Fear, anger and denial

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated August 27, 2017 – 12:00am

I vowed not to write about politics. I have hardly touched the subject for many months now in my STAR column. I like my readers to enjoy their Sunday reading. So I would like to apologize at the outset: I am sorry but I can’t ignore what is happening around us. Murder and skullduggery are just too blatant already and “in-your-face.” The wild elephant in the room has now become too big to ignore.

For the first time since martial law, I am again sensing great fear coming from everywhere. It is palpable. You can almost poke it with a knife. Everyone seems to be in some state of fear. Some are on a high level. Some are just beginning to feel it. But it is there.

They fear for what is happening to the country. They fear that friends and family may be killed randomly by police in some drug raid. They fear that the peso is rapidly losing value against the US dollar. They fear that our government is giving away our islands to China. They fear we are destroying the gains of the past and slipping into a deterioration spiral. They fear we are isolating ourselves from our allies and the UN. There are so many things people are fearful about.

But every time fear is felt, anger cannot be too far behind. A lot of people these days are very angry and they are expressing themselves on social media. Friends who work with the urban poor tell me that people in depressed neighborhoods are very fearful of the drug war. They are afraid of weekly tokhangs and of being killed. And they are very angry that they are being targeted as a social class while government adheres extremely to due process regarding cases against wealthy, powerful Chinese drug lords.

Anger is a powerful tool. Emotions are part of who we are. Being angry serves a purpose. Every time we feel anger, our emotions are sounding big alarm bells. It is telling us many things. It must be listened to. Author of the book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron, explains why anger can make us powerful. She writes: “a) Anger tells us we are being violated; b) Anger tells us that we should do something; c) Anger reminds us that our boundaries have been trespassed; d) Anger tells us we can’t continue to live the way we have been living.”

Anger is an antidote to fear. Susan Jeffers wrote a bestseller years ago and the title alone says it all: Feel the Fear But Do It Anyway. Yes, do it because it needs to be done. Do it because you are motivated.

Many times I have stared fear in the face. When I was 14 years old, I faced two people who were ready to beat me up because a girl we were all courting was favoring me. They waited for me outside the girl’s house. They were angry at me. I was fearful. But I did nor run away and instead confronted them. I asked them to hit me right that moment if the plan was to beat me up. Get it over with, I said. I stared into their eyes and said I was ready to take the first blow. I waited and did not stop staring at them. After close to a minute, they turned around and left. I walked home proud of myself.

In 1983, my group APO Hiking Society started to comment politically in our concerts. Soon our comments against the regime became more spot-on and aggressive. We knew we were making ourselves targets of a regime that could really hurt us. We were warned by common friends of the Marcos children to tone it down. But we kept on. We were ready to take the consequences. We knew we were being watched but we still did it because we felt we had to. Soon we were banned from all media, and could not perform in government venues. Were we fearful? Absolutely! But did we stop? No. We were defiant to the end.

One of the things I notice is when we look at fear long enough, it often shrinks. I realize that our own fears can get overblown. We overrate them. But more than that, I also know that, deep down, an inner strength lives in us and we can summon it to face what threatens us. While fear can encourage panic, flight or avoidance, our anger can also inspire us to stand up to it. It is a challenge. Defiance strengthens our character and our resolve. “The devil that you swallow gives you its power,” said writer Joseph Campbell.

In the Philippines we live in now, there are people who want to bring out the worst in others. They will threaten and intimidate us. They will insult and try to shut out the reasonable voices. This is something we must not allow.

Before 2016, I can’t recall that there ever was a large cry for people to be murdered without due process. I don’t recall that there was a clamor for the death penalty, especially including kids as early as nine years old. I also can’t recall that people were willing to give our islands away to China without protesting. I don’t believe people relished and enjoyed rape jokes, or crude language then, especially coming from the president.

Imagine how much Aquino would have been pilloried if he said even one cuss word in public. Remember the hue and cry about PDAF? SAF 44? Or even something trivial like Kris Aquino being seen riding on a PSG helicopter? How Duterte can get away with bigger things, from mass murder, to nepotism, to freeing crooks from jail, to giving away our sovereignty to China, to uttering crudeness against our allies and the UN, and allowing his people to show arrogance of power and contempt against the people, is beyond explanation. He spends public money on travels bringing friends and supporters. He assigns incompetent people to government posts to repay favors and reward loyalty.

I don’t know what happened in 2016 that caused this moral breakdown and (un)civility to occur. It is as if 16 million surrendered their consciences to Duterte. They have stopped thinking and analyzing and seem to have shut down the tiny voice in their heads that helps them discern right from wrong.

When confronted with facts, they shun reason and militantly deny the truth. They are addicted to fake news even if many of them know it is fake. Perhaps it is because the most rabid find comfort in not having to face the reality that they erred greatly in their judgment.

Meanwhile, life goes on in the Philippines. The elephant in the room is getting bigger and bigger. It is also getting madder.

And soon, ignoring it will be almost impossible.

The ebb and flow of passion

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated August 20, 2017 – 12:00am

There are interests and hobbies we adopt in life at some point and there are those we let go of. I am talking of activities we do with passion and commitment. We spend years doing them until we tire of them. We stop devoting time and effort and eventually abandon them.

Sometimes, we leave them but only temporarily.

I used to love diving. I would be in Anilao almost every weekend to enjoy its many dive spots. I would also go diving in different places around the Philippines. I have gone to Tubataha twice. I was so adept at the sport that I had taken and passed all the tests to be an advanced diver and could have become a dive master if I had wanted to. I opted not to because I did not want the responsibility of taking care of others. I just wanted to enjoy diving with my buddies.

I had three regular diving buddies. One of them had to stop because of back problems. My closest dive buddy, Redford White, eventually gave in to his wife’s wishes for him to stop diving. She was always worried every time we went to Anilao. About six years ago Redford had cancer and died a year later. That hit me hard.

I have done only three dives in almost five years. I still have my gear but I have not gone underwater for a long time. I am not closing the door to it but I have no immediate plans to pick it up again. Maybe I need to meet new people to dive with if I wish to go back to it with the same passion.

For almost 10 years I was totally absorbed with the writings of Ken Wilber. I read every book he wrote. I thought he was one of the most brilliant people in the world. I still do. He speaks about transcendent experiences and states of the mind. He talks about enlightenment and Zen. He is not an easy read but I tried to understand everything he wrote by rereading the difficult passages many times. I even had his audiotapes and I would watch his videos on YouTube. During those years, I felt that my understanding of myself, reality and the world had broadened immensely.

During the past two years, I have sort of slowed down on my reading of his works. I know it is temporary. I still love Ken Wilber. He is still a major intellectual force in my life. I will get back to reading him maybe next year. Right now, I spend too much time on social media and am hardly reading any books.

I have been playing the guitar since I was 11 years old. The guitar was the instrument I adopted to express all the music I have inside me. I learned everything I know about music mostly through the guitar. I have spent a great deal of my life playing it. My love for guitar and music has given me a career and a good life.

There was a time when I could claim I was a very good guitar player. But not right now. During the past seven years, I have not spent time playing it the way I used to. In fact, there would be months when I would not touch it at all.

I used to have a decent layer of hardened skin (calluses) at the tip of my fingers because I played so much. They have largely disappeared. My fingers hurt easily now without them when I play.

Lately I have picked up my guitar again but not yet at the same level of passion I once did. But I have decided to get back to it and play every day. One of the reasons I lost interest in playing was because I have been singing with a live backup band for decades. I lost the need to play guitar. I only do now when I am writing songs. I also feel that today’s music just does not excite me the way the older music did. I am hardly inspired to learn new songs. But I have promised to keep playing and learning and to do more shows where I accompany myself with my guitar.

In school, I never indulged in any sport. In fact I avoided sports. I only began to be athletic in my mid 30s. I started going to the gym, and also took up some jogging and biking. As a jogger, I was quite devoted. I would do low-impact jogging three times a week. I wanted to build up endurance and stamina. At my peak, I could run 15 kilometers non-stop. But some 10 years back, I stopped jogging completely. I was worried that the continuous pounding on the pavement may destroy the remaining cartilage I have left in my leg joints. I replaced jogging with long brisk walking. I’ve been doing that for some years now.

As a biker, I was quite fanatical. I had an expensive racer bicycle. I had the proper clothes and gear including biking shoes that locked on to the pedals. I even joined a bike activity to Tagaytay which I finished in below four hours which was the cut-off time. I biked quite a lot in those days.

I’ve been biking on and off for more than two decades now. I’ve always enjoyed it. About six years ago however, I abruptly stopped.

I had an accident with an electric bike given to me as a gift by a sponsor after a concert. When it was delivered to my home, I gave it a try around the neighborhood just to check if it was in good working condition. I was without a helmet and had planned on buying one the next day. On my way back home, I was going 50 KPH and suddenly braked before reaching a hump. When I did, I flew off the bike landing on the pavement with the right side of my face hitting the road hump.

After a major operation that lasted seven hours and left me with pieces of titanium to reconstruct my cheekbone and left eye socket, I vowed never to bike again. I was physically and emotionally traumatized. It took months for my eye to look normal and years to heal. My electric bike is still at home and has not been touched since.

About two weeks ago, I saw a bike shop in my neighborhood. I went inside just to look around. Before I knew it I was inquiring how much a simple mountain bike would cost. By the time I left the shop, I had bought two bikes, one for my grandchild Ananda and one for me.

When I tried biking again for the first time in six years, my heart was pounding with both excitement and fear. I was in full concentration. The bike wobbled during the first few meters as I hit the pedal. I guess I was still too tentative. Soon I was going slowly but surely. I felt that familiar wind on my face that I used to enjoy before. It felt familiar and wonderful.

I am glad I have picked up biking again. It was something I had always enjoyed. I felt I had conquered a major fear and had overcome a trauma.

At my age now, I would still like to do a few more dives, walk and bike on a few trails with my camera, and do the Compostela pilgrimage. I still want to spend time in an ashram and write a few books. I will also show up more consistently and continue my meditation practice. I also want to take up a new language and travel extensively.

I think I still have enough passion and strength to do all these and a few more dreams. After all, passion begets more passion. If I stop, I may as well retire from life itself.

My tattooed family

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated August 13, 2017 – 12:00am
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Author Jim Paredes

We’ve all heard of the Catholic mantra that goes, “The family that prays together stays together.” There are a lot of people who believe this. To a great extent, I know that prayer makes people closer. It is a bonding experience.There are many other things that can bind and bond a family as well. We share many things in our family. But one special thing we have in common is we have all been tattooed.

Erica was the first one to get a tattoo at age 16. She was a rebellious teen. She got inked without telling us. We only found out when the Australian Embassy doctor who examined her for immigration sent her medical records to the house because Erica forgot to sign them. We found out that she had a butterfly tattoo on each side of her pelvis. When my wife told me about it. I was quite shocked and angry. People from my generation largely associated tattoos with criminals and lowlife. And here was my teen daughter who had not just one, but two tattoos.

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As a parent who wanted to understand my kid’s generation, I tried to be a bit more liberal and told them that they could decide on such things as tattoos, tongue, ear and nose rings etc. when they reached age 18.

But while I was miffed at Erica for not waiting, I found it quite funny as I watched her squirm her way out of the situation. After she got her first tattoos, she had many more that followed soon after. I could not understand then how anyone of sound mind was willing to undergo body disfigurement, or want to permanently etch something on their bodies until I read Joseph Campbell’s explanation for body piercing and tattoos.

It basically goes back to our tribal past. We moderns have not really outgrown morphing our bodies and probably never will. Mutilation, like circumcision on a young boy, announces that he has metamorphosed into a man. He is “disfigured” during this passage to manhood so that when he returns to his mother, his mom will no longer recognize him as her “little boy.” He has transitioned to the next stage. It is a milestone just like when kids turn 15 and get their driver’s license, or have a debut at age 16, or vote for the first time.

They are rituals that assure us our place in the world and that we are part of the order in the society we inhabit. Tattoos serve the same purpose. The young person basically announces that he/she is no longer just a member of her family but is now part of another, bigger tribe. And they wear permanent decals on their bodies to proclaim it.

It is a ritual of separation and differentiation from family and childhood. It is both a breaking from the past, and a membership to something new.Erica’s short-sleeve tattoo on her right shoulder and arm was designed and drawn on paper by my other daughter, Ala.

When I saw it on Erica, I was quite impressed. I’ve never seen a more elegant tattoo on anyone else. Strangely enough, it looks so feminine and uniquely attractive. My daughter Ala got her tattoo at age 28. She designed and drew it herself.

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Mio got his first one about nine years ago and intends to get more. He has had some done in the Philippines, a few in Australia and one in San Francisco. He has 10 tattoos at the moment.It was eight years ago when the kids gave their mom a tattoo for Christmas. They even accompanied her to Sin City, a tattoo parlor in our neighborhood.

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Surely, it is not the type of gift that kids normally give their moms. But Lydia is not your regular, ordinary mom and my kids are nowhere near typical. She had Ala design a dragonfly tattoo.I was the only one left without a tattoo after she had hers.

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In truth, I felt left out of my own family. After a few weeks, I asked Ala to design one that had meaning for me. If it was going to be permanent, I wanted it to reflect my love for music and Zen. I did not want to look through the usual catalogues that everyone looks through. I suggested to her a design featuring a guitar and a fox (symbol of Zen). I loved the way it turned out. I asked the tattoo artist to add a lotus flower and some greenery.

I’ve heard from many people who have been inked how addicting it is. My daughter Erica has 23 all over her body. She is not through yet. My son is also keen on getting more. I want a second one but I haven’t decided yet on what it will be. When I got inked, I actually had mixed feelings immediately after.

Knowing it would be there forever got me a little depressed. I thought I may have been too hasty in getting one at my age. But as days went by, I began to accept and like it. I felt it added a new dimension to me. People get inked for many reasons. They do it to immortalize a love, to remember an experience, to mark a threshold crossed, or maybe tell stories.

Writers N.R. Walker and Steven Cohen had this to say about getting inked: “Maybe that’s what I needed: another tattoo. Some pain on the outside to ease the pain on the inside.”

Even if there are lasers now that can have them removed, a tattoo is something you should not decide about on a whim since it is something that can stay with you for life if you want it. Think about it. Make sure it is a statement you can live with. Do it with love. Respect the human canvas you are wearing by filling it with things that mean something to you. And wear it with pride.