The Beast in Me

I have a confession to make.

I’m afraid of women. Specially when I am physically attracted to them. As to why I do, I just realized it two years ago when I was 41. After knowing this, a lady friend told me, “Bro, you have been deprived of many things for so long.” About those things I’ve been deprived of, that’s debatable. As for “so long,” I concur. 😁

People usually mistaken me as a confident man who have mastered himself. Well, in some degree, that’s true. Normally I am confident to face a woman (or anyone) if I am to talk to her about ideas, beliefs, values, or anything related to work. Or any other topic for that matter. But when I admire a woman, I become shy, too shy that all my self-confidence vanishes in the air.

And why is that?

Two years ago, through the help of two female friends, I discovered why. Here’s the summary: I grew up in a very tight family. Five young ladies took care of me during my youngest years: my mother and her four sisters. One of my aunts was very influential to me. Her words — her daily reassurance — became an irrefutable fact in my mind. Every day, she assured me that I was ugly. That no one would ever be attracted to me. That I would never have a girlfriend because no one would ever like me. That brainwashing process began before I was five years old.

She would tell me those words when she was combing my hair or fixing my school uniform or tying my shoes. She would say that again whenever I would attend a class Christmas party or acquaintance party or whenever she would take me to school or to the park. She would remind me again before I went to church for a Sunday service. Almost untiringly, she told me that many times every single day.

I didn’t even question her. I was too young to reason out or even to clarify. I just believed her with all my heart. Everyday it sank to me just a little bit deeper without me noticing it. As the years went by, the sound of her consistent voice gradually became truth to me.

When I reached high school, she would always ask me, “Do you think one of your classmates would have a crush on you? I doubt,  you’re ugly!” During college, she commented, “I’m sure you still don’t have a girlfriend. That face (pointing to my face) won’t ever have a girlfriend!”

Through the years she would relentlessly convey to me the same message over and over. She would just use different words, and structured the statements differently — sometimes in a form of authoritative declaration (You’re not handsome!); sometimes in a form of a compelling question (Would they even notice you?). Nevertheless, the message was the same: I am ugly. And no one would ever like me. Ever!

As I recall now, she was just teasing me like an older sister to a younger brother. But nevertheless, her joke became true to my heart.

Her words were injected in my mind without any resistance. They were like toxic fumes that I breathed daily, unawares. I never felt hatred or resentment to my aunt. I just stupidly believed her. Remember, I was just five years old. And I was ugly!

That’s why the Disney animation “The Beauty and the Beast” became my instant favorite the moment I watched it more than twenty five years ago. I have loved the movie for three reasons:

  • First, because I can relate fully with the feelings of the beast — knowing how ugly he is. I knew the fear, the assurance that I would always be rejected no matter what. I knew the pain of not having someone who would love me. I understood the loneliness.
  • Second, I knew how hot-tempered I was, just like the beast. I admit, that it wasn’t only my face that was ugly. My temper too.
  • Third, I still hope against hope that one day, someone would love me for all my ugliness! But of course I never expected that I would be transformed into a handsome prince one day. Hehe, that part, I was sure to be fantasy. Besides, I wasn’t cursed. There was no magic spell to break. I was simply dealing with my “ugly” reality. 😊

Few years ago I wrote the article Unlikely Protagonist. There, I mentioned that most of the time, when I watched movies, I fantasize myself as the protagonist. I can immediately relate to the star of the story, the good guy, the hero. There is one exception though: my favorite movie — The Beauty and the Beast. Only in that movie that I can relate fully with the antagonist, the bad guy, the ugly one. That’s why it’s my favorite!

Yesterday,  I watched it again. And I was laughing at myself. After all those years the movie can still touch me to my core. Honestly, I’m still the same shy person. But I’m not bitter.

What have I learned?

When my friend told me that I have been deprived… I knew that’s debatable. My aunt’s words took a different form in my heart. As a growing young boy, I naively accepted the fact that I’m ugly. So I didn’t attempt to court any lady. Instead, I satisfied myself to become “just a friend” to them. As a result, most of my closest friends since grade school up to now are women. I realized that if I became “just a friend,” I won’t get rejected. And true enough, I have never been rejected.

But if you are to ask me about sex, maybe that’s where I’ve been deprived of for a long time. All of my lady friends are really just friends. We never had sex, or had any romantic relationships. Comparing to other males out there who had too many sexual experiences, I cannot compete. But why should I? My friendship with those women are more meaningful to me than sexual relationships. I prefer a soulmate than a sexual playmate. Sex had become the last thing in my mind. Rather, I focused too much on trust, respect, encouragements, growth, and love!

Still I feel lucky, perhaps luckier than most men who had many sexual partners. In fact, I have male friends who envy me because most women trust me more than they trust them. I still remember in my grade school and high school days (during camping and other outdoor events) when my female classmates would prefer me to accompany them when they were to change their clothes over my male classmates who were volunteering themselves.

When it comes to sex, I admit I’m still afraid of women. I still don’t have that “macho” confidence many males have. I still see that ugly beast in me who will surely be rejected. I still feel that it’s impossible for a woman to like me or be attracted to me. Without doubt, the decades of brainwashing took a strong almost permanent effect on me. It really did sink in, so deep that it’s now difficult to uproot.

My aunt may have succeeded in exposing me to a toxic fume that I naively breathed without noticing. But without both of us knowing it, I have acquired other things — things that are more important than sex. Because of fear I learned to be gentle to women. My ugliness taught me to focus on building trust, respect, companionship, encouragement, deep care, and other virtues rather than sex.

Because of my childhood I have learned the meaning of platonic love — something many men don’t fully understand.

True Colors

Sometimes the true colors of nature are not visible to the eyes. Specially if those colors are hidden behind a beautifully displayed flower. But through a special lens, those hidden colors are revealed. They are exposed, and they become clear.

An old friend — who is not a friend anymore — often told me, “Don’t always believe what you see. Your eyes can be deceived. Most of the time, what is true is hidden behind the scenes; and what seems to be is not always the real thing.” That was thirteen years ago.

At first, I thought he was just sharing with me a favorite quote or saying that has caught his attention and never left. Six years later, I discovered something about him that was exactly what the quote was saying. I couldn’t believe it. I was his close friend for many years. Maybe his only friend. Apparently, what he showed me through those years, was just the surface — the very opposite of what he was underneath.

Since then I became more aware, always cautious that another reality maybe existing below the surface, that there may have tears behind the smiles, or a prejudiced heart is just coated with gentleness.

But what then? When some people encounter similar experiences, they learn to distrust others. Not me. What I learned instead was to be cautious. To be careful. To test the surface. To look for signs.

I also became aware that whenever the surface is not the same with what’s under, it’s not always intentional. Ever since, many people always mistaken me to be confident. Little do they know — in fact, only my closest friends know it— that I’m not that confident…that many times I’m struggling with my own selfsteem.

But that is not intentional. I am not pretending. That confidence is not an acting. And where it comes from, I do not know.

Sometimes the opposite of my old friend is also true. I have met people who at first were very intimidating and antagonistic only to surprise me later — during my lowest point when all those so called friends have left my side — that they are true friends. That I could count on them.

That’s how I came to appreciate those three photos. With only my naked eyes, those glamorous colorful backgrounds were not that beautiful. They were just blurry images. Unattractive. Unnoticeable. But through the camera lens, they were revealed beautifully — lovely and captivating.

Maybe because I expected it that way.

Just like in life, my attitude and expectations to people are the equivalent of my little camera lens. Although it may not be absolute, but most of the times, what I silently expect deep inside me are the ones that usually show up.

Maybe that’s how it works: I become distrustful of people and expect ugly things from them, then those expectations will later become reality.

The opposite may also be true: I expect beautiful things from people who don’t look promising at first, then they will surprise me later with beautiful colors — lovely and captivating.

And as a photographer chooses her lens, so I choose my attitude toward people. The choice is mine.

How about you, what do you expect today? What lens are you using?

Paradigm Shift: A Quick One

While reading Philip Yancey‘s book, The Jesus I Never Knew, this afternoon, a little boy, who was a total stranger to me, came unannounced and annoyingly disturbed my quiet world.

First, he touched my iPhone which was peacefully lying on the left side of my table. Then he began rummaging on my table in a surprising manner, like a warden conducting a surprise inspection to a suspicious inmate.

I was shocked.

Then, in a hurry, he walked in front of the table and moved my displays one by one, inspecting them like he did to my iPhone—lifting them up, turning them upside down, and NOT putting them back where they belonged. Maybe he was looking for something, drugs, electronic bugs, I didn’t know. He did it with full authority, serious face, and without a smile.

My shock shifted to anger.

As a boy, I was brought up by my militaristic father under heavy strokes of discipline. Almost every move I made are counted by the number, every motion needed precision. I had to behave or I would be punched in the head or slapped in my face. With that heavy upbringing, my initial reaction to the boy who rummaged my table and violated my tranquility, was of course, one of anger. I couldn’t take the idea that he would get away with that kind of misbehavior without being spanked or at least yelled at. I was screaming “That’s unfair!” inside my heart. There is a strong force inside me that makes me expect the same discipline to every child I encounter, even now that I’m an adult. Anything less would trigger my temper.

The child’s ugly demeanor, jerked me back more than thirty five years ago, on the time when I was still his age. And while in the process of reminiscing my painful childhood, he made another blow. He reached out to me and touched the wooden knife I was holding in my hand. Sometimes, as a mannerism, I would hold on something—any object—while reading a book. This time, I was holding (and playing with my hands) a knife replica made of soft wood while reading my book aloud.

No, he did not just touch it. He held it firmly trying to get it from me, out of my hand. And he did it very quickly (almost surprising me) as if anticipating my resistance. When I resisted, he quickly ran toward my left side and opened the drawer of my table—continuing his unbelievable surprise inspection! Now, my building-up anger, suddenly metamorphosed into a full-grown rage. I was about to stand up and shout at him with blazing eyes.

At that point, I saw her mother running toward us reprimanding him in a graceful manner. I couldn’t believe it! All those untoward behaviors just treated with grace? But her mother was as quick as her little boy. She said, “Oh, I’m so sorry, my son is autistic. He is super active, hyperactive actually. He’s just five years old, and couldn’t speak.”

Upon hearing what she said — autistic! — , I suddenly experienced a change of heart. My blazing rage, rapidly melted uncontrolled. My anger, suddenly turned into compassion, plus a little shame to myself for being too quick to judge. I experienced a PARADIGM SHIFT.

Not all paradigm shifts happen that quick. In fact, most “change of heart” happen in a gradual way, taking up many years to transform. Nevertheless, whether paradigm shift happens in a slow, gradual way or in a sweeping stroke like the one I experienced this afternoon, it is always a powerful force. Powerful enough to change our emotion, to change our behavior, to change our treatment to other people…to change our lives.

My encounter with that little autistic boy helped me connect with what I have been reading. The book The Jesus I Never Knew is about a major paradigm shift in how Philip perceived the Jesus he thought he knew. And his perception changed dramatically when he scrutinized the life of Jesus according the gospels.

Just like Philip to Jesus, my perception to the boy was that he’s a spoiled child who needs discipline, extra discipline. I was seeing him as a negative person, simply undesirable. Yet after hearing one word—autistic—I changed my lenses. Suddenly he was a cute little boy who needs love, extra love, unconditional love.

All of a sudden, the boys behavior is justified. They became unoffending, even adorable.

I have learned that sometimes, if I needed a different result in what I’m doing, I just need to change the way I look at things. Just like in photography, I just need to replace my macro lens with a wide-angled lens. So I will be able to see the big picture, including all the surrounding.

While I was unconsciously building up my anger to the little boy, I was using my macro lens, concentrating on the details of his behavior, his rapid movements, his not being polite to at least smile at me, his irritating curiosity. But when I changed my perception, I changed the lens of my mind with a wide-angled lens, thereby seeing the surroundings, seeing the difficulty and courage of her mother in taking care of her, seeing his inability to connect meaningfully with other people even with just a simple smile, seeing his fondness in concrete objects, understanding that he is not in control of his behaviors.

When I changed my paradigm, I changed my heart, my feelings followed, then my behavior almost automatically supported that new paradigm.

Now, 2017 is coming in a few days. I am asking myself, what behaviors do I need to change for the better? What paradigm should I start shifting?

Actions in the Air

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Just a few hours ago, this afternoon, I was relaxing under the shade of a tree when a bunch of Maya birds ransacked playfully the left-over food of my puppy. So I quickly grabbed my camera, covered my head with a brown scarf and position myself about four meters away from them. Out of more than 50 shots, I only captured 6 actions in the air. The photos are not as good as you may expect, but at least I liked them.