Sunday, March 09, 2014

Season 3 Preview: A Bone

Reporting from inside the monastery (yes, this is allowed and no I'm not breaking any rules):

I'm here to throw you a bone. All is well here. This blog is going through revision and you will certainly be notified of such changes. In the meantime, the things I've been devoting my time to are below:

All things cycling:
Lots of reading. On the bookshelf:
  1. Pope Francis: Conversations with Jorge Bergoglio by Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambrogetti
  2. Complete [Short] Stories, by Flannery O'Connor
  3. No Man Is An Island, by Thomas Merton, OCSO
  4. In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden
  5. City of God by St. Augustine of Hippo
  6. Strangers to the City by Michael Casey, OCSO
  7. Thoughts Matter by Mary Margaret Funk, OSB
On the newsstand:
  1. The New York & Seattle Times, and Olympian daily
  2. Al Jazeera America
  3. RomeReports. All things on Pope Francis & Vatican City
On the music stand:

  • Piano:
    • Brahms 6 Short Pieces Op. 118, No. 6 in E-flat Minor: Intermezzo
    • Scriabin Preludes
    • Debussy Petite Suite
  • Organ:
    • Yes I'm learning! And no, nothing worthwhile mentioning. Soon. Bach is in the works.
  • Sacred:
    • Lots and lots of course! Chant, hymns, spirituals and modern stuff. Updates soon. Promise :)
Until next time,

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Finale- Episode 28: Across 2 Worlds

Merry 2014 and Happy Christmas 2013 to all from the Pacific Northwest! My father used to typewrite his Christmas letters since he was 18 and so I sought out to do the same. After high school, we rotated writing Christmas letters and stopped for a time. Now, I present to you not only a Christmas greeting overdue, but the most important parts of my formation as an adult, which left off around 2012.


The Great Learning

The ancients who wished to illustrate illustrious virtue throughout the world, 

first ordered well their own States.

Wishing to order well their States, they first regulated their families.

Wishing to regulate their families, they first cultivated their persons.

Wishing to cultivate their persons, they first rectified their hearts.

Wishing to rectify their hearts, they first sought to be sincere in their thoughts.

Wishing to be sincere in their thoughts, they first extended to the utmost their knowledge.

Such extension of knowledge lay in the investigation of things.


Things being investigated, knowledge became complete.

Their knowledge being complete, their thoughts were sincere.

Their thoughts being sincere, their hearts were then rectified.

Their hearts being rectified, their persons were cultivated.

Their persons being cultivated, their families were regulated.

Their families being regulated, their States were rightly governed.

Their States being rightly governed, the entire world was at peace.

— Confucius

As my commencement ended in June 2012, I was an ocean away in the Philippines, in my homeland where my ancestors labored, loved, lived and left a legacy for their kin. I, a sand particle who humbly sought from their spirit what they have left for us- tangibly and spiritually. So I spent most of 2012 as a wandering soul going back to the drawing board, seeking the meaning of life, not only through what other people told me, but from within myself. My degree in hand, I set out to have real experiences of action after years of academic study. Socrates, the first philosopher said ipse se nihil scire id unum sciat, "I know that I know nothing." Taking it to heart, a bicycle with the goal of seeking purpose in a country that I knew the most (but barely knew) came to fruition, listening and deciding for myself what the divine has gifted us.

First of all, that God exists. In my particular experience of life as a twenty something Filipino, first generation American Catholic can with all my entire being can say, I say hell yes. On the contrary, with devout divorced parents of the faith, Catholicism became a contradiction within itself at the most inconvenient time, the parabolic height of my musical growth. I was playing secular music and learning about secular history: of World War I and the atrocities committed to humanity by humans, nationalism and its artificial boundaries, of grinding metal against flesh, and Nietzsche's “Gott ist tot.” I was playing Prokofiev’s 1st War Sonata and I came out traumatized from war without having to step onto the frontlines. I simultaneously mourned the death of the Romantics, my faith, and my family. A lifestyle change was long overdue, to take responsibility not only for my music, but for my religion and education. So I financed my last year of college because my parents were incapable of cooperating. Then I spent the weeks of paperwork, meetings and fundraising power I could muster and flew myself to Macau, the Special Administrative Region of China to teach. Docendo Discimus (By teaching we learn), my alma mater's motto, became my mission though that was only the beginning.

I taught the kids of Macau, but more importantly I learned from them, because innocence is the best teacher of Truth. My ministry in music became charity for the numerous 15th century Portuguese churches, but quite selfishly for my salvation. I found the closest sacred space, the closest church in the historic part of Taipa hill, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, off of the cobbled streets where most came to take pictures and where I soon frequented. I went from being paid for my artistry as a musician in the States to being present on my own accord playing church folk hymns on an old Casiotone SK-1. It didn’t take a spiritual director, a monastery or a friend to tell me that there is a God. I found it was our own experience, that feeling of oneness, the connection to everyone in a sacred space, that inspired us to prayer. That closeness to the divine is what holds me not only in the universal Church that I was born into, but now a church I fully accept as my own. A shade of life ended and realized that if I were to return to America it would be to search for such communities in a place that I really knew little about. So I did.

A pilgrimage sets one directly in communion to a path traveled by many. Though paradoxically enough, my public “pilgrimage” was inversely a personal search for God. "A soul ride to contemplate the divine and its manifestation through family" was my purpose. I stayed at direct Benedictine ancestors of St. Martin’s Abbey of where I am entering as a level 1 monk. And I took detours to a Thai Theravada Buddhist Temple as well as the Islamic Society in Boston. I received a much more diverse experience of the divine than expected. More importantly, I met the people of the northern tier of United States of America. And at the time of the presidential election, I heard the opinions of every person's walk of life, from Republicans & Democrats, to social workers and hippies, to Amish people and Muslims; though we share one thing- our humanness. I traveled with Kyle, a colleague and dear friend, where we were at similar crossroads of "What now?" Our paths separated in Fargo as he found work but I still had a soul ride to finish. At St. John's in Minnesota were 200 monks who seemingly came out of nowhere with people my age seeking the same thing. An assurance of such sincere holy men working together calmed my restless heart. I cooked Macanese-Portuguese Feijoada for family in Toronto. I almost retired in the New England were it not for the impeding winter and hurricane Sandy approaching.


A lacerated kidney and pneumothorax, short for God’s wakeup call to reassess 2013 and my discernment of a monastic call. M
onths of 40+ hour weeks enraptured and lured me more into bicycle heaven. Since my employment at the shop, I was able to practice a skill less readily emphasized- biking. But more importantly consistency, organization, and valuing work and play. Then I got a mountain bike for diversifying what we have been taught to do- follow the good road but also be yourself. My talent as a cyclist ended almost as quickly as it had started after a fall into shrubbery and my own elbow bruising my kidney and lung. I sat in the hospital thinking- I love what I'm doing. On the surface of retail, I found monasticism to teach the opposite - dispossession in favor of having the singular goal of salvation through the reminder of Christ’s offering of salvation for the world. After digging deeper, the shop also fostered many of the same values a monastery possesses- community, food, work, leisure, learning, and a sense of humor. It became a global message, starting from the individual, to the family and to the world, just as Confucius said!

After being acutely reminded of my mortality, the fear of God came to the forefront. I set up camp and laid under the torrential downpour of the summer, with flashes of lightning moments apart and miles within and I, laying under tent poles, fabric and insulated down feathers staring up into the heavens praying, my heart racing, fearing God and for my life. Then, I awoke like nothing happened because I lived to tell the tale. In fact, as I remembered later that night coming to a threshold that I see many of us come to do: to do nothing. A restlessness of spirit, an imperfect person, and a vision to help humanity becomes a burden when nothing is done.

We humans have a talent for suffering but we also have a talent for loving. Is there a validation for a just suffering? Buddhists describe suffering as one's attachment to the world- family, career, things, even time, past and future. Hence it is logically sound to conclude that once one lets go of such things, what is left is the present (that's why it's called a gift!). What's left is to be in the moment of what we call life, to smell the roses, to notice the grandeur of nature, to hear the silence of the night, and to notice how our soul, mind, and body are three but one in the same. Why should one worry about that Debbie-Downer co-worker, or our significant other's inadequacy of an ideal relationship, or how we interpret other people's faults that may well be the same shortcomings of our own. For the good of the order but most importantly ourselves, commitment to living out an authentic life should be our mantra.

An annual week in Lake Chelan with my second family was my summer vacation. Though it acutely reminded me of my blessings being raised in middle class America- away from poverty & discrimination much of the world faces every day. An entitlement of rest and relaxation is a valid feeling, but to quantify work vs. leisure is only a shade to living a balanced life. In my case, it's manifested into a conscious decision to humbly insert myself into the ancient tradition of monasticism according to the Rule of St. Benedict of Nursia, a short rule of a practical man who sought to unify a broken world, and created the father of cenobitic Western monasticism. But I thought: how does such an ancient custom apply to today?


Mortals, escape with me from a false world! Christ calls. Away! Life be our voyage fair,
Safe riding o’er the surge of cares and lies!
One quest alone employs the lonely Monk,
How he may reach the Haven of true peace,
Where never comes the strain of breaking hearts.
O happy life, all music, free from sorrow!
Where is the prudent seeker of true gain
Will part with all the world and choose the Cross?
Indeed, I escape from the world to a place I find sincere holy men seeking God.

A more simple life was called for to take to heart years of active discernment. In the world, I took this chance to implement monastic vows as readily as I would in the physical walls of the monastery. In all three- chastity, poverty, and obedience (as well as humility and stability), it became clear that learning, reading and talking about the Benedictine way of life was essential as living them out. Committed to a Christ-filled life with family and sharing it with the world is the focus of my life. 

I was blessed with employment where my heart and passions reside- in music and bicycles. Old Town Bicycle has me the product manager and as a liturgical musician for the Seattle Archdiocese, mostly at St. Rita of Cascia and St. Nicholas in Gig Harbor. It was an honor to be a part of many funerals and weddings and to share and experience a time of celebrating and mourning with respect. I was afforded time with my family that I wouldn’t have found otherwise. Mom decided to move out to Tampa and is enjoying life taking care of her parents as they get older.

Being back in the Pacific Northwest has afforded me exploring this area- hiking Mt. Ellinor in Olympic National Park and up in Ellensburg, biking to Seattle to visit friends and sight-seeing, skiing with my brother at Crystal Mountain, and mountain biking at Capitol Forest outside of Olympia. The beauty of this area is proof of God’s majestic creation. I hope to summit Mt. Rainier in the coming years.

So I am pleased to announce that I'll be joining the American-Cassinese congregation of the Benedictine Order at St. Martin's Abbey. My postulancy will start January 19th where I will pray, chant, work, and eat in communion with the monks. Of course, I will also be able to study, sleep, bike, and play piano! Letters, visits (via the guestmaster), and prayers are welcome. A deep thanks to the entire communities for whom I've had the pleasure of knowing since my youth to the present day. I humbly ask for your prayers as I continually pray for you.

Gus Labayen
5000 Abbey Way SE

Lacey, WA 98503
United States

Until next time.


Sunday, September 01, 2013

Bicycle Banter: The Things I've Learned: Part II

Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.

On a serious and philosophical note on what I've learned, presented here is another series of things I've learned in no particular order or importance:

- Instead of running from problems, face them and be surrounded in an environment that nurtures talents and love.

- Indifference is as toxic as the opposition/catastrophe. Do something about it.

- Let's take time out of our day to love ourselves. We may be overly critical at times. Accept us as we are... humans.

- One's thoughts are the source of everything.

So my friends, I urge every one of you, whether it be the next natural disaster, the next religious conflict, the next shooting, or the next election, know that reading about it and sharing it with your opinion is not the only thing one can do. Do a good turn today- go volunteer at your favorite non-profit, smile and greet someone no matter how awkward it turns out, or when eating out and have extra, take it to go and give it away.

Until next time.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Episode 27: Cascadia

Where do you live? I live in the Pacific Northwest. A documentary I recently watched talks about the bioregion called Cascadia, on the recommendation of Zen master Ben, teacher and friend. Below is a word dump after watching the documentary.

Sacredness of Water

Newest thoughts give light to older practices. Feeling, and eating & drinking and fueling. Assess, discern, pray, think, and live. After a time, one has to stop thinking about such meanings of life, to solve world hunger, or world peace, or give in to our needs as humans. What about our needs as organisms in nature? Nature gives us context and grounding. The sacredness of water gives us life to nurture or consume. To be interbeings, not just beings, or transbeings. Because we are all in an interconnected world. How have us millennials given back to the world in any way? Maybe those hippies who aren't too far off the social spectrum that congregate around Portlandia and have co-op gardens, eat vegan and breathe that new age spirituality. Maybe not.

What about those people that we never hear about, the unsung heroes that make a difference in the local community? They make it to the newspaper or magazine, or the radio or some media. But answer me this: who cares? If people cared, there would be an abundance of resources and love through our relationships and thoughts and actions.

Now go find 117 minutes and watch Occupied Cascadia. Enjoy.

Until next time.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Bicycle Banter: The Law of Beauty

Oh beautiful. If beauty be good for the soul: what is this world?

A woman. Pretty face, high cheekbones, eyes that smile, gentle curves.

Of nature. Water flowing in the sun, commands attention through sound and touch. A tree whispering secrets above, the ground rooted with footsteps of life.

A child. Taking small steps and finding joy in the little things, speaks truth frankly and no cares in the world.

Of silence. Hearing the voice of God; a heartbeat. A mute soul racing and the mind reaching, where dreams and fears manifest into reality or fantasy. Paradise awaits.

A monk. Standing and meditating. Moving intentionally and praying. Helps the pilgrim; says little though commands much. A life well-lived.

Our world is the beginning. Beauty is good for the soul: oh beautiful. 

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Episode 26: 2013.5

Welcome to June everyone! We are halfway through 2013. I can't believe it. June has always been enjoyable for me because it meant a lot of things over the years, but mainly the end of the school year. My brother is graduating high school and I get to vicariously live another transitioning point in life. What a great time it is- the freedom and remorse (or joy) of leaving home and figuring out how to wake up, study, exercise, eat, sleep, and hang out all in one day.

As a full-time working class citizen, I've found the similar adaptations I've needed to implement to successfully do all that, including studying! A wise person once told me to "study, study, study," even after finishing school since life is always learning. Why stop? Some things I've learned these past 6 months:
  • Pray. Not religious, then express gratitude for the good things in life because there is at least one good thing going for us even in our darkest hour.
  • Eat. Be conscious what you eat, not just go on a strict diet. Listen to your body and your thoughts and you'll be rewarded a hundred-fold.
  • Work. Not employed? Write. Exercise. Volunteer. Socialize. Why? Because even the smallest thing we do contributes to our future. Try something new, go to a different coffee shop or smile at a stranger- work to make the world a better place.
  • Sleep. Good work deserves good sleep. Can't sleep? Count sheep! Absurd you say? I was just kidding. Work harder to sleep harder. Decide to have a good night's sleep by eating, working, exercising so to get up and do it again.
  • Go to Nature. The famous wilderness activist John Muir said, "The mountains are calling and I must go." Stop and smell the roses- listen to the bugs, and the water, and the mountain.
Does this sound like a pep-talk to you? Because it is. Halfway through the year, how's the new year's resolution, the lifestyle change, the new image? If it's not up to your expectation, then reevaluate and decide on a realistic goal. If you have met your expectations, cool, you are awesome. Then do nothing :) Or if that's not good enough for you then set another goal for the next 6 months.
People ask what's the meaning of life. I jokingly left work one day and said,

"I'm going out to find the meaning of life."

I came back the next day and they said, "so... the meaning of life?"

I looked dumbfoundedly only thinking about it the day before, moments after I had said it.

After a pause, "the meaning of life- to ride. To drink a beer. And to watch the sunset." I was surprised even myself as the words were coming out.

Come to think about it, that is what the meaning of life- to ponder life and enjoy what we do. 

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Episode 25: Vainglory

I have made a tremendous discovery, and that is Strava. It allows one to track, via GPS (Garmin, smartphone and the like) on rides and runs. Then one can share their workouts and how fast they go on a social network and have bragging rights to the favorite hill I climbed as a teenager.

After my workout, I took my dog out to for a run around the block thinking "He's a quadruped, dogs aren't supposed to be walked, they're supposed to be run." And man do I wish we could quad-pedal the bejeezus out of the world because it looks like they have so much fun. Though Colby is poster-child for   any type of distraction engulfing his full processes.