Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Last Sweet Roro

A dear cousin is going through a long-drawn-out break-up. I only realized how deep into it she still is when, after declaring, “That’s it, I’m done” in the way that 22-year-olds channeling wise, worldly 35-year-olds (yeah, that’s me) tend to do, she camps in front of her TV set with a bottle of red wine in the hopes of drowning out the shameful, shameful thing she just did earlier that evening: She was in her room, going through old scrapbooks when she came upon photos of her ex—the one she was supposedly “done” with—which brought back old memories. Which weren’t that bad, apparently, because they prompted her to send him—gasp!--a text message. And—bigger gasp!—he didn’t reply. Kapow!

Indeed, how does one recover from such a blow?

A few years ago, I would have told her that the only solution would be to “stay strong, stay firm, cut him out of your life, erase his name and all contact details from your directory, pack up everything he’s ever given you (unless it’s an iPod or a Sony Ericsson Walkman phone or a Zara cocktail dress) and stuff that reminds you of him and throw it out. Then take up kick-boxing. Or jujitsu.”

But when you’ve become a more mature, more balanced woman (yup, still me), you now know better. You now know that while the aforementioned method is still a personal favorite (because it uses rage—a lovely emotion that gives your cheeks a nice, healthy reddish tinge and, as a bonus, keeps out unwanted company), there are, in fact, a wide range of getting-over-him/it weapons at your disposal, with yet more in product development. All you have to do is ask a woman. The older she is, the more she will likely have in her arsenal. And you are most welcome to employ any or all of them.

For my heartbroken cousin, I shared one of my favorites—a wonderful and surprisingly effective tool: a story. My girlfriends and I have come to know this story as The Last Sweet Roro. Two years ago, as I was in the throes of my own long-running, di-pa-rin-ba-tapos-yan??? break-up saga, my friend Kat told this story to me, which was told to her (during Kat's own dark days) by the story’s main protagonist herself, another good friend of ours. Like a precious family heirloom, I’ve passed on this story to my sisters and girlfriends, hoping that they would derive the same comfort and magic and sense of hope that I felt when it was handed down to me.

Here goes:

Once upon a time, in the south of the Philippines, my girlfriend was in a long-term relationship with her high school sweetheart. Then she got accepted into her first-choice university, which happened to be in Manila, and so off she went. As a wide-eyed, impressionable freshman, she caught the eye of an upper classman. He was smart, sophisticated, older—and on his way to taking up law. The girl was, naturally, flattered and quite impressed. When he asked if she would like to be his girlfriend, she promptly broke it off with her boyfriend and took up with the future lawyer.

Alas, two weeks into this new relationship, the girl realized that she was, quite possibly, with the biggest narcissist in the metropolis—the kind of guy who hooks up with much younger girls because they were the easiest to brainwash into becoming adoring fans/groupies. The “relationship” was all about him. And the guy just couldn’t stop yakking about himself. TOTAL mistake.

The girl left him in mid-sentence, so to speak, packed a few things, hopped on a bus that rolled into a Sweet Roro ferry and practiced her I-made-a-mistake-please-take-me-back speech to her sweet, sensitive, thoughtful ex-boyfriend. But when she tried to deliver this heartfelt speech to him, he refused to hear it. In fact, he refused to speak to her and to see her.Kapow!

The girl was devastated, but not discouraged. She rationalized that she had brought this upon herself, and she was willing to do whatever it took to win back his affection. Every month or so, when she had scraped up enough of her student’s allowance to afford a ferry ticket, she sailed on the Sweet Roro from Luzon to Mindanao, hoping against hope that this time, on this trip, he would finally let her back in. I don’t recall who said this, but it’s awfully on the mark: “What men will only do for God and country, women have always done for men.”

She had a goal—and to her mind, it was a noble one: love. She was going to be worthy of it again, and if that meant packing her quivering heart in her suitcase every few weekends, offering it to her stony ex only to once again watch it being tied to the back of a truck and dragged mercilessly along the Mindanao highway like Lito Lapid, so be it. At the same time, she wondered just how long she could do this, how much more humiliation and rejection and heartache she could endure.

Perhaps because we’re the gender assigned to experience the necessary violent act called childbirth—not to mention the agonizing nine months prior--women tend to have a much higher threshold for pain than men. The kind of prolonged intense physical pain and suffering that earns men medals and hero status, women experience all the time, as a simple matter of fact, without fanfare. And so this girlfriend of mine, by the mere fact of having been born female, was genetically predisposed to let it rip.

Eventually, she—and her poor, battered but brave little heart—stopped thinking, became numb to the pain and just went on her business of taking the blows. Kapow! Kapow! Kapow!

One day, she took her place in the queue towards the entrance of the ferry bus, the way she had done for the past year. (Yes—YEAR!) As she planted her right foot on the first step of the bus, it dawned on her, clear as a sunny day--“I’m done.” Just like that. No bitterness, no anger, no remorse. Just a sense of finality and…relief. And gratitude. She did her time, and now she was free.

She stepped back from the crowds, calmly watched the activity before her. And she stayed long enough to watch the Sweet Roro sail away and disappear into the horizon.

I think I got to my feet and applauded when Kat was done telling me this story.

The truly genius thing about going--as my siblings and cousins put it--“all out” is that it guards against that silent monster--regret. The regret of not having done enough, the whole pwede-pa-sana school of thought--wishing you had done more and wondering what would have happened if you had—that haunts your waking and sleeping hours, as terrifying to some as seeing dead people. I suspect this is the reason women stay longer than they should in situations that make them miserable. They want to face down their monsters now, when they still have energy left, and not run away only to have these monsters lurk around in their supposed happy and content future. They don’t want to regret anything; they don’t want to think they had “given up too soon”. They want to be sure. They want to be able to walk away and never look back. So in the meantime, as my sisters say, “Go lang nang go!”

Certainly, there will be none of that regret for you when you board your own Sweet Roro, when you choose to just ride out the excruciating pain—and humiliation. Even those have expiry dates. You will have known that you did give it—that job, that friend, that dream, that relationship--everything you had and found out that it just wasn’t for you. At that point, no amount of pleading or negotiation or argumentation or guilt-trip or even bodily threat can reel you back in. You’re sooo DONE. You can peacefully let the damn thing go already.

There is no way to accurately describe the rush of relief, the odd sense of victory and liberation at finally arriving at your last Sweet Roro. You’ll watch it sail into the sunset—that relentless drama boat that rocked you to the core—with the giddy knowledge that, finally, you’re not on it, anymore. You’re on solid ground.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Moving Out Of Warrior

Recently, I went to something called Bars Access Energy Therapy. The idea behind it is that the body’s illnesses aren’t caused only by an unhealthy diet or imbalanced (a.k.a. stressful) lifestyle, but also by negative thoughts and emotions. These negative thoughts and emotions block the smooth flow of energy throughout the body in much the same way that cholesterol blocks the easy circulation of blood. Bars Therapy is supposed to “unblock” bottle-necks throughout the body to achieve a smooth, balanced flow of energy.

Not only do I buy this idea, I sell it. I’m one of those staunch believers in mind-body connections and therapies, but when my friend Lizanne, who was so amazed at the insights she had during her own bars therapy, gifted me with a session for my birthday this year, I hedged.

Insights, I thought. Do I really need more of that right now? At that time, I was already five months at work on my second book and I felt I was drowning in insights as it was. So I waited. Two months later--and stuck in a whirlpool called my book’s introduction--I was ready for outside help.

The therapists—or healers—are a male-female team, David and Claudine, in a classic show of balanced yin-yang energy. David is a writer, Claudine, among other things, is psychic. I liked them both instantly.

After conducting a short ritual that would “open” me up—to the healing energy, I suppose--they asked me to remove my shoes and to lie, face up, on a massage bed. Both healers decided that David would take the lead (while Claudine would act as support) because, according to them, his energy was closer to mine than Claudine’s. “You’re both writers,” Claudine said in answer to my eye-blinking questioning face.

I expected them to bring out “bars”. And, for some reason, the “bars” I saw in my head were bricks. Somehow, when my friend was telling me about her therapy, I imagined red bricks being piled on her, depending on how stressed out she was. I wondered how many “bars”—bricks--I would require.

In any case, there were no such brick “bars”. The healers explained to me that this kind of therapy got its name from the points on either side of the head which connect to form an imaginary bar.

David pressed his fingers against these points in my head, mumbled some things and told me to “say ‘yes’”. So I said “yes”. He asked if I felt anything and I was tempted to say “yes”, but…”You know, I don’t think I’m really that sensitive…” Then he mumbled some things again and told me to “say ‘yes’”, so I said “yes”.

Meanwhile, Claudine’s lands hovered over my chest. She frowned. She addressed David: “Matigas dito…

I didn’t understand half of what was happening, and I suspect I wasn’t supposed to. At least, not intellectually. I was practicing a new thing: trying not to think too much. So somewhere in the middle of the session, I stopped trying to understand what was going on and just sort of flowed with it. I don’t know if that inner decision had anything to do with it, but suddenly, there came—ta-dah!--the insights.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama says this about insight: “Even if you seek to help someone out of concern, without insight you cannot be very clear about what benefit will come of your efforts. A combination is needed: a good human heart as well as a good human brain. With these working together, we can achieve a lot.”

And, boy, did I want to achieve a lot, beginning with getting myself together. Which, I had come to realize over the past couple or so years, was already a lot of work.

Even David, who’s not psychic, seemed to think so. “You’re…well, I wouldn’t say you’re running on empty. But you’re running on one-fourth the energy you need. And it’s decreasing.”

Oh, wow. He knew this from pressing the sides of my head?

I don’t remember who asked about it but suddenly we were talking about the major break-up I just had early this year. How tough it was, how that whole relationship exhausted—depleted—me, and how it came to a point where I had to choose between the survival of the relationship or the survival of me.

“That bad, huh?” Claudine said.

“How do you feel?” David asked for the nth time.

“I’m OK,” I said.

“I mean, do you feel anything now…any sensations?”

“Um…I don’t know,” I said. “I feel cold.”

“Cold?” Claudine asked. She reached over and took my hand. “Malamig nga.”

“It’s the aircon,” I said, unconvincingly. I’d already been told by several doctors—both holistic and conventional—that my blood circulation was poor, which is why my body doesn’t react “normally” to changes in temperature.

“It’s not that cold,” Claudine observed, referring to the room, and I felt her making some connections in her head. She touched my feet. Even with my socks on, they still felt cold. “Hmm…”

David verbalized the connection Claudine must have been making between my cold hands and feet and my “rock hard” chest and solar plexus. He said that my body heat seemed to be concentrated in my torso, that my center was drawing heat from my extremities. As if it was protecting something…

“If you can visualize your solar plexus, what does it look like?” Claudine asked.

I didn’t have to think hard. In fact, I don’t think I thought at all because there suddenly was the image of a round thing with rays emanating from it. I described it to Claudine.

“What is it made of?” she asked.

“Metal.” Again, my answer was fast and sure.

“You’re protecting something,” she said, thoughtful. Then, a second later: “You’re protecting a child.”


“You’re protecting your inner child,” she said.


“How old is she?” Claudine asked.

“Four,” I said, without hesitation.

“What happened when you were four?” she asked.
She asked if any particular memory stood out and I instantly saw this little girl with bangs and a high ponytail wearing nothing but frilly white underpants, socks and shoes. I had seen those photos of me. I was in the Surigao City airport with my mom, my maternal grandfather, lots of other relatives and family friends.

“People are telling me who I should be,” I said, and even I was surprised as I did so.

Should…” Claudine was quick to take note of this. “Who are these people—your parents?”

“My parents, my grandparents, my uncles, my aunties, their friends—everyone.” I could actually hear them baby-talking to me, cooing, telling me I should be this and that because I’m so this-and-that. I felt my body tense up.

“Who do you want to be?” Claudine asked.


“And who do they want you to be?”

I thought a moment. “Themselves.” More specifically, the selves they didn’t think they could be.

I had gone down this road before. Had written about it in countless journal entries over the years, went to psychotherapy as a way to answer the question of why the people in my life couldn’t seem to just let me be. Why they had such set notions about what I should do, how I should behave, who I should love and why, in God’s name, did I feel so threatened by it? As though they really had the power to make me into what they had in mind.

I had finally figured out the answer to the first part (the part where they felt entitled to say who I should be)—at least, in my head, I did—so, as a way to be fair to these “people”, whom I love very much, I explained to Claudine that I am the eldest granddaughter. So I became the natural focus of my family’s affection; that they also naturally projected onto me all the things they wished they could have been, the way people tend to do with a new baby—an assumed blank slate.

The attention was rather intense, me being the first granddaughter (my older cousin, a male, was in Cebu, himself undoubtedly being intensely fussed over by his maternal grandparents and relatives), and it was a habit that just got carried over until I was, oh, thirty-plus? As a reaction, I had become intensely self-protective. Practically all my energy was channeled to fending off meddlers, those well-meaning, sure, but thoroughly invasive, intrusive people who wanted to have a hand in shaping me as a person—those people who just couldn’t leave me alone, goddammit—and laid on the guilt trip. All that effort, all that energy solidified over the years into a “rock hard” torso—I had created for myself a veritable breast plate, not to mention breast cysts. It was exactly what my friend Cecilia, well-versed in the ways of the esoteric, told me just a few months ago, “You follow the truth inside your heart like a warrior. Problema…heart chakra. Forgiveness. Kasi nga warrior pose, eh. Rage is essential to maintain the energy to assert your personal integrity.”

So I told Claudine this. I said, “My friend says I’m forever in warrior pose. It’s my favorite yoga pose.”

“It’s my favorite, too,” Claudine said. “But ‘forever’? That must be so tiring,” she said sympathetically.

“It is,” I said, and I felt like crying. My God, it’s tiring. And, only recently, I also figured out the second part of my seemingly life-long angst (the part where I felt threatened by other people’s desire to mold me)—I was afraid I wasn’t strong enough to fend them off, that one day I’d succumb and live a fake life just to shut them up already, that I’d live a life that made them—but not me—happy.

“You know,” Claudine continued. “You may have kept people out, but you’ve also locked in your authentic self. Let it come out. It’s time you let it out.”

Then she said the words I realized I most needed to hear from another person: “It’s safe to be who you are.”

(If you'd like to experience this kind of therapy, you may reach Claudine Mangasing at +639178958191 or David Montecillo at +639178170396.)