Taking charge of your own happiness

By Jahoo Clouseau

The most empowering and liberating thing is this:  You are responsible for your own happiness. And, most crucially, you are worthy of it. You are worthy! You are the creator of your own happiness, where the only limit to it is the scale and scope of your vision. How do you take charge of your own happiness? Here is the continuation of my previous blog post, How to be happier in the New Year.

Take responsibility

When you make the conscious decision to take charge of your own happiness, you must also take responsibility for the story of your life. You are the writer of the movie which is your life.  Where is the movie going?

Reflect on this: What is your personal story? It’s that thing you keep you repeating in your head. It’s the story you tell the world (This is my life). Is it a story of pain, disappointment, injustice, loss and tragedy? Or is it a story of grace, awe, wonder, trust and triumph? It is not a toss-up. It is always a mixture of everything. The question is what you focus on.

The reality is we have all been dealt with our share of sadness and disappointment. There will always be things in life that are unfair and beyond explanation. Everyone is entitled to their moments of sadness and grief. But you are also entitled to heal. You are entitled to receive support, to bounce back, to regain your footing, and to thrive and flourish once again.

Have you been stuck in the victim role for far too long (It’s just the way it is. There’s nothing I can do to change things. I’m powerless in this situation.) Or have you been playing and replaying sad events in your life from 5, 10, 20 or more years ago? Do you continue to blame the past, or people from the past, for what is happening today? Are you resigned that these are the cards you are dealt with? Why?

These are questions worth asking and reflecting upon. Past is past. Whether or not you want the past to have control over your life today, that is your choice. If you choose to be happy now, you are always empowered to create a new reality.  Do not yield that power to the past, to people or to events.  You and you alone have the power to rewrite your story.

It is time for you to start being the hero of your life.

Question rules

When I say “rules”, I mean every belief, tradition, custom, norm, value, collective goal, aspiration that we have lived with all our lives.  These are the things we have come to accept as normal, valid or truthful without question.

Questioning rules is important because to take charge of your own happiness means to think independently. It requires formulating your own opinions. It requires coming face to face with your highest truth.  What do I know for sure? What do I know is true? Is this necessary or important? Am I comfortable with this? Is this who I am? Do I believe this? Do I agree with this? What do I truly want?

Think about it. We have been living with rules all our life since we were born. Blue is for boys. Pink is for girls. Why? Just because.

Some rules are necessary. Don’t play with the knife, don’t play with matches, look both ways before crossing the street. These rules were for our safety. They are worth following.

But not all rules are worth following. What rules have we been following all throughout our lives, just because? Rules made by our parents, family, school, teachers, schoolmates, church, spiritual or religious leaders, community, friends, peers, institutions of higher learning, workplace, organizations, bosses, colleagues, society, country, mass media, social media, etc.

Let’s push the case against bad rules to an extreme. There are people throughout history who have created some very bad rules. And following them have led to some of the worst tragedies of humankind like genocide or world wars.

There is a cost to pay for group thinking.  There is a cost to pay when people do not question things that they do not believe in or things that make them uncomfortable, when people do not listen to their inner voice of truth. Often the cost is one’s true joy, peace and happiness.

Take a look at the picture of your life right now. Where are you at this point? What rules have you have been following that have brought you all the way here? Does it all still ring true or not?

If there are things that no longer ring true for you, perhaps it is time to make changes. How big or small the changes you make is entirely your own decision. How sweeping or subtle you want to transform your life is entirely yours to make. Big or small, sweeping or subtle, honor it.

You will know the right moment to recreate life on your own terms.

Connect with the highest source

There can be no lasting happiness in life without acknowledging life’s awe, mysteries and wonders. As Albert Einstein once said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead.”

Behind every wonder in the universe is the great and powerful energy that created it, from the smallest particles of nature to complex human beings to vast galaxies. There is but one and the same energy that connects you and me to all of creation.

There is a beautiful passage written by author and speaker, the late Dr. Wayne Dyer, in his book I Can See Clearly Now: “I cannot conceive of a watch without a watchmaker, so it is impossible for me to believe that this universe exists without an intelligence that is the matrix of all matter – a creator.”

I love spring. I love it when people emerge from the cocoon of their homes, and gather in parks and public spaces to marvel at the blooming flowers. Flowers! Tiny, insignificant little things, but so beautiful and effortless. They do not have to try so hard, they do not try at all! And yet they are so adored and admired, so much so that they attract crowds and bring joy to people.

I talk about flowers because that silent adoration that passes from human to nature is an acknowledgement of a divine hand in creation.  It is a sense of reverence that the same spirit, energy, creator or God that created the flower is the same one that created you and me.

Connection with highest source is a key ingredient to happiness. It reminds us that we are never in isolation or separation. We are connected not just to God, but to the essence of abundance, grace, love, prosperity, goodness, creativity, and all the good things that the highest source stands for. It brings the contents of this world into proper perspective, guiding us to infinite possibilities, and guiding us with wisdom as to what is important, and what is not.

Happiness is acknowledging the divine within, and that after all this time, we have been worthy from the start.

 

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(Photo by Jahoo Clouseau)


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What I gifted myself this Christmas

The angels of Christmas must have worked their magic. My orders from the U.S. (mostly from Amazon), which I was not expecting until after the New Year, have arrived by sea cargo 3 days before Christmas day. “So you have a lot of goodies to open. Merry Christmas”, the Spirit of Christmas Present must be saying. Why, thank you.

In case you are wondering, I used shippingcart.com to ship my orders from the States. Good job, though I am aware that those who had their goods delivered this December are experiencing some delays (as you would expect). Lesson: ship early. I did mine mid-November. Sea cargo takes a month and half, about a week for air cargo.

Anyway, rather than write down a gift list, I decided to make a gratitude list. So what’s in my box of goodies for myself? Let’s begin with…

barbie oscar dela renta

Isn’t this breathtaking? The Oscar Dela Renta doll from his bridal collection by Barbie. This is going to my display shelf.

 

barbie oscar box

Even the box is gorgeous.

1. The gift of play. It’s a magical time, afterall, so why not return to that moment of pure, unbridled place of joy and wonder of a child at play. The “toys” I ordered are my reminders to be light-hearted more often, and they happen to be Barbie dolls.

Now, I was not into Barbie dolls as a young boy (I enjoyed my Ghost Busters, Ninja Turtles and G.I. Joe action figures like the other kids). Why now? Recently, I read a novel, Marcus Gabriel’s The Designer, where he wrote about how European designers like Dior and Balenciaga would do “fashion shows” in Paris using dolls, instead of real-life models. This was during the war when fabric was scarce. I was fascinated.

I checked out Mattel’s Barbie website, and saw their Signature line which are mostly for collectors. I enjoyed the beauty and intricacy of some of these dolls. I thought these would look nice on my shelf. I chose a beautiful doll in an Oscar Dela Renta gown. I saw a Dela Renta retrospective at the De Young Museum in San Francisco, and I loved it. This doll is a nice way to have one of his pieces.

barbie mutya

This collector’s item Barbie from the Global Glamour Collection makes me feel proud. What a lovely way to showcase Philippine traditional wear.

barbie mutya box

The outer garment has a tribal motif with sun design from the Philippine flag. Lovely.

I also picked out the Mutya doll in Philippine dress from Barbie’s Global Glamour Collection. It looks so lovely and dainty, and it made me feel proud and happy. This was designed by Filipino-American Carlyle Nuera.

frank lloyd wright usonian clock

Bulova Usonian II clock by Frank Lloyd Wright

2. The gift of time. This is something most people would want more of, I’m sure. The thing about time is that you can view it as your friend, or your enemy. If you fight it, you’re always chasing it and ending up with less. If you embrace it with no resistance, then it supports you and all your endeavors. That’s what mindfulness taught me, and this is something I teach my students who come to my meditation workshops or who see me for private sessions.

The item I bought is a clock because I needed a new one for the living room. I picked out a beautiful art deco modernist piece designed by the great American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Among his most famous designs is the Guggenheim Museum in New York. The clean architectural lines of this Bulova clock will look good on the shelf. (Prices are cheaper on Amazon.)

a home in paris

Chic and eclectic Parisian home interiors to inspire interior decorating and travel

3. The gift of dreams. And what else can easily transport a person to the land of fantasy and imagination but books. This time, coffee table books with all their lush photographs and shiny pages.

I picked out A Home in Paris because I think Parisian interior design is so chic, eclectic and effortlessly stylish. And to live there, not just to travel, is definitely on my life list.

vogue met costume

I got this because of the photographs of all of those glamorous costume exhibits at The Met through the years

I also got Vogue and The Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute: Parties, Exhibition, People. I love the Costume Institute’s annual big exhibit at the Met New York, and this book chronicles the most memorable exhibits with all the wonderful fashion.

And, yes, I also got another book, Oscar Dela Renta: His Legendary World of Style.

oscar dela renta book

This is a keepsake of that fabulous Dela Renta exhibit I saw at the De Young Museum

demeter grass

Ahh, the fresh and invigorating scent of grass in a bottle. From Demeter Fragrance Library.

4. The gift of freshness. I got hooked on Demeter Fragrance Library scents when I bought a tiny bottle on a trip to Seoul. Very pure and uncomplicated scents because they are all single-note fragrances.

This time, I picked Grass fragrance, one of the best-selling products which I haven’t tried. I love the smell of nature and this is my way of taking it with me wherever I go. A little daily reminder of how nature does wonders in making one feel more relaxed and grounded.

Demeter has such fun fragrances like Between The Sheets, Hot Fudge Sundae, New Baby, Kitten Fur, etc.  They even have crazy fragrances like Sushi, Dirt and Cannabis.

dentek floss picks

Because tooth care is important, right? And I don’t like unspooling floss, hence, the floss picks.

5. The gift of good dental care. Okay, so my cargo box still had some space left and these dental floss picks were a cheap but practical add-on item on Amazon, so there. They’re not usually on stock in local supermarkets. And besides, one must never underestimate the value of daily flossing. It’s part of self-care.

Amid all the frenzied gift-giving, don’t forget to give a treat (no matter how simple) to the most important human being in your life: Yourself. Joyful Christmas!

 

 

Home

By Paul Henson

Monterey Bay, California. (Photo by Paul Henson 2015)

On land, or on the sea? On the hills, or in the valleys? Where is home? (Monterey Bay, California. Photo by Paul Henson 2015)

I used to think home was one place.  Familiar.  Comforting.  Safe.  Harking back to childhood memories. Attached to specific faces, people – family.

I was wrong.

It turns out home is many different places.  It’s not always familiar.  It can take us out of our comfort zones.  Unsettling.  It can be strange, foreign, new, terrifying.  Still, it can be home.

Have you ever felt the need to break free?  Moments you simply felt stunted, caged that you just wanted to create for yourself a new home?

Be careful what you wish for.  Life is listening.

A window opens.  Sometimes, a door.  Slowly at first.  Filtering in a little bit of light, a gentle breeze, through the cracks.  Enticing.  Newness beckons.  Fresh, exhilarating, liberating.

A window opens.  Sometimes, a door.

And sometimes – I suspect, oftentimes — the whole house comes crashing down.  Torn apart.  Blown away.

A flood of emotions:  Anger, disbelief, grief, sadness, heartache, pain.  More anger.  A little regret.  A little self-hate.

A deluge of questions:  What just happened?  Did I do something wrong?  What was all this for?

WHY?

You stumble through the debris.  Lost, dazed, confused and frightened.  Sometimes you try, but are just too paralyzed by fear.

Grand Canyon, Arizona. (Photo by Paul Henson 2015)

Finding home even on the precipice. (Grand Canyon, Arizona. Photo by Paul Henson 2015)

Finding your way

But help comes when you need it most.

A word.  A hand.  A shared tear.  They don’t take away the pain completely.  But sharing it makes the load just a bit easier to bear.

And then amidst all that is frightening, unfamiliar, uncomfortable and painful – slowly – you discover that home is many different places.

Home is in the smile, the outstretched hand, of a new friend.  The color of his or her eyes may be different but the tenderness is something you have felt before.

Home is in a song, a dance.  The words, the steps, are new but the pull on your heartstrings (or hamstrings) transport you back to fond memories.

Home is in a meal.  The flavors may be all new but the satisfaction and contentment in your heart and your belly are the same.

Home is…

Sometimes, you retrace your steps to your old home.  You see the old places, old people.  Sometimes, the familiar brings you comfort.  At other times it brings you discomfort.  Either you’ve changed, and they haven’t.  Or have they changed, and you’ve stayed the same?  It doesn’t matter.  There’s no right or wrong.

You look back.  You look forward.  You’re not quite sure what is ahead.  But you feel the ground beneath you is solid and safe.  You feel a quiet sense of accomplishment.  You exhale.  Your breath carried by the mist, the wind, into the sky, the sunlight.

Home is many different places.  Sometimes – oftentimes, I suspect — the old one has to come crashing down, get torn apart, get blown away.  Don’t worry.  That home is not gone entirely.  You just have to trust that you’re making way for something new.

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Follow the author on Twitter @Paulhenson or Instagram @heaveninawildflower.


Lessons From the Firing of an Editor

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Jill Abramson, former The New York Times executive editor. Photo from The New York Times website by Fred R. Conrad.

On Monday, May 19th, Jill Abramson, top news editor, stood before the graduating class of Wake Forest University in North Carolina to deliver the commencement speech. It would have been an ordinary event, yet it became a minor media circus.

Less than a week prior to her speech, Abramson was fired as executive editor of one of the most influential news publications in the world, The New York Times. She was replaced by her number two man, managing editor Dean Baquet.

The Times very own journalists David Carr and Ravi Somaiya reported that the entire newsroom was “stunned” by the ouster, as announced by publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr. in a hastily-assembled general meeting on the afternoon of May 14th. “It is one thing to gossip or complain about your boss, but quite another to watch her head get chopped off in the cold light of day. The lack of decorum was stunning,” Carr wrote in a subsequent article.

Abramson, 60, was the first woman to ever hold the highest-ranking editorial post at The Times. She helped supervise the coverage of two wars, four national elections, hurricanes and oil spills. She led the expansion to new platforms on digital and mobile. The Times won eight Pulitzer Prizes under her.

So why fire her? In many organizations all over the world, there are many leaders who have far less accomplishments (or none at all), and yet their heads are nowhere near the chopping block.

Several speculations surfaced from Abramson’s personality (she has been described as “brusque”, “polarizing”, “mercurial”); to issues of gender bias. Ken Auletta of The New Yorker wrote in an article that sources said Abramson discovered that her pay and pension benefits were less than that of her male predecessor (The Times denied this.)

Sulzberger gave the following official explanation of Abramson’s firing: “an issue with management in the newsroom,” “she had lost the support of her masthead colleagues and could not win it back,” “[Abramson is guilty of] arbitrary decision-making, a failure to consult and bring colleagues with her, inadequate communication and the public mistreatment of colleagues.”

There are reports of tensions between Abramson and Baquet. Abramson was reportedly planning to hire Janine Gibson of The Guardian to become Baquet’s co-managing editor for digital. Carr wrote that Baquet was “furious and worried about how it would affect not only him but the rest of the news operations” and so Baquet supposedly told the publisher he will leave the paper.

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Dean Baquet addressing the newsroom on the day he was appointed as executive editor. Photo from The New York Times’ website by Todd Heisler

That Baquet is the man standing and now holds the top post may give an indication as to how he is regarded. The first African-American to hold the plum position, Carr describes Baquet as “courageous and smart, and he makes newspapering seem like a grand endeavour” and has the makings of a “great leader.”

The makings of a leader

I briefly witnessed Baquet at work last year during my fellowship with the World Press Institute (WPI). The WPI fellows attended the morning page one meeting presided by Baquet, with all the top editors in attendance. It was a formidable room. He seemed very collegial, allowing the editors free rein to develop stories with their reporters. But when time came to make choices for the front page, he was very decisive and sure of what he wanted.

After the editorial meeting, he engaged the WPI fellows in a casual chat for a few minutes. He spoke about how the mobile and digital platforms have changed the media landscape. He seemed keenly aware not just of the editorial side but also the business challenges in news, at a time when print circulation and revenues are diminishing.

How do you get readers to pay for online content? What can you offer that is worth paying for? Who is more important – the consumer or advertiser? Can all media outlets put up a pay wall on their websites? Who is your market? What other online revenue sources can you tap? Baquet touched on these things.

Uphill battles

Indeed, improving business-newsroom relations and digital/mobile innovations may be Baquet’s biggest uphill battles. Auletta wrote that Abramson had clashed with The Times CEO Mark Thompson over the “perceived intrusion of the business side into the newsroom.”

And recently, Nieman Journalism Lab wrote a piece on a supposed New York Times innovation report. The report is a self-examination on how The Times is performing on the digital platform.

The Times is undoubtedly known for some of the best online work in the world (check out its Snowfall multimedia project), but the report was critical of where The Times was doing poorly: social media promotion, reader interface and engagement, providing and packaging more in-demand content, creating tools for its writers, integrating research and development with newsroom operations, pushing staff to do away with traditional newspaper practices and adapt to the changing times, among others.

(Ironically, in an interview with Ken Auletta, Abramson said that one of the biggest changes at The Times under her was innovation in the digital platform by enhancing narrative with video and motion graphics, among others.)

Evidently, there is no escaping politics in any organization in the world, but set aside the struggle of relationships, the real battle is taking place in the digital and mobile sphere. Those who can adapt, innovate and earn amid these changing times are the ones to survive and thrive. As to what’s next for Abramson, she says she’s in the same boat of uncertainty as the new graduates she addressed which, she says, makes for a frightening, yet exciting time.

“I’m talking to anyone who has been dumped — have not gotten the job you really wanted or have received those horrible rejection letters from grad school… You know the disappointment of losing, or not getting something you badly want. When that happens, show what you are made of,” Abramson said.

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Follow the author on twitter.com/Paulhenson or Instagram @heaveninawildflower

Fat Boy Memories (How You Relate to Food and Weight)

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Fat boy heaven. Burger with bacon and mac & cheese. (Photo by Vladimir Bunoan)

I was a fat kid. At around ten or 11 years old, I reached 140 pounds. I had my share of teasing from classmates: “Baboy! Baboy! (Pig! Pig!)” I woke up from bed one day, and the whole world was spinning. I went for a check-up with my pediatrician. The diagnosis was simple: I was overweight. I needed to lose weight. First order of the doctor was to reduce my food intake. I left the hospital in tears. That was a big heartbreak for a kid who loved to eat. The thought of dieting was shattering and cruel.

But even as a kid, I was very determined and driven. I could sum up the strength and discipline to attain a goal. So I went on a diet and exercised like crazy every day. I would get weighed during my regular medical check-ups. What started as a gradual weight loss would become more dramatic in the next couple of months. My family members and school teachers all marveled at the change. I became intoxicated with the high of losing weight.

When adolescence kicked-in, I realized that the body goes all weird. I started eating ravenously again. I couldn’t help it. The surprising thing was, no matter how much I stuffed into my face, I didn’t get fat. All the baby fat just went away. I grew so, so skinny, my family members thought I was addicted to drugs. A well-meaning aunt approached me with a look of grave concern and asked me if I had a problem and needed help. It was amusing.

And so it was pretty much that way from high school all the way to early adulthood. I could eat as much as I want, and remain stick thin. In college, I would eat a full rice meal for lunch. Still hungry afterwards, I would wolf down a cheeseburger. People who witnessed this were livid and envious. They’d ask me, “Where do you hide all of that?” Life is unfair.

But then the reality kicks in one day. As time goes by, your body changes, so does your metabolism. The harsh saying hits you: A moment on the lips, forever on the hips (is this the same as “panandaliang kaligayahan, habambuhay na pagsisisi?”) You start gaining weight by just inhaling the smell of fried chicken. Things aren’t the same anymore. You also become more sedentary when the daily rhythm of work sets in. And as responsibilities of adulthood grow, so do your love handles.

Food as best friend, as enemy

I look back at my relationship with food and weight, and while there were long periods of normalcy, there were also extremes. As an only child, I had no competition when it came to food. When there were leftovers, I had the privilege (or responsibility) of wiping out the dish. I don’t think my brain had the chance to process if I was already satisfied or not. Being done meant licking the serving dish clean.

When I went on a diet, food suddenly turned evil: It made you fat. Avoid at all cost. Pleasure in eating went flying out the window. Self-deprivation became the norm.

But there were also moments when food became a source of comfort — a lot of comfort. It became the antidote to stress, insecurity, anxiety, sadness, boredom, emptiness, despair. On many instances, while working on the late-evening shift, I would come home, the house all dark, and the rice cooker would be my friend. I would eat a full meal at 1 or 2 in the morning, then go to bed right after. Not very healthy.

I am reminded by the runaway bestselling book “French Women Don’t Get Fat” by Mireille Guiliano. It’s not a diet book. What would life be to the French without croissants and baguettes, chocolate and Champagne? Food is not the enemy. The key is reasonable pleasure in everything in life, including food. Food should not induce shame or guilt. It must be enjoyed slowly and in the right quantity, preferably using seasonal ingredients that are well-prepared. Eating should also be balanced with lots of exercise.

The struggle for fitness

If there’s a book about French women, I came across an article about a supposed manuscript entitled “The Real Reason Gay Men Don’t Get Fat.”  Why do a lot of gay men go on crazy diets, and spend hours in the gym trying to achieve a well-toned body? The article says that most gay men are essentially in love with themselves. They recreate their bodies into their vision of an ideal mate. And the thinking is that the only way to attract a partner with well-defined biceps, pecs and abs is to have them yourself. Provocative thoughts, arguable for some.

I had put off going to the gym for the longest time. I thought I could not sustain the motivation needed to thrive in these temples of body worship. I thought that I needed a deeper push, something that went beyond the surface.

One day, during a time when I was seeking guidance and wisdom, a wellness and meditation expert asked me how I took care of my five bodies (I didn’t even think we had five bodies): the physical, astral, mental, emotional and spiritual. I had no answer for the physical aspect. It’s been a long time since I stopped doing cardio exercises at home (hip-hop, zumba, cardio kung fu). I was basically in inertia. You have to work your body, she told me. It doesn’t matter if it’s walking, running, whatever, just do something to be active and make sure you do it regularly and consistently. It works hand-in-hand with your spiritual and general well-being, she said.

So there’s the push I was looking for.

I signed up for gym membership within a week, and to make sure I’m consistent and don’t slide back, I got a therapist-trainer. It is a commitment and a lot of hard work. I find myself panting, grunting, huffing and puffing from all the lifting, pulling and pushing, sometimes about to pass out. But it feels great afterwards. There are psychic rewards to knowing that you can push yourself to your limits – it’s very empowering. And the physical rewards are there – strength, endurance, and losing unwanted fats and pounds.

At first, one of the health consultants wanted to drastically influence my diet. If I had followed him to the letter, I wouldn’t even be able to eat tuna and salmon (mercury content) and bangus and tilapia (chemical feeds). I will only be allowed to eat dalagang bukid, ayungin and tamban. I wouldn’t be able to eat supermarket chicken – only the free-range kind. And I wouldn’t be able to eat sweet fruits like mangoes – only low-sugar fruits like siniguelas.

I decided to ditch this restrictive diet plan and just eat healthier and in smaller quantities, more natural, less processed (unpolished brown rice instead of white rice, low glycemic coco sugar instead of refined sugar, soy milk instead of whole milk, saging na saba for snack instead of pastries). And yes, I do treat myself to a good meal in a restaurant at least once a week, but never gorging on food (reasonable pleasure, remember.) I have also discovered a couple of vegetarian restaurants that serve scrumptious, deeply-satisfying food without the guilt.

After all the love-hate when it comes to food (okay, more love than hate), wellness and body image, I hope that this is the start of more good things to come.

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Follow the author on twitter.com/Paulhenson or Instagram @heaveninawildflower

The Pleasures of a Table for One

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Savoring a cocktail in solitude. (Photo by Paul Henson)

It doesn’t matter if you’re single, married, with partner, with family or with lots of friends. Dining out alone is something good to do once in a while. Think about it as taking yourself out on a date. You’re not there to please another person – you’re doing it for yourself. If you take the extra mile to show your spouse/partner/date/friend a great time, don’t you deserve to treat you and yourself alone to something special every now and then?

But why is the prospect of dining out alone terrifying? Just the thought of it gives some people cold sweats and palpitations. Most would shun the idea. Mabuti pang mag-take out na lang kaysa kumain mag-isa (better to just grab food to go than eat out alone.) Too embarrassing, they’d say.

You walk up to the waiter to ask for a table for one, and you get a quizzical look. And when you’re finally shown to your table, you feel as if all eyes are on you. And you’re imagining what people are thinking: Poor thing. All alone. No one to share a meal with.

Guess what. They’re not thinking that. You are.

That’s you thinking you’re not special. That’s you thinking you don’t deserve good things by your lonesome. That’s you being afraid to be alone with your thoughts. Well, if you can’t enjoy being by yourself, you won’t be any good in the company of someone else.

There are many benefits to enjoying a lovely meal by yourself. For one, service is faster. The servers are more attentive to you, and when the chef is finished preparing your food, it gets to your table in a flash even before you’re halfway through your cocktail. There’s no need to time the food service, unlike when you’re in a group.

Dining by yourself also gives you the opportunity to disconnect, to be off the grid, even just for an hour or so. It’s a great time to set aside your mobile device and just revel in the bliss of having this personal time and space. You can let your thoughts wander. You can enjoy your food and wine as leisurely as you want. You can even have dessert and espresso. Go ahead… No one can stop you.

Being alone encourages you to be centered, to be in the zone. You set aside distractions and you become one with the moment. This is something that’s so difficult to do in our hyper-connected and multi-tasking world. When you’re free from all the noise, you notice things that you take for granted.

The flavors of the food become more pronounced. You appreciate the delicate balance of sweetness and acidity of the balsamic vinegar, the earthy quality of the truffle oil, the lovely combination of bittersweet chocolate with mint.

It’s a good time as any to people watch when you’re dining alone, but discreetly, I should say. You notice the nuances of relationships. Those two are just on the awkward getting-to-know-you stage, those two are intoxicated with their blossoming romance, those two have been married for 20 years. Those two dudes are best friends, but those two are secret lovers, for sure. That table is celebrating a birthday, that table is having a baby shower.

You also notice that not everyone in that restaurant is automatically happy just because they’re with someone. It can be a big family, a group of friends, a couple, but they’re not talking. Their eyes are transfixed on their smartphones, fiddling away aimlessly. Or their eyes are just wandering with a blank, expressionless look.

Perhaps the best part of having time for yourself in a restaurant setting is the gift of being able to love yourself. There’s no need to feel guilty or insecure. You deserve to treat yourself because you’re special, and because you are your own best friend.

In that brief period of solitude, you can come face to face with your innermost thoughts and be as light and as whimsical as you want, or as introspective as you wish. And by the time you ask for your cheque, you will realize that dining alone is not so bad after all. It’s actually good, and is something you should have started doing sooner.

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(Follow the author on twitter.com/Paulhenson or Instagram @heaveninawildflower)

A visit to Pope John XXIII’s birthplace

A statue of Pope John XXIII in his birthplace in Sotto il Monte

On Sunday, April 27, 2014 multitudes of pilgrims will descend upon the Vatican City for the canonization of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII, descendants to the throne of St. Peter who both shepherded the Catholic Church through the complexities of the modern era.

On this day, a small and once obscure town north of Italy will also be swarming with thousands of devotees: Sotto il Monte Giovanni XXIII, a commune’ in the province of Bergamo in the Lombardia region named after its most famous citizen, who once belonged to a family of peasant farmers, would eventually become pope, and now, a saint.

The residence of Pope John XXIII, now the Museo di ca’ Maitino

Ten years ago, in July of 2004, I had the great blessing of visiting the birthplace of Pope John XXIII. His canonization stirred an impulse within me to dig up old photographs and journals from that trip, in the hope of getting reacquainted with a man who, though not as widely known as Pope John Paul II, made just as much contributions to the Church.

From farm boy to pope

One of the places that I saw was the humble farmhouse where Pope John XXIII, born Angelo Roncalli, grew up. The place has since been converted into a museum , the Casa Natale del Santo Papa Giovanni XXIII.

The farmhouse is painted a dusky shade of pink with wooden beams and staircase surrounding the porch. Planters are adorned with bright flowers in season. Inside the rooms are simple furnishings like wooden dressers and simple beddings that give a glimpse of the austere life of young Angelo.

Angelo was the fourth of 13 children, and though he grew up in poverty, his biographical notes stated that his family was wealthy in faith, love and trust in God.

The parish church named Parrochia di Sotto il Monte Giovanni XXIII

I also visited the summer residence that he used when he was already Pope John XXIII, now the Museo di ca’ Maitino. There are a lot of memorabilia including photographs which show John XXIII often smiling, a glimpse into his warmth and congeniality. One can also visit the Pope’s personal bedroom, his study and chapel.

Inside the parish church named after Pope John XXIII

A statue of Christ inside the parish church

In another room, pilgrims leave behind mementos such as medallions, paintings and pictures that are testaments to John XXIII’s intercession. There were those who were spared from death, those who survived near-fatal accidents like a car crash or falling off an electrical tower or from a tall building. There were photos of infants born of parents who thought they would never bear a child.

A fresco inside the parish church named after Pope John XXIII

I also visited the parish church named after the Pope, Parrochia di Sotto il Monte Giovanni XXIII. It is a lovely hillside Church, which is a solemn space for prayer as well as a place to admire for its frescoes.

Legacy

While John XXIII worked in mysterious ways in the lives of many people, his enduring legacy is his work as head of the Catholic Church from 1958 to 1963. Bishop Angelo Roncalli was elected Pope in 1958 at the age of 77, and he took the name inspired by three personalities: his father, the patron of his birthplace, and of John, the evangelist of the charity.

He announced the Second Vatican Council in 1959, and when it opened in 1962, the Church took a big evolutionary step by seeking ways to unify Christian Churches, and create an atmosphere of dialogue with contemporary culture in the modern world.

John XXIII also appointed 37 new cardinals during his term, including a Filipino, Rufino Santos.

His 1963 encyclical “Pacem in terris” (Peace on Earth) spoke, not only to Catholics, but to all good willing people, a sign of reaching out to people in peace and solidarity, regardless of faith.

On Sunday, the saints in heaven shall welcome with open arms John XXIII, a man who has dutifully served his flock.

This article appeared on abs-cbnnews.com:  http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/focus/04/25/14/visit-pope-john-xxiiis-birthplace