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Benedict Isles

I am Norbert Benedict Isles y Barbieto. You can call me Bene. I’m a writer, entrepreneur, SEO specialist, content strategist, online marketing consultant, startup founder and Internet visionary. I dream to leave a mark in the digital world. I dream of building online spaces that develop and gather communities that promote and uphold business, social entrepreneurship and eco-tourism in the Philippines. I love my country, and I believe it is my duty as a Filipino to show the world what we’re made of.

Anyway, I was once asked why I didn’t have a blog. To which I replied, “Writing is a socially acceptable form of getting naked in public,” as per Paulo Coelho. For a very long time, I had been afraid of getting naked. But I think I’m ready now. I think I’m ready for freedom. Arms stretched out, hands wide open, head tilted towards the heavens, eyes closed at still, I am selflessly and courageously offering myself to the universe. I’d like to think this is Oblation. An expression of freedom, an utter display of bravery.

I never liked talking about myself, especially to someone I’ve just been acquainted with. I surround myself with thick walls of fear and distrust that I find it hard to expand my social circle, I mean, win new real friends. I don’t know. I’m just..guarded. So this page right here is pretty much of a breakthrough. This should be brief, but I gotta tell you, there’s too much to tell.

I see myself as a diamond in the making. It’s such a cliche, but I find it so fascinating how in billions of years, black carbon-bearing materials would transform into shimmering crystallized diamonds erupted into the rivers of Sierra Leone. A complex mix of events that surprisingly make some sense when you look at it in the widest perspective, when you see the output..the end of the means, and when you realize that nothing is meaningless. That every second of your life actually matters. I see this stretch of a life as an accretion of stories making up an overall imprint. What is it that you want to achieve in your lifetime? How do you want to be remembered? What do you intend to leave behind?

So far, as of this writing, I believe I’m fated to create something of great value. Each and every day, I see visions and signs, pointing me to a certain path just between what is real and what I dream about. The parallel meeting of the physical and spiritual world. That most precise point between discovery and will. At the time being, we are at the peak of Information Age. Prophets are yet to pinpoint what’s next, but if you were to invent something today, what would it be? If you were to create something that can possibly change an aspect of how this world works, what would it be? These questions keep me going and going and going. No matter what.

Now, how can you create something when you do not see yourself as a creator? I remember, my father used to tell me, “Live your name like it is your destiny. Live your name because that is who you are.” He said my name spells my nature and determines my destiny – points toward the person I am to become. I was born on March 1, 1989 in Gonzales Clinic, Gonzales Compound, College, Los Baños, Laguna; the fourth and middle child among seven offspring of Norbert and Evelyn.

I was named Norbert Benedict, called to model my life in a creatively new form after the virtues and character of two saints, St. Norbert of Kanten, Rhineland – a gifted preacher and defender of Catholic faith and St. Benedict of Nursia, Italy – a patron saint of Europe and founder of western monasticism. My father related that on his trip to Rome around the time of my birth, he consecrated me in simple prayer to the care of St. Benedict before the latter’s tomb at the monastery of Monte Cassino, northwest of Naples, Italy. And then they gave me a nickname too. I was called Providence while young, because each of us had nicknames after virtues: Wisdom, Chastity, Hope, Fortitude, Prudence, and Justice. They called me Providence because it was during the time I was being conceived that my parents greatly experienced the reality of God’s providential care in their early family life, and that they also prayed for me to experience and bear witness to this reality through and through. I actually hated these names growing up, because I’ve heard much cooler names in school. And since I have always been the quiet one, they’d call me St. Benedict. It now seems to me, though, that my life is being mapped out according to their meanings.

The Northern Star

Norbert is the Northern Star. The Brightness of the North. The Polaris. The Guiding Light. The star that guided the three kings to the Nativity. Shakespeare’s star for every wandering bark (Sonnet 116). But to me, this name greatly symbolizes my entrenched passion for learning and my deep pursuit of enlightenment.

My father came from the small town of Rizal, also in Laguna, while my mother is an Ilocana hailing from Bangued, Abra located in the far northern part of the country. I was born and raised in Los Baños, a suburban university town south of Metro Manila surrounded with rich natural wonders and a warm community of academicians, artists and would-be leaders. It was a tightly-knit community back then. Students, professors, researchers, among many other graduates of UPLB chose to stay in this town just because it is a perfect place to build a family. It was a quiet town with good schools and green parks. It’s just..home.

Our house was a library, and I grew up literally surrounded by books – all kinds of books. When computers and the Internet were a luxury back then, books were a commodity. Friends and neighbors come to us for references. Encyclopedias, kiddie books, religious books, novels, idiot’s guides, everything. We were given a wide view of the world, just because we learned to love books early in life. I specifically loved encyclopedias. As a boy, I knew a lot about a lot of things. I feasted on A-Z volumes of Grolier’s International Encyclopedia. I talked about the history and capitals of a few countries. I knew the parts and origin of machines. I knew many breeds of dogs and how each of them looks. At an early age, I knew about a lot of stuff not learned in school. All of us have been imbibed with this trait. I taught my [then]three year old brother to memorize scientific names of herbal plants. I had him enumerate the parts of the brain and the bones of the skeletal system. I remember one time during college, my friend Edric spent the night in our house, and he was amazed to see my oldest brother drinking a bottle of Red Horse beer while skimming through a thick encyclopedia. It was a pretty funny sight, actually, and I realized it’s been a while since I actually held an encyclopedia in my hand and read and learn like before, now that we have the Internet. My love for learning is so strong that it has been one of the few things constant in my life growing up, and something I am very grateful for. It engendered in me a personal confidence that I am highly capable to explore new things, upgrade myself, beat my own records, make mistakes, fall down, but get back up much stronger, much better. It’s about continuously conquering and challenging myself that always, at the end of the day, I know that I’ve learned, I know that at the end of it all, there is always a better me.

It isn’t possible, though, without my faith in the Great Universe, my communion with God, my satisfied search for Truth. My father was one of those captivated by the enchanting town of Los Baños. He was in the university in the late 70s until the 90s committed in building a community of Christian leaders. He founded Alleluia Community together with a group of regular church-goers and student devotees like him. Then he met my mother, niece of then STCJ Parish Priest Father Julio Barbieto SVD, who became so dear to him. With a love story set in the church, you can only imagine how our family was like. We were raised as devotees. We grew up playing with kids in prayer meetings. We had campings and birthday parties with other Christian families. As a toddler, I played bibbo kid marching through the aisle to bring bottled water to my father speaking in an Evangelism seminar. We went places for these kinds of events, town to town, province to province. I grew up in the loving arms of Christian leaders, those who were active in living and sharing the Word of God. They even called me “CLP baby”, an acronym for the Christian Life Program the Couples for Christ leaders used to hold. And even until today, our family friends are those who have shared these missions with my parents, many years ago. But what I’m talking about here is inherited faith. It was the foundation of my beliefs, the take-off point of my own personal search. It was these pictures of my younger years that actually fed me the doubts and questions.

At some point in our lives, there are circumstances that will force us to seek the Ultimate Truth. The one that will logically answer all questions of faith, existence and reality. The unity in a pluralist world. The unbelievable marriage of different worldviews. It will require us to un-know some things we knew, ask questions, seek answers. It will force us to choose a path of interpretation, leave behind some of those we believed in or keep the pieces that still fit. It will compel us to act upon an inner yearning and understand life’s interconnectedness. I was in this phase during my adolescent years. And I realized, it’s not the destination that got me through life; it’s the actual pursuit, it’s the journey.

Kent Nerburn puts it perfectly: “I sometimes like to think of God as a great symphony and the various spiritual paths as instruments in an orchestra. The gift that you have is like music waiting to be played. You need only to find the instrument that will best bring it out. You alone can never play all the instruments, and your music might not find voice in all the instruments. All you can do is find the instrument that suits you best, play it as well as you can, and add your music to the great symphony of divine creation.”

Under the Northern Star, I’m playing my own music.

The Blessed One

Benedict means “the Blessed one”. Bene is Italian for “good”. For a long time, I’ve banked on the idea of a personal God, a bearded Caucasian man with blue eyes and long wavy hair. But then I realized he was just a messenger. That his life, death and resurrection merely served to bridge God and humanity. And I’ve decided, God is everywhere. God is you. God is within you. God is them. God is within me. God resides in the people, things, places, and events that shape us to our true goodness and potential, the one exemplified by JC. With this viewpoint, I know that I am indeed the Blessed One.

One painful event more than a decade ago changed the course of our family’s life as much as mine. It was the turning point. The pivotal year of my life. The greatest tribulation. The longest and most difficult year a 12-year-old boy could handle. It’s either I make it or I break it. Surrender. Or surrender to God. I would have been so close to giving up. But then my eyes were opened to the real blessings the universe has bestowed upon me: those people who have come and gone and the chances and circumstances I so far encountered along the way.

It’s hard to list them all here, the same feeling when doing the acknowledgment page of your undergraduate thesis. There are a few people that stood out, but there are I think dozens of them I have to acknowledge. This part of my life is actually on-going. There’s more coming, each and every day. When you’ve hit rock bottom, when you’ve reached that point in life that you feel like no one’s really there for you, the universe has its way of showing you that it’s just a matter of perspective. It’s a mindset, it’s how you see the things that transpire in your daily life. And you’ll realize, life is good after all. There’s so much to be thankful for. And we all are instruments of order and balance. One way or another, your existence matters to someone else’s.

At least for me, there are people worth mentioning, so I’d leave this chapter unfinished. Because blessings are pouring each and every day, in human forms, in signs and omens, in beautiful surprises and overwhelming opportunities.

I’m sure one way or another, you are part of this unfinished story. Otherwise, hit me up!

God’s Providence

This aspect of my life, too, is ongoing.