On Saturday, Nov. 26 the Institute of Spirituality in Asia (ISA) held its penultimate Public Lecture for 2016 at the Titus Brandsma Center.
ISA Executive and Academic Director Fr. Rico Ponce, O.Carm. Ph.D. welcomed the 30 participants of the monthly activity.
He put a face to its theme of pagdadala and spirituality by quoting the question of a widow of a government official assassinated recently: “Paano namin dadalhin ang buhay ngayon?” (How do my sons and I now carry life’s burden?”).
During the lecture Fr. Ponce said, “We are here to help us make sense of our lives and to minister to people – more so those carrying burdens, some heavy and others, light.”.
He also welcomed Dr. Edwin Decenteceo and referred to his work as clinical psychologist, retired professor at the University of the Philippines, book author, stage actor and Buddhism meditation practitioner.
In his talk the speaker recalled how in 1985, he saw the failure of Western-trained psychologists like him (he went to New York University for his graduate and doctoral degrees) to help indigenous folks, the poor and the victims of human rights violations.
“Doctor, I am depressed,” a victim of the martial law regime of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos would complain in the office of a psychologist.
“Take this pill,” he or she would be told without much analysis.
Dr. Decenteceo responded by making it a point to meet the victims of state torture and military abuses wherever they felt comfortable and secure – churches, bars, resorts, parks, the countryside and even the mountain camps of armed partisans.
He also met with parents, spouses, children and other relatives of desaparecidos, the involuntarily disappeared.
From these clients he heard a common theme – a determination to live on despite loneliness and heavy burdens expressed as “Doc, ang bigat ng dinadala ko. ”
He designed steps sensitive to their situation, noted how non-professionals who spoke sometimes-brusque language could reach out to the abused, and trained college graduates in the approach and language he was evolving.
His approach included theater as therapy for children, plus confidence-building performances in Europe through the network of Amnesty International.
During the public lecture of ISA, Dr. Decenteceo explored with the participants whether carrying a problem can be lightened by spirituality.
He asked everyone to write down their definition of spirituality on metacards, to post these on a blackboard at the right side of the podium, and to review each other’s responses, stressing how all responses are valid.
A common definition of spirituality was: One’s personal relationship to God.
Using another blackboard, Dr. Decenteceo consulted the participants on the equivalent of key terms in their native tongue (Tagalog, Ilocano, Bicolano, Hiligaynon and Cebuano).
He sparked spirited group work on the translations of themes of burden, burden bearer, destination, path, manner of bearing a burden, and events encountered.
“We’re talking about life,” he said at the lively plenary session after the group work, “and using the pagdadala story as a metaphor for life.”
After coffee break Dr. Decenteceo invited everyone to elaborate on their definitions of spirituality and on their sense of the presence of God in day-to-day life as well as in their inner-life principles.
“Ask yourself how you use spirituality,,” he urged, “Draw how you live out your life as a story of pagdadala. This in not theory or theologizing but your experience of spirituality. Where are you now?”
He drove the audience to self-reflect before they could fill up bond papers with line drawings pasted on a third blackboard.
Lay participants and members of religious congregations took turns explaining their `works of art’, an activity which led to heartfelt and sometimes-unexpected disclosures on life.
“My sketch is bright and colorful because I am a happy person,” said Mark Hallig, O. Carm novice. “I have come to believe that happiness is a matter of choice and that life is what we make it.”
Invited to explain her sketch, Sr. Estrellita Lantin, SFIC spoke of her work with members of Basic Human Communities along the border of Laos and Thailand, and of her happiness when people, including her Thai Franciscan sisters, bloom.
Keith Ryzon Cenidoza, a member of Young Carmel Philippines for the past 13 years and a farmer in the mountains of Tanay, Rizal south of Manila, said he “realizes connectivity to the Lord by working with soil while carrying my scapular and sibak (scythe). I reflect at night on what I have done and write of all this in my notebooks.”
The audience visibly drew closer after hearing how peers respond to life.
“Meeting challenges depends to a great extent on how we carry burdens,” explained Dr. Decenteceo. “My last question is, can you or can you not use the pagdadala story?”
Almost everyone answered yes on yet another blackboard. For one, Sr. Lantin said it can help her help Thai villagers make sense of their lives.
On the other hand, a male participant who did not give his name said he could not use it because he was not free of the need for a father figure – he was a posthumous baby – “and because I was raped.”
But as he verbalized his thoughts, he came to say, “Pagdadala can help empty me of judgments against people. See my blank bond paper there? And I can use it to learn to love. I can now leave everything to God’s grace. ”
For his part Fr. Gilbert Sabado, O. Carm praised the pagdadala story as a good debriefing tool but said he could not yet use it “in our colonial culture where I am rooted but still have much to process” (marami pa sa loob ang ilalabas).
In wrapping up the public lecture, Sheba Martinez who is in charge of communication at ISA, thanked everyone for sharing their rich experiences in life.
“You are all resource persons,” added Fr. Ponce. “You have made this public lecture different and unique because of your insights.”
Amidst metacards, blackboards and the colorful drawings of co-participants drawings, he presented tokens and a plaque of appreciation to Dr. Decenteceo for sharing his work in making pagdadala sensitive to people in distress.
“It is a tool which can help make sense of life, like the widow I had to console going on with life.”