Musings on Whatever: Faith, Religion, and Happiness

We shouldn’t talk about politics, religion, and money. Or so they say. With people having strong views on these sensitive topics, I can see why many choose to steer away from such conversations.

But lo and behold, social media opened the Pandora’s box of people’s deep-seated stance on political and social issues, whether as an informed decision or simply siding with one’s biases. What I am hoping for as an opportunity for open communication to better understand each other led to hate posts and judgments, and losing friends and family in the process.

Enter religion. As a Christian, I grew up believing that our purpose is to sow love and kindness in the world. As you can imagine, this is not always evident in the words and actions of those who claim to follow Christ. Interestingly, all Christians are expected to be morally perfect; as environmentalists like me are expected to be vegans or vegetarians. But it’s not so much as being perfect but the striving to be decent human beings. Which brings me to how the religious try to defend the, in my opinion, questionable leadership of the country. Seems like a case of cognitive dissonance to me.

I watched “PK” an Indian film that bravely explored the world of different religions. Its about an alien who tried to make sense of different faiths and in the end concluded how religious leaders espouse meaningless rituals and beliefs. Incidentally, I got to read “The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason” and “Letter to a Christian Nation” by Sam Harris which criticized different religions. It got me thinking about my own faith. And I asked, “What if all I believe in are but a social construct?”

Sometimes having the mindset of “learned meaninglessness” where there is no grand purpose, it just is, can help us not to take everything seriously. But we also want to be happy. In Viktor Frankl’s book, “Mans Search for Meaning,” it states that happiness cannot be pursued. It must ensue, that is, there should be a reason to be happy. That reason could come from meaning we realize from work, from experiencing something or encountering or loving someone, and from turning predicaments into achievements or finding meaning in suffering.

It’s a crazy world we’re living in right now but my faith still gives me hope as I try to find meaning in this collective suffering we’re experiencing. It is my prayer that you find reasons to be happy, too.

The New Normal

Damn, when will this virus die? I wish to wake up one morning and find this COVID-19 gone. But we know it will be here much longer. So what now? Two key things that countries like South Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam have done to successfully stop the chain of infection and flatten the curve are aggressive contact-tracing and mass testing.

We can’t help but compare these to how our country is dealing with the crisis. Malcolm Gladwell in his book, “The Tipping Point” explains that human behavior is sensitive to and strongly influenced by its environment. So maybe we shouldn’t be comparing because we have a different context? I do want to believe that the government is doing its best despite challenges. Unfortunately, what I’m seeing is slow response, misplaced priorities, and incompetence from these leaders who don’t seem to know what they’re doing! I mean, seriously?!

But there’s still hope thanks to young leaders like Vico Sotto demonstrating excellent crisis response. Contrary to that Ok Boomer’s claim that the young are pretty stupid. Look who’s talking!

I read Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century” which analyzes globalization and emphasizes the inevitability of the rapid pace of change affecting the way we do things. I think a “flatter,” more accessible world led to the fast spread of the virus. And a “flatter,” more connected world, plus this crisis, is speeding up our transition to a mostly online lifestyle from business, to entertainment, to socialization. Businesses, in particular, would have to adapt quickly if they want to survive.

It’s fascinating and sometimes scary how things change fast. Yahoo used to be the preferred search engine but we’ve been “Googled” and we’re like, “Yahoo, what?” Angkas was a savior in Manila’s horrendous traffic situation but is currently cannot be the transport option due to physical distancing measures. In place of that, bikes are in. Who would have thought that working from home could apply to most of us and that Zoom meetings are now a regular part of our lives. This could mean that there’s really no need for offices. Feeling like a germophobe? It’s okay, that’s completely acceptable, to the delight of hygiene-related commerce. The virus has practically affected every aspect of our lives, harshly on the marginalized, as always.

I remember someone remarking that there’s nothing normal about the situation we are in right now. But we have to adapt and try to thrive in this so-called new normal. This can actually be an opportunity to build a greener and more inclusive future. We should all read “Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered” by economist E.F Schumacher (yes, I’ve been reading a lot of books, lately). Because it’s not all about the money. It’s should be about people. Isn’t that the kind of economy we should aspire for?

There’s also a lot of ongoing conversation on school opening and accessible education, and all that. Since we’re realizing what’s truly important, it would probably best for education to focus more on connecting to nature, and being kind, and becoming decent human beings. So we don’t end up with insensitive, privileged idiots running the world.

 

 

 

Hello, Goodbye

“The idea is to remain in a state of constant departure while always arriving. It saves on introductions and goodbyes. The ride does not require explanation – just occupants.” (Waking Life)

People come and go, as I always say. And that’s probably my coping mechanism of not being too affected by departures and my attempt of not getting too attached to people. I used to be a social butterfly but, at the risk of sounding presumptuous, I finally convinced myself that I already have enough friends. How many friends does one exactly need, anyway? Is it 5,000 which is the limit on Facebook?

But somehow these friends end up leaving. Life happens and we grow apart. You meet someone whom you connect with and then your paths will never cross again. I’m learning to be at peace with the fact that perhaps it’s meant to be like this because we have fulfilled our purpose for each other. It’s sad but I think there’s also beauty in that. The inevitable goodbye could make you value relationships more.

Same thing with life. Knowing that there is a definite end makes you not take it for granted. We are all going to die but this is one truth we seem to rather forget. For me, reflecting upon death once in a while helps me to keep things in perspective and focus on those that matter. In Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project” she said that the days are long but the years are short. So might as well make the most of each moment.

Moments pass but they can also last forever. When we hold on to memories of old friends, those almost forgotten, and those who choose to stay.

 

The Rain

The rain poured, the heavy clouds finally letting go. Perhaps sharing our collective grief.

I remember going home one night, caught in the storm and drenched miserably as I walked through knee-deep filthy water.

I tried to recall the last time I actually enjoyed the rain. A flashback of squeals of delight came from the distant past when childhood was all about playing, and having fun, and having a laugh – even under the cold rain.

The rain also brought memories of my hometown, Baguio, which seemed to get its fair share of showers. Gloomy and gray, yet somehow welcoming – that feeling of home. The same feeling I got when I spent a short while in Bradford, in a country far away.

The rain reminded me of countless typhoons, of the much needed water for drought-stricken fields and farms, of thirsty rivers and dams, and of people doing the “sun dance” wishing for clearer skies.

The rain could mean many things. But it’s just the rain.

 

“Let everything happen to you. Beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.” -Rainer Maria Rilke

Convo in my Head: The Coronavirus Scare (Part 2)

A: It appears the crisis has gone worse from our last conversation.

B: Indeed, it has.

A: And WHO got it wrong. Everyone should be wearing masks.

B: Well, not to defend WHO or anything, but that advice of just using masks when you’re sick is in the context of scarcity of resources.

A: I understand frontliners should be prioritized when it comes to PPE but the wearing of masks should not have been discounted as a preventive measure for the disease.

B: I totally rely on WHO for a more ‘informed’ decision-making, them being the expert and all, but I don’t know anymore. There’s even this issue of WHO ignoring Taiwan! What’s up with that?

A: It’s all political, in the end. Sadly even at such time of crisis.

B: Guess what, I re-watched “Contagion” and its similarities to COVID-19 are surreal – the transmission, the symptoms, the deaths, conspiracy theories, politics… minus the anarchy.

A: Yeah, we don’t end up as crazy, selfish people. In real life, there is still… humanity.

B: Except for a few VIPs, and tissue hoarders, and incompetent leaders, and…

A: Hey, hey, hey! You’re getting ahead of yourself! You’re always complaining! Did you do anything to contribute to the solution?

B: Haha! Touche!

A: Seriously though, seeing the goodness of the human spirit makes me want to cry.

B: I remember someone say, “I’m not a doctor but maybe my music can make someone feel better.”

A: That could mean the world to someone grieving or to someone who is anxious.

B: A small act of kindness could mean something to someone, without the giver even knowing.

A: So what have we learned so far from this crisis? Or realizations, if you may.

B: At least for me, I have come to realize what’s important – family, friends, relationships, connection… and food! We should be growing our own food.

A: And higher standards for politicians and government officials, please. I hope we don’t forget…

B: And we should check our privilege. Watch Parasite and The Platform, for inspiration.

A: And note to self, “Stop touching your face!”

 

 

 

 

 

Go home and plant ‘kamote’

I remember back then when exasperated teachers would blurt out, “Go home and plant kamote,” for students who wouldn’t be bothered to make an effort in their studies. It’s sad that farming is looked down upon but in times of crisis, when food is scarce, we realize that we should have been planting kamote all along.

As most parts of the Philippines is currently on community quarantine due to COVID-19, decreasing food supply and imposed limited movements have made our situation more challenging. Local government units distribute relief goods but thankfully, there’s a clamor for fresh produce not only to support farmers (#SupportFarmerspH #ReliefPH) but eating fruits and vegetables to keep healthy is another defense against the disease.

Advocates of home-based gardening have also started promoting the #TipidTanim Challenge encouraging households to plant now to enhance local food production for family consumption. Agriculturists and experts have conducted online lessons on basic vegetable gardening. In support to this, #IAmHampasLupa is crowd sourcing where the public can get free seeds. Local government agencies like the Department of Agriculture, some cities and barangays, and even individuals have already initiated seed-giving efforts.

During this time of the COVID-19 crisis and also as a response to the impact of climate change which we continually experience, let’s reconnect to the earth, reconnect to our food, and promote food security. And as we continue observing physical distancing and washing our hands, let’s stay home and plant kamote.

 

 

 

Quarantine Thoughts

If we were having coffee right now, I would tell you that I feel a bit anxious about the COVID-19 crisis leading to this “extreme enhanced community quarantine” we are in at the moment. I recognize the privilege I have of being able to work from home, having a roof over my head to begin with, and is so far not sick. I’m away from my family but knowing they are well makes me feel grateful.

If we were having coffee right now, I would tell you that it’s sad how this crisis is yet again exposing the reality of poverty, inequality, and incompetence. I know the local government units are trying to do their best. But we definitely could do better. Death becoming just a number should have been avoided. I salute those who call out what should be called out. And true leaders should take advantage of this feedback instead of being defensive.

If we were having coffee right now, I would tell you that the strength demonstrated by frontline workers is encouraging. We usually think that disasters and crises bring out the worst in us but it’s actually the opposite. People are donating money, food, masks, and whatever they could pitch in. Strangers are offering free rides to those in need. Artists are performing live online. Free books, and free lessons, and free movie streaming abound. It’s heartwarming to see this solidarity.

If we were having coffee right now, I would tell you that I support the call for #FreeMassTestingNow. And no, politicians and VIPs should not be prioritized. Otherwise, as someone brilliantly suggested, cough in a politician’s face and wait for the test result.

So, how about you? What would you tell me if we were having coffee right now?   

Convo in my Head: The Coronavirus Scare

A: So you’re wearing a mask, too. Joining in the bandwagon, huh?

B: First of all, I’ve been wearing this cloth mask because it’s necessary if you live in smoke-choked Metro Manila. And second of all, you don’t really need to wear a mask to protect yourself from the virus. WHO says so.

A: Better safe than sorry, though.

B: Like most illnesses, the best defense is good hygiene and staying healthy.

A: But it’s alarming how this coronavirus spreads so quickly. And people are dying. You can’t help but feel paranoid.

B: Have you seen “Contagion”? That film will make you feel even more paranoid.

A: Yeah, or how a person beside you starts sneezing or coughing and you wish you can just about down a gallon of isopropyl alcohol or something.

B: That reminds me of the notion that we need to take vitamins or get our dose of vitamin C so we don’t get sick. Apparently, unless advised by doctors, it’s unnecessary. Yeah, try to look it up on Google.

A: … This panic, I suppose, is brought about by fear.

B: Fueled by fake news and all these social media hoopla.

A: People are scared to die.

B: Aren’t you?

A: I mean, there’s more people dying of the flu, to put things into perspective.

B: You know what’s scary for me is how our over exposure to social media, and the internet, and a wealth of information feeds us ideas. And that’s the most resilient parasite.

A: Wait, that’s from “Inception,” right? And if we’re fed the wrong idea, it can make us do stupid things.

B: And we become racists, too. Which, I think, is understandable if you’re talking about survival.

A: Sigh, it’s just the beginning of the year.

B: Yeah, hope things don’t get any worse…

#TaalEruption2020: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

It is when disaster strikes that we often reveal our true colors. This becomes even more so apparent with social media.

After Taal Volcano’s eruption, related posts also exploded on Facebook. There were warnings and updates provided. There were prayers offered and an emergence of more religious people – those seeing this as a sign of the end of days or a punishment of our evils ways. Some would go to the extent of attributing this to the “Tala” dance craze, I hope as a joke, but in this age of stupidity, I don’t know anymore.

True to Pinoy’s so-called resilience and fun-loving personality, some managed to come up with memes and jokes, ang hugot, to other people’s dismay claiming that disasters should not be taken lightly.

And then there are stories of kindness and bayanihan. Of those offering their cars for evacuation. Heroes cleaning windshield of fleeing vehicles. Selfless souls offering free masks, and free food, and shelter (even for animals). Groups mobilizing themselves to provide donation and much-needed support to those greatly affected by the eruption. Thankfully, these overshadow the greed of capitalists jacking up the price of face masks, of panic-stricken folks hoarding the said masks, of fear mongering fake news, and of inaction from those who should have been doing more.

As expected, in times like this, online bickering will almost always arise. We use social media as source of information, means of communication, and a platform of self-expression. Our online persona has become an extension of ourselves. The difference to in person encounter, however, is we don’t have any social cues warning us that we may be going overboard with our pronouncements leading to misunderstanding and worse, bullying or hate speech.

Social media divides us but I want to believe it’s a powerful tool that unites us, too. At the end of the day, we are all humans seeking connection, validation, and love. And I for one, am glad, that I still see humanity despite it all.

‘Sweeney Todd,’ a rather pleasant musical experience

“Sweeney Todd” would have been a perfect musical for the Halloween. But it lacked the gore and grit, and messiness, I was hoping to see. Or maybe that’s just the horror freak in me expecting for a blood bath.

I did enjoy the impeccable singing of the cast which I think is the strength of the Manila production of the play. The clear vocals almost sound like they are pre-recorded. That’s how good it was.

Jett Pangan, though failing to project the tormented mad man character of the demon barber, showed off his effortless singing. “Prince Ballad” Gerald Santos’ sweet voice was a perfect fit for the love-struck character of Anthony Hope. Nyoy Volante as the hilarious Adolfo Pirelli was a joy to watch. I also liked listening to Baritone Andrew Fernando’s deep voice playing Judge Turpin.

Lea Salonga as Mrs. Lovett was, as expected, spectacular. I’ve always been a big fan of Lea so I was ecstatic to get to finally see her live and revel in her lovely voice. I thought her quirky characterization of Mrs. Lovett was spot on. Loved the Cockney accent, too.  

“Sweeney Todd” is about murder and cannibalism but the musical was anything but dark. It was however a showcase of world class talent – of Pinoys who sing damn well and I for one, certainly can’t get enough of that!

 

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