The Zombie Mode

by: sundaepena

You can listen to audio clip here:

Narrated by the Author

“You don’t realize it’s on until you wake up. Some people call it drifting. It’s like going into Starbucks and ordering a cup of cafe mocha. The cashier goes on to ask whether you like it hot or cold. And you say, “Ehh, lukewarm”.

“Man, I wonder how that tastes like,” I chuckled.

“Oh, I’ll tell you. It tastes boring!”

The rest of us roared in laughter, but the truth behind that statement stung.

For a few weeks now, I’ve been feeling upbeat every single day. So curious, I took inventory of activities I was doing and bingo! I recognized I was singing in the car every day on my way to work!

I forgot how much singing made me feel joyful and alive. So I wondered, should I pick up old stuff again that used to make me happy?


When the pandemic hit the world, it felt like it would go on forever. There was no sense of certainty about the future. But, in retrospect, I realized that shouldn’t have come as a surprise. After all, tomorrow is never guaranteed.

To stay liquid, I aimed to reduce my stuff to fit 2 suitcases, knowing that anytime, I could go. So I started to sell all the bulky items I owned. Of course, the first ones to go were musical instruments. I justified it by saying, “I can still enjoy singing. I just need to be creative around it”.

Out of sight, out of mind.

For a time, creativity served me well. But not until a few weeks back, when I found myself playing guitar in a music store and started singing. Oh my, I felt like being myself again!

Days after, I went on to re-explore photography and exciting conversations.

Toying with my old camera got me beautiful photos.

by sundaepena
by: sundaepena
by: sundaepena

As to conversations, I made an effort to discuss topics I was curious about and enjoyed the most. These made my brain more alert and stimulated and helped me forge authentic connections with people I hang out with.

So why bring this up? 

I noticed that we tend to become more serious about life as we grow old. So it makes sense why most of us suffer from stress or burnout. We forgot how to have fun, how it feels to be joyful and excited. 

Think about:

  • a full-time parent who has not taken a break to do some self-care.
  • a researcher who has not gone out with friends for a long time.
  • a student who’s not pursued any hobby.
  • an employee who spends most of his waking hours at work.

It looks like these people’s sense of purpose or identity got a little too defined by only one aspect of life.  

Sooner or later, the imbalance will suck the happiness out of them like a dementor in a “Potter universe” would. They will lose the spark in their eyes, quite telling that the zombie mode is on.


Researchers and academics say that happiness, like a meal, has a few macro ingredients, and one of them is “Fun,” but not just any fun.  

A person needs to define what fun looks like to them. This exercise takes a dose of discernment and requires tuning out the noise around you to hear yourself. You have to know what you want. Not what the culture wants or your family desires. You need to focus on the wants that are inherent and true to you. 

I always use “yin-yang” as an expression to state how I value a sense of balance. In a world driven by productivity and peer pressure, I keep my sanity by indulging in activities that reignite the fire in my soul. Activities that make me feel alive and excited, joyful and authentic. To me, that’s singing, capturing beauty, and being caught in worthwhile, honest conversations.

At the very core, I believe we are built for joy, among other things. It’s innate, and putting barriers to block that natural expression will kill our humanity. As one of my mentors used to tell, “If you stop singing, you will explode.” And she’s right. I can’t bottle up this energy forever. Besides, what good will it create if I do?

So for you, my friend, what does joy or fun look like? What’s one thing that makes you feel excited right now? And what’s holding you back from doing it? 

James, Amelia and True North

Photo by Rushina Morrison on Unsplash

Too often, we fall into an all-or-nothing cycle with our habits.

The problem is not slipping up; the problem is thinking that if you can’t do something perfectly, then you shouldn’t do it at all.”

James Clear

This is by far the biggest, most relevant motivation I got this year.  

Why I’m like most people.

I struggle with motivation and discipline too. There are days when I get stuck and I can’t seem to find a way through. So I just stop and abandon things until I wake up one day wanting to pick them up again. 

That has always been the cycle. The only task I consistently show up to, is well, anything that relates to my day job. I’ve got to eat and pay bills. Apparently, that’s enough motivation to get myself to pull up a chair, open my computer and tick off tasks on my list soon as I get them done. But when it comes to personal things that I claim I’m passionate about, it’s always a journey through peaks and valleys.

Partially, I can justify my actions. When you write, you have to take a pause sometimes and allow real life to catch up. This is especially true when you draw inspiration from actual experiences you either went through alone, with others, or by people you get to talk to some days. So for the past 3 weeks, I did just that, live life and create experiences I can write about.

The Trade-Off

I sold the last piece of musical instrument I had. What gave me comfort is finding a home for these instruments in people I know will use and treasure them like I once did.

So goodbye my “Amelia”, my Ed-Sheeran signature divide.  

I must admit, life without music is dull. Listening to songs is entertaining but creating or producing pieces is pure joy. The week after I sold my guitar, a friend and I have covered two songs using karaoke music. Then the following week, I couldn’t help but buy myself a Ukelele. It’s fun to learn, it’s cheap, I can carry it around and play it anywhere, (even inside a food court)! It doesn’t attract unnecessary attention, which I like.

Days after, we covered “Emmylou” of First Aid Kit, the Ukelele is finding its way to my heart.

Back To Writing

After a 3-week hiatus I know I needed to go back to writing. Thinking about it while I was in the shower was already making me feel excited. Like music, writing, if it were a place, is my true north. Or, let me say it the other way. True north is anywhere I get to be alone with music and writing. Both activities settle my heart like no other. I know right between the notes and words my soul breathes like I’m fully alive. If only I could do these things forever without having to worry about putting food on the table.  

This is not to say I detest my job. In fact, I love it because it allows me to do the things that I love to do. I work to get paid to do the other things that inspire me to create and contribute to the art side of the world.

So James Clear, if you ever get to read this, thank you for the encouragement. Even if I do miss some days without writing or doing music, it doesn’t mean I need to abandon these interests. After all, these are two of the few things that make my heart beat, like I’m fully human.

As I find comfort in James’s words, I hope you find the grace and humility too, to pick up where you left off and finish what you started. Don’t even think you’re doing it for somebody. 

Do it for you. 

Do it because you want to. 

Do it because it’s important to you.

Oh you sweet little darling, why are you feeling down?

The sun peeked through the clouds at 6:45 today. It’s a cold winter morning. Everything around me is quiet, and neither the hot cup of coffee in my hand nor the promise of a new day can lift my spirits. I was deeply discouraged and feeling hopeless.

There are days when the oil in my lamp seems low, my energy is depleted and everything I do looks pointless all of the sudden. The thought of never really arriving lost its thrill while the desire to finally reach a destination had never been more pressing than ever.

Have you, at one point in time, felt like giving up on yourself? You realize you’ve been repeating the same mistakes, clutching on to old bad habits, and found you’ve never really figured out things yet, in your finances, relationships, projects, job, or wherever it is you’re heading.

Discouragement rots your heart like a bad apple.

A priest once told a story about him being ridiculed for his faith. But he stood firm and courageously expressed, “I’d rather live my life believing there is God even if it would turn out to be not true. At least I have lived with joy and hope. Living would be pointless if there’s nothing to hope for or look forward to.”

Losing hope dims our future. But how does one find hope when his heart is heavily discouraged?


We might not get it right every time. Yet, we have to remind ourselves and believe that we are not crappy people. Sometimes it does feel like we’re not inching forward. Why? It’s because we tend to focus more on how far we have to go rather than look at how far we’ve come.  

Success or victory doesn’t happen overnight and we know this. Nevertheless, we beat ourselves up when deadlines are missed, or things didn’t work out the way we planned. 

We need to allow our hearts to trust again. To trust ourselves, trust the process, and the goodness in and around us.

Believe there is a lot of kindness in the world. We just fail to recognize them in small things. The smile from a stranger, the unexpected phone call, the simple thank you, or that free bread from a neighbor, they all count. The warmth of the sunlight on your skin on a breezy morning is kindness from the universe too. Humanity and the universe have our back. We just need to give faith and trust a chance.


The steps that we take need not be grand. Magnitude and Intensity can never be sustained in the long run. Taking actions on this level is oftentimes scary and overwhelming. 

In recent years, I have seen the power of starting small and doing it consistently, in my own life. Talk about the 1% rule: improving yourself just 1% each day. When you look at improvement in small bites on whatever it is you’re working on, it doesn’t look daunting at all. You can even translate it in terms of time. We get 1440 minutes a day, and 1% is roughly 15 minutes. You can carve out 15 minutes each day doing that one thing that will move you forward to wherever it is that you want to be.


Grace flows when we stand in humility. Surrendering to the powers above us just gives us more strength than what we can muster on our own. Whether we feel it or not, remember it or not, some things are just beyond our control. So yes we do things and do them faithfully but let’s open our hearts too for some possible redirection. 

I have heard it once, “When you pray, ask God everything that you need and want, but trust that if He doesn’t give exactly what you asked for, He’s giving you something better.”  And that has been my prayer ever since. Why? I believe and I trust that He knows better.

Discouragement melted away.

I know not for a long time. It will still visit me in the future like an old friend. I’m beginning to appreciate going through discouragement because it reminds me of one thing, that I can’t trust my feelings to drive my way through life. What shapes my journey is each decision and action I take, and I believe that goes for you too.

How Learning Can Make More Sense

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”

O.W. Holmes

Right there, do you see what our mind is capable of? It can grow. It can expand. But how?

Learning is a process and can be accomplished by a combination of different methods.

  • Taking a class
  • Reading a book
  • Conducting an Experiment
  • Participating in Group discussions/conversations
  • Attending a seminar
  • Observing
  • Researching
  • Interviewing / Asking questions / listening
  • Practicing/rehearsing

The list can go on and on but learning starts with one thing, being open.

Bruce Lee

In a movie scene, Bruce Lee’s ghost appears to an aspiring student. At one point the master raises two glasses, one filled with water, one filled with soda. Water represents everything that the student already knows. The soda represents what Bruce Lee wants to teach. He now starts pouring the soda into the glass filled with water. As expected, the glass overflows. It can no longer hold the soda since it’s already full. At that point the student understood. He must first empty his glass so he can be filled with something new that the master wants to teach.

Learning in real life is the same thing. We must first empty our cup. That means we must be willing to be taught. We must be willing to listen. We must be willing to fail and do better.

We can always learn by ourselves or through other people.

Every day scientists and all of the great minds in the world discover something new. Everyday too, we are surrounded by people, full of wisdom, and whose lives are built upon rich experiences. All we need to do is tap the source and knowledge will flow.

I love learning from other people. I don’t mind being the most stupid person in the room. If I don’t know, I don’t pretend that I know. I ask. I look for answers. Funny, when it is not knowledge but the wisdom you seek, oftentimes the answers are there staring right in front of you.

At this point, I think you and I can agree that knowledge is information, and wisdom is that deeper sense of understanding. We can have all the information in the world, but knowing what really makes sense and meaningful to you, is a different thing.  

All of us have the capacity to fit millions of stuff into our brains, but we have to be careful though. Our mind is like a garden. The seeds that we sow, bear fruit. The key is, be responsible.

The Next Level

Up until now, we have only emphasized the capacity of our minds to receive information. The next level is it’s the ability to create.

Most of us have become comfortable with the idea of just consuming. Creating requires more muscles to work. So most people would avoid that. If you really want your brain to expand, inspire it to create. Other than that, why do you think should you bother?

Creating restores the balance in the universe. Life is always a give and take.


You plant, you harvest. You breathe in, you breathe out. Have you tried inhaling oxygen and not exhaling? You won’t be able to do it for more than 20 seconds.

We are not just consumers in this world. We are also called to contribute. Every good thing that we create or do, sends positive energy to the universe and that single thing will have a ripple effect.

Your Challenge

In the vast sea of information you find out there, take one that you could use to create something good. A simple one will do. 

Maybe, it’s “How to make a homemade brownie”. Make some, and invite friends over for tea or coffee. That’s you investing in relationships.

Maybe, it’s “How to grow vegetables in your balcony garden”. Grow some. That’s you being practical, feeding on healthy food, getting involved in producing.

Maybe, it’s “How to play the violin”. Learn, practice, master, and play not just for yourself but for the people around you. That’s you embracing art. It’s good for the soul. Music can soothe weary hearts and lift people up. Just imagine how many lives you can touch playing a beautiful masterpiece.

Simple or complex, it doesn’t matter. Just do something, create something.

Leave your imprints in the world.

Make it more beautiful than you found it.