finding your inner zen

a portrait of domingo


they say "eyes are the window to the soul." if that old adage is true, my dad must know a secret that many of us would love to be let in on.

in my mind's eye, and in every picture i have ever seen of him, he has what can only be described as "smiling eyes." from major milestones to mundane events, whether he's singing pavarotti-esque nursery rhymes to his grandkids or slaving away in the kitchen for hours on end or emceeing the umpteen weddings, funerals and fundraisers in his local community or tending to his garden in the blazing summer heat, his eyes—and in fact, his entire face—exude peace, inner contentment.

if someone cuts him off while driving, that's okay. he's  probably going slow anyway, stopping to admire the neighbors' landscaping  or practicing his best rendition of andrea bocelli. if someone gossips  or gives him the cold shoulder, he shrugs and says "well, you know how  people are" (while i think to myself "yeah, i do" and fantasize about  the list of expletives i'd shower upon them). when "friends" take  vegetables from his garden (without even informing him of their  impromptu harvesting sessions), he says "oh i hope they remembered to  grab some tomatoes too."

don't get me wrong. dad is far from perfect: he can be stubborn, even obstinate. sometimes his political views lean a bit too right of center. and, truth be told, he even has a touch of hubris (his biggest fan—in the mirror and on the microphone—just happens to be himself!).

but the dreaded "crow's feet" that hollywood a-listers pay millions to eradicate, my dad wears like the stripes of a heroic general—battle-tested, with a wisdom gained through decades of living, and yet with a quiet honor and dignity that can make anyone feel at ease. or in my case, in awe.

during a random visit home to cleveland, i made a remarkable discovery. tucked away in the basement, in a tattered shoebox, was the photo above: an amazing image of a group of buddhist monks, robes artfully draped like a valentino fall collection, and right smack in the middle of the group, was my dad.

he taught english in laos at the beginning of his career and i'm tickled at the thought of these fine monks giving him a course on "zen 101" in exchange for pointers on pronouns and punctuation. instructing him on how to detach from desire and unhappiness  by “turning the eye inward” and through meditation and mindfulness letting go of the logical way we order the world and developing insight and wisdom to see the true nature of things (enlightenment).


in reality, i think my dad was born with it: a joie de vivre. the gift of gratitude for life and every moment, large and small. of seeing the good in people, not the bad. in being generous of heart and humble in spirit. to him, the glass is not only half full, he's happy to fill it for you, with songs, stories, laughter, and a heaping serving of sinagang (his signature filipino dish).

my dad has always been an endless font of knowledge (...and when i say endless, i mean endless!). but in realm of character, he leads by example. a perpetual student of philosophy. a modern day renaissance man. a chef du cuisine. a poet. a troubador. a master at finding his inner zen.