Monday, April 29, 2013


This is a very important post for me, and I've been putting it off because it's incredibly emotional and hard to know where to start, what to include, who to include, how to explain the ineffable. Transformation is incredibly complex, the story of a person's inner journey so hard to tell because every moment, every heartbeat is immeasurably significant.

Last Christmas, a friend close of my Uncle Ely, Felix, said something really stuck to me. We resonated strongly with each other, his humor reflecting a deeper need from life that wasn't being met, a sense of isolation. When he left for home, he said, "I hope you find what you're looking for." 

It stuck to me because I hadn't realized I was looking for something. I just knew I wanted to travel. I knew I wanted to learn. I knew that first experiences, serendipity, and unfamiliarity are better than any classroom education. But was I looking for something? I realize now that it was the other way around. Something was looking for me.

I’m going to start at the very beginning and end up back here in the now. If you’ll allow me, I’d like to give three caveats.

First, for those who are reading about themselves in this journey, know that each and every one of us has a different perspective of the same experience. Each of us instinctually crafts memories that serve our own self-preservation. This is nothing to be guilty for since it’s an evolutionary part of being human. There is no such thing as a universal truth or a universal reality. Each of us has our truths, and since each of us a completely different, constantly growing individual with each passing moment, our truths are also constantly in flux. The lesson is that there can be no judgment or painful memory because our perspective shapes our reality, not the other way around. We are all responsible for what we feel and how we experience our own realities. When we get together and share our own realities in a space of empathy and trust, magic happens, shared truths arise, and love flows.

Second, if I don’t mention you in this account, it’s not that you weren’t essential to my growth; actually, every moment and every encounter is essential. Though it may seem like it, this isn’t an autobiographical summary. It’s the story of a specific spiritual transformation in my life, only one small aspect among many, in fact. It’s all wrapped up together in this complicated, ever-complete package of David Cacanindin.

Dad, Ben, and Me at California's Poppy Reserve
Born a desert rat
I entered this life on June 17, 1988, year of the dragon. My conception was a surprise to my American mother and Filipino-Canadian father, who together nervously but whole-heartedly accepted the challenge of parenthood. I was born at Edwards Air Force Base, where my dad worked and my mom served in the Air Force as a nurse. The base was perched at 2,300 feet above sea level in an ancient, dried-out lake bed located north of Los Angeles in California’s Mojave Desert.

The AV begins in the triangle and expands eastward
Mom and Dad graduating from university
The lake bed formed a V-shaped valley, a desert expanse that stretched farther than the human eye could see, with the V pointed west towards Southern California’s beaches. Called the Antelope Valley, it once contained antelope and lush vegetation that are now extinct. Today the basin, which is larger than the entire Los Angeles basin, is speckled with shrubs and the occasional Joshua tree, but otherwise the landscape is parched, barren, and flat. Mountain walls tower above either side of the valley, making it feel like a fortress with no way out.

I grew up in this bubble, with little to see, do, or feel, and locals resonated with the emptiness. Many residents had deep emotional blockages and a rising angst to be somewhere else; anywhere else. Those who opened up emotionally and spread love were judged as either beacons in the fog or nails to be hammered back into the frame.

Sean, Ben, and Me in front of the B-2 Stealth Bomber (it looks like a Halloween bat)
By nature, the United States, the Antelope Valley, and my childhood home had a lot of tension, confusion, and pain surrounding emotion. Being male, I followed the examples around me more than my own emotional instincts. As a result, I couldn’t relate to other children emotionally, conversationally, or on any level at all. As young as five years old I remember feeling that my two younger brothers, Ben and Sean, seemed to mock me with how natural communication could be, how easy it was to simply Be who they were, Be in a role, Be likable.

Dad came down from his first flight with a surprise waiting from Mom and Dennis
I started school in preschool at age 4, and was mercilessly bullied from then until the end of high school. I was the kid who couldn’t relate or figure out how to be a kid. I was the kid who turned to adults because they were his only source of positive attention. I was the kid who tried way too hard at communication, at sports, and at school; I overanalysed every little step, gesture, and game. At any given moment my mind was a confused, fearful chatter of trying to please every other figure in life except myself.

Dad in the navigator's seat of an F-16
At age 7, I was so desperate for approval and to be like my role models – my parents – that I tried to look like them. I dressed like them, and I wanted big thick glasses like them. I would stare at the sun until I was blinded enough to get big glasses like theirs from an eye doctor. At seven years old, this is not the inherent nature of a child’s mind, but a reaction to his surroundings. There’s no one in particular to blame, and things always happen exactly as they’re supposed to. I wouldn’t be who I am today without every single experience, every thought, every painful misstep. I’m thankful for every moment of my life, but there’s no mistaking that even in a white, middle class bubble, there are some deep confusions and pains that can manifest.

People in the AV didn’t go outside. They drove in air-conditioned cars to spend their time in air-conditioned boxes at work, at the supermarket, at school, and drive home to sleep in air-conditioned bedrooms. If you had no AC at home, you sat by the indoor fountain at the air-conditioned mall sipping Jamba Juice until the mall closed long after the hot sun went to sleep.

Me, Ben, Dad, Sean, Mom, Aliya... I was age 12 or so
As for me, I alternated between school, the soccer field, and the electronic keyboard at home. The greatest gift my family ever gave me was the gift of music. Mom and Dad wanted my siblings and I to appreciate music, so when my brothers and I reached age 8, they said we had to play the piano for one year, and if we still didn’t like it, we could stop. As the eldest, I was the first to reach year 8 in life, and I hated piano. I fought every step of the way. But I didn’t realize when my year was up. Besides, my younger brother started up a year after me, and I couldn’t let him get better than me! So I stuck with it, and then I started playing things besides “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, songs like the Indian Dance, and Fur Elise (minus the super-hard middle section). Then I was hooked.

I joined the band at school and picked the cheapest instrument, the flute. The motivation to play flute was purely because I wanted to show Mom and Dad that I was looking out for their finances, to make them appreciate me. Little did I know how difficult I would make my future social life as one of the only straight, male flute players in the Antelope Valley. Still, I played both piano and flute until the end of high school.

At age 15, I made my first real friend – Jason. By the time I was graduating high school, I was the poster-child for following the regular channels and pathways laid out by advertisements and by the corporations who designed my entire school curriculum. I could handle massive amounts of stress and sacrifice even sleep in order to manage very large workloads, follow directions to the letter, and keep that pesky critical-thinking, question-asking part of my intuition in check. I believed I was the best, I could do what everyone wanted of me, and I would do something grand in the world, just as we were all expected to feel. I was moderately good at the things I tried, but I never had time or space of mind to figure out the really important thing – who I was.

Sometime in the middle of my childhood music studies, a teacher handed me the music Chopin Nocturne in c# minor, and said, “We’re going to get in touch with your feminine side.” Since learning that piece, music has always been the master key to all of my emotional treasure chests.

I attended California State University, Northridge because it had the best jazz program in the country, and somehow the instructors saw through the fog of my confusing inner process to the potential musician underneath and accepted me into the program. It was the first decision I can remember making using my intuition. I was just beginning to learn what jazz was and felt it was something I had to learn. It was the only thing that was truly mysterious in my life experience, and after growing up in an over-baked slice of pizza dough, I craved the unfamiliar. Jazz saved my life.

I left the nest for the Uni with the stereotypical images of parents moving their first child into a dormitory. I was fully conscious and nervously excited that my sheltered image of the world was about to be shattered.

Mom in the cockpit this time
I remember the first time I learned about the IMF and the World Bank and how they twisted Jamaica’s arm to open the door for United Fruit Company to exploit the nation’s resources. I remember when I learned that poverty wasn’t necessarily the fault of governments, that environmental destruction was not only allowed but supported by the UN, EU, and my own government, and that terrorism I saw on the news was child’s play compared to the terror and genocide committed by the very political actors I used to think sat atop a the white horse of morality. At the same time, I was beginning to learn jazz, an art form that allows emotion and soul to flow directly out through a sound-producing instrument, sound itself being the most powerful emotion-moving tool in the typical human experience. Oh, the emotions started to move alright.

But I was hesitant to base any emotions on this new information because it challenged everything I ever knew and trusted. It even challenged my dad’s role in the world. He tested fighter jets and stealth bombers at an Air Force Base, tools of power and destruction. I was certain my parents would set me straight. But my tactless approach to discussing it all with them led to a deep rift between myself and my family. I was left with even more questions, and I felt lied to.

I was 19 and the foundation I took for granted had dropped out from under me. I was floating in mid-air among the clouds, without even an identity of my own to fall back on. I clung to the goals I had set out for myself because it was the only thing that made sense. Tuition was already paid for that semester, so I stayed in school and looked desperately for scholarships and jobs. I became a vegetarian and ate fruits and vegetables from the produce market nearby because it was the cheapest food I could find. I was lost and alone…

My girlfriend at the time, Ashley
Death can be many things – death of the physical body, death of that ever-chattering Ego, a dead soul that walks through life disconnected, uninspired, and metaphorically awaiting the blessed release of finally laying six feet under ground after a lifetime of perceived pain. My previous reality died, and a new one lay underfoot. When I separated from my family, 19 years of bottled up pain, elation, anger, joy, sadness, and confusion rushed out in a tidal wave, and it needed a safe space. I felt that if I couldn’t share my feelings where extreme emotion was normal and accepted, I would lose my mind. I was battling a crippling insomnia that left me without a minute of sleep for days at a time. I was a hair’s edge from suicide, walking high-speed streets ready to jump in front of the next car, picking which of the highest buildings in the area would hurdle this soul from its rooftop, broken after a lifetime of self-resentment and fear of judgment.

Enter the LeDesma family. Through all of the separation happening between me and my family, my girlfriend was not as supportive as I hoped. Her mother, however, practically adopted me into the family. A woman of the world, she’d been through many adversities herself. Her family of 6 children includes triplet girls, two of her kids have had open-heart surgery, and every member of the family is a cross-country runner. Long-distance runners are crazy. Full of energy and emotion, this family was my safe space. I spent any spare money and time I had to visit them and Ashley in San Diego. Visits were rare, but I was able to submerge myself in any emotion I felt, process it, and let it be okay.

The LeDesma kids: Evan, Andie, Derrick, Bailie, Catie, and Ashley
Meanwhile, jazz was my primary connection to myself. I couldn’t figure out what I was feeling or let it go like a normal person, so jazz acted as translator and conduit. The very act of improvisation taught me how to connect to the emotive and communicative parts of myself that were so stunted. Playing jazz is musical conversation with yourself, other musicians, the audience, and the Earth. Meaningful jazz comes from the soul. It was a tool of protest and expression for the African Americans who invented and cultivated it as an art form. Just imagine that powerful, black blues singer you’ve heard on a scratchy recording, and you’ll know what I mean. I divorced conversation from the box of language and even stopped speaking or writing because words didn’t mean anything anymore. Only music could convey anything that I was experiencing.

Between the LeDesma family and the music I breathed, somehow life seemed… liveable. I continued on, earned scholarships to help pay for school, and spent more time in nature. My real family simply became part of the past me. My vision focused on finding who I really was.

Practice room at the music dorms
A little after my family was out of the picture, a jazz pianist named Kenny Werner came to give a master class. He had written a book called Effortless Mastery, which is essentially about creating from intuition more than from the rational mind. His master class flipped my typical 10-hour practice session on its head. Before, I would map out the amount of time I had to spend on particular things, sometimes drilling something I’ve already mastered over and over again simply because it made me feel better when faced with something I struggled to learn. Instead, I began to sit at the piano in the dark, taking as long as necessary to clear my mind and calm myself (my inhuman stress level was a challenge in itself). I would simply feel the piano with my hands, move to the keys and let the piano and my fingers merge with each other. Whenever instinct told me, I would lay my hands on a key, play a tone, and let that tone resound through the room, through the bones in my hand and arm, all the way to my spine and down to my toes. I would play several notes like that, letting each one ring and slowly die out. Eventually my ear would lead my hands to the next notes, which would flow out without thought or judgment. Sometimes I would play hour-long improvisations that so moved me that I knew there was no way it could have been me playing. I was just watching the hands of someone else but feeling the vibrations and emotion flowing through it from another space, another me. I learned more about myself and music from practicing like that than from any music lesson or planned out practice session. In that way, music began to heal the holes in my spirit without my asking it to. I had erased the things that were keeping me static, I was empty, and I began to grow. My music instructors, Gary Pratt and Gary Fukushima supported me the whole way, nurturing the things I needed to grow as a musician and as a person.

Mom's Mom and Aunt Dianne
Nature was an ever-present teacher, and the countless subtle lessons in love and existence that I learned are beyond words. My first “teacher”, was actually a family member! I began to connect with my mom’s oldest sister, Dianne, who lives in San Francisco. We were important outlets for each other’s needs at the time. She taught me what spiritual energy was, showed me how it felt and what it looked like, what chakras and meridians and energy centers were, how the Earth, Sun, and Universe blended together, and how to ground myself to them to invite healing. It was a meditation form she’d learned and taught decades that had always been central to this particular lifetime. I hadn’t been aware of meditation in the family before, but I learned what she had to teach because I was genuinely curious and felt it was similar to what had been happening to me at the piano. Through meditation, music, nature, occasional visits to San Diego, and books and mentors that began to give me an understanding of the world that was wider than the sheltered view I left in the Antelope Valley, the world began to open up.

But my rage towards the injustices of the world and towards my family and the educational system itself only grew the more I learned. I felt I was lied to. The veil was lifting and the image behind it was horridly ugly. Little did I know that I was only lifting the first of many veils to come. I was about to leave university and move to Latin America, forever. I had my sights on Bolivia. I wanted to leave everything behind and start over.

My Senior Recital
First, I had to finish school, and the last big obstacle was my Senior Recital, when I had to showcase everything I had learned as well as my own musical identity in a special show with a reception, programs, lights, and the works. I did give my mom and dad the date for my recital. Mom said she would do the reception, and knowing that she loved preparing feasts, I simply said “yes” and left it up to her. The atmosphere between my emotionally static family and the LeDesma fireballs was tense but cordial when they met at the recital for the first time. Throw in a handful of equally unique and crazy mentors and it made for some wild audience energy.

Mom’s reception was a gesture beyond all gestures. She was tired of the two and a half years of spite and anger between the family and me and wanted to show that she, at least, was open to healing. She went all out with as much love as could be put into such a reception. She made more than a dozen different dishes, each a culinary masterpiece that was beautifully presented in gorgeous dishes she bought and matched to her decoration of the entire room. The crowning achievement was a piano cake – two in fact – that had gone through a half dozen trials before she found the perfect recipe. Each key was cut and laid in the exact pattern of a piano, the black keys placed in their respective positions over the white keys, and exquisitely flavored to complement the white keys. It was the most wholesome, unique, flavorful, and beautiful cake I’ve ever seen. There were two of the same cake, and both disappeared before I knew that a second cake had even been laid out. Musicians do love to eat. The whole gesture touched me deeply and opened the door for my soul to begin to forgive family and self, but it would take some more time.

Sitting atop a petrified tree
No More Deaths in the Sonoran Desert
I didn’t leave for Latin America because I had just finished a degree in jazz performance and I figured I would always wonder if there was a place for my music in New York City. So I packed up what I had and moved to the Big Apple. I wanted to expand my bubble and let first experiences be my teacher. A summer in the Sonoran Desert and a road trip with my girlfriend to the other corner of the continent were outstanding adventures. The serendipity of travel, time spent in nature, and the people I shared it all with were fantastic teachers.

Nature was beginning to speak to me at a deeper level at that point, and I was beginning to learn how to quiet myself and listen. Journeying across the country nurtured my relationship with the weather, with animals like rattlesnakes, and with the four directions and elements. It was a relationship I had valued ever since spending several summers of my youth at my grandparents’ cabin on a lake in Manitoba, Canada. It was time spent on the trails, in the water, and in serenity like I’d never known before.

Yellowstone National Park dreaming of the Village Vanguard in NYC
At the base of the Grand Canyon with Ashley
Having finally found a space of peace, I felt I was ready to take on the rat-race of NYC with confidence. What a shift! I landed there with enough money for two months’ rent and food and not a friend in sight. The only person I knew in the city was my Filipina Auntie Marilyn, who was gracious enough to invite two impolite kids into her small apartment, and into a life teetering on a knife’s edge of stability. She hosted us for several weeks, long enough to find a place to sublet. The job search was gruelling. Everything from grocery stores to gas stations to office jobs to cafes to bike repair shops to bookshops to performance venues turned us down. Hundreds of jobs applications with tailored resumes, grovelling at the feet of employers, incessant phone calls for weeks yielded nothing. A girl at our sublet worked at a gourmet restaurant and put in a word for me to work a week as a cook.

The week turned into months. I was even put in charge of the lunch crew as a sous chef and was allowed to design dishes, platings, and prices for the menu. The most expensive thing on the menu was $100. This was a very fine restaurant with poor management. I received $8/hr before taxes, worked 70-110 hours per week, and raced my bicycle over bridges and through traffic for more than an hour each way to get to work. I quickly came down from the nature-high I was riding from the summer trip and crashed and burned. One day I left the restaurant and didn’t go back except to pick up my last check weeks later. I didn’t have time to sleep let alone eat, talk to my girlfriend, apply for a new job, or play music.

Brooklyn apartment
My next job treated me better but required equally demanding hours and didn’t leave time for anything else. In the midst of it all, I even moved a baby grand piano into our apartment and fixed it up, thinking the commitment would lead to some music opportunities, but the venues were all closing and those who were still open had no room for new musicians except for their regular lineups. The underground arts and the charm of NYC had been lost since 9/11, it seemed. A lot of specific changes had happened that led to the shift, but they’re not important for this story.

One the streets of New York
Auntie Dodie, Grandma, and my Filipino Grandpa
Through it all, I had sent a letter every couple of months home to California, without receiving a reply. My beloved great-aunt Doreen got sick with COPD and paid for me to join her in Manitoba to celebrate my grandparents’ 50th Anniversary and 75th birthdays, and my parents’ 25th Anniversary and 50th birthdays, with the underlying purpose to visit to my dying aunt one last time. My decision to accept the plane ticket was tantamount to deciding to heal with my family. I went, shared the kitchen with my mom and other women in the family, shared a glass of wine with my father, kayaked around the lake with my brother, laughed with Auntie Dodie, and watched hockey with the whole extended family. Dodie transitioned a few months later.

After almost two years of soul-breaking hours and desperate attempts to play music and find the life I had imagined before I came to the city, I got fed up and left New York. As with any relationship, there were good times and bad times, but relationship with my girlfriend was becoming more painful by the day. It was time to get out. Cue another road trip – one to replace the pain and negativity of NYC with that old spark of excitement for life, and head back to Southern California along the southern route this time.

Thank you Auntie Dodie!
Beth LeDesma
Still pained by my broken relationship with my family and triggered by the emotionless space of the Antelope Valley and the tension in their space within it, I spent a mere days trying to reconnect with them, opting instead to spend the holidays with the LeDesma family I owed so much. Beth LeDesma, who I accepted as my mother and I her son, had battled with a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer. I felt privileged to be able to help her in any way I could.

From SoCal, I left for West Yellowstone, Montana, where this blog began. I accepted nature’s familiar healing, and had profound spiritual experiences in the snow, among glacial mountains, during Native American ceremonies, and with buffalo, one of Earth’s most spiritual creatures. By the time I was ready to leave, I could communicate directly with animals and plants, had had out of body experiences, and had received guidance from powerful medicine people, including Ghandi’s granddaughter. This whole “energy” idea became less of a metaphor and more a part of my daily 

Springtime with the buffalo
Cycling Tour
I spent the summer hitchhiking around the country, letting my beard grow long and leaving the deodorant on the shelf. I wanted to truly break away from all of the images and expectations imprinted on me since birth and let go of what other people cared about me. The letting go of fear and the search for the self were underneath, in my subconscious. I had no idea why I was choosing to travel or live that way except that going along with everyone else’s flow just didn’t make sense. I didn’t want to guess at what other people expected of me anymore. I wanted to make my own expectations – those I could understand and fulfil. Learning how to play and finding the childhood I felt was robbed from me made more sense.

The David and Shane protest dance
Crazy Lady Elk! Run!
Along the way, as I joined environmental actions here and there, an energetic pattern began to emerge, finally made clear by an acquaintance who happened to show up at most of the actions and activist circles I cared about. The pattern is this – there is a feminine and a masculine style or energy that is apparent in our surroundings. I had been living in a space of fear of judgment, of Doing to please others, and of emotionless Ego-chatter running through my mind. What I had been trying to empathize with was the feminine energy of flow, love, Being the consciousness behind all of the Doing, which comes almost as a side-effect, and of peace and trust. Trusting that I’d find food to eat, a ride to my next destination, and a place to sleep as I hitchhiked was an excellent exercise in finding flow and manifesting abundance, but I didn’t know it at the time.

The Buffalo Campaign cabin
Holdin' down the radios
As I hitchhiked, I made a special side trip to visit my grandparents, who had since relocated to Toronto near my dad’s sister. It was an important and conscious reconnection with my family, especially considering my plans. I was headed towards the Philippines because the timing and opportunity presented itself to fulfil an old promise to my best friend, Jason to go to the Philippines together. My grandfather is Filipino and responsible for my delightfully goofy family name. It was more important than I knew to visit just before I left for his homeland, a place he hadn’t been able to visit since 1978, and which he will never be able to visit again.

Pacific Northwest
I also decided to depart from Los Angeles, which meant visiting with my family before I left for the Philippines. I planned to spend up to 10 years travelling in SE Asia and maybe through India, the Middle East, and Europe before returning to North America. After one week of plastering myself to the living room couch waiting for interaction to happen, the night before I left, as I’m packing the last of my things, my mom comes into my bedroom, bawling. Why? My sister had sung Jason Wade’s song about traveling the world, “You Belong to Me”. Then, Aliya joined us. Then the dog, Then my brothers, and lastly, my father. It was our first moment of real shared time in more than five years, and it had to wait until just hours before I left for my flight. Nothing of the past was mentioned, we simply enjoyed sharing the space together in peace. In the morning, my mom dropped me off at the train. I boarded, and I left.
Right before leaving to the Philippines -
Me, Mom, Sean, Aliya, Dad, Ben
Atop the Cordillera Mountains
On the fast track now, since my adventures are detailed in my previous posts, I journeyed to the land of my grandfather, I scaled volcanoes, I swam in the oceans, I found purpose in unexpected places, and meaning found me on her own. The Filipino essence of love and family above all other wants and needs was infectious, and the adage, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” proved just how true it could be. Slowly, my relationship with my family was healing. We began to talk more often and more easily, and I carried a camera to take pictures just so I could show them – otherwise I would probably never take a picture in my life. The camera was my portal to them, carried always at my side.

I also searched for the means of self-sustainability. In the US, the ability to grow food, find water, and build your own home has almost been lost, and such skills are too expensive to relearn in a workshop in most cases. I wanted to become self-sufficient and hardy like a Filipino. And of course, I wanted to rediscover my roots. 

At last, my spiritual journey brought me from the lake in Canada to jazz piano, LeDesma-style emotional freedom, meditation a la Dianne, to the Sonoran Desert, to the buffalo and old-growth forests, to sacred Lakota ceremonies, to other experiences here and there in between, until Inner Dance found me.

Building a mudhouse
Pi Villaraza as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, is the conduit of Inner Dance, a profoundly transformational healing experience that developed through his time as a hermit eating only coconuts on a remote island in the Philippines, and continues to develop every day. I explained how I was in the rugged Cordillera Mountains working on a clay-and-trash library project in a poor village. Pi and I were attracted to the same project and had met on a dinner of magnetism at Oh My Gulay in Baguio City. A week later, after we’d discussed energy, alternative building construction, family, permaculture, raw foods, and beyond, I was able to try Inner Dance for the first time.

The straw mat is the multicolored weave in the background

The time was around 11pm in Russell’s home in Sabangan – too late for loud music or the thumping of dance-like movement. I didn’t know what Inner Dance was supposed to be, but with “dance” in the name, it could turn into anything! The session happened spontaneously (the best way by far), and I lay down on a straw mat. I don’t mean a floor mat of woven plant materials. I mean bright-colored drinking straws. A local grandmother had collected them from soda and halo-halo drinkers for two years and wove them into a wonderful mat. Pi put his phone and speaker on my chest, and cued up the first song. Within seconds, my body jolted with the same spiritual energy I could recognize from past meditations, but of a strength that was far beyond what I’d experienced before. Time, space, light, and sound disappeared from my awareness. I was on a cosmic journey, and I was in direct communication with divinity. It was the perfect next step in my spiritual journey.

Pi Villaraza
During the first few minutes, Pi intuitively placed his fingers at specific points on my head and abdomen – the touch brought me back to the room with laser beams of energy that sparked another wave of cosmic travel and pyroclastic flows of wisdom and images. I travelled through past lifetimes in leadership positions, as a beggar monk, as artists, craftsmen, women, men, animals, and plants, all the way back to a lifetime in another part of the universe, as a being that sensed the world in a deeper way without any of our normal 5 senses. I travelled through a portal to this side of the universe that was as clear and tangible as this banana I’m eating or the screen I see in front of me, and back through all of the lifetimes I’d just seen. I saw creatures, spoke to guides and ancestors, saw colors and lights, and leaped off of a cliff, transforming myself into my power animal, a hawk. After what seemed like years, Pi helped me come back to the room, the present time, and my body. My raised arms and legs relaxed and lowered. I looked at him above me and said, “I’m older than this side of the universe. And this has so much potential to bring about healing for others!” Up to that point, energy was only for connecting myself to the universe, and the healing part was left up to the last few shamans on the planet. Little did I know that absolutely anyone can heal others.

From then on, without consciously creating opportunities for it, I began the cycle of learning and teaching and learning as I taught. I realized that my life had given me countless lessons in trust, intuition, practical skills, survival, and expertise in areas that world has been crying out for. How do you live off the grid? How do you build a home from natural materials? How do you find drinkable water? How do you grow your own food? What’s the best diet to stay healthy? How do I find peace of mind? How do I heal my relationships? How do I heal from cancer? How do I heal my marriage? How do I find fulfilment? How do I find sleep with all this insomnia? How to I muzzle that incessant voice in my head? How do I manifest a better lifestyle? How do I live in harmony with the Earth? How do I find happiness? How do I find purpose? How do I know my inner self? How do I stop fearing what other people think of me? How do I connect with nature? How do you find love in a dark place? How?

At-home cooking with David Cacanindin!
It was as if the world’s questions flooded my essence, and I had an easy, clear answer for each one. I knew the power and truth of the answers with the core of my being, and I knew that I could explain them to anyone who was willing to quiet the mind-chatter and listen. Just let go of it all, breathe, and listen. I knew that if someone was truly ready or truly wanted to know, they would be able to listen. If not, they would contradict and find ways of running away from the answers as they had done their whole lives. I was in direct contact with Mother, Father, and Universe, and now that they finally had my attention, they weren’t going to let go. I became, in a matter of days, what I was always supposed to be, and what the Earth needs me to be – a healer.

I thought the idea was crazy at first, so I put it aside, thinking of a “healer” as an antiquated concept that has no place in the modern world, but like I said, the universe had me in its grip. I could see the world from a higher perspective, and the once-towering maze below was suddenly so small, clear and easy. I couldn’t go back if I wanted to. I was unplugged from the Matrix. I had erased all of the junk from my past, all of the unnecessary fears, blockages, and memories, and found peace, potential, and presence in the Now. I had transformed, and instantly, the people and places around me began to transform along with me. Of course I was a healer. Of course the world is an illusion. Of course this is who you are. Of course you know this stuff. You’ve always known this stuff. You just had to learn how to remember. That’s what transformational healing really is – remembrance of how to heal and reconnect yourself with life and love rather than sickness and fear.

Sarah Queblatin
Pi may have planted the Inner Dance/Raw Foods seed in me, but Sarah Queblatin cultivated it. Our experiences facilitating Inner Dance for each other and for others, our discussions of energy, indigenous spirituality, and the Divine Feminine,  and our roles in each other’s projects was vital for me to learn the language of the universe and the flow of energy. Sarah is also a well of knowledge and she would present resources to me at just the right times. She is deeply connected to the Mother but has always been afraid of her power. I was able to give back by simply passing on courage as she took her own steps towards growth.

From my new perspective, I began to see my past in a new light. I subconsciously chose painful challenges because I needed to learn from each and every experience. I realized it was unfair to blame my mom and dad for the decisions they’d made in life, for the environment I was raised in, or the people they were at particular times in my youth. They were products of their surroundings same as me. My brothers weren’t to blame either. They were reacting to the same environment I was, and my frustrated domination and rejections of their roles in my life was equally as damaging to them as they were to me. I looked back and appreciated every step of the way as perfect.

And I learned the power of perspective. We can recontextualize any situation in a favorable light. If you change your perspective you change your perception, which changes your beliefs, which changes your behaviors, which change your reality. And it gets deeper. Our emotions (trapped or free) are scientifically proven to change the very DNA of the objects and entities around us. I saw how I had chosen to let my circumstances determine my reality, rather than my perception.

Suddenly, I could be a source of healing rather than pain, and the idea was empowering, intoxicating even – especially to someone who always feared social interaction because of the pain it had always caused. Now I could simply radiate healing for every room I walked into, without saying a word, and without caring whether other people accepted it or not, accepted me or not.

Something had been looking for me. It was my Self and my Path, which are indistinguishable. The Self is me as I was born into this world, pure and unaltered by environmental information. My Path is the role I am supposed to hold in this cosmic ecosystem, and the vibrational statements I am supposed to make in this lifetime. They are the Being and the Doing of the same me, David Cacanindin.  There in the Cordillera Mountains, these things found me; or rather, I remembered that they were always there, waiting for me to remember them. And so, I left the mountains with newfound purpose and a complete identity, having found my inner Child – my true essence.

I left the mountains at peace with myself, my family, my past, and my future. Calmly, my consciousness lived in the Now and I was ready for the next step. The universe thanked me in her own way by showing me how deep love can be. Two posts before this one, I explained the love I found with the Mothers of Guina’ang. As I had found love for my own mother, father, and family, the love of the Mother, the Father, and the Universe as a whole found me there in the mountains and spoke through all of us. I felt the love I received from everyone was more than I deserved and I was overwhelmed with gratitude. The universe is always providing us with a little more than we need. It’s only our perspective that can make it seem like less. All we have to do is be thankful, and abundance will flow, and with extra so we can spread the wealth to others who still place themselves in a position of need, and it is so easy to confuse “want” with “need”.

When I came down from the mountains, I made my way back to the island of Cebu, where transformation was following but not everyone welcomed the idea of change. People I loved either embraced change or revolted in fear of change. The Inner Dance circle in Cebu is the strongest in the world because it resonates with more love than anywhere else in the world. It’s the heart center of the Philippines, which is the heart center of Asia. Cebu is an energetic and healing powerhouse – a jungle of various healing modalities and alternative remedies from around the world, all carried out from a genuine space of compassion and love.

I took my lessons in Being and in healing from Cebu’s healers and spirits. I even dabbled at different healing and energy sensitivity modalities. Together, my friends from the mountains, and my newfound friends in Cebu City would embark on an entirely different journey. The thing about transformation is, once you begin to vibrate at that frequency, it doesn’t let you out very easily. We would all emerge from it as changed people.

Dad, cousin Carol, Grandpa, Grandmma, Aliya, Sean, Mom, Ben

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Sagada and Sarah

Rolling rice straw in a clay-rice husk-sand mixture
That was a nice long post on Mountain Province, but it definitely didn't capture 3 months of life-changing experience. Are the negative emotions even worth mentioning? Is it fair to even try to capture an entire human being, friendship, or timeless cosmic transformation in just a few paragraphs? A picture or two? Well, if the last post was about the masculine energy, the Doing action of the construction, the village of Guina'ang, and Russell, this post will be more about the feminine energy, the Being aspect of spirit and community efforts, other locations in Mountain Province, and Russell's opposite persona: Sarah Queblatin.

Sarah Queblatin at Earthdance Manila 2013
It's easy to describe Russell. He fits into molds. It's really hard to describe Sarah. She breaks the molds. Also a mandala artist, Sarah is a peace worker, a teacher, a powerful healer, a veteran of the nonprofit world, a beacon of the Divine Feminine, and above all, a Cebuana. Cebu is the heart center of the Philippines, which is the heart center of Asia. She resonates love everywhere she goes, and people get infected by it. They instantly trust her, just as she instantly loves. 

Sarah was also caught by the net of people of Guina'ang and the depth of indigenous wisdom in Mountain Province. In her time there, besides the Library/Inspirtation Center project she helped start in Guina'ang, she was also working on Green Releaf Initiative, Project Rainbow, and Mandala Earth Story, among so many other things. Sarah translated for me the language of the locals and the language of the universe, and I felt I was always sort of towed behind her. The funny thing is, she would probably say I towed her along. 

One of the places I flowed to Sagada. It was once a laid-back hippie town, but today it's more tourist than hippie. Manilenos even make the 12-hour trip for a weekend getaway in private vehicles. Still, the surrounding area has kept most of its indigenous heritage. Caves, hiking, cool air, and native culture are the main attractions here. I finally made the trip there because of Maui.

Maui and Me
Maui Eguia drew me to Sagada. He's the co-founder of Inner Dance and main mudhouse master of Bahay Kalipay and Maia Earth Village. One weekend, I really needed a break from construction labor in Guina'ang, and Maui was looking for help facilitating a natural materials building workshop and project there in Sagada. The project happened to be for the Head Guide of Sagada - Egbert.

For more than 20 years Egbert has guided people around the mountains and through the caves of Sagada area. His family is very special and resonate with the love that Egbert and his wife share, but the last few years had depleted them. They have a special daughter, Edleweiss. Egbert says Epilepsy, but I'm certain it was Cerebral Palsy. Atrophied legs, drooling, and distorted hand and face muscles were all there, but they couldn't hide the deep love radiating from this precious girl.

Inside Egbert's first attempt at a mudhouse
Egbert's first mudhouse
He tried to make a mud house on his own but despite its inspired design, it broke pretty every commonsense rule in mudhouse building. Needless to say, the house had problems from its conception. People in the community had laughed at Egbert for the mere idea of a house made of mud. But Maui was excited by Egbert's initiative and amazing family, so he decided to help. He spent 2 months finding and preparing the materials and the space, and I arrived for the big construction weekend. 

Ten people or so came to learn and help, mostly from Besao up the road. Together, we got a lot done on the new space, which would serve as a sort of cafe beneath a wood-and-metal guesthouse with 3 rooms. Two months of time with any light worker is bound to turn your world upside-down. Maui had fomented some powerful healing in this already remarkable family. I was there for 5 days.

Clay soaking
My wall painting - the symbol in the middle is a prolific Igorot symbol of fertility
In those five days, Egbert took us mushroom foraging and showed off his two-month-old vegetarian cooking skills. His food was really good! No magic meats, powders, or sauces like the rest of Filipino food, just produce and salt, and heaps of rice to go with it of course. In those five days, Egbert's teen-aged son finished transforming the negative energy he was harboring and was making the most amazing arts and crafts out of all sorts of materials. In those five days, even I did some art, completing my first wall painting since my 3-year-old, crayon-on-wallpaper masterpieces. In those five days, Maui facilitated Inner Dance for Egbert, and Sarah and I facilitated the rest of the family in a truly transformative session, healers and healed included. The mother just needed someone to translate the love flowing from Edleweiss since it wasn't expressed in words or gestures. That girl is a star, the family orbit her, and the community orbits the family in turn. The messages communicated in that session for everyone were indescribably profound.

Where we stayed with Egbert
Every moment with Egbert, his family, and my friends was pure magic for me. Sarah and I were able to recharge somewhat from labor and Russell-related difficulties with the library project, and transformation found its way to Sagada at the perfect time.

Bus-tire steps down to the new mud-space
Igorots of Mountain Province
Part of Sarah's Mandala Earth project the was collection and sharing of stories and wisdom with Indigenous communities. Elders are the carriers of this wisdom, although this wisdom comes more from universe energy and nature than from people. You can find some of her work here:

Mud mixture test
I was lucky enough to tag along on a few of her story-gathering escapades, but usually I couldn't understand what was being said. One story I remember was of the dap-ay. The dap-ay is a circle of stone chairs where elders sit to discuss important decisions for the community. When an elder dies, a stone chair takes their place. Stories of the mountains, of the rising of the Philippines from the water, of many things were told. In my time with Sarah and the elders of Mountain Province, I gathered so many lessons that I carry in my spirit, but so little of it could be told in words.

Failing at the nose flute
The Igorot are one of only three living cultures that carry the tradition of nose flutes. I'm a flautist myself, but I totally fail at the nose flute. I was told that my nostrils are too big. The flute is played by putting the flute parallel to the ground and covering one nostril. Then air from the open nostril blows across the hole at the tip to make sound. It's a unique sound. The air from the nostril is untainted by words, emotions, or lies, and it is filtered by the nose hairs. The air is purer than from the mouth, so the sound is purer. The diuwata, or nature spirits appreciate the purer sound and are more attracted to the nose flute than the traditional bamboo flute. Sarah's friend who showed us all of this not only made her flute but wove the sheath for it. There is an amazing mastery of weaving in the mountains, and hers was no less stunning.

Light workers like Maui and Sarah are constantly healing themselves and others. Egbert's mother was a healer. Egbert would tell us how he would help her walk along the treacherous paths through the mountains for days visiting villages. People would call on her from far, far away, even from the lowlands. She was a master of herbs, and spoke to Mother Earth and spirit guides through indigenous tradition. She could do amazing things, and people recognized her gift. Egbert himself is a more passive healer. He speaks to his guests with the language of nature and connectedness. He helps people remember in the course of a 3-hour hike what's important in life and what's not. His daughter, Edleweiss heals with pure and powerful love.

Sarah photographing beautiful moths on the ceiling
Wind Power
Moths on the ceiling
An interesting side story... My first hours in Sagada were spent sitting in on a cafe meeting of concerned and highly capable locals to discuss a wind farm project that was slipping beneath public awareness in Sagada and Mountain Province. The project would put ten huge wind-powered electrical generators. It was truly unbelievable how anyone could conceive of this project and consciously say it's a good idea. Cutting off the tops of ten mountains, clearing huge swaths of forest just for the highways to transport the large parts to the mountaintops, altering of the local climate because the windmills would obstruct that much air flow, the dangers of erosion, the pollution of almost every source of water in the entire province, and offering almost no financial or other support for the land owners or the villages below are not the way to impress a community with your green project. Tons of money would be made selling premium electricity to Manila, only to increase electricity prices for locals, who would receive a one-time construction compensation of about 1 peso per person (2.5 cents). The four locals who were present at this meeting approached the situation with objective, calculating approaches that addressed every conceivable angle and in the end would leave no possible loophole to allow the project into their community. Theirs was a practiced skill of rejecting colonial and cultural domination. I was very impressed.

Sagada was beautiful, cool, and transformational. It's a perfect travel experience, but it's only one piece of the transformation process. Stay tuned for an autobiographical chronicling of my personal shifts leading up to Mountain Province and launching forward into the whirlpool of transformation that found me here in the Philippines.