Thursday, May 26, 2005

Of Living and Dying

We are not only a very unique species, but also very interesting, tightly bound together with a strong strand of ironies and paradoxes.

Let me delve on one such interesting paradox.

It almost always makes for good, emotional, and moving theatre when the life or death of one soldier, or it could be a band of soldiers, is plucked out from anonymity and served to us in a platter of glaring and inspiring detail. I call this our “Saving Private Ryan” moment, since which one of us cannot identify and empathize with the unique circumstances of the man Matt Damon played.

When anonymity is replaced with personal details, we are almost always moved emotionally and intellectually and may thus exhibit a myriad of moods and emotions, ranging from respect, love, honor, fear, inspiration, and even to hate. Hate for the powers that be responsible for bringing about the set of circumstances to rain on our perceived hero or heroes.

But in another vein, we appear to be anesthetized emotionally when dealing with large anonymous numbers. We cannot seem to fathom our emotional depths when we are confronted with unthinkably large numbers. Private Ryan was one life and we invested our entire emotional cache on his life, conveniently shunting aside the countless thousands who died on the beaches of Normandy alone, who did not have to die but obviously died for a cause they believed in. But a single life such as a Private Ryan pushes to the fore the idealism of our profound emotional qualities.

We also find ourselves unable to invest emotionally on the countless other young soldiers and civilians who died in wars and conflicts past. About 55,000 GIs died in Vietnam and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese. At least 15 million soldiers and civilians died during WW2. Etc, .

Saddam sitting on his cell is responsible for at least a million deaths, from the time he ascended to power, through the Iran-Iraq War, through the first gulf war, through the present war, and down to his jail cell time. Yet we are quite emotionally detached from him and his dastardly deeds, (and others like him) as though he never quite existed or mattered. Yet surprisingly, many vigorously hate the man responsible for taking him out of power. It is arguable if we have invested enough grief for all the hapless thousands who died in the WTC attacks. We can hardly remember how many idealistic young men died during the regime of Marcos, though we clearly continue to reminisce to this day of the billions he stole and the single life of a Ninoy Aquino. What about Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Several hundred of thousand lives wiped out in seconds. But then we cannot identify with a single Japanese life from those holocausts.

The same would be true with what is presently happening in Sudan where genocide is in progress. We may have to wait until one life is highlighted in detail before we can release and give rein to our profound emotions.

Why is this so? All those who died in conflict possessed the same life, with the same values and potentials, as any other life of any other color, race, and ethnicity.

If one perceives life as having value unto itself then it is most important that everybody lives and not die. But we have been taught that earthly life is not that significant. Christ taught by example about sacrificing a life so a greater good can be attained. Earthly life then has value when it has purpose, not because it is life and has to be lived to its natural end.

One of my sons reminisced about another fellow officer who died. He had known him quite well, sometimes doing duty for him. He was of his age, married also with two young kids. He was off-duty and was riding his bike home on a stretch of freeway when a hit-and-run rig ended his life abruptly. I caught a bit of the news about this officer’s funeral. And the comment of one fellow officer caught my attention. The guy said that the deceased lived and died doing what he liked to do, riding his bike.

He did not say that he died too young, or that some crazy guy snatched this man’s life away from his family, his work, and his friends. But that this young man lived doing what he liked to do.

UPDATE (3/27/2011)

Admittedly, it feels good to get confirmation for some self-arrived conclusions, such as this one.

In the 1960s, the economist Thomas Schelling performed research demonstrating that people are more likely to be moved by single victims than by statistics.


It’s been quite sometime that I’ve found that this mortal coil I’m tied to
has become rather burdensome.
It’s not that suddenly the load has become unbearable;
nor because its multiplying cares have conspired to overwhelm.
It’s not even because of the countless frustrations it has spawned daily.

Why then the wanton indifference,
the lackadaisical and dreary outlook to the unfolding reality that slowly rolls in each day ?
Culled from a veritable storehouse of life experiences, the answer is readily unraveled.
The uncanny realization that earthly life is bereft of meaning,
so fleeting and so vaporous in its content.

Finding that nothing of life induces inspiration to pursue it with at least decent fervor.
No wonder then its trite challenges are met with tepidity and nonchalance.
Finding that the trifling values and pursuits that present-day man has clothed life with,
I look down with derision and disdain.

Harboring no ill will toward man himself
but only at the blatantly hedonistic pursuits that preoccupy his day.
A gnawing yearning for something more meaningful and profound is felt spiritually.
Things that satisfactorily fulfill my very discriminating criteria for goals worthy of pursuit.

Things that relate to the higher and noble nature of man.
Ultimate causes that address what comes after this so inscrutable existence.
And the pangs of impatience obstinately tear at my consciousness,
Making it very difficult to exhibit even feigned interest
and enthusiasm at the very mundane concerns of everyday living.

Despite the gloomy picture painted above,
the quest for meaning is doggedly pursued if only to justify continued existence.
The ultimate purposes are easily articulated with nary an iota of doubt.
To mortify and bring the material body to complete and total subjugation
by the spirit through the strict practice of A S C E T I C I S M.

This determination gives me impetus to continue with life.
It proffers the clarity of vision to see through the hazy veil
that shrouds the real purpose of man here on this earth.

That he is here only as an itinerant traveler,
preordained to begin his real life in the spirit
devoid of the constrictive trappings of the flesh.
Still, while the mind and spirit share a clear and unstinting grasp of my real goals in life,
Keeping in this frame of mind is most of the time difficult
and calamitous lapses are not uncommon,
Making it necessary to incessantly remind myself of the guiding principles
that should rule my daily living.

But life ought to be more than just an excruciating tolerance
and nonchalance of the events that shape it.
It ought to be more than just trying to survive the trip so the goal can be attained.
It is still within one’s capabilities to make life a more positive experience.

One should be able to look forward to each day with child-like anticipation,
in tandem with a driving passion to be an active and catalytic participant in it.
And not just a passive onlooker being bandied about,
satisfied with just trying to salvage the most out of a situation.

If such a possibility should exist,
I ought to dig deep into myself and my innermost resources to find out.
To enable me to look at life in a positive perspective
so that I can approach each day with promise and excitement.

The search might be made more meaningful
if I can find a kindred spirit to share my sentiments and philosophy.
Is it possible to find such a person in this lifetime,
or am I so alienated from the rest ?

In my own peculiar and quaint ways
I pursue the search for kindred soul for I still have to find one.
While everyday, I struggle and grope around trying to maintain the precarious equilibrium
that makes life bearable and livable.
At every turn and every tick of the clock,
confrontational situations stare at me,
Demanding undivided attention
and unyielding to anything less than total commitment.

Most of the time, the battles seem to weigh against me
resulting in a troubling and agonizing sense of frustration.
And as if these were not sufficient for the day’s share of troubles,
the vagaries of my sensual emotions float around the mind seeking fulfillment.

Sensuous desires, definedly moral taboos, buffet the will;
Are the learned moral values of our youth still relevant or what ?
The many familial concerns also add their share of bitter medicine
to an already water-logged soul.

Indeed, life seems not to be getting any better in terms of achieving a yeoman’s share
of those fleeting moments of seeming peace and tranquility
so that my mind can relax and savor the beautiful vistas it surveys
as it glides through the times of my life.

Death seems such a sweet and tempting alternative to extricate oneself from all this living.
but in an inexplicable, almost sadistic, way one can’t help believing
that these trials are cathartic and may indeed make for a more saintly life.



Where the mesmerizing powers of a pretty face emanate,
one can only surmise.
Although there is no denying its awesome presence
when it draws nigh.

It initiates surging emotions so strong and lasting
they defy containment and restraint.
Lifelong defences one is clothed with seem no match,
easily overpowered and overwhelmed.

Where does one get relief from such a malady?
For truly it is one.
Where does one go to forget and start anew
unfractured by its painful yearnings?

Are not such emotions fathered so they can be fulfilled,
and not seethe with frustration?
How does one’s sensual passions seek gratification?
Unless one resorts to flights of fantasy.

Still, one feels the eerie emptiness and deprivation
of such vicarious incursions to unreality.
For the actual experiences of touch and communion,
these cannot replace.

Devoid of bodily senses,
the soul must of consequence bear the heavier burden.
For so it’s deigned it must pursue its pleasures elsewhere,
this role the body assumes.

The body can be appeased by offering alternatives,
the soul will accept no less.
It cannot be deluded to accede to compromises,
and for thus it must agonize.

To the very end it drags with it the total man,
resulting in an utterly miserable departure.

Says I: Meet Me

These vignettes on friendships that you regularly run truly are emotionally wrenching and should if one is normal tug at the heart and bring out very strong feelings.

But sometimes one wonders if they are as real as they are presented and narrated. Take this particular one on Friendship, for example. The picture: two loving souls in perfect harmony, basking in the bliss that each one exudes.

The reality, as I perceive it: True friendship is a very demanding and exacting relationship, unless both participants are already equipped with the same beliefs, temperament, dispositions, awareness, etc; meaning, they mirror each other. Unless true friendship is premised on two “similar” persons uniting together, it requires constant adjustments and reorientation. A constant “tug and pull” of the individual’s need to be this and the other person’s need to be that, the individual’s pining for solitude and friendship’s need for communication, etc .

While man is a social and gregarious being, I truly believe that a good part of him requires “aloneness” and true friendship which should hold no boundaries, can most of the time get in the way.

If you ask what my take on this is. It is that while these provide good reading, one should remember that in real life, nothing much is that “cut and dried”. Everything in life requires a great deal of time and effort, a lot of confusion and real pain, with each individual contributing his yeoman’s share. With emphasis, on each individual.

If through my willful inaction or negligence, or reckless wrongful choices, I make myself poor and indigent; then I impose myself on the concern and goodness of the other. Rightly or wrongly, I make myself a liability, or a burden, to the other. And in the general scheme of things, each individual should carry his own rightful burden. For me then true friendship is not two individuals leaning on each other.

Maintaining relationships of any kind is not only always serious business but is never easy. It can be close-knit one, like a family relationship, or a loose one like an email group. Still, there is always a degree of difficulty maintaining it for a variety of reasons depending on each individual person. It always requires much patience, adjustment, tolerance, and a host of things stemming from our own individual differences.

From my experience, the only and best person I can get along with, with nary a single complaint, is I. Without a doubt I can always rely on this a 100 percent. I need only lock into “myself” to find solace, comfort, and validation of what I believe in. And all’s well.

Of Light and Light Saber Duels

The newest Star Wars Episode III has again captured the collective fantasies of moviegoers by elevating the ferocious light saber duels to new incandescence – more and better. Trivia buffs are in a tizzy, reveling on the only duel where the light sabers are of the same color – the duel between the soon-to-be Darth and Obi Wan.

It is no wonder that any discussion of light can easily catch the interest of and inspire the beholder.. Discussing light scientifically is likened to discussing religion/spirituality without even meaning to, since that is how entwined the two disciplines are.

Listen to Genesis..... “out of the void (blackness), there came out light....”

Now, listen to science. It declares that photons are the basic quantum units of light/heat. It could be wave or particle, it has no mass, no charge, travels at 186,000mi./sec, it has no time, and is neither matter nor anti-matter.

But the miracle is if photons collide, they “create” protons, electrons, positrons and anti-positrons, which are the basic elements of matter and anti-matter. And since, we, mankind, are made up of matter, they are our origins, too. “And on the fifth day, God made man.”

Science further declares with certainty (since these are replicated and backed with scientific data) that a photon exhibits a sense of purpose and design because it always follows the shortest distance to its destination, although nobody really knows where it is headed. In a real sense, it has no beginning to speak of and no end to head to. An Uncaused Cause that is eternal.

It was also Einstein who declared that if there was no God, man would invent one. But it seems like he did not invent one, he “discovered” one.

Just some thoughts on wonderful and Godly light.

To Be Or Not To Be: Filipino or American?

One wonders what drove you to commit to verse the characteristic qualities the two countries (the USA and the Philippines) exhibit that make them in one vein, similar and in another vein, poles apart.

For those of us who have adopted the US as our home, we constantly grapple with similar issues as we try to assimilate in our new environs. For those of us who came here as adults, laden with all the home-grown baggage of preconceived notions and ideas, the process of assimilation has been quite a formidable undertaking.

We are confused and caught in the horns of an unavoidable dilemma. To assimilate or not to assimilate. To assimilate but maybe not completely, all the while maintaining umbilical ties with the old country. Or to proceed being the way we were, unmindful of the crying needs of the present situation. Never mind if the people around us find us quite straying from expected norms of conduct.

Which shall it be? What should we become, being residents and citizens of this new place? Does not being a citizen require a modicum of behavior aligned with the rest of the citizenry? Or do we still maintain our old identities, again unmindful of the rest of the population?

And personally, if there is any singular and sterling quality that separates this new home of ours from the rest of the world, it is the convergence of all the races/ethnicity one can possibly find in this pale blue dot we call, Earth, in one glorious place - coexisting harmoniously under one law and government. No other country duplicates this remarkable phenomenon.

Internet Psychology: Blogs Under the Microscope

The study of Psychology has claimed yet another field of study in its already diverse collection. Jumping off from its studies within the “real” world, it has for a while been busy minutely analyzing human behavior in the newest media, within the “virtual” world, the Internet as represented by its many facets such as the worldwide web, emails, chat rooms, and of course, the current rage, the blogs.

From its initial strides in the 70s to the present, it has already accumulated an impressive storehouse of data on human behavior within these media. In my personal judgment, one of its more significant findings has been that unlike the previous media studied such as radio and TV where the participants’ interaction have been essentially one of passivity and lack of control, these new media accord the participants the abilities to develop and control the form and substance of human behavior.

We ought to take the helms then, and assist in laying the groundwork where the full potentials of good human behavior can blossom.

In starting toward this end, let me borrow some words from a 15th century mystic, Thomas a Kempis, to throw in as cautionary advice. This is from his work, My Imitation of Christ (translated), Chapter 10, and under the heading, Avoiding Superfluity of Words, and I quote:

If it be lawful and expedient to speak,
speak those things which may edify.

A bad custom, and the neglect of our spiritual
advancement, are a great cause of our keeping
so little guard upon our mouth.

Initial recommendation for a good read would be the book, Psychology of the Internet, by Patricia Wallace.

Intelligence vs Awareness vs Physical Growth

I believe, for example, that my father was brighter and more intelligent than I am, but I am more aware and/or conscious of more "things", enough for me to be more worldy-wise, more spiritual, more informed, more potentially wise; in general, better able to interact with my "total" environment. Intelligence and awareness.

Two distinct qualities that will have to be nurtured individually and separately?

In the case of physical growth, very minimal conscious effort is required from us. We will grow and age regardless of the amount of effort expended.

But awareness is something one has to continually feed and nurture if we ever hope to attain maturity. It does not develop automatically.

Thus, we sometimes judge that certain people while looking like adults, act and think like children.

Some Thoughts On Spirituality, And Then Some

For a good part of my life I have simply been trying to sift through and digest the many profound thoughts regarding spirituality. First off, I have to admire, maybe even bordering on envy, the clarity and steadfastness of the articulations of beliefs and passions on the issue as propounded by my many acquaintances. It clearly shows the prodigious amount of time and effort they must have spent trying to arrive at them.

Unfortunately for me though, my personal searches on the subject have come up with more questions than answers, though I definitely have strayed far from what we were taught in both Catechism and Theology.

I, of course, have postulated and cemented certain standards of conduct on certain things I consider crucial in my daily living of life. But I notice that they are getting to be more non-religious (based on our traditional understanding of religion), more non-secular, and more grounded in modern science which has now become more tolerant and observant of its joined-at-the-hip alliance with spirituality.

For one thing, I state that I do not believe in a personal God, i.e., a God who is a person fleshed out with feelings, emotions and qualities; though I understand that being human ourselves, we have to think in terms of what is known and familiar to us. To me, at this time and space, He is just everything I can see and perceive. For me, investing God with a "person" is synonymous to God saying, "I am God and you are not me".

A mystic seeks direct experience with the universe, not any particular entity or person. Having said that I still find myself talking to Him like a person in times of solitude and need. Childhood/adolescent experiences linger on.

Regarding evil, I have always subscribed to a quite simplistic attitude toward it by saying that it is nothing more than the misuse of free will; and since man is the only being I know that has free will, it must be man-made. I cannot say that it comes from God because I do not believe in a God that dispenses things apart of Him. But this understanding is a little bit like putting the cart before the horse. Since before we choose anything, that choice must first be available. It must pre-exist before we can choose it. We have been taught dualism - good and bad, yang and yin, form and matter, etc.

For me, realities and perceptions of realities all exist in the physical universe. Being part of that, they are all subject, with exceptions that I still cannot fully comprehend, to very strict and almost immutable laws. We are familiar with some of them and science continues to unravel them for our consumption. If we defy them, then reaction/retribution will be instantaneous. This applies to that football player who met an accident because he attempted to defy the laws of Physics. Our emotions which are bound to our physical beings in the state we are in, react similarly. The emotion of love which is good makes us grow and ecstatic, but hate which is bad is consumptive and gnaws at our beings, making us interiorly diseased. We even differentiate between healthy and unhealthy fears. But based on our limited understanding, we know that certain events defy these laws.

Lastly, consciousness or level of awareness (or call it by any name, as intelligence, mind, spirit, etc.) as a non-physical component of man I find not only very slippery to grasp but also quite intriguing. It is a quality we know each man has, quite easy to discern its different levels as manifested in different persons; yet so much unknown. Which is it? Immortal? Or eternal? Can it exist independently being an integral part of what a man is?

While all these sound ethereal, they do impact on how we as individuals handle our daily lives and our interaction with our environment, a great part of which is interacting with other people. Therefore answers to these questions will define how we handle our fears, prejudices, moral values, ambitions, even our attitudes toward money and crime.

Conservatism and Liberalism

It is relatively easy to be liberal, to espouse the most moral, ethical, idealistic and compassionate views; but such views do not hold up to the rigorous demands/requirements of harsh realities. Thus, liberal adherents who are in most instances not accountable for getting things done, nor tasked with running things can say all they want because they are on the sidelines just watching and criticizing as the parade of events passes by. The people getting things done are the one having to contend with agonizing to arrive at the best decisions possible, the realistic ones to make for the best possible results. And of course, to bear the full brunt of criticism should failures occur.

The liberals amongst us articulate and espouse the most compassionate of views. And it’s quite normal for many men to feel good about themselves, knowing that they have espoused ideals. And in a perfect world, it would be incumbent upon each one of us to do so. But under harsh realities, one has to appropriately temper one’s views and solutions, not only so they work for the greater good, but also so they are attuned to realities.

Liberals, like those in academia and media for example, give full rein and expression to their most liberal ideas not only because of the freedom of expression, but because the consequences are quite minimal. They can feel smug and safe in their lofty perches. But pity those who are tasked, like those in government and law enforcement, with dealing with realities and real events. They have to continuously strike a good balance between what is most ideal and what is most practicable and equitable to serve the greater good. And one must weigh all these possibilities since this happy balance is continually addressed and examined.