It’s been a while…

Greetings, loyal followers!

Here are some updates in my so-called life:

1. I decided to drop my Stargazer Bles Facebook page where I post my weekly horoscope readings & transact with my astrology/tarot/oracle reading clients. You see, I just went through an emotional crisis & for a while I felt that I couldn’t keep going anymore. Thankfully, I am so over that now. I may not do the weekly horoscopes anymore but I plan to post astrology-related morsels right here in the future. Stay tuned for those.

2. I just received my Bachelor’s degree in Metaphysical Sciences (B. Msc.) from the University of Metaphysical Sciences (UMS). This is a dream come true for me: to receive an official degree in a field I’ve been “dabbling in” for most of my life. I plan to continue into the Master’s & Doctoral levels. Studying at the UMS opened my vistas to brave new worlds! Stay tuned.

3. My husband & I celebrated our 3rd wedding anniversary last February 28. Actually we were married on a leap year, February 29, 2016 – following the sugggestion of my excellent & compassionate astrologer-colleague Ms. Linea Van Horn. Leandro & I got married in our 40s (first marriage, & hopefully the last, for both). However, I understand that people are marrying right & left quite late in the game as well, so we really are part of a growing trend, it seems. I will certainly stay tuned for developments on this one.

4. I will soon be publishing a book with Balboa Press called The Filipino Diwata Oracle. Details to follow soon. All I can say at this point is: Shoot, I’m sooo excited about this!!!

There you go. Brief updates. Please leave a Like or Comment if you feel moved to do so. Talk to you soon.

Oh, the stars of Aries and those Aries stars!

Blessings and Light Reflections #4
For the week of March 27-April 2, 2017
OH, THE STARS OF ARIES AND THOSE ARIES STARS!

 

What do Emma Watson, Emma Thompson, Ewan McGregor, and Luke Evans have in common? Well, aside from playing Belle, Mrs. Potts, Lumíere, and Gaston, respectively, in the 2017 version of “Beauty and the Beast,” these actor-celebrities are in fact all born under the sign of Aries! Fascinating! Well, at least to a fangirl-slash-astrologer-slash-busybody like me who keeps track of these things.

 

What is the significance of finding out that four of the main characters in the film have Aries as their zodiac sign? Zero Aries is the first degree that the Sun enters in the tropical zodiac system, and it did so last March 20th, signaling the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere and to us astrologers, the real New Year. Without getting too technical about it, let’s just agree that spring is a powerful period of time, a time for new beginnings, setting new intentions and acting upon them – simply because the Sun is at its exaltation in Aries, imbuing the days of spring with tremendous fiery energy. Just picture the Sun at its mightiest and most dignified, emitting life-giving heat and light. Such is the presence that the Sun lends to the Aries period.

 
Therefore, it comes as no surprise that with Emma Watson (Belle), Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts), Ewan McGregor (Lumíere), and Luke Evans (Gaston), we simply have an Aries overload! There have been many excellent actors born with their Sun in Aries throughout filmic history, but if we focus even on these four contemporary luminaries, it’s not hard to imagine why their combined stellar power catapulted “Beauty and the Beast” to stratospheric box-office sales and salutary IMDB ratings. Here’s my brief rundown on how these four actors made an impression on me throughout the years: I “know” Emma Watson from her portrayal of “Hermione” from the “Harry Potter” film series, as well as in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” Standout performances from the esteemed actor-director Emma Thompson in my opinion are her roles in “The Remains of the Day” and “Love, Actually” (just wait until the scene where she discovers “something” in their room as she plays a CD of Joni Mitchell singing “Both Sides Now”… made me cry as silently as she did). Per the crackerjack Ewan McGregor, sorry I missed him in “Trainspotting” all those years ago, and I still haven’t watched that one yet although I hear a Part 2 is already in the offing. Ewan first made an impression on me in his vulnerable take on “Moulin Rouge,” while Luke Evans, with his Moon in Scorpio and intense eyes, caught my attention as the Count in “Dracula Untold.”

 

Of our four Aries stars, three were born on April 15: Emma Thompson, with her Moon in sensitive Cancer, was born April 15, 1959 (57 y/o); Luke Evans was born April 15, 1979 (37 y/o); Emma Watson, with her Moon in playful Sagittarius, was born April 15, 1990 (26 y/o). Ewan McGregor, with a Gemini Moon, was born on March 31, 1971 (46th birthday almost coming up). If you find any other mysterious connections, please feel free to share below. As they say in their wildly successful film, “Be our guest!”

“Are you feeling your age?” in this week’s issue of the MANILA MAIL (March 4-10, 2015; page A7)

Pilipinasblitz Forever
A column by Bles Carmona
For the week of March 4-10, 2015

ARE YOU FEELING YOUR AGE?

Upon the intersection of my current reading fare (Dr. Atul Gawande’s “Being Mortal”), the upcoming exact Uranus-Pluto square on March 16, and my recent high blood pressure and high blood sugar indicators, my answer is yes, I am indeed feeling my age.

Where does youthfulness end and decrepitude begin? Is there a defined divide where one day you’re feeling wonderful in the peak of health and the next day you all of a sudden become violently ill? (I’ve known of cases like these.)

Are we even aware that with each birthday we celebrate, we are also one year closer to the inevitable, whether that means some sort of bodily or mental breakdown or death? You know, I have to admit that I was operating on a plane of denial about my physical health. I mean, of course, I’m very vigilant about my mental health, regularly checking in with myself for signs and symptoms of my bipolar disorder. I am diligent about reporting even the slightest mood and behavior changes to my psychiatrist. However, when it comes to my physical diagnoses, diabetes and hypertension, I admit that I have been less than careful.

As my readers with diabetes know, this condition is managed by diet, exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight. If those are not enough, then we get prescribed diabetic medications and insulin. Somewhere between being told that I have adult-onset diabetes 15 years ago and now, I have been in denial about following the advice, warnings, and injunctions about my illness. I was 30 years old then, and the complications being described to me – heart attacks, eye problems, nerve and kidney damage, among others – seemed so far removed from my apparently “healthy” life.

Another facet of my denial came from my hypertension. I have not been that diligent in getting my blood pressure checked throughout the years, although every time I went to my doctor in the past, my blood pressure (BP) was always within normal limits. That’s a minor miracle, actually, because I used to smoke a lot apart from generally not leading a healthy lifestyle. This year, though, just when I’ve quit smoking since New Year’s Day, it’s ironic that my blood pressure chooses this time to shoot up and give me a scare.
Therefore, I am making it my intention to set my health straight this year. Lose the weight, modify the diet, step up on the exercise, and take my meds and insulin. Help myself as much as I help others. It appears that what I have here is an imbalance between giving and receiving: I need to receive healing as much as I give healing. However, my mentor taught me that it’s not actually we who are doing the healing but we just prime a person for healing to occur in her. The thing I have to remember is that the body and mind have the capacity to heal themselves. If we help them along by consciously doing the “right things” (diet, exercise, etc.), then the body and mind respond accordingly, generally speaking. It’s a bodymind intuition sort of thing.

Of course, what we cannot afford to remove from this equation is your personal practice of spirituality. Whatever you call your Supreme Being, it should be a part of your outreach and outpouring of thanks. (Astrologer Rob Brezsny calls God “the Divine Wow.”) I have not finished reading “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande, but I promise to report on it once I do. That book describes what’s being done in the field of geriatrics and about the phenomenon of aging. I am excited to read the rest of the book.

Meanwhile, back to the subject of feeling our age. Truth be told, I’m turning 45 this coming April 4. On the face of it, I have no problem admitting my age and all that. I’m even proud to say my age, as if it were a badge of honor, and it is, if we equate it with wisdom gained over the years. Now I’m forced to admit that my other types of wisdom may have far outpaced my basic bodily wisdom, in which my bodymind intuition should have known better and steered me toward healthier choices in life. I need to feel more grounded and am seeking ways to do that. But now, with intimations of mortality staring me in the face, metabolic syndrome, frazzled nerves and all that, I’ve come all of a sudden to feel my age.

We may age, our loved ones may age, the world may age, but the All-Powerful is timeless and mighty. In our relationship with the Divine, we must never forget to express our gratitude for each day that we still wake up and feel relatively healthy.

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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

“REMEMBERING DR. JUAN M. FLAVIER, DOCTOR TO THE BARRIOS” in this week’s issue of the MANILA MAIL (Nov. 12-18, 2014) (Image courtesy of tumblr.com)

Pilipinasblitz Forever
A column by Bles Carmona
For the week of Nov. 12-18, 2014

REMEMBERING DR. JUAN M. FLAVIER, DOCTOR TO THE BARRIOS

When Dr. Juan Flavier passed away last Oct. 30 at the age of 79, he metaphorically orphaned many a physician and health professional who considered him as their inspiration for serving in the rural areas of the Philippines. Dr. Flavier was an early pioneer of bringing medical service to the far-flung barangays of the country, writing about his experiences with the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM) in his first book, “Doctor to the Barrios.”

Dr. Juan Martin Flavier (23 June 1935-30 October 2014) was a senator from the Philippines (1995-2007), and before that he served as the Secretary of the Department of Health (DOH) from 1992-1995. Flavier was born in Tondo, Manila then moved to Baguio City where he studied at the Baguio City National High School. He obtained his medical degree from the University of the Philippines Manila-College of Medicine, and his Masters in Public Health from the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University in 1969. From 1978 to 1992, he was the president of the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR).

In his first non-fiction book, “Doctor to the Barrios,” Dr. Flavier shares his experiences about his medical service to the village folk in the provinces of Nueva Ecija and Cavite, both located in the Luzon island. I read this book on my own when I was still in high school. His subsequent books feature certain individuals in the barrios with whom he has formed friendships, including many humorous anecdotes and “parables,” as well. In the follow-up book, called “My Friends in the Barrios,” here is an excerpt from his foreword:

“When I joined the PRRM, I did so without previous exposure to the barrios. All my earlier life had been spent in cities – Baguio and Manila. So when I began to visit barrios and meet farmers, the experiences were intriguing and fascinating – it was a new world. Their language was poetic and different. Their ways did not conform with many of my own. Their humor and values made strong impressions on me. The strategy of knowing the farmers as a starting point for rural reconstruction made me aware of their humanity.”

President Fidel V. Ramos appointed Dr. Flavier Secretary of the DOH in 1992. Flavier’s sense of humor and upbeat personality helped launch many a department initiative with nationwide impact: Oplan Alis Disease, Oplan Sagip Mata, Kontra Kolera, Yosi Kadiri, Doctors to the Barrios Project, Pusong Pinoy, Stop TB, Family Planning, Araw ng Sangkap Pinoy, and many others. Dr. Flavier resigned from his post in order to run for Senator in 1995, and then again in 2001, becoming the 21st President pro tempore of the Senate of the Philippines. Aside from a perfect attendance record in all Senate sessions, Dr. Flavier authored and sponsored landmark legislations such as the Traditional Medicine Law, the Poverty Alleviation Law, Clean Air Act, Indigenous People’s Rights Act, Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2001, Barangay Micro-Business Enterprise, National Service Training Program for Tertiary Students of 2002, Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, Plant Variety Protection Act, Philippine Nursing Act of 2002, and the Tobacco Regulation Act. (Wikipedia)

In the Journal of Infectious Diseases (1997;175(Suppl 1):S272-6), Dr. Flavier co-authored a study with Rudolf Tangermann and Maritel Costales titled “Poliomyelitis Eradication and Its Impact on Primary Health Care in the Philippines.” According to this peer-reviewed journal article, “through good routine immunization, the incidence of paralytic polio has decreased to low levels in the Philippines even before the national immunization days (NIDs) were initiated.” Since 1992 and I remember this quite well, there have been NIDs for polio eradication, promoted by Dr. Flavier himself in television ads about the Oplan Sangkap Pinoy. He was able to mobilize not just the health sector in volunteering for these events, but also the government in general, the nonprofit sector, big business, the Boy and Girl Scouts, and even TV and film actors and actresses. The study abstract further says: “National Immunization Days had a direct positive effect on child health through supplementary immunization with oral poliovirus vaccine, measles vaccine, and tetanus toxoid for childbearing-age women, as well as through the distribution of vitamin A.” The bottom line was that with improved surveillance for acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) and virus detection, wild poliovirus has not been isolated since May 1993. In addition to AFP cases, neonatal tetanus and measles are now being reported through the AFP surveillance systems in several regions. This was just one of the many successful health campaigns under Dr. Flavier’s leadership at the DOH. On the DOH website itself, Dr. Flavier is described as “perhaps the most popular Secretary of Health.”

I was still a medical student at the UP College of Medicine when Dr. Flavier was appointed Secretary of the Dept. of Health. At that time, there was an explosion of knowledge about community or grassroots medicine, utilizing modalities of alternative medicine like the use herbs, acupressure/acupuncture, reflexology, ventosa (cupping), and others. I remember being interested in all of those and would have wanted to explore some of them further, but it was not to be. Meanwhile, Dr. Flavier at that time was a ubiquitous presence in the media, promoting one DOH initiative or another, and the common tao can’t help but adore his jolly and positive presence. It was inspiring to see him at work. His charismatic personality endeared him to the masa. Clearly, in this diminutive man (in height only, not in spirit), the masses have found a champion for their health concerns, the personification of the government’s concern for the health and wellbeing of all Filipinos. Because of Dr. Flavier’s can-do and caring attitude, the attitude of most Filipinos became less resistant toward the government’s campaigns for health preventive measures. True, Dr. Flavier did incur the wrath of the Catholic Church hierarchy in the country for promoting the use of condoms and HIV prevention, but even an informal survey of Catholics at that time would reveal that the faithful think that the Church’s stand against artificial contraception was a little bit extreme.

When I was researching for sources for this article, I was dismayed that I cannot get a hold of any of Dr. Flavier’s books. The only hard copy I was able to borrow was his second book, “My Friends in the Barrios” from the Cal State East Bay (CSUEB) library. I tried Amazon and Alibris, wanting to buy his autobiography but it was out of stock. Maybe you and I could request the publishers to reissue Dr. Flavier’s books, especially in the light of his passing. Those books are timeless and I believe that we can all benefit from knowing how it is to serve in the rural communities which comprise at least 70% of our native country. Here are the books authored by Dr. Juan M. Flavier:

1. Doctor to the Barrios, Experiences with the Philippine Reconstruction Movement (1970)
2. My Friends in the Barrios (1974)
3. Back to the Barrios: Balikbaryo (1978)
4. Parables of the Barrio: Vol. I (1988)
5. Parables of the Barrio: Vol. II, Nos. 51-100 (1989)
6. Parables of the Barrio: Vol. III, Nos. 101-150 (1991)
7. Let’s DOH It!: How We Did It (1998)
8. From Barrio to Senado: an Autobiography (2009)

Dr. Juan Flavier’s diplomatic approach to the novel things he learned as a newly minted barrio doctor all those years ago paved the way for those of us who wonder how to mobilize community support for our projects and initiatives. Among the community-oriented lessons I have learned from reading Dr. Flavier’s books are: Start with where they are and what they know. Seek out the authority figures in the community and find out if they would work with you. Do not automatically assume that what you learned in medical school is superior to folk knowledge. Form friendships, be respectful, and be approachable. Simple lessons, sure, but these are the foundations of Dr. Flavier’s success as a barrio doctor and informed his legislation later as a Senator. He leaves behind a legacy of a life simply lived but with maximum impact on the Filipino psyche. His wisdom and humility will be missed.

Rest in peace, Dr. Juan Martin Flavier. You said, “Let’s DOH it!” With your exemplary life, Dr. Flavier, you surely did it and more.

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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

“LIVING IN HARMONY WITH THE EVER-CHANGING MOON” in this week’s issue of the MANILA MAIL (Nov. 5-11, 2014)

Pilipinasblitz Forever
A column by Bles Carmona
For the week of Nov. 5-11, 2014

LIVING IN HARMONY WITH THE EVER-CHANGING MOON

Practicum time!!! For those among my readers who may have more than a passing interest in astrology, we have now a fitting time interval in which to observe the effects of the Moon on our consciousness.
We will now pose our astrological question as: Given that the Moon entered the sign of Aries on November 3, 2014 at 10:53 AM PST, and given that the Moon moves sign-per-sign through the zodiac from Aries through Pisces approximately every 2 ½ days, journalize your impressions on how the Moon in each sign affected you, either positively or negatively. When were you inspired to action? When were you inhibited into inactivity? It may be helpful, in your journal, to distinguish your personal observations among the biological, psychological, social, and spiritual aspects of your life.

We have the whole month of November to make our observations and write in our personal astrological journal. The purpose of this activity is to consciously align our energies with the movements of the Moon so that when it makes its rounds among the zodiac signs again, we will have a better idea about which periods energize or enervate us, which types of activities are appropriate for you personally when the Moon is in a particular sign, when to push forward or when to pull back.

For instance, based on my personal experience, no matter what sign the Moon is in during a Full Moon and even if I’m not aware that there’s a full moon on a certain night, I always find it difficult to fall asleep, as in: I’m tossing and turning, asking myself why I can’t sleep, and then I take a look outside past the blinds on my window… duh! When I see the full moon up there, I wonder no more. Another observation I have is that when the Moon is in Pisces, I easily get tired and emotional. In my birth chart, I have my Moon in 18 degrees Pisces so you could imagine the effects gradually reaching a crescendo as the transiting Moon touches upon the exact degree of my natal Moon. I find myself most energized when the Moon is in Taurus, and the explanation I could give you is that my natal Venus, Saturn, and Mars are in – yes, 1, 8, and 19 degrees Taurus, respectively. Apparently, the effect on me as the transiting Moon touches these planets one after another in that order in my chart is to galvanize me into positive feelings and productive activities. But you know what? It’s all a cycle so after the buildup and crescendo, the influence gradually wanes, and then the cycle begins again.

The purpose of this journal of observations is for us to discover correspondences between the journey of our lives and the journey of the Moon, taking note of our personal best or worst times, activity or rest times, alone or socialization times – the list is practically endless as you identify which life activities you prioritize during which times. There are other planetary influences, of course, but we will start with the Moon’s symbolic effects since it’s the fastest-moving luminary and your reaction to the Moon’s move from one sign to another may be easily observed and recorded. Mark your calendars with the following changes. For the month of November 2014, here’s the sequence of the Moon’s movements across the signs (times are Pacific Standard Time):

Moon moves into Aries-Nov. 3 (Mon)-10:53 am
Into Taurus-Nov. 5 (Wed) – 1:33 pm (Note: Full Moon Nov. 6)
Into Gemini-Nov. 7 (Fri) – 5:45 pm
Into Cancer-Nov. 10 (Mon) – 0:38 am
Into Leo-Nov. 12 (Wed) – 10:44 am
Into Virgo-Nov. 14 (Fri) – 11:08 pm
Into Libra-Nov. 17 (Mon) – 11:30 am
Into Scorpio-Nov. (Wed) – 9:31 pm
Into Sagittarius-Nov. 22 (Sat) – 4:19 am (also the day of the New Moon in Sagittarius)
Into Capricorn-Nov. 24 (Mon) – 8:31 am
Into Aquarius-Nov. 26 (Wed) – 11:23 am
Into Pisces-Nov. 28 (Fri) – 2:03 pm

Here are some brief descriptions of the Moon through the Signs, excerpted from “Jim Maynard’s Celestial Guide 2014 – an astrological week-at-a-glance engagement calendar” (a handy scheduler with good-to-know articles, ephemeris, and other supplementary information):

MOON THROUGH THE SIGNS (Reference: “Jim Maynard’s Celestial Guide 2014)

Moon in Aries – key phrase: “I am,” enthusiasm, ambition, energetic activity; good time for beginning projects and for instigating change; watch out for temper flare-ups and selfishness; be mindful of the rights of others; Aries rules the head; people may be more susceptible to head injuries.

Moon in Taurus – key phrase: “I have,” people tend to be very cautious and unchanging; tendency to be bull-headed, stubborn; a feeling that it is necessary to protect the status quo or what one already has; need for financial and material security is strong; take time to continue or conclude projects already started; Taurus is ruled by Venus so this would be a good time to enjoy and appreciate the earthly beauty that surrounds us; Taurus rules the throat.

Moon in Gemini – people may never make up their minds; may see both sides of everything; feel more adaptable, changeable, talkative; a time for communication; a good time to write, take care of tasks that resemble mathematical puzzles, make speeches, just let your ideas fly through the clouds; emphasis on mind games and intellectual pursuits rather than practical concerns; people begin to feel restless; an inclination to rationalize emotions; Gemini rules the lungs, arms, hands, and nervous system.

Moon in Cancer – Cancer is ruled by the Moon, so lunar influences are strongest and most easily expressed when focused through this sign. The Moon greatly influences the personality, the subconscious, the emotions, and molds instinctual behavior. Intense emotions, great sensitivity; take care not to wound or be wounded emotionally; people will be passive, easy-going, sentimental, loving, nurturing; it’s easy to overeat, good time for creating life and for growth; Cancer rules the breasts and stomach.

Moon in Leo – People need romance, affection, recognition; the desire to be admired and appreciated can be so strong that it may result in especially dramatic behavior; Leo ruled by the Sun: a time of ambition, independence, leadership; people may refuse to recognize limitations; a time for enjoyment and warmth; a time to show kindness and generosity to others; Leo rules the heart and the upper spine.

Moon in Virgo – A good time for intellectual pursuits requiring critical detail rather than innovative creativity; a good time for taking care of any matter requiring painstaking attention; people may become shy, retiring, discriminating, fastidious, and even overly critical at times; concerns about food and health; feel the urge to clean up their homes, which is a good way to channel Virgo energy; Virgo rules the intestines and the powers of assimilation.

Moon in Libra – People have a strong sensitivity to and attraction for others; search for harmony and balance; teamwork; a good time to form partnerships of all kinds – friendships, marriage, business; a friendly, tolerant nature and a desire to beautify; a lovely time for a social gathering; Libra rules the kidneys and the lower back.

Moon in Scorpio – People often become aggressive, critical, impatient, and moody; there is a marked increase of intensity, as heightened sensitivity to personal offenses and insults; suspicious, secretive nature; avoid social complications; beware of jealousy; remember to forgive and forget; be cautious interacting with the opposite sex; this could be a good time for an intense merging with another on a deep emotional level; Scorpio rules the generative system, reproductive system and the lower spine (sacrum); The Moon in Scorpio is a very bad time for surgical operations of any kind.

Moon in Sagittarius – Idealistic feeling, a sense of discontinuity, restlessness, desire for sports and adventures, a love for of change and motion, and the itch to travel; people will be warm and friendly, likely feel spontaneous, intuitive (even prophetic at times), easily animated; tendency toward superficial enthusiasm; strong need for independence and unable to endure restrictions; good time for learning, publishing, lecturing, and other intellectual activities; Sagittarius rules the thighs and the hips.

Moon in Capricorn – A time of material ambition and an awareness of work and duty; in the search for status and financial security, people might become insensitive, even unsympathetically cruel, but from selfish necessity rather than animosity; pessimism or negativity to creep in; generally while the Moon is in Capricorn, energy is sluggish; a time for diligently applying yourself to tasks while living solely in the present; Capricorn rules the knees, teeth, bones, and skin.

Moon in Aquarius – Public affairs become more important as there is an interest in the welfare of others in a social sense; people tend to be very friendly but in an impersonal manner; desire for freedom and a love for the innovative and unconventional; freedom in expressing thoughts and personal uniqueness; demanding the freedom to come and go without restrictions; Aquarius rules the ankles, the circulation, the electrical forces in the body and nervous system.

Moon in Pisces – Inclination toward psychic impressions; imagination is strong; heightened sensitivity to music and other intangible forces; tendencies are to be emotional, spiritual, self-sacrificing; can create feelings of vulnerability, drifting into withdrawal as an emotional protection; people may feel passive, sentimental, gentle, kind, cheerful, but too easily discouraged; may experience stirrings of memories or insights into the spiritual meaning of current situations during this time; Pisces rules the feet.

At the end of November, perhaps we can compare notes about what we thought of, felt, and experienced as the Moon stayed for 2 1/2 days in a sign before moving on to the next. I really encourage you to keep a journal and write your daily impressions. Please note that just because it says here, for example, energy is sluggish in general while the Moon is in Capricorn, that you have to agree without testing it out yourself. You may actually be more energetic when the Moon is in Capricorn. So note down your personal experiences in your journal and later, we will find an explanation. For now, the most important thing is to be aware of the Moon’s movement through the signs this month and writing in your journal. pilipinasblitz@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

“Revisiting Those Homecoming Blues” in this week’s issue of the MANILA MAIL (Oct. 22-28, 2014)

Pilipinasblitz Forever
A column by Bles Carmona
For the week of October 22-28, 2014
REVISITING THOSE HOMECOMING BLUES

I wrote the following essay way back in 1997. It was published under the “Youngblood” column that welcomes contributions from the twentysomething or below in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. My piece appeared on the same day that Batch 1987 had its 10th year reunion on Dec. 27, 1997 in our alma mater, the Manila Science High School. Since October is MaSci’s foundation month, please allow me to share this essay with all of you as I remember how my special science high school education shaped me in a lot of ways. Now imagine me ten years out of high school, 27 years old and full of nostalgic angst, hunkering down to write this all those years ago. Has anything really changed since then? ***********************************

HOMECOMING BLUES
By Blesilda I. R. Carmona

It’s been 10 years since our batch graduated from the Manila Science High School. I don’t know what will happen on our alumni homecoming, but I do know that the prospect of meeting my batchmates has filled me with some apprehensions these last few days. It’s been 10 years, and what have I got to show for it?

If our batch had compiled a short list of the most likely to succeed, I certainly would have been on it. I was a popular campus figure. I graduated first honorable mention, copped the excellence award in English, and received the Gerry Roxas leadership award. I still have the slumbook where some batchmates wrote their mushy dedications predicting a rosy future for me. Most wrote that they’d never forget me and hope I won’t forget them, too.

Would I ever? My batchmates are always on my mind these days. They’re supposed to be the standard against which I should measure myself. But after 10 years, I have been anything but a smashing success.
It depends on how one defines success, you say. But let’s assume the “usual” criteria: career going great guns, improved financial status and standard of living, a happy marriage and home life, and possibly some contributions to Philippine society. When you come right down to it, I fail on every count.

Career going great guns? I have barely started mine while my high school batchmates have already ascended to middle management level. I botched my attempt at a medical course at UP-PGH, decided to shift to a film course in UP Diliman campus, and up to now I haven’t done my thesis-on-video yet. I’ve been in college for a decade now, but I haven’t been able to finish anything. (I do have a BS Basic Medical Sciences degree after finishing two years of pre-med and two years of medicine proper under UP’s Intarmed program. I dropped out in the middle of fourth year proper.)

Earlier this year, I botched my first job. My supervisor at a film company fired me for frequent tardiness and absences, which was entirely my fault. However, I prayed to God to help me land another job so I could redeem myself in my own eyes, and He answered my prayer by giving me my current job as a writer/PR coordinator for a publicity firm. So far I have been late only once, and I am turning out good copy, after countless notes from bosses and clients. While my batchmates have already gone on study leaves from their prestigious jobs to get their MBAs and PhDs, here I am a mass com undergrad with an entry-level job whose ultimate joy consists of achieving a near-perfect attendance record. Since I’m still new, I can’t even assess my so-called performance. But what the heck, I’ve finally started a sort of career path. Talk about a late bloomer in the corporate jungle.

What about improved financial status or standard of living as a success indicator? My current income doesn’t guarantee me total financial independence from my California-based parents. The eldest of four children, I still live in the original Carmona home in Guadalupe Bliss with my sister and her husband, a male cousin and a female helper, while my high school batchmates already have houses and cars of their own (throw in a beeper, cell phone, laptop, Internet subscription). My ultimate joy in this area consists of being able to give the proper tithe to our church, buy basic personal needs, pay for my lunch at the office and bus fare, and occasionally contribute to the marketing budget at home. Oh, and I almost forgot: I’m assigned to pay for the household’s subscription to the Inquirer.

What about a happy married or home life? Oh, I’ve had my share of serious and non-serious affairs in my teens up to my early 20s but I’ve been unattached since four years ago. My theme song now is Karen Carpenter’s “I Know I Need to be in Love,” which goes on to say: “I know I’ve wasted too much time/I know I’ve asked perfection from a quite imperfect world/and fool enough to think that’s what I’ll find.” I’ve got a pocketful of good intentions but none of them will keep me warm tonight.

While some of my high school batchmates are already married and with children, others are engaged and still others are seriously dating, my ultimate joy as far as this thing goes is (at the risk of sounding like sourgraping) at least being able to come and go anywhere I please, whether it be the mall, art gallery, secondhand bookstore, movie house, Olongapo, Bayombong, Enchanted Kingdom – everywhere! I savor and appreciate my voluntary solitude. Long-term commitment? I guess I’m still not mature enough to handle one, despite my previous passions.

Let’s not even dwell on my so-called contributions to Philippine society because I’ve never had one which would merit mention on the front-page or at least the lifestyle section. Meanwhile, one female batchmate has topped the dentistry board exams (as in No. 1!), another female classmate is now chief editor of a leading business publication, and my best friend is a supervisor at a topnotch accounting firm. I know at least three guys who are already doctors, one guy who is a lawyer at the Supreme Court, and another guy (our valedictorian) who has taken a study leave from his managerial position at a big bank to pursue another degree in a famous American university. (I know he already has an MBA, so this is now his third degree – pardon the pun.)

So it’s been 10 years, and what have I got to show for it?

In a word, nothing. At least not by the usual standards we use to measure a person’s success.

I must have been the quietest person around during the couple of meetings I attended as a member of the homecoming organizing committee. I have in my possession all of my co-members’ impressive calling cards. I can feel the aura of self-confidence and wisdom emanating from their previously clueless high school selves. I quietly revel in their radiance while feeling proud of their achievements. Vicariously I feel I have also succeeded through them.

It’s been a decade, guys, so I’ll be seeing you at the Manila Science auditorium today. If plans don’t change, I’ll be playing sparkling host tonight. All I can offer you is a slightly improved version of the Bless Carmona you knew (and even the descriptive “improved” is open to question in my case, needing several qualifiers). Well, you be the judge.

I may not have much to show for all those years we’ve been apart, but I won’t be ashamed to attend our homecoming because I want to see for myself the way you’ve all turned out. Success indicators or no, I’ll always be proud to be one of you, my bright and beautiful Manila Science High School batchmates.
So you bet your souvenir coffee mug I’ll be there – if only to bask in all that reflected glory.
And of course, to dance to all that new wave music.

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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