HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE
Sunday, February 10, 2008
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. — Lao-tzu, Chinese philosopher (604-531 BC)
I am watching CNN as I write this and I am riveted by the showdown between two likeable Democratic nominees who both could make great American presidents. I am in awe of how much effort they have put into campaigning to be where they are today.
When I think of how much they want to be president, I marvel at what I imagine is the daily sustained effort they have to put in to make this happen. Everything they do counts toward a vote or the loss of one. I count in my head how many handshakes, conversations, speeches, personal appearances, photo ops each candidate has had to go through and will continue to muster if they are to be their party’s candidate and win the election.
This is an article in praise of the seemingly insignificant small efforts that make up the stuff of life. Often, we only see the big, broad strokes, forgetting that the mighty oak begins its life as a tiny acorn and it takes a while for it to be the majestic tree we admire and appreciate.
Very often, we are on the lookout for the big deal, the shining moment, the headline news or the big extravaganza in our lives. We are addicted to the gigantic, the dramatic, the “life-changing” event, person or thing that will move us. In fact, many times, we ignore the small stories because there is no story but the big one, the one that rivets our attention and makes us go, “Wow.”
It’s amazing that, to many of us, the only significant things, events or people that count are those that can stimulate us or affect our emotional state in a palpable way. And their value to us is all about how intensely they can do this. If they do not, they are not really of any importance to us. Perhaps this is one of the neuroses of modern times.
The continuous onslaught of titillation and stimulation from the media that arouses awe, fear, anger, elation, laughter, tears and other “peak” feelings has made of our lives a frenzied madness. We feel alive only if we feel all or some of these. Otherwise, we climb the walls out of restlessness and boredom. We find that we are uncomfortable with silence and non-activity. It’s as if life and the world have stopped and, during those moments, we can get not only antsy and bored but seriously prone to depression.
When this happens, we forget that the big picture is literally comprised of tiny pixels, that a forest consists of many trees, a symphony is composed of many notes, and to know, appreciate or love anything is to know and embrace its intimate details.
In my own life, my schedule is sometimes so tight and I am so totally immersed in “big” things. At such moments, I speed up and get a high feeling the wind on my face. But when my schedule suddenly lightens, I feel a big letdown. I know I still have to perfect the art of adjusting from 100 KPH to 5 KPH.
Sometimes, I do it well and sometimes I fail miserably. But when I succeed, I notice that it is all about paying attention to the details in one’s situation or action, no matter how fast or slow life is.
When I think of all the different roles I have played in my life — father, husband, friend, teacher, APO member, photographer, Filipino, migrant, etc. — I measure my success by how much I learn about each one through long periods of time. The more details I pick up regarding a particular role, the more competent I feel and the more I seem to care about it.
I think of my experience being a dad to my three kids. One thing I have learned is that I cannot claim to be a good father if I am not there to spend time or pay attention to my children. I can claim to love my children “generally” but that profession of love is meaningless unless I spend time with them and every small and big effort that entails.
It’s all in the details, a lot of which involve the undramatic and mundane business that fatherhood entails — listening, giving advice, earning money, and showing up daily as a reasonable, functional, exemplary adult role model. And, as every father knows, that requires acts of discipline and efforts big and small. All these mundane moments fly in the face of the notion that the main meaning and purpose of life is supposed to be the great job, the prestigious award, the big salary, the moments of glory, the dreams and ambitions we strive to achieve.
In large measure, life is comprised mostly of the moments in between the big events when nothing important seems to be happening. And to one who thinks that “real living” has to be about the big song-and-dance routine or the shining moments when one’s emotional cup runneth over, the in-between times may seem as exciting as watching paint dry. It takes a certain sensibility to be able to appreciate such moments that are not about doing or achieving anything. More aptly, they are about simply allowing things to just be and appreciating them as they unfold.
The in-between times are no different from the way Miles Davis describes music. He says that music is not just about the notes but the rests, or the silence moments between them. Without the silence, music would just be continuous noise in different keys. The silence makes the music elegant and artful. They are inextricably coupled to produce the wonder of music itself!
People who practice Zen and other meditative practices point to the moment between inhaling and exhaling as a blink of time so subtle that if one is aware of it, one is probably in the moment. I believe that it is our tiny, largely unrecognized, unappreciated but sustained efforts that really count. It is those moments when we just seem to be plodding on that hold up the sky, so to speak, and that make everything, especially the big things, possible. The daily grind consists of small acts of perseverance which I know are as important as the end goal or the ambition achieved.
In a love relationship, the true test is not necessarily the fabulous, expensive gift that can bring your partner to ecstasy. I believe it is more about the little, sometimes too-subtle-to-notice efforts that show devotion and a silent but intimate love. It could be a soft touch while sleeping, an embrace for no reason, or the quiet but attentive listening while a lover talks of everyday things. There is a line in the song What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life? That to me points out a silent moment in a lover’s mind that says a mouthful.
I want to see your face,
In every kind of light,
In fields of gold and
Forests of the night;
And when you stand before
The candles on a cake.
Oh, let me be the one to hear
The silent wish you make.
To feel alive, we need not go for the big holiday, or the wild adventure. A reliance on the large, the elaborate or the intense to make us feel good is no different from an addict’s need for a shot in the arm to get to addict heaven. We have heard of kings and powerful people who have taken their lives because they felt it was meaningless or they were simply bored.
True living is in the details.
* * *
“Have you lived 1,000 days, or have you lived the same day 1,000 times?”
The Tapping the Creative Universe (TCU) workshop begins its 38th run this March, fresh from a successful Sydney run last January.
This is a workshop whose main aim is to awaken your awesome creativity that may have remained dormant these past years, and give you the experience of unlimited joy, power and achievement. If you are in-between dreams, relationships, careers, lives or feel that parts of you are stuck, this is the workshop for you.
TCU will be held from March 10 to 14, and concludes March 17, from to at 113 B. Gonzales,
Those interested or can get a copy of the syllabus by calling 426-5375 or 0916-8554303 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be happy to respond.