Can Buddhism & Activism Ever Co-exist? 

Book Reviews, Soul + Spirit

The wave does not need to die to become water. She is already water.

On my 29th birthday, some gifts to myself: saltwater, deep presence and a connection to the world around me.

I was finishing reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s (Thay, as he is referred to endearingly) You Are Here as this day came and it couldn’t have been perfect timing. As one gets older, certain things become clearer. In an age when social media and the connection it provides is prevalent comes a time when one feels even more distracted, frustrated and worse, isolated.

These things have prompted me to challenge and question not just how we consume social media but ultimately, how we spend our days. After all, writer Annie Dillard said it best: how we spend our days is how we spend our lives.

Architectonic Feelings in Old San Juan 

Art + Creativity, Book Reviews

Back in November 2015, a friend and I went on a brief trip to Puerto Rico. I had made plans to fly back to the Philippines a year before for three weeks, to attend a women’s conference and to spend time with friends and family. Around July, I discovered that the conference has been moved to an earlier date and I also needed to stay in the Bay as some pretty special folks were visiting.

I just finished Alain de Botton’s The Architecture of Happiness and my trip to Puerto Rico came into full view right away. After sleeping at the airport in Orlando, Florida to catch the earliest flight the next day, we rushed to our hotel to shower, change, acclimate to the city.

Our first stop (and the only one I was able to go to): Old San Juan.

In silent awe. Old San Juan, Puerto Rico (November 2015)

The Courage it Takes with Sunil Yapa

Book Reviews, Fiction

It’s a little weird to read the chants you’ve been yelling at protests, rallies, in meetings and conferences centered around social justice. I saw these on the text of Sunil Yapa’s book Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, a book set in Seattle amidst the 1999 anti-World Trade Organization (WTO) protests.

Weird because I’ve been stepping back on my participation in social justice endeavors lately, and reading about some of the characters in the book feels like déjà vu. Most of it too real, too familiar. I feel a certain tiredness in my body that I’ve been trying to keep at bay but sometimes, the spirit needs to rest.

An Unlikely Currency: Books

Book Reviews, Love, Soul + Spirit

Peso, dollar, time. As a Filipino teenager who migrated to the U.S. in the early 2000’s, my understanding of currency has always been mangled. I always used to marvel at the peso-dollar rate when I was still in the Philippines, not knowing the economic implications of how a dollar is worth fifty times more than the peso. The dollar was pervasive in the country, with thousands leaving its borders for better opportunities abroad.

As I got older, I had to wrap my head around the intangible currency of time. Of how one can buy, spend or invest time in something or on someone; how it can be measured, and of what so little or a lot of it equates to. And how people are increasingly in favor of this intangible currency versus its tangible form on paper.

I wasn’t really thinking about these things until I started reading Nina George’s debut novel, The Little Paris Bookshop. Jean Perdu, the main character, owns a bookshop called the Literary Apothecary which rests atop the Seine River in Paris. The Literary Apothecary is a floating book barge filled with numerous titles, comfy chairs, cats (Kafka and Lindgren) wherein you can come in with an ailment (mostly of the heart) and sure enough, come out with a title that promises of a cure.

One of my favorite things in the book was Perdu’s process for compiling what he called his “Encyclopedia of Emotions for Literary Pharmacists”: A for ‘Anxiety about picking up hitchikers’, E for ‘Early risers’ smugness’ and Z for ‘Zealous toe concealment, or the fear that the sight of your feet might destroy someone’s love for you.’ It reinforces the way that words are able to capture emotions so succinctly and in this case, quite literally.

A Different Way of Looking, with Marcel Proust and Alain de Botton

Book Reviews, Soul + Spirit, Writing

What I know of Marcel Proust: nada. What I know of Alain de Botton: quite a lot, although not personally, but enough for me to dive deep into one of his books, How Proust Can Change Your Life (Shop your local indie bookstore).

One of the things that I’ve truly been enamored with Proust/de Botton’s compendium is a new way of looking: of a character in one of Proust’s essays where he forces a dissatisfied youth to take in Jean-Baptiste Chardin’s paintings of mundane things, not-so-special moments: of bowls of fruit, loaves of bread, kitchen utensils, one reading a book, a mother showing her daughter some mistakes in needlework as opposed to paintings in the Louvre’s “grand palaces painted by Veronese, harbor scenes by Claude, and princely lives by Van Dyck.” That there is beauty in a lot of things that is already around us, and that we are just plainly inattentive to these details. de Botton points out this lack of capacity of seeing beauty is not due to laziness or inattention, but more so because we are inexperienced with looking. 

The happiness that may emerge from taking a second look is central to Proust’s therapeutic conception. It reveals the extent to which our dissatisfactions may be the result of failing to look properly at our lives rather than the result of anything inherently deficient about them. Appreciating the beauty of crusty loaves does not preclude our interest in a chateau, but failing to do so must call into question our overall capacity for appreciation.

 

A New Language 

Book Reviews, Soul + Spirit

Tracy K. Smith’s Ordinary Light is nothing short of tender, with its vivid details on moments that could easily be buried in one’s memories. I think I tend to gravitate towards similar themes: books on poetry, literature, love, relationships, self. Smith’s was no different, except it opened up a foreign world wherein she had (and I didn’t) a language — all of it beautiful, majestic, painful — for her relationship with her mother.

She introduced Kathy Smith, her mother, in quite possibly the most loving way. The stories of her childhood intermingled with her mama’s homecooked dishes, pies and cakes, her gentle admonishments; even the Christian one-liners that Smith learned from her sprinkled throughout the book were welcoming. Her prose gave me the time and the space to lament my own childhood. One which has been riddled with a kind of conditional love that I’m just barely starting to accept.

Hers was filled with a different light, the kind that sifts through tall pine trees in the morning, straight from the heavens to the soft, green grass. I’ve never read anyone who has spoken so tenderly of their mother, which at times I found to be implausible. But Tracy took me there, and I knew. I started to heal.

I thought about my own mother in the next room, sleeping by herself in a large, empty bed. I wonder if she’s dreaming about my father who works the graveyard shift in San Francisco. I wonder if she longs for him the way I longed for her tenderness, the same longing throughout my life that started and ended with three words: I am enough.

As my mother read, I’d sometimes let my eyes drift across her face, taking her in out of habit, memorizing her, breathing in her smell, the way she held herself, the lilting cadence of her voice. […] watching her warmed me. I was calm and safe beside her, right at home. I didn’t think to call it beauty but beside her, I felt what the presence of beauty makes a person feel.

Discovering Joseph Campbell

Book Reviews, Soul + Spirit

People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.

I ended 2015 by finishing The Power of Myth, the lovingly transcribed manuscript of a PBS interview between Bill Moyers and mythologist and writer, Joseph Campbell.

My path to reading Campbell felt like a literary treasure hunt, as I came across his words on several books I’ve been reading throughout the year: Elle Luna’s The Crossroads of Should and Must: Follow Your Passion, Brené Brown’s Rising Strong and Danielle LaPorte’s The Fire Starter Sessions: A Soulful + Practical Guide to Creating Success on Your Own Terms.

2015 was a year filled with major shifts, most of them internal. I was coming face to face with a lot of past traumas and I was uncertain about my future. I was overcome with fear.

And as I have done in the past, I turned to the only thing that gave me solace: reading.