“Why do I shy away from meeting new friends or avoid hanging out with them?”
She sat there a bit upset.
“Well, let’s see. “Sometimes, it’s all about expectations.” I began.
You expect to be somebody else other than yourself.
“This requires a lot of effort. It won’t sit right with your soul. The whole time, you’d be pretending, shoving your true self into the closet, and for what? Even if people end up liking “you,” they’d still be enjoying a “made-up” version of you.”
“So, what should I do it instead?”
“Show up as you, the polite, respectful, unpretentious, unassuming you. Those are your genuine character traits. Don’t apologize for them or try to hide them away.”
Your expectation of who people are or how they’d be like.
“Our ego loves to gauge itself whether it’s higher or lower, greater or lesser, better or worse than others. Why? Because it likes to know where and how to position itself against others. Then, it either gets a sense of pride or feels so insecure.”
“How should I manage that?”
“Receive people as they are, or, as they present themselves, without judgments, expectations, and your personal agendas.”
She pondered for a moment, looked at me, and smiled.
I could have quickly snuggled back in bed and gotten two more minutes. But that morning, I said, “No. Not again.”
Hitting the snooze button most days left me feeling sluggish. So that day, I reckon, was going to be different.
Stepping outside the building, a cold wind greeted me. The sun was slowly rising, and I could see a few neighbors running and sprinting.
“Let’s do this,” I said.
Since I admire physically active people, even non-athletic ones, I emulate them by spending most time outdoors. But with winter, it is a bit of a struggle.
Like a few of my friends, I gain weight during colder months. Call it “hibernation mode”- to justify longer hours in bed or most days on the couch telling stories with friends over a cup of coffee, tea, or hot chocolate.
As I stood outside breathing the fresh morning air, sunlight gently lit up our side of town. I climbed down the steps and slowly headed towards the lake. The water was calm. How can it be when the world “out there” is full of noise? “Even my mind right now can’t stay quiet.” I wonder.
The Wooden Bench
I walked for what could be the longest I’ve done in the past 7 days. Stopping by a wooden bench, I clasped my hands behind my back and stretched while tilting my head back. Ahhh, and there it was.. blue skies! A moment more and a little bird flew by. Beautiful!
Funny, I realized I hadn’t looked up to see the skies for quite a long time. I might have, unconsciously, but not really experienced it like I’ve had now- in joy and wonderment.
Reflecting on this, I recognized it was no different in how I’ve managed situations in my life. I have looked to myself and to others for answers. Of course, I have looked to God, too, as I imagine Him beside me. But there’s something different about looking up.
The Blue Canvas
The vastness of the skies reminded me of how little my “world” is. So from that perspective, most things became unimportant. -The world will not collapse if I miss a deadline. -My phone would still be working if I missed a notification. -My experiences are still enjoyable even without the adorable photos.
Most things can wait. And some can be enjoyed just by themselves, without adding anything to it.
Looking up also gave me a sense of relief. It’s peaceful to see the “heavens.” I think it’s because there is less “clutter” up there. There’s no congestion, no noise, and dare I say, there are no personalities to deal with, even my own.
So my takeaway in all this, look up. Better yet, gaze into the skies now and then. Whether you’re feeling overwhelmed, empty, lonely, or grieving, I think it’s worth the try. You may think it’s too simple, but maybe, that is all we really need.
I strongly desired to attend a Catholic Mass on a Wednesday afternoon after a two-year hiatus. Of course, there were nearby churches I could go to, but for some reason, it had to be that one.
I missed the Church, the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Confession. So like a desperate lover longing for that one hello, one embrace, one touch of a hand, I set on to drive a long way one Saturday morning, unsure of what to expect and what to find.
Entering the Church felt different yet familiar. Different because the past couple of years changed me, as it did to most people.
I think events like a pandemic throw most of us, if not all, out of balance. People like me then didn’t see it coming. We were so engrossed in our own little world. And that world got magnified when we were forced into our tiny holes.
But after a while, the little world blew up and we began to see things differently. Our bubbles burst, and we realized we weren’t superhuman at all. Why? Because death will get us, regardless of race, religion, status, location, physique, or mental acuity. It’s just a matter of time.
So yes, a pandemic has a tremendous power to wake us up. And we didn’t even know that all along, we were asleep.
Now, why did I say entering the Church felt familiar? Because then it felt like home. I imagined my parents and grandparents asking, “Where have you been?” But instead of a long sermon, it was quickly followed by,
“Tell us about your adventure,”
“Is there anything you need right now?”
“We missed you, but we knew you would come back.”
And yet there was Someone else. And all I could hear Him say was, “I know. It’s okay. And I love you,” before I even uttered a word.
As I approached the priest to receive the Holy Communion, an overflow of emotion came over me. My chest felt like it was going to explode. It was so powerful that when I knelt down to pray, all I could ever say was “Thank You.”
The words came on repeat until the emotion subsided. I couldn’t think of anything else to say or even ask. Then, after a while, something dawned on me. Like a lightbulb moment, I suddenly recognized a straightforward truth, and it’s this: That all I need or could ever need is already in me.
Often, we search for what we want and desire in the wrong places. In turn, we end up miserable, unhappy, and unfulfilled. We occasionally experience the “highs,” but they never last.
When I pondered upon this, I thought we must be missing something, and now I believe we do. It has to do with our expectations about external conditions to fulfill an internal need.
“I will be complete when I find the love of my life.” (Meanwhile, I am deficient.)
“I will feel free when I finally get rid of this debt.” (Meanwhile, I am burdened.)
“I will be happy and excited when I travel again.” (Meanwhile, I am depressed and bored.)
Notice the thoughts that play in the background.
Relying on external conditions to settle, pacify or heal our inner state causes frustration simply because the external is limited. It can only do so much and never beyond it.
If I leave you with one thing, it’s this: “All you need or could ever need is already in you.” So try to ponder that thought for a moment and see how it liberates you.
“Be where you are; otherwise, you will miss your life.”
Does it ring true to you?
There’s this story about two monks.
One night, the monks were headed back to the monastery. The journey was long, and they had to do it on foot, armed with only a staff and a lamp.
An hour into their journey, heavy rain poured. But the monks were determined to reach their destination before midnight. So the two kept on and walked as fast as they could.
Up ahead, they saw an old car stuck on the side of the road. It looked like it hit a tree.
Curious, the monks ran towards the car and saw a woman behind the wheel.
“Hey, are you alright?”. Asked one of them.
“I saw something on the road, tried to avoid it, but my car swerved and struck this tree.”
The woman must have hit her head; it was bleeding.
“We can’t leave you here in the dark and with this heavy rain. Let us take you to a clinic”.
The older monk helped the woman out of the car, carried her, and hurried towards the clinic. Soon after relaying the incident to the doctor, the two monks left and continued their journey.
A couple of hours later, the monastery was on sight. As they walked closer towards the door, the younger monk asked the older one,
“Teacher, you carried that woman into the clinic.”
The teacher replied, “I did, and I dropped her off two hours ago. But you are still carrying her in your thoughts.”
Doesn’t this happen to us most of the time?
Being trapped in our head puts us in states of anxiety, fear, overwhelm, anger and despair. The opposite of that is precisely what we want, isn’t it? We call it a resourceful state. A state where we are calm, collected, confident, and creative.
The good news is, getting to this state is very simple. We just need to “Be in the present moment.”
So what does it look like?
We focus our attention on what’s unfolding now. We are aware of our own breathing, we feel the energy (the life) in our body, we are alert, and we can zoom in on a task at hand.
We tune in to a higher power that makes known what it desires from us at this very moment. In prayer, it can sound like, “Lord, I am here, and I am ready. What do you want me to do today?”.
We acknowledge and believe that we have all the resources to produce an outcome. It has already been given to us. We just need to identify what’s necessary at any given moment and tap into it.
We feel joy or enjoyment in the process and recognize that what we are experiencing is not inferior to the desired outcome.
Think about your desire to be happy. It seems elusive because of the stories you have of the past and the future.
Past: “He insulted me yesterday. How dare he? He really hurt me and ruined my day. I’ll never forgive him”.
(1) How much suffering was caused by the actual event; and
(2) How much suffering was caused by your continuous story of how the person has hurt you.
Future: “When I get the promotion next year, I’ll be happy and start spending weekends with my family.”
Realize how you’re postponing happiness and putting off family time (something you value) into a future that may not even come. Time as we know, is valuable and will cease at an unknown point.
Present: I choose to be happy now. End of story.
Our lives are made up of a billion present moments. But where you are alive, and breathing is this moment right here. So choose it and notice how liberating that is.
It’s the cold, windy month of February from where I live, and a few days later, I am celebrating my birthday.
I can’t help but think back on the day I was born. Were my parents happy? Was I? What did it mean to the world? What did it mean to God?
Days and years later, the answers to those questions might have slipped through unnoticed, never to be thought of again.
We immerse ourselves in everyday living.
If we’re lucky, we get to grow up in supportive, loving environments where we feel safe and, most days, happy.
However, we could have had it differently, too, dealing with poverty, terror, abandonment, or abuse.
Then we become teenagers and adults, ready to take on the world. Some of us “mature” fast, while others don’t at all, or maybe just not yet.
We go through different human experiences.
– Being in the world and of it, pursuing all sorts of things: titles, accolades, fortune, power, and pleasure.
– Losing and winning battles, whether physical like cancer, emotional like grief, mental like anxiety, or spiritual like sin.
– Forging and breaking a connection with another living thing, be it human, animal, or plant.
It’s the cycle of life, the circle, the evolution; however, you want to tie the pieces together.
Is something we work hard to get worth what we’re giving up?
Is the pain we choose to endure worth the reward?
Is success worth every failure?
Is living worth dying for?
The map is not the territory.
I can only speak of my own reality.
And while you too have answers based on your own view of the world and life experiences, I’d like us to ponder on these questions more deeply.
Because like a long-distance train, we may keep on “chugging” a little longer, and then, it’ll be time to pull the breaks. When we do, I believe most of us would want to know we ended at the right stop.
Yes, significant shifts happen in life. Like tectonic plates of the earth re-arranging, they’re easily felt, and they wake us up. But there are subtle turns, too, urging us to take notice- like birthdays.
“The two most important days in our life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why.”
When I picture myself coming out of my mother’s womb, I see myself crying because finally, I’m independent, separated from my mom, and will have to be on my own sooner or later. It was a scary state to be in, but I knew I needed to adapt.
I cry because it feels miraculous to be born, magical to be on this planet called earth, fortunate to know that out of a billion combinations, the universe impressed my ID tag and chose to manifest through me.
I cried because I was handed a purpose, kind of like a mission to fulfill, though that wasn’t very clear when my eyes caught the first ray of light.
Were my parents happy? I like to think they were, though I doubt they knew what they signed up for. Parenting is tough. Nevertheless, they were the right parents for me.
What did my birth mean to the world? Well, I don’t want to fill in the gaps. However, this is where feedback can be helpful. So if you have something, I care to know.
What did it mean to God? A lot. He made me in His image and likeness, and that’s a big deal. So my desire is to let His face shine through wherever I go.
I know I fail often, but every single time, it’s worth another try.
Too often, we fall into an all-or-nothing cycle with our habits.
The problem is not slipping up; the problem is thinking that if you can’t do something perfectly, then you shouldn’t do it at all.”
This is by far the biggest, most relevant motivation I got this year.
Why I’m like most people.
I struggle with motivation and discipline too. There are days when I get stuck and I can’t seem to find a way through. So I just stop and abandon things until I wake up one day wanting to pick them up again.
That has always been the cycle. The only task I consistently show up to, is well, anything that relates to my day job. I’ve got to eat and pay bills. Apparently, that’s enough motivation to get myself to pull up a chair, open my computer and tick off tasks on my list soon as I get them done. But when it comes to personal things that I claim I’m passionate about, it’s always a journey through peaks and valleys.
Partially, I can justify my actions. When you write, you have to take a pause sometimes and allow real life to catch up. This is especially true when you draw inspiration from actual experiences you either went through alone, with others, or by people you get to talk to some days. So for the past 3 weeks, I did just that, live life and create experiences I can write about.
I sold the last piece of musical instrument I had. What gave me comfort is finding a home for these instruments in people I know will use and treasure them like I once did.
So goodbye my “Amelia”, my Ed-Sheeran signature divide.
I must admit, life without music is dull. Listening to songs is entertaining but creating or producing pieces is pure joy. The week after I sold my guitar, a friend and I have covered two songs using karaoke music. Then the following week, I couldn’t help but buy myself a Ukelele. It’s fun to learn, it’s cheap, I can carry it around and play it anywhere, (even inside a food court)! It doesn’t attract unnecessary attention, which I like.
Days after, we covered “Emmylou” of First Aid Kit, the Ukelele is finding its way to my heart.
Back To Writing
After a 3-week hiatus I know I needed to go back to writing. Thinking about it while I was in the shower was already making me feel excited. Like music, writing, if it were a place, is my true north. Or, let me say it the other way. True north is anywhere I get to be alone with music and writing. Both activities settle my heart like no other. I know right between the notes and words my soul breathes like I’m fully alive. If only I could do these things forever without having to worry about putting food on the table.
This is not to say I detest my job. In fact, I love it because it allows me to do the things that I love to do. I work to get paid to do the other things that inspire me to create and contribute to the art side of the world.
So James Clear, if you ever get to read this, thank you for the encouragement. Even if I do miss some days without writing or doing music, it doesn’t mean I need to abandon these interests. After all, these are two of the few things that make my heart beat, like I’m fully human.
As I find comfort in James’s words, I hope you find the grace and humility too, to pick up where you left off and finish what you started. Don’t even think you’re doing it for somebody.