The call of conscience

by Jim Paredes – January 19, 2020 – 12:00am

Has It ever happened to you that you find yourself challenged physically, emotionally, intellectually, morally and spiritually?
The last few weeks have been brutal.

There are the deadly fires in Australia that have destroyed a huge portion of this beautiful country causing the death of more than 20 people, and 1.3 billion animals. In Indonesia, there are the savage floods that have wiped out more than a hundred people, and many communities from the face of the earth. And yes, the environmental destruction all around the world is happening, and every day brings in new horrific stories.

Yes, many feel the gloom and doom everyday everywhere. And it’s not just the environment that is contributing to hopelessness.

Dictators everywhere are destroying democratic societies. The Trumps, Boldsonaros, Dutertes and Xi jin Pins of the world rule with impunity and delusion. Fake news and trolls are corrupting the minds of people everywhere driving them to violence, hate, and incivility.

Powerful countries are recklessly pushing each other to the brink of a shooting war. Full-blown hostilities may be unleashed soon which could start a real world war.

Here in the Philippines, there is the real threat of the Taal explosion which according to experts is imminent and can be highly destructive, even deadly. The magnitude of evacuations ongoing right now from affected areas close to Taal on to safe grounds is unprecedented. The government through its own fault slashed the calamity funds from the national budget and so is crippled to deal with this unprecedented human and ecological crisis. Its response has shown a lack of coherence, coordination and even compassion. Luckily, civil society is filling some of the void.

And let us not forget that by April, there will be a severe water shortage that will affect a huge number of people in Metro Manila. Unless we have strong rains very soon, this is an inevitability.

There is much to be anxious about. The modern world’s state of affairs seems to be in crisis everywhere. What can be done? Many people do not know. Worse, many of them do not even care.

Sometimes I wonder why I allow myself to feel the suffering of people I do not even know. Why do I care about the refugees who die while escaping persecution? Why do I feel the need to help others? Why do I make it my business to speak out against injustice? Why am I moved or triggered by misogyny, racism, climate destroyers, and deniers? Why do I care about ignorance, poverty, and the well-being of strangers? Why do I even worry about people who do not care?

Last week, the Supreme Court rejected with finality the proposed right to marry among the LGBT citizens of this country. I felt a big disappointment as I thought of gay friends who love other people and are ready to commit themselves to life-long relationships. What a letdown it must be for them. When you think about it, love is love no matter which part of the rainbow you live in.

Some people will easily dismiss or even condemn me for being a bleeding liberal democrat who espouses and fights for these kinds of causes. And I am guilty as charged. And I also know how my views trigger certain people to react negatively. The world is so polarised.

I mourn the loss of biodiversity, the majestic forests, the billions of animals who perished in the fires, human lives. I also shed tears for the degradation of living standards, clean air, and the deadly onset of climate change happening everywhere. The persecution of people and the denial of their human rights to express themselves, to love, to live their lives among peaceful communities and a society that delivers social justice is unconscionable. My heart breaks as young people suffer and lose hope because of mental illnesses like depression and anxiety.

The loss affects me in all ways and manners. The lack of respect and dignity in the way leaders of society regard their constituents appalls me deeply.

All these take their toll on many levels: I feel physically tired fighting, arguing, getting emotional over moral, spiritual, intellectual arguments with people.

Between good versus evil, right vs wrong, virtue versus evil, knowledge versus ignorance, sustainability versus greed, one can’t readily be sure what people will choose. It seems the world has gone mad and has turned its values upside down.

Another question I occasionally ask myself is why many people have not given up the fight? Why do Aussie firefighters continue to risk their lives every day to douse the fires when often enough, the fires return bigger than ever? Why do human rights lawyers fight for people who are persecuted, detained, tortured or killed when these types of clients hardly have the means to pay for legal services? It seems they willingly put themselves in danger. Why do volunteers spend their time and money trying to pack relief goods to deliver to evacuees when they know it is impossible to feed everyone on a daily basis especially for an extended period of time?

The answer, I have learned, is simple. They would feel worse if they did not. It is the nature of a heightened conscience to rise up to question, confront, and challenge what it sees to be wrong. The sense of duty can be so strong that it cannot live with itself if it denies the call to action. Especially when the situation seems almost impossible, the call to do something, anything becomes too loud to ignore. To act is imperative.

I remember seeing a video of a real-life situation where this young man shows up every morning at a beach to pick up star-fishes that nature had washed to shore. He picks up as many as he can and throws them back to the sea daily. When asked why he was doing what he was doing considering that even if he saves some, hundreds more will die, he answered, ‘It matters to this one’, as he picks up one and throws it back to the sea.

People of conscience believe in the importance of all undertakings whether they be big or small. Every effort counts especially when you know little things can build up to the last straw, or contribute to reaching the tipping point that can turn a situation around.

Unfortunately, it matters just as great when people choose to ignore and deny a problem and do nothing.

As for me, I would rather be on the side of those who fight for compassionate change than those who are too scared or lazy to do anything, or too apathetic to even curse the darkness.

Music to de-stress by

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – January 5, 2020 – 12:00am

The holidays are over. We are back to everyday life. I don’t know if the transition back to daily living is a relief or a challenge for you. For some people, the Christmas season can be a very stressful time. Traffic, finances, social obligations, etc., can push people’s buttons and trigger great levels of stress. For others, the season is a time to enjoy and have quality time with loved ones. Through the years, I have noticed that I have actually been swinging from one to the other.

While we have started on a new year, much of the past will still be with us. Problems do not go away magically just because an old year ends and a new one begins.

Changes, the positive ones, take longer to happen. Deterioration, inertia and negativity can sometimes feel like they last longer. That’s because, without human intervention, the nature of things is to break down, get corrupted and destroyed. Entropy is a law of thermodynamics and rules over everything. And our lives are about trying to stop chaos, uncertainty and destruction that happens in the world. But preventing things from going to pot and rot also causes pressure and stress in daily life.

Through meditation, I have learned to remain mostly calm and collected even in the middle of a situation when many people are likely to be showing signs of physical and psychological cracks. Sure, like everyone, I lose it at times. But I have trained myself through the years to depersonalize situations or look at events objectively and without too many emotional attachments. The world does not revolve around me. Things and events simply happen. They come and go. When I am under stress, I just tell myself that problems are simply clouds passing by. They, too, shall pass.

And yes, they do.

Aside from mediation, I have been relying lately on the power of music to help me cope. I have discovered some songs and instrumental pieces that I know to be effective in helping me relax and calm down. There are pages on the internet that claim some of these songs have even been tested scientifically on people and gauged at how effectively they relieve all kinds of pain, daily stress, headaches, depression, and even for post-operative recovery, etc.

I did a lot of research on the net and personally listened to a lot of the recommended material. Many of the songs recommended were still not calm enough for me. The beats and melodies were still too actively engaging for my taste. In my quest for de-stressing music, there were some albums I’ve discovered by myself over the years. I find that the songs I like were not too well known by me or other people. That, to me, is a good thing. It forces me to surrender to them.

Here are my recommendations.

1) “Music to Calm Down Anxiety” by Relaxing Records. From the very beginning, the music will calm you with its extended long notes played on strings. The label has other albums that can put you in a meditative state. The songs can help ease anxiety or just simply pull the plug off from your busy mind. You will leave your concerns far behind.

2) Please Don’t Go by Barcelona. I have not heard other songs from this group except this one. This song is chill and can calm you down. The sound is more contemporary, too.

3) “Watermark” by Enya. Enya’s sound is very conducive to relaxation. Mostly slow, no loud beats. Very chill. Most of her albums are like that. After a while, you tend to be unaware it is playing and just feel so light and stress-free.

4) Any album by Ravi Shankar. Sitar music is very mysterious and haunting. It still sounds almost alien to the Western listener. I find it relaxing because unlike Western music, it takes a long time before the music gets to its central or main theme or melody. There is a lot of meandering. And the music sounds atonal since it is not written or played using a Western musical scale that we are used to. We are used to songs that try to catch our attention and engage us within seconds. Ravi Shankar’s music does not build up, at least not in the Western sense. They are long pieces that last up to 30 minutes or more. A busy, analytical mind will simply surrender to it since it is hard to analyze its structure. There is a drone-like effect that lulls you to sleep.

5) Happiness Runs by Donovan. A short song. Delightful, but calm. The working ingredient is its repetitiousness.

6) Energy by Ryuichi Sakamoto. I would recommend not just the song but the whole album called “This is Ryuichi Sakamoto.” The music is unfamiliar and the flowing piano solos are very soothing. They do not intrude. Play it at low volume in a dark room. Get lost in it.

7) “Urubu” by Antonio Carlos Jobim. Strangely, I find this album engaging but relaxing at the same time, probably because it takes me to another world. All the lyrics are in Portuguese and so I am not distracted by any narrative or story the lyrics may suggest. The orchestration is by Claus Ogerman. His arrangements are wonderful, magical, sometimes with understated brilliance, and at other times breathtakingly playful. The total effect is it engages you out of your mundane concerns and refreshes you.

8) Cinema Paradiso soundtrack by Ennio Morricone. The music is beautiful and sentimental. It is soft and grows on you immediately in a very cozy and caressing way. Totally disarming in its beauty. It can change your mood from tense to totally relaxed in just a few seconds.

9) “Weightless” by Marconi Union. This album is undisputedly the most relaxing, de-stressing album you can listen to. The first time I heard it, I drifted to sleep quite quickly and woke up two and a half hours later feeling so peaceful, calm and refreshed. I listened to the two-hour version of “Weightless” on Spotify. Upon further research,  I discovered there is a 10-hour version! No, I have not listened to the long one. But I will soon.

* * *

You can put all these songs on a playlist and have them ready when you want to seriously relax or just get away from all the problems of the world.

I like to lie down on my bed wearing loose clothes (or none), and feel all my muscles give way to gravity. I try to abandon all physical, mental, psychological resistance and control, and just totally surrender to the music. This means not even having an opinion on what I am listening to. I avoid trying to classify, understand, analyze or dissect the music. I open and allow the music to change and alter my mood and feelings. I end up completely flowing with it.

I would not suggest you listen to your playlist in traffic. While it will de-stress you, it might also make you sleep. If you have a driver, try it, but make sure he does not fall asleep either.

Shut off the deadlines, obligations, responsibilities once in a while. Recharge. This is a good practice to adopt for the new decade to survive it intact.