On Vulnerability and Traveling towards Fleeting Moments, or Turning a Year Younger

Aren’t strangers lovely?

When we were kids, our parents would instinctively protect us by saying what parents of past generations would say: “Don’t talk to strangers”. Yet growing up (and by up I mean younger), sometimes I hope we become strangers to each other, not in the sense that we are threatened by the presence of the unknown another.

We meet for the first time, look each other in the eyes, smile, and if we’re more than lucky, spill our unfiltered selves and stories in a span of few minutes, hours, or days, which could possibly stretch for decades. We express more than we impress. Not being enslaved by the past or too conscious about molding an identity, we instantly become free and fluid. The connection turns out easier because destructive attachment or expectation is lesser or none at all. Then you part sooner than you wanted to. And though this connection might be fleeting and, on the surface, sad, there is a mystery to it that is ever drawing the two (or more) souls together. Travelers know this by heart. But can you imagine a world where even longtime friends talk to each other as if they are strangers? As if they are always evolving and always interesting that you get high conversing about the things that make your heart race because what the hell are we here for?

Pico Iyer described it as “the ones that play out in the soul, which have less to do with surface than with the interaction between a surface and a depth”.

10b

8bI had a dream about three or four years ago:

There was already a prequel to this dream. I guess you liked me but you weren’t my type. But that night, we were sitting in a circle with my closest friends. You sat beside me. Someone was telling a story. I felt scared. Or maybe I was just sleepy (when in fact I was sleeping at the moment) so l leaned on your shoulders. It felt warm. It felt natural. Like my feelings suddenly flowed freely and effortlessly. With my head on your shoulders, I felt safe and secure. I knew you felt happy, like you’ve been waiting for it to happen.

And then it was time to go home. Inside a building, people were starting to scatter. I was walking down the stairs alone, rushing with the others who were going on their own ways. Suddenly, I felt your hand against my back. I knew it was you. My heart was racing. I felt this already but it felt new with you. Strange and refreshing and beautiful. I turned around to see you. You were wearing a black shirt. I guess we were saying goodbye. But that goodbye felt exciting and promising because both of us knew that we were going to see each other again. And when that time comes, something will flourish. Something strange and refreshing and beautiful. (Remember, The Echoes)

I do not know if this ever really happened in my life, or an experience I can’t pinpoint for the past four years wrapped itself in this dream. Perhaps another version.

3f

It’s an elusive yet beautiful thing.

We leave parts of each other yet they will never really be lost. The littlest of things become the greatest stories. They will be written and spoken with sacredness.

These moments will touch, influence, leave an imprint for Universe knows how long, elate, fade. People will turn into ghosts swimming in a past life you lived, moments will translate into songs that you wrap them with. They’ll remain as strangers, like nothing ever happened, yet everything altered and turned upside down and colored.

Almost always we choose feelings of the now, that despite inevitably will become memories and melodies later, will bring us closer to infinitely being alive.

Journal entry from one of my favorite writers, Nirrimi:

This is how I see it. As an artist it is my responsibility to not have a boring life. To feel deeply. To listen to the stories of strangers. To try new things and go new places. To say yes. To question everything. To find beauty in the commonplace. And to fall in love. Over and over. Because through the highs of love and the lows of heartbreak I truly know what it is to feel.


April, 2016

There are more than 7,000 islands in the Philippine archipelago. I spent my childhood and adolescence in one of these many islands, placed fatefully right at the middle. Masbate is where I grew up, being content – as a daughter, sister, student, friend, and so many selves I may not be aware of. I spent my university years in Manila – freer, glowing, curious for life outside the province. And now my many lives continue in the city, even hungrier and thirstier than ever. When I came to visit my hometown this April, it was merely to set foot on places that I haven’t yet explored despite the fact that it was somewhere I’ve lived, left, and returned to countless times. What welcomed me was a surprise made of aqua and gold and green.

I never really deemed it this way, this renewed light of seeing my hometown, my roots, my life.


March, 2016 (Written to my long-distance soulmate, and edited)

I was reading an article called Is Humanity Getting Better? at the office. Suddenly, amidst the flair of phrases, a memory from my 1st grade brought me to another time and space:

Every after school, my father would fetch me around 3 in the afternoon. Still magically vivid in my head, one time, he took so long to arrive, painfully long. Pupils and teachers left the grounds. The school was almost deserted. I begged for my closest friend, Reina, to wait for me. I pleaded again and again. “Please stay.” She comforted me like a 7-year old girl would. Then she left. I cried so hard, like a 7-year old girl would. The loud and helpless cry that come with so much fear to be alone in the vast grounds, the fear to be abandoned. And so I sat and waited and cried on a concrete bench under a tree. I remember that spot. The guard house was four meters away. I was exhausted from crying but I never stopped. There was no way to reach my dad. I was a brown flesh of fear. After almost two hours of agony under the tree, he arrived. 5PM. He said he fell asleep. Looking at his face with a reaction I couldn’t remember, I felt the most promising sense of relief.

10d

Fast forwarding to feelings and thoughts that surface now, I think there emerged a certain trauma from that experience. Also, papa passed away when I was 11 years old. From then on might have started choosing selective emotions that will make me feel good instead of miserable, the portrayal of being cool with circumstances, of being strong. Because I need to, for survival, for thriving even. And I did. Perhaps along the journey, there were many random experiences that shaped me to become that “strong, independent woman” in the eyes of many, thus sometimes turning avoidant when it comes to attachment. And I notice this, from time to time, I am not at ease with certain people, not even sure if I feel conscious or tense, but I know there’s always an automatic protection. I don’t lay out all the cards.

I am shamelessly afraid to be vulnerable.

There were guys that asked me out, yet I almost always reject the opportunities. And it’s not limited to dating guys only. Getting abandoned, exposing my weak and flawed parts, and sharing my wholeness terrify me. But of course this does not happen all the time. Anyway, the point is I really want to work on myself. I have insecurities, I am confident but not fully. I know my values, but sometimes I am swayed. I know I’m still learning (or unlearning past beliefs and identities). And perhaps these are exactly the reasons why I never had a boyfriend because I knew I wasn’t ready (but who are we to know right?). A while ago, a thought crossed my mind while inside the restroom: I want to be the best for my lover. Not only is he the best for me (because that would be so unforgivably selfish), but also be the best for him, to the point that I am overflowing with love and kindness, and this overflow will be felt by people surrounding me, and in turn they will be overflowing with love too. Yet, more than anything, I’m doing it for myself. I always say this to my girl friends whenever they ask for advice: “Just do your thing” or “Do your best”. Isn’t it exciting and fulfilling and mesmerizing to be the best you?

There is peace in that.

April, 2015

I remember the wine night in Abby’s condo. We were five then, and I suggested to play a question-and-answer game using the 36 questions that lead to love. We randomly pick one and ask it to everyone. We arrive at No. 14: “Is there something you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?” The word vulnerable came tumbling out of my mouth. To be vulnerable, to have that massive and deep courage to open up. Stephan, whom I met for the first time that night, commented on why is it only now that we became friends. I cried. The wine and the joint and the statement made me dizzy and emotional. Another person whom I’ve only met briefly made the same comment months ago. Clearly many thinks I am a good friend, some say the enlightened one. It takes a while to process that, for it always surprises me. At times, surprise turns into tears, like that night.

November, 2013

I remember the trip to the mountains with Woo and Joro and Reina. During the bus ride conversation, Woo mentioned I reminded him of his friend from Sri Lanka, I forgot why. He was closing his eyes while he was thinking of the reasons why we felt at ease being immediately open to each other, being kids and friends and explorers and philosophers of life, to think we only met and spent a few days in Seoul in October. Then he said, “I think you wear your heart on your sleeve”. I felt like I didn’t completely agree with him when he had declared that. Yet the whole of me ached to believe in those words.

July, 2016

I remember Gene walking with me in the park. I was telling him an anecdote of when my slippers were almost torn during a trek to the waterfalls. So I removed them and walked barefoot, which felt so damn good there was no better way to be connected with the earth. We were crossing a patch of grasses and leaves and branches during our return. Of course there’s the possibility I could step on anything sharp. Fabio offered me his slippers. I took them without hesitation and gave them back after walking on that patch. He said I should continue wearing them, but I refused because I liked walking barefoot. So this simple gesture, along with other situations when someone (even my brothers) leads or offers or cares, make me feel weird and glad and amazed all at the same time. Along the walk, Gene said something like, “There is something in you that makes guys care for you.” “So what is that something?” So many I-don’t-knows were uttered. We were laughing. Then finally, he said, “tunay” (genuine). Weird and glad and amazed and vulnerable all at the same time.

Somewhere in the jungle of emotions came a thought of my dad.

5b

Nothing ever truly felt broken. Some things only became scattered that I had to pick and piece them one by one so that I could truly see.


May, 2016 (Written from a 10-minute exercise during a creative retreat, and edited)

So, human, I’ll tell you one story. I was walking alone at one of the most famous pathways in the university, where perhaps a million footsteps brushed and echoed and left. It was the end of a semester. I had a blast with my college friends. As I was walking blissfully and dreamily, I thought to myself: this is what success feels like – connecting to humans in our most unlayered and uncomplicated forms. Laughing and loving. I love people, I love the interconnections we create and the discoveries we unexpectedly find ourselves realizing together. I love people and their agonies and their lessons.

The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right. –Neil Gaiman

2c

More than the joy we share, I love hearing sad stories and the intimacy this kind of exchange creates. The thing is I secretly want to make friends and strangers (or myself) cry when having a conversation, as miserable as that may sound. The greater we pour ourselves, the more expansive and explosive the moment becomes.

In one hour, it can change everything.

November, 2014

I remember reuniting with my friends from the university after two years of being soaked in our own aimlessness and jobs and priorities. We gathered at Faye’s place, the home that witnessed us grow and complain and laugh and study for four college years, and this time witnessed us cry. We were drinking wine. Out of the blue, I asked them a question: “What are the three things you admire about each other?” One by one, we spoke and we took all the time we had and we were vulnerable. I don’t remember all the answers but I remember how heartfelt and genuine that past-midnight-session was. How we saw and accepted one another, the truths unknown to the circle, how we grew into each other’s skin. I remember their faces. Tears flowed. We inhaled love in the room, like oxygen. Laughter never ceased all night long. We flipped another blank page to fill with more moving stories of friendship. From then on started the “wine nights” that I now miss.

I also thirst for their blankness, when there are no words offered, but only the air separates the bodies. In nothingness and in silence, there is uneasiness, but there is also the greatest wisdom that need not be spoken. There is listening only to the breaths, an attention that doesn’t demand, but accepts.


Vulnerability from within and around always moves me. The kind that is not tinted or used to play as a victim, but the kind that is courageous and rushing and pure.

June, 2016

Kat sent me a birthday message, “You balance a part of my life.” And maybe this is exactly the point, of the people who come and go and the moments that dance in our existence and along our journey. The interplay of fleetingness and changing faces and vulnerability in the air and building a nameless galaxy out of it all – the yin and yang that we create out of one another.

3d

The passing eventful weeks of my birthday month slowly sank into my quiet moments.

Someone claimed that he had taught me how to live. But I knew I was living my life just the way I am loving it. Yet I guess he taught me more than that. Someone taught me how to be, just to be, which is all this time I ask from the Universe and here it is spiraling inside softly, landed with a thump that doesn’t demand too much but letting me be. Fluid and free. More appropriately, I think he was teaching me to unlearn some things. I knew he meant every word he said and every gesture he showed. And the passing of it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t true during those moments of exaltation. For that, I am thankful.

Someone may not know it, that I was vulnerable and it was a stellar thing. There may be barriers still, there may be hesitations, but I forgive myself and tap that reminder to flow, like I always do. To be honest, I don’t have regrets at all – of being with someone, of being alone, of doing my thing (so many things actually), of sitting with comfort and uneasiness, of distancing from the toxic, of breathing when something feels like drowning, of yet so many things… Being with someone, I know nothing about it, I am on my way amidst the fog at dawn. But being surrounded and touched by all kinds of old and new friends, far or near, I become okay with it, not all the time comfortable, sometimes I feel a slight tension, yet you all make me feel okay, really.

You encourage my soul.

I believe I have found already so many soulmates, and I have yet to explore so many wherever part of the planet they may be.

You stretch me out the widest: fragments of my many selves take the shape of the whole, therefore I am in one place now which makes me glad and grounded. You remind me that I am here and that it’s okay to laugh loudly, to reveal my truth, to evolve, to ache lovingly, to grow in the quietness, to be cared for and to be touched deeply, to receive wholeheartedly, and to surrender slowly, and each rhythm beats like a process.

During those times, I wasn’t aware. For each flash and face, in remembering, freedom was restored. In the impermanence of it all, vulnerability so courageous and rushing and pure is made available for me, and for everyone to see and feel. In the words of Pico Iyer (again), the feeling “comes most when it isn’t pursued”. What my soul ached to be, I became one with it.

So yes, I am vulnerable now more than ever.

It takes time, or it happens with a leap too. There is no ending to this mystery. So I just wish for deep-to-the-bones vulnerability which makes everything feels right (right in the sense that it feels inexplicably right {good or bad circumstances}, not right in terms of usage of language), you know, to feel it all the way, and not deny a single thing.

And this, right here, maybe the path to balance.

We will have each other’s worlds to alter and turn upside down and color.

I will see you at the exit door, stranger.

1c

 

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