Me, us, and all of us

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star)

I have been a follower of Ken Wilber for years now. I recently picked up a book that synthesizes a big chunk of his life’s work, what he calls Integral Practice. In this new book called Integral Vision, Wilber presents the essence of his work. It involves the use of a comprehensive map of all knowledge from practically all parts of the world, and how it can make modern man a more expansive, responsively engaged human being in today’s world.

This means mapping, understanding and applying knowledge to improve our capabilities in all aspects of life — physical, spiritual, moral, intellectual, emotional, etc. In short, Wilber proposes something like an Integral Operating System (IOS) which we can use to improve ourselves by accessing the sum total of all useful knowledge on every subject. And he urges us to use it to make us more complete, whole, “integral” beings.

We all possess multiple intelligences. But even if all these intelligences exist in us, these are not equally developed or of the same capacity. Each one has a strong suit. We are more confident and developed in some areas in life but underdeveloped in others. Thus, Wilber points out that there are CEOs, politicians and leaders who may have great business and political acumen and leadership, but can and do turn out to be moral cretins. There are also talented athletes or artists who excel but may be sorely lacking in intellectual or emotional maturity. IOS is there to help us look at and assess ourselves, and give us the tools to make us more complete, more “whole.”

In one section of the book, he points out that every person is at a certain stage of consciousness development, and each of the stages he will go through is a milestone in his growth as a human being.

First is the pre-conventional stage that begins in infancy. Children are self-absorbed, egotistic and quite selfish. This egocentric level of development mostly associated with the very young is all about a “me” identity, period. It includes no one else. The child believes he is the world and that everything revolves around him.

But as the child learns more about the norms, practices and values of the family, clan, tribe, society, race, nation or any other group with shared values he finds himself in, he begins to move up to what Wilber calls the ethnocentric stage. He expands to something bigger. His sense of identity widens. He now identifies with a family name and history, a school, an organization, and so forth.

The next, which is the highest stage of moral development, is called “worldcentric” and it involves an expansion of one’s concern and compassion for everyone, regardless of race, color, religion or whatever else divides us. It may even include compassion for all sentient beings.

In short, consciousness development starts with a “me,” which moves up to “us” and ends in a bigger “all of us.”

Wilber has more to say about this and how it connects to body, mind, spirit and other things. This book offers a lot to people in the modern world who want a richer life. I would like to take a closer look at the three stages of development in real life.

As adults, we presume that we are, at least, in the ethnocentric stage, meaning that we have been influenced enough and “tamed” by society. We have become social beings and have developed emotional ties with others. We have learned about interacting with our parents, relatives, schoolmates, workmates, neighbors, clubs, and perhaps we also share in the larger sense of ethnic pride, nationhood and racial identity. That’s where all this “Proudly Pinoy” feeling is coming from when, say, we cheer for the Azkals.

It is quite a leap from egocentric to ethnocentric, which is accomplished through a number of years. And even while one may be in this next stage, he may still be carrying vestiges of the old one. That’s why we are sometimes less than the adults we desire to be.

The worldcentric stage, the highest among the three, offers the widest identity possible in the sense that one can connect with the concerns and needs of everyone, some of who may even be hostile on the ethnocentric level. As an example, they could be members of other faiths, creeds or political systems that may even actively seek to destroy the way of life one subscribes to. Or they could be so different culturally, or in the way they look, that there seems to be nothing one shares with them. And yet one sees their humanity.

The worldcentric person looks at life and the world in inclusive mode. Everyone is part of it. What excites him is what connects rather than what divides. He likes to connect not so much through the world of ideas, or shared values, but through the essence of his being in relation to other beings. His identity includes all. He is everyone, and everyone is him.

If egocentricity has an ego, one may argue that the worldcentric person also has an ego but it is so big, it includes everyone, which is the same as saying he has no ego at all. If one cannot differentiate himself from the rest, where is the ego?

People in the lower stages can and do actually have experiences belonging to the highest stage, but at best, the experience is fleeting. It is an “aha” moment, a peak experience, a passing state that gives one a glimpse of things “higher” than where one is. It is not a permanent fixture yet until one clearly moves up to the worldcentric stage and everything that comes with it become easier to access. One will have much greater opportunities to experience the epiphany of Oneness.

Clearly, our consciousness is on an evolutionary path and the worldcentric people, in the view of Ken Wilber, are those who can have a greater, deeper experience of being human. This stage is clearly higher, spiritually, than the other stages.

Who are the worldcentric people in the world stage? Many of them are spiritual leaders, philanthropists, social workers, teachers who inspire. They are also those who devote their lives to serve invisibly in our neighborhoods, in war-torn lands, helping the poor and the destitute in failed states everywhere. Organizations like Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or the many environmental groups that do the work of helping restore and preserve Mother Earth are obviously worldcentric. I would also include here the workers in the Fukushima nuclear plants, saviors in disasters who risk life and limb for their fellowmen.

In Buddhist and Christian parlance, they would be the bodhisattvas and saints, people who set aside or delay their own individual deliverance to assist in the liberation of others.

I am touched by the Ignatian “Man for Others” philosophy, the prayer of which goes

‘Lord, teach me to be generous.

Teach me to serve you as you deserve;

to give and not to count the cost,

to fight and not to heed the wounds,

to toil and not to seek for rest,

to labor and not to ask for any reward,

save that of knowing that I am doing your will.’

I am equally inspired by the four Vows of Zen, which says:

‘Beings are numberless; I vow to free them.

Delusions are inexhaustible; I vow to end them.

Dharma gates are boundless; I vow to enter them.

The Buddha way is unsurpassable; I vow to realize it.’

Now, how do you know how worldcentric you are? A simple indicator is if you were touched by, say, the suffering brought about by the tsunami in Japan. That could be one sign. But then, it could also be just an “aha” moment from a lower stage.

Are there higher stages of development? Sure. The integrated stage is about the coming together of masculine and feminine attributes in the person. But that will have to be the subject of another column. As long as man keeps evolving, consciousness will keep expanding.

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My Summer Workshop Schedule:

1) Photo Workshop in Dumaguete on April 9. Call Chinky at 0916-4305626.

2.) Photo Workshop in Manila on April 16. Please call Olie at 0916-8554303 for all workshop inquiries.

Check for details.

3.) Creative For Life Workshop in Cebu on April 30. Details to follow. Please call Shirley at 0917-6207424.

4.) Performance Enhancement Workshop in Cebu on May 2. Please call Shirley at 0917-6207424.

5.) Creative For Life Workshop in Manila on May 14.

Please call Olie at 0916-8554303 or 4265375 for all workshop inquiries. Or write me at Check for details.

Building a brave new world

What we are witnessing in Japan is unprecedented in the history of man-kind. Images of the earthquakes and of entire towns being engulfed and obliterated by the tsunami are now an indelible nightmare in our collective memory. They are simply beyond comprehension. Even when one sees the images with one’s own eyes, it remains unfathomable that such large portions of humanity and civilization can be wiped out in just a few seconds.

The counts of the dead and the missing are far from reconciled since the rescue teams can barely get to the devastated areas due to road blockages caused by tons of debris. Seeing the before and after pictures of Sendai — from a bustling part of Miyagi prefecture to a place that is completely deserted, flattened by the tsunami save for one building — is beyond tragic.

Then, throw in the biggest monkey wrench of all — the damaged nuclear power plants that are now too dangerous to control since every step the scientists have taken to prevent a reactor meltdown seems to be failing miserably. The nuclear malfunction is now a major disaster. Almost every hour, as the world rejoices and breathes a little easier every time a survivor is rescued, there is more bad news about the nuclear threat. News agencies have had to keep updating their feeds right after they make them as new information comes in.

As I write this, even as experts give reassuring opinions that are supposed to make us feel better, it is more and more apparent that no one completely knows what the real score is with regard to the threat of radiation to people in Japan, and eventually, the rest of the world. The scale and complexity of the problem is unprecedented.

Reactions everywhere have been strong and varied. Many are calling for prayers for and support to the people of Japan. Many more have expressed astonishment and admiration that there has been no looting so far in the devastated area. The Japanese people are showing the world what they are made of, and it is impressive and humbling to see them handle this impossible situation with great dignity and grace.

Meanwhile, in Libya, there is mayhem as an aging and increasingly barbaric dictator mercilessly unleashes his firepower against his rebelling people. The sight of regular Libyans — teachers, computer programmers, students, engineers, etc. holding firearms for the first time in their lives, driving their family cars like armored vehicles and risking their lives to win their democracy and freedom is admirable. But it is also heartbreaking since much of the world seems to have become deaf to their pleas for help.

The world is a mess. It seems to be in a major turning point, and no one knows which way it is going.

Many people around the globe are at this moment speculating about planet Earth itself, and life as we know it. What is really happening and what is the world coming to?

Many are sensing that there is something bigger going on than what we are seeing. There have been great tectonic shifts — social, environmental and geological ones that make one feel that the world is reconfiguring itself. There are events occurring all over that seem to support the idea that something new is being born and the earth is undergoing a very hard labor.

Someone on Twitter called it “the shift,” and proposed that it has been going on and accelerating rapidly.

Mankind seems to be coming together around definite conver-gence points. One big obvious wave is democratization. It took close to two centuries for many of the world’s Western countries to embrace the tenets of the Enlightenment. But in this age of the Internet and social networking, it has not taken long for the rest of the not-yet-democratic populations of the world to clamor for freedom, justice and democracy.

It started in EDSA 25 years back, and since then, there have been major political, social, economic shifts in many other countries where people have altered their historical trajectories, permanently rejecting autocratic regimes and going towards more democracy and people empowerment. After the Philippines, it happened in Berlin, the Soviet Union and the rest of Eastern Europe, then South Africa — the dominoes have not stopped falling since. Today, a virtual democratic tsunami has begun to engulf the Middle East.

These changes are sure signs of a consciousness that is asserting itself. The Internet has connected us in a way mankind has never been. We are now in touch with one another as human beings, everywhere, like never before. The Internet is the great leveler. Through the power of cyberspace, almost anyone can become a power center and opinion maker, and communicate with the rest of the world in almost any field. Ideas and worldviews now spread at a rate faster than mankind has ever experienced. More than at any time in history, global consensus on any issue can be formed quickly.

Joseph Campbell, the mythologist, believes that we awakened to a new consciousness in the 1960s when man first landed on the moon and we all saw our home planet — Earth — from a distance for the first time.

The cataclysmic natural disasters in Haiti, Chile, Australia, the Philippines, New Zealand, and now Japan seem to have intensified feelings of kinship and oneness among sentient beings. We are One physically, and more and more, as a consciousness. Zen writer Allan Watts wrote a long time ago: “You and I are all as much continuous with the physical universe as a wave is continuous with the ocean.” Right now, the world is Japan and we are all Japanese. We are also Libyans and Haitians. The world has become borderless. And when distinctions blur, humanity awakens to itself much easier.

I do not know where all this is leading. But I know that as this new consciousness asserts itself more and more in a world where the economic, social, religious, and scientific paradigms are becoming increasingly inadequate, new creative energies will emerge.

With the current nuclear nightmare and the increasing prospects of even more severe geological, environmental and social upheavals coming our way, we may be seeing the end of our world order as we know it. We are being kicked out of the Eden we know and we have to reconfigure a new world from the ashes and debris of this old one.

Hopefully, this time, we will be more awake and conscious as we build a brave new world.

* * *

1.) Join my Songwriting Workshop on March 26 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. This is a fun, challenging workshop where the student is taught the elements of good songwriting from melodic, structure, lyrics, arrangements, etc. Hits from all genres and styles of music are analyzed. The “hook” is discussed and applied at length. Most importantly, the student is challenged to actually write songs during the one-day workshop. Students must know how to play an instrument.

2.) Photo Workshop in Dumaguete on April 8. Please call Chinky at 0916-4305626.

3.) Photo Workshop in Dipolog on April 9.

4.) Photo Workshop in manila on April 16.

5.) Creative For Life Workshop in Cebu on April 30. Details to follow.

6.) Please call Olie at 0916-8554303 for all workshop inquiries. Check for details.


HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star)

The less routine, the more life. —Amos Bronson Alcott

I wish we could take out a lot of that. But every single day, we go through the routine of waking up, grooming ourselves, eating, sleeping. In between, there is the commute, to school or the job, and other duties and commitments that need to be attended to. Doing the same thing day in and day has been known to kill one’s spirit.

“Habit and routine have an unbelievable power to waste and destroy,” wrote Henri de Lubac. It is difficult not to agree.

The weekend is the respite. I could not believe how many responses I got when I asked my Twitter friends to complete the sentence, “Sundays are for…” A great many of the tweets were about how special Sundays are because they are off the routine of having to wake up early, go to work, school, etc.

But if you live long enough, even the days that we deem “special,” such as Sundays and holidays, can become ordinary from sheer repetition. Repetition makes them routine, and eventually humdrum and boring.

The challenge is really in how to look at anything that we have to do over and over again with a fresh perspective each time.

On good days, I try to look at anything, including an old routine, with excitement, wonder and a purposeful perspective. It does not matter how many times in my life I have brushed my teeth, changed my clothes, had breakfast, and other ordinary activities. I can create a personal excitement about them. I don’t have to make things up or fool myself. I just have to be in a state of gratitude and mindfulness.

The philosopher Heraclitus once said, “You never cross the same river twice.” It’s always a different time, and a different “you” that is doing what seems to be the same old thing. The idea can be mind-boggling.

It’s all about attentiveness. It is a great coping activity. Every spiritual seeker discovers this eventually. What attentiveness does is we hold the activity we are doing in our consciousness and give it importance. And that alone makes it so. When we hold it, we discover many things — details that we would have been blind to if we did not pay attention. I might even say that when we are mindful, we actually imbue what we are paying attention to with reverence. When I do photography, there is something special that transpires between the subject and me. In the face of a beautiful sunset or breathtaking scenery, I approach it with complete mindfulness, and yes, respect and reverence. Sometimes, I just sit in front of it for a while to establish a moment of “rapport.” Its beauty is clearly eloquently expressing itself before me. I must show a corresponding worthy reaction, an appreciation that honors its timelessness.

I may have the skills and the knowledge to get the right settings and push the right buttons on my camera, but unless I truly “see” what is before me, I may not capture the essence of its beauty. Every photographer knows that a beautiful subject alone does not guarantee a good photo. The one who attempts to capture it must be equally worthy of the honor.

As a young boy studying in a Catholic school, I used to wonder how priests could say Mass every single day and still get a lift doing it. I don’t know if priests get inspired each time they say Mass but I am sure they would like to be. I imagine that the ritual of putting on vestments, the prayers and the invocations do the work in preparing them properly.

It is probably similar to the routine and practice of serious artists, craftsmen and athletes. A ritual is done to set the mood, to prepare oneself, and to invoke the muses and spirits so that the activity becomes meaningful and transformative.

Every time I put on my performance clothes as a member of the APO, I felt that I was preparing to do something special. The costume set me apart from my audience. It reinforced my mission that I was there to fulfill a promise to give them a moment of magic, where I take them to a kind of altered state, away from the ordinary routine of their lives, to a place where they have never been. As the song in the musical Pippin says, “We’ve got magic to do.”

Being able to do this in everyday life is quite a trick. It is important that one learns to enchant one’s own life. This means being able to awaken oneself to one’s own situation with all its little details, and engaging it with power and inspiration.

But one might validly the question, “What if I am not inspired? What if there is nothing out there, no beauty, or anything fascinating enough to awaken to?”

My answer may seem unreal, until you have discovered it to be true in your life. It is this: You are your own inspiration. You are the fire and breath of your own soul. You do not need anything to build a spiritual fire within because it is already there.

The capability to be joyful and to see the details that can make the difference in ones’ life are spiritual muscles that get better and stronger when used often. While some may find life’s ultimate meaning in some big, glorious epiphany, maintaining its magic in our lives is “the practice.” It is the practice of constantly being inspired.

When I teach creativity, songwriting or photography, I always point out that the good photo, the bright idea, the great song is not guaranteed. When you are able to produce it, consider it as just an accident. However, the practice of showing up and doing your craft or art, or anything on a regular basis, will open you up and make you more “accident prone” to do great work. As Julia Cameron pointed out in her wonderful book, The Artist’s Way, “You take care of quantity. God takes care of the quality.”

Whatever we do often creates a pattern or a “muscle memory.” It’s good to be aware how often we fall into cynicism and negativity. If we practice it often enough, especially if done so unconsciously, it becomes an ingrained attitude. “The chains of habit are generally too small to be felt until they are too strong to be broken,” wrote Samuel Johnson. How true!

But if we choose self-inspiration, we may even transform every routine into an experience imbued with purpose and joy.

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1) Go beyond a point-and-shoot experience. Let me teach you how to use it. I would like to invite you all to a workshop in Manila. I am offering a Basic Photography Workshop on March 12, 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Venue is at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. If you enroll in this class, you can get a discount from Canon when you buy cameras and accessories.

2) Join my Songwriting Workshop on March 19 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. This is a fun, challenging workshop where the student is taught the elements of good songwriting from melodic, structure, lyrics, arrangements, etc. Hits from all genres and styles of music are analyzed. The “hook” is discussed and applied at length. Most importantly, the student is challenged to actually write songs during the one-day workshop. Students must know how to play an instrument.