Accidents happen

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated November 25, 2012 –

Illustration by REY RIVERA

The electric bike I ordered finally arrived Wednesday last week. I took it for a spin on my street, not even 50 meters from my house. On the way back, I lost my balance, fell and hit my face on the asphalt pavement.

It was quite a bump. I felt like I had been hit by Manny Pacquiao. I was not wearing a helmet since I did not have one and it was just a short test run I was doing. I was going to buy one the next day.

I know. Sometimes, I do stupid things.

I stood up from the fall feeling shocked and a bit disoriented. I went into the house, looked at the mirror, saw a small head wound. My teeth were intact and I decided it was nothing. But upon the insistence of my eight-year-old grandchild Ananda, who saw my head, arm and leg wounds, I went to the emergency room at Medical City to be looked over. My head was hurting and I felt a loss of sensation on the left side of my face.

After the doctors treated my wounds — which included six stitches to my face — I had to undergo a CT scan. The doctors saw around four or five fractures that looked worrisome but were not deemed to be life threatening or an emergency case. I was sent home with prescriptions and was told to come back on Monday.

Yesterday, I went to see two doctors: Benjie Cabrera who did my cataract lens replacement a few years ago; and Alfonso Bengzon, an ophthal-plastic surgeon who looked at my scans and explained my injuries to me. The good news is that my eyes are intact and unhurt. They then sent me to Dr. Rey Casile, head of EENT of St Luke’s, to get his opinion on whether or not I need surgery. He patiently confirmed the fractures to my facial bones and explained their implications.
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Rey Casile told me that I have two options: one is to leave things alone since it is not a life-threatening condition. However, he could not guarantee possible and unforeseen consequences as I age. The other is to opt for an operation where titanium plates will be used to repair parts of my cheekbones and left eye socket, which were damaged by my fall. He explained that when I heal, I will be close to being intact, good as new.

Lydia and I listened and after weighing the options, we told the doctor that we are opting for the operation. When you read this, the operation will be over and I will probably be sore, bruised and puffy in the face, but hopefully, recovering well.

It comforts me little to hear how simple this operation is as described by Dr. Casile. It is still a surgical intrusion. And the very thought of going through an operation is quite daunting. There is the fear factor of being cut up. But more than that, there is the inconvenience of recovering and the time that will take is a challenge, to say the least. I will need to muster courage, but more than that, I will need a lot of patience while I count the days and weeks until I am completely healed.

The accident and its consequences have made me realize a number of things. One is, it is difficult to be human — and fragile.

I am also reminded that I am aging. While I am healthy and fit, my reflexes are no longer what they used to be in my 20s. Even if I pride myself on being healthy, there are limitations to what the body can do at different times in one’s life. And the older one gets, the more limitations crop up.

How is it that when we were young, we wished we were a bit older because we wanted to enjoy the perks that older people seemed to have? The young envy those older because they see financial security, status, wisdom and “making it.” They hardly appreciate the time their elders spent acquiring all of the above.

I was quite amused when my grandchild expressed envy because I could watch movies for free, just by showing my senior citizen’s card. Truly, youth is wasted on the young. Thankfully, one gets wiser about this as one gets older.

Another important thing I learned from this accident is to be more awake, aware and conscious about what I am doing. I can’t be too casual about things anymore. As Jerry Perez de Tagle, a motivator, once put it, “Casualness produces casualties.” It is important to remember this. Applying it to my life at this stage, I must be more focused on how and where I use my energies. The clock is ticking. If I don’t want to go quietly and be one of the last people still standing at the age I go, I must be more careful about how I handle my body.

This accident happened so quickly. In one second, my life has been altered, and not in an insignificant way. I am lucky these are the only injuries I got. It could have been worse, much worse. I could have hit my head and suffered a brain injury. I think of those who, at the prime of health and their youthful power (e.g., soldiers in Afghanistan), suddenly lose a leg stepping on a landmine. It happens in a flash. Their lives get completely shaken and are irrevocably altered. Nothing is the same. These kinds of unexpected incidents happen more often than we realize.

I could milk this for all the pain, suffering and self-pity I can get out of it, or I could see it as an unexpected, undesired imposition that bears important, unexpected gifts meant to teach me something.

While I may have been generally lucky and blessed throughout my life so far, I realize that one can’t live life without some suffering. I am still in some pain right now because of the fall. There are reasons to whine and complain and be cantankerous. And it would be understandable. But I also know that while things can and do happen beyond our control, we are 100 percent in charge of what to make of it and how to deal with it.

In the end, things hinge on our ability to be able to distinguish between an event and an experience. Events are things that happen, many of which we can do little about. Experience is our definition of what an event in our lives was all about. This is where we have the fullest autonomy.

Renovating our home and future

Humming in My Universe, Philippine Star updated Nov. 18, 2012

By Jim Paredes

We are having renovations done at our home. The building we constructed some 18 years ago which became my office and recording studio is being torn down. It has seen its best and worst of times and we decided to demolish it completely.

We opted to do this after Ondoy unleashed so much water that flooded about a foot of the structure, destroying documents, equipment, furniture, memorabilia, and leaving the entire area permanently damp, mouldy and depressing. Prior to Ondoy, it had leaking walls that were being perenially repaired. It was time to tear it down. To leave it as is would be to condemn valuable space to something unliveable and even undesirable to enter. In its place we are building a two-storey structure that will be a kind of activity and recreation center where I will hold my workshops. It will also have two guest rooms on the second floor.

It seems strange to be adding this structure to our residence when our three kids are already living away. But as parents, we want to make sure that there will be enough room when the family gets together and for the times in the future when they visit with their new families in tow. Secretly, we wish that a newly renovated home will entice them to visit more often and stay longer.

There is something about construction that gets my wife Lydia excited. She is the kind who sees potential in any available space. She can picture structures, rooms, and her understanding of feng shui and how space flows into space is natural and correct. She knows what furniture to get and how to match them with decor. She appreciates layouts, fashion, and can pinpoint interesting areas in the plans, while it takes me awhile just to make sense of an architectural design. Even just getting my North and South bearings while looking at a layout is a major challenge.

Lydia has taken the lead in every construction, renovation or house repair we’ve had done in the past 35 years. I mainly set the budget and make sure everything is within what we can afford.

There is something more than meets the eye when people embark on a construction or a major renovation. It is like shuffling cards. One looks for new deals, or different configurations to continue to ‘play’. People look for a new setting to interact in, a new physical context and ambience to live the next portion of their lives in. And new rooms and renovations provide that.

And as in real life, there are many things one must do to get from one physical/psychological space to another. One must go through a process. Imagine being discontented with your life. You want things to change and you realize soon enough that more than the change happening outside of you, there is a greater call to change something inside you. That something needs to be deconstructed or torn down before anything can take its place.

Old beliefs, attitudes, biases and opinions that have long ago reached their expiration dates must be junked before new ones can come in. One must free not just a physical but more importantly, a psychological space before anything new can be accommodated.

When we were doing major renovations in our house a few years back, I had a miserable time. I hated the idea of not being able to use spaces I used to enjoy. I felt trapped, even claustrophobic, using a much smaller liveable space compared to what I had been used to. And it seemed like the construction would last forever. But slowly, as the house took on a new shape and look, I began to drop my resistance and started to appreciate the ‘new’ house that was coming to life before me.

The psychologist Carl Jung used the metaphor of construction in talking about therapy. He described therapy as something like a renovation. Everything is in a state of flux. There is so much dust in the air. The dust may hide what is going on but you can be sure that something is being fixed, repaired, given a new shape, feel and look, and most importantly, given new uses and functions.

How Lydia goes through the details with the architects is a sight to behold. Bit by bit, I see them discuss the project and how it will be put together, from the drawings, timeline, schedules, permits, materials to be used, colors, shades, textures, designs, touches, etc. I sit quietly in appreciation of the creativity that is unfolding before me. I am comfortable watching them plan everything since, from experience, I have learned to trust two things. One is, Lydia can be quite thorough and focused and will leave almost nothing to chance. Two, I know I can live anywhere, and so how things turn out is less important to me than it is to her. She likes and insists that things be a certain way, and works at it. She takes charge. She is the quality control expert.

Spaces are where lives unravel so it is important how they are laid out. Somehow, the houses we have lived in were more or less happy places that were not only homes to our family but also invited people in. Every house we have staked as our home has had a large share of visitors – people have dropped by, slept over and even stayed for various periods.

Somehow, people are at home and find comfort in our homes, for which we are grateful.

Sad is a huge house that never becomes a real home. Bereft of the soul of its inhabitants, they are cold abodes that do not go beyond the function of simply providing roofs and spaces for its residents. Lacking in warmth and hospitality, the walls do not speak of the many stories that have transpired there. They are functional structures with no soul.

I am confident that this new structure rising at the back of our property will be a natural setting for creativity, bonding and many fun activities that will bring luck and happiness and store good memories for us. Lydia’s efforts will guarantee that. It will not be just a building but a home as well. It will be an awesome place for all who come and visit. Mostly, I am excited at the prospect of our kids, and our grandchildren playing and sleeping there.

Experiencing miracles

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated November 11, 2012 – 12:00am

Miracles occur naturally as expressions of love. They are performed by those who temporarily have more for those who temporarily have less.

—A Course in Miracles

I came upon the book A Course in Miracles (ACIM) more than 10 years ago. I still read it from time to time. The quote above always gets to me. We think of miracles as something of divine origin but this quote says they occur when an act of love is done. To the authors, it is somewhat similar to the passing of energy (or “chi”) from an abundant source to someone experiencing scarcity.

Sometimes we find ourselves in a place of abundance. By this I mean abundance that is not just in material resources, but also in other ways such as physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. It is a powerful feeling, having more than enough of what you need so that you can actually share it without feeling you have lost anything in the process.

It’s wonderful to be in a state of abundance. It’s great to feel generous because you know that you lose nothing by giving. There is more where it came from, whatever it is. It feels like being in a state of wholeness, completeness. And the more you give, the more abundant you feel.

I have experienced abundance as well as a situation of not having enough, or running short on resources — not having enough money or the means to do what one wishes to do, or even spiritual poverty. It is a state of constant frenzy trying to fill a gap that seems impossible to breach. One is always worried, and counting and apportioning meager resources that seem to diminish in value every time one counts them. To not have enough, to be in a place of endless want, is a hellish place. It is like being in a hole that one can seem never to get out of, or in an insecurity that can never be healed.

And often, it makes one feel really bad because it can also bring a feeling of not being enough. It strikes at the very core of one’s self-worth, esteem and sense of being.

In life, no one is on top all the time. There is a funny but apt saying that goes, “Sometimes you are the statue, and sometimes you are the pigeon.” I experienced this acutely in Rome some years back. One night, I was onstage with the APO bowing to an SRO crowd who gave us a standing ovation. The next day, I was brought down to earth when I discovered that someone had picked my pocket and fleeced me of 650 euros — practically all the money I had with me. This brought home to me how fluid and temporary joy can be.

By the same token, no one stays a loser all the time unless one keeps choosing to be one. I know all this from personal experience since I have been on both sides.

Most of us have experienced giving material, emotional, psychological and spiritual generosity towards our fellowmen. We have given, from time to time, financial support to people in need. We have listened to people talk about their problems and seen them light up simply because someone took the time to listen to them. We may have done acts that have inspired others to do similar things.

Often, when I am more “awake” than usual, I am able to see this miracle, this passing of energy from one person to another. It happens when I summon a higher experience of consciousness and open myself to the reality that every moment is a new one that has never happened before and will not happen again, and every encounter I have can be a holy one.

Play with this idea a bit. What if every person you meet was actually sent to you by a divine source to teach you something or give you a message? I emphasize the word “every” here. It literally means everyone, not just people we like, or people who fit in a certain mode that gives comfort or resonance to our perceptions and biases. It includes even the people who turn us off, who are obnoxious, or people we loathe for whatever reason. And of course it also means people who may even hurt, threaten or humiliate us.

It forces us out of our comfort zone to accommodate this kind of reality. I don’t think I can do this 24/7 and it is probably for my own good that I do not. Besides, I am far from being so spiritually evolved that I can do this full-time. But opening ourselves to the miracle from time to time can be a transformative experience.

When I think of the thief who stole my money in Italy, or the people who have deceived me, or hurt me, I ask myself if I learned anything from them. What divine gifts, if any, did they bring me?

On a practical level, I did learn a few things — to be smart about where I hide my money, for example, or to be more careful who I talk to or choose to allow into my personal space. On the divine level, I may have learned that instead of acting instinctively and being angry, I can decide to act instead or merely react. One can choose to have a bigger view, a greater understanding to see the divine hand at play and even take the stance of forgiveness and compassion.

Sure, we can’t help but get angry when bad things happen. And it is okay to express it. But eventually, we must move on to a higher consciousness. To remain bitter, unforgiving, or even to fixate on plotting revenge takes too much energy from us and replaces it with a burning, insatiable want that depletes us of whatever positive life force is inside us. To nurture hatred is something like addictively chewing on a bone that has no sustenance left. We may think we are chewing it but it is actually eating us up.

I leave you with another quote from the book that goes, “What could you not accept, if you but knew that everything that happens, all events, past, present and to come are gently planned by One Whose only purpose is your good?”

If you can believe this, then every encounter you have can be a miraculous event. Something is always passed on and it is both given and received. Miracles happen more often than we think and we can only see them if we are awake to them. Don’t resist the exchange. Whatever you give you receive as well and that’s how you experience miracles every second of your life.

Mortality on my mind

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated November 04, 2012 12:00 AM

I have been thinking about and examining my body lately. My hair is salt and pepper. My face has a few wrinkles. My teeth are nice. I have a more or less flat stomach. My legs are thin. I have a few attractive cuts when I flex my arms, which I am proud of. My overall health is great. My constitution is strong.

Recently, as part of gym training, I took a gym physical and was astonished at the results. I excelled in most categories, although I failed in two. I was able to do 60 pushups in one minute while the average for anyone my age is 18. But I failed the flexibility test since I can’t make both arms touch each other from the back.

Our bodies are with us from the day we are born. They house our memories, observations, intuition and spirit, and will do so until the day we die. My body, with all its senses and organs, is actually the only way I can experience anything — movement, joy, pain, speed, temperature, sweat, hunger, taste, fullness, lust, saturation, etc. It also houses my finer sensory abilities like intuition and extracting the meaning of things while living a mortal life. It is my door to all experience.

Looking back at how I felt about my body when I was young, I shake my head a bit. When you are young, healthy and at your prime, your body is something you hardly think about. It delivers everything you ask it to. It is tireless, full of stamina to engage in anything, including all the foolishness you can think of. Well, almost all.

In my college days, I smoked for just about a year or two. I gave up the habit under dramatic circumstances. I had a girlfriend whose dad was dying of emphysema and I was stupid enough to enter his hospital room with a cigarette in my mouth. His angry admonition — “Have you no respect for a dying man?” — put an end to my smoking right then and there.

As my girlfriend cried and scolded me for my insensitivity, I meekly crumpled my pack of Marlboros and threw it away. When I think about it now, that was an experience I will be forever thankful for.

In my youth, I could stay up all night and party. I had no trouble sleeping. I ate a lot or skipped meals and never worried about my health. I even tried a few illegal substances in moderation. If I remembered to take my vitamins, I would. I worried occasionally about pimples, or about getting sick during an important event like a prom, but that was about it. I was more attentive to whether I should keep my hair long or short. What an amazingly wonderful existence it was, I can now say, now that I am in my early 60s.

These days, I take extra care of what I eat and try to be healthy to the best that I can. I do not smoke and hardly imbibe alcohol. I do stretches and exercise as regularly as I can. I try to have a positive outlook in life and remain creative and happy. I have few vanities. I like a good haircut, an occasional massage, and comfortable shoes and clothes. As I get older, I find myself seeking more comfort than before.

I have slowed down a bit, but not a lot compared to many people my age. I still do a lot of physical activity — I take long walks and do gym exercises, jog a little, go through lots of grueling travel, conduct workshops, and I can sing for two and a half hours in a concert. I can handle a full schedule without getting tired. But I am not under any illusion that I will be this strong forever.

I have seen many people, young and old, come and go. A once healthy body can and does get sick; it can deteriorate rapidly, and even die. Or an accident can snuff out the life of a person who is physically fit. I am no exception. No one is. Mortality is always on my mind.

As I write this a few days before All Souls’ Day, I think of those who have come and gone and reflect on what life on earth is really all about. I think of life as one brief shining moment when spirit is made flesh and is housed in a physical body. For one human lifetime, spirit is allowed to experience physical, sensorial and sensual pleasures and the pains that they go with. Many times it may even forget its origin as spirit and define itself as a totally material phenomenon.

If you are of the Christian tradition, you will agree that even God wanted this experience of living in a human body. Jesus did.

The Christian faith says we have one shot at life. The Buddhists say we reincarnate continuously to perfection. I really do not know which can be proven to be true or not. To me, reincarnation is something metaphorical, but it implies a lot of truth. While I am not sure whether we literally reincarnate, it is true that a human life is so rich that it may take man many lifetimes to fully understand the big ticket items like what love and Oneness mean, and how we are truly made in the image and likeness of the Divine.

But if it is true that we only have one shot at life, as Christians believe, then we should make the most of every mortal moment that unfolds in the space-time continuum. Look at life as a mission and don’t procrastinate about what your mission is. You can and must discern it just by being alive.

Cemeteries, columbaries are monuments that can make one quite reflective. They tell us that there were people who once were alive, just like us. They lived, loved, laughed, sang, and did everything that we do. And all of it has ended for them. I sometimes wonder how many of them actually lived life the way they wanted to.

Spirit has no beginning, and it has no end. But somewhere and somehow, it is plucked out of timelessness and eternity and made to experience mortality. It is thrown out of Eden to experience being human.

I wrote a book once entitled Between Blinks where I suggested that human life is a mere blink. We live it without truly seeing, lost as we are in material and mortal callings, when in truth, we are spirits having a mortal experience. May this season of the dead remind us to reflect that we are spirit first before we are human, that this body, which came from the dust of the Big Bang of an evolving universe, will surely return to dust. And the spirit will live on.