The Season of Self-denial

The Mount of Temptation photo by Photo by Snowscat on Unsplash

It’s the season of Lent for Catholics around the world. What an irony because as I’m writing this post, the song that plays in the background is “Constant Craving” by K.D. Lang.

I have taken on fasting from social media and Netflix during these 40 days for the past years. But unfortunately, I have failed to use those freed-up hours in ways that would have strengthened my faith and deepened my relationship with God. So I made sure I re-purpose the hours wisely this time around.

The Phone Call

Days before, a friend of mine called and asked, “What is Lent about?” So, to make sure I mentioned everything, I looked up the internet, and a couple of words struck me: self-denial.

Obviously, these words escaped me before. “Now I have to figure out how to make this happen in my life,” was all I could say.

“Be careful what you ask for,” he teased.

True enough, opportunities came one after another; I only had to say, “Yes.” From giving up minor indulgences to dropping a day’s plan for someone, it’s always a question of, “Is this what You need me from me right now?”

Starting each day goes like, “The plan is to not have a plan“, which is a bit challenging for semi-control freaks like me.

I can testify, though, that we cannot out-give the Universe. Going out there and creating a direct impact on someone’s life made me feel joyful and fulfilled. It’s always been my desire. 

The Thought

As I was exercising self-denial, I wondered, “How did I ever forget about how good this feels?”

You see, I used to do these things, and then at some point, I stopped.

Was it due to fear of rejection?

A feeling of not giving enough? 

The experience of being used or taken advantage of?

Or perhaps, exhaustion from it all?

If one or all of the above is true, how do I deal with it?

Then I recalled one conversation I had with my mom. She said you can do and accomplish anything you want. But what makes the difference is the intention behind those acts.

Hitting a Chord

I believe my mom is right.

We can manifest many things in life, but none of it would give us joy and a sense of meaning if our intention is wrong, to begin with.  


You might say the rightness or wrongness of an intention in most cases is relative, and that’s true. So a guiding rule can be “what sits right with you.” Because at the very core, I believe we are wired for good, wired to create and impact something good.  

The weight of a task is also directly linked to the nature of our intention.  

A friend and I talked about this last time and figured when we are motivated by the desire

  • to please;
  • to be recognized;
  • or be rewarded; 

A task feels heavier on our shoulders. But if we change it a bit and do something just because,

  • we are capable;
  • we care; or
  • it improves other people’s quality of life;
  • it represents better stewardship of resources; 
  • it makes other’s jobs more manageable;

The so-called task feels light and easy. Suddenly, our core becomes attuned to something greater, higher, and powerful, and we just flow.

Lent or not, I hope you think about your guiding intentions today. It doesn’t just fuel your actions but also determines the quality of impact you leave on other people’s lives.

Trusting you…

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? 

What's Stealing Your Joy?

Photo Credit: Romeo Conilas


Imagine this:  You wake up to a beautiful Saturday morning, eager to start your day with a perfectly planned home-cooked breakfast.  After a few stretches, you get on your feet and head to the kitchen. Egg, sausage, pancakes, a bowl of fruit, and a  cup of freshly brewed coffee, one by one perfectly laid on the breakfast table. You grab a bottle of ketchup from the cupboard, and remembered- – Bistro! Oh no! You look over your shoulder and see your fear actually happening! Big Bistro gobbling down a big breakfast!

Joy stealers are like that. They’re cunning. While you get so self-absorbed and unaware, they come out and take something you really value. There’s an army of them, but let’s talk about two that may seem non-threatening, but prove to be strong enemies of your time.


– you say you want to get fit, but you don’t get up early in the morning to exercise.

– you say you want more sunshine, but don’t make an effort to go to the beach or just outside your home

– you say you want to be more productive, but you linger for hours on social media

– you say you want more income but don’t find ways to get one

– you say you want stronger, healthier relationships but you end up with just intentions, no effort, no actions.


– you want to accomplish a lot of goals but you don’t start working on a single thing

– you want to explore opportunities, but actually, don’t pick one of several choices that come along

– you want to change something in your circumstances, but you get stuck at wishing and not doing

My brother once told me that completing a marathon is more of a mental thing, not a physical one. The strength lies in the mind, not in the body.  I believe this applies to almost everything.  We are stronger, more able and better than we think we are.

When I see old people dancing, running, biking or doing yoga it inspires me and makes me happy.  When I see them accomplish their greatest feat ever in their old age, it drives me crazy!

Philippe Dumas, a 60-year-old man who took the fashion world by storm in 2016 after growing a beard.

80-year-old Deshun Wang, who killed it on the catwalk during the 2015 China fashion week.

Greta Pontarelli who started pole dancing at the age of 59 and at 61 won first place in 2014 pole sports world championship.

And who can ever forget Paddy Jones who wowed the world and the audience of  Britain’s Got Talent in 2014  with a salsa dance when at that time she was turning 80!

If older people can do it, surely the young can do better!

Laziness. Indecision.  Nip the problem in the bud. Both can kill your dreams. Both can waste your time. Both can stop you from discovering an ocean of possibilities laid down your path.  Both will hinder you in accomplishing something more than what you’ve hoped for in this life.

Why did we call them joy stealers?  Because they stop you from becoming the best version of yourself.  Embrace them and you end up being unable to give your best gift to the world. You retire with a wealth of regrets. You’d fail to finish strong.  You take your dreams to your grave.

Let me leave you with this quote:

The graveyard is the richest place on earth, because it is here that you will find all the hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled, the books that were never written, the songs that were never sung, the inventions that were never shared, the cures that were never discovered, all because someone was too afraid to take that first step, keep with the problem, or determined to carry out their dream.”-  Les Brown

You don’t want your dreams to end up there, do you? So move and win this life.


Have you identified your own joy-stealers? How is your battle against them? Are you winning or are you losing? What steps are you taking from here today to move you closer to your dreams?

Comment here.

What You Need To Know About Happiness

It cannot be found. The world doesn’t owe it to you. It can’t be guaranteed by anyone or anything, not even by a therapist, an enlightened guru, or by any amount of wealth, fame and power.

Chasing happiness makes it elusive, just like sleep when you desperately want it.  So where does happiness lie? How does one get to possess it?

Let me tell you a story about a wealthy family. 

One day there was this boy who’s celebrating his 8th birthday. As a present, his parents took him down the countryside for the weekend. They stayed in a spacious cabin by the lake, not very far from a small farm. This was the very first time that the family ever spent time away from the city.  

The next day, the father took his kid fishing, and both decided to stay until mid-afternoon to feast on their catch.  After having their fill, they decided to take a longer route going back and happened to pass by the small farm. 

The pair saw the family living there spending some fun afternoon just outside their barn.  Three kids are running around, playing with chickens and goats, climbing and jumping down haystacks. Two men sipping their cup of hot tea while a teenage boy plays a folk song in his rugged jeans with his old guitar entertaining the older men. Coming out from an old wooden house, a young woman and an elderly lady are carrying a plate of freshly baked cookies and a pile of bread, bidding the kids to come and grab some. 

As the father and son moved in closer, the oldest man from the farm noticed them, and without hesitation waved and invited the two to stop by. The rich man hesitated, said thank you and carried on.  

As the pair inch further away, the boy can’t help but look back and glance at the family again and again. Finally, they reached the cabin. The night was already deep and the farm was out of sight.

At the dinner table, the boy recounted his day and out of the blue, he quipped.

Boy: “Dad, I realize they are richer than us”.

Dad: “Who, son”?

Boy: “The family at the farm”.

Dad: “What do you mean? They don’t have much. But us, we own a lot of companies, live in a huge house with lots of cars, you can have all the sweets you want, and you’re always safe as I have servants looking after you, drop you to school and pick you up.  There’s freedom in our wealth, son, you can do anything”!

Son: “Well dad, they have a million lights above them, they have the stars. And the sky is huge, they get to enjoy it every time. They are always together, they look very happy and they celebrate every moment. They don’t just pass the time, they live it, savor it, just like those freshly baked cookies. It smelled so delicious and to them, every moment is treated like that. And it seems they didn’t feel scared.  They don’t have big men watching over them or guarding them. I think they have Someone bigger and stronger than the guards we have. I don’t know. But I just feel they’re richer than us, they’re freer, happier, and I think they’ve got something really special”.

The father was astonished about what he heard and was lost for words. 

My friend, happiness cannot be circumstantial because it’s within us- a sleeping giant that just needs to be awakened. You don’t need any magic tricks, fancy cars, shiny shoes or mansions. You don’t need to be a superstar nor would you need a hermit to reveal an ancient secret to you. Happiness is already in you. You just need to bring it out. Your spark, your gift, your beauty, your goodness, it lies at the very core of your being. 

The challenge? Piece by piece, layer by layer, strip yourself off with your masks, pretensions, pride, hate, with worldly desires and dependencies. Your soul and your heart, in it’s barest state, reveals the true you, and because of so much goodness that lies within that core, there lies not just happiness, but pure joy too.

You are your own joy. Celebrate your being, and move the world beautifully in ways that only you can.