Walking and the Well
Drink water from your own cistern
flowing water from your own well.
~ Proverbs 5:15
I am an editor by profession. I chose to keep a day job to support my writing so I don’t feel pressured to make money out of it. This week was a working week—a marathon of editing, a communion with the material world, which I found was also a rest from grief. I did walk in the evenings after work. And in those walks, the mind, again, confronts the questions of existence alongside the regrets of an aching heart.
Here is the past week’s walk.
# The Long Walk: November 7 to 12, 2022
# November 7, Monday
In the evening, while I was walking, I contemplated the relevance of our beliefs about what exists (metaphysics) with our desire to belong. I wrote:
Metaphysics make us feel like we belong, like we don’t have to tolerate or exert effort. It is rest. It is home. We need to get out of our metaphysical comfort zones but we need to return to these spaces to feel home.
This is the reason why we join churches. In those churches, everyone believes the same things. The trouble of tolerating others’ metaphysical beliefs is lessened if not completely removed. We don’t have to debate. We can rest and focus on what is more important to us: friendships, romance, and the pursuit of a good life.
I look at my current circles and see that none of them really share my metaphysical beliefs. I am not part of any agnostic or atheistic circles even if I am one. Every interaction, therefore, involves stretching my tolerance muscles, getting used to listening, hearing, and sometimes even using the language of others that I don’t necessarily believe in. I think this has served well to increase my compassion and my ability to really empathize. But it can be tiring especially if I don’t have a “metaphysical home” to go back to.
# November 8, Tuesday
I am entertaining the possibility of writing a biography for Rem Tanauan. But this is a long-term project. It ought to be. Archival materials have to be gathered and preserved. Also, there is the issue of emotion. Write the biography this early and you won’t gain the wisdom that only time could reveal. And this wisdom is important because it will tell how much to reveal to the world. Reveal everything and you might hurt people, especially those who loved the person whose story you are writing about. Reveal too little and you risk people deifying a perfect yet dishonest image of the person. The story will be written. But it should be written in its own time.
In the evening, I sat down on the empty bleachers in front of a softball field, alone in the dark. I looked up and stared at the stars for about 15 minutes.
# November 9, Wednesday
One of the conversations I wish Rem and I had more was about the uses of I Ching by a secular person. I asked him a few weeks before his death how the I Ching could help an atheist or an agnostic. He said the I Ching is like water. It takes the form of the vessel it pours into, and so the I Ching could be used purely as a philosophical text that could prompt a philosophical conversation.
I remember this conversation and so I dug some more. People were asking the same question in Quora.
# November 10, Thursday
After watching this clip by the comedian Bo Burnham, I started questioning again how much of our social media use is preventing us from really hearing our deepest thoughts. For writers, philosophers, poets, and artists, hearing oneself is everything. And so this is an issue that I continue to grapple with. I am sure of one thing: the less I use social media, the more I think and write better. This is because I am able to maintain a deeper focus on a line of thought.
# November 11, Friday
In my journal, I returned to what I was thinking about last Monday (Nov. 7)—the relationship of our metaphysical beliefs with our desire for belongingness. I developed this journal entry into a note in my forest garden of the mind. Here is the note:
We feel belongingness to people we share metaphysical and epistemological beliefs with
The Buddha avoided metaphysics. He said it was unimportant and that it prevented us from being compassionate to each other. Overemphasizing our beliefs in metaphysics and epistemology can definitely make us hateful especially when the two are combined into one ideology. We agree about what we want and disagree about metaphysics and epistemology. But metaphysics and epistemology can help us be kinder. It will always be part of our conversation about how to relate with other people.
For example, I want to clarify my metaphysical and epistemological beliefs because I first need to create a place of belonging within myself. I first need to feel at home in my body. I want to feel really safe and autonomous and to protect that safe space as much as I can. And from there, expand my sense of belonging. The challenge is of course compassion—to love people outside that circle of belonging that we are ever so interested in building and preserving.
This is the reason why building my worldview through understanding is so important to me and why my immediate environment is so important to me and why I want to be careful and intentional in my relationships.
To illustrate the note, I drew concentric circles.
The more I leave the center of the circle (my mind and body), the more I leave my comfort zone—my ginhawa. But leaving that comfort zone allows me to grow and create more meaning as it is only within the context of my relationships that I truly flourish. Sonja Lyubomirsky, a happiness researcher, agrees:
Perhaps most critical to improving and maintaining happiness is the ability to connect with other people and to create meaningful connecting moments…
But how often could I leave that center of comfort and for how long without compromising it?
I continued exploring the website of the Unitarian minister Andrew James Brown. I first checked a new page he added to his site: Free Religion. It was a page introducing Shinichiro Imaoka, the advocate for free religion in Japan. I downloaded two free books: one his only biography and the other a collection of selected writings on free religion. Then I also read his short biography.
# November 12, Saturday
In the morning, I spent another long journaling session—about two hours—continuing the thread of thought that came to me the previous day. I started by simplifying my life areas into six:
- Overseeing - creating and maintaining structures for managing life
- Understanding - building your own worldview and philosophy of living and using that knowledge to inform your actions
- Restoring - maintaining and optimizing health
- Connecting - building and maintaining relationships
- Sustaining - providing and managing material and financial resources
- Creating - nurturing mastery and joy in different forms of art
Previously, I used “Life Work” as a category separate from “Mental Health” or “Physical Health.” But I know now that living my life is itself my life work, so it no longer makes any sense to continue treating it as something separate.
These life areas act like tags rather than boxes. This means that one project could target multiple areas. For example, a vacation trip to visit relatives can both be an opportunity to rest (restoring) and bond with family (connecting).
These categorizations are an important part of the contemplation I do about building a life management system that helps me track my goals, actions, and knowledge, that is, my attempt to practice intentional living.
I contemplated whether there could be a process I could follow to set up and then nurture these different life areas in a manner that feels right. And, of course, there is! I remembered the metaphor of walking, which I have been exploring since before I launched this newsletter, and thought about the concentric circles I drew above. I then mapped out the following process.
- Set up your home base (i.e., your own worldview, understanding yourself, setting up boundaries, knowing your preferences, establishing practices, curating your immediate physical space) to make it the safest and most autonomous space you can be in. Your home base consists of your mind, body, and your immediate physical space.
- When you are ready, walk your figurative neighborhood and attempt to build and nurture an inner circle—a circle of trust, a support system of close friends, family, or mentors. Use that inner circle to cultivate mutually beneficial support in your attempts to strengthen each other’s home base.
- When you are ready, extend your walk towards town and start challenging yourself to expand your knowledge about others, to open yourself to surprise and dialogue, and to find opportunities to grow among different but still like-minded or like-hearted people.
- Eventually, when your home base is strong, your inner circle solid, and your outer circle thriving, you may feel the challenge to explore what I call “the wilderness of compassion.” You will walk outside the gates of the town and into an arid, potentially unfriendly wilderness. This is beyond your comfort zone, beyond what you think is possible, but it also provides you with the biggest opportunity to grow, transcend, and explore what might be possible with the human heart. Could you, for instance, love the unloveable? Could you feel comfort alongside someone who is at the opposite end of your comfort zone? These are questions only answered by heeding the call of walking into the wilderness.
This philosophy of living, creating, and connecting illustrated by the metaphor of walking has some similarities with the metaphor of the well (balon) that my late friend, which I miss so much, Rem Tanauan, has developed in his poetry course. Here is a translation of a Filipino reflection I wrote this week about the similarities of the metaphors of walking and the well.
This morning, I have been on my journal for two hours already. I could feel my voice returning, hearing it, no longer just a whisper. I was contemplating the similarities of Rem’s metaphor of the well and the metaphor of walking, which I am currently exploring. Both are metaphors with wide applications but they are sharp in their similarities as metaphors of how to create and how to live.
Integral to Rem’s metaphor of the well is returning to it always. Because everything we share to the world as a human and an artist comes from it. The same goes with the metaphor of walking. One needs to return home after several hours of walking to restore strength, heal, and meditate on the things realized and seen outdoors.
These metaphors are anchored in a view that life indeed is difficult but that we can always return to a source that we can coax comfort that we may go back into the world and do what we want to do.
Integral in this philosophy and poetics of well-being is not hurrying, slowing down, carefulness, and a deep knowledge of self first before going out and doing.
After I journal, I usually read one or two poems. When I opened Rofel Brion’s Kapag Natagpuan Kita = Once I Find You, this was the first poem that caught my attention.