“HOW TO LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE THIS NEW YEAR: 2015 VERSION” in this week’s issue of the MANILA MAIL (Dec. 31, 2014-January 6, 2015, page A7)

Pilipinasblitz Forever
A column by Bles Carmona

For the week of Dec. 31, 2014-January 6, 2015

HOW TO LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE THIS NEW YEAR: 2015 VERSION

Happy New Year to all of us! Isang Maligaya at Masaganang Bagong Taon po sa inyo! Blessings and light!

Please allow me to share a listicle – by now you know what a listicle is, right? – that I wrote for the online how-to website called eHow.com way back in 2007. I actually based my article on something that I read in the Science of Mind Magazine (www.scienceofmind.org) around that time. When we talk about a New Year-themed article, it may come to assume an element of timelessness since a new year will always be coming and going. Therefore, with some minor tweaks here and there, here’s how to let your light shine this New Year, the 2015 iteration!
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The New Year is upon us and it calls upon us to renew ourselves. Come New Year’s Day, with the fireworks and pretty lights sparkling all around you, why don’t you let your inner light glow, too? Should you be struggling to balance yourself on solid ground at this time of the year, here are eight things to help you regain your footing and let your light shine forth!

1. Your situation is temporary. Know that if you don’t like where you are now, then it’s just a place you were meant to go through.

2. Giving thanks is important. Give thanks. Light expands with gratitude. Giving thanks draws positive energy and light into your life, pushing out the darkness and replacing it with power to manifest your dreams and heighten your awareness of life.

3. Make room for positive thoughts. Give the light your hurtful memories, including any victimhood weighing you down. Since light is magnetic, it pulls everything you give it out of the darkness and towards itself. As these negative thoughts dissolve, watch as space is cleared in your mind for more positive thoughts to now occupy, since nature abhors a vacuum. See those positive thoughts take root and grow!

4. Be an encourager. Offer encouragement to others. Your consciousness of the light inside you not only sensitizes you to your own need for encouragement but also makes you aware that others need support, too. Ask yourself, “Who needs a helping hand today?” The Talmud Baba Batra states: “One who gives a coin to a poor person is rewarded with six blessings, but one who encourages that person with words is rewarded with seven blessings.”

5. Forgiveness is powerful. Forgive someone this New Year. The late Nelson Mandela, when asked why he forgave his jailers in Robben Island who kept him prisoner for 27 years, said, “When I walked out of the gate, I know that if I continued to hate these people, I’d still be in prison.” Furthermore, forgive yourself above all.

6. Nurture yourself. Self-care honors the self and sparks illumination. How are you holding yourself in right regard this season? Are you resting enough, laughing enough, smiling at yourself enough? When we give ourselves the gift of care, we can then and only then fulfill our higher purpose here on earth.

7. See beyond appearances. Watch your steps daily and always try to see the great Light in everyone else.

8. Cultivate your Inner Light. Your New Year’s gift to yourself must be to intentionally affirm that it is the Universal Light in you that magnifies the greatest possibilities. As you do, you will function from faith and act from consciousness.

Know that you are the outlet of the Universe’s protection, provision, and power. The powers of peace, truth, and love are within you! This New Year, let the splendor of your light shine forth and light the path before you!
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So what’s in store for all of us in 2015? Some financial astrologers are painting a dire picture of the collapse of the dollar, the rise of virtual currencies like Bitcoin, and the re-emergence of gold as the means of economic exchange. Some metaphysical readers, able to tap into the fifth dimension and the Akashic records, say that 2015 is a year of success, definitely much better than 2014 had been. If you ask the victims of Yolanda/Haiyan from two years ago, they may tell you that it’s just more of the same: government inefficiency, lack of livelihood, the basic lack of shelter and food. So you say to yourself: “The forecast for 2015 really depends on who I ask.”

If we were to ask from various sources, then why don’t we try asking for guidance from Tarot cards, the fairies, and the angels? But first, let’s get something from the Devotional Study Bible (NIV) to start things off. Revelation 21:5 states: ‘He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”’ What a wonderful promise from God, and we don’t even have to wait for the Apocalypse to claim it for our lives and our planet right now.

Now let me draw three cards at random from my Rider-Waite Tarot deck. I picked the Queen of Wands, Two of Cups, and The Chariot. The year 2015 may very well be the year of women (i.e., Queen) with big ideas (Wands=Air=the realm of thoughts) and they will have enough power to implement their projects intended to restore nurture and peace the world over. The Two of Cups denotes a partnership between the masculine and feminine forces within each of us and among groups of people. Thinking laterally, spotting patterns and trends, and interpersonal intelligence will be highly valued. The Chariot is about leaning towards a more conservative direction. It’s the Cancerian card, the focus of which will be the home and family. There is a possibility that old-fashioned family values will clash with avant-garde thinking about the nature of relationships, but it is equally possible that these contrasting values will harmonize. Now here’s an oracle from the Fairies who guard Nature: “Feeling Safe – Any feelings of danger or vulnerability are healing, and they’re replaced with the certain knowledge that you are safe and protected right now.” Affirm this: I am safe. I am secure. I am completely protected at all times. Finally, here’s an oracle from the Angels: “Divine Timing – Pay attention to doors that are opening and shutting for you right now. Walk through doors that open, and learn from the doors that shut.” (Source: Doreen Virtue, Ph.D.’s Healing with the Fairies and the Angels Oracle Cards)

With all these food for thought, I take my leave now and allow you to gather your own faculties and to ask for strength for another year ahead. Remember, let your light shine forth this 2015! Happy New Year!
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blessingsandlight725@gmail.com

“CARING FOR YOUR LOVED ONE WITH A MENTAL ILLNESS THIS HOLIDAY SEASON” in this week’s issue of the MANILA MAIL, page A7) www.ManilaMailNewspaper.com

Pilipinasblitz Forever
A column by Bles Carmona
For the week of Dec. 10-16, 2014
CARING FOR YOUR LOVED ONE WITH A MENTAL ILLNESS THIS HOLIDAY SEASON
Early this year, I was browsing through the offerings of The Book Shop in Hayward, my favorite local bookstore, and came across a precious resource that I promptly snapped up. It’s a book called “When Someone You Love Has a Mental Illness: A Handbook for Family, Friends, and Caregivers,” revised and expanded, written by Rebecca Woolis, MFT, a licensed family therapist with more than 20 years of experience in working with people who suffer from mental illness, and with their families. She is in private practice in Berkeley, CA.
I felt that it would be helpful to approach the topic of mental illness and stress during the holiday season from the perspective of the family, caregivers, and friends of someone with a mental illness. Although statistics says that 1 in 5 Americans suffers from some form of mental illness, a happier flipside interpretation of this fact also means that the other 80% of you are free of any psychiatric symptoms. If you belong to the “sane” and “normal” 80%, please count your blessings. Someone like me with bipolar disorder and my 20% group mates would have to contend with the same life challenges like you do but we have a disability which may impact our coping skills in many ways.
Here is an excerpt from Woolis’ book, a quick reference guide (one among many within its pages) and this is “How to behave around people who have a mental illness”:
1. Treat them with respect, even if you do not understand some of the things they do or say.
2. Be as supportive, accepting, and positive as you can.
3. Be calm, clear, direct, and brief in your communication with them.
4. Engage them in casual conversation or activities with which you and they are comfortable.
5. Do not touch them or joke with them unless you know them well and know they are comfortable with such interactions.
6. Do not ask a lot of questions about their lives.
7. Do not give advice unless they request it.
8. Do not discuss in any detail religion, politics, or any other topic that is highly emotional for them, as these topics may be intertwined with delusional thinking. Explain that these are personal or individual issues that you prefer not to discuss.
9. If they behave in ways that are unacceptable to you, calmly tell them specifically what they can and cannot do. (pp. 106-107)
Now the holidays, for some mysterious reasons, seem to either excite or depress people with mental illnesses. Folks are hustling and bustling all around, making party and family reunion preparations, thinking up gift ideas, shopping, planning a vacation, sprucing up the home, and doing a million other things during this season. These could be positive sources of stress that bring out the best in a lot of people, inspiring them to give their all into this festive, joyous time. However, for someone with a mental illness, facing these situations could be daunting, overwhelming, or downright confusing. The result could either be feelings and thoughts of amped-up excitement as they look forward to all the celebrations, or paralyzing depression at the thought of having to go through what in their minds will be a joyless holiday for one reason or the other. Sometimes the anticipation, the very thought of all that has yet to happen, could rob a person of the appreciation for the present moment. Conversely, if this holiday reminds them of a significant event in the past, then they can get sad, agitated, stressed out. Notice here that in both cases, there is an under-appreciation of today. Who was it who said that today is a gift and that’s why it’s called the present? My sentiments exactly. With a measure of mindfulness, we can ditch the guilt about the past or anxiety about the future and just focus on how blessed we are today, right at this present moment. You may say, yeah, easier said than done, to which I will counter, hey, it’s worth a try.
Now here’s what Woolis suggests in her quick reference guide on “Handling the Holidays”: You can help your relative reduce stress by:
1. Discussing plans in advance
2. Acknowledging any mixed feelings he or she may have. Do not make assumptions about how he or she will feel or act.
3. Keeping expectations realistic, especially regarding whether your relative can tolerate a gathering, for how long, and what kind of participation he or she is capable of
4. Respecting and supporting your relative’s choices and decisions regarding whether he or she is comfortable participating and in what way
5. Accepting your and relative’s limits
6. Helping your relative figure out how to handle some of the stress (e.g., how the person might answer questions, what task he or she might like to focus on, how long to stay, places to go to take breaks), if he or she is willing and able to discuss the event and his or her feelings. It may be important to acknowledge all family members’ needs, preferences, and limits before a workable solution can be reached. (pp. 166-167)

Now let’s talk about “Minimizing relapses.” According to Woolis, you must see to it that your loved one with a mental illness has a “therapeutic day-to-day lifestyle” which includes regular exercise, recreational activities, a daily routine, eating a balanced diet, and avoiding the use of alcohol and illegal drugs. Make sure that you can identify the early warning signs of relapse, such as: any marked change in behavior patterns (eating, sleeping, social habits); absent, excessive, or inappropriate emotions and energy; odd or unusual beliefs, thoughts, perceptions; difficulty in carrying out usual activities; impairment in communication; and any idiosyncratic (i.e., unique to the person) behavior that preceded past relapses.

When warning signs do appear, do the following: Notify the doctor and request an evaluation, maybe an increase in medication is indicated; maintain involvement in any ongoing psychiatric treatment program; responsibly decrease any known environmental stressors; minimize any changes in routine; maintain the “therapeutic lifestyle” described above, especially keeping the environment as calm, safe, and predictable as possible; and discuss your observations with your relative, talk about steps he or she might take to prevent another relapse, hospitalization, or incarceration. To minimize the impact of a relapse, it pays to be prepared: Have a crisis plan ready for yourself; keep emergency phone numbers and procedures in a convenient place; know your limits and how you will proceed if they are exceeded; and tell your relative calmly and clearly what your limits are, what they need to do next, and what you will do if those limits are exceeded. In some cases, you may have to call the police.
Be prepared. But also be kind to yourself. Neither you nor your loved one with a mental illness had a choice about your respective roles. However, from this point on, you know that facts and awareness are now being thrust upon you. Ms. Rebecca Woolis, MFT, in her book, “When Someone You Love Has a Mental Illness,” talks about various other topics which are so crucial in your shared difficult journey with your loved one. Her book is a valuable resource to me personally because I get to appreciate how hard it must be for my family and friends to cope when I am undergoing either the delirious hyperactivity of mania or the energy-less stupor of depression. Now through this book, they can be equipped with the tools to deal with me while at the same time protecting themselves by being urged to set limits.
This year marks my second relapse-free year and I am thankful to Spirit for guiding my thoughts, feelings, and behavior. I thank my family and friends for their love, loyalty, and support. I am thankful for my caring, competent, and compassionate psychiatrist, Dr. Gilda Versales, my doctor since early 2009. To all of you, blessings and light! Maraming salamat po sa inyong lahat!
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Find advisor Blesilda44 at KEEN.com, 1-800-ASK-KEEN (1-800-275-5336), extension 05226567 either by phone or chat: Mon-Fri 7-10 pm, Sat-Sun 7-11 pm Pacific. I speak English, Tagalog, and some Spanish. For personal readings (fee required), email me here: blessingsandlight725@gmail.com

“GIVING THANKS EACH CHANCE WE GET” in this week’s issue of the MANILA MAIL (Nov. 26-Dec. 2, 2014, page A7)

Pilipinasblitz Forever
A column by Bles Carmona
For the week of Nov. 26-Dec. 2, 2014

GIVING THANKS EACH CHANCE WE GET

Happy Thanksgiving Week to everyone! I know that once we settled here, we Filipino-Americans did as the Americans have done such that we have learned to adopt Thanksgiving as our own holiday, too, although the historical reasons for celebrating it are largely North American in nature. The so-called first Thanksgiving was a romanticized account of how the colonists and the Native Americans shared a meal. According to History.com, “In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states.” For the record, we are neither ignoring the bad blood between the two camps nor overlooking the violence and injustice perpetrated by the “white man” against the Native Americans. Instead, during this season we just choose to focus on the many ways we are giving thanks for all the blessings we receive, and yes, even for the trials, from a God/Goddess who does not discriminate based on skin color and other markers of our differences. Personally, I believe that we are all united by love and compassion, which in my book are the only true religions. But then, that’s just me.

I have kept a gratitude journal for several years now. I do admit that there were periods when my entries were sporadic and uninspired. During those times, I may have been feeling depressed or frustrated. Perhaps during 50% of those “dry spells,” I remember trying very hard to write at least a couple of entries like, “I am grateful for a room of my own” or “I thank God for my comfortable, lived-in slippers.” I try to notice every single thing, every little thing, which normally I’d be taking for granted when I’m being thankful for the big things, the exuberant feelings, the dramatic events. Therefore, throughout the years, I have come to a personal conclusion: it is when I’m going through a dark night of the soul that I must try harder to find things, people, and events in my life to be thankful for, because you know what? Any which one of those could be taken away from me at any time. In short, what I’m trying to say is I’d like to exhort you to appreciate the people and things in your life and to be thankful for them. A wise woman told me lately that there is a difference between appreciation and gratitude, and I think I’m beginning to understand now. Appreciation is when we have a sensitive awareness of people and things just because they are there, while gratitude or thankfulness is usually our reaction when we asked for a favor and it was granted.

One of my adult learners, Benjamin, is also doing a gratitude journal and sometimes we read out our entries to each other during our tutoring sessions. Aside from being a springboard to correct any grammatical or spelling errors (if any), his handwritten journal gives me a precious insight into how he thinks and feels. There was one statement he wrote that I couldn’t forget because it had a profound impact on me: “I thank God that the earth is round with four corners. Even if people are different, they are all the same.” Benjamin even accompanied his entry with a crayon-drawn quasi-realistic globe with the continents mapped in and a cross in the middle of the globe to signify the four major directions. He really got into it.

Browsing through my latest gratitude journal, here are some things that I have thanked God and Goddess for:
1. I am thankful for the few friends that I have. They may not be that many but I have experienced their love, support, and loyalty. I am also thankful for my wonderful family.
2. I am thankful for my ability to read. This ability alone expands my world, influences my point of view, and spurs me into action.
3. I am thankful for my comfortable clothes and shoes that keep me warm even in the coldest weather.
4. I am thankful to be able to ride AC Transit Bus #22 (my main transportation to and from Chabot College where I go to school).
5. I am thankful that I went out on a date with him today (whomever “him” is at the moment).

And so on and so forth. The idea for me here was to give thanks every chance I got lest I just let the moment pass and take all those bountiful blessings and seemingly inconsequential things for granted. Our Great Father and Great Mother have been good to me. I have even come to terms with my disability, bipolar disorder, and somehow turned it into a wellspring of inspiration for meeting people with disabilities like me, as well as healers of the mind, body, and spirit, and other very interesting people. If not for my illness, I wouldn’t have had the privilege, 14 years ago, of founding the Biopsychosocial Support and Interaction Group (BISIG) which was the first support group for people with mental disorders in the entire Philippines at the time. If not for my illness, I wouldn’t have met my wonderful members, most of whom are living drama-free productive lives these days. I am thankful that after much trial and error, I have learned not to be ashamed of my mental illness anymore and to do my best to live as normal a life as possible given my limitations.

Now just this past Sunday, I happened to be at the Angel Light Books in Berkeley again for their Thanksgiving Psychic Fair. As a “thank you” to all the loyal customers who have frequented the shop, store owner Ms. Valencia Chan asked us to join her for complimentary hors d’ oeuvres, pumpkin pie, and ginger peach tea. All of us who were in the store that day received a free gemstone heart which we picked with our eyes closed from her elegant black velvet pouch. I got a red jasper which Ms. Valencia said is supposed to energize the blood and increase one’s stamina. Goodness knows, with finals week coming up soon, I need all the help I can get. There were readers there for Chinese Fortune Telling, Tarot, Palm Reading, and African Shell Reading available for $20 for each type for 15 minutes, as usual. Of course, I haven’t experienced an African Shell Reading yet so that’s what I went for. Ms. Khadijah Grant, dressed in traditional African garb, was my reader. There was an invocation to my ancestors since according to Ms. Khadijah, they are always available to help. She asked me to move my right hand three times among the shells, coins, stones, etc., heaped over a circular symbol on her table mat. The long and short of it is that I need to get more grounded and that I am being urged to use more of my gifts for the benefit of others. She asked me to do a “mineral meditation” since minerals stand for memories – part of my grounding work, acknowledgement of my ancestors, and a call for guidance from the Earth itself where I am to do my future work.

As I am wont to say to myself as I feel my beating heart, “It is well with my soul.” It truly is. It is well with my soul. Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

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Find advisor Blesilda44 at KEEN.com, 1-800-ASK-KEEN (1-800-275-5336), extension 05226567 either by phone or chat: Mon-Fri 7-10 pm, Sat-Sun 7-11 pm Pacific. I speak English, Tagalog, and some Spanish. For personal readings (fee required), email me here: blessingsandlight725@gmail.com

“UNDAS” THE WAY WE DO IT IN THE PHILIPPINES in this week’s issue of the MANILA MAIL (Oct. 29-Nov.4, 2014)

Pilipinasblitz Forever
A column by Bles Carmona
For the week of Oct. 29-Nov. 4, 2014

“UNDAS” THE WAY WE DO IT IN THE PHILIPPINES

With prayers, candles, flowers – that’s the way we commemorate All Saints Day (a.k.a. undas) in my country of birth, Pilipinas. In the Catholic world, the Day of the Dead or All Souls Day is not until Nov. 2 but in the Philippines, it has become a long-standing tradition for the faithful to flock to the cemetery on Nov. 1, All Saints Day, with some of them opting to go a day early on Oct. 31 to avoid the crowds by visiting early, or they go a day early in order to stay overnight until the following day.

One week prior to Nov. 1, families go to the cemeteries to clean up and repaint the tombs of their loved ones, or they can contract with experienced tomb cleaners to do the job, sprucing up the area a little bit and doing whatever it takes to get the tomb or crypt ready for All Saints Day. Then on Nov. 1, that’s when the Catholic faithful troop to the cemeteries to have reunions with their family, say the rosary and other prayers, offer bouquets of flowers, and light candles. In our family, we light our candles, let them stand on the sconces and the top of the tombs, and we do not leave until the last candle has gone out and melted completely. We also bring some sandwiches and drinks to share and if we run out, there are always roaming food vendors who may charge an arm and a leg for their wares. But what can we do if we’re already hungry or thirsty, right?

Other families who have whole crypts that could be already be considered small houses bring their sound system and play blaring music. Other families bring their karaoke machines and sing out loud to their heart’s content. Some play cards or dance. Since some of these families plan to stay the night or even stay for a couple of days in the cemetery (the so-called lamay), these are the various ways for them to keep themselves energized and awake. Around Nov. 1, there is indeed a fiesta-like atmosphere in the cemeteries around the Philippines.

My previous personal experiences with All Saints Day revolve around the La Loma Cemetery. Let’s have a situationer. According to Wikipedia, “The La Loma Catholic Cemetery was opened in 1884 and is located mostly in the city of Manila and the northwestern part of Caloocan. The La Loma Cemetery is the oldest cemetery in Manila with an area of slightly less than 54 hectares.” How does our family get there? It’s a yearly trek we’ve had to make and my branch of the family had relied on me in the past to get us there without getting lost. From our house in Guadalupe Bliss, we have to ride a jeepney to Buendia (Gil Puyat) Avenue, then ride the Light Rail Transit (LRT) until we arrive at the Jose Abad Santos station where we get off. Down the stairs, walk for a bit until we reach the cemetery’s main entrance with that distinctive arch facing Taft Avenue. From there, we have to walk past the church (upon which wall states, “Ako ngayon, ikaw naman bukas” (My turn today, your turn tomorrow) which my sister Cherry and I find morbidly hilarious), past the Barredo family crypt, then turn left, find the multi-level crypts for the dead nuns of a certain order, find the tomb with ascending pillars high on top of it. That’s my final landmark. When I see it, it’s time to shepherd my family to the narrow walkway in between this tomb and the ones on the same and opposite side of it. Pretty soon, we locate a certain tree on the left and identify the iron roof over our family’s mini-crypt, so far having two levels. And there you go: we have arrived.

Once we arrive at our tomb, we may say things like, “Hello, Lolo, Lola, nandito na naman po kami, dumadalaw sa inyo.” (Hello, Grandpa, Grandma, here we are again, visiting you.) We break out the candles, bring out the food to share, maybe even say the rosary and other prayers for the dearly departed. And the flowers of course! Catholics believe that this is that important day of the year when we, the living, commune with those who already passed, and it’s true for our family back then. We reminisce about our great-grandparents (ground-level of the tomb), our grandparents who are my Mom’s and her siblings’ (my aunts’ and uncle’s) parents (second-level of the tomb). The recollections we rehash could either send us laughing or crying due to those fond memories borne out of our shared experiences with our dead loved ones. Celebrating Undas is also celebrating family unity, a way of acknowledging that hey, we’re still here, we’re still alive so let’s make the most out of our shared identities and relationships as a family.

At the end of the day, our family makes the trek back home. Once it gets dark, it’s time to bring out the candles again, this time lining them up in a safe manner outside, near the doorstep of the house or outside the gate if the house has one. According to tradition, these lighted candles will help the souls which are roaming around on that night to have a guided path back to heaven. I used to go outside and walk up to a certain distance so that I can see all those lighted candles forming a path in our neighborhood. As I watch the lighted candles flicker and glow, I am comforted by the realization that those who have gone ahead of me, family and friends, are not really gone completely. For as long as my heart and mind periodically refresh my memories of them, they will continue to live within me, until it’s my turn to join them.

Ako ngayon, ikaw naman bukas. Undas (And that’s) the way we do it in the Philippines.

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Find advisor Blesilda44 at KEEN.com, 1-800-ASK-KEEN (1-800-275-5336), extension 05226567 either by phone or chat: Mon-Fri 7-10 pm, Sat-Sun 7-11 pm Pacific. I speak English, Tagalog, and some Spanish. For personal readings, email me here: pilipinasblitz@gmail.com

“Educating Myself on Islam: The Beginning” in this week’s issue of the MANILA MAIL (Oct. 8-14, 2014) (Image courtesy of nocompulsion.com)

Pilipinasblitz Forever
A column by Bles Carmona
For the week of Oct. 8-14, 2014

EDUCATING MYSELF ON ISLAM: THE BEGINNING

I am currently taking a class called “The Nature of Islam” at Chabot College because I wanted to gain knowledge about this widely misunderstood culture. There are several requirements for the course. One of them was to watch a PBS documentary called “Islam: Empire of Faith.”

The religion and people of Islam have had a bad rap since 9/11. Islam’s reputation took a nosedive, becoming “evil.” In my mind, I compared this negative reaction to Muslims to an event centuries ago as described in the documentary. When Al-Hakim (described by a scholar in the film as “a madman”) ordered the burning of the Christian church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem in the year 1009, immediately the backlash was the impression that Muslims are intolerant, mad, heretics. By year 1095 there was a widespread anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe, and in my mind, this sentiment was what contributed to the massive downplaying of Islamic contributions to the culture of Europe, Asia, and Africa.

In “Empire of Faith,” Islam was portrayed in a positive light by showing Muslim developments and inventions in the second part of the documentary. This period of high achievement even predates the European Renaissance by hundreds of years. Starting with the concept of trade as an instrument for transmission of beliefs, Islam was shown to spread from Mecca to Europe and China. The film tackles Baghdad, a city of wealth rivaled only by ancient Athens or Rome, being made the best city in the world at that time by the presence of scholars. These scholars came from all over the world: Muslims, Christians, and Jewish alike, all searching for answers to some of the most daunting problems of the community at that time. Muslim scholars recognized the need for science and thus came up with the scientific method to solve problems in engineering, public hygiene, and commerce, among others.

Among the Islamic inventions and concepts mentioned in the film were Arabic numerals; algebra, engineering, and astronomy; germ theory to explain disease; separating patients with different diagnoses into different wards; a system of human anatomy; optics; treating cataracts using the needle; paper; and of course the exquisite architecture in Baghdad and Cordoba used for their mosques, hospitals, libraries, and parks. The film talked about Alhambra as the most famous example of Islamic architecture, and it was truly a wonderful sight to see!

Honestly, my reaction to the recounting of Muslim inventions was one of surprise. I have been “brain-washed” to believe that all the good inventions came from Europe. I grew up in the Philippines and even in my own country, we Catholics and Christians tended to look askance at Muslims. Since I was small, my impression of Muslims, based on a few neighbors and acquaintances, was that Muslims were hard to deal with, easily angered, and could “run amok” at any time. These are, of course, unfair generalizations on my part.

Since 9/11, Muslims have been portrayed in a negative light, lumped together as if they were not unique individuals. It is the negative slant of the media that makes unfair assumptions. For example, journalists are quick to label “Islamic extremists” as such but if those from other religions are the perpetrators, we don’t see them identified as “Catholic extremists” or “white fundamentalists.” Is the media’s use of certain words to describe Islam and Muslims a deliberate attempt to demonize this specific religion and culture?

Last week, I was invited to share lunch with my good friend Ahmed and his wife Aisha (not their real names) who graciously welcomed me to their modest home. Since Aisha knew only some English, Ahmed had to translate between his wife and me. She cooked some wonderful authentic Afghan cuisine items which Ahmed complemented with “Afghan wine,” which is actually an in-joke to describe yogurt milk due to its tendency to make a person drowsy after a meal. The couple also showed me their beautiful, healthy, and well-behaved almost 2-month old baby daughter Samirah. Their pride in that little bundle of joy is justified.

Last week, too, Muslims all over the world were celebrating the Eid al-Adha or the Festival of the Sacrifice. I think that we as non-Muslims are more familiar with the Eid al-Fitr (Lesser Eid) at the end of Ramadan, and together with the Eid al-Adha (Greater Eid), they comprise the two official holidays in Islam. Eid al-Adha occurs around 2.5 months after Eid al-Fitr, coming at the end of the pilgrimage to Mecca. Muslims commemorate God’s mercy to Abraham, allowing the patriarch to substitute an animal instead of his son for sacrifice. In honor of this, Muslims worldwide sacrifice goats, cows, and lambs on the Greater Eid and distribute the meat among family, friends, neighbors, and the poor.

Here is a paragraph from the book “American Muslims: A Journalist’s Guide to Understanding Islam and Muslims” issued by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR): “Journalists can use these celebrations and holy days to showcase the positive aspects of Muslim life. For instance, journalists can write about Ramadan dinners in the mosque or interfaith events, Muslims feeding the hungry, Muslims distributing meat to the poor, Muslims celebrating Eid, Muslim family life during Ramadan, how different cultures break the fast, or children praying and fasting despite intense school schedules (p. 31).”

In one of our professor’s early lectures, we learned that the first commandment of Islam is for people to educate themselves. Its aim is to produce individuals who have faith and knowledge, one sustaining the other. Knowledge without faith is not only partial knowledge but can be a kind of new ignorance. Acknowledging that wisdom is the fruit of true knowledge, Islamic education insists on the fact that piety and faith must be recognized as integrated parts of the educational system. (Prof. H. Siddiqi’s lecture, 8/27/14)

There is no compulsion in religion (Qur’an 2/256) and indeed, Muslims have been taught to coexist peacefully with people from other religions. Man always has free will and freedom of choice. “If it had been your Lord’s will, all who are in the earth would have believed together. Will you then compel humankind against their will to believe?” (Qur’an 10/99).

Let’s educate ourselves about Islam before being overcome by the stereotypes we foist on it. Interacting with Muslim individuals, families, and communities may just open your mind. Did you know that the literal meaning of the Arabic word “Islam” means “to be safe and secure, to submit and surrender, and peace?” Assalamu Alaikum (Peace be upon you.)

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Find advisor Blesilda44 at KEEN.com, 1-800-ASK-KEEN (1-800-275-5336), extension 05226567 either by phone or chat: Mon-Fri 7-10 pm, Sat-Sun 7-11 pm Pacific. I speak English, Tagalog, and some Spanish. For personal readings, email me here: pilipinasblitz@gmail.com

“The Mother of All Mothers: Honoring Mortals and Goddesses” – in this week’s issue of the Manila Mail (May 7-13, 2014)

Leaning in with my Mom, Mrs. Aida Ragasa Carmona
Leaning in with my Mom, Mrs. Aida Ragasa Carmona
All smiles! My parents, still together at 45 years and counting.
All smiles! My parents, still together at 45 years and counting.

Pilipinasblitz Forever Bles Carmona For the week of May 7-13, 2014

THE MOTHER OF ALL MOTHERS: HONORING MORTALS AND GODDESSES

First of all, we greet the most important woman in our lives on the second Sunday of May: Happy Mother’s Day!

A bit of nerdicity: in the olden days of its origin, there was a bit of a flap regarding the spelling of the holiday. Anna Jarvis insisted that it should be Mother’s Day (singular possessive), and her reasoning was that it was supposed to honor one mother of one family. In fact, President Woodrow Wilson adopted this spelling when he made the official declaration about Mother’s Day with Congressional backing in 1914. However, the other variations, Mothers’ Day (plural possessive) and Mothers Day (plural non-possessive) are also in use these days.

With that brief nod to this holiday’s origins, I would like to weave a narrative about motherhood, engaging our collective imagination and our strong feelings, whether of love or something else, toward our own mother and the mother-figures in our lives.

Let me start with my own mother: Mrs. Aida Ragasa Carmona. When I and my two younger sisters and one brother were still children living in the Philippines, my Mom worked three jobs to get us by, apart from our Dad’s average income. She taught English and speech and drama at the Manila Science High School in the mornings, taught college English at the Far Eastern University, and then she would rush to Broadcast City for their overnight “Flordeluna” tapings, where she played the role of “Aling Atang.”  Looking back on it now, my Mom attributes her almost “super-human” energy to the fact that she was young and it was all an adventure for her. Although she admits that her salary from her Flordeluna role was the one that got us through grade school and high school, she was also frequently called for location shoots for various bit roles in films, where she usually played maid or teacher roles. She has worked with the crème de la crème of Philippine cinema in the 1980s: Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal, and Mike De Leon among directors, and many popular stars of that era, among which she singles out Ms. Tita Duran as approachable (not “pa-importante”) and down-to-earth. Ms. Duran and my Mom became fast friends during those times. Among the younger set, she fondly remembers Ms. Lorna Tolentino who, when my Mom said out loud that she was craving for Skyflakes, Ms. LT asked her “alalay” to go outside the exclusive village where they were taping (therefore no “sari-sari” stores inside) and buy the crackers for my Mom, a whole box of Skyflakes! From my most impressionable years and up until now, my Mom is truly my source of strength and er, showbiz “chismis.” (Just kidding, Mom. You know I love you.) Happy Mother’s Day po sa inyo!

Here’s a shout-out to all the mothers out there: the real ones like you, who have to juggle home and career, who stay home and care for your children while your partner goes to work, who takes care of your pets as a mother to them, and every other variation of “Mother” onto which you put on your resplendent diadem. This tribute is for all kinds of mothers out there.

This is for Santa Monica of Hippo, who spent 30 years praying for her dissolute son. We know him now as Saint Augustine, a very influential Doctor of the Catholic Church. Saint Monica is the patron saint of three places: Manaoag, Pangasinan and Don Galo, Parañaque in the Philippines and Santa Monica, California. She is the one to turn to for help with difficult marriages, disappointing children, victims of adultery or unfaithfulness, victims of (verbal) abuse, and conversion of relatives.

This is for the late Philippine President Corazon Aquino, whom I’ve had the honor to meet face-to-face at Malacañang Palace in 1987 because I won first place in a national poetry competition about the first anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolution. She personally handed me and my fellow category winners our individual Cory Dolls. Pres. Cory Aquino became the Mother of the Nation during those uncertain times and her ascension to the Presidency marked the precarious transition from martial law to democracy.

This is for the Greek goddesses Gaea, mother of the Titans, and Demeter, patroness of agriculture and fertility. Gaea had the most terrible husband, Ouranos, who swallowed all his children and yet she endured to seek revenge later on. Demeter, in her grief when Hades lured her beloved daughter Persephone down into his Underworld, forgot being selfless for a while and brought on widespread draught and famine to mythical Greece. Such was Demeter’s love for her daughter. (If you Google the rest of the story, bonus points for you.)

This is for a couple of my Manila Science High School classmates, NMC and MGO, respectively, who as mothers of special children face unique challenges and yet rise to the occasion every single day out of their love for their respective children. Their serene countenances, grace under pressure, and true thankfulness to their God make me admire the families they have built with their husbands and children. In relation to this, I also salute the mother of my adult Literacy Plus learner. Her name is Sue. She expertly handles my learner’s wheelchair. My learner is a Korean-American man in his early 30s who was born with cerebral palsy. She patiently loads up my learner onto their specially constructed van and drives him over from their house three cities away to the Hayward Public Library every Friday. That’s where her son and I have our tutoring session for a couple of hours. She patiently waits for our session to finish by doing errands or browsing through books and audiotapes, deciding which ones to borrow. She is in tune with my learner’s moods, knowing when he is energetic and when he’s had enough.  In short, Sue is one of the most palpable examples to me of motherly devotion to her son. My learner may have been born with certain deficiencies but with a mother like Sue, he is clearly blessed in abundance. Sue’s dedication to her son’s wellbeing is admirable and worthy of emulation.

Clearly, there can be no higher love than a mother’s love. My Catholic parents would probably want me to mention the mother of all mothers in their religion: Saint Mary or Mother Mary. For those among you who are familiar with Christianity and/or Catholicism, the example of Mama Mary in caring for her son, Jesus Christ, is all over your Bible and traditions. From Jesus’ immaculate conception until his death and resurrection, his mother, Mary, remained loving and faithful. When I was younger and I was required to memorize the entire Rosary, I especially liked the looong Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary because her many titles are so evocative, for example: Mother of Our Savior, Tower of Ivory, Virgin Undefiled, Mirror of Justice, Queen of Angels, Mystical Rose, and so on. I don’t pray the Rosary anymore, but I have never stopped praying in my own fashion.

Lastly, this tribute is for three of my friends: one Latina and a couple of Filipinas, who have long been wanting to be mothers but so far have not yet been blessed by a child. If anyone deserves to be mothers because of the love and strength they carry in their hearts, it is these three by sheer virtue of their goodness and grace. I’ve been praying for each of them but they don’t know it. Well, JCL, LPP, and PIL, here I am going on record: May God and Goddess grant you the child you know you should birth into this world. When our prayers have been answered at last, may you love your respective children as only a true-blue mother could. Happy Mothers Day! It is plural, non-possessive, and can be shared by all!

********** Contact Bles Carmona for personal readings at pilipinasblitz@gmail.com, via Facebook at http://facebook.com/pilipinasblitzforever.org, or follow her on Twitter@BlesildaCarmona.