‘You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf’

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Confession: I’m deathly afraid of the water. This was instilled by a near-drowning incident in a pool as a young child. It was made worse by being poked with the handle of a pool cleaning net by my college swimming instructor as I stood frozen at the end of the diving board after being told to jump. (I obviously survived by treading, and that was his point. But he’s still an asshole, so I dropped the class, which I took precisely because I wanted to conquer my fear.)

Fast-forward to the present and I’m out here, surfing. Swimming lessons and years of exposure to the sea haven’t eliminated or minimized the fear. I realized it will always be there.What I needed to do was manage it. The beauty of surfing is, I’m going straight toward the very things that scare me, the waves, in order to wait for a bigger one that I can ride. Sometimes the fear can be overwhelming so I have to stop and get my bearings. Then, I go out there again. There’s no better metaphor for life than that. And, when you’re up and standing, there’s no thought about impressing anyone, looking pretty, being smart, earning money… It’s just you, your board and the wave that carries you. It’s pure bliss.

Another thing I discovered about surfing is I don’t suck at it… that much. Which could mean I probably don’t suck at life (that much) either. That thought is my gift to myself.

Anger, politics and personal power

Photo by Erik

                       Photo by Erik

What does a contentious election season do to our psyche? What happens when we are mired in negativity all day because we can’t help but scroll through our social media feeds and watch colorful debates on television? What should a conscientious, aware and concerned citizen of a country and the world do when the airwaves are filled with hate, aggression and mudslinging? When the noise is too much to bear, do you simply tune it out?

Most people, myself included, find it easier to be observers of political contests than participants. Right now, sitting on the sidelines, letting thoughts and opinions marinate is more comfortable than engaging in heated online conversations about candidates and where they stand. This wasn’t always the case with me. I used to fight to the death in order to prove myself right, especially in areas of politics and religion. I loved the challenge of mental jousts and took pleasure in winning arguments, caring very little about the acrimony that rose because of such exercises. That side of me still comes out once in a while and there are times when I feel compelled to call it forth but, generally, it’s more beneficial for me to observe my own feelings and thoughts about what I see and hear.

This election season, however, is making it difficult for many to not make extreme opinions known, and for good reason. In the Philippines, there seems to be a growing movement to revise history by portraying a very dark and terrifying time in the country as its “golden age”. Add to that, certain candidates’ outrageous antics, statements and past record of eschewing human rights are largely ignored, all for the idea that an iron fist is what we need to set ourselves straight.

Are we going to even touch on what the Drumpf is happening in the United States? Let’s not.

What we can do is watch our reactions to the events around us. Do we respond more to anger than reason? My guess is we do, otherwise, hateful personalities spewing bile would not resonate with a large segment of society. On the other hand, would you rather not be bothered by all this crap and go about your own business because the world is a big dung heap anyway and there’s nothing to be done? Heatedness and apathy are extremes of the same spectrum. Staying on either side is dangerous for us as individuals and a collective.

We must constantly remind ourselves that our interior world reflects what is outside of us. The simple act of being aware of our anger would make us more resistant to the pull of the hate being peddled by those in the spotlight. This might sound overly simplistic but I believe it all comes down to the individual. If we check ourselves and feel our anger – whether it’s simmering existential angst or one caused by circumstance – we can allow ourselves to pause and ponder on the choices we make for our lives and those of others.

It is our anger and frustration that gets tapped by power-hungry manipulators who are given microphones and stand in front of cameras. Imagine, though, if we collectively see that we deserve true peace, prosperity and order through integrity, honesty and the genuine desire to serve. Perhaps, one day, we will give rise to leaders who will bring these about.

Yes, it sounds too simple. Maybe I’m being naïve. But I would rather be that than get sucked into the vortex of hate I see around me. I have enough anger in me that could take a lifetime to purge but I’m aware of it. I know what it is doing to me as a person and global citizen and I don’t like it. There was a time in my life when anger fueled my every move and it was in those moments that I spewed out hate myself and got carried away by aggressive agenda that did not serve me in the long run.

Anger is a natural emotion and it is healthy to have. It spurs us to action, to right wrongs, to change ourselves, to leave bitter situations that could bury us. If left unchecked, however, it makes us vulnerable to the manipulative tactics of others or even our own egoic desires.

The two most compelling political personalities of our time are Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Both only spoke of love, dignity and unification, not divisiveness, force and exclusion. Look at what they were able to manifest in the world. If we as individuals know what we deserve and what we are capable of, we would resonate with the likes of them. May it happen in our lifetime.

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Those interested in private one-on-one or group yoga sessions with me, please go to this link to inquire.

When life beats you to a pulp, you get soft…and humble

I was struck by this interview I saw a few weeks ago between former UFC Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey and Ellen DeGeneres. Here Ronda discusses her shocking loss to Holly Holm that had cyberspace buzzing. No one expected the fight to turn out the way it did, and, given her tough demeanor on and off the ring, seeing Ronda break down while discussing the heartbreak she suffered from losing in such a swift and brutal manner was in itself jolting – in a good way. Here is a woman who has had to act solid, together and strong finally melting down and showing the world it’s okay to be a pile of mess when life knocks you out.

“Winning all the time is not best for everybody,” she said finally.

I agree, because winning all the time makes one cocky (which she was). The funny thing is, even when you’re not winning (all the time or not even sometimes), you can still get cocky. You can tough it out and say to yourself “I can do this by myself, thank you very much.” Of course, you can’t.

This is a lesson I continue to learn as I navigate this path that I chose to tread. I was talking to a good friend about some of the difficulties I’ve been dealing with – day-to-day challenges that have stacked up and become a mountain of shit that I have had to scale for some time now. I had come to a point where I was questioning my past and present choices, thinking maybe I should have taken another route instead of this unstable, shaky rope bridge that I seem to be walking on all the damn time. Then I heard what I needed to hear, and it landed like a sucker punch that left me open to more hard-hitting epiphanies afterwards: “You now realize that you can’t do everything alone. You need other people to help you.”

I do have difficulty admitting to people – and God – that I can’t do it by myself. Being on my own has always been the only life I’ve known. Even as a child, I relied on my own devices to get me out of emotional ruts. I hardly complained or asked for what I needed because such timid behavior was applauded. When I wanted something, instead of asking for it, I would wait for someone to give it to me. Guess how that worked out.

One vivid childhood memory comes to mind: When I was about 10 or 11 years old, I remember salivating over a can of preserved peaches that had been in my grandmother’s pantry forever. I kept thinking she might be saving it for something else, like making fruit salad come Christmas time, so I let it stay where it was and told myself I’d wait until Christmas for it to be devoured. One day, my uncle and his family came for a visit and my little cousin, who was all of maybe three years old then, DEMANDED that the can of peaches be opened. Of course, she ate them (I don’t remember if I had any. I was probably too upset to have some). Can you imagine my fury? I was mostly angry with myself for not asking for the freakin’ peaches and was seething as I watched my cousin eat what I believed were MINE!

Change the can of peaches to something else and you get the picture: job, promotion, love interest, project, life…

Now that I’m in bed unable to do anything because of cough, colds and asthma, I am once again confronted by these thoughts of entitlement, pride, shame and extreme shyness. Then I get to thinking about the people I used to think were weaklings because they were constantly bugging people for assistance or simply asking for what they wanted.

Let me make it clear that I’m not deriding independence nor self-control. They are virtues that breed self-respect and create a healthy sense of self. I’m also not for complete reliance on other people to bail you out every time you foul up or expecting people to provide your every need without you contributing anything to the kitty. That’s freeloading and it’s awful.

I’m talking about assistance that gives other people the chance to lift you up, openness to loving support, acceptance of grace, giving someone the chance to open the can of peaches for you and watch you delightfully bite into each piece of fruit.

Sometimes, it takes a good beating from life’s circumstances before we take the hand that’s reaching out to us. Like dough, we become softer and easier to shape when we’re all gooey and limp.

Here I am, in bed, unable to teach or practice yoga, turning down sub requests that I want to take on, cancelling classes I’d been itching to teach, contemplating my life and realizing I’d been wanting to trade it for another that is possibly not suited for me. This is as gooey and limp as I can get.

Then I remember there are people – friends, family, strangers – who would be more than willing to lend a hand when I need it. There’s the Universe, of course, sending me the experiences I need to be molded into the human that I am being. I am humbled by all of this and strengthened by it, even for just a bit. My soul asked for rest, and I’m getting it. I know all of this is pointing me towards TRUSTING the Universe’s perfect TIMING, and telling me to accept whatever life throws at me RIGHT NOW.

Because help is here. It always has been.

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Those who might be interested in having private yoga sessions with me, please go to this link to inquire.

My ‘Ima’

young bayang

I’m sitting under a giant mango tree in a tranquil place where I will be teaching yoga tomorrow. I love it when I’m here. As I write, pearly white geese are wobbling a few feet away from me, oblivious of my presence or perhaps indifferent to it. Like me, they’re at peace here, able to escape the vileness of the world outside. On my way to this very spot, I walked past a couple of chickens and roosters and couldn’t help but think how lucky they were for not ending up on someone’s dinner plate. Of course, there are the people – the privileged few who have the means to stay here and listen to the sound of crickets and ghekos at night, walk around the greenery and amongst the pretty peacocks, eat clean and cruelty-free food, are able to call on someone to serve their needs all day and night. These are hardworking, busy folk, for sure, and they deserve to partake in the luxury that surrounds them. Among all of them, I’m luckiest because I not only get to be here without expense, I also get to reach out to people and do what I love. Yoga has taken me to places I would never have gone, both internally and externally, and my heart is brimming with gratitude.

It is, however, also broken.

As I take in the loving energy that envelopes this place, it suddenly hits me that someone I love dearly had never gotten to enjoy something like this. Not that she would have cared. My grandmother wanted nothing more than to be in her home, tending to her garden and cooking her famously delicious meals for her loved ones. She wasn’t one to mope and think about what she was missing out on by staying put. Once she grew roots, she stayed planted. And there, she flourished. She and I are as different as night and day in that regard. I continue to seek adventure and long to see as much of the world as I can while she was content being in her kitchen, doing her magic.

Years ago, a friend of mine, who was managing a cultural website, asked me to write an article about anything uniquely Filipino. I was living abroad and often homesick. So, I wrote about my grandmother and her cooking skills – her intuitive way of knowing when to add more seasoning, or, say, how much vinegar was needed to make the carabao’s milk coagulate and turn into cheese. She would whip up three dishes at a time all by her lonesome, every day. All my grandfather and myself had to do was plop our butts down onto our chairs and eat. Sometimes, she would look at us as we munched on quietly, trying to hide the need for a quick validation. When none came, she’d ask “How’s the food?” And we’d reply a perfunctory “It’s wonderful” or “Delicious” and she’d be satiated, a satisfied countenance overtaking her. It took very little to please her. That was a uniquely Filipino trait, I thought, but also uniquely hers.

She knew how much people appreciated her cooking so she made her kitchen skills her vocation. Cooking, I realized, was her way of loving. For example, she would spend the entire day preparing “biko”—rice cake with squash – and “maja blanca” – rice cake with coconut milk – that were so very hard to make. The term Herculean wouldn’t be an exaggeration because stirring a potful of sticky rice requires super strength. She would ask the menfolk to do the stirring for her, of course. (My uncle confessed that, after helping her out with this, he got sick the next day from pure exhaustion). After laboring for hours, she would give it away to our neighbors, leaving us with as little as three plates to devour. This irked me no end because I loved her desserts and I’d be left with not much! When I was a young girl, I remember her preparing pastillas de leche and, once, handed me a bowlful to taste. I sat in front of the television to mindlessly watch Saturday morning cartoons and, before anyone knew it, the bowl was empty. Instead of getting mad, she let out a belly laugh.

While she was very aware of her gastronomic wizardry, never once did she brag; it was simply not in her nature to seek attention. In fact, she loathed it.

My grandparents had clear-cut roles: He brought home the bacon; she kept house. It was an easy setup that didn’t require thought, debate or discussion, with each of them appreciating the role the other had in the household. My grandmother was never made to feel she was doing less. In fact, she controlled the purse, which made her truly the queen of the home. This is why all of us in the family, despite changing times and gender roles, regard housework as WORK. We saw how tough it was for my grandmother to plan meals, cook, clean, do the laundry, iron clothes, feed the pets, water the plants, pluck weeds from the garden all by herself without a whimper. She quietly went about these tasks every day, often without help because she liked doing things her way.

And, boy, did she dote on me. She called the doctor and stayed up all night to care for me when I had severe asthma attacks. She attended PTA meetings. She cooked and fed me soup when I needed nursing from a fever. I was a sickly, fragile child that needed extra care; she and my grandfather provided that. My grandfather would fling five-year-old me on his shoulder and keep me there all night because I couldn’t breathe. My grandmother, in turn, would make a mountain out of pillows so I could lay in bed with my back reclined to ease my suffering. I remember them holding back emotion – perhaps frustration – over their inability to help me and stop me from crying when these asthma attacks and burning fevers came. I would experience the same kind of helplessness as I watched each of them, four years apart, take painfully labored and shallow breaths in their final moments. “So this is what it’s like,” I thought, marveling at the fragility of life, the sacredness of it all, and the overwhelming sadness I felt as I saw them slowly slip away.

I still wonder what kind of strength it took for my grandmother to live four more years after my grandfather’s death. That she survived him for that long is testament to her character and joie de vivre. She still made us laugh with her wisecracks and laser-sharp observations of everyday things: how scandalously short my skirt was, how gray her hair was becoming, how loud that girl on TV was. She prayed harder than ever. She endured the loss of feeling on her limbs and accepted with grace and dignity the fact that she won’t ever walk again. She never complained, never made demands, never was the prima donna. She accepted whatever time we could give her. She sometimes asked for more but if it could not be given, she understood. I will also forever try to know what got her through those years of solitude because I can’t imagine being imprisoned by my own body, living only in my mind.

Ima-radio

Perhaps, it was constant communication with my grandfather that made her hang on for as long as she did. They loved to talk to each other – I would wake up at dawn to sounds of them discussing things or going over the events of the previous day. When he passed on, she stealthily continued to converse with him, maybe thinking we couldn’t hear. But we did. I did. And each time, it broke me.

Now, in the quiet of night in this lovely space filled with trees and the sounds of nature, loneliness overcomes me. There are people who share my grief, of course: my mother and her siblings, my cousins, other relatives. But our sadness is unique to each of us; we all have our own ways of coping. I have a feeling that, as time passes, I will feel the gravity of her death even more. It is something I need to endure, without complaint.

***

A few days before her 94th birthday, lola and I were talking as I lay in bed next to her. She was on her side, her right arm on my belly.

“I’m old,” she said. “I’ll be 94 soon.”

“Ninety-four is young, Lola. Ninety-five, though, IS old. You’ll be an old woman next year,” I joked.

She lightly smacked my stomach as we both chuckled, and afterwards she sought my arm and stroked it. And just like that, it was the two of us again, my Ima and I, sharing another moment out of the many we’d had. Right then and there, with my mind painfully aware of the passage of time, I whispered a prayer of thanks.

 

Ritual

Wow, has it been that long? Almost four months of not blogging has made this space stale, I know. I’m not promising more entries, but this moment is a good time to return.

Not much is happening externally – still teaching yoga, still writing professionally, still tending to the practical side of everyday life – but my internal world is being rocked by new insights, perspectives and challenges. WHOA. I can’t say I’m loving all of it, but I’m so grateful for the opportunities to learn about myself, the Self and the worlds I inhabit inside and out.

Let me explain, please.

I’ve always thought of myself as straddling the divide between the practical and the mystical. At least, that’s what I try to do.

I see myself as still pragmatic and one who prefers preparedness in dealing with unforeseen events. I have no intention of retreating from bills, jobs, professionalism, modern science and its breakthroughs, hard news and politics. I love spirited and respectful discussions with people whose views are different from mine. I’m still fascinated by the global financial system (despite my passionate hatred for math) and the follies of Wall Street. I watch lots of television because I thrive in hoarding information. So, yes, part of me lives in the intellect. If, however, I go too deep into this world, my desire for control and status reemerge, my reliance on (false) security becomes greater and the results are anxiety over what lies ahead and rejection of the past. Not healthy.

And then there’s the side of me who immerses in magical thinking, dreams, creates, feels, intuits and goes with the flow. It takes risks simply because they need to be taken and not for any other gain; stays in certain situations and sees them through without the guarantee of success or despite the certainty of failure; and lets her heart lead the way by feeling through really tough decisions. This side of me has gotten me into very sticky situations at times – emotionally, physically, financially – and one that is both misunderstood and appreciated. It is what calls out to the Universe and surrenders to its will. Do I see a downside to living this way? Well, there’s the threat of masochism and the tendency to escape into Fantasy Land, which the pragmatic side thinks is a nutty way to live.

Last Friday, however, my magically inclined self took over in a big way. There was a total solar eclipse on the Equinox. It was also the beginning of a new moon. My inner Glinda the Good Witch rejoiced! What a perfect time to perform a ritual! No, this did not involve eye of newt, toe of frog, wool of bat or tongue of dog. There was, though, a lot of writing, purging, letter-destruction, meditating, ice cream, internal and external housecleaning, dishwashing, candle-lighting, warm bathing and silence. Did I mention ice cream? There were tears, of course, because the past needed to be washed away for it not to haunt us again.

My pragmatic self prevents me from fully subscribing to astrology. I can’t bring myself to believe that I and a gazillion people share the same fate and characteristics. (Ego alert!) I do believe in the power of intention and perfect timing, as well as the importance of symbolism. I encourage everyone to honor a tough situation by giving it a proper send-off. Although it’s always better to involve the people who are part of it, sometimes that’s not possible. So, get creative. Dance, sing, write a kilometric letter, cook your favorite dish, piece together a diorama using matchsticks, write poetry, take a long walk, get some crayons and make a story board with stick drawings of yourself and them… whatever. Do it your way and see what happens. It doesn’t need to be on an eclipse or any particular time, but if you prefer for it to coincide with an occasion that’s important to you, go ahead.

I can’t say the niggling negative gremlins in my head are not there anymore. I’ve accepted that they’re not house guests I can readily shoo away; they’ve become more like permanent residents that have to be tamed and understood. Right now, they’re quiet, like fed cats. When they act up, I’ll be ready for them. (Believe me, they do get rambunctious.)

A friend and I were emailing each other the other day about our word for the year — even though we’re midway through 2015. I already had a word in January, but I’m changing it. This half-year, it will be…

…ALLOW.

And because I’ve emptied myself out, I’m now ready to be filled up. Fear and trepidation are still there but I see them now as teachers — allies in the quest towards self-realization. Without them to conquer, how would we reach wholeness?

I’ve come to the conclusion that the most pragmatic thing a person could do is to think magically, and to do it with ice cream on hand.

Finding Beauty

Photo by: Izu Navi

Photo by: Izu Navi

It’s funny how things can change from good to better or bad to worse. One day, you’re on top of the world, then, on another, you’re under a heap of dung. There is no stopping this dynamic; it will be the way of the world for as long as we live. As one executive I interviewed years ago said: “You can’t expect the stock market to be up all the time. It will go down at some point.” If you stick around long enough, you will see it go up again. Such is the rollercoaster ride we’re all in.

In the video below, author Elizabeth Gilbert talks about how she forced herself to find something beautiful while going through a horrendous time in her life: she was broke and stuck, and had to see through a painful divorce. Watch how she goes about this mini-quest.

This will be my task from now on, too. I will look for beauty in every situation, every obstacle, every brick wall that blocks my path. It is there, hidden under the muck of doubt, uncertainty, and faithlessness. I have found beauty in the oddest of places at the most unexpected times. Angels get sent my way to reaffirm my limitlessness and remind me that I am loved. My regret is I never fully embraced these moments and often didn’t see them for the revelations they were. I have fought life with all my might, only to be defeated. Of course, life always wins.

It is in the dark night of the soul that we find the light within. Some of the most valuable lessons I have learned came to me when I was one big lump of mess on the floor, wailing to the heavens. Right now, fear is winning, but I’m confident faith will kick its ass. I will give it time.

And beauty? It always shows itself. All I need to do is open my eyes.

 

Marlin

Smiling, happy Marlin with baby Georgina. Photo courtesy of Georgina's mom, Charlie Manuel-Co

Smiling, happy Marlin with baby Georgina. Photo courtesy of Georgina’s mom, Charlie Manuel-Co

Before last night’s Yin Yoga class began, the teacher said we’d be focusing on our hips. I thought, “Okay, let the floodgates open as they may.” If I start to bawl like a child during a hip opener, so be it. And cry I did as my pent-up grief gushed forth. I’d been in tears sporadically the last few days, anyway, but crying during yoga has a more cleansing effect. The quietness, the solemnity of the pose, the freedom given to the heart through asana – those gave that particular crying episode more potency. It was also more gut-wrenching.

My friend, Marlin Lindo, courageously battled cancer for seven years. On a sunny Tuesday morning, she transitioned and left us in the most peaceful manner: After a full day working, she went to bed and never woke up. Her cancer had spread and was being treated, but it gave rise to undetected tumors in her brain, which caused hemorrhage. She lost consciousness that night and held on for a few more days, seemingly to wait for family members who were flying in from abroad. Once they were all there and had said their goodbyes, she slowly went into the sunset that she loved so much. In my book, there’s no better way to go.

I take what little consolation I could get from this. That she went peacefully is a relief but the fact that she died so young and full of hope is devastating. She fought bravely and never betrayed a tinge of bitterness. If she ever felt it, which I doubt, she didn’t let on. She not only fought for her physical health through a strictly healthy diet, Reiki sessions and stress management, she took great care of her mind and soul by surrounding herself with positivity and being a source of light herself. I had always been in awe of the way she fully embraced her circumstances and regret not having told her.

Her faith in God was absolute and unshaken down to her last breath. She was a prayerful woman who gathered strength from Divine Will. Living with a grim diagnosis, sleeping with it, waking up with it, eating with it, watching television with it, getting painful treatments for it would have defeated a lesser person. But she soldiered on with a smile and a prayer.

When I was still in Hong Kong, one of my favorite things to do was hang out in Marlin’s apartment to eat and watch romantic comedies. Or cartoons. Or the American Idol marathon (when it was still cool and the Davids – Cook and Archuleta – were battling it out. She claimed Cook for herself, ahead of us all). I’m not at all fond of cartoons and romantic comedies, but was there for the food and company. She loved hosting us, mainly because she didn’t want to be alone on weekends and let her mind get the better of her. She made sure to be surrounded by laughter. And we always laughed. Hard.

She was very generous – with time, advice, her cooking. Being at Marlin’s apartment meant you will be fed, and no one loves to be fed more than I. Many of us had lunch at the office pantry every day, and would swap horror stories about cafeteria food. I always complimented her healthy homemade lunches – all organic and salt-free – and she would smile and say there are days when she’d rather eat junk. I believed her.

In 2009, I was one of the many millions of expats made redundant by companies and sent home. She was one of many friends in Hong Kong who offered to take me in after I’d given up my apartment. And when I settled back in Manila, she would send me Facebook messages every now and then, inviting me to stay with her if ever I wanted to visit. Looking back, there was so much love during that time, and the memory of her generosity, as well as those of others, always warmed my heart.

While spending most of her time in Batangas with family, she had her treatments in Manila – where they were far less expensive than in Hong Kong – and I and another friend would stay with her a few times to chat, crack jokes, and mainly distract her from the pain of the infusion. Again, no bitterness. No wailing. No complaints. No woe-is-me. She endured it all and made sure WE were comfortable. One time, she gave me John Green’s Looking for Alaska and told me she regretted reading The Fault in Our Stars. We sort of laughed at this because who wouldn’t be depressed after reading The Fault in Our Stars?!

The last time I saw her was for lunch in Makati some time in June. I handed over an item she asked me to pick up from another friend in Hong Kong, where I had just attended the Asia Yoga Conference. She looked well: She cut her hair short and we all agreed it suited her. She was in high spirits and had a nice reddish glow about her. We were all optimistic that the medication was making a dent and were discussing other alternative treatments she could try. We were joking around and laughing at whatever silliness we could think of but got serious as she contemplated her future. By this time, she had already decided to have her infusions in Lipa, Batangas, and we promised to see each other again the next time she was in the city.

It was not to be.

And there I was, holding half-pigeon pose for three minutes with my forehead on the floor and arms outstretched, sobbing because my hips hurt and my friend was gone. All I could think about was Marlin’s tinkling girlish giggle and the fact that no one will ever hear it again. When the class was over, there was lightness about me that I hadn’t felt since I heard the news. For the first time in days, I felt release.

I would like to think Marlin, too, wherever she is, is reveling in her new lightness, marveling at her new existence, and dancing with all the stars.

Until we meet again, Instagram

Photo by: José Moutinho

Photo by: José Moutinho

Social media is not something anyone can easily escape. We try and try and try, but let’s be honest. It’s frikkin’ hard to resist the urge to connect virtually. So, instead of shunning the grid, I decided to be more discerning and minimize the effects that trolling (yes, trolling) the Internet has had on my psyche.

I have always favored Facebook because I usually find breaking news stories there, links to stories and videos that are inspiring, silly, informative, nonsensical, gut-wrenching, enlightening, and even enraging. Yes, I could find the same stuff on Twitter, but it’s too fast for me – three tweets per millisecond is too much for my poor, overstimulated brain to handle. In order to keep up, I’d have to check Twitter every hour. I could do that, but I have a life that needs tending to, so… With Facebook, I could sort the stuff I wanted to see, hide posts from people that ignited some sort of negative reaction in me, and pretty much control the information I got and churned out.

Then came Instagram.

Oh, that magical application that turns us all into our very own version of Steve McCurry and Michael Moore. We’re all photographers and documentarians here. It’s an enchanting medium that allows us to publish images from our daily lives for our followers to see and, hopefully, like. I was hooked.

No, I didn’t take and release too many photos of myself and whatever it was I did with my time. I had nothing to promote and was never very good at promoting anything about me, anyway. Food shots were out because who would want to see images of what I ate? I haven’t travelled in a while and I live in a traffic-ridden metropolis, so no scenic nature shots from me, either. If I weren’t so lazy I could’ve found stuff to document, like my erstwhile ant problem, or the kittens I rescued, but, why think of something to shoot when you can simply scroll down? So, I became a watcher, which was and will always be a more comfortable position for me to be in instead of being the watched.

And so I hopped from one profile to another, just like any friendly neighborhood voyeur. I found inspiring, enlightened people I admired, gushed over cute animal photos and was buoyed by memes about empowerment, yoga, and talk of spirit. There were so many products I wanted to buy, places I dreamed to see, gorgeous women taking selfies of their gorgeous selves with or without that equally gorgeous boyfriend – at the beach or the gym, in a bikini or teeny weeny workout gear – celebrities being celebrities, yogis coming into one-hand handstands, scorpions, and unsupported headstands…

Suddenly, there was so much to covet. That item, face, body, yoga pose, life.

I had never been more discontented. Envy, that monster that eats up whatever good sense you have left, thrives in discontent. Being a watcher of people’s lives, consuming whatever it was they wanted to show, became not just a pastime but a source of sadness and, worse, slight madness. I wanted what everyone else had except what was in front of me. Someone else’s life was better than mine! She’s perfect and so is he! What a beautiful house they live in! She’s got a nice tush! I suck!

Intellectually, I knew that what I was being presented with was a version of the truth, because who wants to post a photo of them chowing down leftovers, being bored out of their minds at home, and a selfie of cellulite or a tear-stained face? Still, my warped mind took everything at face value. Until, one day, I woke up and decided I’ve had it. I wasn’t going to be a slave to this mind, this curiosity, this need to compare. If I’m to make greater strides at living the life I deserve, I’d better start loving everything about me and this one precious life I’d been given. Enough with the comparisons and wallowing in unrealized dreams. I did the unthinkable and deleted the Instagram app from all of my devices. My account is still active but has not been updated. You could argue that one should quit social media altogether, but I feel I’m better at handling words than images. I can decipher BS from truth a lot faster on Facebook and Twitter, but not Instagram. There’s something about imagery that makes illusions real and reality illusory. Lines can be so easily blurred when a picture is involved. A photo somehow makes even the unreal valid. Isn’t that why Photoshop is so maligned and yet essential to the creation of an image?

As any communications tool, Instagram can be a force for good. It is and was meant to be a showcase for creativity and talent. It can’t be denied, though, that it has become a drug of sorts for people who ache to be admired and loved, and those who hate their lives so much they live vicariously through others. It’s awful if you fall under both categories. Good for you if, unlike me, you are able to simply enjoy the images for their aesthetic value and not attach your worth to what you find.

So, it’s goodbye for now, Instagram. Perhaps, one day, I will return. Until then, I will remain oblivious to what you have in there and be okay with what I see and touch around me, pretty or not.

——-

Note: There is one Instagram profile worth following. @thedailyst chronicles the extraordinary kindness of ordinary folk. Do check it out and stop stalking James Franco.

Love Or Something Like It

Photo by: Louie-An Pilapil

Photo by: Louie-An Pilapil

“The truth is that which feels right and good and loving. Love doesn’t hurt. It feels really good. It’s that which allows you to live every day with integrity. Everything you do and say shows the world who you really are. Let it be the truth.” – Oprah Winfrey

Two entries in one week – I’m on a roll! My brain has been on overdrive these past few days and what better way to release all these thoughts than to put them in this blog. Indulge me, please.

One of the subjects occupying my mind these days is relationships and how we navigate them. What triggered these musings is reading about high profile NFL player Ray Rice, who has been in the news for weeks now for hitting his then-fiancee in the face, knocking her unconscious, and dragging her motionless body out of the elevator – all of this captured by a security camera. Also under fire is how the esteemed US sports organization he’s part of is handling or bungling the case. Today, another NFL player Jonathan Dwyer is arrested on domestic violence charges. These resonate deeply with me because, even though I had not been subjected to such violence myself, a person I love very much was. Do note that women are just as capable of physically and emotionally abusing men and children, so gender has little to do with this.

I will not delve into the more complicated workings of violent relationships, but I will touch on what I know we are all entitled to – real love and true happiness – perhaps because, contrary to what many people think, I want that, too. Yes, friends. I want a soulful partnership that thrives on openness, adventure, kindness, compassion, passion, equality, and respect. I’m not glossing over the fact that the union of two imperfect people is bound to raise conflict – this dynamic is part of and even essential to the growth of both parties. There should, however, still be a feeling of belonging despite the differences, synchronicity in the midst of disagreement, and compromise to attain harmony. I observe the couples I admire – and I have many among my dear friends – and these are all present in their relationships. They trip up and fall at the expense of the other sometimes, but the partnership is intact mainly because both the man and woman recognize the need to share the work, or carry more of it at certain times without sacrificing their identities and self-respect. At the center of all the turbulence are forgiveness and acceptance, the real kind, where resentment has no place because they are absolute.

I, unfortunately, have never had this kind of partnership. I suppose it’s because of my willingness to accept poor substitutes for the real thing. Once I begin to recognize cracks in the idealized reality I had created, I continued to live in the illusion until something really strong virtually struck me upside the head and woke me up from the dream. Sometimes, despite being awake, I’d stay in the dream, hoping things would turn around and become rosy, just like in my fantasies. I settled for what little attention was thrown my way, thinking I’d have more of it if I changed some aspect of myself. Did that work? Take a guess.

It got to a point where I’d question my judgment and concept of reality. When it’s over, I’d ask myself: “What was that about?” and “Why did that happen?” More importantly, “Why did I allow that to happen or drag on for as long as it did?” I have a few theories but I’m done blaming my upbringing and conditioning. When all this happened, I was already a grown woman with a mind of her own, not a 12-year-old girl, and I can’t continue to look to my childhood as the reason for all the screw-ups I bring upon myself in the present. One possible answer that is acceptable to my adult self is this: I have lost touch with my own brilliance.

After some excruciating self-examination – which is still ongoing, by the way – a startling realization dawned on me. People – mostly men – are attracted to my loneliness. It is the darkness that pulls them in, not the light. We share a common vibe and revel in it for a while, relishing our common experiences, and hopeful that we could both transcend them with the help and admiration of the other. There is, however, always an impediment, a blockage, that prevents this from happening – something that has been there all along and has made this association more daring, exciting and precious. As it turns out, this blockage, whatever it may be, is bigger and much more palpable than the connection. The other, not me, has to pull away to get back to their place of comfort, where all is safe. This is no different from them being stuck in a dead-end job that sucks the life out of them, but the need to stay in it is stronger because of their inability to give up the supposed comforts the job affords them. This is understandable, of course, but in the context of relationships, this is devastating if you’re the one being left behind. It is even more gutting if the biggest fear you have in your life is abandonment.

So, in order for the other not to leave, I would cling. And good luck with that, right? I wasn’t even aware that I did this until recently. When entering potential relationships, I was always coming from a place of lack, feeling like I had nothing to offer or that I would be a burden. Thankfully, I’m realizing now that this is total bullshit. Again, I’m a work in progress. When I get hurt, I withdraw. When I get angry, I stew for days or weeks. When I feel depleted, I become unaware of how I come across to people. These are all parts of my personality. I should just remember that I am a good person deep down and that I have so much to offer to the world and the person who will get me. And I mean really get me.

Some people are made to share their life with another individual, some are not. If I happen to be of the latter group, I’m certain that the Universe has designed my life that way even before my time on earth began. So, I resolve not to question its ways anymore, even when I don’t understand them. I am putting this out there for It to hear: If I am meant to be with someone, may he learn from me as I will from him; may he be willing to risk his heart as I will be mine; and may we lift each other up and not drag each other down even when it gets difficult; may we share a love of the earth and all its beings.

Okay, Universe. I surrender all of this to you.

I wish this for all of you who are reading this entry: May you have real, honest and uplifting love in your life. When you recognize it, may you keep it. And just as crucial, when you feel deep in your heart that it is not what you deserve, may you have the courage to let it go and the wisdom to know that you’ll be all right.

Public Self vs Private Self: Which is Which?

Photo by: Jason Rosenberg

Photo by: Jason Rosenberg

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” – Mahatma Gandhi

For many years, I hadn’t been able to align these two facets of my personality. In public or with friends, I was lively and energetic, vibrant, even funny. It was a different story when I was around people who knew me well. My private self was in stark contrast to the bubbly goof ball who always cracked jokes. I was way too serious, brooding, even morose – not much fun to be around, to be honest. I felt I had to put up a façade because my relationships, livelihood and self-image depended on it. Who would want to be around a sourpuss? So, I continued with my little charade: the hyperactive jester in public and the lethargic dud who occasionally exploded in thunderous anger when provoked.

That didn’t work in my favor because, although my intentions for putting on a public face were (sort of) noble, I thought of myself as a fraud. I suffered immensely and envied those who were living authentic lives and didn’t have to wear masks. I also wondered which of the two Louies was real, and sincerely hoped it was the public one.

“Who am I, really? Why do I not mean what I say and say what I mean?”

I’m not out of the woods yet and it’s pretty normal to not want to contaminate the world with low vibes, yes? We can’t blame people for wanting to present a pretty picture of their lives to everyone. Their identities are too intertwined with their imagined selves. Why do you think Facebook and Instagram are part of our modern existence?

Lately, however, I noticed I have been taking major steps towards living the authentic life I envisioned. If I don’t feel like doing something, I say it without sugarcoating. If there’s a project I can’t commit to, I won’t. If someone hurts my feelings, I call them out (not all of them, but ‘some’ is better than ‘none’). I also realized that it is impossible and unnecessary to please everyone, so I don’t even try. There are people who will never like me and God bless them. I have been rejected as many times as the next Broadway or Hollywood aspirant – by potential bosses and love interests – and each time, it sucked. Through it all, I try to be as transparent and honest as I can with myself and the world. I may not share what I feel all the time but I won’t make my emotions, and, in the process, my life, into something they’re not. I won’t flip sadness on its head and hope it bursts with fruit flavor. I won’t smile through gritted teeth anymore or chase after people who don’t want to be seen with me – I’ve had one of those too many. I strive for peace within, and hope it radiates and covers my entire being.

Meditation and yoga, as well as brutal self-evaluation, help me come to terms with things I can’t change. These have also given me the courage to plow through and live with difficult life decisions with as much grace and humility as I could muster. I don’t always succeed but it’s in the trying that we overcome.

I’m on my way to alignment. One day, my self and Self will be One. That is where true freedom and happiness lies.

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