Thursday, December 29, 2016

Vow of Stability

I've been collecting and reading Thomas Merton's journals throughout the past decade or so, and spent a blessed few days reading the fifth volume this past break. The earlier volumes were full of wisdom, yes, but also full of inner turmoil: the pain of a modern soul dying to the world, working out his adjustment to a Trappist monk's medieval  lifestyle in fear and trembling.

The fifth volume, however, written when Merton was in his fifties, was wholly different from the previous volumes I'd read.

I was drawn by the imagery of the title, "dancing in the water of life!" Maybe because it struck me as something absolutely foreign, something I can't imagine my newly-turned-thirty-year-old-self doing. But at the same time, I realize that I see my Grade One pupils do this every day!

And upon reflection, shouldn't we imitate children in their delight in the miracles of every day? By sighing in wonder at the sunlight, by laughing in frank appreciation when we see butterflies float near us, don't we please Our Creator more?

Dancing denotes joy. Happiness so strong that it cannot be contained, that must be expressed in physical poetry of flesh and sinew. But from whence comes such happiness?

Today's modern world lies to us about the source/s of pleasure. We are misled by our consumerist society to kill ourselves at work in the pursuit of purchasing houses we can't afford, taking out loans to buy cars that only overburden the already overly populated streets even more... we buy the latest gadget, expecting it will make us THAT MUCH HAPPIER, that wearing branded clothes or carrying luxury bags will fill that empty space inside.

The latest lie that social media feeds us is that the source of happiness lies in experiences like traveling to exotic locales, escaping the everyday woes of a Filipino citizen in pursuit of cooler climes and stronger currencies.

We can learn a thing or two from monks and nuns like the Benedictines and the Cistercians/ Trappists. 

What sets these orders apart is a particular vow they make, that other orders do not. It is the vow of stability, defined by Father James Martin as committing to stay in one monastery rather than searching for the ever elusive, "perfect" one.

Thomas Merton, perhaps the most famous Trappist monk ever, writes of his struggles with this vow. How, as a celebrated author, he got invitations from all over the world to lecture, to hold retreats, but he had to say no to most of these due to his vow of stability.

How he disagreed very much with the personality of his abbot (his "boss," in secular terms), on very basic levels too! And the scenes he describes in his journals would have made a secular businessman either resign or sue his boss, proving indeed that monks are men and prone to all-too human pettiness of spirit and meanness of deed. 

But he stayed, out of obedience not to the petty administrator, but to the divine will. 

He stayed because he believed in sanctity of place, that God chooses where to plant us, knowing that our particular talents (however humble) are particularly needed by the people around us.

And it is both beautiful and subversive. A holy revolution against the aimlessness of modern life.

What can be more challenging than to stay put, to allow one's home town/ office/ school/ community to partially mould us, and of course, daring us to mould it right back! To help fix what is broken, to be the catalyst of change and growth in the garden where we have planted our roots.

"But staying put brings stagnation," others say. That is, of course, only if we allow our interior spirit to die. Then again, just because someone moves from place to place is no guarantee that their inner life is superior. When one moves too fast, too often, one might become numb and feel anchor-less, isolated and separate from the motherland, from the country God chose us to be born in.

I am more lucky than most, I know, because my roots have been planted in my current work place from childhood onwards. 

Here's to another year, to several more decades, and may our roots grow every deeper, may our fruits bring glory to Him!


Oh how lovely to type a blog entry at long last (only my fourth for the entire year, and it's about to end, haha)! How lovely to be in the midst of Christmas break, how lovely to have the luxury of wallowing in non-academic, non-work related pursuits! A blessed time indeed.

And of course, like any self-respecting book club member, a great deal of the past several days have been spent reading books that my exhausted brain didn't allow me to read during the rest of the year.

One of the books that brought me joy to read was Father James Martin's work "Between Heaven and Mirth," a book filled with Jesuit jokes, good humor, and deep spiritual insights written in simple language, all of which made me realize something about myself.

I've always been considered a serious person, and I suppose I took myself and my work more seriously than I should've. Of course, respecting one's vocation IS important. But I allowed myself (quite erroneously, I see now) to think that I should be serious ALL THE TIME. And now I see that it is wrong in the sense that I allowed my sense of childish delight to be stifled, that I allowed my fun-loving side to basically shrivel and die while I filled my thoughts with so-called "serious matters," all in the vain attempt to come across as a mature professional, to seem wiser than my years.

And it was all vanity! I see it now. 

Father Martin's lovely book convinced me that there is nothing wrong with living in the present, enjoying each moment as it comes, delighting in the little things like jokes and cheer, in the every day miracles and mistakes that make us laugh. Because this comedy of errors brings us closer to God, the source of all joy!

There is a German word for the act of living in the moment, breathing in each second with pleasure, being joyful in the sheer fact that one is alive: "dasein." I use the German not to come across as more intellectual, but because the Germans have a gift for compressing so many thoughts and ideas into lovely, short and meaningful words.

Dasein. To exist joyfully. To live, truly. 

As St. Irenaeus put it: "The glory of God is man fully alive."

I see now that I have spent far too many years (practically the past decade!) in error. And for 2017, my challenge is to continue seeking this joy, and encourage it in everyone instead of stifling it (as has been my wont). It won't be easy, and it won't be an overnight personality change. But I SHALL try. 

Maybe you have favorite jokes you wish to share with me? It would help me greatly! :)

Here's to another decade of life, of living it fully and truly!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Hold the Door

Game of Thrones fans who watched S06E05 will recognize the reference. Last night, our hearts were torn out of our chests and stepped upon, as we witnessed one of the most beloved characters meet a heroic death as he held the door against a horde of zombies, so his master could escape.

I wept, as surely thousands around the world did, and up to now I find myself ruminating about this simple fellow whose tragic end wrought so much emotional damage.

I suppose it's partly the brilliant storytelling: how the character's name (Hodor) was actually a shortened version of the command "Hold the door."

And it's also awe. And envy.

I am in awe of his single-minded purpose. How his teenaged mind was blown apart by the enormity of what he was allowed to witness: his own death, several years later. And how he met his end bravely.

I am envious of his will. His strength of purpose. He knew that his entire existence stood for one thing: to hold the door despite desperate straits and certain death. He knew that if he did just this one thing right, he would have fulfilled his purpose.

And I suppose we are all in need of the vision that Hodor had. A glimpse granted to him in his youth, that both destroyed and made him.

To be utterly filled with an all-consuming mission. To move with certainty throughout life, knowing that each and every action was for a greater purpose. To be without doubt and the accompanying fear, to be strong against all distractions and temptations.

Hodor shows us what life is meant to be all about: not some demented search for happiness or self-actualization. But rather, the sweet, holy mission to serve and protect.

To live like Hodor is an honor. To die like him would be divine.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Singapore 2016 (Part I)

With good friends, old and new!

Singapore is the second country I've visited, the last one being Japan way back in 2011. I accompanied my mum to her 40th anniversary reunion with her good friends from SSEAYP (Ship for South East Asian Youth Program). I'm truly grateful to be given the opportunity to act as bodyguard because this was a trip I could never have financed on my own (#teachersalary), and it was a week full of fun and learning!

So we did a lot of this... 

Us being educators, it was only natural that we go museum-hopping instead of the usual touristy things! Which is to say, we DID hit some of the touristy spots like Sentosa, Universal Studios, Gardens by the Bay, Marina Bay Sands, the River Cruise, etc.

But then we made sure to do a lot of bookstore hunting as well as play watching!

Worshipped at Kinokuniya, Takashimaya, Orchard Road
Trekked to Tiong Bahru to spend a lot of S$ in BOOKS ACTUALLY

The set of Singapore Repertory Theatre's Shakespeare in the Park offering: ROMEO AND JULIET

And we also did a lot of this...

Lovely dinner with Daniel, Kesavan and his lovely wife at the National Kitchen by Violet Oon Singapore!

I daresay I ate more than I could possibly walk off! :) There were simply SOOOO MANY GOOOOOD THINGS TO EAT.

High tea at the Raffles Hotel

Where they do Hainanese chicken right! And chicken curry and garlic vegetables and rice!

The cereal prawns were the culinary highlight of the trip!

My mom and I, and the Singapore night sky. Observe the Singapore flag flying in the background. :)

I guess one reason why I felt so at home in Singapore was because it reminded me so much of Manila. Or rather, I believe it is what Manila could be, decades from now. When people are more disciplined and when things work the way they should. Where the citizens take pride in their homeland and show it by doing their jobs as best as they are able, asking not what their country can do for them but rather what they can do to make their country better.

Another important lesson: The backpack is KING of all bags.
Next time... I shall pack everything into a backpack, I KNOW it will save me a great deal of time and shoulder-ache!

Other (deeper) reflections to follow in succeeding blog posts. But for now, let me end by saying THANK YOU SINGAPORE! And I am confident that we can follow in its footsteps, if we but decide to discipline ourselves and work hard for that day.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

"Someday" became "today"

My brother and I hiking up Mt. Pinagbandirahan aka Mt. Gulugod Baboy(photo credit goes to my sister, Tata Francisco!)

Yes I'm still alive! And so is this blog! And what better way to celebrate Easter, a day of rebirth and renewal, by posting about an incredible experience we had last Good Friday?

I've always been a square. Predictable. Safe. Consistent. I've always been the type to plan everything out to the last detail. Always prompt for appointments. Always scheduling coffee dates or meet-ups with friends AT LEAST a week ahead. In short... a regular bore.

And then, on Good Friday, I woke up and felt like climbing a mountain!

Well okay, that was a bit of an exaggeration. What happened was, on midnight of Good Friday, I proposed to my siblings the idea of going on an out-of-town hike up a mountain. It's something I've always wanted to do but never did. Somehow, work would always get in the way.

The amazing thing was, my siblings went along with my uncharacteristic, spontaneous idea!

And so it was that we set out for Mt. Gulugod Baboy in Mabini, Batangas, with barely any research, barely any preparations. Just a crazy "let's do this!!!" attitude and the bravado of the ignorant. Oh happy ignorance!

We commuted all the way. Carrying enormous backpacks stuffed with provisions bought from the convenience store at the corner, we left the house at the incredibly late hour of 9:00 am! It was so late that someone told us, "I don't think you'll make it there. You should have left earlier."

After riding a jeep, a bit of bus-chasing and some negotiating, we found ourselves en route to Batangas at 11:00 a.m. Because it was Good Friday, there was NO TRAFFIC! And we got to Batangas City proper at around 12:30 pm. 

From the Diversion Road in Batangas City, we took a jeep to Bauan, then got on another jeepney to take us to Mabini. From Mabini, we took a trike to Anilao and got dropped off at the Registration Center opposite Philpan Resort at 1:30 pm. 

Our simple pre-hike lunch of rice, lumpia and Coke!

After a hasty lunch washed down with Coke, we set off with our guide, Alex, at around 2:00 pm. We wondered at his mountain climbing footwear: tsinelas!

What made the climb difficult was the heat. Most climbers set off as early as 4:00 am, while we had the afternoon sun beating down on us! And being newbies, we hadn't experienced how the weight of a backpack could seemingly increase exponentially, the steeper the climb. 

There's nothing quite like it. My memory of the climb itself is rather a blur of sensations...of the seemingly never-ending push ever forward, with one's heartbeat pounding in one's ears, throwing down one's backpack in exhaustion for every break. One becomes grateful for the littlest things... for a friendly tree's shade where one can rest, for a helpful lady selling iced water in her nipa hut up the mountain, for gentle cows and noisy goats and enormous ravens circling overhead, silent witnesses and cheerleaders for the puffing humans encroaching on their domain... and above all, for siblings whose unflagging optimism cheered me on and made me continue when I know that I would have given up, if I had been on my own.

We reached the top of Peak 1 (there are 3 peaks!!!) at 4:30 pm, only to feel anger at the sight of a parking lot, a paved road, and the crowd that obviously DROVE up the mountain instead of climbing it. I don't think driving up a mountain on your Ford counts as "conquering" it, despite all the selfies one takes at the summit.

Then again, thank goodness for the paved road, because we were able to secure a trike that brought us down the mountain. And at the bottom, which was part of Gasang, Mabini, we were lucky enough to find a jeep that took us all the way to Batangas Diversion, from where we took another jeep to get to Batangas Grand Terminal. We had to stop for several minutes, several times, due to all the processions going on. The longest stop was for 30 minutes! That must have been the longest procession I've ever seen in my life. Catholicism is alive and thriving in Batangas!

Thanks to manong driver's amazing Fast and Furious driving, we got to the Grand Terminal just in time for the last bus going home to Manila for the day! Talk about lucky stars.

Left Batangas at 7:25 pm, and got off at Magallanes MRT station at 8:40 pm.

Got home at 9:00 pm, just in time for a late dinner. That's right, we commuted all the way to Batangas to climb a mountain and got back to Manila, all in 12 hours! Whew! What a memorable day!


1) It's better to go all the way to Cubao and ride a bus from there, because by the time the provincial buses get to Alabang, they're full!

2) Don't believe the ratings on the internet. They gave Mt. Gulugod Baboy a 2/9 rating, saying it was an easy hike. Trust me. IT. WASN'T.

3) Physical fitness is everything. I was in awe of the mountain's residents, looking so wry and sprightly even at 70 - 80 years of age. They climb to the summit almost every day, apparently! And if I lived there, so would I. Who wouldn't want their daily dose of that beautiful view? Blue ocean, a canopy of lush vegetation, and the fresh mountain breeze?

4) The best-tasting Sprite in my life was the one I drank on top of the mountain, after the climb.

5) I need to change who I am. I need to take more risks, to have more faith in my own abilities. The confidence boost is amazing, post-climb! 

6) At the end of the day, there's no place like home. It's just like what G.K. Chesterton said: "The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” Only a mere 12 hours elapsed from the time we stepped out our front door, and yet it seemed as if it had been years. I was sooooo happy to see that blessed gate, which had seemed like an obstacle but now seemed so welcoming!

In summary, you don't need weeks of preparation, nor a car to go out and have an out-of-town adventure. You just need to COMMIT to it, and have trusted people to go along with you for safety.

Here's to more exciting adventures with the Tres Muchachos!
But perhaps, a little less spontaneous next time. Ahihi. :)

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 in Books and Lessons

"Das lesende Madchen" by Johann Georg Meyer von Bremen

Goodreads makes it easy!
Please click here to see my 2015 in books, courtesy of the awesome Goodreads site.

The stats are depressing, though. 29 books read, out of my goal of 52. *sigh* It's worth noting, however, that the 29 books do NOT include the romance novels I read, or what my mother calls "those trashy novels." Hehe. They're like chocolates for the soul. As I grow older and more cynical, I find that these romance novels give me hope for mankind, that there IS love and passion and joy that I have yet to experience but no doubt exists for others and hopefully, in the future, for myself.

29 books out of my goal of 52 books for a year. Ugh. Then again, I'd like to think that I did more living than reading.

And as for lessons, a student of mine asked me to answer three questions for his article for the school newsletter. Here they are:

1) What did you learn about yourself from this past year?

I learned that I need to rest and take time to recharge, instead of saying "yes" to everything. Productivity is good but rest is important, both for the body and the soul. I also learned that I am capable of commuting all by myself, even in "dangerous" places and at night!

2) Explain a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015.

I learned how to cook! Haha, I also learned how to commute to unfamiliar and far-away places, clean the toilet, do the dishes, and buy groceries. Hopefully 2016 will have more opportunities for me to hone my domestic/explorer skills!

3) Given all your experiences, insights, and lessons learned from last year, what's the best advice you could give yourself for next year?

*sings a la Elsa* "Let it go....."

We should let go of the things we cannot control. I am a bit of a perfectionist so I struggle with this, but last year taught me that less is more, that letting go is liberating, and that freedom in all its forms is a future to strive for.

Happy new year to all of us!

Previous Years in Books posts:
2007 (a partial list)

Friday, May 8, 2015

Trial by Jury: A Philippine Premiere

It is rare that one gets to watch an almost perfect performance of opera in Manila. The only complaint an audience member could make was that it ended too soon (running time was under an hour)! But everything else was as perfect as perfection could be, a shining testament to what happens when there is proper funding and when all the members of the production are the best in their field (when you get the likes of Floy Quintos to direct, Ohm David for set design, etc.). It was an unforgettable evening!

A few musical snobs (or rather, a few musically discriminating aesthetes --  to be politically correct) might say that operetta is not on the same level as grand and epic opera, but to those people, I say: "Pah!" Having seen my share of Italian verisimo operas, tragic and comic alike, I must say that watching an English opera was a special treat. There is truly no substitute for word-for-word comprehension, and comedy works at its finest with lightning speed wit that had the esteemed  and distinguished audience laughing heartily, just as if they were watching a HIMYM episode. 

It certainly had all the plot ingredients for it! The lecherous old man judge, the suited-up dandy, the plaintiff's counsel (whose character, of course, HAD to be graduate from UP Law ;), "Where else?" ), the innocent-kuno bride-to-be, the closet gays, the judgmental ladies... it was one hour of non-stop frolic and not-so-clean fun!

I was particularly struck by the amount of sheer talent on one stage last night. When one reads the program and the names listed therein, one is struck by the fact that it is a veritable Who's Who of the finest singers and production people in Manila.... the opera equivalent of a movie that's sure to be in the running for an Oscar. Pick any member of the ensemble or "chorus" and there's a distinguished career/background to go with the pretty face and voice, with the likes of Master's degree holder from the Royal College of Music, London, soprano Anna Migallos... top voice teacher and multiple award winning soprano Camille Lopez-Molina... and of course, the highlight of the evening were the performances by the singing lawyers, Dot Ramos-Gancayco and Kay Balajadia-Liggayu! Proof that there are really super women amongst us who can excel in any field of endeavour, be it law or the arts.

Congratulations to the UP Women Lawyers’ Circle (UP WILOCI) and Zonta Club of Manila I for mounting this production! If you have the chance to see their upcoming shows, DO seize the opportunity because shows of this standard don't come along very often!

Shelfari: Book reviews on your book blog