unum Blog

Slow Down. Breathe. Connect. Love. PART 1

Slow Down. Breathe. Connect. Love. PART 1

I recall one late afternoon as we gathered up the resin lawn chairs and slowly made our way down the short path to the beach. It’s a ritual I have been fortunate enough to experience many times in my life. But this time was different. As the sun was coming around the small peninsula readying itself to rest for the night, we chose our usual spot close to a tree and an old piece of driftwood that serves as our footrest. With a glass of wine in hand, we swing our chairs into place and make small talk as we settle in for the show. One of the most amazing shows we get to experience as human beings. The sun slowly making it’s way closer to the horizon as it’s about to be swallowed up by the warm waters of the ocean. Our movements getting slower and our tones more subdued. As we sit I realize I am the only one talking. Chacha, Pili, Ligia, and Jose have all softened their gaze, brows unfurled, their breath slowing down as they drift into an almost meditative state as we watch the sun set on another magical day. I realize at this point that talking is not required. Nor are photos. Only to focus on the beauty of the sunset and the love of my companions. Their energy matching that of the sun, as we sit in silence, each contemplating the meaning of the moment and warm embrace that has been created. I begin to reflect on the simplicity of the moment and its tremendous power and influence over my well being as a human being. Reflecting on the beauty of the colours on the horizon. Reflecting on the love that brought us together to share this moment. A moment that will never happen again. A moment frozen in time forever. But only if we pause and silence the noise of the day. The noise we create in our heads as we buzz through life. A moment as important and impactful as anything we can experience. Watching the sunset is always a deeply satisfying experience. Watching it in silence with those you love is spiritual. It’s transformational. It changes you if you allow it to.

Slow down. Breathe. Connect. Love.

Joe Danis

When Should We Care?

When Should We Care?

25 and an unborn child killed – November 5, 2017
58 killed – October 1, 2017
49 killed, 58 injured – June 12, 2016
14 killed, 22 injured – December 2, 2015
9 killed – October 1, 2015
9 killed – June 17, 2015
12 killed – September 16, 2013
27 killed – December 14, 2012
12 killed – July 20, 2012

No one is safe. Not me and not even you. A class of first graders dead at their desks in seconds when all they wanted to do was learn how to read, write, and go to recess. A crowd of country music lovers murdered while listening to their favorite music. A congregation of loyal church goers shot in the pews, I guess not even God could save them from an automatic rifle. And where do I fall into all of this? I’ve found myself not even able to mourn for I am numb to it all. No one is safe and no one seems to care. No one is safe and the leader of my country is more engrossed in grabbing women by the pussy than helping. Where do I find my voice when it seems like nothing can be done to help? Do I go on acting as if nothing is wrong? What if next time I become one of another number of bodies added to the death toll, should I care then? How dare we call ourselves the land of the free. How are we free when we are not even safe to go to the new Batman movie without people being lifelessly gunned down? How dare I sit here and tell you that we are the home of the brave when we are too cowardly to face the fact that people can be murdered by the masses and nothing is being done to stop it. How do I sit here in good conscience when I know that this isn’t right? These killings don’t impact my day to day life and that is the most sickening part of it all. The people who are dead are just as a group of faces shown on TV that I will never know, and I don’t even flinch because I am so exhausted from the hurt from the last mass shooting. My relationships with mass shootings has been the most solid and steady one during my coming of age. I can always know that there will be another one. The satirical blog The Onion produced an article after the most recent mass shooting titled “‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens”. When a satirical blog is able to hold such validity to a serious issue, this is when we really have to question ourselves as a people, and as a country. I am not just ashamed, but I am disappointed, because I know we are better than this. The feeling of helplessness is particularly the hardest to swallow. The feeling of knowing you can’t bring those 20 children from Sandy Hook back to life. The feeling of not being able to protect another group of children from it happening again. The feeling of not being able to protect your Mom, your Dad, or your best friend from being gunned down at any time, is soul crushing. Yet I can’t lose faith because this is just the same as giving up, and then nothing will truly change. Whenever I am hurting or feeling lost, I remember some poignant words that my mother has constantly told me throughout my life. “We are here on this Earth to help each other, when someone is not okay you HELP them, because that is our purpose living here on Earth.”. In a country looking for guidance I look to a section from the Declaration of Independence stating, “But when a long train of abuses, usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, the events is a design to reduce them on their absolute despotism and is their right and their duty to throw off such government and provide new guards for their new security.” When something is wrong, those who CAN do something to help, have the RESPONSIBILITY to help. This includes me, this includes you, this includes everyone who recognizes that something is wrong. My country cannot heal until we learn to help each other. We cannot heal as a country until we no longer see these mass shootings as a problem for others, but a problem that hurts all of us.

Maddie Sager

Blue… it really is the happiest colour!

Blue… it really is the happiest colour!

Who says the colour blue implies sadness? In my ongoing desire to live a healthier, happier life, I have done some research into the habits of those who life full, meaningful lives and discovered something called a Blue Zone. A Blue Zone is defined as a region that boasts the highest number of centenarians and overall longevity in terms of life expectancy of it’s inhabitants. There are five of these zones across the globe: Nicoya, Costa Rica; Loma Linda, California; Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; and Icaria, Greece. The term “Blue Zone” is actually trademarked and was created by a guy named Dan Buettner in 2005 after he researched these regions over the course of a number of years based on the work of a couple of demographers named Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain.

Now, if there was one thing I am sure we could all agree on is that we would all like to live healthier, happier, and longer lives. Healthier. Happier. Longer. And, while our perception as to how we get there or achieve this may vary, I am sure we can all agree that this is something we all desire. Having spent a significant amount of time in Costa Rica over the years, where the mantra is “pura vida” I can honestly see how these people like longer, healthier, and happier lives than the majority of us. It’s an environment that is incredibly conducive to living a “pure life” and a place I hope to call home someday.

So, what does a long, healthy, and happy life look like to you? And, what are you currently doing to fulfill this vision or live this lifestyle? Or perhaps, what are you willing to do or change in order to get there?

“So, what does a long, healthy, and happy life look like to you? What are you willing to do or change in order to get there?”

I often wonder if it’s possible for one of those things to come at the expense of the other in terms of longevity, health, and happiness? I’m not sure any truly healthy activity (if done in balance and moderation) could come at the expense of your overall happiness? However, are there things we do that make us happy that come at the expense of our health? Let that one sink in for a minute. Are there things we do to feel good, to be happy, that have a negative impact on our health?

We can rationalize anything, can’t we? And hey, I’m the first one to admit that I do this on a regular basis! “One more glass of wine… it’s summertime… I’m socializing… Hey, it’s heart-smart wine!”

I know for myself, a balanced and healthy lifestyle can seem a little overwhelming or even extremes at times. Like it’s an “all or nothing” proposition. Like it’s at odds with being happy and enjoying life. Why do French fries have to taste so darn good! But seriously, it should really be about making small incremental changes that simply enhance what you are currently doing.

Living a healthy, balanced lifestyle doesn’t have to feel like you’re missing out on anything or compromising those things that make you feel good. I think at times in our quest to be healthier, we are too hard on ourselves. We beat ourselves up if we miss a day of exercise because we are binge watching Netflix. Or, we get down if we choose that Vente Pumpkin Spice Latte (470 calories) instead of the green tea. Let’s face it, the majority of us are not elite athletes or personal development gurus who live the seemingly perfect lifestyle. Most of us are just a bunch of Ordinary Joe’s doing the best we can from our “current state of consciousness” (thanks Deepak). Living the ideal life has to be on your terms, on your schedule, and has to fit your identity, not someone else’s.

“Living the ideal life has to be on your terms, on your schedule, and has to fit your identity, not someone else’s.”

So, before we pat ourselves on the back and go back to a state of rationalizing our lack of discipline that leads to excuses and lethargy, I want to take you back to the concept of the Blue Zones for some inspiration. What I find most interesting about the people that live long, healthy lives, is that their health and well being is really woven into their everyday lifestyles. It’s not seen as something that is compartmentalized, but rather part of their overall being. And, what is fascinating to me is that of the five Blue Zones, Buettner discovered through his research that there were nine traits that were shared by the people in each of these regions. The “Power 9” as it is called consists of the following:

Moderate, regular physical activity
Life purpose
Stress reduction
Plant based diet
Moderate alcohol intake, especially wine (WOOHOO!)
Engagement in spirituality or religion
Engagement in family life
Engagement in social life

Like anything in life, moderation is the key. What is interesting to note is that none of the above are truly extreme in terms of how they are applied or followed by those in the Blue Zones. Moderate physical activity doesn’t mean being a cross-fit pro or running marathons… it means going for walks, working in the garden, or simply being more active and less sedentary. Following a plant based diet doesn’t mean becoming a vegan or even a vegetarian… it simply means eating more vegetables and less meat. More fish and beans, and less fried or processed foods.

I think what I find the most interesting about the nine traits listed above are the number of things that are more mental, emotional, and psychological in nature. Having a purpose in life, reducing stress, having faith in something, and engaging in meaningful relationships with family and friends all have a significant impact on our overall health and well being. Socializing with the people you love over a glass of red wine can actually help you live longer!

But none of these things can be done in isolation. They are not mutually exclusive. Finding balance and consistency can be difficult and I’m certainly not the expert in balance and consistency. But I try… and when I fall down or miss a day or just don’t feel like it, I get back up and get back on track. One day at a time. It’s not slow and steady. It’s mindful and deliberate, without strain or self-inflicted tension.

“It’s all about the power of love… Love being the ultimate tonic and elixir for a life well lived.”

Something that helps me do this is a simple passage I read years ago from a book on yoga and meditation. I’d reference the book if I could but only have this passage saved in my phone. It’s simple, honest, and forces me to pause, gain perspective, breath, and most importantly, just live my life.

“Many people say they just want a normal life. But there is actually no such thing. There is just life. We cannot spend our time complaining about what we could have been. We cannot regret anything. Everything that has come before us makes us who we are right now. Looking back to what could have been distracts us from the path that lies before us. We wouldn’t be here if we had made other choices. That path is irrelevant.

Pay attention to the path you are on. Meet your challenges, face your fears, and live your life. That’s a life well lived.”

I suppose for me, it’s all about the power of love… Love of self. Love of the experience that is life…. the good and the bad. Love for humanity and the magic that surrounds us every single day. Love being the ultimate tonic and elixir for a life well lived.

So, as we drift into autumn and breath in the cool, crisp air and marvel at the red, orange, and yellow leaves that paint the landscape, close your eyes for a moment. Close your eyes, take a deep breath and think “blue.” Think of the colour of happiness, health, and longevity.

Joe Danis

Humanity

Humanity

Is anyone else concerned about humanity? If not, have you turned on the news lately? Hate, war, bloodshed, tears, extremism, refugees and one unsettling story after another. It is difficult to check-in on the world around us and not walk away feeling helpless and depressed. Nevertheless, it is times like these where humanity and our world need you the most. It is times like these where it is all the more important for people who sew good to challenge themselves to stay engaged, to be informed global citizens, and to get involved in contributing to a better world.

Enter UMUM, a grass-roots vehicle through which anyone around the world can affect the positive change they desire at the local, national or international level, and be supported. It is through UNUM that I will share my story and my perspectives, in the hopes of inspiring or impacting others in some positive way along their own journey to contribute to the world around them.

My story began in central Canada, born in the Prairies to Lebanese-Canadian parents. Growing up as an Arab-Canadian in small town Manitoba, I was often looked at differently, sometimes even treated differently. At some point in my childhood, I came to the understanding that what was really happening to me was not my fault but was instead a natural by-product of looking differently in a rather homogeneous small town. On many occasions in my teenage years, people took issue with my non-white appearance, or maybe it was my Arab background; regardless of the reason, I was often the target of racism, verbal abuse and discrimination.

While my experiences in small-town Manitoba made me feel different, my travel made me feel human. When I was young, every few years, my parents and I would travel over the summer to Lebanon to see my grandparents and my extended family. On these trips, and the lay-overs in different parts of the world, I would often reflect on how humans on opposite sides of the world had so much in common. At a young age, I realized first hand that humans everywhere share far more in common than they are different. Wherever they are, humans yearn for freedom, dignity, and respect. They strive to have their basic needs met, to grow socially, intellectually, culturally and spiritually, or in some combination of the above. They have dreams, emotions, relationships, and intelligence (sometimes at varying levels). They enjoy time with family and friends, enjoy laughing, going out, having fun and living life in general. Even at a genetic level, the DNA of all humans is about 99.9% the same. Yet, instead of focusing on the myriad of similarities that we all share in common, not least of which is the fact that we are all human beings, I found that everywhere I went people would frequently want to speak of their differences.

Why do people always feel the need to differentiate from the other? Every state feels the need to differentiate from its neighbours. Every religion stresses its differences from all the rest. The people within each state, religion, ethnicity, race, class, profession, and so forth differentiate themselves from the others, always seeking to further differentiate. To our core, people want to feel like they belong to something special and they don’t want to be like everybody else – we’re better or superior than, different or distinct from. Why can’t we all belong to humanity? What are our societies, the media, and our education systems doing wrong so that people don’t feel like they belong to humanity, to the global community of human beings?

As a child, I always saw humanity as one, with all divisions and differences as secondary. We’ve all heard the example of babies from different backgrounds being put in one sand box. After a few adorable stares, the babies recognize the human being in the other and the rest is irrelevant – the babies play in the sandbox together, no other divisions or differences matter. As I grew older, I always felt like states, religions, races, ethnic groups, classes, and so forth all seemed to create division layered upon more division that often undermined the thinking of working in the best interests of humanity as a whole. Let me be clear, I am not advocating these distinctions or divisions be eliminated, nor that they are not valuable, nor that the interests of these different divisions or groups be ignored. Instead, I am arguing that there comes a time where the interests of individual states, subgroups or actors should be treated as secondary to the interests of humanity as a whole. When will we as human beings and our elected or non-elected representatives begin to pursue not only narrow self-interests of persons, groups or states, but the interests of humanity as a whole?

When will we as human beings and our elected or non-elected representatives begin to pursue not only narrow self-interests of persons, groups or states, but the interests of humanity as a whole?

Now, some of you may be asking yourself, “well humanity is such a big thing; what can I do, I’m just one person?” To that I can genuinely say that I am a believer in the power of one: one individual, one group, one family, one Community, one Peoples – it all starts with one. I am a believer in each and every human being as an individual because I’ve seen in my life the impact that one person alone can make every day, every minute, in his or her actions and interactions with others – creating ripple effects that span far beyond one’s sight, far beyond one’s wildest imagination. Take this enormous power of one, and magnify it by finding a team of like-minded committed individuals who seek to affect the same positive change – the possibilities become endless. I always like to remind myself of my favourite quote, by Margaret Mead:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world;
indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

As my good friend Joe Danis mentioned in one of his earlier posts, we must each reflect on our place in this world and acknowledge our responsibility to do our part to leave it just a little bit better than how we found it.

Nervous? Fearful? The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step – will you take it? UNUM & I are here to walk that journey with you.

Sid Rashid

Famous Last Words

Famous Last Words

“Fire and fury, the likes of which the world has never seen.” Not sure how you feel about it, but those words are more than a little disconcerting. When reflecting on recent events involving the U.S. and North Korea and the insane, inflammatory words of the “leader of the free world” (whatever the fuck that means), I’ve been left almost speechless.

When I sat down last night and read about the insanity that is two nations engaging in this verbal sparing with the gravest of consequences, I couldn’t help but pause and reflect on my own existence and prospect of this actually happening. Is this what we have come to? To be honest, words escape me… I have nothing overly intelligent to say, or witty, or inspiring… kind of makes me a little despondent. A sense of hopelessness that we’ve come to this… But, I have to remember that this posturing between two megalomaniacs cannot hinder my ability to share messages of love and peace. In fact, I need this to fuel me even further to spread these messages and share this energy with others.

As I was reflecting on these events it made me think of one of my favourite songs of all time written and performed by Tears for Fears. The song is titled “Famous Last Words” and is about two lovers spending their last night together moments before a nuclear holocaust. The two lovers, instead of running to the hills, choose to spend their last moments together, “sitting by candlelight, listening to the band that made them cry.”

I think I just want to listen to this song and reflect. Reflect on my place in this world and my responsibility to do my part to leave it just a little bit better than how I found it.

What would my famous last words be? My legacy? When it’s all said and done, did I make a difference… a positive difference? I guess time will tell.

One thing I certainly hope is that “fire and fury, the likes of which the world has never seen“ are not some ignorant, narcissist’s famous last words.

“Famous Last Words”

After the wash
Before the fire
I will decay
Melt in your arms
As the day hits the night
We will sit by candlelight
We will laugh
We will sing
When the saints go marching in
A for a heart
B for a brain
Insects and grass
Are all that remain
When the light from above
Burns a hole straight through our love
We will laugh
We will sing
When the saints go marching in
And we will carry war no more
All our love and all our of pain
Will be but a tune
The Sun and the Moon
The wind and the rain
Hand in hand we’ll do and die
Listening to the band that made us cry
We’ll have nothing to lose
We’ll have nothing to gain
Just to stay this real life situation
For one last refrain
As the day hits the night
We will sit by candlelight
We will laugh
We will sing
When the saints go marching in
And we will carry war no more

Joe Danis