perfect. Instead, one must simply strive and make a little patch of heaven in the middle of all the imperfection.

As a man of many experiences whose age is catching up with him, I have come to accept unequivocally that all things do come to an end. And sometimes, I must consciously decide to let things go. A young man can have a problem with this. The child must first become an adult, both physically and psychologically. While young people do accept this mentally, they have a harder time dealing with it in reality. Often they think they are mature just because they look grown up. But their childishness, which they must eventually give up, remains.

They somehow harbor the thought at the back of their minds that their parents will always be there to help or save them if things don’t work out. And the truth is, to a great extent, Lydia and I will.

But it is also true that as we get older, more and more of the resources we have, we will spend on ourselves, as we deal with the problems that aging brings. Thus, a young man must realize that to grow up fully and completely, he must reject all notions of entitlement.

It’s tough on fathers, too. Unless he is completely dense, a father realizes soon enough that, for better or worse, he is a role model to his son. Soon, his son will stop following his advice and follow his example instead. And that is a scary thought. I hope Mio follows my virtues more than my vices.

Years ago, I read a story that describes this symbiotic father-son dynamic. One night, a father heard his son praying: “Dear God, make me the kind of man my dad is.” That night, the father prayed, “Dear God, make me the man my son wants to be.”

Mio and I both have some growing up to do. For each other’s sake.

* * *

Have you been shooting pictures without really understanding how your camera works? Has it been mostly hit or miss when it comes to taking nice shots?

After successful first runs in Sydney and Manila, it’s time to run it again. I am talking about my Basic Photography course.

I will be giving a workshop on Basic Photography on March 6, 2010. This will be a hands-on experiential approach which will cover basic knowledge of the SLR camera and its functions, techniques on lighting for outdoors, indoors and including studio lighting, composition, the use of different lenses, portraiture and landscape techniques, motion or action photography, and a whole lot more.

This is a one-day workshop from 1 to 7 p.m., March 6, 2010, held at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. The cost of the one-day session is P3,500.

We will proceed immediately to shooting pictures as we discuss the theories of photography. I will work with a limited number of students only. Requirements are: you must have an SLR digital camera capable of manual settings.

Please call 426-5375, 0916-8554303 (ask for Ollie) or e-mail me at emailjimp@gmail.com for questions and reservations.

Basic Photography course


Have you been shooting pics without really understanding how your camera works? Has it been mostly hit or miss with taking nice pics?

After successful first runs in Sydney and Manila, it’s time to run it again. I am talking about my Basic Photography course. I will be giving a workshop on Basic Photography on March 6, 2010. This will be a hands-on experiential approach which will cover basic knowledge of the SLR camera and its functions, techniques on lighting for outdoors, indoors and including studio lighting, composition, the use of different lenses, portraiture and landscape techniques, motion or action photography, and a whole lot more.

This is a one day workshop only from 1 to 7PM. We will proceed immediately to shooting pictures as we discuss the theories. I will work with a limited number of students only.

Requirements are, you must have an SLR digital camera capable of manual settings.

DATE: March 6, 2010
113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC
COST: 3,500 Pesos

Please call 4265375, 0916 8554303 (ask for Ollie) or email me at emailjimp@gmail.com for questions and reservations.

If Presidential candidates were ice cream flavors…

In the interest of cooling down the National Warming brought about by the heating of election fever, here’s a blast of frigid humor! (Ok, I’m hitting everyone to be fair).

1) Villar Rocky Road special—Crunchy, Creamy, Cool, Can’t-have-enough with Caramel (or also known as C5). Best served with extenders, toppings and ‘insertions’

2) Bro Eddie Heavenly Sundae— Recipe was reportedly ‘revealed’ from Above! Or maybe concocted out of his head. Divine taste. Salamat Lord!

3) Noy Corymel flavor with Mallows—Nothing new here. In fact, it’s an old mom and pop recipe which has been passed on from one generation to the next. It has wide appeal as long as you go slow on the Kris toppings.

4) Gibo Gloria crunch— Crunched and crushed to smithereens with a strong after taste of Wicked Gloria’s 9 year recipe of DARK concoctions! Gloria’s flavor seems too overpowering that’s why it is not as sellable as other flavors.

5) JC Delos Reyes Better than Sex Chocolate fudge—Orgasmic to the palate. Once you buy it, you will not want to have sex or support the RH bill ever again.

6) Gordon pie ice cream—Bloody red crossed cherries sprinkled with Mashed and marinated Delicious Aratilles (MMDA). It is naturally rated by Gordon himself as ‘the best’. But please check expiration date. It might have been more appealing at an earlier time.

7) Nicky Perlas Swirl— Nothing synthetic here. Experimental flavor with pure ingredients, but sadly, no distinct taste!

8) ERAP (behind) Bar—An old, discontinued, discredited flavor left in the freezer too long and has lost much of its appeal. It also doesn’t seem to thaw out well to be served properly.

9) Jamby Super Special— Tart-tasting. An obscure flavor. If you want this with another scoop of a different flavor, please be warned that it does not go at all with Villar’s Rocky Road.

A laugh every 20 seconds

A laugh every 20 seconds Feb 7, ’10 10:31 PM
for everyone

This guy is a tough act to follow. The APO and every entertainer in the Philippines, big and small, can attest to this.

‘You will laugh at least once every minute if you are hard to entertain, but you will laugh every 20 seconds if you are a fun guy!’– That’s an observation I had and how it was when Norman Mitchell came here.


Everyone laughed their heads off and loved him when he fronted for Joey Albert last October. He brought the house down! A whole lot of you asked when he was coming back.

Good news! Norman will be back to do a Full Show for everyone this March 13 at the Lyceum, Castle Hill RSL, 7:30 PM. Address is 77 Castle street.

He will be performing with talented Philos Cleo Diana, Abigail Cruz, Claudette Punsalan and Chelsea Castillo.

Ticket prices: 65 AUD (VIP) and 55 AUD (GOLD)
For ticket reservations, Call: 0410698299 and ask for Conrad Isip or or 98363494 and ask for Ala

Call now for reservations.

Playing for the joy of love

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated February 07, 2010 12:00 AM


What would you do for yourself unconditionally? What would you go the extra mile for? What would you consider important enough to go out of your way to do which will not necessarily give you any material or financial benefit? What are the things you would like to do that will make you feel alive?

It would be easy to answer these questions if they were reworded and if they involved doing things for people we love instead of ourselves. And surely, we would step up to the plate in heroic ways. Yes, I am willing to die for my family (like Jason Ivler’s mom, in a way). I am willing to lose an arm if it will save someone I love. I am willing to shell out everything financially if a loved one needed it very badly. All these answers are real and sincere, even if I hope I never have to actually do them.

These are questions we ask ourselves when we ponder our lives. And we do not always get easy answers, and it’s not because we don’t know the answers. We do and we can probably hear the answers clearly if we listen hard enough.

But we don’t, because we have become so used to putting our dreams and our ambitions on hold that we have mostly forgotten them. Other priorities must be attended to. Bills must be paid, obligations kept, duties fulfilled, that we often forget to look at ourselves and attend to the care and feeding we need, as we care for others.

Self-care, self-love is vital if we are to continue to serve and nurture those we love. To put it simply, we must include ourselves in the list of people who matter to us.

I was ecstatic last Monday night watching a Big Band of accomplished mainstream musicians playing to their hearts’ delight at a small club called Ten02 along Timog Avenue. It was a rare moment to see a lineup of class-A rhythm section session players and an entire brass section complement of trumpets, trombones, and saxophones (baritone, tenor and alto) in one place. I had not seen this many brass musicians playing together since I was recording in the ‘80s. Budget constraints and changing music styles have simply not made it possible for many of them to be playing in the same gig.

It was jazz night and you could tell how excited the players and the audience were. Mel Villena, the brains and moving force (as well as conductor) behind the event, engaged the crowd as he introduced the musicians and the musical pieces and greeted other artists who were in the audience. He wore a wide grin, not unlike a kid in a candy store, as he conducted the ensemble with gusto and style.

Apparently, these musicians get together as a Big Band every two weeks to play songs and pieces that they really like to perform but have not had a chance to do during regular gigs. In fact, they have probably never played these songs for a regular crowd since there are no producers nowadays who are wiling to fund anything that does not spell out-and-out commercial success. Most of the time, these talented musicians end up playing to pay the rent, so to speak. They must often suffer through commercial gigs playing Top 40 songs and the usual dose of unchallenging, sophomoric pieces as they back up the industry’s share of mediocre talents.

And so it was obvious that the gathering of musicians last Monday night was an act of joy, defiance and glee even, as seen on their faces and the kick-ass playing they dished out. Surely, the size of the venue and the cheap price of drinks would not ever be enough to pay all the talents who were there. They must have all come for the joy of playing great jazz songs. One of the musicians my son Mio talked to after the show put it so well when he said that gigs like these are important and part of their “spiritual practice.”

They play to let their spirits come alive and soar. They play to feel their talent, and reassure themselves that they still have it. And they play to share themselves with their audience. They play to feel the truth of what they really are as musicians and artists, and as people.

As a performer myself, I can resonate with the whole idea of what these talents did on Monday night. In 1996, I was tired of the scene I was in. I was hosting a noontime show, which paid me well but was not sustaining me emotionally or artistically. Also, more and more, as a recording artist, I was finding that the very art of writing songs and making an album as I had known the process to be, was changing dramatically. Record producers were suddenly discussing sales and current radio airplay trend reports with artists to “guide” them about what they should be coming out with. It was also about that time when I was full of songs in my head, which I knew were not compatible with what the market was playing.

This was a time when I was going through an internal journey and the songs I was coming out with were more personal than usual. For example, I had written a song about my special affection for my family where I even included their names in the lyrics. I also wrote a song about what to do with unrequited lust at midlife. And there was the one about my mother who had passed away, and another one for a daughter who had turned 21.

I recorded these songs all by myself in an album entitled “Ako Lang,” which I quietly released. As I expected, it did not go anywhere near a hit album status, but I was quite happy to be true to myself in a project I had always wanted to do. I felt an authenticity about it, knowing that these were songs that reflected my truth at the time I wrote them.

It can only be good for us to open our repository of joy and refill it once in a while. Some people fear doing this because they are suspicious of the concept of self-love. They somehow believe that there is narcissism and selfishness to it, as if the very act means the abandonment of our duties and obligations to others.

On the contrary, I know that when I am happy, I am able to imbue situations I find myself in with happiness and even share it with everyone.

As the song goes, “Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.” It is quite true that we cannot give what we do not have. While there is something heroic and good about giving till it hurts and running on empty, I know, in the end, it is simply not sustainable and that’s why we do it just once in a while.

Ten years ago, my good friend Marissa Romero was bored with her work and so took up painting to feel alive. Since she became a painter, she has not only found a renewed vigor and spirit in living but also an enthusiasm for the work she had earlier found to be joyless.

When we replenish the well-spring of the goodness from which we shower the world with, we feel better and more empowered. And we must not forget that the joy we give to ourselves is a necessary ingredient if we are to fulfill our obligations and duties to others with joy and with constancy.