Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Reflections on the Ebb of Life

Dr Abe V Rotor
Living with Nature School on Blog
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid with Ms Melly C Tenorio
738 DZRB AM Band, 8 to 9 evening class, Monday to Friday
Ruins of Lighthouse and Ship, oil painting (28" x 36") AVR 

You are alone at your lowest ebb.
At low tide the sea reveals her shore
That bathes under the sun to its edge.
Go to the sea and learn its chore.”

- AV Rotor, Nymphaea: Beauty in the Morning, 1996

A man can accomplish anything he sets out to do, but he needs the strength of character propped up by personal values, the seasoning of time, the drive to reach a goal - and the willingness to pay the price of achievement which is not synonymous with happiness, not even with success.

I was then a young teacher when the student demonstrations reached mob level in practically all the big universities and colleges in Metro Manila. That was in the early seventies prior to Martial Law. I decided to quit teaching and return to the farm where I grew up. Materially it was a poor choice, but it was one of the best moments of respite in my life to gather strength and courage. With spontaneous self-evaluation I saw what I wanted in life. It was also a time for self-education, a kind of self-fulfilling acquisition of new knowledge, “a discipline that keeps a man driving toward hard and distant goals,” in the words of James Michener, a great novelist.

Earlier, just after graduation from college, I employed the same strategy. Strategy, you call it, but I would say recourse. For when a man has his back on the wall, either he puts up a bravado stance, or simply gives up. I had taken the latter.

Here, liberated from the heavy demands of city life, I remembered a Chinese philosophy, “When there is no time for quiet, there is no time for the soul to grow. The man who walks through the countryside sees much more than the man who runs.”

Here, I developed many things, which could have been impossible to do in the city, not for lack of space, but for lack of time. I had all the time.


The capacity to be creative is inherent in human beings, and the utilization of that capacity is hard work. Michael Drury, a psychologist defines creativity as not only hobbies or taking courses or keeping busy. It is work that goes everywhere. It is a sustained effort toward an ideal.

I tried my hands on oil painting and began developing keener awareness of details of my subjects – the farm and the landscape. Above this, I began to see the meaning of their existence, and the subjective interpretation of form, shape, color, perspective and the like - the very components that the scenery is made of and how in the eyes of the artist relates it to life. Two years later the famous Philippine journalist, Teodoro Valencia, was asking me if I could paint sceneries of his childhood in Batangas. It was a big break for me as a budding painter.

Creativity is not so much as aptitude as an attitude. The exact process is not known, although admittedly it is an immanent beginning in response to things greater than ourselves. Beyond many things, simple as they are, come reflection, an awareness of awareness, taking notice of our thought. Helen Keller wrote, “When we let a resolution or a fine emotion dissipate without results, it means more that lost opportunity; it actually retards the fulfillment of future purposes.”


“Never stop learning,” says James Michener. Just as he learned that the war
(Second World War) had been won by the Allies, he and some officers immersed themselves into fruitful occupation, rather than loafed and let the days pass by. It was when he began writing his famous book, “Tales of the South Pacific.”

It was in isolation that Michener realized the value of self-education. It is also when you are detached that you find a better vantage point.

“I know now that the good work of the world is accomplished principally by people who dedicate themselves unstintingly to the big, distant goal.” He said. Weeks, months, years may pass but the good workman knows that he is gambling on an ultimate achievement which cannot be measured in time spent. Responsible men and women leap to the challenge of jobs that require enormous dedication and years to fulfill, and are happiest when they are involved.

Why is it that some people go back to school many years after receiving their diploma? I appreciate the attitude of these people. To them it is more than just the accumulation of new knowledge. It is the piecing up together of known things into something bigger and whole, the deepening of perception of things around and the awareness of what is ahead. All these are unconscious products of self-education.  I would tend to believe that people enroll in the graduate school to formalize acquired knowledge with experience, amalgamate them structurally, and record them in a book.

As one indulges in self-education, he becomes a “generalist”, moving away from the narrow path of specialization. It appears today that what the world needs more are well-rounded human beings, although specialization is important in developing objective thinking. Self-education puts subjectivity into decisions we make, and into our very actions. It adds the humanity ingredient, the spice of culture, and the magic of aesthetics to the otherwise prosaic and mechanical.


Failure in self-honesty is often the root of emotional and mental disturbance. This I learned in psychology. It is no wonder why promising men ruin their careers because they are poor judges of their own abilities and aptitudes.

When I sought contemplation on the farm it was time I felt I no longer liked my career as a teacher. Was I deceived to serve a meaningless cause or was I a victim of self-deception. I wondered if I was “other directed” - looking toward the goals, ideals and ideas of other people for guidance, rather than searching these from within myself. Or, was I looking into the misdoings and misgivings and not on my very own? Have I placed myself on a pedestal of ideals and refuse to confront the real issues down below?

Perhaps I had overdone a work not the calling of the times, or heeded merely the call for work rather than that for service.

Only when one is detached from the maze of human relationships that he knows how to define his role. It is very difficult and it demands a lot of courage to do so. It is like drawing out a single strand from a knotted ball, then sewing this thread into the fabric, now with a definite purpose.

Going back to your feet with determination, strength and precision of what you intend to do is the consequence of self-honesty evaluation. “The person who achieves mature self- knowledge is no longer afraid of life,” says Dr. Carl Rogers. “He recognizes that it rests within himself to choose his way of living.”

It sounds truly Augustinian and Thomasian. Man has the power to choose the way either to the city of man or the city of God.

Light from the Old Arch, AVR-UST Manila

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