My Ananyana getaway

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated April 26, 2015 – 12:00am

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Got a call from my photographer friend Dennis Saco from Bohol. He asked me if I had time to go to Bohol and shoot with him. We had shot together before and really had fun. He told me he had talked to a resort owner to sponsor my stay there. I immediately said yes.

Two days later I was in Bohol. I checked in at the Ananyana Resort where Emma Gomez, the resort owner, greeted me warmly. I instantly liked her. I also met Nema, a Danish guest vacationing in Bohol. Everything and everyone that I encountered the minute I got there — the staff, the physical resort, even the dog — seemed to radiate positive vibes. I knew I had made the right decision to go, however whimsical it was.

It was the right time to be there. Psychologically, mentally, perhaps even spiritually, I was beginning to feel depleted. What brought me to this state of mind was a combination of things and events that have made me go through highs and lows. A marriage of a daughter, the 100th birthday of my dad and the likely last family reunion we will ever have (because we are all getting old) brought me into a melancholic state. The punishing summer heat made the inertia I felt insurmountable. I was beginning to feel depressed.

As a creative, I know that it is almost always better to show up rather than turn things down. And that was why I was in Ananyana Resort in Panglao, Bohol. I fought the inertia that told me to stay home and cocoon in misery, and was happy about it.

There are many reasons to like Ananyana. It is a 13-room resort with really spacious rooms, gardens and green areas. It is near the beach and only a few people hang around this part of Bohol. It is 25 minutes from the city. The food is good. The staff members are friendly and efficient, and the ambiance is homey, calming and just wonderful.

Normally, when one goes on a vacation somewhere, especially when you ride a plane to get there, you feel primed to see and do as much as you can to make it worthwhile. After all, you went through all the trouble to be on vacation.

For this three days and two nights, I decided not to be in a rush to do anything. I just wanted to completely chill out and do only what moved me. No striving to get the most of anything. I did not want to feel like a kid in a candy store. No kicks to look for. No goals to achieve. There was nothing compelling to do. I just wanted to unwind, relax, de-stress, and let every muscle in me un-flex.

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I enjoyed the afternoon breeze, the juice I was sipping, the company of Emma and Nema and another guest from Palawan named Eddie Brock as we happily discovered common friends we had. We exchanged lots of stories, too.

We also went to see places not normally shown to tourists. Emma brought us to the old but magnificent Abuquerque Church one morning where there was a “museum” that housed religious paintings done on flat yerro. We also had lunch at the ancestral home, an old landmark house that served home-cooked meals.

In the two afternoons I was in Ananyana, I took photos with Dennis who invited some comely-looking Boholanas to the beach. They were fun, pleasant shoots. No stress about submitting pictures to editors. We were not working. We were shooting just for the fun of it.

At dusk, I would simply look out over the horizon and appreciate the timeless cycle of day turning into night. After dinner, there was pleasant conversation over coffee.

During my brief stay at the resort, I was in silent awe at the genius of Mother Nature: how she seems to know what she is doing and has known since the beginning of time.

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With Ananyana Resort owner Emma Gomez at Albuquerque museum

There was no reason for the world to fall apart just yet, I thought. Everything outside of me knew its own place. They all knew what to do and did it simply and without effort. The waves would come in strong at high tide and recede at low tide and come in again in an endless cycle. The birds would chirp and the breeze would blow at the proper time. Low temperatures gave way to high ones and back again.

The simplicity and directness of nature unraveled the tension and knots that had me stressed, depleted and tired.

It will certainly not be my last visit to Ananyana Resort. I was already talking to Emma about a possible arrangement to stay much longer and do some writing.

It was just amazing to quiet down and allow myself to focus on what was happening “in the background.” There are lessons we learn and forget. Luckily, we are given the opportunity to relearn them again. There is so much going on in life that can make us happy or miserable. We just have to focus on the right things to enchant our daily living.

Why I am optimistic about 2016

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated April 19, 2015 – 12:00am

I have lived through 10 presidencies. I have participated in many elections. More than any election in the past, I am seeing people worrying about who will replace P-Noy in 2016. And they fret because elections are just a little over a year away.

The specter of a Binay presidency is leading many people I know to panic and pessimism. They worry that all the gains of this administration, particularly against corruption, will be lost and we will be back to the bad days of baluktot na daan.

Over the years, I have learned a few things about elections and politics and I am not anywhere near panicking about it. Here’s why.

1) One week is a long time in politics. And one year is very long. Politics by its very nature is volatile. Situations can and do change rapidly. Nothing is sure as of now. And with Binay’s ratings falling drastically, who knows what his chances will be by next year?

As of now, we really do not know who will actually run so any speculation is quite premature. Until people actually file their candidacies, nothing is certain.

The moment people officially proclaim their candidacies, watch how quickly the landscape will change. P-Noy decided to run nine months before elections. If I remember right, Binay was not many months ahead in declaring too.

Remember how two years before the last election, we were so sure that Manny Villar would be the next president? He certainly looked like a sure winner. He had the popularity and the resources to carry out a massive campaign. But then, life (and death) had other plans for the country.

2) The candidate who can get the support of People Power will be formidable and will win. Writer Paolo Coelho wrote that lightning never hits the same place twice. But if it does, you can expect it to hit a third time. Cory became president riding the tidal wave of People Power. People Power was a new phenomenon in politics then. And it was real. After that turning point in our history, it happened again. This same phenomenon that made her president swept her son into power.

And like Coelho said, it is not farfetched that it could happen a third time. People Power can detect those who take the presidency seriously without the lust for power.

I once encountered a politician who was very skeptical about people power. He doubted it because he simply did not understand it. He kept asking me, “Okay, who do I talk to in this so-called People Power group?” I had to explain that People Power is not one person or an organized group. It is a vibe, a wave among citizens that recognizes leaders who are sincere and true and gives its support to them.

He was clearly traditionally educated in politics. He could not get out of his understanding of the old system of patronage. I could sense he was looking for the “ward leaders” of People Power in order to win their support. But People Power moves spontaneously, on its own energy, without instructions from anyone.

When Cory and then P-Noy ran, people spontaneously made posters, leaflets, even campaigned house-to-house and raised funds by themselves. Sure, there were organized fundraisers and leaders, but the ordinary people who were not part of any political party or affiliated with organized groups took their own initiatives to make sure their collective will and effort would win the presidency for their candidates. They spontaneously organized themselves to make it happen.

A lot of politicians do not understand this phenomenon. They think they can buy People Power, or else replicate it, harness it or even own it.

3) Many people believe that the majority of Filipinos will sell their votes. Many are cynical that money will entirely rule the elections. I am very sure that money will be a big factor in 2016. But I am also sure that many Filipinos have learned from bitter experience the consequence of selling their votes as they did in the past.

Just as many of us are cynical, I also meet many who are more hopeful and believe that Filipinos have become more discerning. We all want the Philippines to move forward economically, socially and politically and we are now demanding more transparency and effective governance.

More than ever, as netizens, we are discussing the issues that matter to us, thanks to social media. While many voices are loud and strident, there are those who feign anger to promote the interests of discredited leaders who never did anything when they were in power. But people are catching on and many are not buying it.

I belong to this group who believe we have become smarter through the years. I am optimistic that a decent candidate will emerge and save the day for reform in the Philippines. And he will be supported.

4) The last thing I want to say is this: China with its massive resources will surely back a presidential candidate who will protect its interests in the Philippine Sea. Watch out for the wannabe who has already called for a joint venture with China in our own territorial waters.

He’s the candidate we should not vote for.

Finding my sacred space

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated April 12, 2015 – 12:00am

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Sometimes I feel like a geographical area that’s been rained on and flooded. But instead of water, I feel like I’ve been deluged by posts on social media. There is a lot to read out there. People are sharing many things online that, in truth, I mostly don’t care about.

Instead, I feel like I am marooned in a swirl of voices, each one of which is trying to engage me. I feel surrounded and trapped in the social media world where I am spending a lot of time. I scroll mindlessly through Facebook and Twitter, passively reading other people’s posts, many of which are pretty useless, if not dumb and a waste of time. But they are hard to resist, because they have become a habit.

At times like this, I feel I am losing my sacred space. I am being pushed and pulled in all directions. I am exchanging real living for a virtual life.

A sacred space is something one can go to and get centered and revitalized. It is a place where one can get in touch with himself in a comfortable and healing way. It is a sanctuary from all the noise and dust of the world. And this place is not found on a laptop monitor or a gadget screen.

I know a lot of people who constantly say they need to get away. They have jobs, obligations, responsibilities that they wish to leave behind for a while in order to feel relaxed and rejuvenated.

The mountains, a quiet lake, going to a new place here or abroad, new surroundings, can really help. This works for me, too. I often feel lonely, bored, stressed and distracted and going somewhere helps me unwind. It helps to be in some version of paradise and chill.

But a physical journey alone will not really solve anything. We all need an internal journey as well. In my case, in order to de-stress or find my balance, more than being in an actual place, I need to engage in some activity. I need to go inside myself.

Without caring for my internal needs, I am easily stressed when I return from a vacation. I find myself yearning for another escape. That’s because while I may have been physically somewhere, enjoying new sensory and tactile sensations, something inside me was not really there. A part of me was not awake to where I was.

The sacred space I need is the one inside me where I am present to myself. It is a state more than a place — a state of silent awareness where I let things settle. I purposely and willfully stop myself from worrying, grasping, wanting or achieving anything. I do not try to “feel” happy or sad or any emotion I am capable of feeling. I just allow things and myself to be.

This way I begin to know myself again and discover much of the fine print that makes me who I am.

The internal journey is like peeling an onion. I peel away layer upon layer of various identities that I subscribe to and invest in, in my everyday life. I peel away the superficial me which often represents me to the world. I peel away hurts, pains, fake feelings. I peel away concerns and causes that pull at me in everyday life. I peel away my default modes, among them the one that says I must make the world a better place. I peel away as much as I can until much of the non-essentials are removed.

Then I feel light and spacious inside myself. I begin to look at things with fresh eyes and feel things with real intensity. I go as I go. I smell the flowers. I connect two points not in a circuitous way but with a straight line. I see everything with more vividness and intensity. I am awake sensually. I feel the radiance of being alive. I am present to where I am and what is unfolding before me.

“The only Zen you find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there.” These words from the American author Robert M. Pirsig resonate with me deeply. To control the world, don’t look for the switches outside you. Look inside.

The idea of an internal journey is not so much to change yourself but to be in touch with who you really are. To others, it may seem like nothing has changed with you, despite your introspection. But to yourself, you know when you are being true and when you are being less so. You are not confused about your motives.

And that is liberating.

A life of awareness, a life of epiphany

HUMMING buy trusted tablets pharmacy IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated April 5, 2015 –

Sit on a couple of pillows with legs in lotus position. If you can’t, just sit on any chair. Keep feet flat on the ground. And your back should be straight. Do not slouch. Try to find comfort in that position.

Think of nothing.

Okay. I know that is close to impossible. In that case simply watch your thoughts pass by. Do not entertain them. Just let them enter your mind’s blank screen and let them pass. Do this for a while. No clinging. Do not invest emotionally as thoughts pass by. Just observe them for what they are. They are only thoughts.

Be calm.

Soon, you will realize how many thoughts you actually entertain automatically. It is as if you can’t help it. You cling to some and the others you let go. Your mind seems to control you when you should be controlling your mind.

But if you keep doing this, you will soon feel less anxious and reactive about them. You will calm down and you will see thoughts and feelings as just phenomena rising and leaving your mind, no different at all from clouds passing by.

You may also begin to see not just your thoughts and feelings but also yourself in the third person having those thoughts and feelings. You become capable of seeing an “objectified” you. When this happens, you have now become both subject and object. You are the one being watched and the one watching. And you may wonder how it happened.

What actually happens to a lot of meditators is this; the “witness” appears. Because you can objectify your thoughts, you can also now see yourself as an object too.

Who is the witness? Well, it is also you. As simple as that sounds like, it is a big deal. And sensing the witness inevitably leads you to inquire further about who you really are.

If I am also the witness, how am I doing it? To understand better, ponder on these questions: Who is it that experiences the world through your senses? The one who looks through your eyes, and smells through your nose and feels with your skin? Who is the one who cries and laughs, and feels and works up the emotions you are capable of?

If you answered “me” to the questions, then you are correct. But how correct you are will only be revealed the deeper your awareness goes.

And the more you probe into the witness, the deeper you are drawn in to this mystery of who you are. In my personal life, I know there is the Jim Paredes that people see, and a Jim Paredes that I alone seem to know well at times. I can distance my self and treat it as a third person.

But the more I reflect on this quaint and unique identity that is Jim Paredes, the more I know that everything about him is essentially all made up.

We conjure identities to distinguish ourselves from others. We are male or female or gay. We go to certain schools. We were born of a certain status, nationality, etc. We carry the title of the professions we belong to. We are perceived as many things to many people including ourselves.

In zen, the question, “What was your original face before your parents gave birth to you?” is often asked. This is so to break the comfort of identity, and go to the substance of who you are without all the titles we have been identified with.

We were spirit before we were born. As spirit we had no history or identity. We incarnate briefly into this life of details and identities, and become spirit once again when we die.

To me, this incarnate life we live is a mere blink in the eye of eternity. This is not the big deal because it is as transient as our thoughts and as the clouds passing by. We come and go.

Meditation makes you think of stuff like this. It takes you out of your usual perception of life as you mostly live it. The witness makes you more aware that everything, including those we deem as deeply important will surely also pass. And knowing that this is so makes us aware that everything is important.

As truthfully as I said two paragraphs ago that life is not THE big deal, I now say without fear of contradiction that life is also a big deal. It is a paradox. Why? Because since in this time and place we live in, we only have a few moments that will come and go, we must pay attention to every moment as a gift and live it fully.

Paying attention and knowing the value of every encounter and moment we live can lead us to a great respect and reverence for everything. We are life itself unfolding our unique story with the rest of the universes. We feel an overpowering sense of appreciation and gratitude for life itself. It is short. That is why it is valuable, because we will never pass this way again.

I purposely was not going to write about Easter in the traditional sense of talking about the Risen Lord, etc. Instead I wanted to share the simple but profound epiphany of this moment, this very now and every now that follows.

You may be reading this article to simply fill up the time before an important event, or doing so as a habit or for lack of anything to do. The reason does not matter. Just read with full presence. Whatever you are doing, do so with full attention.

Now turn on your witness mode and watch yourself do what you are doing. There is more to life than what you’ve ever suspected was going on. There is you, and the rest of the universe unfolding. There is ironically also the experience of timelessness even in this limited field of time and space that is life.

The witness is rejoicing! You are living a life that will never be lived again. And now you are aware of it and it is mind-blowing!