TALK/PRESENTATION

 

My talk can be summed up in three things: First, the context and my experience during this pandemic time. Second, the Well of Ginhawa, and its related metaphors. And third, how I started and built this poetry community.

THE PANDEMIC EFFECT

The Pandemic has two effects on all of us. First, to the world, and we all know this: lockdowns, and a variety of personal impacts. So much bad news, that we are so quick to get anxious (which is why I stopped watching them). How our plans got ruined and there is so much uncertainty.

Before the pandemic happened, I was already used to working from home, so the setup is not new to me. When the lockdowns started, we survived quite well with enough food and aid. What I didn’t see coming was how it got me so mentally and emotionally affected. So the second effect of the pandemic is to ourselves.

Before the lockdown, I had bouts of anxiety attacks due to work. So many endless meetings and tasks. Sadly, there is really no space and time at work to breathe, rest and just vent out workplace sentiments and concerns. Companies target more to crunch numbers and reach profits, and the well-being of workers is sacrificed, especially these times.

In my case – and perhaps for many of us – even if I can buy enough food, or have a decent internet connection and devices, I still lack well-being because of the intense anxiety attacks that I feel. Maybe it is not just an individual and personal effect, because we all feel this anxiety and fear given these times. This is really more contagious.

WHY WELL?

Because of the intensity, I need to do something. One of my ways of well-being is to contemplate using Yijing. Yijing, also spelled I Ching, is a classic Chinese text used for decision-making and mental clarity. Out of 4096 possible answers, I got the exact one: return to the well.

Why the well? A quick introduction: this invention is about 6,000 to 7,000 years old. No wonder, because we all need a water source. Without water, there would be no civilization as we know it. Therefore, even if the world changes, like the one happening right now, we will still need water. This is constant and unchanging. And the well is a water source. Written in the Yijing, 3,500 years ago:

The town maybe changed,

but the well cannot be changed.

The symbol of the well and the running joke I tell people is how I actually call it: the ancient hashtag. Yet it has clear imagery: the well is in the center, and all the houses and fields surround it and draw water from it to drink and irrigate. The well gives life and is a life-giver.

I contemplated and asked myself: What really is my well? And I have a clear image of my 3 answers, my source of ginhawa: using the Yijing, doing ginhawa facilitation, and most importantly, poetry writing, my first love and source of well-being.

THE WELL’S DEPTH

How deep is the well? I remember the poem of Kahlil Gibran, a Lebanese-American poet known for his book The Prophet. Here is the line that first introduced me to him:

The deeper the sorrow that carves into your being, the more joy it can contain.

Deep. Dark. The well is always muddy. If the well is our interior self, that is where ginhawa springs from. But we rarely attempt to dig into our own wells. It is scary at first. I also have the same experience, especially in poetry. It took me almost 10 years before I could bring back my confidence in writing and sharing poems I have written.

In this time of a pandemic, having well-being is a deep experience. And I am called again to get back to its depths.

The promise of the well is the water that springs and gushes from it. If the water flows freely, it washes away the dirt, tiredness and worries because there is a continuous flow.

REFRESHING WATER

Whatever brings well-being is supported by the ancients. From the ancient Yijing text, about 3,500 years old, it was written in Hexagram 48, Line 5:

The well:

clear and cool water

for drinking.

And in another classic text, Tao te ching, verse 8, written by Lao Tzu, it says:

The greatest good

Is like water

because it nourishes

all beings.

Our greatest good is to quench the thirst, ginhawa itself. Poetry to me is the greatest good, my well-being.

GINHAWA #1: COMMUNITY

My first well of ginhawa is community. I belong to a number of well-being communities, but I was trained as a well-being facilitator in the group called GINHAWA. Ms. Leah Raya Tolentino, who led us in the beginning ritual, is my mentor, from whom I have learned the breadth and depth of living and sharing ginhawa. My community is in GINHAWA: my friends and co-journeyers, buddies, companions, confidants, co-learners, co-creators, co-facilitators.

But GINHAWA does not focus on poetry. I experienced more of its well-being process. It is not just about writing but in all forms of creativity. We learn something different in GINHAWA, but not writing techniques. If I compare my experience in writing poetry, ginhawa and poetry are two very different processes.

GINHAWA #2: POETRY

My second ginhawa is poetry itself. Often this is a solo process for me. I have my personal ritual every afternoon – I would stay in the front yard and watch the sky while the sun sets. I would bring my notebook, pen and some poetry books. I am happy doing this, as it lessens my anxiety and concerns. All the more if I continue to flow in writing poems. Above all, my mind is able to rest.

The Buddha likened enlightenment to the lotus. I was inspired by this image, and I likened poetry to the lotus as well, especially in times when words are too toxic and messy in the mind. The old Tagalog and Cebuano word for lotus is “tunas”, still preserved in the name of Barangay Tunasan in Muntinlupa City.

TUNAS

Sa mababaw na putik

ng maraming salita,

bumubukad na tunas

ang tula ng makata.

(In the shallow mud

of so many words,

the poet’s poem

blooms like a lotus.)

GINHAWA COMBINED

During this pandemic time, my ginhawa sources are combined: community and poetry. Why did this happen? Because many people are approaching me and asking me about poetry. Some of them ask me to tutor them, and they look for places to learn. Some of them who joined the community talked to me one-on-one and had deep conversations about poetry. I was invited by my friends in Los Banos a few times to give poetry sessions. What I have realized: poetry is for everyone. There is poetry in each of us, and once it gets awakened, they will all see that there is poetry in all things in the world.

I started listening to the “whisper” – what I often call my intuition, because it literally whispers in me. It whispered to me to create a 9-week poetry class. I felt doubtful because I was not sure if they will finish it. Nine weeks is too long. But the whisper said, “Go for it!” So I mustered my courage and became the teacher-leader of this class. I never thought of teaching poetry writing, because I have always felt I lack the knowledge. But because I was a trained facilitator, I balanced theory and technique with contemplation and process.

That is why the first 2 hours that I set for the class extended up to 4 to 5 hours. Because of the depth and breadth of the process, we went up to 7 hours. (And that time is not enough for participants). From April 2020 to March 2021, I have already run 3 batches.

CLASS/COMMUNITY

In each class, poetry becomes a tool for ginhawa. Since I taught ESL (English as Second Language) for many years, I’m more comfortable teaching in a small group. And because teaching and facilitating poetry is well-being for me, ginhawa has tripled. And all classes are full of ginhawa because of our first lesson: THE WELL itself. I encourage them to focus on their poetry process instead of expecting immediate results. That is why they can write more. One of our participants said that this class is “part workshop, part retreat, part-family-outing”. I found this so amusing because every class, aside from the lessons, we always share stories about the process, checking in, reflections and fun moments, while having a little snack and coffee. No restrictions. What’s important is being present.

Another bonus: last Christmas 2020, instead of exchanging gifts, we exchanged poems. Less garbage from wrappers.

This is how the community was built. Within 3 batches, 38 participants took part, with the youngest at 25 and the oldest at 66. There are seasoned and newbie writers as well. They have different backgrounds but all are seeking for the ginhawa that they find in poetry. We co-created a safe and open space. Nobody judges or belittles another. One’s presence, humanity and effort are accepted. There is no need to compete. Each batch has full slots just from invitations. No need to be an expert. What’s important is to have an open heart and an open mind. So whenever we see each other online, it feels like it was not virtual, as if we are not on Zoom, but instead in one single space, in a living room seated in a huge circle.

FETCHING GINHAWA

We learned here how to bring out ginhawa. What we do to start each class is to be still, silent, breathe and be grateful. Even though we study theory and technique, the most important thing is to listen to the whisper/intuition. I engage them in the use of basic poetry techniques: to observe, to listen and to pay attention. Because what I always tell them is that poetry is not just about words. Poetry is entering wordlessness. This is how words will reveal themselves. And if one is unable to write, just put the pen down. Don’t force it. There’s always a right timing for writing – in the very state of well-being.

So everyone experiences well-being. They write in flow. They became more open and gentle. They made new friends, and even found romance. Some of them grieved a certain loss, especially losing a loved one. Relationships in the family were healed. And they got new inspirations and ideas for their own livelihoods.

WELL-BEING

Here are one-line comments and feedback I lifted from their long and detailed write-ups about their experience in the class:

“Mental well-being”

“Treating all like a family”

“It makes me happy”

“Sharing ginhawa”

“Creating rhythms in poetry writing”

“Expressing what’s inside me”

NEXT STEPS

Here’s what we aim to do: For poetry, to continue reading and writing. This is what I always encourage them, without being pressured on writing. I am also strengthening the curriculum, listening to my intuition so I can teach and learn better. We continue to practice poetry, not just in writing, but also in experiencing it.

We are expecting new participants in the 4th batch this September. The slots are already full. In 2022, we are reaching our community’s second year, and we will launch an exhibit of our collaborative works. And we also target to widen our scope through creative enterprise, holding paid workshops and facilitating in different sectors.

KUNG BAKIT MAKATA / WHY A POET

I want to end my presentation with a poem, and I will give you a spoiler for this. This poem is describing a poet using bees as a metaphor. We all know that bees collect nectar to build their beehives. This is what we almost do in this community, and I contemplated it in this poem:

KUNG BAKIT MAKATA

Kapag nagkakamalay

ang mga pakpak,

nagagawa nating

pag-aralan ang hangin,

at hanapin ang dako

ng mga bulaklak.

Babalik tayo, baon

ang tamis ng mundo

sa ating mga bibig,

ninanamnam ang

anumang eternál

upang gawing pagkain

at pugad.

WHY A POET

When our wings

become conscious,

we can study

the wind,

and find the fields

of flowers.

We will return, bringing

the sweetness of the world

in our mouths,

savoring

whatever is eternal

to turn them into food

and home.

Thank you so much and ginhawa to all of you!


About the presentor:

Rem Tanauan is a translator, writer, poet, Ginhawa well-being facilitator and a Yijing consultant on personal decision-making and life direction. He is the lead teacher of Tungko ng Tula, a 9-week poetry class and community for poets and artists and creatives. He is currently running its third batch. You can find his poems and photos on Instagram.com/ditomuna.