Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Occasional Hermit: Alone but not Lonely

I have been living alone as a hermit up here in the mountain of Busay for almost 5 weeks. Two days from now, I will be going back to my ordinary life in Davao – teaching theology, doing pastoral work in the parish, giving talks & seminars on Basic Ecclesial Communities, involvement in peace advocacy, human rights and inter-religious dialogue.

I just regret that I will be leaving the hermitage. Time passes by so quickly here. Even if I have been living alone, I never felt lonely. How can one be alone but not feel lonely? Well, first of all, it depends on one’s personality. I am introvert by nature so I get more energized not by being in the midst of a crowd by being alone (parties and meetings can be very draining for me). It also depends on what one does during the period of solitude. In my case, meditate, practice Tai chi, run, bike, read, write, play musical instruments (violin, flute, guitar). On Sundays, I go down to the monastery to have lunch and dinner with the confreres. I maintain occasional contact with friends through e-mail and texting. Being close to nature, my prayer period and celebration of the Eucharist make me aware of God’s presence. So, even if I am alone, I don’t really feel isolated or alienated.

One can be in the midst of a crowd and yet feel lonely. One can live alone yet not feel lonely. So it is not really the physical absence of others that makes one lonely. Loneliness may be caused by lack of friendship and intimacy in one’s life – wither with others or with God. Loneliness may be caused by the awareness that there’s no one who cares about you.

I think the problem with a lot of people is that they don’t know how to be alone. They can’t stand the silence and solitude. They don’t realize that the moments spent in being alone are the moment spent with one’s self and with God. It is in silence and solitude that spiritual and psychological growth can take place, and great works are created (poetry, music, art, literature, philosophy, theology, etc.). Yes, it is true that no man/person is an island – we need others, we need community. But there are moments in our life that we need to be alone. When we fail to do this, our life will be lacking in depth and we can easily burn out.

Of course, one need not be a hermit to enter into moments of silence and solitude. This can be integrated in one’s daily life (at least one hour daily), weekly or monthly (1 day), etc. Spending a longer period like I do may be a luxury, but it is also a necessity.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to live as a hermit, even if for a short time. I will be back next year and the following years as long as I live. Next year, it will be longer since I will be on sabbatical.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Lunch with the Redemptoristine Nuns

This morning I went out for a 3-hour run around the Busay and Kan-irag mountain. I returned to my hermitage at 10 am and after a 15 minutes rest, I ran down for 45 minutes to Nevel hills with a backpack on my back. After a brief wash-up at the Holy Family Retreat house, I walked to the Redemptoristine monastery and had lunch with the nuns. The other day, while attending the profession, I met Sr. Alice and some of the nuns and I invited myself for lunch with them. Whenever I am around, I usually make it a point to visit the sisters and since I only have one more week in Busay I thought that I should see them before I go back to Davao. I always enjoy the meal and conversation with them. After lunch, we had some singing session - using their "magic sing" - the videoke. The sisters love to sing -and they have angelic voices. They also asked me to sing and I couldn't refuse. I sang 6 songs: Annie's Song, If, Yesterday, Over the Rainbow, the Great Pretender and I'll be seeing you. By 2 pm, I said goodbye to them and went down to the Cebu Redemptorist Monastery where I had my dinner with the confreres.
The Order of the Most Holy Redeeemer (OSSR) was founded by Sr. Mary Celeste Crostarossa, a close friend and "directee" of St. Alphonsus de Liguori. The Redemptoristines are the female counterpart of the Redemptorists. But unlike the Redemptorists who are active missionaries, the Redemptoristines are contemplatives. They spent most of their time inside the monastery observing a life of prayer and contemplation, and manual work. They also pray for the Redemptorists. They are indeed our sisters and friends.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Attending a Religious Profession

This morning I walked down from my hermitage to the Holy Family Retreat House to attend the religious profession of Bro. Bong Puzon and Bro. Klint Jan Alum. After spending 13 months in the Redemptorist novitiate in Lipa, they pronounced their vows of chastity, poverty and obedience as Redemptorists. There were over a hundred people who attended the ceremony - family, friends, relatives and Redemptorist confreres. We had a sumptous lunch after the mass.
As I witnessed Bong and Klint make their religious commitment, I was reminded of my own profession as a Redemptorist 32 years ago (May 29, 1977). Thank God, I am still around - and I have remained faithful to the vows I made long time ago.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Three Weeks in the Hermitage: Down the Mountain for Lunch with the Community

I have spent 3 weeks in my hermitage up in Busay mountain. Today, being Sunday, I am down in the city to have lunch with my confreres of the Redemptorist Community in Cebu. I actually came down last night, with a backpack on my back and a head-lamp to light my way. I arrived in the monastery at 9:30 pm.

Whenever I spend time in my hermitage, I have always made it part of the rhythm of my eremitical life to come down on Sundays and join the Redemptorist community for lunch and dinner. Besides having a good meal, this is my way of expressing my connection with the community. It reminds me that even if I live alone most of the week, I am not isolated - I am part of a religious community. My vocation is not to a lifetime of total solitude and silence, but to be a member of the community - my religious community, the Redemptorist. My period of solitude as a part-time or occasional hermit is meant to re-energize me so that I can go back to my community and ministry with a renewed dynamism.

This coming week, I will be coming down from the mountain more often to join the gathering of the senior Redemptorists (age 50-65) on Tuesday and Thursday, for the profession of two new Redemptorists (Friday), and the common celebration of Redemptorist jubilarians (Saturday). But I will still going back to the hermitage at night.

Three weeks have gone fast very quickly, I still have 2 more weeks before I go back to my community in Davao. I am really enjoying my time in the mountain. I have more time to pray and reflect. More time for biking and running. The manuscript for my book in ecclesiology is almost finished.

I have also read some books - these are my companions in the hermitage:
Charles de Foucauld, Thomas Merton, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, John Henry Newman, Gerard Hughes, John Paul II, Edward Daly, the Dalai Lama.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Tai-Chi: A Moving Meditation

Every day, after meditation and morning prayer in the prayer room, I go out at the back of the hermitage and practice Taichi. It is a very slow, fluid dance-like movement. The short Yang style usually lasts for 8 minutes. The long Yang style lasts 20 minutes. I can feel the flow of chi - a subtle electro-magnetic energy - in my body as I do it.
Taichi is considered as an internal style of martial arts, in contradistinction to the external style of martial arts (like Karate, taekwondo, etc.). Taichi is believed to have been developed by monks in the shaolin monasteries in China not just for self-defense but as a form of meditation. It is still being taught by Chinese monks in Taoists temples today.
This is what I like about taichi - it is actually a contemplative activity - a moving meditation. I actually first learned the external style of martial arts. As a seminarian and a young priest I studied martial arts for self-defense. I received a brown belt in Karate (Shorin Ryu) in 1985. I learned Taichi in Berkeley in 1989 and since then this is what I have been practicing for the last 20 years. I prefer Taichi to Karate because of its gentle and meditative dimension.
Taichi requires focusing one's awareness on every movement, on the flow of chi in one's body. The principle of Yin and Yang is manifested in the flow of each movement - the rhythm of hard and soft, of fullness and emptiness, of light and dark. This requires awareness of the present moment.
Like running, taichi is a holistic activity which involves the body and the mind. It generates energy. It can be used for self-defense when necessary and it can be very devastating. Yet it develops humility and compassion.
It will take a lifetime to fully understand and master Taichi.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Living Close to Nature: the Woods behind my Hermitage

In front of house that I call my hermitage, I have a panoramic view of the city of Cebu down below. But I don't miss the "concrete jungle" in the city. What fascinates me is what is behind the hermitage - a patch of the remaining forest in the mountain of Busay. This is where I go often to walk or run. There is no one here but me and the birds. It reminds of me of the forest in Mount Apo.

This is what I love about living here in Busay. I live close to nature. I feel so much at home here. It puts me in touch with the "wildman" in me. At the same time it makes me more aware of the presence of God. In fact it is easier for me to feel a sense of the sacred here rather than inside a chapel or a cathedral.
Being a hermit and living close to nature is not my full-time vocation - it is only part of the rhythm of my life, a time of solitude, silence and contemplation amidst a life of action. I will have to go down eventually and continue my mission and ministry. But I will keep on coming back.
This reminds of me Robert Frost's words:
"The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
but promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep
and miles to go before I sleep"

Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Ecstasy of the Long-Distance Runner

This morning I ran for three hours and thirty minutes along the trails of the mountain of Busay . There were a lot of steep ascents and descents - with my heart rate reaching 150 beats per minute. I ran a slow, relaxed pace, smelling the scent of the pines and admiring the view of the neighboring mountains and the clouds. I felt one with nature and the unseen Divine Presence. Time and distance were forgotten as I savored the present moment and the rhytmic act of running and breathing. It rained as I descended towards the city, but I continued running, feeling the gentle rain and slight breeze on my face. It was pure peace and joy. I wanted to run forever. I didn't feel tired even if I was running that long on an empty stomach.

Whenever I hear the phrase "the loneliness of the long distance runner" which is based on a book published long time ago, I usually react with amusement and disbelief. Those who use this term haven't experienced the ecstasy of the long-distance run or what is called the "runner's high." Just because running is a solitary activity, it does not mean it is a lonely and boring experience. Running is a contemplative activity that can bring one to a state of flow, an altered state of consciousness or a trance. It is a moving meditation. That is why it can be "addictive."

As I ran this morning, I remembered the many times I have ran this mountain, especially as a young priest when I was training for the marathon. It is still the same mountain, the same experience - although I am older, slower and heavier. Thirty years ago, I took up running and I am still doing it today. I will be doing this for the next thirty years. It is the ecstasy of running that I want to experience over and over again.

Running is not just a physical activity, it is also spiritual and psychological. Those who do it correctly will not experience loneliness or boredom.