On the Circularity of Life

I’ve been reading a lot the last several days; reading, resting, quietly (and occasionally noisily) reflecting.

The last time I remember being this at peace with whiling away the hours on “leisure” activities was more than five years ago, after I’d left the corporate world. For about five months, I spent my days reading, writing, daydreaming and ruminating. That was a happy time, with security on all fronts. I had money, I had time; the past was great, the future was assured.

It was also during this same year that I discovered yoga, meditation, Tibetan and Zen Buddhism. It was also the year I studied advanced reflexive metaphysics (I had literally one weekend to acquaint myself with Thomistic metaphysics), medieval philosophy, contemporary philosophy and the works of Martin Heidegger, Paul Ricoeur and Emmanuel Levinas.

It was a simple life, filled with quiet routines and pedestrian pleasures (i.e., having a cinnamon walnut foccaccia in the bakery down the corner, walking with the sunlight filtering through the trees on the university’s campus, spending long moments in the Marian chapel in the church around the block).

It was also a subsidized life: subsidized in the sense that I did have money and I did have time—resources abundantly denied in one form or the other to most people I knew.

Now, a little more than half a decade later, all my money and all my time have gone into a studio that’s the embodiment and expression of the insights and values gained from the five years. My freedom is curtailed in the most obvious ways: I don’t get paid a salary and I don’t have days off. There have been times (many times) when I’ve wondered: where is the peace in all this, where is the serenity? Where, in between paying bills, people and taxes; teaching classes; managing teachers; cleaning mats?

For weeks (many weeks), there was no peace, and there was no serenity. But now, ever so slowly and ever so gradually, there’s more and more space. Space, not just as a result of work done outside in the world (i.e., putting down systems, gaining experience, learning from mistakes), but also as a result of work done quietly on the insideof making the marvelous and accidental discovery that so little is actually needed to be happy.

(I say marvelous and accidental, because sometimes, or perhaps many times, life has to force us to this realization: it’s only when we’ve been deprived of many of the supports of our identity that we discover how little we need them—and how much of our energy they actually drain away. I also say work, because it takes effort to accept this realization—and commitment to not fall into the same trap again.)

So now I feel I’ve come full circle: returned to the same point where I was five years ago when I read extensively, wrote extensively, reflected extensively. Only this time, I’m paying the full price. I’m making these choices without the safety nets of time and money. I’m “whiling away” the hours knowing fully that I could be engaging in more productive pursuits, leveraging the past to secure the future.

And, the strange thing is: it’s worth paying the full price.

It really is.


On the Unexpectedness of Gifts

So Abs and I have been the delighted recipients of a recent spate of unexpected gifts.

First, there was A., who shipped a custom-made wicker umbrella stand all the way from Cebu (because I happened to lament that we couldn’t find an umbrella stand in all the shops we’d been to, and A., true to form, promptly went to a designer friend to create one for us).

Second, there was J., who brought several globes of grapefruit straight from his family’s farm in Nueva Ecija.

Third, there was E., who messaged me all the way from Berlin just to ask which variant of Lavazza Cremoso we’d like as her parents were visiting over Christmas and she’d love to send us a pack of our favorite beans (impossible to source in the Philippines without paying four times as much as the euro price).

Fourth, there was T., who paperbagged two steaming bowls of vegetarian risotto for me and Abbey to have for an early dinner (it was ridiculously good).

There’s always something to be thankful for, but there are times when friends make the realization come to the fore.

So thank you: A., J., E. and T. You provided some of the best highlights of the week.

On the Travails of Collisions

(TOYOTA Fortuner) A beautiful enough vehicle—provided it’s not rear-ending your car. (Image sourced from Google.)

Abbey and I were driving to the studio this morning, in the middle of the enormous parking lot known as C5 during rush hour traffic, when during a lull (which is what happens 90 percent of the time when you’re in the middle of the enormous parking lot known as C5 during rush hour traffic), we felt a very distinct and very palpable THUD.

A quick glance backward revealed that we’d been heartily rear-ended by a white Toyota Fortuner.

The first things I saw when I approached the driver’s side of the offending vehicle were: (1) long hair; (2) navy blue espadrilles; and (3) the strap of a college university student ID. Each clue had led to the following rapidly-made conclusions: (1) it’s a girl; (2) she’s young; and (3) she’s very young.

By the time, I’d reached conclusion no. 3, I was already heading back to Abbey’s car. Some things deserve my rage, but I’m not the type to dump my fury on things that are unlikely to weather the encounter.

I got back into the car and told Abbey: “It’s a student. You’ll have to be the one dealing with her as there’s no telling what I’ll do or say.”

That act of restraint was probably one of the smartest things I’ve done. Within five minutes, Abbey had calmed down the hyperventilating child, gotten her insurance and license details, spoken to her father and consulted with the swarming MMDA. (My pretensions to usefulness amounted to taking two dozen identical pictures of the unwanted consummation between two cars.) After finding nothing on Abbey’s car’s rear bumper apart from the slightest of scratches (a fortunate outcome given how the impact felt) we decided to forego any further drama and to simply go on our way.

Minutes later, I turned to Abbey and said: “Thanks for handling that.”

“You’re welcome,” she said, barely glancing up from her Jill Mansell novel. Then she paused and added: “We were lucky.”

I nodded. We’d been very lucky indeed.

On the Beginnings of Forbearance

(KWAN Yin) The Goddess of Mercy. (Image sourced from Google.)

My teeth are on edge.

Barely twenty feet away from me is a very large, very noisy group of teenagers. (It occurs to me that the phrases “very large” and “very noisy” are redundant when juxtaposed with the phrase “group of teenagers.”) The left side of my brain is telling me to calm down: it’s not an affront to me personally that teenagers exist, that they travel in packs and that they produce enough noise to put a Boeing 747 to shame.

But, but, my teeth are on edge, and if things get any worse, they’ll start grinding against each other.

I used to think that yoga would make me a calmer and gentler person: a Kwan Yin for the 21st century. Of course, it’s entirely possible that I am a calmer and gentler person; that if yoga hadn’t been a constant presence in my life for the past five years, the rages would have been redder and the abysses would have been blacker. But all that’s speculation, whereas what’s (solidly) real and (vividly) present is the agitation, the anger and the anxiety—emotions that come to the fore when I’m put in disruptive environs (i.e., any of Metro Manila’s roads in rush hour traffic, shopping malls, the haunts of teenagers).

It’s in those instances that I wonder, for a moment or two, what all the hours of practice on the mat have amounted to.

Then I remember that if I fail to exercise forbearance and patience with another (with an other), I can still exercise forbearance and patience with myself (for failing to exercise forbearance and patience with the other). All acts of nonviolence must begin somewhere, and if the only place we can begin with is ourselves, it’s a start nonetheless.

So this is me, not-quite-grinding my teeth. But not-quite-bashing myself for it either.

We must count our victories when we can.

On the Preservation of Space

(BUDDHIST Television) Artwork by Lao Lianben. The title says it all. I’m still tickled by the clever depth of it. (Image sourced from manilaartblogger.wordpress.com)

When I think of my main sources of inspiration these days, I have to laugh. I usually end up alternating between the blogs of the bi-polar and the bereaved.

But whyever not? As the Buddhist treatises say time and again: our emotions, the energies underlying them, are all the same. Just fill in the blanks for cause, intensity and duration; they’re really all the same.

(Some people will object to this, on the basis of their fundamental singularity. I will say to them: even your belief in your fundamental singularity is shared. We’re really all the same. We’re really all in the same boat. And the boat is always sinking.)


I have a bit more space these days, which is why I’ve gone back to writing with a vengeance; writing for the sake of writing (there’s nothing that I have to say). The old discomfort with not having anything urgent to do is still there (no progress on that point), but I’ve managed to resist repopulating the widening nooks and crannies (considerable progress on that point), albeit with some guilt and occasional panic (some progress on that point).

Of course, once my introspection starts hitting nihilism-inducing levels, I will really have to do something (urgent or otherwise) because a sharp brain, left to its own devices, will only start cutting itself.

I haven’t reached the abyss yet, but I know I’m skirting around its edges. And simply staying in this place, enduring waiting, enduring potential boredom, is a big deal for me.

It’s the beginning of a very shaky, very fragile, very tenuous kind of wisdom. Or maybe just an approach to wisdom.


It seems incredible to me now that I used to be so busy. Or, let me say that more precisely: it seems incredible now that many things used to occur to me as important enough to be busy with. Having dispensed with many of those things—initially with much resistance—and then subsequently realizing their, er, dispensability, reintegrating them into my life holds little to no appeal now.

All of which means: I need to master the art of holding space, of preserving silence, of resting in the pause, of watching Buddhist television.


On the Utility of Grass

(NEPAL Chitwan) The green, green grass of not-home. (Photo taken by the author.)

As a terribly nearsighted and astigmatic child, I grew up with gentle rejoinders from my parents and doctors to rest my frequently strained eyes by looking at green things.

Fortunately, I grew up in a neighborhood that had its fair share of grassy vacant lots (presently no longer the case in said neighborhood). To this day, I associate the sight of green grass with all that’s calm, soothing and reinvigorating. (It feels good underfoot too.)

We should all have our little patch of grass. Literally.