Simon Shackleton
Woodland Impressions2208.jpg

Blog

Simplifying a Cluttered Life

It's been 7 months since my last post, and reading it back today I'm struck by how much it jars with the present day.

At the tail end of last year I was skittering wildly like a doe on ice, raging against what I saw as the dying of the light. I was angry, bitter and overwhelmed by changes in my professional life and had no idea where to turn next. I felt overwhelmed, undervalued. I felt like my sense of purpose had left me, and with it my sense of meaning and focus. My creative life had reached a big fat cul de sac.

I had been slowly beating a retreat for several years now, but the final catalyst for wholesale change was the release of my 'Piece of Me' album. I saw this as the most complete and personal artistic statement I had made; a lifetime's work embodied in a single opus. I was extremely satisfied with every aspect of it, creatively speaking, with the exception of the mass exposure I had dreamt would follow (as I did with every one of my releases over the years). It felt like a vibrant and complex work that spanned every decade of my musical life. It felt like currency. 

Whilst the Pledge campaign worked extremely well in corralling  and engaging my loyal fanbase it soon became clear that the album wasn't reaching new markets or new ears. In fact it wasn't reaching anyone at all beyond that existing core fanbase. I blamed my lousy choice of PR company, I blamed the music, I blamed the industry, I blamed social media, I blamed my own decision-making ... but ultimately I couldn't blame the art in any way. I was completely and utterly content with the music, the artwork and the design. Creatively, it didn't miss a beat.

So I decided to step back and sit in the emotional fire and let the dust of the aftermath settle and sit there with me.  I realised that we are hardwired to belong, and that music (I thought) had always given me a sense of community and belonging that I didn't necessarily have in other aspects of my life. I began to realise that in stepping back from the daily precipice of promotion, connection and communication that the sense of belonging I felt I had through my music was no longer really there. 

For a time I would jet off every weekend to far flung corners of the globe and experience the strangest of double lives. I would leave the rural idyll I lived in (up until 18 months ago) and suddenly arrive in the spotlight as the very fulcrum of people's escapism. It was a form of escapism for me too. It was exotic, wild, noisy, social ... but it also made me feel increasingly isolated. Whilst self-promoted events like 'The One Series' were a musical solution to inject more soul into my own performances and provide people with something *MORE*, I realised that for me they were actually less social, less connecting and more isolating than anything that had gone before. I cherished that. It felt to me like the only time in my life where time stopped, where my mind felt calm. It was my meditation. 

I also began to look outside of my musical life at what numbing agents I was using to avoid looking too closely at myself. The more obvious drink & drugs options long since evaporated from my life, but there were a few insidious numbing agents remaining ... most notably television, lazy eating and social media, especially Facebook. It's the latter that I really struggled with, because I have always equated this wonderful world of Social Media we live in with as 'a perfect way to stay in touch with friends and be connected'. As the world of promotion and music drifted away from me, I began to realise that my relationship with Social Media was no longer valid, or fruitful. Quite the opposite, in fact. Brené Brown puts it quite brilliantly in her excellent book 'The Gifts of Imperfection' ... 

"Technology has become a kind of imposter for connection, making us believe we're connected when we're really not - at least not in the ways we need to be. In our technology-crazed world. we've confused being communicative with feeling connected. Just because we're plugged in, doesn't mean we feel seen and heard." [Brené Brown]

This brings me neatly to where I stand today. I have simplified my life and my habits. I've downsized my living space, sold my record collection and most of my studio, done away with the televisual mogadon and the popcorn fluff of Netflix, and abandoned the hourly ingest of facile Facebooking. I have started to live healthily and with intention, practising yoga and meditation and taking myself out into the world to breathe deeply and fuel myself, feeling at One with the world ... sometimes with my camera in hand, sometimes not. Where once there was a sense of scattergun panic there is now an ocean of space ... where judgement of one's success was made by the metrics of social media there is now a sense of grown-up calm.

As I start to repopulate this newfound 'ocean of space' with intentional and mindful living, I am constantly reminded of the clarity of thinking espoused by The Minimalists when they say, "Owning less is better than organising more". It's not just about filtering out physical items that no longer serve you, it's about resetting your mental habits and paying close attention to how you interact with the world around you, and that very much includes the world of social media.

In the past few months I have gone from living my life on the internet to becoming a visitor to the internet. It's been a huge game-changer for me.