Conversations with God

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated January 22, 2017 – 12:00am

A few days ago, Lydia and I were walking around our neighborhood as part of our exercise when we met an old friend who was walking on her way to our parish church. After the usual greetings, she told us she was going to join other people in praying the rosary at the church. This was her daily routine, she said. When we asked her what she was praying for, she looked at us seriously and said she was praying for the state of the world, which needs a lot of fixing. I can understand that, I told myself. We talked some more until she bid us goodbye.

I remembered my mother who was quite a prayerful woman. At the height of the Cold War, she prayed for the collapse of communism, the godless evil of her generation. My siblings and I would roll our eyes when she included the conversion of Russia as a special intention during our nightly rosary.

It just seemed so impossible then. The USSR was a strong, mighty fortress that dominated a big part of the world and geopolitics. It had a military that was ready to fight the most powerful nation in the world, the USA.

There was a certain child-like quality in the way Mom practiced her religion that I used to scoff at, kind of. Maybe it was a generational thing. I thought she was too dependent on faith, whatever faith was. I was a haughty young man. But on the day the Berlin Wall fell, I felt humbled that my mother’s seemingly useless and unrealistic attempts at reshaping the world had become real and had manifested.

Since then, I began to take prayers seriously, especially the prayers of the elderly. They certainly know more about this than I do. Their faith is strong and they never give up. Thank you, Mom, for this valuable lesson. I have learned that to engage in prayer involves the summoning of very strong forces to change how things are.

As I have gotten older, I notice I am turning more and more to prayer. I don’t know if this is a natural tendency as people age. I just know that I do and with good reason: I have prayed many times and my intentions have been granted many times.

I do not care to analyze the science, or the absence of it, behind prayers. I just know that it is a powerful force that does good for the one who prays and the intended beneficiary.

I also look at prayer as something that refines me in some ways. It clears my mind as I focus on my true intentions. I get to know my own fine print.

Sometimes, I pray for something specific to happen until I realize that what I really want is for everything to just be all right. And that means that what I specifically pray for to make things all right does not have to tie God’s hands to the “how” it must happen. I have to surrender to the ways of the Higher Power. Maybe I am actually praying to God to make me accept whatever happens. Maybe that’s what it means for everything to be “all right.”

The other Sunday, I saw a woman in her 30s and her father enter the church and walk to their pew. I noticed that she walked very slowly, assisted by her father. Her right hand was clutched in a fist and placed close to her stomach and her movements were very slow. Her strength was coming from the left side of her body, which was dragging the right side. She must have suffered a stroke at her young age.

All throughout the Mass, I kept looking toward her, checking to see if she was all right. I prayed for her. After Mass, I told Lydia and my granddaughter Ananda that I had this urge to go and talk to her. I went up to her and struck up a conversation.

I simply expressed to her the empathy I felt at that moment. I told her and her dad that I wanted to pray that she be healed. I apologized for intruding too much by expressing myself in a straightforward manner. She was crying but I could feel her joy seeing that a stranger cared about her condition. I promised to pray often that she recovers completely.

I have observed that one characteristic of the prayerful is humility. I am still learning that. One must accept that we have very little control over things. This is where my prayers of gratitude originate. I often pray not to ask for anything but only express joy and gratitude for just being alive and being where I am right now. I give thanks for the person I have become and living in the time and place that I am in, surrounded by people I love and who love me.

I also do Zen meditation, which is a form of prayer. Zen is a letting go of concerns, a distancing from the world and one’s ego to meet the bigger Self that embraces and includes all sentient beings. A few days ago, I imagined during meditation that God was actively healing the woman I met in church. I also often imagine spreading love to friends, loved ones and even strangers.

Many times in the day, I find that I am talking to myself. When I notice this, I consciously decide and make my inner dialogue a conversation with God, or what others may want to think as their higher selves. You may want to ask: Am I really talking to God? Often, I think I am. Do I get answers? Yes. One answer He gave was that He would heal that woman. I believe that.

Sometimes, I ask if I am just talking with myself. It’s a real possibility.

And then I hear God say, Does it matter?

The dictator called life

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated January 15, 2017

Life is a dictator. It is cruel, impersonal, and does not care for anyone. You must live by its rules. There are immutable laws that one must comply with if we must live a life. You must obey them, or suffer more than you should.

First and foremost, there is gravity that we must immediately recognize. In the early parts of life, it seems like we can accommodate it easily. Sure, you trip, you fall when you are learning to deal with it. You can break your bones, too. As a young person with a flexible, strong body, you can jump, dance, run and play with it, and it may even seem like you can defy it. But as you get older, gravity gets stronger as your body gets progressively weaker until your relationship with gravity is pure subservience to it. You can’t jump as high, you tire easily, and the chores you do daily become generally more difficult.

Like a dictator, life insists on its own rules. All we can do is comply. Sometimes we think we can defy the rules, but we wake up and realize we are just fooling ourselves.

Here are some of the life rules that may take us forever to learn, yet we must.

1) You can’t deny life. It is alive and “on” every moment, whether you notice it or not. You may take mood-altering substances to make it seem like it does not exist. You may consciously ignore life’s demands and imperatives. But reality will always rear its ugly head and, sooner or later, you will have to deal with it.

2) Everything has consequences, whether you act on them or not.

3) Whether or not you see yourself as a good person, you will hurt someone.

4) The person you love the most will be the person you will probably hurt the most.

5) Life will pull you every which way and this will bring you great pleasure, pain, confusion, fear, love. Whatever happens, you must strive for balance at all times. This is paramount.

6) You will age. Your body will surrender. You will die. That’s for sure.

7) The weather will affect not just your moods but also your health and disposition. Global warming will be a big factor in choosing where and how you will live.

8) You will have to meet, face, deal with and accept yourself whoever, whatever and however you are, if you wish to have peace and happiness. This may take quite a while to achieve. But you must do it.

9) The earlier you realize the you are not entitled to anything, and accept this dictatorial edict of life, the sooner you will be happy and peaceful.

10) You are a unique being living in a particular time and space. You cannot live the life of another human being, no matter how much you try. You are forced to be you. You alone must decide and define who you are and what your purpose is in this world.

11) No matter how physically beautiful you are, or how together you seem to be, or how highly you regard yourself, there is an ugly side to you that you must come to terms with.

12) You will affect people and people will affect you, for better or for worse.

13) If you don’t show up for your own life, no one will. The more you show up, the better your chances are at living it.

14) Life is not always fair. You deal with what is put on your plate.

15) The only way to free yourself from misery is to accept the ugly, miserable dictatorship of life. Only then does it become bearable and beautiful.

16) But all is not gloomy. Lastly, despite the dictatorship, happiness, peace, love, fulfillment and meaning can be achieved.

Going against the world

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated January 8, 2017 – 12:00am

I am six and a half decades old. I have learned a lot of things. Yes, a lot! But I have not learned everything I need to navigate through life without pain and hardship.

I don’t think I am even close to knowing half of what I should know to be true, and be sure of by now. Life is simply too big to master. ?Joseph Campbell likened life to entering a movie house in the middle of the movie and leaving before it ends.

What you saw is what life is to you. From there, you draw your own conclusions. It is a good metaphor, but I am guessing it is even more complicated than that. Not all of us may have even watched the same movie.?

One of the most difficult lessons to learn is how to be a good or outstanding human being. It is not easy because all our mistakes and weaknesses come from our being human.

But so do our strengths and blessings. It’s a double-edged sword. You live with who you are and what you are given, learn to accept it and thrive on how your cards are dealt in this life. And hopefully you come out of it okay.?

As I get older, I realize more and more that to be an outstanding human being, one must go against the ways of the world. One must take the uncharted path, and walk and march against the tide, the wind, and the forces of the world.?

The ways of the world are what many see as “the practical way.” Don’t question. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t create trouble. And don’t challenge the order.

Many people can live like this. I find that I cannot.?The rewards of the world — if you follow its ways and value systems — are wealth, fame, respectability, privilege, entitlement, power, authority, comfort and pleasure, and sometimes all these are given in doses way beyond what you can imagine. It must be great to have it all. This must be how it appears to both the rich and those who have barely enough to live on.

?And yet, we hear of people who have most or all of these things but are still unhappy. Something must be wrong with the setup.?What I have learned in life so far is that all these rewards are great when you know how to handle them.

They are wonderful gifts until you obsess over them. Then they become a hunger that can’t be filled, a desire that can’t be quenched, an addiction that can’t be sated.?A person can look at his last P50 and feel rich when he can share it with someone. A man with P50 million may feel impoverished if he just lost P200 million. The thing is to have no attachment.

It is easy to say but it takes some difficulty to actually be comfortable with this attitude.?In my life, I have experienced a modicum of fame, wealth, reputation, authority, comforts and pleasures of life. I have seen my fame rise and fall many times. For all my modest achievements, there will come a day when all my songs will be forgotten.

My youthful looks in my 20s, my energy and health, have dissipated over time. There will come a day when no one will even remember me. ?I have no problem with that. This is one of the ways of the world I have accepted to be true. Nothing is permanent.?

I do have a problem when I look at the world and see how lost we are in our own noise and conflicting visions. We want peace, security and happiness but we are intolerant of others who are different from us. We want a world of abundance yet we wantonly destroy the environment. ?We have given so much value to speed, connectivity, physical beauty, ego, wealth, modernity, convenience, comfort and instant gratification but we have lost our ability to pay attention. We have also lost the wisdom that tells us that true human connections like love, friendship, relationships take time and patience, and that everything we have that is of value took effort and time to make it that way.

How many still see the value of reading the old classics? History? Read our newspapers. How many of us see the importance of changing society? How many are willing to question our leaders about their policies or their integrity? How many really want to understand and have compassion for people who live with less? Or would we rather just be quiet, not question or rock the boat and just accept things as they are since changing things for the better is just too hard??

Apply the same rigor that we use to judge the world to ourselves. How many are willing to get deep down and real below the noise level of the world and question their own motives??

Civilization has moved from savagery to moments of great civility because people have defied laziness, fear, hate, ignorance and cynicism. We have defied physical and moral entropy. We have to do more to keep moving forward. We can easily slide backwards if we don’t watch out.

Entropy, the rule of physics that governs the built-in tendency of things to rot and be destroyed by time and gravity, is way too compelling.?This is where the call to paradox must be followed to. To save the world and ourselves, one must, to some extent, reject its ways. To live a life of meaning, one must be willing to give up a lot, or even lose it. To be a good human being, one must be able to deny oneself, especially one’s ego.

To see hope in a disappointing world, one must be instilled with the capacity for gratitude and faith in humanity.?When you think about it, this is how man has managed to survive through the eons. A few have dared to challenge the ways of the world. It has not always been a forward march. Sometimes, humanity slacked. Let us not forget this especially at this time. Let us keep going against the world.

My fearless forecasts for 2017

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated January 1, 2017 – 12:00am

I feel the spirit of past eons shaking my body, urging me to act. I hear Nostradamus whispering in my ear, begging me to be his voice in this uncaring modern world.
Yes, it is again that time of the year to foretell what lies ahead in 2017. Once again, I boldly make predictions on what to expect in the new year. To carry out this mission, I meditated for days to cleanse my spirit. I prayed for guidance that I might think clearly. Lastly, I took a small dose of Fentanyl. This last act excuses me from any liability since I am clearly not of sound mind as I write this.
Here goes:

1) The Death Penalty bill and the bill lowering the criminal age to nine years old will not be passed. Because of world opinion, both bills will take a crazy twist and suddenly become an “Abortion law” which will have far more acceptance in the world. Here’s how: the legislators will redefine the definition of a fetus to that of “life up to 70 years old.” Upon passage, the law will stipulate that people who commit death-penalty-worthy crimes will simply be “aborted.”

2) To soften his image and reputation, Duterte’s spokespersons, using “creative interpretation,” will reveal that the President loves Sanrio and Pikachu, and that he actually has an extensive collection of these cute creatures. He will also silence his critics by manufacturing and distributing “Tickle Me Rody” dolls to children of EJK victims.

3) The burning issue of Marcos’ burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani will finally be settled with a brilliant compromise. There will be no digging to transfer the corpse elsewhere, or a change in the name of the hallowed ground where our heroes are buried. The perimeter fence will simply be moved so that the area where the dictator is currently buried will no longer be part of LNMB.

4) Many experts have predicted that the BPO business will slow down because of Duterte’s anti-American policies. What will take their place will be Troll Centers to serve not only the interest of Philippine government officials but anyone in the world who needs to threaten, insult or curse others. Everyone will be amazed at how good Filipinos have become at name-calling, slut-shaming and misogynist speech. These Troll Centers will bring in a lot of foreign currency and will be the new bright star of our economy.

5) Between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, the US and Russia will become one nation. It is still being decided whether Russia will be a state of the US, or the US will be one of Russia’s republics.

6) Donald Trump’s inaugural will proceed without a hitch. The performers who have agreed to participate are the Bolshoi Ballet, the Moscow Circus, and the Ku Klux Klan’s Children’s Choir.

7) The charges against Senator Leila de Lima will be thrown out by the courts. To get back at her, Congress will pass a law making illegal parking punishable by death. The very hour after the bill becomes law, they will block De Lima’s parking space in the Senate and all parking spaces wherever she goes.

8) Brexit has happened. The prediction is Francexit will follow soon. More EU countries will go the same route. After a few years, a new movement will emerge in these countries that will lead them back to the EU. It will be called Fixit!

10) The Philippines will change the design of its flag. It will be red with one big star on the left and on the star’s right will be by four stars arching around it. Red, the color of blood, will supposedly signify how much the President “loves this country.” The big star will stand for unity and the four smaller stars for Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao and the Spratlys.

The government will brush off criticism that it looks very similar to the Chinese flag.

11) China, Russia and the Philippines will proceed with the alliance that Duterte has proposed. As an acronym, it will be known as CRAP!

12) Science will discover that evolution has completely stopped and, in fact, has begun its reversal. Data will show that the rate of “reverse evolution” is accelerating at an enormous pace. What used to take decades and centuries is now happening within weeks and months — but in reverse! Their studies are based on behavioral patterns of the electorate in both the Philippines and the US in 2016.

13) To everyone’s surprise, there will suddenly be a big debate about the name of the planet Uranus. The debate will not be among astronomers but among linguists. Some will argue that the current spelling of the planet is “too millennial” and that the grammatically correct spelling should be YOUR ANUS (with space in between).

The debate will last for years.

14) As the Monkey exits on Jan. 27, 2017, the Chicken/Rooster enters. It will be a great year for congressmen, senators, judges and local officials who are afraid to speak out against the President.

15) The Big Bang theory will be almost debunked by Buddhist scientists. They will spark a discussion when they present a scientific paper that tries to answer the question: “If the Big Bang happened and obviously there was no one there to hear it at the moment it supposedly did, did it actually create a sound?”

16) The Mayan calendar will make a comeback and it will predict that the new end of the world will be on Dec 24, 2017. This will cause havoc during Christmas shopping since people will postpone buying presents until Christmas day itself. If it ever comes!

17) The UN Secretary-General will suddenly resign and the replacement will come from Asia. The contenders will be Kevin Rudd (ex-Prime Minister of Australia), Junichiro Koizumi (ex-Prime Minister of Japan), and Mocha Uson (muse of the Metro Manila Film Festival). The winner will be Mocha Uson. The immediate effect? It will convince Duterte to speak more politely towards the United Nations and stop threatening to burn down the UN building in New York.

19) My final prediction for 2017 is this, and you can bank on it:

The sun will come out tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow, there’ll be sun! Tomorrow is only a day away.