Kyra Shaughnessy

Category - creativity

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?

 

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…

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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!

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…?

Heart-Based Creation

We all have those moments where we find ourselves staring at a blank page thinking….nothing. In fact, I had one of those moments as I tried to begin writing this blog post. Unfortunately many of us experience this “blank” feeling as a big, scary, looming…thing. This moment of uncertainty and emptiness reeks of imminent failure. Rather than communing with this vast horizon,  we find a hundred and one other things we need to do at that very moment. Sound familiar?

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The Heart as Barometer.

Your approach to things will of course depend on the desired outcome. I am addressing those of you whose primary goal is to be able to write, to write regularly, and to write things you feel good about.

If there is one thing I feel that I have learned to do well in this lifetime, it is song-writing. I may not write pop hits. I may not be putting words in the mouths of Celine Dion and Elton John. It’s almost definite that not everyone who hears my music will like it. But the songs I write invariably come directly from the heart and resonate with some part of my Truth. For that reason alone they are good songs, and completing one feels like a success.

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Why? Because I know that a) anything that expresses some truth of human experience is bound to connect with someone out there; b) I know the songs I don’t end up sharing are part of a necessary process of getting to the heart of things. This outlook saves me from feeling like I waste a huge amount of time writing things that I will never share with anyone.

I know I have written something relevant when I feel my heart vibrating in response to what my words express. This may sound cheesy, but it works like a charm. Try it out. Notice! What music, what words, ring true to you? If you use your heart as a barometer and let your mind go off it’s a corner for a while, what direction does your writing take? What I’m saying is, stop trying to write something good and try writing something true. You will feel better, I can almost guarantee it.  

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What’s Love got to do with it?

When you break the creative process down to its fundamentals what you find is Love. When we are able to let go of the process of self-judgment that is firmly anchored in most of our psyches we are left no choice but to embrace whatever inside us needs expression. There may be a ton of crap to get through before you create something that you feel like sharing with the outside world. But wading through the crap is pretty much the only way to get to the other side.

As I see it, creative writing of any kind is a simultaneous process of inner healing and outwards connection. Both of these things are motivated (despite whatever psychological mechanisms may clutter our view of it) by an expansive, unconditional Love.

Sound crazy? Far-fetched? A little too grand? It’s true that a lot of performance art and creative writing is focused on exposing life’s suffering or exploring the artist’s tormented inner world (Dostoevsky anyone?). However, it is my opinion that even the darkest creative expressions are driven from a deep need for healing and connection. The desire to heal and to connect with ourselves and others is, at its root, a form of basic universal love.

 

What if You Could Choose to “Live Your Dream”?

The conversation begins “wow, you mean you actually make a living doing this? You’re so lucky!” Lucky to do what I love, lucky to make ends meet as a young, female, independent singer-songwriter…”Lucky?” Well, I guess that’s one way of looking at it.  My perspective is a bit different. Luck implies a sort of serendipitous divine intervention in your favor. In my experience anyone living from what they love has made a conscious choice to do so.  Without recognizing our choice in matters how we can get back to a state of empowerment in our everyday lives?  Building a life that works for you opens up a world of infinite possibilities. Of course there are lots of challenges involved in “living the dream.” Ready to take the leap and see what’s on the other side?

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The Road Less Traveled

Let’s start with that familiar conversation. The distinction between being “lucky” vs. choosing to live from your passion may seem like simple semantics, but it has huge implications, the main one being that including choice means that ANYONE can CHOOSE how they make a living. That’s right, all of a sudden you are being handed full responsibility for your life. Artists, inventors, self-employed freelancers are not the elite, fortunate few who for some reason get to live “the dream” while the mainstream masses are doomed to a life of 9 to 5 daily grind.

Of course there are many people in the world living in situations of extreme poverty or oppression who this all may not apply to.  But we’re talking about you, who are reading this blog, right now. Seeing artists and entrepreneurs at any level of renown as “lucky” is, in my view, simply a way of avoiding taking a good look at one’s own life and fully reflecting on what it would mean to commit to whatever it is you are passionate about. Harsh words? Take it as a case of “if the shoe fits…”HPIM0748 (Small)

While there may be many people with very legitimate reasons for not pursuing their passions, a large percentage are simply convinced of their own (false) limitations. This fact always strikes me when I respond to people’s amazement at my music career. Whenever I get a chance I ask people what they would love to do and then why they aren’t doing it. I am almost always met with a large wall of “I have to’s” and “I can’t’s,” if not simply with a shrug and a change in conversation topic.

Take a minute. Think about it. Do you spend the majority of your time doing something that feels truly meaningful to you? If so, you can stop reading now! If not, try and conjure up in your mind, without any input from the “be realistic” internal peanut gallery, what your ideal life-work would be. If you didn’t have to worry about making X amount of income per year for this and that reason, what would you do with your days?

What makes you feel totally accomplished and satisfied, what gets your creative (in the sense of “action-oriented”) energy flowing? It might be reading sci-fi novels. It might be having conversations with people where you feel you’ve helped them process some deep conflict. It might be climbing mountains. Whatever makes you tick. Now keep that thing, or things, in mind.

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The Freedom of Responsibility!

I’m pretty convinced that if everyone took full responsibility for their lives we would have a far more engaged, conscious, overall healthier and happier society. Granted, we would no longer have the ability to blame our circumstances or our unhappiness on someone else. When I wake up on the wrong side of the bed feeling like nothing I do is worth a dust bunny’s attention I often long for someone I could blame for my existential discontent. Alas. No such luck.

Now that you have some kind of basic vision in your mind of what you would like to be doing with your time let yourself think about why you aren’t doing whatever it is as your primary occupation. Open the floodgates of inner-commentary. Are there a lot of voices clamouring to say things like “it’s not realistic,” “there’s no way I could make a living doing X” or “don’t be ridiculous”? Most likely.

What if instead of letting yourself stop there you decided to walk through the wall of nay-saying voices and consider the possibility…Consider. The Possibility. What if you decided to turn the whole system upside down and do what you want to do? If no one has ever been there to tell you “anything is possible” and “there’s always a way to make it work,” I’m telling you now!

Of course all this hesitance to do what we dream of doing in life also has a lot to do with our learned definitions of “success.” In my opinion we would all benefit from redefining success so that it lines up with happiness and fulfillment rather then material wealth or social status. If this little piece of writing can contribute in any way to some of you internalizing a new vision of success, than I will have accomplished a great deal.

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Committing to Possibility

Let’s be clear. Doing what you want to do is not about a narcissistic refusal to consider the well-being of others. It’s about recognizing that a) by filling our lives with meaning (by using our time in doing what we love) we are actually contributing to the overall wellness of society and the planet. Miserable people make for a miserable culture. So let go of your attachment to martyrdom and accept that doing something that makes you happy might actually be good for more than just you. Staying at that job you hate because you feel like they really need you is not actually helping anyone.

Of course “making it work” doesn’t necessarily mean you will all of a sudden magically be able to switch to doing what you love %100 of your waking hours. There will be challenges, there will be a lot of self-doubt, and there will be a lot of people who will tell you you’re crazy for trying. There will also be a community of people ready to welcome you, support you and believe in you because you will be giving them motivation and inspiration to maybe, just maybe, commit to their own dreams.