DUYAN- a reflection written after listening to the webinar undertaken on August 30, 2021, by Dr. Gina Alfonso, PhD, JVP Batch 11 and a Clinical Arts Therapist. The webinar, duly facilitated by Ms. Nikki Vergara B33 is one of the continuing services offered by the JVPFI to reach out to the current and former JVPs and to everyone.

Duyan, is an expressive art specifically addressing ways of responding to a crisis. Our creativity is bought about from the way we cope with trauma. We are ‘cradled’ as a way of responding to such. She came up with this kind of intervention as a result of over a decade of work especially with communities not only in the Philippines but in several international settings as well through a workshop by being a ‘sensing’ presence in every engagement/setting of cradling during her intervention sessions. Her JVP experience is the foundation of this approach and process.  What needs to come out would come out. She underscored that a therapist acts as a facilitator who needs to be non-judgmental and open-minded about the outcome of the intervention she employs in  workshops much likened to ‘midwifing.’ Allow that which has to come out as it is. She emphasized that the Client or the participant of a workshop is the expert and her sessions are done within a frame: time, space or paper regardless of available resources. She redefined expressive arts as not just limited to arts and crafts: visual art like painting and that indeed it is universal.

The pandemic being a worldwide crisis has indeed affected everyone. The webinar reminds that each of us have a myriad of ways or capacities of coping and even thresholds of handling pain or suffering in relation to the stimuli around us that are ‘catastrophic’ such as floods, fire or coning from hurtful or downright traumatic experiences affecting us physically and/or our thought processes and in relation to the various interventions we each have access to. It made us understand that our capacities to cope, heal and learn and move forward are also diverse such as: writing, singing, dancing, playing, acting, being a Plantita, cooking to name only a few.

My JVP friend Blas and I had a short chitchat over the phone and discussed our coping mechanisms during this pandemic. He disclosed that he has learned how to cook to a point that basing from his inexperience and standard, his cooking maybe be deemed ‘gourmet.’ I really do not like washing and ironing clothes but necessity demands it. So I must do whether I like it or not as I regard them as being what they are: chores. Gardening is unquestionably not a chore but an all-consuming source of joy. As an aside, as a child I do recall that I questioned why I need to eat. However, due to the varying levels of quarantine and health protocols, I am ‘pushed’ to bring out the cook in me that made me do experiments using the available spices and veggies in my refrigerator or ‘pantry. I simply and ordinarily eat raw veggies and/or fresh fruits as I have been doing so for the longest time even before the havoc called COVID-19 spread all over the world that continues to do in stages of mutation. I am not a rice eater; I prefer boiled or raw bananas as my rice-substitute. To me cooking means a simple fare of veggies on top of my adobo or paksiw as I am averse to cooking, cleaning dishes. Cooking is something I can tolerate and can find meaning or some kind of fun because it allows me to put my imagination in terms of taste and presentation come into play. Part of daily routine  drinking hot cup of milk, coffee or tea and even smoothies when I feel like doing it – in between meals that could progress towards past midnight as I am self-confessed night-owl. I would munch chocolates or some breads or any ‘kakanin’ I get to buy from a nearby mall or shops within my vicinity. Hence, to my untrained palate and standard. So like Blas my cooking turned out to be ‘gourmet.’  Not that I do not how to cook. Thankfully, my Mom did teach me how to cook, but I am not encouraged to do so due to the fact that food preparation alone takes so long and overly tedious than the actual ‘chow’ time as it would of course entail the cleaning and slicing and tossing the ingredients on a wok or pot and the cleaning of the dishes, utensils and wares that has to be undertaken right after the cooking and eating. Blas now finds cooking a tolerable and necessary task. I have done so to, as one of the means we need to do to remain healthy while coping with this pandemic and mainly for our respective self-care or self-preservation. I used to enjoy long walks in the village next to my home, swim, wade in the shoreline, watch sunrises and sunsets, take trips and view mountains and hills in an open horizon and take photos of the scenic landscapes and people during classmates and friends’ gatherings or organizational meetings. Nowadays, I am limited to weekly virtual meetings with different groups; sometimes two or three at the same time like most of us do.

COVID has truly brought out the nurturing in me by getting focused on my plants; now coined as being a Plantita. Truly grateful that I have availed of an early retirement from work in 2019. Tending to plants is a habit that has been taught and passed on to me by my mom ever since I was a child growing up in a house surrounded by plants. She would make me plant the seemingly hard to grow plant twigs and seeds which to some would call characteristic of a ‘green thumb.’ Daily, since 1996, the moment I wake up and even before closing my main door at night– I would head straight and wander into my little garden and get lost in picking up and gathering the fallen flowers or leaves from the trees and plants within the perimeters of my tiny patch before heading to work and continue on in the afternoon as I head home from work. The quaintly sweet scent of my aromatic flower- bearing vines would take the stresses of the day. Now that I am living the life of a retiree, my daily garden routine continue unhampered so that when I check the time, it is already past lunchtime.  I do regard gardening as one of my blessings as it has helped keep me trim and fairly fit by the pulling of stray weeds, the transferring, potting or re-potting of plants without really trying. I just realized that doing so has propelled myself to doing ‘intermittent fasting and keto-dieting’ at the same time with ease.  I have indeed developed some sort of landscaping or re-landscaping my garden that is a very absorbing that I consider to be some kind of a healthy routine: I get sunned, sweaty and happily doing so. Like most plant lovers do, I talk and do get to admonish my plants so they would soon bloom, thrive or else! I used to let my plants listen to classical much as much of my ants were orchids back in the days when my pants were quite few.

My garden is ‘forever in a state of transformation or work in progress and a semblance / version of a work of art that evolves depending of the inspiration I get from my own plants’:  shape, growth pattern and color or variety. I easily lose track of time and would not even bother about nor mind my mobile phone unless a call gets though which I sometime even miss – as I, from time to time misplace or put on silent mode. The same plant growths spurts or demise around me could really be at times overhelming. I have experience some plants deaths that can trigger some kind of unpleasant emotions. However, some plants lay dormant that some fine day they simply spring out and get resurrected due to the rains. Some succumb to as a result of my constant transfers and pruning. I remember how disgusted I was every year starting in 2000 till 2003 when I come home from my graduate studies in Sociology every summer from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. I felt saddest in the summer of 2000 when I came home and saw 200 pots filled with wilted and dead plants: some of them orchids.  I had to call Azon (JVP 4 batch mate) and take away those clay pots after discarding the remains of my lovely plants. But then again, hope springs eternal. Hence, I continue to bring in more plants to this day in order to care for and propagate. I ceased counting how many I have ever since.

My garden plants and some neighbors’ such as Irene’s (my JVP 9 batch mate) have provided me materials for my monthly virtual meetings for my Ikebana and Ikenobo floral arrangements. More importantly, gardening has in fact contributed to my mental health and wellness as I become engrossed and in touch with the creative streak in me; never mind that I do get bitten by ants and get bruised or scratched by the plant thorns and even have casual mishaps and even take a fall. My hands and legs would look horrible as a result of ant bites and scratches every now and then. I even experienced being bitten by a huge venomous bumble bee who have decided to make hive in my garden with his/her colony. I have to take some medications to address the swelling and the itch as well and pain due to the sting as well. Bees of all shapes and sizes do wander in my garden and tend establish a colony in one of the corners of my garden. I have to hire a village maintenance worker to destroy the venomous bee variety hive. Once in a while, I do have my share missteps and lose balance when I am up on my steel ladder checking out or pruning my vines. Thanks to my Aikido (my Japanese martial arts training) I know how to fall. Moreso, my plants have cushioned my fall as I grab hold of the vines I could lay my hands on each time I do from my steel ladder. During the number of times that I decide to do some landscaping, I get so focused and obsessed that I literally won’t stop till I get things done until the wee hours of the morning. I do not want my ‘creative juices stopped. My break would mean, hydrate, answer nature calls and simply get in my house to have a quick bite or much fruits and have a glass of warm milk or tea.

My neighbors whom I always give away plants to, kept nudging me to sell my plants; which I eventually did but for a short while because I have stopped doing so, as I felt ‘constricted and uncomfortable’ and lost the joy of just tending to my plants. Now my neighbors who did buy plants from me have engaged in plant exchanges. One of my neighbors’ daughter now a graduating architecture student told me, she and her friends call my place, the ‘garden house’ and disclosed that she and her friends have posted pictures on Instagram of my blooming Mr.& Ms. bougainvillea many years ago. I have hosted a couple of her parents’ tea time date in my garden last year though too. The same young lady told me during her visit in my garden with her mom that she stopped counting when she reached 100 and wondered how so much plants can fit in a 120-square meter lot in a village let alone the reality of having a jungly-forest-looking-garden. When I moved in this place, it has nothing but big stones and weeds. Now that it has been transformed into a becoming garden, it is the only place where I receive and do touch base or host parties with some friends.

The Duyan webinar is truly an apt webinar at these times, as it affirms what some of us have done or will do or undertake in relation to their work in order to cope and /or address the challenges on hand especially in relation to health protocols and our respective state of mental health. As a multi-tasking person, felt affirmed doing what to me is most enjoyable hobby which is gardening and at the same time keeping safe, healthy and happy. I tend to my garden as I while away the day listening and watching the chirping and frolicky birds on the trees and branches in the tiny nook I call my very own space and platform of creativity in this world. I get to see butterflies, birds’ nests and their younglings all over my garden. There are 8 kinds of birds in my garden during my last count some years ago. Funny that I remember catching big and small dragonflies flying in my mom’s garden as a child and releasing them immediately after seeing them up close. I wonder I rarely get to see dragonflies nowadays. I seldom see them in my garden. One downside, neighbors cats would sneak in because they catch and eat the birds in my garden. I have to drive them away. Lately one big male golden cat with stripes would visit from time to time. He would simply sleep and move from one of the garden chairs to the next and even lay on the doormat at my main door and enjoys back rubs. I have not caught him red-handed catching a bird in my garden though. It seems he just wants to relax, sleep and chill in my garden. In addition, I have decided to give him a name just when he is in my garden. He goes by Ming-Ming. Yesterday, he stayed the whole day. I have to warn him not to bother the chirping birds up on my Norfolk pine tree. I have to watch out for pests like aphids, slugs, snails all sorts of worms that I get rid of these fast; before they eat away my plant leaves. I see occasional grasshoppers, praying mantis and spiders, green lizards and even scorpions. I welcome the slender frogs that I usually find nested on my Bromeliads. Frogs I think like to eat mosquitoes and unwanted plant pests. On one hand, I look forward to the fruiting season of my Pomelos, Calamansi, Atis, Passion and Dragon fruits. Unfortunately, other leafy veggies except my Malunggay, do not thrive in the foresty foliage of my garden because they need plenty of sunlight. Oregano and Tarragon are the only herbs that can adapt to my garden. The rest has to be planted outside my gate where there is enough sun throughout the day. I have 4 types of flower–bearing vines that contribute to the jungly look of my garden. One of them is an herbal type–Blue Pea Vine aka Clitoria Ternatea that I eat raw as a veggie or a tea drink. It is currently used as a drink, tea, served when you order blue rice, or part of the veggie salad served at restaurants even 5-star hotels all over the world and as they are favored by some chefs I as I them saw on TV. My Norfolk and flower-bearing Pau de Arco trees filled with three of my flower-bearing clingy vines: they all look pretty. One of the vines is sweet smelling: Chinese Honeysuckle aka Rangoon Creeper. I see villagers pass by, stop and savor their scent. Another sweet smelling – flower-bearing tree I have is the Ylang-Ylang. All my carefully spaced and planted palm trees literally all came into being due to the birds’ droppings. All I ever did and continue to do is to just enjoy watching them while they feast on the ripe palm seeds to their hearts content. I wish I could snap a picture of the birds’ visits in my garden but they are so agile and swift. I guess beautiful memories lodged in my mind of their presence in terms of:  sizes, shapes and colors would suffice. As a result of their kind deed, the variety of birds visiting my garden has increased. They come and go; gaily enjoying the palm flowers and different stages of ripeness that eventually fall to the ground make their way back as seeds that I now I collect and grow for friends or neighbor or random plant admirers of mine who wish to have them. On one hand, I guess the reason why I do not see snakes in my garden is the presence of my Garlic vine. Its flower-bearing time is short-lived but it emits a garlicky scent even that its leaves when crumpled on purpose smells of garlic. I used to wander in my garden with my male black and Tan Miniature Pinscher Mickey who was with me for 15 years and 4 months. I had him when he was only 6 weeks old. He has been laid to rest in my garden. I do not even know the names of most of my plants and I would not waste time knowing them. I eventually know of their names when friends come over and tell me its names or when I join the Ikebana and Ikenobo meetings especially when one of the materials we will do arrangements of are like the ones I grow anyway.

Someday, I will resume my poetic inclinations.

I most certainly hope and pray that each one of us have found  creative ways of going about our respective challenges: concerns, crisis or trauma in the most affirming,  even consoling and healing way towards a higher level of understanding of interrelationships as well as self-care in harmony with our significant others and thereby make us better persons and/or versions of ourselves as we each contribute towards being transformed or evolved humans who are more humane as individuals; who likewise  affirm and contribute to the healing and nurturing growth of others not only during the pandemic but onwards as we continue to contribute to a new and fresher way or donning vivid frames/lenses of seeing things, situations and circumstances – living and loving. Together, we all pitch in the betterment of this lovely planet with the JVP 5s alive in all of us; as we continue to relate with the our loved ones and the other people within our respective bubbles or spheres of influence. So help us God. Stay safe everyone. Let us always count our blessings and become a blessing for others as well.

Cecilia G. Cabusas
JVP 4 (Cabanglasan) & 9 (Silang, Cavite and PHILDHRRA-PAKISAMA)