Monday, September 27, 2010

The Prodigal Mother

We said goodbye to Flori this week. After more than 15 yrs in the U.S., she decided to return Home.

Flori was a mail-order bride. She is not embarrassed to acknowledge this. She said she did it for the same reasons as other women: to find a better life or to get away from the life they had. When her first marriage failed; she remarried Mr. T. She had hoped that this one would last. There was just one hitch. Flori had an adopted daughter in the Philippines and she wanted her husband to adopt her daughter and bring her to the U.S. After more than a decade, Flori got tired of waiting for him to act on his promise. In the meantime, he had become emotionally abusive and Flori eventually divorced him.

In the meantime, the adopted daughter in the Philippines had grown up without her Mom. The grandmother who took care of her is now ailing. Her daughter had graduated as a Nurse and is about to start her own life. Flori had to decide whether to stay in the U.S. or return home. In the U.S. she had a good job at the university and was an active volunteer in the community. She could have been happy here.

And yet she couldn't bear the thought of not having been the mother she could have been. She now wanted to be there for her daughter and her mother.

I am the Prodigal Mother, she told us. I hope it is not too late to return, to make amends, to start a new life. I did what I had to do and I thought it was going to work out. But now more than ever, my daughter needs me. My mother needs me. I am coming home.
Flori's story touches me deeply. Stories of Return do this to me. I think it has something to do with a Yearning and Longing that we all share -- to re-connect, to remember our promises and commitments, to return to our roots, to follow the Call.

It is also the story of the thousands of OFWs, migrant workers, immigrants who involuntarily leave the Philippines for supposedly greener pastures. The women leave their children behind to be raised by other family members. Long-distance parenting. Surrogate Parenting. Parenting via balikbayan goods sent home.

It is the story of women who put their names and photos in mail-order bride catalogs and websites. Looking for Mr. Right or Mr. White. Looking for the American dream. Looking for love. Looking for amelioration. Looking for hope. Looking for happiness.

Flori wanted me to share her story because she wants to share the lessons she has learned from the consequences of her earlier choices. In her farewell talk to her friends, she admonished everyone to learn how to love, how to care for one another, how to stay married, how to serve God and each other. She reminded her friends to be faithful and committed to the pursuit of God.

Even those who are not religious or Catholic (like me) resonate with this. But perhaps only because Flori has touched all of our lives in small and big ways.
When Flori first heard that we are organizing the Babaylan conference she didn't know what a Babaylan is. But when we started talking about what a Babaylan does, she started to remember that her mother is a healer and at times has taught her how to do hilot. When I learned about all the things she does in the community after her 9 to 5 job -- doing elder care, home care, assisting friends in need, doing bookkeeping, house cleaning, babysitting -- all in the name of serving her community, I knew that she also had the healing gift. She, too, is touched by the spirit of the Babaylan.

Welcome Home, Flori.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Books on indigenous research methods

thanks to Letty for this link.
and by the way, dear one, i dreamt last night that we were dancing.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Community Dreaming

A version of this was published in the Asian Journal.
I am sharing it here to invite participation to community dreaming.
For the sake of the children. For the sake of the future.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The U.S. is #11...and the reason is

Thomas Friedman's column concludes:

In a flat world where everyone has access to everything, values matter more than ever. Right now the Hindus and Confucians have more Protestant ethics than we do, and as long as that is the case we’ll be No. 11.

Ah, dear Mr. Friedman -- I think the U.S. is undergoing a revolution of values that are more akin with the values of Hindus and Confucians. So you are right, the Hindus and Confucians are learning about Protestant ethics...and Americans are learning the values of the "Other" (or at least what used to be their values before they learned Protestant ethics)...and isn't that the yin-yang of things that keep things in balance? So why beat a dying horse? What you call the "greatest generation" may have produced its own unintended consequences. It created affluence that lulled and numbed affluent Americans to the idea of responsibility and sacrifice. The "success" of corporate capitalism has  reduced us to being mere consumers of brand names and cheap imports. Like the slogan of one superstore: why pay more?

Friedman's article cites sources that blame either school reform or the lack of motivation of students. But instead of asking why reform is failing or why students are lacking in motivation, he insists on reverting back to the "values of the greatest generation." But what if this generation doesn't want those values and want something else? Many students today know about Gaia theory, about ecological limits, about interdependent and interconnected survival on the planet. They do not want to be no. 1; in fact, they don't like hierarchies of any kind. They hear about the stories of genocides and holocausts committed by their ancestors and they are horrified that this was done in the name of being no. 1. No, they tell me; it's not about being no. 1, it's not about "us" versus "them", it's about "all of us".

Another World is Possible. Another America is Necessary.

Let's teach the U.S. the values of Kapwa and Kagandahang Loob and Pakikiramdam.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Festival, A Jazz Concert, A Birthday Bash

She asked me to stand in for the brown race and then asked for other volunteers to stand in for the black, yellow, red, and white races. Then the crowd followed her instructions: Pair up with someone. What is your word for Love? Say it to each other. Beauty. Universal. Family. Peace. Justice. Compassion....Touch each other's heart. Listen. Breathe. Now all the people who said the same word for Love, get together. Now all those without partners, insert yourself into the pairs. Now form a circle. Walk around....

Thus we entered the sacred space of Ritual led by Reyna Yolanda, a primary babaylan from the Philippines, at the 19th Festival of Philippine Arts and Culture in Los Angeles. Amidst the magnificent and ancient trees of Fermin Park, the cooling breeze of the Pacific Ocean, and the early crowd that gathered around for the opening ritual, we entered mythic Time. We made our offerings to the ancestors and to Mother Earth and asked for blessings on the festival. I cannot find the language for describing this feeling of being fully present to the Sacred -- so palpable from the soles of my feet to the crown of my head, I was tingling...and the energy would carry me all day and into the long night.
This is the day of my 58th. When I decided to be at FPAC for my birthday, a part of me felt ambivalent but I also could not Not be here to support the first CFBS Babaylan Pavillion at FPAC. It was the best decision ever.

The weekend began with my host, Prosy, taking me to Baldwin Park summit as soon as she picked me up from the airport. She wanted me to see the sunset at the summit with a 360 view of the city. There was also a 220-step climb from the base to the summit. What a coincidence, I told Prosy, that this was scene is similar to the dream I had the night before of being on top of a plateau and a vertical ladder on the rim going down to earth.

Prosy also had a piece of quiche from La Maison du Pain for my snack - oh so thoughtful! Then she and Enrique took me to their favorite Serbian restaurant for a pre-birthday celebration - Serbian food is a first for me! The delicious entrees were topped by desserts from La Maison that Prosy brought with her. I know now why she has been raving about this Kapampangan-owned French Bakery in LA. Thank you, Prosy and Enrique!

Naturally the next morning she took me to La Maison  again where I bought more goodies to share with our CfBS crew. We got to Fermin Park early to set up and decorate the Babaylan Pavillion tent. Mila greeted me with a basket of purple hydrangea when she came to pick me in the morning. Mila, whose effervescence is infectious, has been the backbone of the LA CFBS crew together with Vedel, Virgil, the Herbitos, Gina, Lilibeth, Mandala, Letecia, Mang Faustino, Mang Rudy. Those of us from the Bay Area - Lizae, Titania, Jennifer, Marisza, Trixie, Mark, Rocco, Lengleng - were also present. Our joyful reunion and our colorful ethnic malongs, the drummin and jammin at the Babaylan Pavillion attracted festival goers to the pavillion. At first people walked by with curiosity but by early in the afternoon people were lining up to Virgil and Mang Faustino for healing. The rest of us practiced on our Kapwa jammin with Cordillera gongs.  Prosy said our Pavillion was the most vibrant in energy and colors!

Happy Birthday songs were sung several times during the day and by late afternoon Leng brought me a bibingka cake with a candle on it! Bliss!! Mila and Mang Rudy serenaded the crowd with folksongs while the others were answering questions about the Babaylan and what, who, how, why....It was heartening to listen to young folks talk about their desire to consciously connect with their tacit experience of the Babaylan spirit. Listening and receiving their intentions always confirm the reasons why we do this work. 

There were a lot of folks taking pictures of our pavillion. They thought we were "performers" because we were in our colorful malongs. Some people walking by cast long glances unsure of what it is they were seeing. Others stopped to ask questions, sign the guestbook, and others couldn't resist and joined in the Kapwa jam circle. The colorful banigs from Samar were laid out on the grass and Virgil and Mang Faustino laid their healing hands on those who wanted to have a taste of the Ablon healing practice.

Reyna Yolanda's quiet presence supported our rambunctious energy. It reminded me of what Kidlat Tahimik said about what it feels like to be in the presence of a primary babaylan. He said "in ritual you can almost touch and feel what it must have been like for our ancestors to commune with Nature, to understand Nature'a language and to commune with the spirits in Nature."

I wasn't able to return to FPAC on Sunday but there were even more folks who came to the Pavillion. Lane and Virgil and Lizae did their respective presentations to a large crowd. According to Venus who described it to me: there were competing loud music coming from two stages at FPAC, but in our Babaylan corner, there was stillness as people listened to Virgil's flute and watched Lizae's dance; people were transfixed.

Prosy also described this to another friend: 
The Babaylan women and men were presenting amidst the competing noises and chaotic sounds of the generations stage and the main stage. The noise has become the dominating sounds of FPAC. But, even with that dominance, and amplified by volume of microphones, the Babaylan women and men managed to share, read, chant, do kulintang dances, heal with intent and focus, light incense, all the while while the noise had amplified, the booth had attracted growing numbers of folks who lingered, stayed, watched, observed, participated and asked questions. Even the babaylan rituals and offerings to the ocean, sky and earth. They concluded, that we take the world as it is, no alterations, and still manage to change our interior selves. It was a profound discovery, a transformation of thinking from reflecting on what they did, on spontaneous self expressions and a space where each person was free to occupy. In doing so, none of them negated each other. They created an outcome they did not consciously prepare for, except that their hearts and spirits were clean, clear and open to receive and give! It was amazing to see. And folks were wondering why the crowds kept growing. There really can be peace and harmony from community gathering from correct foundations and folks articulating new ways of communion.
On Saturday night, Jennifer, Lizae, Titania and Rocco, Gina, Prosy and her friends joined us at Ford Theater for Jazzmopolitan. What a beautiful evening! Later, I will post Prosy's review of the concert. For this blog, I want to thank Mon David for his special rendition of O, Rosing, A Kapampangan song, as a birthday greeting.  What folks may not know about Mon is that he is one of the cultural pioneers who revived Kapampangan culture before he left for the U.S. Mon has a big heart for Pampanga and the Philippines and it shows in his jazz repertoire. In this way, it can be said that he, too, is inspired by the spirit of the Babaylan.
For isn't that what the Babaylan inspires in all of us? A love for the Land. Homeland. Bayan. Kapwa. It shows up in Filipino jazz, too.

Mon has a special place in my heart. I sang a bit with him in high school glee club and then later he sang many duets with my younger sister, Rox. I will never forget when he visited my dying mother at the hospital and sang for her, Ima, and again at my mom's memorial service. Like an older sis, I watched him "grow up" as a musical artist and now seeing him at the top of his game just makes this heart swell...and even gloat a little. I hope his pagkaPilipino will always be foregrounded no matter the audience he is singing for.

So there it is -- a Festival, A Jazz Concert, A Birthday Bash....and a plentiful dash of Facebook greets and texts -- what more can an old gal ask? I feel very blessed. Salamat.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

For Ima, with gratitude

Happy Birthday, Eileen! Happy Birthday to us!

One of the pleasures of knowing Eileen is how I've come to appreciate her 81yr old Mom, Betty. Manang Betty has just completed her memoir and it will soon be published. Eileen has chronicled her Mom's return to a first love - writing. With Eileen as editor, it is also a conversation between mother and daughter.

I am vicariously enjoying Manang Betty's blossoming as a writer at 81 because my mother was also a writer. But I didn't recognize this early enough and when I finally did, she was old and tired and her memory not so good. For years I sent her blank journals and I asked her to write and fill the pages with everything and anything she wanted to. When she died, I took the journals and transcribed the pages and created a book and gave them to my family. While the gesture of doing this was to memorialize our mother, some of the things she wrote about created a little bit of squabbling between siblings who wanted to set my mother's memories right.  Of course, we later on realized that what matters more is that we now know some of the secrets she kept to herself - some painful, some sad - and how should we heal this grief in her and in us. The happy and funny parts were easy to recall and we constantly remind each other of our mother's quick wit and dry humor.

What if I had known sooner that my mother had this gift of writing? Oh so many questions...
Today I remember my mother with gratitude. She may not have published book, but she has authored my life and 5 other siblings. She wrote me.

Tomorrow as I sign books at the Festival in Los Angeles, I will be signing my mother's name: Esperanza.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Interview with Malidoma Some

When I read Of Water and Spirit by Malidoma Some more than a decade ago, something in me was awakened -- a familiarity, a kinship -- and i've been on that road ever since. I wanted to reclaim my indigenous self. Thanks to Malidoma for this interview reprint.

Holding Our Power :
(Part I)

An Interview with

Malidoma Patrice Somé

Excerpt from SUN Magazine, August 1994
 D. Patrick Miller

Miller:  In your first book, Ritual:  Power, Healing, and Community, you tell the story of taking one of your elders to the city of Ouagadougou.  When the elder saw a tall building for the first time, he pointed to it and said, "Whoever did that has serious problems."  What did he mean?

Malidoma:  In the tall building, the old man saw power being dangerously displayed.  To him that meant the power on display was going to die; that's why he said that the builder had problems.  Every time you show something mighty in public that way, it means your power is in it's death throes, that you are having problems keeping the power alive within yourself.  Power comes out this way only when you are on the losing side in some kind of struggle.

Miller:  That's a complete reversal of the Western view in which we see our tall buildings as proof of progress.

Malidoma:  The first time I went to Paris -- my God, I was so impressed!  There were tall buildings everywhere.  I didn't understand my own fascination -- and my intimidation -- until I took that elder to Ouagadougou.  Instead of reacting as I had in Paris, he looked and saw, not the building, but the person behind the building; he saw a person who needed help.

     The indigenous world is not interested in the show of power.  It is interested in respecting the source of the power.  This respect is kept alive by camouflage; the power is protected by hiding it.  An elder who has the power to create a light hole -- a gateway you can jump through into another galaxy -- is not interested in using that power to impress people.  He would not use that power to show off.

     This has baffled people to whom I've tried to explain natural power.  They've asked, "If the indigenous world is that powerful, why does it let itself be destroyed by the West?"  They've got a point.  Knowing what I do about the West, if I were at the elders' level of power I would be tempted to use that power to handcuff the West -- put the West in jail for a while so the natural world could heal itself from all this so-called progress.  But now I've begun to understand that when you are in touch with this kind of power, you do not react against things.  You don't try to stop destruction head-on.

Miller:  Is that because using the power to handcuff the West would require showing the power, and therefore dishonoring it?

Malidoma:  Yes, you could not deploy the power without showing some of it, and as soon as it is brought out into the open, the power is unusable.  You cannot do what you expected to with it.

Miller:  In our culture we are always answering force with force.  We can't see our way out of this cycle of violence, in wars around the globe or conflicts within our own country.  How can we learn to hold our power inside ourselves, rather than feel the need to show it at every opportunity?

Malidoma:  That's a very big challenge when, culturally, your first instinct is to take your power outward, where you immediately diminish it by display.  The answer is to become a servant of your power.  Your inner power must be danced with until it yields its own way of being shared with other people.

Miller:  What do you mean by "danced with"?

Malidoma:  I mean entering into a respectful dialogue with power.  Let's say you realize that you can travel out of your body.  You shouldn't immediately go and tell other people about it or start a workshop in soul travel.  That is disrespectful to the unique experience you have having.  Your first reaction shouldn't be to begin a marketing process.

     Instead, maintain a certain secrecy around your new ability and have a learning dialogue with it for a while.  If you discuss your power too soon with people who do not understand it, they may get just some fragment of it that enters them like a bullet; then their whole life may start to come apart.  There will be a kind of hole in them.  They will feel incomplete unless they think they can get this power, and that power, and that new experience over there.

Miller:  In the sixties many people used drugs in an attempt to have a certain kind of experience or to "see God."  But there was an acquisitiveness to it.  There was little sense of coming to comprehend and accept one's unique role in the human community, and understanding that you have identified as the purpose of ritual and transcendental experience.  Now young people take part in "raves" in which they sing and dance all night.  Here, too, there seems to be no particular purpose except acquiring the experience or "having fun."

Malidoma:  When you are brought up in consumerism, even your spiritual experience is seen in those terms.  When Westerners see that someone else has had a spiritual experience, it is like they are seeing a commercial.  They think, "Hey, I've got to get this.  Otherwise I'm incomplete."  Kids have raves because they have heard raves are fun, and they want to have fun too.

     Actually there is some similarity between having fun and genuine spiritual experience.  In ritual the fun isn't physical but psychical.  It's the soul having fun, as opposed to the body.  The two intersect, but that intersection is very hazy for many of us.  I see people as possibly having a spiritual experience at raves, but without their conscious selves' knowing what is going on.  This is why the elders' presence is so important to genuine ritual.  They bring conscious spiritual know-how to such an experience.

     The idea that anything spiritual must be solemn and serious is a big problem in the West.  Your religions are full of genuflection, kneeling, and bowing to hierarchical powers.  It takes the fun out of it!  Western religion seems allergic to fun.  So it's very hard to wake people here up to a liberated spirituality -- a spirituality that allows the soul some relaxation and good feeling.

     In the village people like to stay in ritual space, singing and dancing all night, because it's fun.  The spirit within us is like a child.  When the child has its proper toys, it can play.

Miller:  What are the proper toys for the spirit?

Malidoma:  The proper toys are the natural world, the community, a sense of connectedness, a sense of purpose, and a craving to be with invisible friends.

     You have to play in a natural place, away from the downtown and the freeway.  Your toys have to be the stones and rocks, and the creek running with pure water, and the trees.  You have to be in a space that hasn't been rearranged by civilization.  And you have to stay long enough to get over being homesick for the town.  Then you start seeing beauty in the trees, and the creek starts to lookvery interesting.

     When you narrow your attention down to nature itself, you can break into a totally different world with as many compelling things as there seemed to be in the city.  What starts to happen is what I call "the indigenous person being reborn."  Once you start to see the countless possibilities of nature, you enter the toy store of the spirit.  That's when you can start to have fun.  But the spirit will not have fun in the tall building, where sterility rules and a cold, blunt, steel-like energy surrounds you.

     There is a part of us that always feels incomplete because it wants to reclaim its connection with nature.  When nature is remote from us, we don't remember how we used to be, and we don't remember how to let the spirit have fun.

Miller:  Do your elders believe there is some kind of destiny being fulfilled in the West's path -- that there might be something the whole human race is learning through our unwise show of power?

Malidoma: I haven't heard any elders speak of such a cosmic design.  What they see is the upsetting of a natural relationship.  Modern humanity has broken away from its ancestors, has cut the connection.  In our circular cosmology, you cannot go backward to reconnect; you have to go forward in a great circle before you can reconnect with your ancestors again.

     Imagine two satellites in orbit, traveling together in the same direction.  One of them starts to move faster and breaks away.  The one behind will not speed up, and the one moving ahead cannot back up.  So the one ahead must increase thrust and go completely around before it can rejoin the other one.  Once you have broken with the ancestors, you must circle forward to rejoin them.  And while you are traveling around, you will encounter many disasters because you will be on your own.

     The West is seeking its past by going into the future.  The indigenous cultures don't need to race into the future because they haven't lost contact with their ancestors.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Eavesdropping on the tea party

The other day I was introduced to an elderly man as a Filipina who has written books. The man's response was Oh, like Michelle Malkin.  An uncomfortable pause ensued. Since then I've been mulling how to reach across the aisle and really learn how to talk to folks who are on the opposite of the political spectrum from me. So yesterday I spent a few hours watching youtube videos on the Tea Party folks to listen to what they are saying.

Perhaps this guy simply wants to expose the TP folks as naive and misinformed. I want, however, to try to empathize with their fears and anxieties and understand where it comes from. Even my favorite white anti-racist voice, Tim Wise, disappoints when he reverts to name calling and labeling. I agree with his analysis and his challenge to white folks but sometimes I just feel that name calling and shouting matches don't really accomplish anything.

I suspect that some of my Filipino friends are conservative. I say suspect because we never really talk about national politics in the U.S. I also don't talk politics with the conservative folks in my family. But in our effort to keep the peace by not talking about our differences, do we not also waste the opportunity to dialogue, to find common ground, to develop empathy? Metta - compassion, kindness, generosity.

What is the common ground of conservative and liberal views? If we cannot get beyond the polarizing rhetoric, how can we begin to hear each other? George Lakoff wants us to understand how we think metaphorically as a way to hear what the other side is saying. Do we know what metaphors we are using to frame our positions? Our frames shape our understanding of the world. Yet we rarely make our frames visible, we often simply assume that they are shared.

How then to talk about world views? What is the world view behind the talk about "family values" and "restoring honor to America?" I think it is good to ask each other this question: what is your world view and how and where did you learn it? Perhaps therein lies the moment for dialogue.

Let's begin.

Friday, September 3, 2010

From Vancouver, Chicago

this one from a Fil Am in Vancouver....
Your voice resonates with me very deeply. I've been searching for this window into my ancestral culture. I want to really re-connect with Babaylan energy. I hope to meet you one day and participate in future events.
Being a musician (my specialty is the shakuhachi, Japanese bamboo flute), Religious Studies major in University, and of course Filipino-American, discovering you and the Babaylan is very exciting for me!

and this one from Chicago...
I am quite impressed with CFBS, with the spirit & ferocity & open-ness I saw at April's conference. I am interested in organizing and supporting the work (and spirit!) of the CFBS in some capacity. But how?

I realize it's important to archive these comments. Will post them here as they come in.

and here's Haunani Kay Trask re Hawaii Indigenous Movement. talk about fierce!!