Beyond Mindfulness

“Is Mindfulness Making Us Ill?” So goes the title of an article in my Degreed feed. Since companies like Facebook, Google and Nike have made mindfulness part of their employee welfare programs, I was intrigued to read more about writer Dawn Foster’s unusual experience with mindfulness. According to Foster, as she followed its signature breathing exercise, she realized that “I can’t breathe. No matter how fast, slow, deep or shallow my breaths are, it feels as though my lungs are sealed. My instincts tell me to run, but I can’t move my arms or legs. I feel a rising panic and worry that I might pass out, my mind racing.”  
Speaking from experience,  Sister Edith Fabian of ACAY Missions Philippines, pointed out that such an exercise, while beneficial to many,  is not for everyone – certainly not for the 17 to 23-year old reformed juvenile delinquents of their Marcel Van Second Chance Program nor the 14 to 21-year old victims of violence against women who attend their School of Life Program. According to Sister Edith, the idea of allowing their beneficiaries’ minds to wander through meditation unnecessarily amplifies the traumas they are struggling to recover from in the first place.
This might be  one of the reasons why apps like Buddhify, Headspace and Calm developed themes like focus, gratitude and happiness  to ground their mindfulness exercises. For those who might find these too Western or too heavy on the pocket, there is an alternative approach which might, at the same time, resonate with the beneficiaries of ACAY Missions. For that matter, those who are going through a rough patch (i.e., “may pinagdadaanan”) might also be able to relate. Consider how  Bishop Ambo David prepares for his day as shared with the Inquirer early this year. Every morning, this gifted bishop “sits in the chapel to read and soak himself in the Gospel and have his daily conversation with Jesus Christ…through the Scriptures.”  
But given the sheer breadth and depth of the Scriptures, where does one start? 
Over the years, I’ve had the good fortune of meeting highly-accomplished professionals who surprisingly draw their strength from the Scriptures. It was through them that I eventually stumbled onto two complementary Scriptural themes.
Under the theme of  Pagtitiwala (i.e., trust) are three passages that promote grit in the face of adversity. There is the assurance that this too shall pass because “to everything there is a season… a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4) But while one does not know when exactly this shall come to pass, we are reminded to “Look at the birds in the air… the lilies in the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin.” (Matthew 6:26-29) And  should one’s plight be too difficult to appreciate such, know that all shall be well “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a  future.” (Jeremiah 29:11.)
Lest these  promote passivity, we must dovetail them with the theme of Pagkilos (i.e., taking action) and its interconnecting passages. Foremost among these is the challenge to make the most of what is before you:  “whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” (Ecclesisates 9:10) And if despite your best efforts, nothing seems to be happening, pivot the action you are taking to glorify God:  “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” (Colossians 3:23)  If one looks at acting on your problem this way, then one can confidently declare that  “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 12:11) 
Come to think of it. Perhaps these twin themes of Pagtitiwala and Pagkilos are not only meant for the youth at risk of ACAY Missions. Given our own share, as a country, of traumatic experiences that seem to have no end – from fake news to fake public servants, from countless EJKs to shameless corruption, from perennial floodings to   habitual carmageddons, maybe we  too could have some use for these passages as we breathe in and breathe out. Amen. 

On “Goyo,” Martial Law and Auschwitz

This article was inspired by the movie “Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral.” It is noteworthy that  it starts off, where my earlier article leaves off. I am referring here to “The Marcos Past and the 1986 Historians’ Debate” which was also published early this year by the Philippine Daily Inquirer. The said article also uses the lenses applied by the contemporary philosopher Jurgen Habermas in challenging the historical revisionism of Auschwitz from the political and the moral standpoints. This article takes his analysis full circle as it covers the lifeworld standpoint.

I would like to acknowledge the valuable help of Ma’am Pennie Azarcon-Dela Cruz for her inputs regarding the ongoing historical revisionism in my country.

Embracing VUCA

If there’s one acronym that really seared itself into the hearts and minds of those who attended this year’s Project Management Symposium held at the EDSA Shangri-la last June 2018, it is none other than the acronym VUCA which is short for volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.  We have the United States Armed Forces to thank for coining the acronym in the light of their first-hand experience dealing with their day to day problems and dilemmas in Afghanistan and Iraq. These days the acronym is no longer confined to its original military context. Thanks to the surreal speed of change brought about by the quantum leaps of 21st century technology, AI (i.e., Artificial Intelligence)  and RPA (i.e., Robotic Process Automation) are no longer figments of a gifted Hollywood director’s wild imagination. They are right here, right now. No less than the symposium’s keynote speaker Ian Fraser who was flown in through the Philippine Chapter of the Project Management Institute (PMI) underlined the value of understanding and appreciating how the acronym VUCA is something we cannot escape from given the twin phenomena of digitization and digitalization. Hence, the challenge that Fraser issued to the project managers in attendance to cultivate their agility and sharpen their leadership skills.   Being agile is all about being able to think out of the box or as some would now put it, being able to think out of the planet.  Leadership skills such as coaching,  motivating and engaging would go a long way in helping one’s project teams to navigate their way through a VUCA world.  These complementary pillars of being agile and being a leader  coupled with one’s project management skill sets augur well for project managers of the 21st century.

Stating the thing broadly, a 21st century project manager worth his/her salt does not only master the ins and outs of the PMBOK or the Project Management Book of Knowledge. More importantly, he/she would do well to resist the idea of approaching projects by the book.  The challenge is essentially all about dovetailing one’s mastery of the project management processes with the ever changing, ever VUCAing reality that defines the 21st century project setting across all industries around the globe.   Hence, I propose that in place of the image of a dragon boat leader who barks orders at his team members, 21st century project managers would do well to aspire to become the whitewater rafting leader who collaborates with his team mates.  It’s a VUCA world out there, project managers.  Let’s roll!



Back in the day when being top of class was a surefire way to make my parents happy,  there  was a poem that I used to read quietly to fire me up at the start of a brand new day. The poem eventually became a mantra that I could recite aloud. Years later, I would find out that a number of my contemporaries who eventually entered the Philippine Military Academy forced themselves to memorize it to survive their plebe year.  It is this poem that now comes to mind as I reflect on the progress I did not know I made at the 2018 Triman particularly in the swim leg.

You see I only started learning how to do the front crawl (i.e., free style to many) when I was in my late 40s.  My fear of drowning whether in the pool or in the sea, not to mention my obvious lack of flexibility did not help any.  To give you a picture of where I started a year ago, I could not even comfortably cross a 25m pool with 2 strokes. Looking back, I still could not believe I actually managed to complete the 900m swim of my first sprint triathlon in 2017. Sure I was huffing and puffing but finish the race I did.  But wait there’s more.

Disturbed and disappointed with how I fared in the swim leg, I eventually invested continually in swim instruction. And so from Gawin PH, I eventually signed up with Swim Academy followed by Inside Track Athletics, Mediswim and fairly recently, Aqualogic. Each of these swim schools featured accomplished swimmers and triathletes who have paid their dues both as athletes and coaches. Each coach who came my way gave me something of value that definitely contributed immensely to how far I’ve gone a year after.

How far exactly? A year ago I had a hard time swimming a 50m pool without stopping. This year, I could comfortably complete 90%  of the distance when I’m tired and 100% of the same distance when I’m properly warmed up.  More importantly, looking at my numbers in 2017 vs 2018, surprise, surprise, I was actually 20 minutes faster in the Triman swim leg in 2018 vs. 2017.

If that is not progress, I don’t know what is.  So here’s to not quitting as I continue to invest in swim instruction and coaching.

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will

When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill

When the funds are low and the debts are high

And you want to smile, but you have to sigh

When care is pressing you down a bit –

Rest if you must, but don’t you quit

Life is queer with its twists and turns,

As every one of us sometimes learns,

And many a fellow turns about

When he might have won had he stuck it out

Don’t give up though the pace seems slow

You may succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer than

It seems to a faint and faltering man

Often the struggler has given up 

When he might have captured the victor’s cup;

And he learned too late when the night came down

How close he was to the golden crown

Success is failure turned inside out –

The silver tint in the clouds of doubt,

And you never can tell how close you are,

It might be near when it seems too far

So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit

It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.  

The Circle of Responsibility

“Look closer.”  So goes the tag line of the critically-acclaimed  film “Smaller and Smaller Circles.” Its producers could not have chosen a more apt invitation to the Filipino moviegoer.   Based on the award-winning novel written by F.H. Batacan,  SASC, as its growing cult following refer to the movie, is more than a well-crafted Filipino crime thriller about two priests on the trail of a serial killer in Payatas. More importantly, It is a compelling invitation for its viewers to look closer at two levels.

At the first level, SASC urges us to look closer at the continuing battle between hope and despair as it is unfolding in our church and in our government. Hope is what the viewer would glimpse as one watches Fathers Saenz and Lucero rage against the dying of the light perpetrated by Cardinal Meneses and Monsignor Ramirez.  Hope is what would greet the viewer as one observes the clash between what is right  as championed by NBI Director Lastimosa and Deputy Valdez versus what is convenient as epitomized by NBI Director Mapa and Atty. Arcinas.

The passion and resilience of Fathers Saenz and Lucero along with that of  Director Lastimosa and reporter Joanna Bonifacio are reminiscent of the grit and tenacity that must have been displayed by my teacher in philosophy who died a few years ago.  Disturbed no end by the threat posed by a corporation to his community, he waged a protracted albeit non-violent battle against the powers that be. Alas, it proved to be a lonely battle as well. The validation that he thought he could expect  from his colleagues never came. Dismayed by the lack of solidarity and the surfeit of ostracism that he was subjected to,  he  fled the country and eventually  died alone and penniless in the cold streets of New York.

Which brings us to the second level that SASC is exhorting its viewers to take a closer look at.  As we realize, to our horror, that the evil that is at the centre of the battle being waged by Saenz et al. came into being precisely because hope requires solidarity to prevail against despair, the movie challenges its viewers to answer the question: what will you do about it?

Shall you hound Ramirez to the ends of the earth a’la Saenz? Or shall you sweep the dirt under the rug like Cardinal Meneses? Shall you take the long and difficult route to the truth like Director Lastimosa? Or shall you go for the easier  path preferred by Atty. Arcinas? Shall you be as involved as the feisty Joanna Bonifacio?  Or shall you choose to look the other way like the fearful classmate in Emong Ricafrente?

I remember the three classmates I had the privilege of sitting next to in a public seminar somewhere in Makati. All three could have led comfortable lives in Europe where they all hail from.  Yet they chose to throw their lot with the marginalized in our country by providing second chances to reformed juvenile delinquents.  Moved by their dedication for the less privileged, I profusely expressed my appreciation for what they do. After thanking me for my kind words, they then asked me if I was willing to help them in any way. Looking back from the lens of SASC, they might as well have said: now that you know what we do, what will  you do to help us continue what we do?

The fact of the matter is that  not every Father Saenz in our country could rely on a Director Lastimosa or a Joanna Bonifacio. Not every Father Saenz could depend on a Father Lucero. Consider what happened to my late teacher.  Consider for that matter,  what could happen to the mission of my three classmates if the greater majority would choose to imbibe the apathy of an Emong Ricafrente – a kind of apathy that is bred by fear of the attendant consequences of involvement. It is precisely in this regard that “Smaller and Smaller Circles” ultimately and inescapably  brings the Filipino viewer within the circle of responsibility that  Emmanuel Levinas so powerfully describes and echoes from Fyodor Dostoevsky: “I am responsible for all, before all, and I more than all the others.”  


“Based on what I  read in the news, I count myself lucky not being in Manila right now,” my fellow music enthusiast  who is now based in Philadelphia  wrote in closing as I consulted him regarding an upcoming  project. He was, no doubt, referring to our current list of woes – from  the post-Marawi siege to the siege against Rappler, from the continuing EJKs to  our plodding   carmageddons.

I wrote back to assure him that, in the end, given enough impetus, the human spirit can be quite resilient. More so in the case of the Filipino. Like our faith and our humor,  music, time and again,  has proven to be one of our most reliable weapons of choice for coping with crises. It should not be surprising then that it was partly music, I suspect,  that helped integrate a compelling Visayan verb into the Filipino vocabulary. “Padayon” literally means forge ahead or move forward.  Over the years, I have learned to appreciate it by way of the three moments it has occurred  in Pinoy music. These three moments offer themselves as instructive cues that could serve us in good stead during these interesting times.

In Joey Ayala’s “Padayon,” this curious Visayan word is used in the context of construction workers building mansions they will never live in and minimum wage labourers carrying back-breaking sacks of “dinorado” their families will never eat. While it does intersperse its sad narrative with the Pinoy’s knack for humour  even in desperate times, one comes away with an understanding of “padayon” as an exhortation to struggle so that one may survive – “tuloy and hanapbuhay.” Notwithstanding the linkage of their daily struggles to the bigger narrative  of making the economy work, it  is ultimately heartbreaking to listen to. But it is what it is.  Thus, faced by the endless challenges and problems that face us as a country and as individuals, this understanding of “padayon” suggests that forging ahead is simply something  we cannot afford not to do.

Written and composed to accompany the film “Kid Kulafu,”  Ebe Dancel’s “Padayon” celebrates this compelling Visayan word in terms of fighting for one’s dreams and aspirations. Failures and defeats are regarded as springboards to one’s success. “Bago magtagumpay, kailangan munang sumablay” (i.e., one needs to fail in order to succeed.”)  In this sense, it reinforces the Filipino equivalent of Stephen Covey’s Law of the Harvest:  “pag may tyaga, may nilaga” ( i.e., “if you persist enough, you will be rewarded.”)  One moves forward then not only to survive  but because one aspires to thrive. “Padayon” here transcends  Maslow’s physiological and security needs and enters the level of self-esteem and perhaps even self-actualization. Hence, the endless challenges and problems that face us as a country and as individuals are mere stepping  stones rather than stumbling blocks to our dreams and aspirations.  One forges ahead because of something bigger than one’s problems and challenges.

Like an aerial drone that provides a big picture, “padayon” as it is used in the Sandwich song “Betamax”  flows from a soaring retrospective of the glory days of Pinoy pop  – from the Juan Dela Cruz Band to the The Dawn, from Rico J. to Gary V.  “Ipagpatuloy ang daloy ng alon, padayon” (i.e., “sustain the flow of the current, move forward.”) This third moment of “padayon”in Pinoy music  celebrates the value of moving  forward as one takes stock of how far we have come.  Just as it encourages every Pinoy musician and listener to move forward in the light of what the leading lights of Pinoy music have hitherto brought us, “padayon” as it is used here encourages us to continue our struggle as a nation in the light of the great things our forefathers have bequeathed to us.  “Padayon” becomes a clarion call for each and every Filipino to forge ahead by drawing strength from our glorious past as a country. Viewed from this perspective, our endless woes and struggles inevitably become less daunting whether one is based in Philadelphia or in Manila.

Padayon, Pilipinas!

Blessings Come in Threes

My cup overfloweth.

Just when I started to think that it would probably be a long and winding road to my next publication, once again God chose to smile at me by way of my third publication for the year. This is my eight one in the same newspaper publication since 2013.

Now I can truly relate. Blessings do come in threes.

This article came to me as a result of my continuing struggle to keep my sanity in the face of Metro Manila’s terrible traffic. It is so terrible that newspapers have coined an apt name for it: carmageddon.

I am thankful for kick starting my journey towards mindfulness towards the end of 2017. Mindfulness lends itself very easily to reinforcing the productive and positive attitudes that my Christian faith advocates in the face of adversity.