The field between right and wrong

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – May 27, 2018 – 12:00am

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about. – Rumi

Let me ask you.

How many people have you blocked people on social media because of politics? I am not talking about trolls or people who are paid to give you a bad time. They do deserve to be blocked. I am talking of relatives, friends, acquaintances you may have been close to in varying degrees but are estranged from right now. We used to see them on our timelines and media feeds but not anymore since we do not want them there because of their views and they probably are avoiding us, too.

These are hard times. The divide caused by political differences is so deep and contentious it has spilled beyond mere politics. It is so deep some see it as a battle of conscience. It has gotten so bad that many have resorted to cutting off relationships with each other.

We sever relationships because of irreconcilable differences. Or sometimes we do so but only for a temporary period. We are hoping that things pass and differences play out until they end and we can get together again just like old times.
It is good to remind ourselves that we are certainly not all alike. We will always have differences. We are all made differently. It is to be expected. After all, even when there were only two brothers in the world, Cain killed Abel.

Now these are easy things to say. It sounds so wise and enlightened when we say them. But when bitter differences emerge as they are right now, we find it hard to respond with coolness and tolerance.

In the quote above, Rumi talks of that space between definitions of right and wrong, good and evil, and all other dichotomies where none of these matter. Is there such a place?

I remember finding myself acting as a sponsor at a wedding with a politician I actually despised. I think he knew where I stood with regards to politics. I was in the exact opposite place of everything he was and what he stood for. But there we were, smiles and all. We even shook hands.

I observed him while we made shallow conversation. He was polite and seemed completely indifferent to what he knew of me. I was equally polite. Perhaps we both avoided the elephant in the room so as not to cause unpleasantness.
I was also observing myself. Here I was engaging the “enemy” in niceties, while secretly laughing at the awkward situation. But at the same time I was trying to open myself to see what saving grace I could find in him.

He was charming. He was genuinely funny. And he was close to the groom whom I loved dearly. That gave me a few reasons to lower my guard and look him straight in the eye and see more of his concealed humanity. (At least to me, it was concealed.) In short I was opening myself to that space that Rumi was talking about.

That space that Rumi mentions is an innate ability within us that can see things without judgment, bias or color. But this ability has to be awakened and developed. It is that field where we can transcend transgressions or faults. It is where we stop judging and condemning. Zen masters will say it is the state of true seeing. It is not stuck in the past or obsessed with the future. It is seeing everything fresh and new in the NOW.

Writer Eckart Tolle likes to ask, “What can possibly be wrong with right now?” The Present only goes wrong when contamination from the past and future come in and destroy its freshness. In reality right now is all there is. The Present is ever new and full of potential, while the past is over and the future may not even happen.

This space is where humanity stops defining, dividing and cataloguing itself according to race, nationality color, economic status, religion, sexes, etc. It is a place where our commonalities, not our differences, come alive and celebrate.

Natural compassion springs forth when hurts and cruel histories are set aside.

But does this mean that we should forget injustices and everything that is wrong in the world and just focus on the now so we can all be happier? I don’t know. I do not have enough wisdom to answer that with confidence.

But let me try.

Yes, we all live in the phenomenal world. Our life in this world is full of pain and pleasure, evil and good, etc. But beyond that world is where reality really is. And that reality is where that Oneness we strive for is real and achievable.

But unless more than half of humanity has awakened to the real world, the phenomenal world will carry on doing as it does. Hopefully, there are enough people right now that can keep the slow incremental evolution going towards more tolerance and love. We may soon end up in a happier, kinder place — at least enough to make us all mend fences with each other.


She’s leaving home

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – May 20, 2018 – 12:00am

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I am feeling it.

In a few days, my eldest grandchild Ananda will be leaving Lydia and I to move to Paris and join her mom Erica who has found a life there as a chef. Since my daughter Erica left to study and work in Paris around two years ago, we have been Ananda’s guardians.

We are feeling a great impending loss. Lydia and I are getting quite emotional as the days go by. She and her mom lived the first eight years of her life staying with us.

We have been part of her life and she in ours. Lydia was with her a few hours after she was born almost 14 years ago. When I heard about her birth, I was in Miami doing a concert with the APO. That night I sang the song Batang-Bata ka pa for her — a song I made for Erica when she was born 25 years earlier. I felt so warm inside as the audience joined in.
I was shedding a tear as my voice cracked a bit.

Ananda was a sprightly child. Like her mother, she was very sweet, charming, animated, inquisitive, strong and had a stubborn streak. She is still like this today, always curious about everything and loves to ask questions. I, the ever doting Lolo always tries to answer as best as I can.

I used to spend a lot of time with her in conversation while at home, or in the car, and while traveling. I like to kid her a lot. I like to poke her sense of wonder or challenge her logic especially during train rides in Sydney as we observe people, and look out into the scenery. I invent ridiculous stories and scenarios and she would love them. Where we live, I would accompany her to the park to ride the swings, play on the slide, or walk the dog, or just run around.

The past year and a half, she has become a bit distant and stopped being as communicative with Lydia and me. We knew it was because she had turned into an adolescent.
I used to just spontaneously hug, or tickle her when she was younger. These days, physical contact has been reduced to a kiss on my cheek when she comes home and when she leaves the house.

There are many things that we as her guardians in Manila fight about with her. It can range from excessive use of the air-con, her sleeping at friends’ houses and vice versa, her going out without permission, the use of the car, her constant attention to her phone during meals, her spending habits, sassiness, etc. She can be very stubborn and hard-headed. Often, she has to be reminded about house rules.

One thing I notice though is that often, the very things that we fight about are also teachable moments for all of us. It is hard to raise children. Often, I have to remind myself that she is already a teenager and being one, she is beginning to claim a higher level of autonomy in the way she wants to live everyday life. But she still has to learn that as her guardians, we rightfully worry about her security and welfare. We impose certain rules. And yes, there is a curfew.

We will miss conversations on the table whenever she shares stories and opinions about anything. We will miss her silliness and sense of humor. We will miss her big smile, too. We will miss her spontaneous bursting into the song Halleluia at the top of her voice many times in the day. We will miss seeing the lights on downstairs at 1. or 2 a.m. as she has her past-midnight snacks.

She loves to play with her dogs and walks them around the neighborhood. She will be missed by them too, including Noodle her snake, her rabbits, and her two turtles.

We will miss raising and taking care of her.

When she leaves, it will only be Lydia and I in this house. Our home will be quieter. I would rather hear the sound of her favorite music wafting through the house coming out of her phone, or the sound of her steps on her way up and down the stairs. I will miss her shouting out loud to call someone instead of using the intercom.

We still want to be part of her new life as she grows up and studies in Paris. It will be a strange, new, challenging place for her. I wish we could still be there to protect and guide her, to encourage her, and to cheer her up when things get tough.

Letting go is always tough. One can be fraught with worry and anxiety. But such is life. People enter and leave our lives, some temporarily, others permanently.

At the same time, I am very excited for her. Just as I saw my own kids bloom when we moved to Sydney, I am sure Ananda will be fine and will thrive in this new atmosphere. There will be difficulties for sure. Her French will have to be more than just passable to cope with school and life in general. She will meet new friends. She will be intellectually and socially challenged. She will have to mature a lot more.

But I know she will be able to do it. She is more than a survivor. She will actually thrive.

I hope that in two years, she will be quite adjusted to her new surroundings. We are looking forward to the time when she can see her again and she can tour her Lolo and Lola to see the sights around Paris!

When I became a father, one of the things I realized was there wouldn’t be a day that passes when I will not think of my kids and how they are doing . Being a grandfather is no different.

We love you Ananda. Take care. Ingat. We will ALWAYS be around to help you anytime and in any way we can.

Au revoir notre chère petite-fille. Nous vous aimons toujours!



HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – May 13, 2018 – 12:00am

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Just the sight of her takes me to such places of bliss and inspires such feelings of sublime love that I can’t help but get all choked up. I don’t just love her, I need her, even when she doesn’t need me.

I am giving way to my daughter Ala Paredes Buencamino this Mother’s Day. I especially want to reach all new mothers out there with her beautiful article.

By Ala Paredes

Once upon a time I was part of a really hip, fun-loving club called Childless Adults. We had disposable income to blow on artisan coffee, avocado on toast in trendy Sydney cafes, happy hour cocktails after work, new clothes that we didn’t really need or like, and fancy dinners. Also, we had time to spare. Lots of time. Though I thought I was time-poor, I only learned the true meaning of time after I had a baby.

Every day, I woke up, put my best face on, dressed in a smart outfit that still made me feel cutesy-cutesy, and draped myself with tons of big, chunky, dangly accessories. Then I would get on the train to go to work at a job where I felt challenged, appreciated, admired and respected. Not all Childless Adults feel this way about their jobs, but I did. I was a youngish professional urbanite living in a trendy, hipster neighborhood, who lived on pre-prepared grocery meals, and whose life looked happy and successful on Instagram.
All that came to an end when I had a baby.

There are a lot of things you can’t possibly anticipate about child rearing before you become a mother. This is coming from someone who thought she had a good handle on what it means to care for a baby. Growing up, I had a younger brother whom I took care of with such devotion that after my mother came back from a month-long trip, he looked at her blankly and ran to me, his “mother.” I also had a little niece who lived with the family from birth so I’d had my own experience with rocking, burping, feeding and entertaining a baby. I had experience, and was not afraid to handle little humans. I was maternal.

But all new mothers walk into their new role with hope, excitement, trepidation and total naiveté. Taking care of someone else’s child is a world away from becoming a mother. It’s like the difference between reading a book about swimming, and actually jumping into a pool and learning to swim. You may have dipped your toes in the water or waded and splashed around, but when your own baby is placed into your waiting arms, it’s sink or swim, Mama.
Here were my biggest shockers about motherhood.

1. I never imagined that my baby would own my breasts. Never did I imagine that my modest breasts would suddenly become the most important part of my body. In the first three months, I felt like all I did was breastfeed, sometimes for four hours on end (this is where having Netflix comes in handy). Your baby will need your breasts when she’s hungry, scared, tired, bored, sick, when she needs to poo/fart, or even when she just wants to be close to you. She will guard the breast jealously, and she might cry when hubby plays with them. (As I write, I can just imagine my baby yelling, “You shall NOT pass!”, Gandalf-style, at my husband.)

If you choose to breastfeed, your baby will be on your boob so often that you won’t even bother putting them away in between feeds and will get used to walking around the house topless. Which brings me to my next one…

You may find it hard to feel sexy about them. It’s hard to keep an aura of mystery about them when they’re always exposed. Besides, it’s hard to feel sexy about them when they wax and wane around the clock.

They belong to baby for now.

2. I never imagined motherhood to be so animalistic.

My smart-cutesy outfits, my signature shade of lipstick, my big jewelry, my job, my glossy Instagram feed — all those marks of urbanity and sophistication, were stripped away the moment I went into labor — quite possibly the most animalistic I’ve ever felt in my life.

While humans are animals, it’s not often that we feel like an animal under our polished public personae. In labor and birth, you are no different from a cow giving birth to a calf despite the trappings of modern medicine surrounding you. Since I’ve become a mom, I often feel more like a mother wolf with her cub in her den, than a career woman in a nice, inner city apartment. Motherhood really awakens your basest biological instincts. Mommy can see danger, smell danger, and watches out for the predator lurking just past the protective circle of light. Mommy is up on her feet as soon as she hears baby’s distress signal. Baby in turn wants mommy’s animal smell, the touch of her skin, her voice, her heartbeat.

You spend so much time alone at home in various states of undress, in barely passable levels of hygiene, cuddling with your baby in bed sheets that haven’t been changed in so long that it begins to smell like the two of you. As the months pass, you begin to feel like you no longer belong to the civilized outside world. Whenever I leave the house dressed presentably, I feel like the wolf in “Little Red Riding Hood”: a beast dressed in borrowed clothes.

3. I never thought I would need my baby so much.

The first time I was given the afternoon off after weeks of living in my mom-cave, I walked out of the house swaying to Aretha Franklin’s Think (“Freedom!”), planning my glorious afternoon. Little did I know that I would get an anxiety attack midway and come rushing back home, only to find my baby asleep and unaffected in the care of my husband.

The umbilical cord may be severed at birth, but that doesn’t mean the baby stops being a part of your body. Before I gave birth, I had read The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine so I knew there was a complex interplay of hormones and brain chemicals between a mom and her infant. But to actually experience the profound effects that my baby’s touch, smell and voice had on me was something I wasn’t really prepared for.

I would be reduced to an anxious blob of Jell-O whenever I was away from her for too long. I found it impossible to fall asleep without her touch, and would instead writhe around in bed like a junkie going through withdrawal. The very thought of her would instantly make my breasts harden with milk, and I would then feel a crazed urge to run home, jumping over cars and pushing cyclists out of my way, to make sure she wasn’t starving. Merely imagining her hungry hurt my soul. And yet, my lovely baby’s smell would instantly restore calm and balance to my mind.

To this day, even just the sight of her, in real life or in photos, takes me to such places of bliss and inspires such feelings of sublime love that I can’t help but get all choked up. I don’t just love her, I need her, even when she doesn’t need me.

Who would’ve thought a mother’s separation anxiety can be just as bad as their baby’s?

So there you have it. If you’ve got Bun No. 1 in the oven, be prepared to morph into a half-naked, clingy, irrational, feral creature of the dark; one whose beating heart is about to experience the deepest levels of human love imaginable.

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You can read more of Ala’s musings at


Saving others and saving ourselves

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – May 6, 2018 – 12:00am

I mostly wear my heart on my sleeve. That means I readily express my feelings.

I tear up easily during emotional situations. I can cry while watching a movie. My empathy can be easily stoked. Yes, I do have my fair share of selfishness like everyone else, but I can also put myself in the shoes of others who have less in life. I am the type of person who expresses my outrage when I see injustice, discrimination.

While I often feel afraid to express my anger against authorities when I see corruption, dehumanization and evil at play, I almost always end up doing so because my empathy is oftentimes greater than my fear.

I “blame” my parents for the way I am.

Growing up, we saw our mom and dad open our doors to strangers and relatives who were in some sort of a bind and take them into our home. They often stayed with us a few days. Sometimes, some would stay for weeks, even months. Our parents fed them, nursed them, and took care of them till they were ready to go and live on their own again.

We had household help who stayed with us for decades. We treated them as family. One of them served us until she died. When she passed on, my mom gave her her own memorial plan for her to use.

Our parents’ example influenced us a lot.

We are 10 sibs in the family, and we are all our parents’ children. Coming from a big family ingrained in us the practice of sharing what we have and living with less. You learn to divide things equally. It also means that you learn to care and look after each other. In the process, you develop a greater sense of love, fairness and justice.

I have no sibs who are indifferent to suffering. We all see suffering and injustice as a big deal. We don’t always stop in our tracks every time we see suffering but we have an almost instant empathy towards people who are in bad situations. You might say we all wear our hearts on our sleeves.
I often think of what moves people to get out of themselves and really begin to think of others. One mover is pity. We see people in pain and we feel sorry for their lot. Sometimes, strangely, it is accompanied by a feeling of gratitude. We may be profoundly moved to tears but thankful and relieved it is other people who suffer and not us.

Empathy is a deeper engagement. Psychology Today defines it as, “the experience of understanding another person’s thoughts, feelings and condition from their point of view, rather than from your own.” You try to imagine yourself in their place in order to understand what they are feeling or experiencing.It moves you out of your own world and you find yourself wearing the shoes of the sufferer and feel their pain as yours.

Compassion goes even deeper. I found many definitions of compassion on Google. I quote one: “Compassion literally means ‘to suffer together.’ Among emotion researchers, it is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.” There is a strong component that we must not miss here. Compassion moves one not just to pity and empathy but to actually take action. You not only feel another person’s pain but you also do something about it.

Every time I see an appeal for contributions to save Syrian kids, or helping refugees in Marawi, or see the injustice brought about by EJK, I ask myself what I can do about it. Often, my immediate reaction is to say a prayer.

Images of suffering stare back at us from our monitors daily. The problems often seem so overwhelming that many times, you just want to move on to other more pleasant stories or funny news. You often justify your inaction by asking yourself what you can realistically do to effectively alleviate suffering of that magnitude. While we excuse ourselves by saying one can only do so much, we must remind ourselves that one can still do something, however small and seemingly insignificant.

I have learned to fight that feeling of helplessness by talking and meeting like-minded people who want to take action instead of copping out and just being indifferent. I am not content with just shaking my head and resignedly whispering, “Too bad for the victims.” Or say “That’s life,” and dismiss the suffering. When we do not act, there is a great chance that our capacity to care will lessen and our hearts become leaden. I would rather do something, anything — however small — that can relieve pain and encourage people to overcome their situation than nothing at all.

To be really concerned about something, our presence, empathy and compassion and action are needed. One is not being asked to solve the problems of the world by his/her lonesome. We can do much by being supportive of efforts that are already in place working to help others. We certainly need to go beyond Facebook, Twitter and social media to move the world closer to become a better place.

Activism is so important today. There is a battle going on for the soul of this nation, and of the world. Online is one battlefield. The other is the real world outside. Some people say that going to the streets is not their thing. But the truth is, when good people do nothing, the bad and the evil are emboldened to do more.

Pity, empathy and compassion mean we feel the pain of those who are treated unjustly and we commit to action to help them. This way we also weaken their oppressors and perhaps lessen the suffering in daily living. When we save others, we also save ourselves.