Kyra Shaughnessy

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Why Your Anxiety is not Just Your Problem!

I was sitting with a philosopher friend of mine discussing life and its many joys and trials when he came out with something along the lines of “anxiety is actually just grief that we’ve had to try and deal with in isolation.” “Now there’s something to chew on,” said my mind. “What if this wave of anxiety that seems to be plaguing so many people is actually the result of unprocessed grief, and the fact that we are trying to deal with it as individuals instead of as a collective?” hmmm…

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FROM PERSONAL TO COLLECTIVE

I don’t know how this reframing strikes you, but to me it made a whooole lot sense.  Some people experience anxiety as a result of nerves frayed by too much stress, too little sleep, too many stimulants, too little contact with nature, genetics and personal history. A combination of all these factors is relatively common these days and is definitely enough reason for anyone to crash and burn.

Above and beyond that though, why do there seem to be sooo many people experiencing severe anxiety “all of a sudden”? Is it just that I have only begun to notice it at this stage in my life? I was raised with an awareness of the ways in which stored emotions can erupt as physical or emotional symptoms. For some reason though, I had never thought very deeply specifically about anxiety and its possible roots. It seemed like just one of those things that some people struggle with for a variety of personal reasons. But what if that dismissal of anxiety as a personal issue is actually a large part of the problem itself?

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BREAKING OUT OF ISOLATION

Many health issues create social stigma, anxiety among them.  We feel embarrassed and humiliated by our lack of ability to “function” for reasons beyond our comprehension. We feel that we should be able to “deal” with this “problem” on our own. We feel the need to hide away and isolate ourselves so that no one has to see our vulnerability and so no one can judge our apparent “weakness.”

To see anxiety, or any number of states of being we may see as “personal problems (e.g. depression),” as a result of isolation and an attempt to process internalized emotions flips our current approach to these issues on its head. What if as someone who experiences anxiety you did not feel ashamed and stigmatized and dysfunctional? What if instead you felt supported by a community of others who understood this as a natural result of built up, unexpressed raw emotion?

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CANARIES IN THE COAL MINE

I am someone who has struggled my whole life with a feeling of occasionally overwhelming sensitivity to the suffering of others. When I say others, I don’t just mean other people. I find the destruction and disregard of Life in all forms deeply saddening and sometimes paralyzing.  Luckily, I am also someone who learned early on to cry, to sob, to sing, to yell, to connect to a sense of greater belonging and to creatively express any manner of intense emotion.

Now, if I were to imagine my life as a witness and participant in our society’s incredibly rapid rate of change, a constant bombardment with violent and coercive images and news stories that expose me to the whole spectrum of suffering and complex problems world-wide without having any clear way to move that all through and out of my body… I can only being to imagine the amount of pure unprocessed emotion that would create.  I can only imagine how those emotions might begin to pile up and fester to the point where all the pressure had to be released in one form or another.

As sensitive beings connected to the whole web of life, it seems obvious that we would be deeply affected by more than our own personal histories. We are part of a collective story unfolding around and within us at every moment. Taking this awareness to the next level means acknowledging how struggles like severe anxiety are issues that go beyond the individual. Those of us experiencing these intense fluxes are perhaps just  the proverbial “canaries in the coal mine,” indicators of a deeper, pervasive malaise. Anxiety, depression and all other forms of instability in our systems are a call to widespread action, to move forward in a direction that respects our collective needs as part of this living earth.

Writing Great Songs Without Music Theory

Everyone has their own process when it comes to writing, be it song-writing, creative writing or writing a thesis. As a self-taught musician I’ve never had a very technical approach. I find a lot of people feel intimidated about getting started trying to write songs. We all have moments where we struggle to create anything we find at all interesting. Sometimes learning about other people’s approaches can be just the thing to kick us out of the rut of writers block. What follows is one of the recurring methods to my madness.

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Stormy Weather

A day when I am going to write a song will often look like this. I am wandering aimlessly around my home, unable to focus on anything, with no concrete plans to fill my time. Everything on my to do list seems suddenly unimportant and I feel a kind of internal rumble that I can’t quite put my finger on. I have a made a dozen cups of tea, cleaned my whole space up and am now restless in a very particular kind of way that I can only describe as the kind of electric buzz you might feel in the air before a storm. Over time I am getting much better at identifying these moments as the build up to songwriting. Being able to tune in to your inner radar and know when you are ripe for writing, if a key element to making it happen.

When I’m in one of these moods I will, eventually, realize what’s going on and sit down with an instrument. Most often this will be a guitar, but if there’s any new instrument around then I will probably gravitate towards that because in my experience new instruments often inspire a whole new range of creativity. I have written many of my best songs by fiddling around with instruments I didn’t actually know how to play! If you feel blocked when you pick up your regular instrument, you should definitely give this a try!

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No Theory? No Problem!

Usually once I’ve settled in to this process of fiddling around, I will start out by making up some repetitive bit of music that I like the sound of. Being self-taught and not very theory-minded, I don’t really tend to approach things in a “this chord goes with that chord” kind of way. I will most often make things up on the spot based on what sounds good to me and what resonates with however I’m feeling that day.  Remember, it doesn’t have to be technically complex in order to be good!

When I have tried writing songs with a more theoretical approach I have rarely been satisfied with the results. That being said, it works for some people, AND I do find it very useful to be able to apply basic music theory in moments of “stuckness” when I have tried all other avenues and can’t figure out where to go with the music. If that doesn’t work then I just give up on the music and write something a’cappella (a vocal piece with no instrumental accompaniment). This is why I call myself a songwriter rather than a musician! I have a very low-level of commitment to being disciplined in practicing an instrument and a very high level of commitment to lyrical content!

Once I have a bit of music going, I end up looping and changing small things in this snippet until some kind of melody emerges for me to sing along with it. This melody then develops words, often just one or two lines at a time which I will then also sing on repeat for a while. Slowly the whole thing builds into something more like an actual song, at which point I might start scribbling some of the words down. The key word in this whole process is slow. While the most common way that I will go about writing a song is all in one shot, I do take a fair amount of time getting it all out! Give yourself all the time you need…

HPIM0761 (Small) Surprise Synthesis

It’s at this point that I realize that what is coming out is something that has built up over however many weeks or months of gestation since a particular thought or line of reflection was hanging out in the back of my mind. It’s a very strange and magical moment of synthesis where a whole bunch of experiences coalesce and blend themselves together through the creative process. And then “poof”. We have a song. Or a poem. It may never see the light of day and be witnessed by the world. But there it is!

I know some people feel frustrated when they write something that they then don’t feel like sharing with the world. For my part, I tend to think that anything I write is part of the creative process whether or not it’s something I want to share. Sometimes we have to dig through a lot of layers before reaching the essence of something. It’s a bit like emotional processing, where sometimes we need to talk through a certain situation or feeling before reaching the core of what we are experiencing and being able to fully articulate it. Above all, don’t get in your own way by being overly critical of every little thing you come up with!

The above is just one of the ways in which I go about writing a song, but it is definitely the most common process for me. Because I work very intuitively it’s sometimes difficult to prescribe a very specific set of steps to people who ask about my practice, but I hope this little description proves helpful or interesting to you!  Happy writing!

How to Take the Pressure off Parents

Despite this oft repeated adage “it takes a village to raise a child”our society seems to have headed in the opposite direction. The nuclear family model and pressures of modern society leave little space for sharing the task of child-rearing. But what would the world be like if children being born today were raised…differently? What if they grew up with models that didn’t repeat the old patterns that so many of us are trying to heal from today? What if there was a whole generation growing up with solid self-esteem and a deep respect for all life? How can we help make that happen?

These may seem like overwhelming questions. Finding community is more and more of a challenge for many of us. Technology keeps us focused on connecting with people far away rather than those around us; cities are designed for cars instead of for people; the media keeps us in a state of fear and mistrust of our neighbours by reporting all the negative news they can dig up; everything has been scaled up…the grocery store is no longer a quaint little shop where you know all the workers, the school is home to thousands rather than a handful of students.

Given all these changes in human social organization, it becomes ever more essential for us to build our own villages. This could mean actually finding a physical location for a more communal living style. It can also simply mean reaching out to friends with similar values and building the relationships necessary for shared child-rearing. If you want it to happen, it is possible!forests-231066_1280

Bring on the Aunties (and Uncles)

There are also lots of people out there who don’t have their own kids and who could be great mentors! Maybe you`re one of them. As someone who, at least for now, doesn’t feel the call to be a mom, I often joke with my close friends that I plan to be the “auntie” for their future children. I love kids and would love to contribute to a child’s upbringing as an adult friend for them to hang out with (don’t all call me at once ;). I feel that I and many others would have a lot of positive energy and influence to contribute as an adult friend for some kids out there in need of community.

To the parents out there what I’m saying is, you may feel like asking for help with childcare is a big favour to ask, or something you have to hire people to do. However, there are actually people out there who would love to get a chance to hang out with kids more! How many times have I heard friends in their mid-twenties bemoaning the fact that they never get to hang out with children or elderly people? Many of us simply don’t have access to multi-generational environments the way we used to! Find those people in your circles and figure out some kind of mutually beneficial arrangement.

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Letting go (when parents lose control)

I’ve had conversations with friends and family who balk at the idea of raising their children with other people aside from their partner. Even between partners there are often some pretty big clashes when it comes to “best parenting practices,” (let alone when the grandparents get involved).  So how on earth can we be expected to agree with other people?

It may seem scary to include others in your ideas and visions of child-rearing, but oh, the long-term benefits! There is, I believe, a strong potential for added freedom for both children and parents when other people join the mix. I, for one, am extremely grateful that I was raised in an environment that was multi-generational and where I was exposed to multiple models of adulthood. On the one hand parents get to enjoy some blessed time for themselves, or for simply getting some shit done, depending on where you’re at in your life. Children get to have a new friend, and speaking from experience having an older friend to hang out with is a lot of fun, no matter what your age!

In the end it comes down to how much control you are willing to let go of. And really, as much as you may want to mold the model citizen, you are still going to have to let go of some attachments at some point. Unfortunately, no matter how hard you try and control the outcome of Project Child, there is no way of predicting the way this particular little being will evolve.

So why not…ya know…relax a little (easier said than done, I know!)? Create some clear intentions for the type of support you’d like around you and you kid(s). Find a framework that makes you feel safe and secure in taking some first steps.

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Being the Change

I strongly believe our culture would benefit from taking the pressure off individual parents. We not only need people consciously preparing themselves for parenting in a new way, we need people willing to step up and support them in those efforts. We are all equally responsible for creating the world we want to see. Contributing to the growth and education of the coming generations is a key part of that.

We need to get back to a place where inter-generational exchange and mentorship are natural parts of society. Those of us not engaged directly in parenting have the opportunity, honour and responsibility of offering our support in being positive models to the children of today.

 

Are you Blocking Your Own Creative Flow?

I’m writing about this because one of the biggest, baddest monsters under the bed of most creative writers is the desire to please others. One of the most inspiration-crushing reflexes of the artist is to analyze and judge everything that comes out of us. We hold our very first sentence, nay, our very first thought, up to the light of social scrutiny and say “this’ll never do. Throw it to the dogs.” There goes yet another unborn idea.

Some of you may think the voice in your head that tells you what you’re in the process of writing is…well…not good… is actually your voice. I beg to differ, though of course I do often get caught in that trap as well.

Let me explain. We live in a social order that is built around competition, where success is equal to being “better” than others. This is encouraged by the current education system and the entire industrial-capitalist model. It is inevitable that the majority of us have learned to constantly compare ourselves to others. Sometimes this programming goes so far as to make us hope for others failure and cringe at their successes because it makes us feel somehow “less.” Believe me; I know what I’m talking about. Going further back, we also know in some primal corner of our souls, that to not be loved is a recipe for exile and death.

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This may sound extreme, but think about it. It’s as basic as needing our mothers in order to survive for the first couple years of our lives. If our mothers don’t love us, or if our communities don’t accept us, what are we to do? Those of us with tumultuous family histories may very well have entrenched abandonment issues that feed a deep-seated fear of not being lovable enough for anyone, ever. Unstable childhood environments lead to unstable interior terrain, whatever way we may have found of coping with it over time.

This little exploration into human psychology is simply aimed at helping us see that there are many reasons why we might tend to constantly judge and censor ourselves. We are under non-stop pressure, both internal and external, to PRODUCE something that people will like. Of course, some work best under pressure. If that’s the case, then any writing blocks you may have could probably be solved by having someone to hold you accountable and some regular, demanding deadlines.

For others, pressure is a creativity killer. If that’s the case, maybe you want to read all this again! And again. And again.

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De-Fragging your Heart-drive

Basically what I have found in my life as a songwriter and poet and in discussion with other writers is that the main thing blocking our creativity is…ourselves. Only not ourselves. I don’t know about you, but I shy away from identifying %100 with the “me” who thinks nothing I do is good enough. Seriously. There’s something to be said for quality control, but the filter only really needs to come on once you’re choosing what to present to a wider public. If you can’t accept all the aspects of yourself that need expression, or even your personal creation process, who’s going to? Maybe your mom. Maybe your partner. You are still going to have to live with yourself more often than anyone else.

There’s a whole lot of “letting go” that needs to happen for you to be the creator you truly are. And don’t expect it to be a permanent cleanup. You will need to do some regular upkeep. As sensitive, receptive people we are vulnerable to a lot of “cultural viruses”. There’s a lot of unnecessary noise out there, a huge amount of “pollution” bombarding our senses every day. Be aware. You may not be able to avoid it all, but at the very least notice. Someone once said “recognition is the first step to liberation.” There are a lot of elements influencing our ability to let our creativity flow. I’ve listed some of the things that may be at play, but there are surely others as well.

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Take the time to really survey your inner landscape before telling yourself you are doomed, devoid of talent and inspiration and that your attempts at creation are a waste of bloody time. When you are honest with yourself…what comes up? What knots can be undone so you can get a little slack to work with?

Above all…how can you get closer to expressing some of your fundamental truths? How can you let your heart sing, loud enough for others to hear it through your words…?

Why Conscious Birth is a Key to “Revolution”

Conscious Birth

A couple of years ago I took a two week course on spiritual midwifery with Uva Meiner, a midwife from Costa Rica. She gave the workshop at my mother’s retreat center, Heartroot Farm, in the Eastern townships of Quebec. Though my mother also practices midwifery, this was the first time I spent a concentrated amount of time delving in to the details of birthing with a group of women.

Over the two weeks many people went in to detail about their own birthing experiences. I was shocked to find how many had had traumatic experiences, how many had felt their power was taken away from them in the birthing room, how many felt ill-prepared and misinformed previous to giving birth.

Many women also recounted the conditions of their own births. It was amazing to see the direct links that could be drawn between the circumstances of our births and how we are in the world and in our relationships.

water-drop-275938_1280Preparing the Way

“So, where does the revolution come in?” you may be wondering. Birth and revolution may not seem the most obvious link for some, especially those of us who haven’t had the experience of creating life. Ask most mothers and they’ll probably tell you birth is one of the most revolutionary things you can experience in life.

Aside from the actual act of giving birth as a transformative “rite of passage” for mothers, there are more and more people focusing on birth as a pivotal point in deciding what foot we start our on in life. Before hashing out the ways in which kids can be “raised for revolution” there’s a lot to be said for the whole gestation period and preparing the home environment. This includes doing all the internal preparation. Clearing your body of learned patterns and memories and habits that no longer serve you.

Our society is slowly becoming aware of the positive effects of breastfeeding, for example, which was largely discouraged in the past. Michel Odent, among others, has written extensively about the way birthing and breastfeeding practices have affected entire generations ways of being in the world.  In one of many recent conversations on the topic, a friend of mine who works with the La Leche League spoke to me about studies showing how being breastfed and held as a child effects not only IQ and general resilience, but even our ability to experience empathy!

 

bird    Welcoming Children to the World

We often talk about babies absorbing the emotional states of their mothers while in the belly. High levels of anxiety, stress, or negative emotions can have a serious impact on a child’s development. This is of course also true once the child is born. For some reason there’s not as much emphasis on that transitional state of birth. When you think about all the turning points in your life and how crucial they are to your evolution as a person, why would birth be any different?

All of a sudden we go from being connected solely to our mothers to having this intense opening into an entire world of possible connections! This moment is the opportunity of a lifetime in terms of influencing another being (your, or someone else’s, newborn) to see the world as a warm and loving place! What if women felt empowered and safe to follow their bodies needs and children were welcomed into a positive, emotionally sound, fear-free environment? How is making that the status quo anything less than revolutionary?

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Even if someone wants to have a hospital birth rather than a home birth, there is a lot of value to taking conscious steps to prepare the way. I can’t claim to be an expert on the subject, but if you are contemplating giving birth I highly recommend finding someone who can accompany you in that process. There is plenty that can be done even before conception! All this is only the beginning on the journey of stewarding a generation with a healthy connection to the rest of the world…