Kyra Shaughnessy


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!

20 Ways to Let Go of Stress

Sometimes it seems like people are living their lives at breakneck speed. Perhaps it’s because we’re trying to match paces with technological advancements that require us to be in communication and “on top of things” 24/7. Maybe it’s the tightening grip of economic pressure (or fear of said…). For some it’s as simple as having learned that “life is suffering” and working hard is the only way to live an honest life. Whatever your situation, you probably are dealing with a bit more stress than necessary. I hope this checklist can provide some helpful tools for deflating the stress-bubble next time it starts ballooning out of control!

Laugh More!

Picture this. You’re in an argument with someone. Your tone is curt, the volume is slowly rising, about to reach a crescendo when…all of a both pause for a second, look at each other, and burst out laughing! The tension dissolves within seconds and you’re most likely able to finish the discussion in a much less antagonistic fashion. There is no end to the healing powers of laughter! When you feel the hamster in your head spinning in circles, when you feel yourself getting frustrated with the task at hand, when your shoulders are moving closer to your ears every second..find something to laugh about! Even if it means forcing the first few, you can probably get yourself going from the sheer ridiculousness of making fake laughing noises. Trust me, as someone who finds it incredibly embarrassing to force myself to laugh, it works. If all else fails, look for “laughter yoga” on YouTube. Though I have never resorted to them, I know a lot of people who find it helpful when in dire straits ;).


Nature Time

As with many of these suggestions, it’s all a matter of your specific situation and context. Your access to wild spaces will of course vary depending on where you live. Some people may just step our their doors and be in the woods, others may have to settle for a walk in the local park. The most important thing is not to let feeling like you “have” to spend time in nature become yet another stressful chore in your life! Keep it simple. Taking time to connect with the non-human world can be as simple as finding a nice spot to sit where you can watch the sun rise or listen to the birds or watch a squirrel do its thing for 15 minutes. The point is really more about slowing yourself down and connecting with whats outside your overactive brain! When we put ourselves back in touch with the rest of the world, when we take the time to observe something beyond ourselves, it’s allows us to get some perspective and also to recognize if we are in a cycle that could use some shifting. Maybe there’s something you can adjust about your daily rhythm that will allow you to avoid finding yourself in super stressed out states altogether. It’s definitely worth giving yourself space and time to think/feel about!

Say Goodbye to Rush Hour

Again, all a matter of context, but for those of you who drive a lot…consider cutting it down to an absolute minimum!I know sometimes we just can’t avoid driving…maybe your job is not accessible by public transport and you commute from the outskirts of a town. Or you live in the countryside and everything is at least a 20 minute drive away. Having briefly owned a car, I quickly became aware that I was using it a lot more than I actually reeeally needed to. In the city it became far too easy to schedule my life in a completely unrealistic fashion because I thought I could get from point A to point B in time if I drove. In the country, rather than waiting to coordinate with neighbors and ride share in to town for errands I would just go whenever I felt like it. And hey, if I forgot something, I could always go back! I eventually realized that by relying on my vehicle I was putting a lot more stress on myself to be on the go, to be “more” productive, when actually my quality of life and health was going down. I was getting less exercise, I was rushing from place to place because I scheduled things way too close together, and driving instead of walking or biking meant I spent way less time outside and hardly had any spontaneous encounters in my day. I also had to deal with the angst of other drivers on the road. All that to say, just take the time to check in with your habits around travel and transportation and see if there’s any extra use of motorized vehicles you could cut out to give yourself a bit more space and time to not be rushing around, or worrying about parking or dealing with unpredictable

Scale Down, Calm Down

On that note, you may want to ask yourself whether you are constantly biting off more than you can chew! If you are in a state of extreme stress on the regular there’s probably something you need to readjust. Of course there are situations that you might not be in control of. But if you have the option, try and work out a way that you can function within your actual range of abilities rather than trying to be a superhuman! There may be other people around you who have different rhythms or who are living their lives at breakneck speed. That doesn’t mean you have to. You also need to figure out what your natural sleep cycle is! Some people really love working at night. Others, like me, thrive on daytime hours! I have come to accept that I can’t do any kind of seriously focused work at night, and that I need to wake up early even if the rest of the city is asleep and I can’t get anything done involving other people til at least 9am. If you know you are way less functional at night, even if you have tons of work to catch up on it might be worth it to start waking up super early and getting things done when you are fully functional. It’ll take you half the time and allow you to get a good night’s sleep! Basically, give yourself the option of cutting back on activities when and if you need to. Respect your rhythm when you can. When it comes to being efficient and reducing stress, less is more!

Choose Your Stimulation Wisely

I don’t know about where you live, but here in Montreal there is a biiig coffee and cafe culture! Coffee is an integral part of a lot of peoples lives. While I have been known to appreciate a good coffee, I have also become aware of it’s effects on my stress levels, among other aspects of my bodies functions. It’s possible that if you drink coffee all the time you may not be aware of the ways in which it’s effecting you. However, you might want to consider avoiding it in moments of intense stress. Sure you may think to yourself you need to get this big chunk of work done and coffee will help you focus and stay awake. This may be the case sometimes! Caffeine does unfortunately also increase the levels of cortisol in the body, which is one of our natural stress hormones. If you want to read more in depth on the topic you could start with this short article: Health Effects of Coffee and Caffeine on Stress. What many studies show is that high caffeine intake plus a relatively sedentary lifestyle can cause much higher rates of stress hormones within the body. As we all know, constant stress on the nervous system is sure fire way to burn out. So! Consider lowering your coffee intake. Try replacing it with things that contain less caffeine such as black tea, green tea ( a great anti-oxidant) or kombucha (which has the added benefit of being a pro-biotic). If you really love the taste of coffee and don’t care about the caffeine, try switching to decaf! It could make a huge difference.journal-518061_1280

Write it Out

As someone with a somewhat over-active mind, I have found it incredibly helpful to have a journal. The reason I find this so helpful is that it allows me to step outside of my own vortex of thought and actually observe the patterns that are going on, which in turn usually allows me to change them. Similar to taking time to slow down and observe the rest of nature (suggestion number two), this practice can offer a huge amount of very helpful perspective! At the very least, it provides a space where you can rant to your hearts content, get everything off your chest and possibly say things you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying to any of your friends or family members, for whatever reason. I find that very often I will reread what I’ve just written and find myself chuckling at my own ability to get carried away and worked up over nothing (in the grand scheme of things…). Aside from writing out our various complaints and stress-factors, writing can also be a great way of coming back to gratitude! Remember to take the time to write about what you are grateful for in your life, be it something small or big!

Talk it Through

If you’re lucky enough to have some close friends or family members who you feel comfortable calling on in times of need, go for it! Don’t be shy, reach out! If you find yourself in a downward spiral of stressful thinking sometimes having someone to help snap you out of it is just the ticket!People who’ve known you for a while can be especially helpful in helping you identify your patterns and reminding you of how best to take care of yourself. If you find that you have become distant from some of those people in your life, now might be a good time to start cultivating closeness again! Making time for important relationships is a great way to start realigning ourselves with some of our basic needs and values. It’s far too easy to take those special people for granted when really even the most solid of connections could benefit from regular nourishment. Both for your sake and for theirs!stream-174946_1280

Sink In

Some people may claim to not like baths, but I have a very hard time believing them. If you are one of those people, feel free to ignore this next bit ;). Otherwise, I, and many other people I know, find hot baths to be super helpful in de-stressing. First off there’s the simple fact that heat helps relax our muscles, so it releases a fair amount of the pent up tension we accumulate in our bodies. Add some low lighting (candles?) and you get the added benefit of relaxing your eyes which may have been being bombarded with artificial lighting on a regular basis or simply being overused. If you want to up the anti you can add some sea of Epsom salt to your bath. This apparently allows your body to release a variety of toxins that are probably clogging up parts of your system. Considering the fact that we spend the first 9 months of our lives in a bubble of warm liquid it makes sense to me that recreating that environment to some degree would allow us to sink in to a certain level of relaxation and safety. It’s just a thought!

Spend Time With the Little People

You may be envisioning leprechauns and faeries right now, but for those of us without the gift of sight, I’m talking more about children, plants and animals ;). Spending time around non-adults can be incredibly liberating. It reminds us to pay attention to the simple things in life. It brings us back to a very basic level of interaction and often to very straight forward communication (not always the case with adults…). Plants, animals and young children are all pretty basic needs focused. For me, this can help me remember that everything I’m doing in my life is actually motivated by some kind of basic need. Identifying the actual need behind our daily activities can be incredibly enlightening as it can also allow us to shift any habits that are coming purely from an unmet need that could be fulfilled some other way. For example, maybe we are constantly putting pressure on ourselves to be the best at everything we do. This might be a question of wanting to give ones all. On the other hand, it might be driven by a deep feeling of inadequacy nourished by a fear of not being good enough and that people won’t like us if we don’t excel at something. I mean who on earth is going to just love and accept us for who we are! So yeah. It might be worth hanging out with kids and critters more directly connected to their real needs so you can get in touch with yours! It might not be fun acknowledging some of this stuff to ourselves, but in the long run it can help us set up well-balanced and harmonious lives.

Music, anyone?

I am admittedly biased on this one. Well, I kind of feel like people are in some way biased about anything they write. That debate put aside, being a songwriter and musician, there is pretty obvious connection here. Music makes me feel good and helps me process emotions, including stress. This can mean playing music, but often it just means listening to it! Finding “that song” that expresses exactly what you’re feeling, or that channels the whole bundle of things happening inside of you at once, be it through the music or the lyrics…it’s a magical thing. It feels like being completely understood!And that my friends can take a huge weight off ones shoulders.fog-448384_1280

Limit Your Electro’s

Okay, so it’s always a bit ironic to be writing about limiting ones exposure to electronics on a computer. Nevertheless, I hope you will see past the contradiction and take me seriously when I say that less screen time is one of the number one things that could help most people I know with stress issues. We spend way to much time in cramped positions, staring a screens. Be it a computer, a cell phone or a tv, the more often you can replace it with some fresh air and physical activity, the better!                                                                                        


I hinted at this a bit earlier in the checklist, but let me re-emphasize the importance of shifting focus from the things preoccupying and stressing us out to the things we are truly grateful for. What a difference it can make in your day if you take 5 minutes to think about all the little (or big) things that make you feel thankful to be alive. Often these are extremely simple things, or things in our daily lives that can become all too easy to overlook when we are rushing around. I highly recommend you make a little ritual with yourself in the morning and in the evening where you focus on something, or things, you are grateful for. This kind of practice can also really help with sleeping problems because it puts your mind in a positive space before you go to bed.mountain-298999_1280

Change Locations

I often find that when I’m getting unreasonably worked up about something simply changing spaces will allow me to snap out of it. Go to another room, go for a short walk, go to a cafe or the library or a park if you usually do work at home. Sometimes it can help to go somewhere full of people so you get completely distracted from your thoughts by having too much going on around you to get stuck in your mind.

Change Crowds

Another situation I sometimes find myself in is where I have spoken to everyone close to me about something that is stressing me out or bothering me and so every time I see them they ask me either “how are you?” (in a concerned tone) or “how is X going?” What happens then is that IF I have been able to get myself to FINALLY stop thinking about the thing I’ve been obsessing over I am immediately thrown back in to it. So! When this happens I have taken to making a point of taking a little break from my regular people. Hang out with a friend you haven’t seen in a while or try getting to know a new acquaintance a bit better. Go to a party where you know you won’t know anyone. What this gives us is the space to tell whatever story we want to about ourselves. By talking up the points of our lives that we really like or that people find interesting we are a) reminded that our lives aren’t actually so bad b)get out of distress-concern dynamic that we’ve gotten stuck in with the people closest to us. While I definitely don’t encourage regular suppression of ones actual emotional state, sometimes we need to be around people who just accept that we’re fine when we say so. No back story, no insight into our personal lives. It can be a great opportunity to shift our personal narratives. Try it out.

sunset-691204_1280Take More Breaks!

This may be one of those “duh!” moments, but many of us do not listen to ourselves when we know we need to take more breaks. So I’m telling you now, “take more breaks!” If you’re worried about not getting enough done, think about how efficient and productive you are when you are feeling fresh and rested versus how you work when you are sleep deprived and cranky. Some people claim to work better in those types of states, and you know yourself best, so do what works for you. But I highly recommend a bit more stretching, a bit more hydration, a few more ambles around the block when you’re in need of stress relief.

Pen It In!

If you haven’t already been doing this and are struggling finding time for yourself for some much needed R and R, try penning it in to your schedule. If you know you’re not going to respect your commitment to yourself, tell someone, or a few people, about your great plan to do X, Y and Z for fun on said day. You can even create an accountability or check-in system with a buddy of yours so that they hold you to your word and make sure you actually DO take some time for yourself. I know it may sound ridiculous, but it really works! We are the easiest people for ourselves not to listen to and not to take care of ;). Your friends and family will likely take your mental health and well being way more seriously than you do. They may even leap and the chance to nag you about taking time for yourself. Might as well be the one who orchestrates the situation!

Kindness Gives Back

Another great way to “forget about your worries and your strife” is to take care of someone else! Maybe you have an elderly friend or someone with limited mobility or people in desperate need of childcare in your circle. Maybe there’s a community center nearby where you can volunteer. Helping others people makes us feel good about ourselves because it makes us feel useful and needed and allows to accomplish something tangible. This is especially useful if you are doing “bread-winning” work that you feel a bit less inspired by. At those times it can be very good to reinvigorate our lives with some other meaningful contribution to the world.flower-646127_1280

Get Some Perspective

Reminding ourselves of the relativity of our situation can be a useful thing to keep mopey woe-is-me feelings in check, but it’s probably not going to solve your stress without some other elements thrown in. The classic guilt-oriented approach ( “Finish your food…There are children starving in X country or continent) is definitely not what I’m talking about. It’s possible to take a “big picture” view without falling in to those types of stereotypes of making yourself feel even worse by telling yourself you’re a bad person for not just being happy all the time with exactly the life you have. That type of ouroboros complex (from the greek “biting it’s own tail”…) isn’t going to help anyone. Just calmly step back and take stock of the situation. When your nose isn’t stuck in the nitty gritty details, what do you see? Take an eagle’s-eye view. How does the whole thing look from above?


This is probably the most common advice anyone will give you when you are stressed out. That probably means it holds some water, right? Sure you may be tired of hearing it. But have you been breathing deeply, and often? If not, do so. It will do you a world of good. There are a gazillion breathing exercises out there if you’re looking for something more structured. Otherwise you can always start with counting a certain number of beats in and certain number of beats out.


Be Kind to Yourself

Above all it’s important to be kind with yourself. Beating yourself up about anything is definitely not going to make you less stressed. Even beating yourself up about beating yourself up is not going to make you less stressed! If you are someone who has some negative self-talk going on, don’t jump down your own throat! Breathe (deeply and often;), observe whatever the habit is, and accept it. The more you fight against it , the more it will most likely repeat itself, kind of like saying “don’t think about a purple elephant” to someone. By disliking something we give it energy. Try not to feed whatever it is you’d like to see shift by focusing all your energy on it. Just observe it and let it go. Sure it may sound flaky. But having tried both approaches, I can definitely say that being generous, kind, patient an compassionate with myself always produces faster results than anything else.

5 Reasons Why Bringing Your Kids to Concerts is a Great Idea!

Once upon a time most community events were places where all generations mingled. Elders, youth, children, adults…everybody had a place in the circle when it came to celebration! These days it seems more and more spaces are anything but kid-friendly. Parents routinely ask me if it’s “okay” for them to bring their kids to my concerts, seemingly expecting a negative response. “Of course!” I say “Bring the whole family!” This may seem like mere principle to some, but there are a lot of reasons why bringing back all-ages events might benefit society as a whole.


Where Generations Meet

As many of you are probably aware, our social structures these days are modeled around age segregation as opposed to age integration. As soon as people start school they are, for the most part, limited to spending most of their days with people within a year or two of their own age. The work place is often no better as many jobs target specific age groups for employment. Parents spend time with parents, teenagers spend time with teenagers, elders live in nursing homes of apartment blocks dedicated to the needs of the elderly. You catch my drift. For those of us not lucky enough to have geographically and emotionally close extended families it can be difficult to break out of this pattern. Especially because it has become the norm to not bring kids in to larger social gatherings!

If our days are taken up with work or studies, when can we expect inter-generational exchange to happen if not at community events like music concerts and house party’s? It can be great to get together as a group of young parents and their kids, but I hear a lot of parents saying they wish they could get out more…without having to leave the kids behind! It seems like a lot of people have become so used to age-segregated environments that we no longer have any tolerance for the completely natural bustle children bring to a space. All the more reason to bring them along! For those of us who organize or host events, we can help the process of re-integration along by making things explicitly all-ages friendly.

At a fundamental level being around people of all ages provides us with a wider perspective on life and its many stages. Being around children specifically is an absolutely essential reminder for non-parents, albeit on a subtle level, of the fact that a next generation does exist and that we have a certain responsibility to them in the way we act and the choices we make that effect the world!


Keeping Things in Check

On that note, having kids (or elders!) in a space is a great way to keep certain types of behavior in check, possibly to the benefit of all. It’s true that many of us live in somewhat less traditional societies .Respecting your elders and being aware of what you are modeling to kids around you isn’t always the number one focus. Nevertheless, ask anyone if they are more or less likely to get ridiculously drunk or start an argument or swear like a sailor if there are kids and elders in the room and the answer is probably less. Of course there are limits to the types of events you might want to bring your kids to or attend for that matter. However there is huge room for improvement in our openness to creating inclusive spaces and acknowledging the secondary benefits of doing so is one more step in that direction!

I encountered some great examples of age-inclusive music culture when I was traveling in Ireland a couple years back. In just about every town I stopped in there was to be found at least one pub. The pub(s) inevitably had music sessions at least a couple of times a week and if you attended these sessions you would find the full spectrum of ages both listening and participating! I found it incredibly inspiring to see that the “night-out to party” and parenting cultures overlapping so smoothly! It was perfectly natural for kids to be hanging out in the pub, doing their thing. The transition happened at some point in the evening where the young folks would go home to sleep with parents in tow and the night owls would stay for a bit more craic (which means “fun” in Irish…not what you might think ;). Simple as that!


Kids Getting Connected

Another great reason to bring your kids out is that it allows them to begin adapting to different people and environments. After a certain age children are ready to move out of the total bonding phase with their parents. At this point being in more social spaces can create a great opportunity for what you might call “passing the baby.” This definitely happens more in rural environments where everyone knows everyone, but I’m talking about when you go to a party and everybody wants to take turns holding the baby. It’s a great way of helping kids adapt at an early age to new faces and energies, and is also a sweet break time for parents! Of course it’s important to respect the limits of your child when it comes to spending time in other peoples arms, but in general if the parents are relaxed about introducing their kids to other people, the kids will also be relaxed! It’s all about finding the right balance.

If your kids are at the mobile, running around stage, this can still be a great opportunity to hand off their care to someone else for a few minutes while you focus on whatever else is going on. Like having a full conversation with someone or listening to a three minute performance piece without interruption. Being in communal spaces allows for a natural transition into kids feeling comfortable hanging out with other adults. It can be a great way to build connections with other parents, friends, children and the community at large!


Breaking Out of Isolation

The other key piece of this whole diatribe is that having age-inclusive events, and daring to bring our kids out with us, is a huge part of helping parents be less isolated! There are more and more family-oriented spaces being created. Which is awesome! Many of them though are so focused on kids that they forget about the parents! What if you want to hang out with people not limited to other parents and their kids? I had this conversation recently with a woman working at a local spot called The Village Cafe which hopes to address this exact issue. When you walk in you don’t immediately feel alienated as a non-parent. There’s a kids play space in the corner, a backroom for workshops (inter-generational ones!) and they describe their mandate as being a place that is “parent-focused.” They don’t play “kids music,” they offer high quality coffees, teas and a full menu for all ages. Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about! Now all we need are more concert venues with a similar bent…


The Early Bird… is a Musician

On a purely selfish note, I like having my performances be all-ages because it gives me a good excuse to start them earlier than your average concert (at least your average Montreal concert…). I am a morning person and thus I sometimes struggle with the expectation of some for music events to happen in the wee hours. I do a lot of shows in rural areas because I know everyone wants to go to bed before midnight. So! If we can all agree that we need more all-ages friendly events and you start bringing your kids to more shows then maybe I can keep booking gigs where everyone shows up on time and I can pack up my gear by 10:30pm. A girl can dream can’t she?