TABULA RASA

Today’s young Filipinos may be abreast with technology and in step with the 24/7 cycle of social media posts. But many of them are alone, or feel alone, as the rest of the competitive world races by.

Resurgent contributor Apo ni Emma*, 28, has a degree in Literature, is a Junior Chamber International Davaoeña DabaDaba member, and a member of the Himig Singers. Over the last ten years, she has also been into boudoir photography (“…thought it would give me some satisfaction, but…”), in between traveling extensively and caring for her four-year-old dog.

A natural extrovert who, by her own account, easily befriends anyone from tricycle drivers to congressmen, Apo ni Emma has been referred to as Miss Congeniality by friends and family. 

Yet such a charmed life hasn’t shielded her from the onslaught of questions about meaning, identity, contentment, and self-worth.  In this stream-of-consciousness narrative, the author tries to unburden herself from her angst. And we empathise with her tribulations, even as we resonate, if gingerly, with the wisdom of her calls for wiping the slate clean, of leading simpler lives.

 

There comes a point in my life when I want to detach from the world, succumb to my inner senses, and heal my wounds.

Whenever we are bombarded with stress, and we do not know what to do or how to handle it, eventually we are eaten by the system of this world of discontentment, dejection and anxiety.

As one who grew up in a chaotic environment, I was once a victim of a life of hate, violence and insecurity.

I thought I had already lived out the life of discontentment since I know I am non-materialistic. But this is not about the things that I had wanted to possess, or the job position I coveted, or the grades I wanted to achieve, or being in the community I wanted to impress. Instead, this is about the dire need for love, care, and attention.  

People easily get frustrated over the things they do not get. And that’s when one becomes greedy and selfish. 

I woke up one day and heard of the consecutive demise of the American fashion designer and businesswoman Kate Spade, and three days later the most influential chef Anthony Bourdain. These two were successful people, achieving a lot of compliments for their crafts. How could they leave the world, totally shut down and leave their wonderful lives? Perhaps they have gotten all the material things they needed, traveled the world, yet still haven’t found inner peace. They gave up. They gave up on life.  

Discontentment is the root of all pains: emotionally, physically, materially and spiritually. Human beings are discontented by nature. When we love, we give our all, we give our fullest to our significant other. But when we do not receive the kind of love we give, we become frustrated. We always hope for reciprocation. When we are rich, we think we can have everything we want. We buy luxury cars, designer bags, expensive watches, and jewelry, invest in businesses, travel around the world. But we still want more. A man cheats on his wife by having a paramour. A wife splurges to cover for her discontentment over her wretched life. We think being rich gives us everything we need, until we realize that inner joy and peace is what we basically need— a simple life where our hearts are contented in pure joy and deliverance.      

One day, after my daily morning routine of praying, I was lying in bed, trying to think of the things that have been happening to me, good and bad, counting my blessings and at the same time mourning the past. I came to realize that I needed to trim down the things that I wanted in life. No one gets a good life when one is discontented, especially in this modern world of internet and technology.

I had to get up from the bed, check on Chewy, my Pomeranian, and feed him before he gets his Flagyl (metronidazole for his amoebiasis) at 7:00 o’clock AM sharp. While playing with Chewy the whole morning, I suddenly became silent, staring at him blankly. And then came the introspection: my 4-year old dog is dependent on me because that’s the only time he feels love, care and attention from his Master. I give him the simple things in his life like food, sending him to a grooming salon, playing with him, and giving him vitamins and my full attention.

We are humans with a lot of “unnecessary” needs in life. Going back to the basics helps us reach joy and contentment. I then go back to the basics by thinking: what do I essentially need minus the material things?

When babies are born, their only need in life is breastmilk, Mom’s love, care and attention. We were brought up like that. We grow up believing it. Our minds used to be like an empty shell. Our souls were empty, our inner selves immaculate until the pressures of these hypnotic societal standards made us conform to the norms. To return to the cycle of our existence, we ought to appreciate the things that surround us. This means going back to being in touch with our Creator, waking up early in the morning to appreciate the beauty of nature, to feel the fresh air, to read His scriptures. Forgiveness and acceptance help us heal all wounds. How can we go back to the basics of life if we do not practice these teachings? I once thought that money, wit, position and having great connections could better one’s life. Those are the easiest things we could attain from this world of competition.  Yes, it could be at some point. 

But how about our inner peace? Our inner peace balances our mutual connection with nature and every other human being. We get to know ourselves better as we understand and manage our emotions with the otherwise unforeseen things that come our way. Studying ourselves is not like an exam or quiz we have to take and pass. It’s more of: how well can we manage the expectations of the norms, live with them, and prove them our value by setting standards to ourselves? We have to go back living them by unraveling the truths we know in order to evade the pressures of this toxic society.

We must value the people who love us, and even those who do not give the reciprocity. Give out the goodness to others and live a life with no regrets. There’s no better life one can have if we do not cultivate kindness in our hearts. 

My former boss and friend once told me never to burn bridges with people I am in conflict with, because our life is just a simple arena and we will always have another chance to see the person again who has once burdened our hearts. Forgiveness has been the key to live a meaningful life. It balances life’s pressures, especially in this world where pride and humility never meet halfway.

The happiest person I know is the one who does not forget to live the basics of life, one that de-clutters unnecessary baggages.  A simple life is what we all need. Not a lavish one to impress the people we do not even want to be part of.

Now is the best time to introspect. Where were you three years ago when you let evil, jealousy, and bitterness rule your heart? Or better yet, where were you when you knew what to do but still chose to live a miserable life because you thought that that’s what you needed? The basics beckon. Return to them.

*A pseudonym, upon the author's request