Hale Manna and Novembers

These are photos from November 2015 when I hopped on a bus, alone, to seek refuge at Hale Manna, for the second year. Life in the city gets harsh, and although ours is a time when we are learning that we can stay in one place to be still and rest from the constant motion of things—or events—the process of leaving and arriving from one place to another facilitates the same process of leaving and arriving from one state to another. The feeling of getting used to some things, or getting comfortable with situations we’re in, needs to be shaken lest we fall deeper into our complacencies and familiarities. Because feelings like this do atrophy and we hardly notice when we are no longer moving towards the direction of our dreams—or our truths.

This particular time I went to Hale Manna was different from the usual times we go to the beach where the sun is high and burning bright and the water sparkles at its reflection. Clouds hovered above, the sea was blue gray, not a tinge of the pink and orange glory at sunrise and at sunset. But, see, the charm of Hale Manna never ceases when the sun is gone. The lush gardens, the stillness of the sea, the palpable dew that is in the air, the calm in colors and the energy that wrapped around me were reassuring of a presence in the absence of shine, of sparkle, of glitter.

November has been associated with darkness and the dead. Or with grief and anguish, cold and chilling like the proverbial Guns N’ Roses’ November Rain.

But  isn’t it that it is in the darkest that we find our most enduring light? And isn’t it that we feel most alive when we have gone through dying? November for me is a time of rebirth, and so I welcome tomorrow with a boldness of the heart.

 

 

 

  

 

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Heneral Luna and Liwanag

I am probably not the only one who cried watching Heneral Luna, pained by the reality that the predicament of our present time is deeply-rooted in our history as a nation, as Filipinos. Some of the wars that our country has been through have been necessary for our national consciousness to grow. And the stories about our heroes have been necessary to awaken that consciousness and ignite the flame of love for our country deep within. The story of Heneral Luna is one.

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I’d like to think that it was intuition, not plain brilliance, that was driving Luna’s resolve that the then newly-established Philippine Government must never sleep with the Americans. “Para kayong birhen na naniniwala sa pag-ibig ng puta,” he said. It was something deeply connected to a future he believed we deserved and were capable of making happen—a true independence.

I prefer not to re-tell the story as I think that every Filipino should go, watch the movie. Every Sibika at Kultura class from Elementary to High School must connect the revolutions and the life of our heroes to our current predicaments. Our educational system must instill in the minds and hearts of every Filipino student the nationalism that was alive in men like Luna. Similarly, if every mall had a real role in nation-building, it must help raise awareness, and campaign to draw more people to watch films like Luna instead of immediately closing its doors because turnout is low on the first few days of screening. Looking at the bright side of things, it mobilized the youth to call, if not demand, for putting back Heneral Luna in theaters. It was a triumph. The movie will be in both SM and Ayala cinemas in Cebu until September 22.

The movie is very timely. Four days from now, Liwanag World Festival, is going to happen in Cebu City. Liwanag, which means light in the Filipino language, draws its name from the Philippine Revolution, where in the process, our heroes understood the role of self-transformation in creating a new nation. We have been told that during the Philippine Revolution, Andres Bonifacio confronted Aguinaldo and the rest of the men of Katipunan with the question: what do we want—is it Ningning or Liwanag? Ningning is a flicker, or a glitter—something that is flashy but quickly dies—while Liwanag is a deep glow from within that burns in our hearts and drives us to pursue our envisioned future.

But we are our own enemies, said Luna—an even greater enemy than our American invaders. Pilipino sa Pilipino. Tayo-tayo ang naglalaban.

The murder of Luna isn’t only painful because a real patriot and hero was murdered. It is painful because it symbolizes the murder of our only hope, of our own dream, of our country. And this is manifested in the many different facets of our society today.

The conflicts from within the Cabinet of President Emilio Aguinaldo, as depicted in the movie, extending to the army, is an archetype of the conflicts that we continue to face—from exclusive systems, short-sighted views of development, especially economic, social divide, selfish politics, turfing, regionalistic mentality, and at the same time colonial mentality, and a constrictive view of our individual and collective roles in nation-building. They carry with them questions that we would like to sit upon and grow out of at Liwanag.

Sapagkat hindi pa tapos ang rebolusyon.

*Photo courtesy of http://henerallunathemovie.com

Mt. Kanlaon Coffee and The Fight Against GMOs

I’ve been trying to find good quality beans to replace my used-to-be-favorites Guatemala and Colombia from Starbucks. I love Figaro but the beans I’ve tried are not good for pressed coffee so I only buy their coffee black when either brewed or the usual americano. Being very particular with the quality of my coffee, I had to repeatedly ask Carlo who sells Mt. Kanlaon coffee at Cebu Farmers Market in Handuraw whether it’s good for a French press. He promised to either return my money if I didn’t like it or lend me his brewer if pressed does not turn out satisfying.

Well, I’m proud I bought this and I love it because it’s local and organic. It has a full flavour but doesn’t have an unpleasant after taste. Plus I need lesser-than-usual amount of coffee to make a tall cup and I put just a little amount of sugar to make it more delightful (sometimes, I go for no sugar).

Some time last year, I joined the boycott of Starbucks after word was out that they have partnered with or supported Monsanto and other GMO companies in blocking efforts to GMO-labeling. It wasn’t absolute boycott as I couldn’t find the right beans to replace what I have been using. A few times, less than five, I went to the store and bought coffee to-go when I had no choice but, hey, I’m trying my best and products like Mt. Kanlaon coffee and the people who grown and sell them help in the advocacy.

Mt. Kanlaon is an active volcano in Negros Island in the Philippines. Negros is one of the few provinces that banned the entry and propagation of genetically-modified organisms  or GMOs and is known for developing organic farming communities including the ones growing coffee trees by the mountain ranges of Mt. Kanlaon. Cebu Farmers Market is an initiative of GMO-Free Cebu, an anti-GMO campaign being ran by volunteers who are farmers and consumers (I will tell you more about the market and the campaign in a separate blogpost).

Bothmer – How You Move Is How You Are

Some people used to tell me that I am intimidating which contradicts the fact that most of those who I become friends with say they pick up from my aura a message that I am friendly and welcoming. I couldn’t reconcile the two, but it didn’t really bother me because they often said it in the context of why I am not in a romantic relationship with men.

My recent experience with Bothmer Movement International, however, made me look into how the subtleties in the way I move are connected to how some people perceive me in the context of authority. I have started examining these subtleties because I think that they create the illusion that one is “separate.” Separation builds walls and this separation effect tells people you cannot be friends, that you will not understand and that you don’t feel. I still believe that you shouldn’t be drinking buddies with your employees but it is important for people to see the interest that you have in them, their learnings and their development. Generative conversations develop this trust over time and I have learned to trust in the process. But learning from Bothmer, I now think that it doesn’t have to take that long for people to get you right—or for you to send your well-meaning intentions across.

After Bothmer, I said, I won’t walk the same way again. In some of our exercises, we were made to open our palms as an act of giving, to scan the charged air with our fingertips as an act of sensing and to open our ribcages as an act of offering ourselves—eyes, always at a level with the horizon as we move when standing straight. It made me think about how my chin is slightly lifted when I walk, my eyes a little over and, therefore, looking down at the horizon. This is not how it was explained at the workshop—this is my realization thinking about how the movements are incorporated or not incorporated in my everyday life. I used to think that how I walk is how we must walk—properly. Did I get it from a magazine that I’ve read when I was much younger, or saw it on the television, or was this what I was taught at school and I took it seriously? The subtle raising of the chin, it seems, projects a different message I didn’t mean to because the movement is unnatural.

Bothmer also invited me to think about why I hardly subjected myself to conventional body language rules. Somebody must have told you, at least once, that folding your arms in front of you is a defensive gesture. I couldn’t make sense of it and decided some years ago that it is crap. You know how it is when you believe in something and you cannot explain it, you sometimes tend to believe less—or it erodes some of its believable qualities. I think that it is the function of science to help us see and understand so that we can become more conscious and aware of the realities around us. Bothmer is the science of movement. As I put more thought into it, I realize that folding my arms in front of me is an act of hiding or protecting the ribcage from something—it’s a gesture of closing and it is definitely not welcoming. Martin Baker, Founding Director of Bothmer Movement International, our teacher and facilitator, recounted that when we see a child and we want the child to come to us, we open our ribcages; then the child comes running and puts himself into our chest and we put our palms on the child’s back to embrace. We do the same with adults. And I recall those times when greeting somebody is awkward, cheek-to-cheek, with minimal body contact, whereas when we are fond of someone and we missed him, we hug tightly. We do not expect ourselves to immediately offer ourselves to others. I think that this is important in times of misunderstandings and when there is tension between people—when we do not want to rub it the wrong way and not want to push people away. When we’re sorry, we use our palm, not our fingers or a fist, to touch the other person, Martin reminds us.

We have been processing—silently in our thoughts—as we do the exercises and I think that it is powerful in helping re-wire our brains, grounding our ideas and putting them into action. In one of the exercises, we start with the hands on our sides, feet together. Then we start extending our arms on the sides, up to the level of the horizon, palms facing upward. Then we turn the arms inward so the palms also face inward. We start sliding one foot towards the back, while, using the arms, we form an arc, which becomes a circle, in front of us, head bowed down. From the arc to the circle, the palms have closed to fists.

Sometimes, in life, we just keep on giving, never receiving, and we get tired of it. Then we close our palms and hide our ribcages until we have processed the experience. But it is important to rise above it. We bring the circle above our head as the foot slides back to its original position, then we put one foot forward as we release the closed fists into the air, opening our hands back into our vertical, ribcages open. We must learn the lesson.

That is just one of the many realizations that I had from the different movement exercises at the workshop. It is a very rich experience. And the awareness that it brings to our bodies and minds is powerful it trickles down and sinks into our everyday lives. There is wisdom in movement and the space we use or not use around us is alive. Alive is a word best understood when experienced. I wish you could participate in this workshop. I can only tell you that when I closed my eyes, I felt that the space was growing—something of a quality we do not feel when our eyes are open. I moved and continued moving because the space was asking me to just move.

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(Photo courtesy of Shaping Sophia. For more information about Bothmer workshops, you may contact http://www.facebook.com/shapingsophia.)

The Men Who Would Sell The World

I saw the tobacco guys this morning. One of them gives you a penetrating look from behind eyeglasses while the other flashes a wittingly boyish smile. 

Once, they invaded my lair at the 14th floor where I’m usually alone and so I let the music roll. Judith was playing at the time. The ambassador of smiles was drumming on his lap, right foot beating the floor as if it were a bass drum pedal. He was singing and was good at it, I thought to myself: oh, lord, what a beautiful creature.

My first encounter with them, I remember, was when I bought something at the pantry and he said he’d like a tobacco as we reached the counter. I managed to laugh. He added, “old school, alright” and flashed the smile. The other one is more reserved but he lets out a smile when the occasion arises. He reminds me of some progressive artist—or it must be the beard.

I just found out this morning that they work for an outbound call  center—doing sales—in the same building. I said they must be selling their souls, and they laughed. I second-guessed they sell their bodies, they laughed again.

Dear, Cobain, they are quite interesting. I’d like to call them the-men-who-would-sell-the-world.

Hello, WordPress!

Cemetery of kisses, there is still fire in your tombs.

–Pablo Neruda

What A Shame

I haven’t blogged in the last six months!

On Pico Iyer and His Books

I did not discover him by accident. I remember Pat Evangelista quoting a snippet from Why We Travel in her Rebel Without A Clue (now Method to Madness) column, in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Then I went on looking for more of his essays like the one on Solo Travel and found myself going back to his travelogues from time to time. I would like to constantly lose myself, and then find myself.      

The first Pico Iyer book that I got is The Lady and The Monk which I discovered by accident at Fully Booked. I was looking for a copy of Tropical Classical which I saw in one of the shelves like a month before that. To my surprise, the bookstore personnel lavished me with seven books: The Global Soul, Tropical Classical, The Lady and The Monk, Video Night in Kathmandu, Falling Off the Map, Cuba and The Night and Sun After Dark. I was not familiar with his books back then but I had read that his new book, about the Dalai Lama, was going to be published in late 2008 or early 2009.

I had an instant interest in Falling Off the Map having fallen off–literally–North America to Chile and Argentina. It talked about “lonely” countries and proposed that Argentina, for one, is because of  some lost heritage which I couldn’t reconcile at the time having seen how much it has preserved a Hispanic culture. But then, I have not really lived there and stayed for just a week so I cannot tell; besides, the only city I went to was its colonial capital. I thought I could let go of the book after scanning a few pages.

I fell in love with The Lady and The Monk having been previously “infatuated” with cultural crossings. I was trying to look for some connection with the main characters and to their story apart from the fact that Zen Buddhism, for the first, after the longest, time, again, rang a bell. I was reliving a supposedly buried past, reopening a supposedly closed book–no, closure is in question.

I loved the book because of Iyer’s (the first impulse is really to say Pico’s) clear depiction of Japan and the Japanese heart. It captured the silences in the temples and the intertwined fates of monks and women that is exalted in Japanese poetry–sensual, like a burning incense. I find it absorbing because of his and Sachiko’s startling commonalities–a fascination with books, and their favourite books. Iyer’s heart listens as his mind sharply observes.

I bought The Lady and The Monk for roughly six hundred bucks at Fully Booked and found the same book at Booksale for eighty pesos a month after. The author deserves the higher price, I consoled myself–besides, the one at Booksale looked a little older and dull.

But I think that life is, more often than not, fair. I went back to Booksale a week after and found a crisp copy of Sun After Dark for one hundred twenty-seven pesos–the regular price of which, at Fully Booked, is more than six hundred bucks. The spine is slightly creased but the book looks really new.

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Sun After Dark  was more absorbing, at least to me, than The Lady and The Monk–contrary to what some, in goodreads, find to to be a loss of momentum.

“But the true subject of Sun After Dark is the dislocations of the mind in transit. And so Iyer takes us along to meditate with Leonard Cohen and talk geopolitics with the Dalai Lama. He navigates the Magritte-like landscape of jet lag, ‘a place that no human had ever been until forty or so years ago.’ And on every page of this poetic and provocative book, he compels us to redraw our map of the world.”

 

The chapters on Cohen, the Dalai Lama and W.G. Sebald stand out–you get a piece of them, and that makes you want to read more about them.

 

Cohen is very refreshing, introspective and eloquent. The book mentions that this “self-tormented soul” once claimed that he had torn everyone who reached out for him and yet “ended his most recent collection of writings with a prayer for ‘the precious ones I overthrew for an education in the world.”

 

I also admire how the vibrant Pico was able paint the dark and gloomy Sebaldian travel account and writing. If anything, the Sebaldian disposition is probably an antithesis of Pico’s.

 

Sun After Dark is insightful and contemplative. It makes you stop and think. Somebody suggested that Pico, in the chapter about the Dalai Lama, had not been successful in offering an answer to the predicament of Tibet which I believe is not the goal of the book. The question of which is not what solution Sun After Dark (out of Pico’s conversations with the Dalai Lama) could offer but, I think, how much interest it can rouse in the reader to discover Tibet, to try to understand its struggles and to join its cause–which is the very cause of the Dalai Lama.

 

Early this evening, I dropped by Powerbooks to check if the “only” copy of The Open Road is still in the lonely shelf where it has been sitting for two-to-three months already. I had been battling in the past whether I should buy it for a thousand bucks or wait, indefinitely, for a copy at Booksale. I panicked a bit when I didn’t see it–initially–and grabbed it when I realised I was just not looking thoroughly.

 

Now, I’m off–to another journey.  

*the photo of my Sun After Dark book was taken by my “paparazzi” friend, Mian–more of her photos are in http://cjaey.multiply.com/

Illuminati

The lights are out. This is not the first time  our house has sat dim-lit in this corner while the rest of the households held darkness hostage to the flourescent glow.

 

The electric fans are out, too, probably happy that they are given an hour off mechanical labour. A cardboard makes a good makeshift fan.

 

The issue is not global warming but like the ice caps that collapse because they can no longer stand the heat, my weeklong confinement in the dark teaches me lessons like the ones a fed-up lover does. You go about your day, come home, sleep and wake up- almost unsurprised- to the realisation that your electric service company has decided to put an end to its ordeal.

 

You had it coming.

 

And so you start to live with inconvenient truths. Truths like food leftovers decompose in the fridge, that they stink, and that they stink bad. Pandora’s Box would surely make a bad refrigerator brand.

 

I live in a corner unreached by civilisation but at least, I can expect my electric bill to go down this cut-off. 

Let there be light.

Ad Astra Per Aspera!

 

It was an epiphany when I stumbled over the phrase today…for two reasons- one, I just realized that the meaning it conveys is timeless, and two, The Technologian Student Press is one of the best places I have ever been.

 

Today, I am reminded that a disregard of direction is not courage or confidence. The paths we take are supposed to be perpendicular to the stars.  

 

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