Kyra Shaughnessy


Three Paradigm Shifts That Will Change Your Approach to Learning

“When patterns are broken, new worlds emerge”  

Tuli Kupferberg    

What are some of the key paradigms, or ways of thinking and seeing the world, that need to shift in order for us to view learning differently? Are we recreating patterns in our children and in ourselves that we would rather change? How do we get to the root of these patterns when they’re so deeply anchored and hard to pin down?

Paradigm shifting is about taking a magnifying glass to all those beliefs and “ways of doing things” that we take for granted. It’s about stepping into the role of observer and saying “this is what I’ve learned to believe and why I was taught to believe it…does it still serve me?” It’s about welcoming in new perspectives that might actually make more sense for the lives we want to create. In this section of the course we’re going to look briefly at the “how” and “why,” but we’re also going to go over three major paradigms that, if shifted, will change your entire perspective on learning and teaching.

kids looking out over water

What You Need to Know If You Want to Break Your Patterns

“We sense that ‘normal’ isn’t coming back, that we are being born into a new normal: a new kind of society, a new relationship to the earth, a new experience of being human.”

Charles Eisenstein

The first step in “shifting paradigms” is taking a look at what we’re already carrying in terms of learned patterns. What are some of those invisible beliefs that influence the choices and actions we take in the world? Of course everyone’s background is slightly different, but there are a few major themes that most of us have in common given the recent history of the human species.

For many generations we have learned that “life is hard”. Ancestors uprooted from the land through war, famine and forced or chosen migration, women and men who lived through the rapid-pace upheaval of industrialization and globalization…Institutionalized religions worldwide have preached the gospel of earthly suffering until it has become ingrained deep in our bones. We are in an era of massive, constant change.

There are multiple reasons why what I like to call “The Passion Approach” is not the standard norm yet. On a family scale, people have learned for many centuries that conformity is the only sure way to survive – veering from the path laid by society is often still frowned upon. Sticking out is not encouraged. Security is of primary importance and the only way to ensure it is by following the rules. Go to school, then get a well-paying, stable job and have a family. Of course this path can be great if it’s what makes your heart sing or feels like your true life trajectory! But for a lot of people it’s a default, or worse, a “choice” forced upon them by family and society. We’re told to buy into consumerism, wear the right clothes and measure success in material wealth and vacation time.

Believing that doing what we’re passionate about will lead to true self-fulfillment and service in the world is (i.e. making the world a better place for everyone, in whatever small way)…well…I don’t know, are you, like, a total flaky new age hippie? (To quote some folks who shall remain nameless…)

Secondly, the fact is that the current social order is based on exploitation. “Woah! That’s a little extreme don’t you think?” Not really. Whether or not we feel directly “exploited”, there’s no denying that on a global scale, capitalist consumerism is fueled by low-cost labor, class inequality, etc. To connect this back to learning and learning models, the institutionalization of education came hand-in-hand with industrialization – as a way of mass-manufacturing employees, among other things.

As a result, people have been being taught to obey, to be submissive and to fit inside “the box” ever since the inception of the current standard learning model (and, on many other levels, preceding that…). For the most part, creative thinking is discouraged and physical needs and nature connection are ignored. What I’m trying to get at here is that there is a HUGE system that is benefiting from us giving up our power and living in a mode of constant fear.

But things are changing. More and more people are shifting from a paradigm based in fear to one nourished by an awareness of interconnection. If you’re lucky, your parents already did some of the work of wading through ancestral beliefs and trauma so you could be free to walk a different path.

How Passion Can Change the World 

“If we are ever going to see a paradigm shift,                                                                                                        we have to be clear about how we want the present paradigm to shift. ”     

Gary L. Fancione

Once we’re aware of the inherited beliefs and patterns that influence us, we can consciously choose whether or not to repeat them. From there we can start asking ourselves other questions. What would the world look like if we lived in cultures that enabled and supported people in following their passions?

One response I’ve gotten: “that’s fine for you, but if everyone did that there’d be no more employees! Things would shut down! ” Ermmm….the problem being? Oh right. Society would change drastically, everything would have to scale down and the people on top would have less income and less power while we rebuilt a world that met the needs of the majority. Shucks.

All of these slightly more “edgy” statements aside, this is a question that I ask myself daily. How do we create cultures in which people feel supported in following their calling? It all starts with the patterns and beliefs that we instill in people while they’re young or, some would have it, even from conception and gestation! Ergo, all this talk of beliefs and heritage. And yes, let us acknowledge right off the bat that being in a position of no longer worrying about ones basic survival, to the point of being able to focus fully on personal evolution and fulfillment, is indeed a huge “privilege,” in a certain sense. Only I believe that if systemic issues of social injustice were addressed more directly most humans could potentially be in this position, given the surplus (yes, surplus) of resources and technology available today. But that’s a whole other can of worms!

Shifting the prevalent paradigm means learning to look beyond imposed limitations to our highest potential as individuals and as a collective. It means being an example of living a truly meaningful, authentic life. It means mentoring the next generation through the hurdles of self-discovery and growth. It means creating space in our hearts and minds for new ways of being and doing. It especially means tapping into the innate curiosity, wonder and wisdom of all humans beings!

#1) “The Passion Approach”: Natural Learning

All this background is great, but what if I’ve already thought about all this stuff? How do I move out of observation into actual, concrete change? One of the first things we need to look at is a new way of viewing and experiencing learning!

There’s a huge amount of material out there about the philosophies of “natural learning,” “life learning,” “unschooling,” “homeschooling,” etc. If you’re looking for a ton of reading material, a great resource is the A.E.R.O. website at:

For this course, I’m going to try to summarize some of the perspectives we can use to orient this whole new learning journey.

The Passion Approach is basically about creating learning environments where inspiration, wonder and curiosity are what drive the process. No more force-fed lessons, no more authority dictating the “right” way to approach a subject. There are just two fundamental principles:

  1. People of any age are natural learners.
  2. People of any age have valid interests, questions and desires worth pursuing.

Consider what that really means. It means that your five-year-old wanting to spend two hours hanging out in the dirt checking out the daisies is as important as your burning desire for them to spend time learning how to read and write. It means if they don’t want to do math, there might be a reason other than laziness or “lack of focus”.

When we are allowed to follow the lead of our curiosity, we inevitably take in huge amounts of information and acquire valuable skills. When we are forced to memorize or integrate things we don’t see the point in, the process is often excruciating! Context is key. Think of some of the things you clearly remember learning as a child or young adult that you still use in your life. Chances are you learned or discovered those things in a context that felt meaningful to you. Whether it was a particularly inspiring teacher, a nature adventure or an older friend sharing a couple gems of wisdom, things usually stick with us because they feel relevant to our lives in some way.

The outcome of shifting to passion-driven learning is that more people will reach adulthood with enthusiasm for life, a sense of self-worth and personal purpose.

What would some of the impacts be if there were suddenly more creative, engaged adults in the world? It’s true; there would certainly be less folks willing to spend their lives as menial employees.  There would also almost definitely be more entrepreneurs and more people with the creative thinking needed to effect positive change and find solutions to the large issues facing us as a global community today. On a smaller scale, being in touch with your passion and creativity means being in touch with your heart. Being in touch with your heart means feeling empathy and compassion, which generally means treating other humans and other beings with care. Sound like a recipe for a better world to you? ‘Cause it does to me.

When we take this into consideration – shifting from learned patterns to ones that reflect our true values and selves and seeing passion and curiosity as the driving force of actual learning — it becomes clear that creating our own learning models is a gift to the world at large. I like to think that in doing so we become “ambassadors of possibility”.  We model a way of being where authenticity and integrity are top priorities in everything we do! As such, we – and our children – will be able to inspire others to shift their thinking and lives towards doing and being their highest selves.

#2) The “Anything is Possible” Principle  

“Anything is possible as long as you have the passion.”

Guy Forget

Another key principle of the “passion approach” is the idea that anything is possible. There is no dream too big. For some people this can mean a huge shift of perspective, but it really is something worth working on. Passing this on as a baseline attitude about life can have an enormous impact on our kids. Balanced with a healthy non-attachment to outcome, and openness to plans shifting, it opens up possibilities we can’t even imagine! I’ll return to this whole concept of non-attachment to outcome a bit later on in the course, so don’t’ panic if this seems like a totally foreign concept to you…

Feeling that anything is possible allows us to become who we really are. Without this fundamental vision of things, we get caught in a game of self-sabotage and aborted idea(l)s. “What I really want to do is X, but it would never work…” When prodded further as to why their dreams are totally unfeasible, the response is usually “just…because…” or “the world doesn’t work that way.” The number of times I’ve heard this from fully grown, generally optimistic adults is unbelievable.

To me this just goes to show how hard it can be to dislodge our learned beliefs in limitations! Self-realization is sooo much easier when we have models to show us that living our dreams is actually possible! Who is going to do that for the next generations if not you and me?

#3) Letting Go of “Power Over”?

“The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.”

Mahatma Ghandi

The third big piece of this whole approach to learning is being able to let go of “power over.” I touched on this a tiny bit earlier on but it’s worth a bit more exploration. It’s pretty much accepted in a most cultures that parents “have to” control their children.

The only “hic” here is that it’s really hard to respect the choices and free will of another person if we believe we fundamentally have authority over them. It’s almost inevitable that this sense of “power over” will get in the way of non-institutional learning, unless you are able to be aware of it. How many arguments arise between parents and kids simply because parents think their way is always the “right” way? When you get into an argument with someone, be they a child or not, try checking in with yourself about whether there’s an actual practical reason behind what you are insisting must be done, or whether it’s just become about “who’s going to win?” Is there an actual reason why your daughter needs to eat NOW as opposed to in twenty minutes when she feels ready? Maybe there is! Or is it just because you’ve decided now is the time, and her disagreement feels like a threat to your authority?

How do we become collaborators with kids – or anyone else – without our egos getting involved in power struggles?

Letting go of “power over” requires HUGE adjustments to what we’ve learned about parents having to keep their kids “in line”. We learn that a firm, disciplinarian hand is the only way to “make” children behave “properly.” On the other end of the spectrum, we have parents who bow to the whim of their child-gods, creating disturbingly self-absorbed little humans.

Rather than having to choose between these two polarities, neither of which is much fun for kids OR parents, why not rethink the whole picture? What if we didn’t have to be in a relationship of dominance or submission with our kids, or anyone else? What if there were a whole other way of approaching things?

When mutual respect is developed from day one, the need to rebel and act out is much less. This is true at any age and in any context. Power struggles playing out in workplaces are just about as common as in family households – our strategies just change with age! Instead of outright tantrums, we may engage in badmouthing and subtler forms of tension and conflict. All this can be avoided if we shift the dynamics of our human relations so that they are no longer based in hierarchy and dominance. A lot easier said than done, I know. It’s a matter of calling to question just about every aspect of a worldview that’s been around for centuries, that’s deeply anchored in our personal, familial and cultural histories. Sound like fun? Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s get this party started!

Living Our Freedom Together

To me, the title of this post encapsulates the crux of most modern-day existential and relationship dilemma’s. How do we go about balancing this, relatively recent, cultural obsession with  personal freedom with the unavoidable reality of interdependence? How do we deconstruct the belief that being “free” means not letting our choices be influenced by the needs and desires of others?

The Holy “I “

I look around me and I see a palpable struggle going on between the ideology of independence and the age-old values of follow-the-herdism. I see, one the one hand, people convinced that in order to have “healthy” long-term relationships they must sacrifice their own paths, callings and desires. On the other, a movement of dissatisfied, disillusioned, headstrong individuals who “need no one” and cling to the dogma of personal advancement as life’s only goal. Okay, so we’re talking extremes. But basically, that’s what’s going on. We are torn between the oppositional forces of believing we either have to “submit” to lives and choices that negate the self OR reject any thought of compromise and go for the gold, leaving everyone else to eat our dust. (again, there are books written and to be written on just this “self vs. other” dynamic but I’m going to leave it there for the moment….).

When it comes to romantic relationships there is an ever-increasing trend towards seeing relationships and thus, people, as disposable. People don’t want to be “tied down” by relationships. They/we want the diversity of limitless choice. We don’t want to have to compromise…anything…at all…ever. I see this as inextricably linked to both our perceived “failure” of previous relationship models (and yes, a lot of things were pretty shitty in the past, especially for women…but this could start a whooole other very long diatribe) as well as to the pressures of consumerist capitalism. Even those of us aware of the push and pull of these dynamics find ourselves in a bind.

I see the majority of people of my generation flailing around in search of something different…We don’t want to repeat the stories of our parents and grandparents…but we’ve inevitably integrated a slough of beliefs and fears based on the relationships we witnessed around us as children. The demons of ancestral history are wont to rear their ugly heads at the most unexpected and inconvenient moments. I find myself spending a huge amount of time reflecting on, discussing and reading about what could be Possible. Perhaps the pendulum has swung as far as it will go and we are coming back to center. Perhaps many of us are ready to believe in the existence of a middle ground? Perhaps we’re ready to really consider how we can live our freedom together?

What Does Being Free Together Look Like?

If you haven’t gathered as much already, as far as I’m concerned, our intimate relationships are where we live out our most fundamental beliefs and fears. The territory of the heart is rich and fertile ground for both paralyzing neurosis and repetition of old patterns and incredible, exponential growth. The growth part is really great but seeing yourself in full light is at times bloody humiliating…(I say from personal experience!).

Any number of “alternative” relationship models have been being explored by adventurous, idealist, curious, revolutionary and, lets be honest, the occasional escapist, individuals since the beginning of…well human life I would hazard. We just didn’t have to name them until someone created social “norms.” We have polyamory, polygamy, polyandry (yup, there’s actually a name for women having multiple male partners…who’d a thunk it, hm?), open relationships, “swingers”…and the list goes on. Basically, think of your ideal formula and there’s some kind of label to put on it if you should so choose. But this, to me, is aside the point.

The point is that no matter WHAT you choose to practice or to name your type of “relationing” the important piece, or rather, the truly “radical,” transformative part of the process (on both an individual and social level) is that of undoing the layers of conditioning, fears and unconscious dynamics that exist within all of our relationships. It’s about bringing our awareness to how our intimate relationships reflect the values and models we’ve been exposed to….and then doing what it takes to shift towards what really reflects who we are (and the reality that who we are is intimately connected to the rest of Life on earth!). It’s about separating our true selves from our learned selves. It’s about establishing our own limits, and then pushing them.  It’s about bringing the vulnerability of that true self to the table in all it’s glory and awkwardness and being willing to be the one to ask…”May I have this dance?” To truly engage with Life we have to learn how to welcome uncertainty, play, the illusive quest for balance…and constant, cyclical change. It’s much easier to do this by ourselves in an ashram than it is to continue practicing responsible, interconnected freedom in relationship with others. But I think we’re ready to come out of the proverbial closet and start facing each other, honestly.

Living our freedom together is an ideal, to be sure. But it’s an ideal worth shooting for, one we can practice in our daily lives and in our most intimate relationships. It requires accepting people where they’re at. It’s not always fun.It requires a willingness to wade through the bullshit, to be accountable and to be able to laugh at oneself.  But I for one feel ever more strongly that it’s an ideal worth committing to and making a reality. How about you?


We Are Leaving: A Nation Of Women With Wings

Bell Hooks puts into words a question I ask myself on the regular: “How do we hold people accountable…and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?” In the wake of the Laval University break-ins and the ensuing flurry of emotions (not to mention that just about every day of my life I am in contact with sexual violence of some kind) I feel the need to write…something! 

We Are Leaving…But Who is “We?”

In 2013 I put out my album Waiting for the Light, which included a song called “We Are Leaving.” I wrote the song as way of channeling my sense of powerlessness in the face of many friends (of all genders, though primarily women…) experiences of abusive relationships and sexual violence.  At different times male friends approached me to say that they felt very uncomfortable whenever I would sing that song at my shows because they felt they were being “accused” or pigeon-holed as oppressors by dint of their gender.

Okay. There is a lot to be said there…but to sidestep a bit, my main desire was to have men see that speaking out about sexual violence was NOT equivalent to saying “all men are evil.” Almost the opposite in fact. It’s an attempt at underlining the role we all play in creating the social environments we are part of…it’s just that as far as this specific issue goes, you could say men have a “lead role”. So I started introducing the song differently. “This song is an invitation to people of all genders to leave behind (i.e. no longer participate in or support through silence and inaction) cultures of violence and dominance…”And that’s exactly what I feel is important now…

THIS, this massive exposure of rampant disregard for the sacredness and beauty of human sexuality; THIS, this deeply entrenched toxic relationship to power and freedom as “dominance;” THIS, this total return to zero on how to relate between genders without carrying forward the wounds and damaging patterns of the past; THIS, this culture of sexual aggression that goes unnamed and unchallenged at every level of our social interactions; THIS, this courageous voice that is speaking out in so many forms today across the globe…THIS is an invitation, this is a rallying cry, this is a warrior song telling us we have the CHOICE to participate in perpetuating the current culture or to create, through every day action, a new one. This is an opportunity to live by certain basic standards of respect and to hold ourselves and others accountable. This is an invitation to learn how to dance together again instead of maintaining the divide.

There is no way I can cover the many layers involved in this issue. Any failure to provide a connection between thoughts is just because I could spend my life digging through the rubble of humanity’s struggle with sexual violence. My hope is that this ongoing flood of exposure of sexually violent cultural norms (from the stories of gang rapes in India, to Val d’or and the many Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, to the Jian Gomeshi case, to Donald Trump, to Laval University and on and on…) is the final precursor to some major-scale healing that has been desperately needed (and has been taking place on a small scale) for a very, very long time. 

Why This is not “Just” a “Women’s Issue”

People are starting to talk about the fact that sexual violence is not a “women’s issue,” but everyone’s issue, and perhaps even…a “man’s issue!!!???” Oooh I know, it sounds like the beginning of the blame game. But here’s the thing: this in no way means that all men should walk around feeling paralyzed by guilt and shame for the violence enacted by people of their gender. It simply means that men, as people who can have a whole lot of influence on other men, have an added responsibility and opportunity to create a shift in male culture. As I said above, it’s an invitation….and an urgent one.

It’s unfortunate, but it still has a lot more impact when another man, or ideally several men (wouldn’t that be nice?), calls a dude out for his unsavory behaviors/acts or attitudes. Sure, it’s not easy to be that guy who gets labeled an over-sensitive “pussy” by some for objecting to the normalization of sexual violence, but it’s a worthy challenge and one that will make a huge difference in the lives of everyone, of every gender.

Maybe you’ve heard this all before, but standing up for a culture of respect makes a difference whether or not you have experienced sexual violence directly because we all have partners, families and friends who have been directly affected. In Québec one in three women has experienced some form of sexual aggression  (fact checkers, here a link’s). Think about it. One in three. If you have a hard time believing the stats, I invite you to open the Pandora’s box with female friends and family and see what you discover. I can see why you might not. It’s easier not to believe because it’s not something anyone would want to believe! Plus, it’s not a comfortable subject and we mostly avoid it…which is a big part of why sexual violence continues on such a widespread scale! On the other hand, just about every couple I know, including my own, has had to deal with, or suffer the consequences of ignoring, the scars of sexually violent cultural norms that come up, inevitably, in our intimate relationships.

For myself and other women, we deal regularly with being told to “fuck off” or being labeled an “angry man-hating feminist (oh no, not the F word!)” for objecting, however diplomatically, to sexually violent jokes, films or other media. Yet, whatever peoples responses, I feel validated each time I manage to overcome my fear of rocking the boat. There is a sense of incredible dignity and self-respect that comes with standing up for ones values. There’s a feeling of having stood by the many, many women, men and LGBTQ people I know who have experienced directly the impact and trauma of sexual violence, including myself.

I’m pretty sure that if I wasn’t assaulted by images and stories of male sexual violence, I would feel a heck of a lot more comfortable getting close to people. And I know this is the case for most of my female and LGBTQ friends, at the very least. On the flip side, many of my male friends have at some point brought up feeling that their sexuality as men was being influenced by the sexual violence and pornography they were exposed to for most of their lives…the process of undoing that type of “patterning” is also long, painful and involves a hell of a lot of humility, self-love and willpower. How can we expect ourselves to build healthy, balanced sexual relationships with our partners when the culture we live in bombards us with toxic images of what sexuality means and how we “should” experience it?

While I may be emphasizing the importance of men’s role here, it’s implicit that people of all genders have a responsibility to change the social culture surrounding sexual violence. And yes, perhaps there’s a limit to being “politically correct” that can become overly “rigid”…there are extremes to anything. However, I for one never have and never will find jokes about sexual violence funny. ESPECIALLY given the fact that this type of humor seems to dominate when I’m in majority-male circles. To me, the fact that rape and sexual aggression are  made to seem banal, and worse, funny, indicates something much more insidious and deep-seated about our society.

The System is Down…Where Do We Go From Here?

There are other basic everyday manifestations of sexually aggressive culture that can and should be addressed which will take some larger scale action. Everyone knows it and says it, but how about the over-sexualized representations of women (and men!) in all forms of media? How about the fact that sex and violence are seen as selling points for just about everything? How about the fact that people, especially men, of a younger and younger age are exposed to violent porn? How about the lack of childhood education around empathy, communication and respect of others? Parents, educators, politicians, people on every scale of society need to come together to address this issue in a systemic, and a very grounded, way. Fear and “security-measures,” (as are taking place right now at Laval University to keep female students safe from the possibility of continued break-ins and sexual aggression by male students) are not long term solutions. Nor can these situations be written off as “isolated incidents.” The problem is rampant and it is rooted in some deep and complex narratives. And there is no snap-of-the-fingers abracadabra solution. There is actual “work”, actual communication, actual emotions, actual ACTION involved!

We have to build this thing back up from the ground, people. And we need men to be on board for things to truly change! I know needing each other became kind of unpopular for a while there (I mean…”needing” any one or any thing is sign of “weakness,” right? You may not say it out loud, but how do you feel and think when you need something or someone? Do you feel slightly ashamed and frustrated?), but I think it’s time to bring it back big time. We need models of what healthy relationships between men and women can look like. We need to relearn how to be powerful without being dominant, how to trust, listen to, love and heal each other and ourselves, how to be allies and partners and co-creators of something totally different. We need to be able to witness each others wounds and perhaps also the darkest, shittiest parts of each other, and still believe that we can change, no matter who we are or what we’ve experienced or done. We need to create space for massive scale healing and all the upheaval and mess that may involve.

In my life I have been honored to witness the strength of both men and women who’ve had the courage to face the writhing mess of emotions that comes with being subject to sexual aggression. I’ve also witnessed the incredible healing that can come when those perpetuating violence are able to dig deep enough to find the roots of their actions, to change for the better and, in doing so, change others. I have seen the courage of those who choose to stand up for cultural practices and norms based on mutual respect and love. And I ask myself daily… “”How do we hold people accountable…and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?” There is great potential and possibility reaching out it’s hand…inviting us into the challenging, beautiful process of birthing something new…inviting us to “just bloody-well walk out cause this is total bullshit!” as one part of me would have it….and I don’t know about you, but We are leaving!

Are Being “Nice” and Being “Honest” Really Mutually Exclusive?

There seems to be a dichotomy set up in some peoples minds between being “nice” and being “honest.” Not in the sense that “nice” people are constantly lying through their teeth, but rather a lot of us seem to believe that in order to be “nice” we can never ever tell people what we really think if it involves any kind of critique or disagreement.  If we are backed into a corner then maybe maybe we might formulate some kind of meek opinion, squished into a few words saidasfastaspossibleandquicklymovedonfrom. Then there’s those who seem to think that expressing your opinions means completely disregarding the feelings of the person you’re speaking to. Being “honest” and “direct” becomes equivalent to bludgeoning someone over the head with words. What’s this all about?


Debunking Nice

I think it’s really important for us to start debunking this whole concept of “niceness.” To me, there is nothing “nice” about not telling me what you really think, or refusing to tell me your true thoughts about me or something I am doing, or anything else I could benefit from feedback about. In fact, it’s incredibly frustrating. Besides, most people can definitely tell when you’re saying something “just to be nice.” For those of us sensitive to incongruities between what someone is presenting to the world and what’s really going on inside, it’s really, really unpleasant. There is a distinct difference between consciously choosing not to engage in a certain kind of exchange because you just don’t feel like it, or know your true feelings or state of being won’t be well received in a certain environment or will cause ripples you don’t feel like dealing with–versus forcing yourself to always be perky and good-humored because you’re fundamentally afraid of people not liking you as you are. If being nice means pretending to be someone or something you are not most of the timr, then I am all for dropping the whole act!

Of course there is an element of social “survival” here. We’ve learned from generations past not to rock the boat too much and that diverging from the mainstream opinion can be dangerous, that being an outlier can lead to banishment, exclusion or worse. There are times when self-preservation requires self-effacement. Many of us don’t live in those types of environments on a daily basis however.


The Set Up

The other thing is that often when we spend all our time being”nice” we eventually end up having to blow off some steam somewhere, sometimes at very unfortunate moments and in ways that actually do come off as uncalled for. Often these mini explosions end up being directed at people close to us who most likely don’t have anything to do with the true source of our frustration. If this hasn’t happened to you yet, it may just hit you once you’ve reached an age where you no longer “care what people think” (see “crotchety old person” stereotype). On the other hand, it may be coming out in ways that you just aren’t recognizing. When we don’t allow ourselves to speak our truths in the world our bodies inevitably accumulate and manifest those emotions in one way or another!


Striking a Balance

Of course all this doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be said for tact and diplomacy. I think knowing how to voice ones opinion in a way that is sensitive to the audience you’re speaking to is an incredibly useful skill in the world. It’s part of the work of “peacemaking” in many ways as it involves being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, to see things from multiple perspectives and “hear” how you might sound through the filter of those receiving your words. It means knowing how to “translate” your raw emotions or thoughts from the language that might come out naturally into words that will accurately communicate what you want to say to the person listening. In other words, different people understand language differently. We need to sometimes be able to re-word things in order for other people to understand what we actually want to say. When we have a full awareness of any situation it is then up to us to judge when we need to express ourselves delicately and when we just need to “let it out raw.”


This is where the distinction between being “Nice” and being “Kind” or compassionate becomes important! Rather than thinking that in order to be a “good” person we have to hold in our emotions and opinions all the time, we can redefine things and simply use our judgment and intuition as situations arise. Sometimes it is much kinder to give someone feedback about the way they present themselves in the world rather then let them go on doing something that may be having effects they aren’t aware of. Sometimes people around us are in deep need of someone brave and sensitive enough to tell them something direct and honest in a way that they can actually receive. Learning how to hold both honesty and kindness/compassion in our hearts while addressing situations can have huge implications for ourselves and those around us!

There will also be times when the healthiest thing for you actually means disregarding everybody else and just saying what you have to say. That’s okay too! It’s all part of the process of being yourself, not in some cliche way, but in a way that also encourages that kind of authenticity in those around you! Some of us spend all our time thinking about other people’s needs to the point that finding balance means swinging completely to the other side at some point and learning how to take care of our own needs as well. Just observe yourself, see where you’re at on this whole spectrum and act accordingly. Simple enough, right? ;).


21 Tips to Creating Less Daily Waste

bike bridge

1) Re-framing Freedom

What underlies many of these suggestions is the task of re-framing our conception of what it means to be “free.” Due to various chapters in humanity’s history and our ancestral legacies a kind of culture has emerged that places freedom on par with consumption. Freedom is equated with monetary and material wealth and the implied “benefits” of that. By contrast, if we want to start living lives that are in line with our true values and with an awareness of interconnection with all beings, we need to start seeing freedom differently. It becomes a bit more about the collective, more about sharing, more about positive relationships and more about love. Beneath all this talk about creating less waste is a very fundamental shift in thinking that can deeply alter every aspect of our lives.

2) Less is More

The number one thing we need to do to create less waste in our daily lives is simply to realize and accept that we need a lot less (of everything) than we think (or have learned to believe…)we do. Scaling back our consumption habits is part of shifting the paradigm in which many people live today. It’s not only about learning to “live with less.” It’s largely about reconnecting with the aspects of life that are immaterial and which nourish us even more than the accumulation or consumption of stuff, whatever that stuff may be. It is about recognizing that the drive to consume comes often from a place of fear—fear of scarcity, fear of not being “enough” or of not being loved. Consumption is a mechanism by which we try and fill certain voids in our lives which would be better filled by spending time building healthy relationships with ourselves and with those around us.


3) Sharing…

Ok so maybe a lot of us grew up having to share (with our siblings, with playmates…) and thus have this deep seated desire to have total control and ownership over everything we use in our lives. Perhaps we have a fear of not having what we need when we need it. If you feel like that’s a principle by which you want to live your life, that’s your choice. Sharing goods can however be a great way of creating less waste! For example more and more urban dwellers are co-owning vehicles because for the most part living in the city you don’t need a car every day. There are a ton of benefits to sharing a vehicle. It’s cost efficient, means not having to deal with the dilemma of parking regulations and also serves to keep you connected to some of your friends by having shared ownership of something! This is just one example, but the same could be said of shared tools, kitchen appliances or just about anything else that you want to have available but don’t need to use every day.

4) Just Fix It

I’m always amazed by people a couple generations older than me who seem to know how to do just about everything. Seen in one light this is usually a case of “necessity” being “the mother of invention.” When you don’t have the option of going out to the local mall and buying a replacement for whatever it is that’s broken, well…you’d better figure out how to fix it! Unfortunately this new attitude of “just replace it” is causing a whole lot of garbage. Not only are all those unfixed things piling up in landfills, we’re also losing a lot of useful skills that we then aren’t able to pass on to the next generation! Sewing, carpentry, basic mechanics, plumbing…maybe you don’t want to become proficient in all of them, but figuring out how to figure things out is the main skill involved in fixing most household issues. Next time something breaks don’t leap to the conclusion that its totally irreparable! Why not see if you can’t just fix it?

rainbow people

5) DIY

Closely linked to the above, we have the idea of “DIY” or Do It Yourself. The term has become popularized in recent years, and for good reason. The DIY movement is one way of reclaiming knowledge that used to be commonplace as a result of necessity. Learning how to do things yourself can be an incredibly empowering journey for various reasons. It puts us in direct connection with the things that we use in our everyday lives. It shifts our perspective of ourselves and allows us to see that we are capable of much more than we may believe. It also usually means that we can find ways of creating a lot less waste by making things from scratch using materials that meet our criteria in terms of being sourced locally or sustainably.

6) The Older The Better (or “Quality First”)

Some of you may have heard of the term “planned obsolescence.” It’s a term used to talk about products being created to essentially stop working after a certain amount of time. This is basically a strategy that marketers and producers have come up with to ensure that people have to keep buying stuff. Back in the good ol’ days things were made to last. Now most things are built to break. On way to avoid the frustration and inevitable waste that comes with constantly malfunctioning goods is to make a conscious decision to invest slightly more in everything you buy but make sure to get quality products (as opposed to finding the cheapest option and then having to pay to fix or replace it in a year or two). Otherwise you can also scour your local pawn shops and second hand stores for older versions of the things you need. Objects made a couple decades ago are actually often more likely to last you than a lot of what’s being made these days.

7) Give Away

There are many beautiful ceremonies and rituals that exist in traditions around the act of giving. In most cultures that practice earth-based spirituality, accumulation of wealth or goods is not seen as “natural” for lack of a better term. When someone has been blessed with abundance they share that abundance with their entire community because…well it just makes a heck lot more sense in the context of any “system” (society, culture, etc.) based on relationships (which is what every healthy ecosystem is!). Rather than holding on to things because you might need it tomorrow, consider giving away what you don’t need! It’s true that giving is a way of strengthening social connections in a way that almost guarantees we will also be on the receiving end at some point. At the same time, it’s important to recognize that this doesn’t mean we will one day receive from the very people we have given to in the past. The cycle of giving and receiving is on a much larger scale than we sometimes choose to see. This can cause us to see anytime we “give” to someone more as an “investment” with a future “return.” Having this kind of attitude when giving can often sour the whole thing because it also leaves people feeling stress and pressure to give back. Practice giving without attachment.

looking out

8) Ask For What You Need

In direct relationship with the principle of giving is being able to ask for what we need. “How is this related to making less waste?” you may ask. Well, as with giving stuff away, being able to ask for what we need is pretty key in avoiding going out and buying new stuff! If you aren’t able to reach out to other people around you and tell them what you need, you obviously won’t get it! Asking for things from people often means letting go of pride and of our whole upbringing within a “debt” oriented system. As I mentioned above, I think there’s something very healthy about getting back to a balanced place where we able to give and receive without seeing things from the limited perspective of direct “investment and return.” Think big picture. Act from a place where you ask for what you need when you need it and you give what you have to give when someone else needs it.

9) Trading

Another way of organizing this whole giving and receiving thing, and thus avoiding unnecessary accumulation and waste, is through trades! Be it goods or services, we all have something to offer. Trading on a local and interpersonal scale is a huge part of building healthy communities (by recognizing and nurturing interdependence!)


10) Go Local!

I cannot emphasize enough ho important buying local can be. Number one you cut way down on the amount of international transportation you are funding through your consumption habits. These days almost everything we buy comes from far away unless we are conscious of choosing products that are made locally. Of course depending on where you live your local options may be limited, but often if you do a bit of research you’ll be surprised by what you can find! Number two, buying local strengthens the local economy and allows your neighbors to make a living. Your choice to buy local may also influence those around you, thus causing a ripple effect. In terms of food, you’ll also be getting much fresher and often better quality goods without conservation agents and irradiation necessitated by long-distance transportation.

11) Everything Has Multiple Uses

This is about giving second, third and fourth lives to the things we own. The first example that pops to mind, random as it may seem, is friends who’ve made their own sandals using old car tires. If you’re not the crafty type, there are still usually ways to make things live on after their seeming end of usefulness. There’s also something to be said for having tools that serve multiple uses rather than having to have a separate thing for every task. One currently popular example of this is the use of mason jars for both canning and food storage and as the new hip water or coffee container. This principle is basically an invitation to get creative! Think about the various different ways you could reuse something as it ages, or choose things you buy for their multiple use potential.


12) Drive Less (Or Not at All)

Having a car may be presented by the media as a sign of prestige and independence buuut really when it comes down to it it’s also a financial burden and a contributor to global warming and air pollution. Sure there are others things that are bigger factors, but every little bit helps! Flogging yourself every day out of guilt for owning and using a car isn’t going to solve anything, but being conscious of our use is part of the whole big picture of shifting individual habits and effecting social norms so as to influence large scale change. Driving less is not only good for the environment, it’s good for your health and will also most likely influence you to become a slightly more localized, slightly less overstretched person in your daily life. Some of us may not have the luxury of not driving. If it’s a big factor in your life, maybe you want to consider how you could change the constraints of your regular occupations so as to decrease your driving or make public transportation or ride sharing more of an option.

13) Eat at Home!

For a lot of folks this is a financial must and less of a personal choice, but either way, eating at home and cooking more can prevent a lot of unnecessary waste. Of course this does depend on what types of places you go out to…maybe you only eat out at restaurants with %100 recyclable or reusable dishes and cutlery and where all the food is sourced locally and is all-organic. If not, then there is probably some extra waste going on at some stage of the whole exchange.

14) Bring Your Own

If you just can’t kick the habit of eating out or have a lifestyle that makes it hard to organize to make your own meals, one thing you can do is start carrying your own take out containers. This avoids the still too common Styrofoam or otherwise non-biodegradable containers used by most places. Carrying around your own water allows you to avoid buying water and thus circumventing the plastic bottle issue. Even if you have longs days away from how, there is usually always somewhere to refill when you’re out in the world. The third “bring your own” of major consequence is shopping bags. It’s becoming pretty common in a lot of places to charge an extra fee for grocery bags but many people still don’t bring their own. A helpful thing to do is to get one or two made of extra thin fabric (or make some!) and keep them in whatever bag you usually carry around with you so you’ll always have one on hand.


15) Focus on Unwrapped Goods

When I go to the grocery store one of my criteria for buying food is to find things with the least packaging possible. I completely avoid Styrofoam (because it takes an incredibly long time to biodegrade) and choose jars (reusable for many purposes!) over plastic containers whenever possible. Bringing your own bags can help you avoid using those little plastic bags they provide for loose fruits a vegetables like mushrooms or cherries. Things packaged in cardboard are preferable over plastic as well because they can biodegrade way faster.

16) Recycle

This has become the most cliché advice our there, but I still think it has merit. Recycling goes far beyond the concept of relying on government organized recycling programs and facilities and connects to many of the other suggestion included in this checklist. It can also be very interesting to check out the nitty gritty details of your home area and find out what they actually recycle and where. A small town in Quebec called Racine is currently causing a ruckus over the fact that Quebec is one of the only provinces not to properly process and recycle glass. Why not check out the local laws and see if there’s room for improvement? Also, thinking outside your own home, if you own or work at a business place of any size that doesn’t already recycle, why not? Can you make it happen?

17) Compost

It boggles my mind that composting is not a common practice everywhere yet. Some people argue that organic waste in landfills decomposes anyway so whats the big deal? Part of the big deal is that the soil, that lovely living organism from which all our food is grown, is built through the natural cycles of decomposition. When we send our organic waste to landfills it becomes contaminated with all the other stuff in their, much of which is highly toxic. We cannot then use it as natural fertilizer. It also would cost businesses and individuals far less in waste transportation is local composting was an option! If it’s not already in your area, see if you can create a neighborhood compost for use in local gardens and lawns, or partner up with some local businesses for an even larger scale project OR find someone else who`s passionate about this whole issue and support them however you can (without having to be in charge…).


18) Cooperate With the Elements!

I’m talking about simple things like having a laundry line where you can dry your clothes in the instead of using a drying machine (contrary to popular belief, you can dry your clothes on a line in the winter as well!). Or putting heavy curtains over your windows in the summer instead of blasting the air conditioning. Grow some vines on the outside of your house or plants trees around it that will shelter it from the direct heat of the sun in midsummer. Maybe there are some rooms you don’t actually use in the winter where you can turn off the heating. If you get the chance to design your own dwelling, look in to ecological methods and building materials!

19) Cherish Water

Water is an incredibly precious thing. In most parts of the world it is not to be taken for granted. Unfortunately in many parts of North America/Turtle Island and especially in Canada water is used at an alarming and unnecessary rate. Not doing things like washing the car on a regular basis, not watering the lawn in the middle of the day when all the water is going to evaporate, using a broom instead of a hose to clear leaves from the sidewalk…these are all pretty basic. You can also alter little things like switching your shower head for a more efficient one, fix any drips and leaks in your sinks. You can install a dry/composting toilet or get one that uses less water to flush, or even put something in the tank that decreases the amount of water necessary to fill the tank (e.g. a bottle full of sand).

20) Keep it Clean

When it comes to personal hygiene there are also lots of ways to decrease waste. Diapers and feminine hygiene products are both big contributors to household garbage. Reusable diapers may not be the most pleasant of things, but they are often actually better for your child in addition to not being headed straight for the landfill. Reusable diapers often cause less rashes and come without any added scents or bleaching products that could cause negative skin reactions. The same goes for disposable pads versus homemade ones or “diva cups.” Most tampons and pads are bleached and it has been found that absorption of the bleach can cause whats known as “toxic shock syndrome.” There are companies out there making biodegradable, unbleached sanitary napkins and tampons, so that’s also an option!

21) Gifts That Keep on Giving

So…there seems to be a significant cultural thing around giving gifts at certain times of the year. Birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries of all sorts…etc, etc. It has irked me for a long time how the act of showing love and caring for people close to us has been co-opted for consumerist purposes. Now that doesn’t mean I don’t like giving and receiving gifts. Rather than seeing this as being in a bind I simply make all the gifts I give people. I only buy things to give when there is something veeeery specific that I know someone I care about really wants and would never buy for themselves. You may be surprised, but often a thoughtful card can go a lot further than a gift. Instead of being a stressful shopping to do list, expressing our love for people at significant moments becomes an opportunity to let ourselves get creative!