The Responsibility of Freedom: Ending the Gun Debate

With my privilege of dual citizenship, I have chosen to spend the last 18 years of my life in the States. I debate moving back to Canada often, but the weather here in Southern California has a louder voice and wins every time. I miss Canada in a way that only another expat can understand, but there are plenty of reasons to love the country I choose to live in as well. There are also moments when I am just plain embarrassed by my decision. Right now is one of those times.

I fully understand that the “right to bear arms” is a complicated topic deeply ingrained into American history. I also believe that there is zero legit reason your average civilian needs to own an assault rifle and that there is equally no purpose in allowing mentally unfit individuals access to any guns at all. To be fair, however, those are my opinions and there will always be someone else who can justify owning a semi-automatic or come up with a reason why limiting gun access to the mentally ill is “complicated.” And I must give a kudos to that because in most other contexts, the freedom we have in this country to entertain our own opinions without (too much) fear of repercussion is a wonderful privilege. But like Eleanor Roosevelt said, “With freedom comes responsibility” and I think that concept is a key piece of what has been missing in our discussions of this subject over the years.

When it comes to the matter of gun safety itself, I am confused why it’s still being debated at all. The choice seems simple to me: either this county loves its children and values human life more than its guns, possessions, and “rights” or it doesn’t. Either we stop projecting the “other” as being our enemy, seeing adversary in every person born outside of this county or every worst-case scenario we can dream of, or we wake up to the realization that we are the ones we should be afraid of. We are killing ourselves – our children – and wasting time.

Politicians continue to say that we need to have “honest discussions” about the topic, yet all that seems to do is create more debates and further arguments. Angry article after seething video after repetitive podcast all leading to nowhere except another mass shooting headline. All of this negativity hidden behind our “right” to have an opinion and shout it loudly to anyone listening: it’s all just a bunch of endless rhetoric that stalls any form of concrete decision. And in the meantime, spinning around the background in a giant black ball of hate, the problem continues to grow, feeding off of our rage and inability to act.

This topic is no longer up for debate – no one has brought anything new to the table in ages – what we need now is a viable solution. Everyone has their own beliefs and of course a country of over 323 million people will likely never come to a unanimous decision. That’s no longer the point and, in fact, has become a weak excuse for our immobility to move forward on this issue. We need to put down our emotionally-fueled opinions and self-righteousness and work together on a resolution. That is our responsibility in exchange for these freedoms we enjoy.

At this stage in the game, I doubt there are many of us left who can’t at least agree that this is a pretty damn serious problem that must be addressed. I mean we have children pleading for our help for heaven’s sake and we’re completely failing them because we’re too busy arguing about which one of us is correct. Remember how as teenagers we thought all adults were hopelessly out of touch? Turns out we were right: adults can be totally oblivious, in this case tragically so. We’ve gotten so lost in our self-imposed adulting we’ve forgotten what’s important, what’s at stake here. Instead of going on the defense every single time the subject comes up and starting the whole endless who’s right cycle all over again, let’s stop, put down our weapons and opinions about them, and work on this together. Seriously, America – before it’s too late.

Stress Relief for the Holidays: 4 Ways to Let Go and Ohm All Day Long

We’ve all heard that practicing meditation is key to creating a stress-free life. It can increase happiness and has been to shown to improve concentration, benefit health, and even slow the aging process. Along with exercise, healthy eating, and getting enough sleep, it’s basically one of the best things we can do to live a healthier lifestyle. So why isn’t everyone doing it? Probably because most of us think meditation is a daunting task that requires laser focus and loads of time. And they’re also not really sure how to do it even if they could fit it into their schedules because, realistically, there are very few “How to Meditate” classes being offered at the local gym.

  1. The truth is, you don’t have to be Buddha levitating over a mountaintop in order to reap the benefits of meditation. It really can be an easy and effective way to find more joy in your life and doesn’t need to take up a lot of time. Try incorporating the following 4 simple practices into your daily routine to increase your peace and help you enjoy the upcoming holidays.Is someone driving you crazy? Your boss, teenager, or noisy neighbor? Instead of taking their actions personally, try imagining that person surrounded by a big ball of white light. Once you can see that, send loving thoughts their way. Remember that, just like you, they are only doing the best that they know how to do with the information that they have at this time. Envision them in a glowing sphere and send love their way until you feel lighter. Smile, let them go, and get on with your day.
  2. A great way to stop overwhelm in its tracks is by practicing a mini-grounding session: stand up and kick off your shoes, place your feet firmly on the ground, close your eyes, and imagine that the bottom of your feet have roots. Now picture those roots growing down into the ground. Keep the visual going until you’ve hit China or you’re breathing deeply and ready to get back to the task at hand.
  3. When your stress levels are at their highest, try the Tibetan Buddhist sky-gazing meditation. Find someplace where you can see the sky and sit down. If you can’t see the actual sky from where you are, pull up a picture of it on your computer. Keep your gaze on the sky or monitor while taking long, deep breaths. Fully concentrate on your breath: watch your exhaled breath sail into the clear, blue sky. Follow your breath in and out, noticing how it dissolves into the blue space in front of you. Continue until you feel calm.
  4. If you find yourself distracted and unable to focus, try this: get into a seated position and concentrate on your breath. Think of a word that either brings to mind serenity or one that you would like to embody, such as “peace,” “love,” “bliss,” etc. As you inhale, say the word “I” to yourself. On the exhale, say “am” and whatever the word was that you chose. I (inhale) (exhale) am love. I (inhale) (exhale) am peace. I (inhale) (exhale) am enough. If your minds starts to wander, simply bring it back to your silent mantra without judgement and continue until you feel ready to take on the rest of your day.


Light Up the Desert with Your Dreams at the RiSE Festival Near Las Vegas

Image watching thousands of glowing lanterns slowly rise into a black, star-speckled sky, covering the vast darkness with flickering golden globes of light while you stand in the middle of a hushed crowd filled with gently smiling faces. Sound overly dramatic? It should – I wrote it like that because using an overt amount of elaborate language is the best way I can convey to you how it felt to witness the RiSE Festival firsthand. Simply put, it’s one of the most magical (man-made) scenes I’ve ever witnessed. It honestly brought tears to my eyes.

Located on the Moapa River Indian Reservation an hour outside of Las Vegas, promoters of the RiSE Festival say the event was created to bring light into the darkness, both literally and metaphorically. The idea is to take a lantern, write your desires on it and then send it floating into the ether while you let go of whatever’s been holding you back from realizing your dreams. It’s a beautiful concept and another reason why I got a bit teary watching it happen: what’s not to love about so many people coming together in the spirit of creating more positive lives for themselves?

Here’s how it works: your ticket gets you two paper lanterns, a bamboo mat with a black marker, and a book of matches. For lighting purposes, the organizers have planted tiki torches throughout the area. Set up camp near one of them, then write your hopes, dreams, wishes, or resolutions on your lantern. There are two official launches with a countdown by the DJ and while the sight and comradery of those are impressive, you can also just let yours go whenever you’re ready.

A tip: when you’re checking in, ask the people handing out the packages for the best way to light your lantern. There’s a bit of a science to it – you receive two lanterns just in case your first one decides to sail into a nearby crowd of people and get dragged down in the dirt instead of flying into the sky. Here’s video of me successfully launching my second lantern because, well, see previous sentence.

I’ve been to plenty of festivals, concerts, and lots-of-people-everywhere types of gatherings in my life and RiSE is one of my favorites. Besides the obvious, “look how pretty the desert sky is all lit up with a bunch of lanterns,” photo-op attraction of the festival, what really makes this one worth attending is the overall vibe of the place. I’ve never been to an event selling alcohol to hundreds of people without witnessing a few fights, harsh words, or at least a little bit of attitude. You won’t find that at RiSE: it was remarkable how peaceful and happy the crowd stayed throughout the entire night. And quiet. Seriously, for an event involving open flames, live music, fireworks, food trucks, and booze it was incredible how silent it remained.

For those of you wondering if this event is environmentally sound, the short answer is yes: the lanterns are biodegradable, have a short burn/flight time, and their website insists they recover 100% of the lanterns along with any additional litter left behind.

This fall, the RiSE Festival will take over the desert once again. Tickets for Saturday, October 7th already sold out, but a few tickets remain for Friday’s launch, so if you’re interested in attending buy yours now before they’re gone. If you’d like to take part of a truly powerful event or perhaps just want to hang out with a bunch of peaceful, groovy people in the middle of the desert while Instagramming awesome photos, then this event is a must.

How to Take Your Fitness Practice Outdoors with Sunset Beach Yoga

By now you’ve likely heard that practicing yoga provides many benefits, including increased flexibility, improved energy, and an overall sense of relaxation. I’ve been practicing various types of yoga for over a decade and can tell you that while I definitely dig the way it strengthens my body, what I really appreciate about it is what it does for my mind. As in: Slows. It. Way. The. Heck. Down. And. Keeps. Me. Mindful. OHHHMMM.

While I love yoga, I also like trying new things. Luckily for me, there are a bunch of different types of yoga practices out there: yin (best ever – I do it a few times a week), Bikram (I call this one torture yoga), Vinyasa flow (great cardio workout), SUP yoga (trying it this weekend; fingers crossed I manage to stay on the board), yoga with goats (seriously, it’s a real thing and I’m going to try it someday), aerial (yoga in the air – what’s not to love about that?!), glow (not high on my priority list, but I’ll probably do it at some point), restorative (just went on an excellent remote retreat for this type last weekend), and on and on.

If you’re lucky enough to live near the ocean or a lake, you can also try sunset (or sunrise for those of you who live on a totally different schedule than I do) yoga on the beach, which is as relaxing as it sounds. Fair warning though: it’s not as simple as it seems. In fact, I’ve listed a few things below you should know before you give it a try.

  1. Wear layers: when the sun goes down and the wind kicks up it gets chilly fast and nothing ruins your zen like goosebumps and chattering teeth.
  2. No matter how careful you try to be, sand will get everywhere. If you don’t like a dirty mat, I suggest designating an old one just for beach yoga or bringing a towel to place underneath it.
  3. Speaking of sand, wear a hooded sweatshirt so that when you go into your final savasana pose you can pull up the hood to avoid getting a bunch of it in your hair.
  4. If you have long hair and it’s windy, you hairdo will be destroyed when you’re done. Throw on a hat and just deal with it.
  5. The sand is going to throw off your balance and stability, so you won’t feel as sturdy as you do in a studio. You can smooth out the sand prior to placing down your mat, which helps a bit. You can also place a bamboo mat or thick blanket under your yoga mat to create a more even surface, but you’ll still waver with your movements. I’m currently trying to invent ways to improve on this: a yoga mat crossed with a thinner boogie board? A yoga mat on thick bamboo stalks? I don’t know, but if you have any ideas I’d love to hear them.

Until next time, namaste my friends.


The Adult Coloring Craze

Mindfulness. Relaxation. Stress relief. Although according to research any structured, rhythmic activity can help you achieve these things, adult coloring seems to be the latest and greatest way to get there. And it’s no wonder: coloring is inexpensive, requires zero drawing skills, reminds of us of childhood, and is fun in a simple way.

I loved to color when I was a kid. In fact, my great uncle Orville Ganes was a professional cartoonist and one of my prouder childhood moments was when he penned a cartoon of my grandfather, his brother, riding a jalopy and asked me to color it in because he “heard a rumor” that I was “really talented” at it. I was 8 and beyond thrilled. Unfortunately, one of my more embarrassing childhood moments came about five minutes later when I accidentally colored outside of a line on that drawing because my sweaty fingers were a bit too eager to prove my “talent.” Sigh.

Despite this mild snag in my artistic career, I continued to secretly consider myself an expert colorer (apparently that’s not a word, but I’m using it anyway). In fact, I remember buying coloring books and crayons in college and spending a few weeknights on my dorm room floor, avoiding studying for finals by deciding if Ariel should become a brunette or keep the ginger locks Disney gave her.

Although I always feel the urge for markers whenever I see a black and white image, after college I don’t recall any coloring activity until my niece came along. And then about a year or so ago, out of nowhere it seemed, adult coloring books started appearing all over the place. Given my past love affair with coloring, it’s surprising it took me so long to jump on the bandwagon. Or maybe not, considering I’ve always been rather suspicious of hype. In any case, I finally broke down and revisited my former passion.

I bought a couple of books, the biggest box of crayons I could find, some thin-tipped markers, and went to town. As you can imagine, adult coloring books differ from their kid counterparts in that they generally contain more mature images: intricate patterns, fine details, less whimsical subject matters. Think less Prince Charming’s crude blocky castle and more his grandmother’s Zen garden drawn with a thousand hypnotic components.

After a week of almost nightly practice, I can honestly say I’m not as drawn (pun very much intended) to it as I once was, but I also realized my relationship with coloring reiterates what I’ve learned about myself over the years.

  1. My patience levels are always being tested: These new patterns take forever to complete, which makes it relaxing, time consuming, and oh-so frustrating all at the same time.
  2. I’m stubborn when determined: It isn’t easy staying inside the lines and I still care when I slip.
  3. I’m a visionary: I can’t believe Crayola still isn’t making enough colors to satisfy me and when are they going to invent a marker that doesn’t dry out after a few uses?
  4. I have excellent self-confidence: Even now, after all these years, I am still a coloring rock star.