I had a major case of writer’s block heading into the new year, which is why the narrative I was planning to write for my Zamboanga City trip didn’t happen, and the post instead became a photo essay. And that also means the idea I had to recap 2015 through a lengthy post won’t materialize either. Haha. Let’s just say that while the past year hasn’t been great on a personal level (while not being as bad as, say, 2014), it has been a pleasant year for things, which I can hopefully build upon to do much better in 2016.

While the year 2015 was mostly steady, I didn’t end the year on a definite high note because it’s been weird the past few days. I wrote somewhere before that while it’s human nature to pursue happiness, we’re bound by the limitations of emotions, which are prone to changes. Which is why I ended the year pretty much like I started it – with a hollow, restless heart. One of life’s most basic lessons is that stuff happens and you just have to deal with it. One day you’re riding one of your life’s best highs, and then the next you’re at the bottom, trying to figure where you’ll go. It’s not really as bad as I make it sound – right now, I’m somewhere in between those extremes.

Nevertheless, as the world turns a new leaf, I’m setting aside a few minutes of the start of 2016 to look back and think about what I learned the past 12 months.

1. Travel to discover yourself and your place in the world, but not to run away from your problems.

In 2015, I made a conscious effort to travel to more places to make up for 2014, when I was so caught up in trying to fix my life that traveling had to take a backseat for other “more important” things. So in January, I went to Batad in Ifugao; in April, to Iloilo and Boracay; in June, to Thailand and Laos; in October, to Leyte; in November, to the Ilocos region; and in December, to Zamboanga City.

Traveling means leaving not just your home and the place you’ve been so comfortable with, but also getting out of your old frame of mind. Immersing yourself in a different world filled with different cultures oftentimes transforms you. You’re forced to reflect on yourself and discover things about you you didn’t know existed. Leaving your comfort zone makes you more mature, more well-rounded and more interesting, as it provides an opportunity to open yourself up to new ideas and new sights. Rarely does traveling not change a traveler upon returning home.

But I have to admit that there’s an ugly side to this – I started traveling partly because I have this really bad habit of cutting myself away from the problem. I’m non-confrontational so when things get pretty overwhelming and I can’t handle the negativity, I pretend all is well and escape from it by literally running away.

But there are only so many places you can go to before you find yourself in a similar situation and the problem will manifest again, only much worse this time. It was then that I surrendered to the fact that there is no escaping the problem, only getting rid of it – confronting it, doing something about it, and not being caught up in a passive-aggressive trap, even though facing the truth may hurt a lot. As I learned from a wisdom tooth extraction a year ago, you’re better off uprooting the problem permanently than enduring a recurring pain every night.

Which brings me to my next realization…

2. Your happiness is greatly influenced by the company you keep.

One of the films I watched last year was Into The Wild, a biographical movie about Chris McCandless, a young man who made a solo trip to Alaska right after graduation. At first, he comes across as a selfish person who doesn’t care whether his actions are hurting others, and would focus only on his achieving his goal. He goes to extreme lengths to pursue a dream, but does this at the expense of losing the people who cared about him.

But as the movie focuses on Chris’ interactions with the people he meets on his journey, he experiences what it really means to be human. Along the way, he meets various people that give meaning to his travels, sharing with him his joys, pains, anger and frustrations. Through this series of encounters we discover the protagonist’s true character – his frustrations and why he is intent on leaving the world behind. But reaching his destination without those people becomes meaningless as he finds himself alone. In the end, he learns a tragic lesson – even if he gets to where he wants to be, if there’s no one else to be there for him, the whole journey feels hollow. As Chris himself says at one point, happiness is only real when shared. His spiritual journey is not the same as his physical one, and the former is what really enriches his existence.

Nonetheless, it’s important to invest in people who will bring out the good in you and in your life. There’s nothing wrong in cutting off people who bring negativity, but it’s not to say to automatically detach yourself from a person just because there’s a problem. Instead, take a long, hard look at the people in whom you’re investing time and effort, and if you know that the relationship will harm you more in the long run, it’s time to let go.

The older we get, the smaller our circle of friends becomes, and that really says something about the relationships you will bring with you in the years to come.

3. Walang forever. And that’s okay.

Maybe I’ll write about this in greater length someday, or maybe not. But things change and life has a funny way of presenting you pleasant surprises after it disarms you with a series of unfortunate events. You then realize that, despite the troubles, you’re given enough to hope for brighter things ahead. So things didn’t pan out the way you were hoping they would. So what? You did your best. It was a great run, and you will always take with you the things that have hopefully molded you into a better person.

4. Believe in God but avoid blind faith.

I’ll admit that I went into a period of questions and quiet rebellion against my faith. I struggled with praying and generally just living worthy of a fitting testimony of my spiritual life. But, one afternoon while rummaging through old travel magazines in Booksale, I stumbled upon the book Choosing Your Faith In A World Of Spiritual Options by Christian apologist Mark Mittelberg and found that it offers compelling reasons to believe in a God who loves His children and has the best intentions for them.

Mittelberg presents six ways of how people usually arrive at a decision regarding matters of faith – relativism, tradition, authority, intuition, mysticism and logic/evidence – then examines the pros and cons of each one. The problem with many Christians (or adherents of other religions, for that matter), he says, is that they cling onto a faith with no logical reason, only relying on traditions and authorities who simply say, “because God says so” when confronted with a difficult question regarding their faith, without any effort to justify their stand with real, practical reasons.

It may be shallow reading for those who have more knowledge in theology and philosophy, but it makes for a great starting point for those who are still coming to terms with their faith, or those whose faiths are shaken by teachings that contradict their own moral and spiritual convictions. The book even offers additional reading materials for a more critical look on why we believe what we believe.

5. Just do it. Pretend knowledge if you have to.

In February last year, a former colleague asked me if I wanted to take pre-nuptial photos of her and her fiance, plus do a coverage of their wedding in May. I initially refused because I didn’t have experience in taking wedding photos. But when I was eventually convinced, I was able to do something out of my usual routine, enjoyed the experience, and earned a little extra, which I used to, well, travel.

Sometimes, you have to take the initiative to do what it takes and find the strength to pull through especially when you feel like the world is holding you back. Wallowing on your insecurities will keep you from moving forward. The truth is, life doesn’t care if you can’t keep up with it.

So find what you love and let it kill you, as Charles Bukowski said. Do it because no one will do it for you. Do it because no one can do it the way you do. You were given those qualities for a reason and it’s up to you to find that reason. Some people will figure it out right away, but some others like us will have to work a little harder. Sometimes, we are on the right place at the right time, but sometimes, we’re not. It’s okay. We may fail, but we’re still alive, which means, we still have another chance.

2015 has its share of messy days, but at the same time, there were beautiful moments. I saw more places while learning about hope, friendship, and love. I have always been about running away, but this year, I have learned to find home in people. I have found peace in staying, rather than escaping.

I still have no clue about where I am headed – if God is really calling me to follow in my dad’s footsteps, or if it’s just my heart getting frustrated. But I have come to find comfort in not knowing, and to having faith rather than complaining, knowing that the answers will arrive at the right time.



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