Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Pilgrimage Begins

In 1678, John Bunyan wrote a Christian Allegory whose main character, aptly named Christian, went on a spiritual pilgrimage, traveling from the City of Destruction toward the wonderful Celestial City. Along the way, he meets characters like Faithful, Goodwill, Giant Despair and other such characters reflecting the state of human life. The book was entitled “The Pilgrim's Progress”.

Now I'm not some scholarly dudette who hounds down every piece of classic literature she can get her hands on, or anything like that...far from it. I was actually introduced to Pilgrim's Progress by Louisa May Alcott's book, Little Women, which my parents sent me for my 11th birthday, and which I've read over and over through the years. The characters in Little Women would read Pilgrim's Progress every morning to inspire them to go about their daily life purposefully, as pilgrims on a life journey, themselves. So I figured Pilgrim's progress would be a perfect name for my blog, as I embark on my own life journey as well. Of course, times have changed since 1678, and our lifestyles and many of our beliefs along with it; hence the title of my blog, “The Modern Pilgrim's Progress”.

The first chapter of my pilgrimage starts in Manila, Philippines. It has been a time of rest and reflection for me, which means that I have pretty much been hibernating at my family's ancestral home here in the past month, healing from my recent relationship crisis and dramas – which, I have to admit, were self-inflicted - and thinking about my plans for my new journey.

I've been here for a month and a half so far, and let me tell you, I've had a very difficult time about it, mainly because I miss my ocean and islands and vast, beautiful sky. I don't like concrete, I don't like the noise that vehicles make, I don't like the suffocating polluted air, and I don't like that the physical space around me is so limited because of all the buildings surrounding me wherever I go. At times, I felt so homesick that I would curl up in my bed and cry like a little girl. But although I know I can go back to the ocean anytime, I chose to stay here because I wanted to finish some personal projects that I'd abandoned years back, and which I've decided are more important to me at this moment. I've been tempted many times in the past month to just leave it all behind and go back to my hometown in El Nido, Palawan, where I can be surrounded by my ocean and islands again, but I kind of feel like I would regret not taking this opportunity again of finishing my yoga work, which is basically being offered to me now on a silver platter. And more than anything, I do want a new experience when I go back to my hometown. I want to do something more than the kind of life I've lived there in the past. The past was fun, but it's been experienced. I'm sure I'm not alone when I say I'd rather not watch reruns, when there's every possibility of watching something new. Or in this case, creating something new.

And you know how when things are just right for you, when the shoe fits, it doesn't require much effort? Well, I set out to look for a job, at the same time that I went back to my yoga teacher's training with my instructor – which is the project I abandoned years back – and wouldn't you know brother Joh came home one night and told me that they just lost assistant managers at their yoga center branches and they urgently needed new people. I had to think about it first, because the pay was not as much as I wanted, given that I wanted to save up for my future plans as quickly as possible. But then I thought, well I've been stressing about finding a high-paying job, when here's the work at the yoga center, which is actually more opportunity for me to learn all I can about the practice of yoga! I'm to be an assistant manager at a branch that's close to home, and they mandate their employees to take at least one of the different yoga classes each day, to get acquainted with different yoga styles. Mandatory? I call that yoga knowledge opportunity! And so I'll be starting with that job in a couple of days and am very excited for it...especially the fact that I can even show up to work in my usual pajama-like outfits, which by the way is a big incentive for me. I don't like constraining office attire, and I especially don't like trapping my feet in those tight leather shoes that offices have you wear. It's just not my thing.

I suppose I'll give you a bit of a background as to how I came to the decision to go back to my yoga teacher's training. A few years back, my brother Joh (who is now a yoga instructor) introduced me to the practice. I started doing it on my own because I didn't want to have to attend classes, mainly because it was too much effort to travel to a class each week. But then Ananda Marga, an international yoga center that promotes the practice, came to my village one summer, offering four free sessions at the village recreation center...which was only a few seconds away from my house. Easy. So I went, and there I met Dada Atma, one of the monks who was facilitating the yoga awareness campaign, and who approached me after class, inviting me to train at their center to become a yoga teacher. And so I did. But then I left midway, thinking that teaching wasn't for me, and that I would rather practice yoga on my own.

But ever since I left, Dada Atma has kept in touch with me, still gently urging me to teach yoga. He visited me in Palawan a couple of years after, and asked me to teach yoga there. I don't believe in coincidence. I believe more that when we're called to do something, it will keep calling us until we heed that call. Don't get me wrong, it of course has to be something you actually like doing; otherwise you'd just be doing the world a disservice by being bitter about what you do. And I love the practice of yoga and meditation. I've kept it with me because it's always been my time of peace, reflection, and re-alignment with my daily life. Okay, I'll admit, it's been more of a spontaneous thing for me, rather than a daily or even weekly discipline. But discipline is what it requires, and more than anything, discipline has never been my forte. So even though I loved yoga, I didn't want to teach it because it would require me to completely stop drinking with friends and God forbid, smoking, and become a full vegetarian. I mean, who wants a health teacher who has unhealthy habits herself, right? It would require me to walk my talk, which was a responsibility I wasn't willing to take on then. Anyway, in the past year, I've been thinking about all these situations that seemed to be calling me to take the step. Learn to discipline myself in this aspect. It will be good for me, and it will be good for others who are seeking to learn in this direction, is what my heart was saying. But a lot of times, we don't want to listen to our heart because 1) we don't want to do the leg work required, and 2) we're scared.

I'm honestly a bit scared about whether or not I can really do it, really have that discipline. And I guess that's what this is about now. So far, I've had to resist the temptation of going back to the islands. Trust me, that's a big challenge for me! And now, I'm having to quit my smoking vice and go back to my full vegetarian diet. The diet isn't bad, I love vegetarian food anyway and eat mostly that. The only challenge there is, is in not having meat at all. Then again, I've heard and seen enough pigs in my hometown, crying while their blood and life slowly gets drained away, to say that I no longer want to participate in the meat-eating lifestyle. Yeah, well, vegetarianism is a controversial issue, and there are a lot of different perspectives about it...but based on what I've seen and how I feel about it, I'm making my decision for what makes me happiest, that's all. I'd rather not eat the pig that I was crying over just a few minutes ago, if there are other food options available for me anyway.

As for the smoking...oh, that challenge! I know it's not good for my health and yadda, yadda, but more importantly for me is that I no longer want to promote the selfishness of these large companies who couldn't care less if they were killing people with chemicals, as long as they can make their profit at the end of the day. They only make their profit doing bad things anyway because we allow them to. In other words, it's still our choice on what we allow to persist in this world. And so I'm making my choice to help stop promoting it by ceasing to be a consumer. Obviously, the activist in me is stronger than the disciplinarian in me, so I'll lean more toward that end in order to quit smoking.

Sounds like a plan, doesn't it? All in all, my challenge in discipline does require a certain amount of effort from me. I do tend to be a little too relaxed about things, which makes me inefficient. But it's also true that when the shoe fits, everything comes easily, without our striving for it. Yoga has come to me in more ways than one, and that's a gift of balancing my mind, body, and spirit, as well as helping others achieve the same, who look for it. So this time, I'm not turning my back on it, out of some doubt about my ability to push through. I suppose this merits a little cheer:

“I can do it, yes I can!”

Oh, and one other thing: although I still prefer to be out in the islands, I've also found interesting little things in my daily life in Manila, which quite amuse me.

Take my company at home. My only companions here are my brother Joh who is rarely home from teaching his classes, two housekeepers, and an epileptic uncle. My uncle is physically but never mentally present and spends all his waking hours slumped in an armchair, except during mealtimes when he transfers to the dinner table...and when it's time to go to bed. I have no idea what goes through my uncle's mind all day, everyday, but he seems pretty content just sitting there, doing nothing and talking to no one. Sometimes I catch him smiling while his eyes wander aimlessly around the room, in which case, he must be reliving some nice memory; or else fantasizing about being the late FPJ, the Filipino action star who died just a few years back. My uncle idolizes the actor so much that he keeps a picture of the guy in his wallet. But other than FPJ, he has no memory of the people around him. I always greet him when I pass by, and he greets back to acknowledge that he knows me. But when I asked a few days ago if he knew me, he squinted his eyes as if trying to remember, and then concluded that he had no idea.

Another time, the househelp was panicking that my brother's laptop was missing from its usual place, and we all wondered if my brother had taken it with him, which was unlikely, because he never takes it when he leaves the house. The househelp had been out for the day, and I was upstairs the whole time, so if any thieves had come in (it's not a rare occurrence in Manila if you forgot to lock your gate; or sometimes if the thief has simply found a way to get in), my uncle would be the witness, as he was downstairs the whole time. He said that he thought he saw a girl walk in and take it, and then leave again in a rush. That got our hearts pumping! I asked him to describe the girl, and he said she had long, very curly hair. Well, now, that would be my brother, who had long, very curly hair, and that my uncle mistook for a girl. Sigh. And yep, that was my brother who came in and left in a rush with his laptop.

I also have an additional companion at home. I spend whole days in the balcony, writing, while having coffee in the company of a black-and-white cat I've come to befriend. I don't know where the cat actually lives. I know it doesn't have an owner, but it spends its lazy afternoons with me. At first, it kept taking my nice, cushioned seat (the royalty that cats are) and I had to constantly shoo it away. So now it has demoted itself to the plastic chair across the table from me, upon realizing that I was the queen of the balcony. We each quietly do our own thing, but I enjoy her company. I tried giving her some bread once, and then some fried banana another time. She ignored the bread, but had a taste of the banana. I don't think she liked the banana much either because she ignored it too, after that tiny bite. Royalty..they're so hard to please. I'm supposing it must be from their ancestry in Ancient Egypt, when they literally were treated as royalty, and even more than that, as great spiritual guardians...which I suspect is also the reason my cat friend prefers my cushioned seat over the other chairs around. It's just what she's used to.

Other than my company at home, life outside also has its interesting stuff. The other day, I was commuting like crazy to get to my destinations instead of taking cabs, so I can save my cash, and it felt exciting to just go all over the city without knowing my next route, just like when I was a kid going out into the big, wide world on her own for the first time. In every place I got dropped off by public transportation, I had to ask for directions on what to ride next. So it was a nice little adventure of not knowing exactly how I would get places.

And along the way, while I walked, and stood in line, and rode vehicles, I had the pleasure of watching everyone around me. People looking sad, happy, angry, impatient, bored, sleepy, energized in gossiping about so-and-so and this-and-that about their life, kids dancing and singing in the streets...and it felt good to be a part of human life, in all its colorful variety. And I even got to stop every now and then to have some good old dirt-cheap Filipino street food along the way, which I've missed terribly in the past few years. The long lines of street food were most definitely a feast for my eyes...and my belly, after that.

So really, it's not all that bad while I have to be here in Manila. Life always shows interesting things anyway, wherever I go, is what I've found. I'm just grateful to be a part of it all, and to be sharing the adventure of life...the grand adventure of a lifetime...with everyone.

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