A Farewell to My Favorite Spot

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Hey, Bench.

I used to see you everyday and look forward to being with you. I can’t even begin to remember how many times I laughed and cried in your presence. And how many times I was just glad to be there and not anywhere else.

It would always piss me off to find you occupied. I guess I was just so naive and possesive that I couldn’t see that I’m not the only one capable of appreciating your perfection. I seem to be deluded in thinking that you were made for me and myself alone. Deluded, because I thought I had somehow earned something like you just by being.

I’m writing to you because now you’re going through changes that might alter whatever we have forever. Being caught in the middle of these changes, I feel afraid of not being able to recognize you anymore, of not being able to call you mine anymore, or worst of all, losing you altogether. I admit that it’s my fault for being so attached. And for crazily thinking that what we had was too big to fail.

But now I know. God, do I know now. That perfection can’t be earned. That beauty can’t be, by repeated expression of ownership, owned. And we fool ourselves – I have fooled myself – in thinking that I somehow deserve you. That I own you. That I could always just leave and find you there waiting for me. That the ground upon which you stood will never crumble.

I know now that beauty is only beautiful because it is apart from us. That is why we always long and always yearn for it. And it is when we cease to long and yearn and fight for it that we lose sight of it, even as we hold it in our hands or sit upon it.

I regret never having to properly express how beautiful you are. I was so focused on expressing how happy I was with you; how you made me feel, rather than what I see in you. I wish I did. Maybe then I wouldn’t find you being taken away from me.

But now, all there is to say is goodbye. And I hope whatever change happens to you, it won’t remove whatever it was that made you beautiful from the beginning.

I will always have our memories tucked inside the confides of my heart. And these words. And this picture. And while it fails to capture the immensity of your value and your beauty and your heart, it shall at least remind me that nothing ever will. It will also remind me how lucky I was to have found you.

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Forgiveness

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We sometimes harbor feelings toward other people as they refuse to extend us their forgiveness, as if we were entitled to it or as if those people are duty-bound to extend it to us.

I think this is a failure on our part as we lack understanding of the nature of mercy and justice. Forgiveness is unlike punishment or reward which are earned or deserved. It is an act of mercy, borne wholly out of the giver’s desire to forgive.

Such makes forgiveness truly ‘divine’, in the sense that its possible giver is put upon a place of utter power and control over the person who seeks it. When we seek forgiveness, we subject ourselves literally under the mercy of the person we want it from.

That is why it is a contradicting notion to feel embittered whenever we are refused forgiveness. We are not entitled to it. We are beggars whenever we need it.

On the other hand, this makes true forgiveness a difficult feat. It is hard to give up the position of power we acquire whenever are wronged. It is hard to look beyond the pain and the hurt we suffered and let the wrongdoer get away with it.

To forgive is difficult because it to do it is to deny ourselves justice. Therefore, while it takes humility to ask for forgiveness, it also takes humility to give it, for it takes humility to deny ourselves of what we properly deserve.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Loving As We Are

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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is, without any hesitation, my favorite film. For us to watch it in class and make a review of it is more a blessing than a task. I have been putting off reviewing it for a long time.

The most beautiful thing about it is the fact that its beauty is multi-faceted, almost inexhaustible. There are just so many layers to it and therefore, so many things to be learned from it. It is a hopeful, tragic love story. It is an inquiry to the human mind. It is a letter to science. It is an insight to the human experience.

At the surface, it shows the seemingly overused theme of how love prevails. It prevails over time, circumstances and personal burdens. It prevails over adversary: internal and external. It is a classic trope. In fact, don’t all good movies show that? It perhaps does not give justice to the film to reduce it to a story about how “love prevails.” But if we gain a deeper understanding of what love is and how it prevails, it may be just the review that it needs.

First, however, we digress by looking at it from the Cartesian dualist paradigm (which is the assignment at hand). Looking deeper into the film, we can see an element of Cartesian dualism with regards to how we exist and function as human beings. Descartes believed that there is a divide between the body and the soul, that while we are indeed both soul and body, the body is something external rather than internal. It may be seen in how it degrades as the mind improves through time. It may also be deduced from how some physical urges are beyond our human will, an aspect of humanity which may be more attributed to the mind than the body.

Joel and Clementine, as well as other participants in the Lacuna process, are embodiments of this theme. We spend the entirety of the film inside projection of Joel’s thought processes which he cannot entirely control but merely observe. It is as if Joel’s brain, apart from his mind which responds to the process with emotions of regret, happiness and anger, is a whole different world: a world which, much like ours controlled and manipulated by machinery.

The film, beyond its insights on love and romance, gives us an impression of how we, or at least those who are ardent believers of scientism, view technology and science: they are tools for subjugating nature. And the brain and its thought processes, being part of nature and subject to its rule, can be dominated as well through these means. Through technology, we can manipulate our thoughts, rid ourselves of bad memories and leave rays of eternal sunshine, rendering our minds spotless slates of good and tolerable thoughts.

However, inside the film is also a crtique of this belief. As Dr. Howard Mierzwiak in the film described, the process is “technically brain damage.” Within the film we see the recognition that while technology has endowed us the ability to dominate nature, what we do is in fact perverting it technically. As we manipulate trees by first cutting them down, or cook animals by first killing them, it is by damaging our humanity that we gain control over it.

This is what makes the character of Mary important: she was the one who realized that there is much cost in tampering with the brain and the memories it houses. By giving back the mementos to the patients, she hoped to restore the sanity which precluded pain and bad memories to people like her. In the case of Joel and Clementine, it provided for a chance for them to confront the reality of change and accept each other’s flaws: a epiphany which could not have been possible in a world where we can rid ourselves of memories we don’t fancy.

The movie provides a clear view of how knowledge is presumed to be acquired in a world of science: memories and emotions are triggered internally by association to external objects (another manifestation of the Cartesian dualism) and once those links have been removed, the memories and emotions die away. There is an element of positivism: it is by removing the conscious observer from the observed as far away as possible that the observed, becoming obscure beyond comprehension, becomes irrelevant.

Yet in the end it provides a critique to the paradigm: the thought process, which still exists inside a real independent world, cannot be manipulated independent from the external world. If the universe operates in a way which cares not for the pain we feel, if it moves us forward regardless of our emotions, it will have its way whether we quit halfway through. Joel and Clementine will still end up together, no matter if they find escape in brain damage. It is simple and romantic, and yet tragic and complex: how souls are structurally ordained (in this case, by the story) to be together regardless of how much pain they have caused to each other. And while they may be weeping in the night, there can be joy in the morning.

This may relate to how we perceive life: we are not its center. We, like other things, are moved by it. And to “move” life into a road which better suits our fancy is futile. Science which yearns to manipulate is futile; we are cogs in a machine, granted with a consciousness which enables us to perceive the beauty of the gears moving together in a cosmic harmony.

And when we describe love as just that: a beautiful cosmic force which binds us and moves us in a certain way, we are bound to conclude that love, in fact, always prevails. And “to love” simply means to move as we are made, in relation with others and the world, all the way back to the force which set the gears on course. To believe this enables us to look to the future more hopefully, to the past more respectfully and to the present more realistically: without pretension or the desire to survive or dominate. Scientism, which denies us that by believing that we can move the world in a different direction, determined by us alone, is a lie which distracts us from being in awe of how the world truly works; of how in the end, we progress by merely being true to ourselves: our flaws and shortcomings as well as our perfections and potentials.

Her: Parable of A Disembodied Soul

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My girlfriend makes me do a lot of stuff. Among them is watching movies which slip through my very limited attention span. I trust her with my time though, and so far, her taste has not failed me yet.

I have recently watched the movie Her, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson. I have found it to be both emotionally-touching and intellectually-arousing. The movie is about a man who lived in a time when technology has advanced to a point where our electronic devices are ran by operating systems (OS) which are self-aware, or have their own personal identities and consciousness. This man eventually falls in love with his OS. That, of course, raises a lot of questions. And I think that’s what makes the movie so good. The movie Her got me thinking about a lot of things: what constitutes humanity, what constitutes committed relationships, what happiness truly is about and how valuable are sincere gestures of affection, especially in a time when the boundaries of the virtual and the ‘real’ become blurred. I don’t intend to deconstruct the movie to find the answers to the questions. Even if the answers were or weren’t there, I think the movie has done its part in making us think about it. Watch the movie. I recommend it.

Anyway, a theme that stands out for me in the movie is the phenomenon of people growing apart. This, I think, is a sad and inevitable truth. The fact that we are separate individuals experiencing different things from different points of view leads us to grow more into different individuals in the passage of time. However, being human entails that we are subject to the idea of relying on other people for our needs. And that comprises of demanding that people do not change too much. In romantic relationships, for example, we choose to share our lives with partners who will be with us for better or worse. If we think about how much we can change in a given period of time, we would either realize how relationships are unrealistic and self-destructive or how important a decision entering one is.

Of course the difficulty growing apart presents is not only present in romance. Our relationships with our parents, friends, as well as our lovers are all complicated by the fact that we can’t truly and fully rely on our idea of other people as they, as well as us, are subject to change. Sometimes, even, the change in a person is so drastic and feels so unlikely to happen that we find it hard to resolve if we ever really knew that person. In such cases, we feel betrayed: we wish to have found out earlier about the things we deem to have known too late.

This is not a rare scenario. A lot of failed marriages, broken friendships and divided households are based on things a party has kept from another, be they intentional or not. This leads us to question the whole point of relationships: why trust fickle people? Why love people who are not transparent about their every flaw and imperfection until it is too late?

Here I find the importance of one of the many things which the movie communicated to me: the importance of physical presence in any relationship.

By physical presence, I do not mean how we physically appear, but rather the very act of appearing itself. And perhaps not just “appearing”, but actually being in a particular place at a particular moment physically. Some people might disagree that it is of much importance in a relationship, as people can be physically present but remain emotionally distant at the same time. I do not deny this. Perhaps most people would prefer partners, parents and friends who may not be physically there, but are emotionally and intellectually involved in their lives. But I think it cannot be denied that a simple touch of comfort and warmth can sometimes soothe our most profound sorrow easier than any combination of words may attempt. An embrace, a pat on the shoulder, a kiss: these are not to be shoved aside as unimportant. Human beings, after all, are not just souls, they are also bodies.

We are told that the universe is continually expanding. Things, by and through nature, drift away from each other farther and father apart, perhaps for eternity. The same is true with our minds. For this reason, people grow apart and become more and more different from one another. It is inescapable, yes. But I do not think that this only hinders relationships to thrive, but rather, they also provide the context in which relationships are needed. The fact that people “grow apart” is exactly why we need other people. the more other people become alien to us, the more they may complement us in our inferiority, in the same way we complement theirs. Experiences we spend together, while turning us into different people as we may perceive them differently, also enable us to realize where we stand and where we are needed in the lives of other people. So Woody Allen was right: a large part of succeeding in life, as well as in relationships, is merely showing up. Love, for the most part, is simply being there.

The presence of the people we love: the fact that they are with us, though their minds might be fixed someplace else or their hearts might be feeling things other than genuine love for us is a valuable thing, especially when we consider that they can leave anytime. The fact that they choose to stay and grace us with their bodies is what makes relationships so valuable. They are sacrificing moments and time they can never take back. And somehow, that is more valuable, I think, than having someone who “wishes you well” but is really absent. Or who cries for you when you are sad, but is never there to wipe your tears. We don’t need mere audiences. We need love.

Physical presence is what we may cling to when they seem to be grow farther and farther from our first impressions of them. This is what Samantha could not offer Theodore in the movie even if she tried: the assurance of growing old together. Our bodies are equally as important as our minds and hearts in entering a relationship, as their presence signify the choice to stay and, although one may grow apart from the other no matter how near they may be in proximity, grow old and wear out with another.

We are trapped in time. And experiencing different experiences, knowing different pieces of wisdom at different paces, our minds can go an infinite distance from each other. We cannot help but move farther away from everyone else. But our bodies, we can control. While separating us from one another’s identity, our bodies also enable us to express our longing and desire to be one with another. It may sometimes be hard to control, but it is the only thing we are capable of controlling. And through controlling it right, we are able to inhabit the moment with the people we love, with eyes fixed on theirs, even as our minds drift away farther and farther from them. They can at least rely on our bodies being there, wasting away with them.

God’s Broken Windows: His Standards and Ours

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"If God lived on earth, people would break his windows."

“If God lived on earth, people would break his windows.”

If only our pain were proportional to the bad that we do, we think most of the time, life would not be as bad. Yet it seems that life is not that way. It seems that whatever good we do, we suffer unjustly. “If God lived on earth,” says a Yiddish proverb, “he would have broken windows.” And why not? Do we not protest every little injustice we experience from those in positions of power? If God were on earth, we would burn effigies in front of his door like people from the olden days burnt sacrifices.

Last Friday, however, I learned a very important lesson in suffering through our discussion about the Book of Job in our World Literature class.

For so long have I viewed suffering as either punishment or a test. But I found that this was an error and perhaps, veiled by self-righteousness. It was only then did I observe that when the people I hate and disdain are suffering, too easily can I say that it is probably deserved by some form of sinful act they have done. But when it is the people I love, I am so contented in explaining it to be a mere test of faith. What is wrong with this attitude is the double standard by which I judge whether it is punishment or testing. This leads me to judge which people to comfort and which ones to stay away from.

“Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished?
    Where were the upright ever destroyed?
As I have observed, those who plow evil
    and those who sow trouble reap it.
At the breath of God they perish;
    at the blast of his anger they are no more.

– Eliphaz the Temanite, Job 4:7-9

This is the same thinking employed by Job’s friends and thus leads to condemn Job for having committed a great transgression, although it has been prior established that no one is as righteous as him. But I have also learned that Job is not exempted from having such a standard. It is through this idea of suffering being punitive that Job accuses God of being unjust.

“Yet how often is the lamp of the wicked snuffed out?
    How often does calamity come upon them,
    the fate God allots in his anger?
How often are they like straw before the wind,
    like chaff swept away by a gale?
It is said, ‘God stores up the punishment of the wicked for their children.’
    Let him repay the wicked, so that they themselves will experience it!
Let their own eyes see their destruction;
    let them drink the cup of the wrath of the Almighty.
For what do they care about the families they leave behind
    when their allotted months come to an end?”

– Job, Job 21:17-21

The problem in the Book of Job is the system by which we limit God’s justice and goodness by putting our standard of goodness above Him and judging Him based on that like we judge other people. And when somehow we are afflicted by pain we claim to be undeserving of, we accuse God of not being good or just or loving. Worse, we even doubt His existence. These are all because He failed to pass our standard of goodness.

“If only I knew where to find him;
    if only I could go to his dwelling!
I would state my case before him
    and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would find out what he would answer me,
    and consider what he would say to me.
Would he vigorously oppose me?
    No, he would not press charges against me.
There the upright can establish their innocence before him,
    and there I would be delivered forever from my judge.

 

“But if I go to the east, he is not there;
    if I go to the west, I do not find him.
When he is at work in the north, I do not see him;
    when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him.”

– Job, Job 23:1-9


What we fail to understand is that God cannot be judged by our standards of good and justice and love. Because He is Goodness and Justice and Love. What He does is purely good and just and loving, though it may be ugly and undesirable, and shockingly, even though when other people do it, it is to be considered evil. When you think about it, evil acts done by people are only evil because they are playing God. But surely God can play God.

In all this seemingly arbitrary characteristics of pain, we should not fear that God might be exercising His power upon us like objects of experimentation or toys. Because He loves us. He told us so. We can be sure that whatever pain we are given, undeserved it may be, is necessary. We may not know His nature and decision-making process, but we know His plan. He made it clear.

It is a hard idea to accept, especially for the hurt and suffering and oppressed: that all this somehow makes sense in the grandest scale of things. But like Job, we are permitted to mourn and weep and beat our chests at God and ask Him questions. He is real and He will answer. But I am inclined to think that we don’t. For we are so quick to lecture God about how justice should really be like.

What we should be doing is not judge God by our standards of goodness, but judge ourselves on whether we are perfectly submitting to His standards. Because whether we like it or not, whether we believe it or not, God knows what He is doing. There will be times when this idea would be so hard to accept as sufficient, but it’s okay. We can always come to Him and ask Him about things, for we will find Him when we seek Him. Didn’t He promise that?

When in pain, talk to God. Be angry at Him, show Him how much you are hurting. But talk to Him. If you do, out of the storm He will come and will reveal Himself to you. You will know Him and you will know you. And then, there will be peace.

“I know that you can do all things;
    no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
    Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me to know.”

– Job 42:2-3

Activists are n…

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Activists are not messiahs who will liberate the people. They are prophets who arouse the progressive spirit inside people, that they may liberate themselves.

True democracy and true freedom is not won for the people. It is won by the people.

Activists and leaders of progressive movements must not deem themselves separate from and above the people they claim to be serving, lest they should become as self-gratifying and power-hungry as the very forces they are trying to overthrow.

Status update, Saturday 12:31 am.

Should A Secular Campus Strengthen or Weaken Faith?

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An anonymous question has been posed in my ask.fm account which reads: “You are a scholar who is being honed by the premier university in the Philippines. Assuming you’ve read a number of authors and intellectuals already who say that God is dead, has your faith in God been watered down or has it increased?

This is how I answered: I do not think being exposed to ideas are responsible for how much faith we have in us. If so, I think the smarter one becomes, the less committed to the faith one becomes as well.
But I’ve seen and read individuals who have been exposed to atheistic ideas; some even espoused them at a certain point and yet still managed to keep and be strong in the faith.

Ideas, however, make us reflect inwardly on how much we know about our faith. And that reflection doesn’t diminish nor increase our faith, it merely exposes our faith.

That being said, I am glad to be in the University. I have been exposed to a lot of ideas, both theistic and atheistic, and they have helped me realize just how little I know about God and my relationship with Him. There have been times when I did in fact question my faith and how strong I am in it, yet oddly enough it is in the presence of new revelations from theistic Christian intellectuals and writers, not atheistic ones.

When faced by challenging athesitic arguments, I can simply resolve them in myself by going through the replies of older and more saintly minds than me. And I’ve yet to see an argument against God which Christian scholars have yet to address. I have also yet to see an atheistic idea which would actually change the manner by which I live my life. It seems as if I could be atheist and nothing would change. Change for the better, at least.

What troubles me and my faith is whenever an idea pops out all of a sudden from a reliable Christian intellectual and it has such a huge impact on how I live my life. And whether instances like than strengthen or weaken my faith I have no idea. What I do know is that thanks to such ideas, I am able to know myself more and how much I really know about God and His nature.

(The following is an additional note added in a status update I made after further reflection.)

Our faith can only be influenced by our surroundings, but our surroundings cannot determine just how much faith we have. If so, then it would not be our faith.

We are responsible for what we believe in. However, if what we believe in is God, this means that we are not alone. For if He really exists, He would not stop reminding us of it.