Teflon Day!

Know your mind as the sky;

Allow everything to pass on through,

The clouds, the lightning, the winds,

All of it, even the blue itself.

Don’t even get caught on the blue.

See and hear whatever arises,

But don’t grasp at anything.

Don’t even get caught on the sky.

– Journeys on Mind Mountain

One of my favorite sites I visit daily is among my links called dailyzen.com. When I read yesterday’s entry, I felt like a strong wind toppled me from my judgment throne and set me free. In this age of hate politics, entrenched opinions, burning issues and distrust that seem to plague us, the quote above reminds me to regain my equilibrium.

A favorite Zen question which asks, “What was your Original Face before you were born?” comes to mind. It was an unblemished face, for sure, needing nothing and content in its completeness. Very much like the sky that is described above. The issues that plague us are transitory clouds which the sky never really worries about.

Just for today, I will not turn on the radio and TV, and will limit socio-political discussions. Most of all, I will not get into arguments and will abandon any need to win, or prove a point. Today is Teflon day. Nothing will stick! No temptations, attachments. Just watching the comings and goings of the world.

I will shut the noise and just BE.

No have to’s and no should be’s.


Blessedly basking in the Wholeness.

Everyday is a good day!

Love and Death

I was witness monday night to a most astounding performance at Merks in Greenbelt3. The place was packed with friends of Toti Fuentes, great pianist, arranger and a truly wonderful human being who was to do his (probably) last concert in his life. You see, Toti, whose musical career spans more than 30 years and who has played with everyone in the local scene and a lot of greats in the US like Sergio Mendez, Tony Orlando, Natalie Cole, Mariah Carey and many others is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that is quickly debilitating him. In his pre-cancer days, he was a man of hefty built. But the ravages of his sickness have reduced his frame to a little more than one half his size. Nevertheless, he was dapper in his white suit despite the weakened frame.

He started with the Charlie Chaplin classic, “Smile” which was a stunner since the lyrics which everyone was singing in his head went “Smile though your heart is aching…” There were songs like “I’ll Be Seeing You” which took on a somberly sad tug at the heart. He also played crowd favorites like his Stylistics medley which got everyone singing aloud. A few foot-stompers like Rocky, and other fast numbers got everyone euphoric as he attacked the piano with his usual enthusiasm complete with loud, boisterous shouting, and his signature theatrics. He had tender moments too when he expressed his love and appreciation for his friends, notably his wife Jonie. Voice cracking with emotion and shortness of breath due to illness, he lovingly narrated how he met his partner for life while TNT-ing in the US.

And all through out, there was this collective awe of the moment, THE MOMENT, when this man we all loved was present before us sharing his abundant gift of music, and all of us including him knowing that perhaps this was to be for the last time. There, in the middle of a mundane place like a nightclub, the shroud of truth about everyone’s mortality was being lifted for all to see reducing everyone to awe, humility and yes, fear and terror. Death was partying, nightclubbing while the living could only watch aghast!

And yet, while we all stared at the precipice, the inevitability of everyone’s mortality, the love we all felt for Toti, and for each colleague in the room (we were all old friends) was palpable. With camera on hand, I took pictures of everyone I had ever worked or interacted with before— musicians, performers, singers, managers, radio people, etc.. hoping to keep the moment a little longer.

Life is truly short and fleeting. And yet, even when time takes everything away–body, health, talents, wealth, fame, reputation, passions and purpose –everything we ever built up as a hedge against death, I would like to believe that there remains something, the only true thing that matters, the only thing that time cannot kill. And that is the radiance of love!

Today, Toti leaves for the US for treatment. I hope that doctors can do something for him. Toti, I thank you for your deep friendship, loud laughter, great love and passionate music. And yes, your timeless performance that monday evening will not be forgotten. It’s as real as the love you always embodied.

And in the end, when the applause and the bowing are over, only love remains.

After all, everything begins and ends with it.

Ego Tripping On Fleeting Glory

I just came from Anvil Publisihing and they informed me that my three book set will be out by 1st week of December and it will be P890, less 20% if you are a Laking National Bookstore card holder.

Meanwhile, allow me to bask in some fleeting glory and share some feedback from readers of Writing On Water:

—“Just checking if your two other books are in National Bookstore. Am enjoying this one. Makes me think about my own attitudes towards life and human relationships”–texted by Marjorie Villarama, New Zealand,

—“Thanks for sharing about your mother-in-law…diba siya yung pinuntahan niyo sa States? I’ve ALWAYS admired the way you looked at death…for that, thanks. Since PG, my brother, died only months ago, I could relate….really relate.

the foreword: Ganda…and tama siya!…

Your words dance like merfolk…sad, but accepting…collaborating and corroborating with life’s breath and tears. The ripple turning into a tidal wave…I like the way you described life…and how connected everything and everyone is…Naimagine ko pa ikaw surfing talaga…nakita ko how you were naka-hang ten, though metaphorarically speaking lang, parang nakita ko pa yun.

Yeah, I guess biographies are like that. (I liked it when you said “But even such timelessness is fleeting)–Lara Veronica Garcia, Manila.

–“I have been waiting for this 3rd book… I have begun reading it and it’s mind-blowing. Sometimes I have to re-read the page a couple of times but I totaly ” get it” . It’s like somevbody putting very eloquently what are just random, disorganized ideas floating in my own head constantly, dying to be understood. ” —Michele Gemperle, Manila.

–“Love your book. I have been reading it nightly since that day I got it. I like your prose and the depth of your emotions — beautiful work of art! Every time I read it, I flow. Thanks for sharing this gift. I hope that there are more people who get inspired by your writing.”–Imee Alcantara, Manila.

Feel free to send comments. I will print them (but may edit for brevity purposes).

Trying To Be Above The Fray

Got home early evening from Sydney yesterday. While still inside the plane right before coming out, texts started pouring in about the Davide crisis and the rally scheduled today, the airport tower crisis and more angry texts regarding the situatrion here. After arriving at home and having dinner with my family, I checked my email and more of the above were vying for my attention and emotional involvement. I’ve been to many trips and coming home is often a sad thing to do. Sometimes, you get a reality slap in the face and not the sampaguita of hospitality you expect. But hey! It’s home. I remind myself that as much as things can be upsetting, I must walk through it with compassion and grace and not get sucked in or hooked and lose my peace. This is what it means to “be in the world, but not of it.”

To all those who wrote me asking permission to link up my blog with theirs, please go ahead! I am honoured you ask!

I would like to share an email I recieved. It’s a letter from Sis. Christine Tan. I don’t know if yo’ve heard of her but she was one of the most real people one can meet. She passed away recently. The letter contains all other pertinent information. Read it. A bit long but worth it!

Here it goes:

Sr. Christine Tan was with the Board of Trustees of the Bantayog ng mga Bayani. She died last Oct. 6. She will be one of the heroes enshrined on the first week of December.

Sister Christine shared this essay with a friend, who was told to keep it to herself. It was shown to her brother Bienvenido Tan for the first time four days after Sister Christine died at the age of 72.

Sister Christine Tan, her story

I was a little girl, six years old, when I noticed my mother kneeling by our small altar on the second floor. She had tears on her cheeks. I approached her, asking, “Mama, why are you crying?” She whispered into my ear, “Papa lost all our money in the stock market.” After a while, Papa came home from his law office. There was the usual pulling off his shoes and handing him slippers, the usual meal, prepared with such care and love, the lively conversation among a family with seven siblings, all of school age. There was no sign of tears, no reproach, no snub.

I was a little girl, 11 years old. It was World War II. As weeks turned to months to years, we noticed how our family possessions were dwindling. We sold our lands and jewelry, one by one.

Every meal was skimpy. We never had rice, only rice that looked like soup, extended with corn. Sometimes we had slivers of sausage so thin, I thought it was a special kind of transparent sausage. I noticed that Mama, always the last to eat, was anxious that each child would have her fill. She never said she was hungry.

I observed how Mama would unearth her elaborate sayas, long kept in trunks, and one by one rip out their seams and sew them into dresses for her six daughters. I also marveled at how my sister could bake cakes over charcoal in an old kerosene can, selling these cakes at nearby cafes to help purchase our basic needs. Overnight, Papa’s hair became snowy white.

It was in this family where I experienced silent suffering, steeled determination, love poured out. It did not take long to wonder why such gifts poured into my frail hands. It was Feb. 6, 1954.

I remember the evening I left home to become a nun. Then, we had to take the plane to Los Angeles, California. Then, we just walked to the plane as there were few passengers. My mother was sobbing. The guards kept glancing at her. My siblings were crying, my students were weeping with their heads down, while Papa was smoking his cigar. As I was undergoing this trauma, I lost all strength to walk those steps to the plane. I felt I would die. I said I would just stay home, it was all a mistake. But angels carried me, and I reached the plane without ever looking back. That was the saddest day of my life.

The first 16 years of religious life were placid. I cannot recall a single sorrow or problem or even joy that made any dent to the core of my being. It was only when my convent-formed consciousness expanded to national consciousness, when the arena of my vows gave way to the battlefield of injustice and poverty, of oppression and torture, that I had to take a stand, and with this, incurred the ire of those who held power. I therefore think of my religious life as a blaze of colors, shades of suffering and misunderstanding, hues of joy and ecstasy, deep tones of struggle and search. There was perennial search in all waves of my life—the search to find God, the search to be authentic, the search for justice within and outside the Church, the search for true freedom, the search of my people for a taste of a life that is human. This search led to pathways totally unknown and to acts of daring which only God could have planned. It was therefore logical that I would be comfortable in a spirituality that was not Western, in a milieu that was not clean, but dirty and phlegm-pocked, in an apostolate where confrontations were made with heads of state and armed military, in ashrams and Buddhist zendos instead of marble churches, where, when reaching that point of stillness, the whole world would evaporate and all become green.

On the other hand, I would feel ill at ease in my own Church where our words seemingly control and coerce, where we are often told what we cannot do. I would feel ill at ease in the company of hooded nuns in our tropical climate, in meetings where rhetoric multiplied ad infinitum, in conversations that dealt with the health of our inner organs, instead of trying to reach for the stars, so that our lives make a difference in the misery of the poor.

It was with the poor that I felt comfortable. In the dirt and foul language, with drunken men, in shattering noise where no one seemed to sleep, it was here that God was at ease. It was here that I found Jesus.

I remember the day we decided to leave the grounds of our provincialate, to share our lives with the majority of Filipinos, the unwashed. There were five of us, and the only reason we had to changing our mode of life was to find Jesus. We found two rooms with no floor, and no toilet, in the armpits of Manila, the fifth district.

While this change of address brought about a change in my priorities, it was my introduction to Asian spirituality that toppled me over, and caught me gasping for God. It was in Saigon, Vietnam, when grace knocked me down. I had a Vietnamese friend who had a doctorate from Paris, and who was steeped in Eastern spirituality. We were close friends, sharing the same thirst for political and spiritual liberation. I visited her often on my way to some other destination. In her home, she had a garden with a hammock beside a small pool. One evening we sat there together, when words long smoldering in my heart, tumbled out as I uttered, “Anh, teach me to pray.” She responded, “Christine, sit on this hammock. Gaze at the stars and keep your mouth closed.”

That was the beginning of a paradise within me, a world so scintillating that it pierced through my senses into the outer world, transforming my thoughts, plans, deeds, dreams, into a flaming passion for justice and peace.

But life was not all justice and peace. How I loved my community, my congregation. With nostalgia, I remember a nun, one who shaped my values by what she did. She was our superior during those days when one kissed the superior’s hand every time she handed you anything. Superiors then stood on pedestals. But this one tasked herself to clean our washrooms every morning until they glistened and smelled good. She was one who noticed when sisters were lonesome and tried to make days bright by adding raisins to our breakfast bread. She was one who sang to the mountains and trees, the nipping air, the endless sky, when no one talked about ecology. She would also give a bath to Igorot children, caked with dirt and lice, in our spotless convent bathroom, when strict cloister was an imperative from Rome. How I loved this nun.

There is another nun, living until now, whose heart shines pure, who can think no malice of anyone, who walks the slums during the heat of noon as her varicose veins pop out, who never complains about food, even when hot soup is served cold and cold salad is served hot, whose addiction is the poor, who does not mind lugging boxes—sometimes as many as 57Ñfull of used clothes, food, soap, noodles without packs, as long as they reached the poor. She is one of whom the Benedictine, Sr. Joan, says: “What is more disturbing to the status quo than an experienced religious elderly, who cannot be controlled, cannot be threatened, cannot be punished, who is obscenely alive.”

Now, 71 years old, 48 of which have been spent in religion, 22 of which are spent until now, living in the filth of the urban poor, several years spent atop the pinnacle of power, as provincial, chairperson of the major superiors, founder of several religious and human rights organizations but with more years not understood by the majority of religious, I hear nothing but a song in my heart.

How healthy it was to be misunderstood, especially by those who mattered, how faith-filled it was to be the enemy of the dictator, the target of rightists. How liberating it was not to be swept by the tide. There has been no criticism or censure that has not melted into nothingness in the stillness of Asian meditation. There has been no fear that has not vanished while merged with God, partner and lover.

As for adulation, positions, praises poured on me—they are just bubbles that disappear with a sneeze. As to the institutional church, that monolithic fort of mitered men, how I suffered from their arrogance. Once during martial law, when we major superiors dared oppose the dictatorship, I was summoned to Rome. I remember the 14 doors that I passed through, only to be told by a cardinal that if I did not cooperate with our regime, I would be excommunicated. I sighed, not because of the senseless threat, but because of the thousands of pesos spent on fare, when this could easily have been done with a single stamp. But these too are bubbles that make no dent.

Thus is my story where “I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, to live deeply and suck all the marrow of life, to put to the rout all that is not of life, and not when I shall die, to discover that I have not lived at all.”

They say that we are all drops of water in an ocean, totally lost in its expanse and depths. But some drops sparkle.

No Worries, Mate!

Sydney is an incredible place. We went to see the city sights yesterday and the first serious question that comes to mind is who built all the wonderful buildings, monuments, roads, infrastructure, drainages, bridges, etc.. when their population is not even 1/4 of ours. There are less than twenty million people in all of Australia and yet, it is such a modern place. Carpenters and construction builders must be making oodles.

Australia is not all cosmopolitan though In fact, there are great swathes of land so huge that if some aliens transfered all the Philippine islands in the middle of Aus, the Aussies wouldn’t even know we were there. Also, the 12 deadliest snakes in the world are found in Australia. Strangely enough, New Zealand has NO snakes!

Our Melbbourne concert last week went VERY WELL. We performed at a new theater called BMW Edge. It’s an all glass building with metal lego-like scaffolds, bars and frames all over. Really postmodern. The world can be seen from inside and vice-versa. It made us feel like being in an aquarium. The concert was preceded by cocktails and that was cool. It was a small venue and we had a full house.

A day after the concert, we rode a bus to Sydney which is a thousand miles a way. On good roads and a great bus, it is so pleasant a ride. The scenery is breathtaking as you pass through endless vistas of pasture, hills, valleys, lakes most of them pristinely untouched.

The past two days, we’ve been traveling along the pacific coast of the New South Wales area and, what can I say! The beaches are beautiful in a wild, fun and potentially dangerous kind of way. The gigantic waves, or hypothermia can do you in. It is remarkable how the Aussies have established a relationship to water. Every Aussie is taught how to swim in school! The whole character building thing revolves around team-working, lifegurading, and stuff like that. They seem to have so mych respect for their environment.

Sorry for abruptly ending right here. Alas, I am only able to write this through the kindness of my host’s internet connection here in Sydney. Mo0re when I return on the 9th!

Love this country!

Fish And Chips, Anyone?

Greetings from Melbourne. It’s been three days since I left Middle Earth (New Zealand) and I am still suffering from serious withdrawal symptoms. Auckland was where we stayed and from the description of the locals, it even gets better when you fo down south. Auckland is wonderful, beautiful, pristine, fresh, pure and ..well.. God LIVES there! There is simply an overabundance of breathtaking scenery and yes, sheep and cows! If nature isn’t your bag, it will be if you visit. Just the same, I visited some shops in the city that are hip even by high and low earth standards. In one shop called Groovy!, I was listening to a song called “rock and roll macdonalds” and it is the weirdest, funniest thing. I should have bought the CD. It is so stupid it is brilliant!

Got some LOTR memorabillia. Unfoirtunately, we could not visit the sights since they were all in te South Islands.

The Filipinos there are equally wonderful and nice. So many good kababayans who look like us, but already talk with that quaint Kiwi accent! We had a great show—full house and they had to turn away two hundred people. The best thing about that is it guarrantees that we will be going back! ha ha!

Gotta go. We have a lunch at the dock in a few minutes. Fish and chips, anyone?

I’m supposed to be leaving for New Zealand tommorow for a concert in Auckland with Danny and Boboy this weekend but their visas and tickets aren’t settled yet. I may have to leave ahead tommorow with my significant othe, girlfriend, …OK, ….wife, Lydia. At least we’ll have something like 4 days to see the sights before we do the show. Can’t wait. If there is such a thing as a Lord Of The Rings tour near Wellington, I will surely take it. I’m bringing lots of camera gear and intend to take some good ones.

Nothing like travel especially when you’re visiting a place for the first time. Lydia and I are avid travelers and when we have to pay for it, we choose places that are off the beaten track—Kathmandu in Nepal, Rajastan in India, Cambodia, Bangkok (where we celebrated our 25th with a Buddhist ceremony. Cool!). I’ve been to Rio in Brazil and Moscow in Russia. Actually, I’ve seen a great portion of the world including Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, a lot of Asia, Europe and Americas thanks to APO’s concerts abroad.

Still HIGH!

As someone who writes songs and now, books, it is an absolute thrill to receive feedback from people about my work. That same night after my book launch and the next day, I was getting a stream of congratulatory texts. I would like to share 2 with you.

-“Only on page 41 and all I can think of are 4 things: one, how can a seattle’s best mocha latte be 90 pesos when your 270 Peso book is like sipping a divine high. Two, thank god you write so well seeing that you speak for so many lovers of and travelers of life. Three, 17 more books may not even be enough to contain your unstoppable documentation of this spiritual love affair! And 4, it’s not dark at all jim! It’s glowing with honesty! Ang sarap mong basahin! If I could answer NEALE, I’d say the thirst is not quenched it becomes deeper.”–Catoy

This came in two texts messages. The NEALE she refers to is Neale Donald Walsch, writer of Conversations With God series who wrote my foreword. ( One of these days, i will narrate how that came to be.)

The other text message reads

-“Jim, I must express to you my gratitude for putting out this new book. It is highly insightful, yet sincere and very honest. Thank you for sharing what it means to write on water and hum in the silence.”–Jojo

Now that I’ve typed this down on this blog, I can erase it from my phone. It was too precious to erase immediately. Or maybe I just felt too attached to it. ha ha!! So much for being above the fray. My ego is still vulnerable to flattery!

Last night, APO had a concert with Parokya Ni Edgar at the Ateneo covered courts. Large crowd, a lot of fun. We came on stage wearing grade school uniforms—khaki pants and white shirt with the school seal on the pocket. Not only did it elicit a reaction, I actually felt younger just wearing it! My son Mio who is 15 watched APO for the first time since he can recall, and to my great thrill, was impressed! Sure, it may have been just his old man and friends, but the music was what he talked about in his blog after. Nice, simple joys of someone who’s been doing this crazy APO thing for more than thirty years now!


After The Launch

What a book launch it was! Many people came and bought books, and from the looks of it, a grand time was had by all. I know I did. I had forgotten what it was like to attend one’s own book launch. It’s been two years since the last book was released. I relished writing dedications on the books bought by supportive friends, students and relatives.

I love the cover of the new book and the idea that we put some pictures on it. It’s been a while since I had finished it, almost a year and so have forgotten what I had written, or at least how I wrote it. And it is therefore quite an experience to have a reader open to a favorite page and ask me to autograph it. It’s as if something strangely familiar appears before me– a rush of impressions from some golden moment when the dove of insight perched on my life. I can only smile in gratitude.

What a good moment tonight was. We ended it with some tasty Chinese food. something fittingly mundane (but gratefully appreciated) to cap the evening.

Now, I officially begin the work on my 4th book! What will it be like?

Will let you know when the dove can be seen hovering above my space.


Powerbooks, Pasay Road, Makati

October 18, 6PM.

My dear friends, relatives, students, colleagues, and all those who happened to just be here,

Thank you very much for being here.

Writing On Water is my third book. The first one is called Humming In My Universe, the second one is Between Blinks, and now, my third one. I started writing this book even before Edsa Dos happened, and finished everything around middle of last year.

During the launching of Humming In My Universe, I boldly proclaimed that I was going to write 20 books in my lifetime. I have 17 more to go after tonight. I hope I have a long lifetime.

The coolest thing about writing a book is you can announce your thoughts through the published word and share them with readers. The scariest thing about writing a book is that you can be reckless enough to announce your thoughts through the published word and share them with readers.

Right now I feel both cool and scared. Cool, because I actually have another book out and that feels GREAT! WOW!! I am also scared, because publishing my thoughts makes me vulnerable, if not duty-bound to protect what I have said, or even live by them. Right now, I have no problem with that since my thoughts still coincide with what I have written. I felt they were true then as now. The scary part is, what happens in the future when I feel differently about what I have written today?

We have always been taught to stand for our beliefs, and that is a great thing. However, after living on this earth for 52 years now, I realize that the greater part of growing sometimes lies not in our rigidity and devotion to beliefs but in our openness to what life presents. The unfolding of events, the new inspirations that come, the synchronicity that the universe throws along our paths very often tell us that the Truth we harbor is actually bigger than we can imagine. In fact, Truth, or more accurately, our understanding of it, like software always needs to be upgraded. The version of our understanding could easily reach its expiration date, if we don’t watch out.

To be metaphoric about it, Truth can only watch, while patiently waiting for us to appreciate it in all its glory, even though we seem to understand it at best, in tiny morsels served over a lifetime.

And in that lies my escape hatch.

I will keep writing however imperfect my take on things, on truth as I see it, because my understanding is always being upgraded, expanded, clarified as life unfolds itself. But I will try my best to always confront it with greater openness, consciousness, attentiveness and compassion.

Writing On Water is the latest upgrade.

Writing on Air