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My Yoga Mantra for 2015

“When yoga is reduced to a self-obsessed, bourgeois lifestyle distraction, people who are so poor they would never have time to take a yoga class actually die in collapsing Bangladesh sweatshops. So a bare minimum goal in yoga work should be to keep things real.

“I wish that teachers will recognize that the enemy of terrestrial life is global, structural, pervasive and tenacious, and that neither asanas nor meditation can attack it directly. Only boots-on-the-ground activism can.

“I wish that teachers will accept that it is a sign of obsessive narcissism to long for these drives to be erased in a blaze of private enlightenment, and to spend countless hours practicing towards this end. However, they will know that addressing things like attachment and aversion pragmatically in the brief and privileged laboratory of practice can allow the higher yoga of activism to proceed with greater sustainability.

“I wish that every single teacher can start to make this work in simple ways first. Like tithing their monthly income to a warrior cause they publicize through their newsletters. Or by modeling activism for their communities by serving populations without access to yoga. Or by tying access to ‘advanced-level’ practices with strategic (rather than symbolic) environmental work. Or by letting students know that asana and meditation can grant the insight to see that they are in a war that can finally be heroic. By letting them know that practice can give the strength to fight with grace, even though — or especially because — the outcome is unclear.”

Source: http://matthewremski.com/wordpress/the-war-that-no-yoga-teacher-can-run-from/

 

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Reflections in Leyte

Last January, the NGO that obliged to my doing a study on them, asked me if I could do the same study in their Leyte branches. I was not enthusiastic about the idea, as the sample did not fit in my study, but more than that, I feared going to the dead town after Haiyan washed the whole place in November last year. I did not know what to expect and if I could stand the place, emotionally and physically. With eyes closed, I said yes to the NGO. Quid pro quo.

Few weeks before my flight, some concerned souls gave me tips on survival and warned me about mosquitoes, funky-smelling water, stench, power failure, and security issues. Thus, I went there ready for the worst, riding motorcycles included (and I have been swearing I’d ban these vehicles if I become the president of this country). So off I went to Palo and Tacloban in Leyte last Thursday.

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Murphy’s law. The first motorcycle I rode got a flat tire, it rained on my first day of field work, and the generator that powered the branch office that hosted me did not run that day. Lost a data sheet and some pictures from my camera were deleted (and I am sure I did not do it accidentally). Until today, I am trying to let go and convince myself NOT to get pissed with the people whom I suspect were responsible for these incidents. Om.

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Four months after Haiyan hit the country, the main roads are congested with buses, private vehicles, delivery trucks, tricycles, shuttle SUVs, and motorcycles. Public market is alive with fish, meat, and fresh produce. The fields are green, promising a good harvest a couple of months more. Business is back. Flowers are in bloom. Toes are pedicured. Everything looks normal, save for the sight of abandoned houses and leafless trees. No indication of presence of international aid agencies either, except for the tarpaulins that bore their logos and now have become part of temporary abodes, and some Caucasians walking around the city. 

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People are different and so are their survival strategies. Cash abounded the place after Haiyan. Various foundations gave away money to the residents from as low as Php2,500 to as much as Php20,000. What did people do with their money? As soon as water subsided, some bought goods from places less affected by the typhoon and sold them in the city at double or triple the normal prices, just so they could get back to business right away. Some admitted to looting the biggest supermarket in town so they had something to sell, while others admitted to buying from looters so they had something to resell. On the other hand, some would lie about how much carpenters are paid, jacking up the rates.

Others rebuilt their homes. Still others spent their money on food and clothes. Some stopped working while being sustained by their children who are either working or are forced to work outside the province after Haiyan, never mind if they are still minors.  

When asked what they still need, they also gave different responses. While some asked for houses (and the insensitive me could not help but ask what they did with their Php15,000-Php20,000 supposedly for rebuilding their homes), other asked that help and relief be sent to them continuously. I am most proud of the people who were grateful and said that what others have done is enough already for them to start their lives anew, as well as with people who are still generous with others while they themselves struggle getting back on their feet.  

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My trip to Leyte was a humbling experience. I brought nothing to Leyte but I came back home with data, seeds for planting (from the lady who grew the flowers in the photo above), a spirit renewed by greenery and scenic views, a better understanding of human nature, and freedom from fear of riding motorcycles (in fact, I have learned to enjoy it). 

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Reflections in Bohol

Our family trip was finalized way before the 7.0+ earthquake hit Bohol. Should we push through with our vacation, especially given the post-Haiyan condition (someone’s guilt-tripping here)? We had second thoughts, but we decided that the best way to help the people there was first, to be not afraid to go there, and second, to keep their economy active. I thought I would help transform their economy (wow, big words, huh?!) even just a bit but I ended up being transformed by the experience instead.

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After our trip, I really want to know more about Bohol’s history. They said that the central municipalities of the province were never conquered by the Spaniards and hence, were never redistributed to the conquistedores, thanks to Dagohoy. The Spanish colonies were restricted only in the coastal areas. As a consequence, feudalism did not thrive; Filipinos remained the landowners.  Now I wonder, does this part of history have anything to do with the Boholanos’ genuine yet gentle spirit, as they did not have to fight for their lands all their lives? Is history the reason why people in general have a strong sense of empowerment, because they were never a slave to anybody?

Why do I say this? I had the impression that people in general are honest. For example, they would tell you if the fruits you are getting are no good, when you really could not/too challenged to tell the difference. In a normal market economy, heck, go buy it–it would mean profit for the seller sans the guilt (if at all) since the buyer chooses the goods anyway. The places we went to were also green–impressively lush forests and healthy mangroves–something unthinkable in this age when everything is/could be turned into profit. Sure, Bohol is one of the poorest provinces with almost half of the population is considered poor, income poor that is. However, only less than 1% of the people do not eat sufficiently. This means, many do not have money, but almost everyone gets to eat three times a day–so they must be doing something right, right?

The people I encountered also tried to find solutions for as long as they could–for me, this is a clear indication of empowerment. Bringing the service vehicle closer to the airport gate because my mom had difficulty walking is not usually done (or allowed). And yes, they drove my mom to the sandy beach–first time ever I and mom had experienced (and I hope it doesn’t hurt the shores). Whenever my family wanted something not in the menu, the waiter right away said they could do it without even asking their boss or the chef, and they indeed delivered. Too warm in the morning? The waiter served us breakfast in the conference room, again, without asking the boss. Yes, people at the first level of the corporate hierarchy are confident to make decisions that go beyond the set policies.

At the airport on our way home, I was amazed at how a simple staff could stand up for what she thought was fair. You see, Tagbilaran airport was not as spacious as NAIA such that passengers could only get in the waiting area according to their flight schedule. In our case, we had to wait for our turn until the flight ahead of us leaves and a lady was in charge of ensuring orderly operations. Then, a heated discussion between this lady and the aviation officers got my attention. Since I could understand their local language, I had to inquire later what was going on. The impassioned lady explained that a group of police officers (from Manila, I bet, haha!) forced their way into the departure area when they should be waiting with the rest of us. She said that if rules would not be followed consistently, then they should not be applied to anyone at all–hence, she let everyone else enter the departure area, us included. I may not agree with her solution (as it would lead to chaos) but I am so impressed with her sense of fairness and rule of law, more so with her confidence to actually raise her concern to the aviation officers and make a decision (to let us all in).

Come boarding time, when everyone rushed to the gate to embark, the crew stood her ground (pun intended) and say “no, the lady in wheelchair (my mom) will go in first.” Then came a lady with a grand entrance and two bodyguards (a member of the political elite?). She said the same thing to the her, not a bit intimidated. And yes, nobody was allowed inside the plane until mom was comfortably seated.

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People in Bohol are empowered but not combative (like me). People try to do the right things while maintaining their gentleness and peace. As I told my sister later that day, “Ako lang ang masungit sa Tagbilaran airport.” Maybe if I live there for months, their gentleness would rub off on me. Maybe if I surround myself with honest, trustworthy, simple-hearted people who respect and protect other people and their natural environment… if I surround myself with nature and (almost) everything natural… someday… one day….

Now it’s confirmed–I am attracted to peace and gentleness. Opposites attract, you know. 😉

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The kindness and confidence of Boholanos reminded me so much of the natives of Palawan. Good thing I blogged about my Palawan trip more than four years ago (link to my post here) and now I have to do the same with Bohol so I won’t forget. If given a chance, I would love to study these provinces from economic and social anthropology perspectives.

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I witnessed how life could change in minutes (even seconds perhaps).

Taken at 5:33pm

Taken at 5:33pm

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Taken at 5:36pm

Non-attachment.

Om.

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Post-Yolanda Post

I think I have already said in my past entries what I think and believe about climate change and environmental issues in general. Now, lost for words with what Yolanda has done to our country.  Now, actions count much more than words.

From Notes by Sri Swami Satchidananda:

When you pray, you send out healing vibrations and good thoughts into the cosmos. They circulate there. If you pray for a particular individual, no matter where that individual is, your thought forms go there and reach that person. The person may not even know that you are praying for his or her welfare, but will be able to receive it and be helped. Sometimes your prayers are universal. In that case, those who have an open sail will catch it.

When others know that so many people are praying for them, it will give them comfort. And even if some people do not want your prayer, you can still pray. By praying for others, you get the benefit yourself, because you are opening up your own heart. You are showing your compassionate side. Your mind gets purified when you pray for others. You become a better person. Through your prayer you are expressing your faith in God.

In numerous ways, prayer certainly helps. It is a powerful, powerful practice. Many, many things can happen by prayer. Radical minds may not accept or understand it. But a sincere prayer that comes from a faithful heart can perform miracles. So have that faith. Pray for yourself, pray for others.

Om Shanthi, Shanthi, Shanthi.

Help AND pray.

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Peace Talk

What drives me?

I used to say “passion and purpose.” Now, I might as well add another “P”. Peace. After the workshop, the word means more to me than just savasana, or our neighbor not singing karaoke in full volume, or not engaging in an oral argument.

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Does it leave me peaceful?

Do I find what transpired meaningful or inspiring?

Do I have a better appreciation of the other person after this?

If my answer to these questions is no, then perhaps the conversation, or any social gathering at that, does not matter at all and hence, not worth engaging in again in the future.

Besides, ahimsa is not just non-violence to oneself or to other living things; it is also about not harming other people with words and thoughts.

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Does it leave me peaceful?

I also ask this question after my yoga practice in the shala. As long as my answer is yes, I’d keep going back to it (I guess I have overcome my ego and economic issues behind my practice, ha!). Otherwise, doing self-practice at home may prove to be more yogic.

At home, nobody looks around, or goes to the jan several times in an hour, or flaps open the mat on the floor, or chats during practice. At home, I only have to deal with MY own drama, not somebody else’s. At home, nobody watches me and/or gives an evaluation of my practice (positive feedback is still an evaluation so I do not welcome it). Evaluation reduces the spiritual practice of yoga into mere physical, asana coaching. If I wanted an asana coach, I would have enrolled in gymnastics (in the same light that when one wants to lose weight, s/he should run instead, as YT puts it).

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 What disturbs my peace?

People who encroach on my personal space, especially my psychological space—e.g. talking to me when I want to be silent, simply because the person is not comfortable with silence or the person wants some sense of security or belonging (even if superficial); giving me unsolicited advice, not so much out of concern as it is the person’s need to feel powerful; tapping into my energy sources, deliberately or not, without my consent (in short, the thieves! Ha!); self-absorbed, utilitarian (even the friendly type, you know, the user-friendly :-P), dishonest people.

“Listen with attention, speak [and do things!] with intent, for the service of others.” Living out this motto every single day is more challenging than being able to come up from backbends, perhaps even more challenging than any form of asana.

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#munimunimondaylatepost

#happysevenyearsinyoga

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Conversations That Matter

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a workshop with this title upon the invitation of my non-yoga guru. Vulnerable Gullible Trusting that I am, I readily said yes without asking questions. It’s JUST a workshop anyway, so what could go wrong? Actually, nothing. But what I did not expect was something that could go right and it did.

It was actually a three-day peace forum, attended by Filipinos from different parts of the country—from the Cordillera in the North down to Basilan in the South—to talk about peace and development. Since I am an academician, I was thinking at the start of the forum if similar group processes could be applied in research. Towards the end, I had become just a simple Filipino wanting my countrymen to experience peace in whatever form possible and willing to collaborate with the others who equally desire to make that peace palpable. That we opened the forum with prayers from a Christian man, and indigenous and Muslim women sent a very strong message that peace knows no religion, no gender, no age, no culture…that we are one and we are in this pursuit together.

Real stories of struggles for peace—it makes a lot of difference when you hear them live and from the battle-scarred people who have been fighting for peace for generations. A tribal woman from Mindanao shared how she has been living in the midst of armed conflict since she was 7; now middle-aged, she is now working for peace, hoping that her children would have a life different from hers. Another NGO worker recalled how she tries to bridge the military, her dad having served as lawyer to the soldiers involved in criminal cases, and the rebel groups with whom she has to deal as part of an NGO. Yet another woman in Basilan recounted how it is to be ostracized in the only land she ever knew all her life, only because her parents were migrants from the Visayas region. There were other stories of various forms of violence, but what struck me the most was that of a Catholic woman who, out of her faith in God, joined an organization to fight for social justice and remained loyal to it for decades, only to lose her husband and son-in-law to purging.

Someone asked me if I were disturbed after those three days of conversations. I said no; I felt inspired and broken in a good way—with broken mental models, broken preconceived notions, broken set of assumptions. Uncannily, I got to meet with a few development workers who were not part of the forum in different occasions and talked about their dreams, goals…their stories. Apparently, the conversations that matter may (and they did) continue even after the workshop. I did not know why but I felt that someday, somehow these fabrics of connections would be woven into a beautiful tapestry of peace and development.

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Yogis4Change

My temperament would most likely deny that I practice yoga. I often break the common perception of yogi: calm, silent, nice, and good at sitting and meditating.  That’s because I hate it when people are inconsiderate with others and I make sure to send the message to the guilty party. I do not sugarcoat the truth. Efficiency is my middle name and any form of waste irritates me. There are just a lot of things I do not, cannot take sitting down.

Yogis sit a lot...not!

Yogis sit a lot…not!

Sri Swami Satchidananda said, “I don’t worry about the future. If you take care of the present, the future will be taken care of.” However, he also said  “Don’t sit there and visualize it and enjoy thinking that way and waste your time. Instead, take your time to go and dig a hole and put in at least one seed. Sow the right seed now.” Visualizing the future will not do the trick–hard work in the present moment would. Of course, the Divine will provide and will make the seed grow, but someone has to sow it first.

August 26 Million People's March at the Rizal Park (photo by Jon Cagas, grabbed from his FB account)

August 26 Million People’s March at the Rizal Park (photo by Jon Cagas, grabbed from his FB account)

Social injustice and corruption are just few of the things I do not take sitting down. However, I am not always brave; I am not Supergirl after all. That morning of August 26, as I prepared to go shala for my yoga practice, I was hesistant to join the rally afterwards BUT, I packed a white shirt (as the organizers instructed the public) and brought my travel mat (I did not want to carry around my bulky, regular mat) JUST IN CASE the universe calls me. How would I know? If someone, just one person, from the shala would go to rally after practice, then I would go. Lo and behold, YT was off to Rizal Park (after brunch, that is…see, we are human, we also need to eat). So I joined him to protest against the rampant and systemic corruption in the government (the pork barrel system, go google it!). We sowed what we believed could be the seed for this nation’s political and social reform.

During my practice that morning, I offered the day not for peace, but for reform, for change…just as what YT said in his caption.

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Om.

P.S. Dear priest who said the homily last Sunday, we did not go to this rally, we do not protest against wrongdoing, simply to avoid armed conflicts. I do what I do for social justice; for the nobler ones, they do this to show compassion for the poor who should have benefitted from the billions of tax money stolen. At the very least, it is responding to every human being’s call to do what is right and to serve others.