Sunday Lifestyle

My not-so-secret happy place

LOVE LUCY - The Philippine Star

I have a not-so-secret happy place. Tucked away in a very busy area, the place is always buzzing with activity, but it is the tranquil kind. When I go, it is as if I have just entered a favorite aunt’s home, and that she has welcomed me to take a nap in one of the rooms. I always leave feeling so much better than when I first entered.

But first, this. Maybe it will explain why.

When I was a little girl growing up in quiet Ormoc City, handmade and homemade was our way of life. Everything was made from scratch and in homes (not necessarily just our home) — from clothes, linens and food products to natural remedies. Fostering that way of life were a bevy of yayas — again, not just ours but also those of our playmates, each bringing with her (from her own local province of origin) local remedies involving leaves and flowers (and sometimes even insects!) found easily in the backyard. That said, my very happy and normal childhood involved baths soothed with bayabas leaves. I say that in the same breath because at that age, normal and happy primarily meant sweat and sun and playing in the nice afternoon sun. It also meant scrapes and cuts on elbows and knees when we got careless or too carried away. Mommy did not mind; nor did yayas, for as long as we soothed those cuts with water infused with bayabas leaves picked from our backyard. Even when I had just given birth (by natural means), I was told to sit in a tub filled with water infused with bayabas leaves, to heal my wound.

Lola Apyang, my dad’s own yaya, who happily lived to such a ripe old age that she was even able to watch over and take care of her original alagas’ (dad and his siblings) children, had her own potions, too. I remember when I was in college and had the flu but could not break a sweat, she arrived, all calm and serene as she always was, with her toothy grin, hair in a bun, forever in a long dress. In one hand was a brown paper bag; inside it were freshly baked banana bread and bottles of Mirinda orange soda. In her other hand, however, was a pouch containing her cures, ancient and probably age-old, learned from the ancient and age-old of her own generation — prayer books and some leaves freshly picked from her own backyard. She made me stretch out in bed on my stomach. She would hum a song and massage my painful head. And I would promptly fall asleep knowing all would be well, because Lola Apyang was there. By the time I woke up I was drenched in sweat and, save for wanting very much to jump in the shower to feel fresh, I was practically brand new.

What happened while I was sleeping? Sleep heals, of course, but also on my back were leaves, and next to them stampitas of favorite saints, whose help she always invoked for prayers to be speedily answered. I so wish I had taken the time to ask what those leaves actually were. I wish today that I knew.

Once, our longtime driver got very sick with the flu for about a week. Mysteriously, he had no cough or cold symptoms. One of our pretty helpers, maybe taking up what she had learned from her own mother, went to the empty lot across our home, to get some leaves (I am not sure from which plant) and a specific common insect (again, I sadly do not know which one) and from these she made a poultice that she applied to his back, another one for him to drink. Now I do not know if it was this that cured him, or if it was just coincidentally the right time for his fever to break and for him to get well naturally, but he did get well. Almost immediately. And he felt so much better. As stories go, he married her, and together they had four children. He is still with us, and when he tells the story of how he and his wife first fell in love, that part about how she took care of him and cured him figures prominently in their story.


Anyway, back to my happy place. I have been going there for years, perhaps even more than a decade already. Perhaps it is my exposure to a way of life where leaves (and baths and drinks/potions made out of them) were used extensively for health and healing that I find such comfort in my not-so-secret happy place. I say “not-so-secret” because I bump into many people there on any given day.

It is my acupuncturist’s clinic, a very straightforward and simple place. There is nothing fancy about it, but it is always clean, always calm, always quiet, with music softly playing. Run by nuns, Sr. Liu and Sr. Michelle, I suspect the feeling of well-being I get after every visit there comes from the fact that they probably lift up in prayer all the people they see on a daily basis (there is a convent on the same compound, by the way, and it is not uncommon to hear the nuns praying and softly singing especially when you are the last patient). It is a gentle place, with needles and moxa (I call it “holy smoke”!) as friends.

For 30-45 minutes, I melt into a calm and quiet, peeling off the layer of whatever the day’s troubles are. For that time, at least, I am empty, unburdened of anything and everything, and all is well and all is as it should be. I lay on the small clean bed in one of the cubicles, spiked here and there with needles all over the body, trusting that each and every single one of them will volt in together to balance me, my energy, the circulation, my yin and yang. At the start of every session, they make me stick out my tongue and I am endlessly amused at how they can figure out what I have been eating too much or too little of; how I am sleeping; if I have been taking care of my body or not. I cannot hide anything from them, those two nuns, who are like friends and favorite aunts. I just have to see them and right away I feel better. I would love to be going there till I am 85 years old.

Once, a friend told me her heart was broken into a million little pieces. She was in perfect health other than that. I had no words to comfort her; her pain was too great. I told her to go to an acupuncturist. It will not solve her love life, I told her, but for a moment, maybe a calm environment will make her feel better.

On any given day of the week that I find myself there, it is not at all unlikely for me to head home with a packet filled with a week’s worth of tea. Individually packaged. It is custom-mixed according to your needs. It is not delicious, let me tell you that, in any way that we understand the word “delicious.” It tastes, well, earthy to put it mildly, and literally it’s brown and bitter and tastes very much like mud, like a garden in a cup, except that it is not the flower but the soil and grass part. But I take it anyway because I like knowing that it is healthy and good for my body and wellbeing. To make the experience pleasant, I empty the contents in my prettiest container, and think many happy thoughts, thankful for a chance to have a moment in a cup to connect to my childhood, thankful, too, in my heart for Sr. Shengrong Liu and Sr. Michelle and all of life’s other gentle spaces and places.

And you? What is your happy place, secret or not?

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