The Ostracism of One’s Own Norms

Upon reading Gustave Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary,” Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House,” and Miguel de Cervantes’s “Don Quixote,” I noticed one similar circumstance that all of the protagonists encountered. All of the protagonists: Emma Bovary, Nora Helmer, and Don Quixote de la Mancha chose to reject the notions of their present society as they embrace to instead prioritize the needs that will satisfactorily suit their own temperament or liberated identity. Each has a strong notion of their needs whether it be a call for adventure, passion, independence, or wealth. They find solitary ways to get what they want even when their demeanors are already deemed as amoral or unusual by the people around them. These said characters are captivating, however, not because of their unerring principles. They are admired because of their willingness to go beyond the parameters of normativity to fulfill their heart’s desire. Bravery and grit then, becomes a commendable aspect found within their core being.

I perceived that each of the protagonists wanted to detach away from their existing situation or roles: Emma Bovary wanted to stay away from the role of being a loyal wife and devoted mother because of her whims to have a more excitable and preposterous life, Nora Helmer wanted to turn her back from the role of being an obedient wife because she wanted to have a sense of liberty and an unregulated life, and Don Quixote wanted to run away from the tedious role of a middle-aged man by choosing an adventurous chivalric life of a knight. Perhaps, some say that they might be illuminated through an enlightened thinking; that because of their unfettered minds, they are aware of something that others do not: To have a notion towards a quest for a better life—such as through the acquirement of a better understanding, achievement, or relationship. Seeming aloof and indifferent from the rest of the other characters in each story, the protagonists are also in fact, more honest while searching for their own calling. What becomes engaging about them, more importantly, is their ability to fight for their dreams, actions, and identity. In short, they are in a constant inclination towards their heart’s desire and self journey.

Emma Bovary, wanted a passionate and extravagant life. As she daydreams about a life that opposes her reality, she enacts upon her own sense of fulfilment—even when she is lacking of wealth and romance, by finding an unconventional mean of getting these. “Her carnal desires, her cravings for money, and the fits of depression engendered by her love gradually merged into a single torment; and instead of trying to put it out of her mind she cherished it, spurring herself on to suffer, never missing an opportunity to do so.” She loans immoderate commodities and money from Monsieur Lheureux to appease her desire for a more splendid lifestyle and started having adulterous affairs with Rodolphe and Leon in order to satiate her passion. Madame Bovary undoubtedly became known as an amoral person yet she argues that she pursued her vision—believing that it will content her.

It can be pointed out, that it is not an unusual behavior to feel tensed or anxious whenever one’s needs for comfort, love, or self-actualization aren’t met properly. Perhaps it is the lack of finding a suitable partner that understands her needs for interaction, passion, or comfort that made her turn her back from Charles. It can also be the fact that she cannot get these whims by herself because of gender constraints in the society. Her well-being as a woman becomes overlooked. When Emma tried to fulfil the roles of being a doting wife and mother, she became neglectful of her own health. She even admitted that her nerves started when she became married. She had to adore and take care of the child, warm Charles’s slippers by the fire, mend his shirts and stack his clothing, and agree to his suggestions without trying to understand his reasons. These are the works that she is inclined to do as a woman. This becomes a question to her present society, in which women cannot get what they wanted as they are obligated to act in accordance to their feminine roles. Emma even preferred to have a son, so that he can acquire liberties unlike her. “A man is free, at least—free to range the passions and the world to surmount obstacles, to taste the rarest pleasures. Whereas a woman is continually thwarted. Inert, compliant, she has to struggle against her physical weakness and legal subjection. Her will, like the veil tied to her hat, quivers with every breeze: there is always a desire that entices, always a convention that restrains.” Emma is shown as a woman in a social position that she constantly aims to break against. She emancipates herself from her role of being a dutiful mother and obliging wife by altering her demeanor towards her own sense of individualism.

Nora Helmer, the protagonist from Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” is in contrast to Emma Bovary, for she is shown to be living a comfortable life. With a husband who is currently appointed to a new position as the Manager of the Stock bank, she will soon acquire more extravagances and security. It is shown from the beginning that Nora always vainly refers to herself with the inclusion of husband. “As of course Torvald won’t; and in that I quite agree with him. Oh! You can imagine how glad we are. He is to enter his new position at the New Year, and then he will have a large salary and percentages.” She does not seem to have a sense of self as she evolves herself around Torvald’s opinions and monetary accomplishments.

It is shown during the play that Nora is deemed by Torvald as a submissive wife who should only conforms to his own ideals. It is evident by the way he talks to her: “Don’t disturb me,” “Has my little spendthrift been making the money fly again?” and “Nora! Thoughtless as ever!” This perspective is also shown by actions when he constantly reprimands her, when she is tasked to perfect a dance with his approval, and the sole fact that she had to keep her financial debt as a secret to escape his rebuke, disapproval, and rage.

However, the dilemma of the story, emerges when Nora confides to Mrs. Linde that she hid an illegal debt from Torvald a few years ago. When Mrs. Linde questioned her decision, Nora, argues that it is for the best: “Good heavens! What can you be thinking of? Tell him, when he has such a loathing for debt? And besides—how painful and humiliating it would be for Torvald, with his manly self-reliance, to know that he owed anything to me! It would utterly upset the relation between us; our beautiful, happy home would never again be what it is.” At the time of great indigence, she resorted to disregard the consent of her husband before borrowing money. Here, the protagonist shows a disparate perspective from her once superficial thoughts. Though, considered by most as childish, Nora has the ability to solve complex problems by herself. “Oh sometimes I was so tired, so tired. And yet it was splendid to work in that way and earn money. I almost felt as if I was a man.” From here, you will realize that Nora yearns for a sense of independency.

Nora’s moment of awakening takes place when Torvald found out about her secret. Calling her immoral, he insults her and decrees that she has no right to take care of their children anymore. However, upon Korgstad’s tolerance on the issue, he decides to forgive Nora but it was too late. Nora has had enough and she realizes that she was never happy with him. They never discuss matters seriously, she is in constant fear of displeasing him, and her thoughts are supposed to be aligned with his. “I mean I passed from father’s hands into yours. You settled everything according to your taste; and I got the same tastes as you; or I pretended to—I don’t know which—both ways perhaps. When I look back on it now, I seem to have been living like a beggar, from hand to mouth. I lived by performing tricks for you, Torvald. You and father have done me a great wrong. It is your fault that my life has been wasted.” The days of trying to please her husband by being docile ends as she severs herself away from him. This decision displays an unexpected but brave choice—to remove herself from the feminine ideals of the society in which she lives in. Nora is triggered and is determined not to be a mere plaything of his affections—or a doll. She dismisses Torvald’s argument about her sole duties as a mother and wife: “I have other duties equally sacred… my duties towards myself.” She removes herself away from the society’s order to discover and find her own needs as a human being.

Don Quixote de la Mancha decides to follow the adventurous chivalric dedication of a knight. In contrast to Emma Bovary, he chooses to reduce his comfort, shelter, and food benefits in exchange for honor and glory. He longs to provide a sense of purpose and beauty to the world by serving others. However, he is deemed as a madman for he has the inability to see the typical realities in life. Like Emma and Nora, he is relatable for his perspective or belief differs from the majority. “Sancho entered, and the curate and the barber took their leave of Don Quixote, of whose recovery they despaired when they saw how wedded he was to his crazy ideas, and how saturated with the nonsense of his unlucky chivalry.” Everyone sees him as a foolish person and thus disregards his positive aspects or views though unconventional at times.

Don Quixote, is known to be intelligent and he has the capacity to provide good advice on topics such as literature, reading, freedom, government, women, bravery, and many things related to life. For me, the most enlightening line that I got from Don Quixote is this, “Sancho, just as you want people to believe what you have seen in the sky, I want you to believe what I saw in the Cave of Montesinos. And that is all I have to say.” I am in awe of this advice because it speaks of the precise relativity on how the people account the real and the unreal. It shows exactly the point of Don Quixote’s actions, that there is an inevitable diversity in all of our perspectives.

The protagonist in “Madame Bovary”, Emma, always had the perspective of raising questions that leads to criticism. She aims for continuous development, which was shown when she started to plan the renovation of the interior of her practical house with her new husband Charles Bovary. In Chapter Six, Emma reminisces about her educated life in the convent. This is also where she first got immersed in romance novels and love ballads. However, she got tired of the convent life. Transferring to her father’s farm, she also found the place enjoyable until she became bored. “Back at home, Emma first enjoyed giving orders to the servants, then grew sick of country life and longed to be back in the convent. By the time Charles first appeared at Les Bertaux she thought that she was cured of illusions—that she had nothing more to learn, and no great emotions to look forward to.” However, when she met Charles, she believed that he can give her the love that she has been dreaming for.

From this point of view, one will already observe that Emma consistently yearns for action or passion. Insatiable by nature, it can already be guessed that she will also soon tire off from her marriage with Charles—especially since the man lacks intellect, passion, and wealth. “Before her marriage she had thought that she had love within her grasp; but since the happiness which she had expected love to bring her hadn’t come, she supposed she must have been mistaken. And Emma tried to imagine just what was meant, in life, by the words “bliss,” “passion,” and “rapture”—words that had seemed so beautiful to her in books.” It is in Emma’s character to yearn for a romantic vitality, yet at the same time, this becomes her own downfall for she is constantly bombarded with a sense of dissatisfaction towards her own life. She wishes for her life to follow the grandeur of the romantic fiction that she has read, forgetting its dissimilar quality to reality.

However, she was able to address her needs to live a passionate life as she explores to find the beauty of the world she lives in. I believe that Don Quixote similarly undergoes a vital change when he found wonder amidst the unimaginative mediocre reality of his life.He went to an adventure that no sane man would ever get the opportunity to outlive. Nora Helmer also found her own disengagement from the oppressive when the same kind of critical questioning arises in her perspective. She then realizes that she does not want to be treated just like a mere doll. They are all courageous as they endeavored to live separate lives from the norm.

As a reader, I reflected on the morality found in these classics through observing the cause and effect of the protagonists’ actions. I feel that there is a sense of prejudice on the aspects of morality because of my observation towards the protagonists’ plights. It is evident that they have created mistakes as they struggle to find their heart’s desire. However, looking through the lenses of a broad-minded person, one can attest that they are in constant search for one’s satisfaction by addressing to their rights.

Emma Bovary takes her right to live a passionate life, Nora Helmer takes her right to live an esteemed life, and Don Quixote de la Mancha takes his right to live an adventurous life. Breaking down the norms of society, they adjust to seek what is required for their own well-being. Their behaviors are etched with bravery for the protagonists separate themselves away from the norms: Though it opposes the society, they are honest with their innermost feelings and desires. Bovary is deemed as a shameless woman, Nora is deemed as a child, and Quixote is deemed as a madman when they are in fact, also wise in their own standing—for they choose to have their own ideals that contribute towards their satisfaction or happiness. Society’s ideals are known to be empowered by real life but intrinsically a contrast to our personal identities, as shown by these protagonists as they chanced upon their own perspectives amidst the circumstances that they are living in.

How about you? Do you believe that your societal role provides your sense of self-love and happiness?

~End

Pin by Raegan Fisher on Inspirational quotes and sayings | Words ...

Note: Written on 2017

Eco-Feminist Literature

Merlinda Bobis introduces her poetry book, titled Accidents of Composition. She expresses how her works are related to Nature, Humanity, and The Self. She does this while introducing her reflections on the current events that are happening. One significant similarity that I see between her poetry and Sor Juana Inés De La Cruz’s is their spirited intellectual defense for the rights of human beings. They both vouch for equality while displaying an immersed understanding of the contradicting reality. When they write, they do not call for their sole equality as a woman but as a human being in its entirety. For her, she believes that kindness can be the quality that everyone needs for the possibility of this progress.

I specifically appreciated Merlinda’s poem titled Girl on the Lamp. Here, she defiantly alludes that women are a mere subordination to Patriarchy. She shows through imagery how the innocence of these girls is seized without their consent by men. “Artefact of girlhood/arrested, is this/your story too?” (79). This portrays the offering in which the girls give their virginity to their husbands during the wedding night. The persona seems to question their reliance on men: “But even salvation/is in the hands/of men — /what do they know/of our dark?” (79). These works are a realistic unfortunate event that occurs still. This poem highlights resistance gained through an acknowledgement of one’s rights. It gives us contending importance as to why one needs to voice out their own need for liberty.

Bobis has some poems focusing on ecofeminism. There is an enormous gap that engenders an inequality on both the women and the ecology due to Patriarchy. The movement seeks to eradicate all forms of social injustice, not just injustice against women and the environment. The cause is the prevalent pattern in which some men exploit and control. Merlinda Bobis portrays through her works that such a concept should be deemed as obstinately fallacious. The persona through her discourse chooses kindness to determines the power of a woman’s identity and her surround-dings. Her message resonates: All beings are created as equals and should be treated well. Altruism becomes another value that correlates to ecofeminism: “There could be accidents of kindness here…” The author hopes to instigate the equality and nurture of all beings through her vision.

Feminism is a movement committed to the elimination of male-gender power and privilege or sexism. Despite the many differences of feminists, all feminists agree with the notion that the existence of sexism is wrong and should be altered. As Barbara Johnson explains in The Feminist Difference, “Femininity has always been an orthopedic notion (orthopedic: from ortho- “straight, correct, right”; and paideia, “education”). Including but not restricted to normative notions of Beauty, the concept of femininity acts as a mold for shaping and controlling women’s behavior.” This belief can be expressed through writing; the self may express her movement against sexist oppression through academic or creative writing discourses such as poetry writing. Self-consciousness becomes one’s hallmark in contemporary poetry writing and feminism criticism is of no exception.

Bobis’s poem, “The Girl on the Lamp,” speaks of a young girl who tries to win back her identity away from the perspective and demands of men on how she should be. “Who are you that looks back at us, / lights us / saves us / from the dark, / knows us / each night / more than we’ll ever / know ourselves?” (78). She starts questioning the validity of the male view.

She would rather choose her own path for she knows herself more, “To be saved / or not to be saved / from the dark: / this is the question. / But even salvation / is in the hands / of men — / what do they know of our dark?” (79). From here, the dissonance on her perspective about Patriarchy heightens, she does not believe in being saved, especially when she sees that her safety is in question under the care of men. “Girl on the lamp / from antiquity, / we think ourselves safe / in the 21st Century” (80). Women are being married at such an early age against one’s comfort and consent.

Another poem that embraces the idea of feminism is “Auguries of a Fish,”in which a young girl is chosen amongst her sisters based on her capabilities to serve, “because she was a little / lighter than her sisters / and she can cook” (11). She is objectified, causing the reader to understand the plight of being a woman. She becomes a part of a selection, “The virgin one, / the fruity one, / the lighter one?” (11). She is herded as a servant to his ship in the endless Atlantic, “Master wants it fresh, / wants the first pick” (12). Another metaphor is expressed here as the girl is deemed as an accessory to the needs of a man. Her freedom is bought by his money, thus, depicting the prevailing masculinity mentality as he denies her right to her own body and her sexuality.

From arguments, there are particular and significant connections between women and nature, ecofeminism relates the oppression and domination of all subordinate groups (women, people of color, children, the poor) to the oppression and domination of nature (animals, land, water, air, etc.) All of these are known to be subordinate groups subjected to oppression. It is the belief of ecofeminists that the connection between feminism and ecology can be illustrated through the feminine values such as reciprocity, nurturing, and cooperation, which are present both among women and in nature.

This was expressed in the poem “After Reming,” a reminiscing of the Supertyphoon on November 2006 in the Philippines. Bobis speaks of the typhoon as she sees her own actions during the event, “I’m suddenly / beside the purple gate / in the house, / led by the definite article, / thus definitely placed” (25). Her actions have become one with the volcanic eruption, “That smelt of Sulphur. / So I fill the hole, / I frame it, / layout the scene, line by line, / body by body / in that disappeared house” (25). Her mother explains to her of a flower, a purple hibiscus, appearing beside a hole that used to be a house.

This unwavering characteristic of nature, of enduring storms and calamities, becomes parallel to the feminist’s perspective on preservation. As Dominador Bombongan explains in Ecological Feminism, “Ecofeminist positions are as diverse as the feminism from which they gain their strength and meaning. These diverse ecofeminist positions also stand for the different understandings of nature and the solutions to environmental problems. Although ecofeminism represents a plurality of positions, what all ecofeminists hold in common is the claim that there are important connections between the domination of women and that of nature.”

Ecofeminism describes movements and philosophies that link feminism with ecology. It seeks to eradicate all forms of social injustice, not just injustice against women and the environment. It asserts the special strength and integrity of every living thing. As Karen Warren explains in Ecofeminism: Women, Culture, Nature, “According to ecological feminists (“ecofeminists”), important connections exist between the treatment of women, people of color, and the underclass on one hand and the treatment of nonhuman nature on the other.

Ecological feminists claim that any feminism, environmentalism, or environmental ethic which fails to take these connections seriously is grossly inadequate. Establishing the nature of these connections, particularly what I call women-nature connections, and determining which are potentially liberating for both women and nonhuman nature is a major project of ecofeminist philosophy”

Bobis’s poem, “Feather, Seahorse, and Atomic Explosion,” represents this woman-nature connection: “And the sky / looks back at us / seeking signs / we wish to see / from whatever ground / holds us / shapes us” (15). She sees the feather, the seahorse and the atomic explosion as the same with us, “Always / the evolution / of a wish / for rain / new grass / and maybe / even flowers”

I find this poem corresponding to the Philosophical Satire written by Sor Juana because they both state the inevitable fact: There is an enormous gap that engenders an inequality between men and women up until the present day whether it be in relationships, in work, or in society all around the world. Not only that, there is still a prevalent pattern in which some men control women and their surroundings.

Their favour and disdain
you hold in equal state,
if they mistreat, you complain,
you mock if they treat you well.

No woman wins esteem of you:
the most modest is ungrateful
if she refuses to admit you;
yet if she does, she’s loose.

You always are so foolish
your censure is unfair;
one you blame for cruelty
the other for being easy.

Merlinda Bobis and Sor Juana have both portrayed through their works that such a concept should be deemed as obstinately fallacious. As Sor Juana says, “You foolish and unreasoning men/who cast all blame on women,/not seeing you yourselves are cause/of the same faults you accuse.” The persona through her discourse opposes that men should have the power to determine a woman’s sole identity or role in society. All human beings are created as equals, after all, an ongoing fight that we have, up to this present day.

~End

Note: The other notable Feminist Writers are Simone de Beauvoir, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Louisa May Alcott, and my favorite Maya Angelou.

Written in, October 2017

References:

Bobis, Merlinda. Accidents of Composition. University of the Philippines Press, 2017.

Puchner, Martin, et al. (Editors). The Norton Anthology of World Literature (3rd Ed.) New York:

W.W. Norton & Company, 2012.

Travel Writing

               Travel writing renders a sense of place as the writers interpret their own insights. It is, more so, a celebration of the grandeur of place that connects to one’s sense of place and wanderlust found in contemporary travel writing. The sense of place permeates our language up until the present because of the existence of its components: the natural and the conventional world. One travails while finding the truth of living through traveling. Reading the poetry works of William Wordsworth and Mastuso Bashō, I was able to observe this quality of reflexivity towards one’s own travel narratives in writing. I specifically chose, Wordsworth’s Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802, and The World Is Too Much with Us along with Mastuso Bashō’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North as my topics for these works embrace the idea of comprehending one’s writing while using the ambiance of their journeys. They were also able to express their thoughts from their peripheral, spiritual, or objective vision.

               The best writers in travel writing know how to bring out the curiosity from within the readers. They know how to connect through their stories—the experiences that are woven with sufficient imagination, creativity, and intelligence to make memoirs. Travel writers focus on making a work of art through the accounting of one’s own travel encounters towards a specific learning outcome about the self or the existence of others. Wordsworth deliberately shows this perspective in Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802, as he learns about the alluring spirited essence of the city instead of just merely looking at it as a construction of rock and metal. “Earth has not anything to show more fair:/Dull would he be of soul who could pass by/A sight so touching in its majesty;” He appreciates the beauty of the urban scenery. Here, he was also able to reflect on the interrelation of the man-made entities along with nature.

               Mastuso Bashō’s Haikus also became his own travel journal. This becomes his own origin of his sense of place and wanderlust. In The Narrow Road to the Deep North, he sets out on a pilgrimage. He observes the beauty of nature, the peace of Buddhism, and the presence of other people. Through this, he was able to contemplate the glorious representation of his own travels. As Counisineau said, “Think of the ways that questions illuminate the world around us. Questions tune the soul. The purpose behind questions is to initiate the quest” (24). The writers teach the reader about the sacred experience that one finds in taking journeys. It is about the reinvention of one’s experiences in relation to the world around us.

               Matsuso shows his lifestyle as he exhibits what it means to have a spiritual Japanese identity. “But here, without a doubt, was a memorial of a thousand years: I was peering into the heart of the ancient. The virtues of travel, joys of life, forgetting the weariness of travel, I shed only tears” (621). He also narrates his religious experiences as he glorifies the mystical essence of spirituality. During his visit at the Buddhist Hall, he is awed by the greatness of inner peace. It was a stunning scene wrapped in quiet—I felt my spirit being purified” (624). Here, he expresses veneration in finding a new sphere of the spiritual dimension.

                Finding peace can be an eye-opening moment that the traveler captures from within.

It is important to grasp one’s realization of what truly matters in one’s life.Such as the narrative of Wordsworth’s when he rejects materialism and of Bashō’s when he finds peace, contemporary travel writing is the same for it shares the possibility of widening the readers’ lenses beyond their daily practical lives or their mind-boggling responsibilities. A person’s creativity and inspiration usually get blurred with work obligations or a repetitive schedule in life. As Alain de Botton said in The Art of Travel,

“If our lives are dominated by a search of happiness, then perhaps few activities reveal as much about the dynamics of this quest—in all its ardour and paradoxes—than our travels. They express, however inaccurately, an understanding of what life is all about, outside of the constraints of work and the struggle for survival” (9).

Contemporary travel writing is all about encountering something new. It is an itinerary of discovering more knowledge and if one is lucky, a sense of enlightenment or peace. It is an act of finding one’s own path towards the center of one’s being. Traveling and writing during one’s trips have become a way of mediating and dealing with difficulties. Apart from that, travel writing connects one to new cultures, new people, and new sensations. Through travel writing, a narrative seeks new ideas, concepts, and beliefs that will acknowledge the varying beauty of humanity.

                 Wordsworth’s poems focus strongly on these particulars: the grandeur of a place, nature, and emotional conveyance. As he reveals his ideas with the use of his imagination, he honors the natural world by expressing how it was able to affect his own consciousness as an environmentalist. Here, he celebrates the beauty of the scenery and then argues as to why it should be preserved and upheld. In his poem, The World is Too Much with Us, he criticizes the world for being too materialistic and how this behavior detaches the people from nature. “The world is too much with us; late and soon,/Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:/Little we see in Nature that is ours;” The speaker complains here that the world is too overwhelming for us to appreciate it. Human beings are now more concerned about time and money and therefore, using up all of their energy for the wrong reasons. It also glorifies on the beauty of nature as it depicts the imagery of the moon, the flowers, and the wind: “This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,/The winds that will be howling at all hours,/And are up gathered now like sleeping flowers;/For this, for everything, we are out of tune;” (359). Unlike society, nature is not deemed as a commodity. It is more so, a gift, overlooked through the lack of communion and appreciation. Wordsworth,presents this present predicament in his poetry while expressing his admiration for nature and the life of simplicity.

Pico Iyer also in his work Why We Travel expounds the several reasons that one should take on journeys. He shows that it is not only the perception that changes during one’s travel but also the beliefs, values, and impulses. “Travel in that sense guides us toward a better balance of wisdom and compassion—of seeing the world clearly, and yet feeling it truly. For seeing without feeling can obviously be uncaring; while feeling without seeing can be blind” (1). This perspective usually found in contemporary writing ideas is also explicitly shown in the narratives of Wordsworth and Bashō. They present a wonderment on how they saw the world, through their lenses, and how they can share it through their writings. As Bashō exclaimed upon his visit to the islands of Matsushima “Did the god of the mountain create this long ago, in the age of the gods? Is this the work of the Creator? What words describe this?” (621). In awe, he celebrates the grandeur of the natural aspects that Japan has to offer.

               Contemporary travel writing concerns writers on going to places and interpreting these travel experiences into stories that move, teach, and inspire the readers to change for the better, to gain insight, or to encourage others to travel as well. As Cousineau argued, “Integral to the art of travel is the longing to break away from the stultifying habits of our lives at home, and to break away for however long it takes to once again truly see the world around us” (23). These characteristics of finding wanderlust and learning outcomes can also be seen through the works of Wordsworth and Bashō. As Bashō observes, “The tough spirit of the late-blooming cherry tree, buried beneath the accumulated snow, remembering the spring, moved me. It was as if I could smell the “plum blossom in the summer heat,” (625). There is beauty in the places that we discover and these experiences can be shared through writing.

Nedra Reynolds writes about the cultural geography, the sense of space in the social world, “Geographies of Writing: Inhabiting places and encountering difference.” She aims to understand the people’s experience and sense of space and how they see this related to the other forms of the social world. “Geography gives us the metaphorical and methodological tools to change our ways of imagining writing through both movement and dwelling—to see writing as a set of spatial practice informed by everyday negotiations and space” (6).  This spatial practice, becomes a core of Bashō’s writing as well when he introduces his reason for his travels “Some years ago, seized by wanderlust, I wandered along the shores of the sea” (617).

          Travel Writing calls for the writer’s desire for more experiences, beauty, and knowledge. Wordsworth and Bashō both celebrate the world as they accept their role as the narrator of such amazing scenery, ideas, and sense of geography. As Bashō reflects “My body and spirit were tired from the pain of the long journey; my heart overwhelmed by the landscape. The thoughts of the distant past tore through me, and I couldn’t think straight” (620). Travel writing will always bring about a change in one’s sense of place through new astonishing insights.

References:

Cousineau, Paul. The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred.

            Conari Press, 1998.

De Botton, Alain. The Art of Travel. Vintage Books, 2002.

Iyer, Pico. “Why We Travel.” Pico Iyer Journeys, 18 March. 2000.

            picoiyerjourneys.com/index.php/2000/03/why-we-travel/. Accessed 12 Oct. 2016.

Puchner, Martin, et al. (Editors). The Norton Anthology of World Literature (3rd Ed.) New York:

            W.W. Norton & Company, 2012.

Reynolds, Nerda. Geographies of Writing: Inhabiting Places and Encountering

            Difference. Southern Illinois University Press, 2004.

Vipassana: A Form of Liberating Meditation

My First Vipassana Experience

My First Vipassana Experience was when I was 19 years old. My Philosophy class introduced me to the concept of Vipassana. Much to our excitement, we bombarded our professor about his own experiences, “When one talks about meditation, everything seems light, easy, and applicable right away but it becomes the very opposite once you’re doing it.” he explains. Pure silence. We started fidgeting, unsure why were so eager to try it out in the first place. Perhaps, in an automatic instant, we were already making excuses as to why we cannot do meditation, e.g. “I have so much on my plate already,” “I need to study,” or “I just don’t have much time as of late.” The very things we say when we do not want to do something anymore.

But we usually avoid the things we need to do the most…

It was my sudden hesitance that sparked up my curiosity more. Why hold back simply because it requires silence, patience, and concentration? I had to see it for myself amidst an unconscious doubt. I started asking more questions about the meditation practice: “How does one maintain it?” “Why can’t we sit still for even minutes?” or “What makes this meditation unique?

When my philosophy mentor saw that I was interested in learning more about meditation, he recommended that I go to Vipassana. I remembered asking him what the place was all about. He simply smiled and told me that I had to go there to see for myself. By saying this, I just had to go there. No more questions, no more doubts, and just pure excitement towards veering to something new and unknown. In a matter of weeks, the day arrived. I was on my way to Vipassana. With my beddings, clothes, and a few necessities I bade my family, my close friends, my work, my research, and basically my busy lifestyle a temporary farewell. I was not allowed to communicate with anyone or use any social media or gadgets for ten days straight. The positive prospects of the trip made me so eager that I arrived hours early at the meet-up place. After a group meeting with the other meditators in Manila, we took a bus towards the Vipassana camp in Cavite. We arrived there and the first thing I noticed was that the camp was secluded. It was away from the city and away from all the noise. There will be no distractions. I smiled, not knowing just how difficult the trip was going to be.

On our first night, we were given an introduction to what Vipassana was all about. Vipassana is a way of meditation that involves concentrating on one’s body or its sensations. “Vipassana enables us to experience peace and harmony: it purifies the mind, freeing it from suffering and the deep-seated causes of suffering.”

It helps give the meditators insights as they realize where their thoughts go. Vipassana means to see things as they really are, one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation founded by Gautama Buddha more than two thousand five hundred years ago. It aims to practice the art of living and eradicating negativity in order to achieve happiness and liberation. It starts with the moving of one’s attention systematically from the top of my head to the tips of my toes and right back up, observing in order each and every part of one’s body by feeling all the sensations that you come across. Observe objectively; that is, and remain equanimous with all the sensations that you would experience, whether pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral, by appreciating the impermanent nature. Vipassana is a way of meditation that can be applied in everything that you do. It focuses on how to live in the present.

The rules were painstaking. Strict discipline was imposed, in a way, that there will be no interruption in the Vipassana experience. According to them, many of the meditators felt deranged and ran away. They tried to escape—usually on the second or third day. Some never went back to retrieve their belongings. In this camp we were not allowed to talk for ten days straight, to communicate with each other—eye-contact included, and to use any sort of distractions: gadgets, pens, or even books. Everything considered as a hindrance to the meditation practice or your own reflections was confiscated. We had to take silent meditation and sit with the other spiritual seekers for hours without moving while expressing awareness of our surroundings.

It was indeed difficult. On the first day, I wanted to use my cellphone; On the second day, I missed the comforts of my own bed and perhaps I even miss the active noise of the city itself; On the third day, I really wanted to talk to my family and close friends; (By this time, some of the meditators already left for many unaccounted reasons) On the fourth day, I was already panicking during my sits, something terrible was happening from within me, the restlessness and despair, the refusal to engage in silence was the greatest noise in my head it seems; On the fifth day, I wanted out but I told myself, “You will not give up on yourself…”; On the sixth day, I started to calm down but I started losing my appetite, the food was delicious but I just ate sparingly; On the seventh day, I wanted to reach out to my family again, so that I can remove the feeling of doubt. However, discipline paid off on the last three days. I started to realize that the dilemmas were all just a product of my own thinking, pointless worrying that kept on going around inside my own head. Acceptance. One needs to accept the situation without being in a sense of disarray.

During the last day of the meditation sittings, we were taught something new, apart from our own reflections and silence, we hummed Metta—which meant love, to all beings as we made peace from within. In order for one to experience life fully, one has to keep a positive outlook to the other and the self. I remembered going home with a smile on my face, with newly founded friends, and a calm-paced walk. I have never felt better. Vipassana showed me how to meditate, simplify my life, and to prioritize my relationship to the other. “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.” —Brene Brown

If you are interested to learn more about Vipassana, you can check these out:

https://www.phala.dhamma.org/

https://www.dhamma.org/en-US/index

Here is also their worldwide locations of Vipassana to visit and participate in for free :https://www.dhamma.org/en-US/locations/directory

Coming Into Writing

One of my many favorite authors, Ernest Hemingway reminds us what writing is all about.

Coming Into Writing

I was always deemed a jock as I was the kind of kid that you regularly saw on the streets, running around, screaming, with spattered mud all over my arms, my legs, and even my face. People considered me a happy child. I woke up early in the mornings to eat my breakfast in a rush and go out to fly kites, bike around the village, or climb fruit trees in the early afternoons. I played soccer, badminton, or racing with my peers during the evenings. We would also play Filipino games such as ‘tagu-taguan’, ‘luksong-baka,’ and you name it. I was enthusiastic about outdoor activities and sports. I participated in any activity that could burn my unending energy. If I did not move excessively, I could not sleep. I did not see the point of studying and I would even find it ludicrous whenever my father reprimanded me to read or memorize for my school examinations. I admit that I felt like my life was superior over the boring lives of nerds. How could they not want to be in the warm glow of the sun? Yes, I even mocked them, for they were always reading and acting like a ‘know-it-all.’

This state of mind changed when I was brought to the hospital at the age of seven. My mother read classics such as Heidi and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer to me while I was sickly and immobile. After that experience, literature became a positive endeavor for me because it became a bonding experience with my beloved mother. When I returned home, I started to read to myself and I began to capture the wonder of learning something new every day. I was hooked; it was like falling in love and I could not stop reading after that.

  It also helped that I was not fully recovered yet and could not go outside and play right away. The first book that I finished reading was The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain. I was seven years old. I still remember feeling the emotions of fear, anger, distress, and delight upon the unfolding of the events. I was perplexed yet amazed by the identity exchange between Tom and Edward. Everything around me vanished as I entered their troubled lives. Beside me was our dictionary. I kept on consulting it whenever I encountered unknown words—which was quite more often than not. Soon, I got the nickname of Webster from my older sister because I was always next to a dictionary. I did not mind; it made me laugh as I was with our dictionary all the time.

Because of that, I began writing in my journal more frequently. I was not seduced by the hilarious existence of SpongeBob Squarepants, Courage the Cowardly Dog, or Hey Arnold! anymore. In the seclusion of our garden, I would write about my thoughts on random idealisms, family, friendship, or even the joys of gardening. The endless noise lessened as I wrote extensively. I remember that, after writing, I would feel more at ease. Being reluctant and quiet, I had no one to share these thoughts with but my journal—I felt that my exasperation towards life was too banal to share with anyone. I was a very shy person back then; I rarely talk to people about my thoughts, more so about my personal life. Therefore, writing became my only way to unwind my worries while expressing my thoughts at the same time.

I began to balance my life with the value of reading and writing. In the mornings and afternoons, I would read books at the top of our mango tree. I loved it up there, it was so quiet and the sweet breeze calmed me. Sometimes, when it was cloudy I would opt to sway on our hammock with my book. Sometimes, I would even read inside a pool to cool myself. Everywhere I went, I was holding a book. At night, I would write about the happenings of my day. Later, while gazing at the stars, I would daydream about writing an autobiography or a romance novel someday.

I explicitly enjoyed reading fiction books but my first non-fiction novel arrived in the form of Maya Angelou’s ‘I Know Why a Caged Bird Sings.‘ I was twelve years old when I first read it. It was the first book that made me cry. Not the tears that softly fall unnoticed, no, these were the kind of tears that fell unabashedly, as I lost all control of myself. Her pain was my pain, as she recounted her traumatic sufferings. Because of Maya Angelou, I realized the beauty of the unmasked truth. There is beauty in reality, for it inspires and teaches us to understand that life is difficult but still never hopeless.

However, amidst my joy in discovering literature, I never considered myself being a writer nor did it enter my mind to take up a literature course. I took up Mass Communication/Advertising then Business Management. During my first year as a college student, my English professor approached me and remarked that I have a potential in writing. Shy and a bit perturbed, I confessed to her that I once dreamt of becoming a writer. She looked back at me and said, “Why not? You just have to work hard for it if that’s what you really want.” These words brought back the emotions that I have missed for so long, I wish to learn about writing again. I considered whether my coach will advise me to take the writing course—I have heard of the horror stories from the Literature majors on how they don’t sleep anymore. It was nearly impossible to balance this as a student-athlete if I have to wake up at 5 a.m. every day. There were so many priorities to consider but the only prevalent thought within was my yearning to write again. The next day, I went to the Literature Department and inquired about the shifting process. I eventually decided to pursue my dream as a writer and shifted to the Literature program.

Not surprisingly, the Literature program was tough. The sleepless nights arrived but I was unperturbed, I was too excited for I was surrounded with books that pushed my knowledge further, assignments that enhanced my innovativeness, and people who challenge me to write with proficiency. Drama, poetry, fiction, and nonfiction courses were taught to us by professors who have mastered each genre internationally. I wake up in the mornings feeling excited. For once, I felt like I was actually at a course where I belong. All the courses gave me exceptional outputs in the different genres of writing but what engrossed me the most was my creative nonfiction classes. Memoirs, personal essays, and journals made me feel like I was looking through another person’s soul. It was perplexing and yet meditative for there is a sense of solidity knowing that it was based on reality.

Given that creative nonfiction stories affected me the most—the stories based on real-life, I began to read various creative nonfiction works that I looked up in the library. Much to my delight, some were even written by my own professors. I started writing numerous essays for my nonfiction courses, the options for writing styles were limitless. I get to report the truth from an objective authorial point of view but I can also relay it using my own technique. It was quite enjoyable for me given that the literary craft requires me to describe the detailed turn of events based on truth but it does not limit me so I can still be compelling. As Annie Dillard, a popular creative writer said in her essay, To Fashion a Text, “It’s a matter of writing’s vividness for the writer.”

After my creative nonfiction majors, I submitted my thesis writing proposal for a creative nonfiction genre. When I was approved, I was thrilled with the writing prospects. These are the stories that influence me the most, I also want to focus on writing stories about helping people. Living in the Philippines has broadened my perspective on humanity as I meet, read, and hear about people who are going through difficult ordeals in their lives.

Ervin Staub alluded to these issues in his article“Creating hopeful visions of the future that is inclusive, that brings everyone together to address life problems can help fulfill basic needs constructively.”  However, there is a lack of empathy and sympathy towards these people—there is AN indifference or a lack of contemplation that disables the self to act or reach out towards the other. Altruism, thus, becomes a rare but a much-needed value today. The people going through such hardships have made me want to discover, outlive, and share the sustainable reason on why effective altruism or selflessness is of utmost importance. I hope it possible to communicate this message through the works of creative nonfiction.

A Return to Myself

A Return to Myself

Giving over Receiving (Age 5)

The man sat by the corner of McDonald’s. His palms were faced upwards while asking for alms. His skin was filled with open scabs. He scratched his arms repeatedly while talking to himself. His legs were covered with soiled bandages that reeked of pus. He held a white cup, now blackened with soot. He shook the coins inside while looking at the passers-by. They pretended not to see him. Looking back, I considered the notion that their act of disregarding the beggar was incognizant. One woman even made a deploring sound upon passing, “Tsk-tsk!” as she hurried away, making me believe that the man was menacing. I was afraid and so I held my mother’s hand. However, she countered my behavior. She approached then stopped right in front of him. “Let me get back to you in a while.” He looked at her in astonishment and nodded. I am confused. We went inside though we were not hungry. While falling in line, I could not help but keep on peeking at the man outside. She bought a large hamburger, a carton of fries, and a pineapple juice. Going back outside, my mother handed the package to me and gently prodded me to hand it over to the man. I hesitated but she reassured me with a smile, “Do not worry. He won’t hurt you.” My hands trembled as I walked towards the crouching form. He looked up and he seemed confused. I explained by saying, “This is for you.” Our fingers touched and he looked me in the eye when he thanked me. I beamed at him and walked back towards my mother. He acknowledged my mother as well, “Maraming Salamat.” He smiled back and at that moment, I realized that such actions can never be wrong. This man may be a stranger but he needed to eat, like all of us. We said our goodbyes as he continued to express his gratitude with a blessing. “God bless!” Far from a distance, I looked back from my shoulder and saw him guzzle the food. Walking back home, I asked my mother, “Why did we do that?” To which she replied, “Because giving is better than taking.”

Animal Nurture (Age 6)

I was always fond of animals. I felt like they were human beings but of a different breed. They made me feel empathic towards them. I have pets ranging from caterpillars, rabbits, kittens, and dogs. Whether it be a broken limb, a mangy fur, or a swollen sore, I would adopt and bring these little creatures to recovery. Usually covered in grime and fleas, we would bathe then de-flea these creatures. After that, we fed them their pellets or greens. I woke up early to prepare their food and to clean their litter, their eyes reflecting a look of gratitude upon my arrival. This made me smile as I stroked their fur and communicated with them. If need be, my mother accompanied me and the creature as we visited the veterinarian. Our home became a place where the village caretaker would bring injured dogs who needed a place to rest or recover. They whimpered and limped around the house. They were usually afraid of humans, partly because of previous maltreatment. Some had scars or dried up blood still splattered on their fur. They trembled upon my touch and a sudden movement made them run and hide under the furniture. Their eyes would take a peek at me believing that they cannot be seen. I found this endearing. Trust was something that you earned, I reminded myself, as I coaxed them out of their hiding places, “Hey… It’s alright. You can come out now. I won’t hurt you.” With their preferred snacks on the palm of my hand, they approached me. I ended up running chase with them after they ate. At night, my favorite soft blankets were given to them, as a token of my deep affection. I also felt like they needed it more than I did. It took weeks before they learned to trust me but once they did, they would fall asleep on my lap while I combed their fur. This brought me contentment, that I could provide them some comfort and a home. Nurturing these animals can teach us about our relationship with other beings. Animals need food, shelter, and also kindness: a greeting, a soft pat, a warm hug, and a companion who watches over them. Love. They developed my capacity to love.

Nature (Age 7)

I wanted to know what happiness meant but more so, I wanted to know how one can feel happiness. I tried looking for it through nature. With my bare feet caressing the freshly mown grass, going outside became a ritual of mine. The natural environment gave me a sense of serenity that I seldom found in other places. When the crickets started to chirp, I am usually seen sitting in the middle of our garden as I tried to capture a moment of satisfaction. The wind caressed my cheeks as my hair flew off my face. I felt relaxed while listening to the screeching of the bats feeding on our fruit trees, the fruits sometimes making a soft falling sound as they landed on the grass. Plop…

At first, the ignition of the machinery from our neighbor’s garage pervades the silence, joined with the cars honking from the intersection, the demanding screams of an infant next door, and the howling of freedom-deprived dogs. In a while, it quiets down. The only sound that remains are the ones emanating from the garden: the rustling of leaves, the insects, and the breeze.

I sat on a blanket to cover the tingling surface of the earth, its scent a piquant odor. I also breathe in the musky scent of the fallen ripe mangoes. During stargazing, I observed the splattered luminous stars across the pitch-black sky as I imagined them to be majestic queens of the Universe. In a while, I would shift my head sideways, putting my ear close to the ground. I hoped to hear the sound of the earth’s core, expecting a roaring sound. Instead, I ended up listening to the punctilious sound of my own heartbeat. It felt like my heart was echoing the world. How unpredictable but this experience evoked such wonder. I am wide awake, the hair of my arms standing up as I lay still. Soon, my breathing slows down and with closed eyes, I doze off to a dreamy state. In a few minutes, my mother will call me indoors, to which I comply, still sedated by the soothing atmosphere outside. This was how I began to listen to my own thoughts, through finding silence in nature. Nature beckons me to feel moments of happiness by learning to correspond to the world.

Gardening (Age 8)

The garden became a powerful source of reflection. This promising opportunity only presented itself outside — a sanctuary of swaying leaves, blossoming flowers, and the shimmering sunlight visible through the spaces of the trees. This delightful existence felt like God’s gift, a blessing. I chose to spend more time outside as I familiarized myself with gardening. When the roosters were crowing, at around 6 a.m., I am already outside with a hand-sized shovel and a barbeque stick to plant more Vietnam roses. They were colorful: red, carnation pink, and the white ones were my favorites.

There is no hesitation as my hands touched the dampish soil, my arms brushing the soft tendrils of the roses as I pulled out the weeds. The pulsating tranquility became highlighted in such meditative moments. I embraced it. There is this rhythm that created a dedication to my actions, my own movements felt unified with my surroundings, and I am connected. That was it. There was this calming assurance of belonging. This experience became my reminder that being connected is not merely related to human relationships. As Dalai Lama said in The Art of Happiness, “It includes our relationship with inanimate objects — tress, stars, and even space.”

Another joy found in gardening was maintaining the health of the plants. Every day, there is a constant change of growth that you observe with eagerness — seeds to sprouts shoots to branches or blossom to fruit. A few days ago, they were just little seedlings and the next thing you knew, these have become looming saplings or blossoming flowers that make everyone stop and pause to appreciate their presence. The roses were like gems scattered all over the hedges. How inspiring!

Watching over them was never easy, for one had to trim the dead leaves off these plants, till the soil, decompose fertilizers, and water them depending on their needs. Apart from that, Father decided to start a garden patch in the other unfrequented garden. This was a challenge for the ground was dry. Nothing grew there except for the overgrown weeds but he had a vision of changing that. “It would be really wonderful to harvest fresh vegetables whenever we feel like it!” He recounted the times when he stayed over at his grandfather’s farm in Legazpi, Bicol. The stories were filled with undulated laughter, details of the harvest and fiestas days, and the warm reminisce of his family eating together after a good haul. The garden, for him, was an attempt to recreate these beautiful memories back into reality. I decided to assist him, for the mere perception that this activity will make him happy.

Father’s joy started when he shopped for the gardening supplies — shovels, seedlings, hand gloves, a sprinkler, a wheelbarrow, and straw hats even. His enthusiasm was contagious. We imagined and discussed which vegetables we preferred to plant. We began to uproot the weeds and cultivate the land. This took two weeks of backbreaking work. The weeds towered two meters above. It took an hour of intense digging before taking out a clump. I was impatient as I yelled in frustration, running over to my father for help. Yet his admonishing made me continue, “You have to work hard before it pays off.” he reminded me.

The soil was supplemented with worms, ashes, and compost. The smell became overwhelming for it was mixed with rotting food particles. I would go home with a pained back, we crouched under the sun for hours. After three months of labor, one day, we saw the results: The okras, the eggplants, the ‘calamansi’ bushes, the ‘sitaw’ beans, and the cherry tomatoes were growing. The sweat, the calluses, the sunburn, and the strained muscles were insignificant during our first dinner with our own fresh harvested vegetables. Father’s smile was infectious that day. We planted our own food and it was quite rewarding to all of us. Because of this, I learned that assisting the other through hard work can be an additional factor towards happiness.

I sat on a blanket to cover the tingling surface of the earth, its scent a piquant odor. I also breathe in the musky scent of the fallen ripe mangoes. During stargazing, I observed the splattered luminous stars across the pitch-black sky as I imagined them to be majestic queens of the Universe. In a while, I would shift my head sideways, putting my ear close to the ground. I hoped to hear the sound of the earth’s core, expecting a roaring sound. Instead, I ended up listening to the punctilious sound of my own heartbeat. It felt like my heart was echoing the world. How unpredictable but this experience evoked such wonder. I am wide awake, the hair of my arms standing up as I lay still. Soon, my breathing slows down and with closed eyes, I doze off to a dreamy state. In a few minutes, my mother will call me indoors, to which I comply, still sedated by the soothing atmosphere outside. This was how I began to listen to my own thoughts, through finding silence in nature. Nature beckons me to feel moments of happiness by learning to correspond to the world.

Giving over Receiving (Age 5)

     The man sat by the corner of McDonald’s. His palms were faced upwards while asking for alms. His skin was filled with open scabs. He scratched his arms repeatedly while talking to himself. His legs were covered with soiled bandages that reeked of pus. He held a white cup, now blackened with soot. He shook the coins inside while looking at the passers-by. They pretended not to see him. Looking back, I considered the notion that their act of disregarding the beggar was incognizant. One woman even made a deploring sound upon passing, “Tsk-tsk!” as she hurried away, making me believe that the man was menacing. I was afraid and so I held my mother’s hand. However, she countered my behavior. She approached then stopped right in front of him. “Let me get back to you in a while.” He looked at her in astonishment and nodded. I am confused. We went inside though we were not hungry. While falling in line, I could not help but keep on peeking at the man outside. She bought a large hamburger, a carton of fries, and a pineapple juice. Going back outside, my mother handed the package to me and gently prodded me to hand it over to the man. I hesitated but she reassured me with a smile, “Do not worry. He won’t hurt you.” My hands trembled as I walked towards the crouching form. He looked up and he seemed confused. I explained by saying, “This is for you.” Our fingers touched and he looked me in the eye when he thanked me. I beamed at him and walked back towards my mother. He acknowledged my mother as well, “Maraming Salamat.” He smiled back and at that moment, I realized that such actions can never be wrong. This man may be a stranger but he needed to eat, like all of us. We said our goodbyes as he continued to express his gratitude with a blessing. “God bless!” Far from a distance, I looked back from my shoulder and saw him guzzle the food. Walking back home, I asked my mother, “Why did we do that?” To which she replied, “Because giving is better than taking.”

Animal Nurture (Age 6)

     I was always fond of animals. I felt like they were like human beings but of a different breed. They made me feel empathic towards them. I have pets ranging from caterpillars, rabbits, kittens, and dogs. Whether it be a broken limb, a mangy fur, or a swollen sore, I would adopt and bring these little creatures to recovery. Usually covered in grime and fleas, we would bathe then de-flea these creatures. After that, we fed them their pellets or greens. I woke up early to prepare their food and to clean their litter, their eyes reflecting a look of gratitude upon my arrival. This made me smile as I stroked their fur and communicated with them. If need be, my mother accompanied me and the creature as we visited the veterinarian. Our home became a place where the village caretaker would bring injured dogs who needed a place to rest or recover. They whimpered and limped around the house. They were usually afraid of humans, partly because of a previous maltreatment. Some had scars or dried up blood still splattered on their fur. They trembled upon my touch and a sudden movement made them run and hide under the furniture. Their eyes would take a peek at me believing that they cannot be seen. I found this endearing. Trust was something that you earned, I reminded myself, as I coaxed them out of their hiding places, “Hey… It’s alright. You can come out now. I won’t hurt you.” With their preferred snacks on the palm of my hand, they approached me. I ended up running chase with them after they ate. At night, my favorite soft blankets were given to them, as a token of my deep affection. I also felt like they needed it more than I did. It took weeks before they learned to trust me but once they did, they would fall asleep on my lap while I combed their fur. This brought me contentment, that I could provide them some comfort and a home. Nurturing these animals can teach us about our relationship to other beings. Animals need food, shelter, and also kindness: a greeting, a soft pat, a warm hug, and a companion who watches over them. Love. They developed my capacity to love.

Nature (Age 7)

 I wanted to know what happiness meant but more so, I wanted to know how one can feel happiness. I tried looking for it through nature. With my bare feet caressing the freshly mown grass, going outside became a ritual of mine. The natural environment gave me a sense of serenity that I seldom found in other places. When the crickets started to chirp, I am usually seen sitting in the middle of our garden as I tried to capture a moment of satisfaction. The wind caressed my cheeks as my hair flew off my face. I felt relaxed while listening to the screeching of the bats feeding on our fruit trees, the fruits sometimes making a soft falling sound as they landed on the grass. Plop…

At first, the ignition of the machinery from our neighbor’s garage pervades the silence, joined with the cars honking from the intersection, the demanding screams of an infant next door, and the howling of freedom-deprived dogs. In a while, it quiets down. The only sound that remains are the ones emanating from the garden: the rustling of leaves, the insects, and the breeze.

 I sat on a blanket to cover the tingling surface of the earth, its scent a piquant odor. I also breathe in the musky scent of the fallen ripe mangoes. During stargazing, I observed the splattered luminous stars across the pitch-black sky as I imagined them to be majestic queens of the Universe. In a while, I would shift my head sideways, putting my ear close to the ground. I hoped to hear the sound of the earth’s core, expecting a roaring sound. Instead, I ended up listening to the punctilious sound of my own heartbeat. It felt like my heart was echoing the world. How unpredictable but this experience evoked such wonder. I am wide awake, the hair of my arms standing up as I lay still. Soon, my breathing slows down and with closed eyes, I doze off to a dreamy state. In a few minutes, my mother will call me indoors, to which I comply, still sedated by the soothing atmosphere outside. This was how I began to listen to my own thoughts, through finding silence in nature. Nature beckons me to feel moments of happiness by learning to correspond to the world.

Gardening (Age 8)

The garden became a powerful source of reflection. This promising opportunity only presented itself outside—a sanctuary of swaying leaves, blossoming flowers, and the shimmering sunlight visible through the spaces of the trees. This delightful existence felt like God’s gift, a blessing. I chose to spend more time outside as I familiarized myself with gardening. When the roosters were crowing, at around 6 a.m., I am already outside with a hand-sized shovel and a barbeque stick to plant more Vietnam roses. They were colorful: red, carnation pink, and the white ones were my favorites.

There is no hesitation as my hands touched the dampish soil, my arms brushing the soft tendrils of the roses as I pulled out the weeds. The pulsating tranquility became highlighted in such meditative moments. I embraced it. There is this rhythm that created a dedication to my actions, my own movements felt unified with my surroundings, and I am connected. That was it. There was this calming assurance of belonging. This experience became my reminder that being connected is not merely related to human relationships. As Dalai Lama said in The Art of Happiness, “It includes our relationship with inanimate objects—tress, stars, and even space.”

Another joy found in gardening was maintaining the health of the plants. Every day, there is a constant change of growth that you observe with eagerness—seeds to sprouts, shoots to branches, or blossom to fruit. A few day ago, they were just little seedlings and the next thing you knew, these have become looming saplings or blossoming flowers that makes every one stop and pause to appreciate their presence. The roses were like gems scattered all over the hedges. How inspiring!

Watching over them was never easy, for one had to trim the dead leaves off these plants, till the soil, decompose fertilizers, and water them depending on their needs. Apart from that, Father decided to start a garden patch in the other unfrequented garden. This was a challenge for the ground was dry. Nothing grew there except for the overgrown weeds but he had a vision of changing that. “It would be really wonderful to harvest fresh vegetables whenever we feel like it!” He recounted the times when he stayed over at his grandfather’s farm in Legazpi, Bicol. The stories were filled with undulated laughter, details of the harvest and fiestas days, and the warm reminisce of his family eating together after a good haul. The garden, for him, was an attempt to recreate these beautiful memories back into reality. I decided to assist him, for the mere perception that this activity will make him happy.

Father’s joy started when he shopped for the gardening supplies—shovels, seedlings, hand gloves, a sprinkler, a wheelbarrow, and straw hats even. His enthusiasm was contagious. We imagined and discussed which vegetables we preferred to plant. We began to uproot the weeds and cultivate the land. This took two weeks of backbreaking work. The weeds towered two meters above. It took an hour of intense digging before taking out a clump. I was impatient as I yelled in frustration, running over to my father for help. Yet his admonishing made me continue, “You have to work hard before it pays off.” he reminded me.

The soil was supplemented with worms, ashes, and compost. The smell became overwhelming for it was mixed with rotting food particles. I would go home with a pained back, we crouched under the sun for hours. After three months of labor, one day, we saw the results: The okras, the eggplants, the calamansi bushes, the sitaw beans, and the cherry tomatoes were growing. The sweat, the calluses, the sunburn, and the strained muscles were insignificant during our first dinner with our own fresh harvested vegetables. Father’s smile was infectious that day. We planted our own food and it was quite rewarding to all of us. Because of this, I learned that assisting the other through hard work can be an additional factor towards happiness. 

 I sat on a blanket to cover the tingling surface of the earth, its scent a piquant odor. I also breathe in the musky scent of the fallen ripe mangoes. During stargazing, I observed the splattered luminous stars across the pitch-black sky as I imagined them to be majestic queens of the Universe. In a while, I would shift my head sideways, putting my ear close to the ground. I hoped to hear the sound of the earth’s core, expecting a roaring sound. Instead, I ended up listening to the punctilious sound of my own heartbeat. It felt like my heart was echoing the world. How unpredictable but this experience evoked such wonder. I am wide awake, the hair of my arms standing up as I lay still. Soon, my breathing slows down and with closed eyes, I doze off to a dreamy state. In a few minutes, my mother will call me indoors, to which I comply, still sedated by the soothing atmosphere outside. This was how I began to listen to my own thoughts, through finding silence in nature. Nature beckons me to feel moments of happiness by learning to correspond to the world.

Why We Travel?

“Why do we travel?” This question made my head whirl for my answers were innumerable yet I only wanted to highlight the most important ones. So many possibilities! Some people travel to look for love, some people travel to mend a broken heart, and yet some people travel for work. I got to admit that one of my friends confessed to me that she travels so that she can take selfies internationally! How hilarious is that? Could that be an adequate reason to travel? However, if you look at her point further, perhaps the reason for her taking selfies is because of the validation of her own existence. To know within herself that she is living a wonderful life. For me, it’s all about what makes you content and happy. You travel to feel something positive. You travel to feel alive. I can just feel the adrenaline rush passing through my veins when I remember or plan my next travels! Traveling is the voyage of the heart. It is a time for new experiences, new sensations, and new passages.

We travel to find our identity. We travel to hear our inner selves. We travel to know and feel our desires. Whenever I feel confused about myself, I would go out for a walk. I usually go for short walks whether it be on the street, in our garden, or just pack my bags towards nowhere. Traveling helps me calm down and get my thoughts in order. I would not even think of the thing that was troubling me, it just seems to go away as it becomes insignificant as I appreciate the sunset, the scent of flowers, the laughter of children playing nearby, and the endless patterns of life.

Traveling makes me feel like I am a part of something bigger. After absorbing the entirety of the place, I would smile and decide to go home. I also like going up high buildings just to look at the city lights and all the action from above. For some reason, this ritual reminds me of who I was before and what I want to become. As Pico Iyer said, “Travel spins us round in two ways at once: It shows us the sights and values and issues that we might ordinarily ignore; but it also, and more deeply, shows us all the parts of ourselves that might otherwise grow rusty. For in traveling to a truly foreign place, we inevitably travel to moods and states of mind and hidden inward passages that we’d otherwise seldom have cause to visit.” Whenever I have to decide about something big in my life, I love going somewhere to ponder about all the choices and possibilities. Traveling helps me reflect and meditate in some way. It helps me hear my inner voice, that silent thump of what my heart really yearns for.

We travel to feel that we are connected. This sensation, once experienced, is such a beautiful blessing! We travel to find our connection to the world, to the things that are out there. I love going mountain climbing. I would do it anywhere and anytime. I love smelling the musky scent of the soil, I love the feeling of the wind as it caresses my cheeks while I climb, and I love hearing my own echo once I reach the top. It makes me feel young like everything I have ever been through is sufficient for the exchange of feeling this way. Traveling makes people feel something new. Better yet, it makes people feel brand new. It is just like a baptism of our inner souls. Traveling makes us feel connected to new cultures, new people, and new sensations. I have met so many friends from many diverse countries and each and every one of them taught me new ideas, concepts, and beliefs that made me acknowledge the varying beauty of humanity.

We travel to learn something new. We travel to see something different. We travel and we get to see things in a new light or a better perspective. My mentor once told me: “Do travel, Asha! Every place is a new feeling! Every country you get a new perspective on life!” He recounted to me, his travels and how this changes his way of seeing things, understanding cultures, and being at ease with himself even when he is in unknown places. He would keep a journal and in each country, he noticed that his perspectives change in each place! He was learning and he was happy to soak in all the new and wonderful things that he encountered. This made me realize that as you travel, you learn a lot about other people, other places, and most importantly, you learn a lot about the other side of yourself. Ever since I always reminded myself to go somewhere.

I love traveling to nature places because it teaches me how to be simple again, it teaches me that everything can be so wonderful yet so priceless. It gives me the recognition of one’s own spirituality and well-being over the material world. Traveling makes me see this. It gives me the idea that being uncomplicated can guarantee more happiness and peace. Whenever I travel, I see sceneries that I have once overlooked and this makes me feel like I have a new set of eyes! The sunset’s unique and ever-changing hue, the winding colored banners, or the leaves rustling from above while the birds flew. Every time I travel, I get to have sensations that I have yet to feel, I learn insights that I have yet to apply, and I get the sense of celebrating life and my very existence. Traveling helps me navigate to the place where I need to be the most. My wandering soul goes back to where it rightfully belongs, towards my calmer and happier self. Traveling helps me metamorphose myself into someone that I want to be.

9/27/2016