Learning to Stop

Guest Blog by Paul Gorman, from Hidden Giants. Find this blog article on the Hidden Giants’ website here.

It probably took me ‘til Wednesday to figure out no matter how many 6am runs I did, I had to address some serious concerns within my mind and soul. I had spent Monday and Tuesday in a constant state of panic – my body and mind was in fight mode. I had ordered a skip to be delivered on Monday morning as for the first time in two years, I actually had some free time to empty our garage. Myself and my partner had decided what house jobs could be done, how we would maintain our son’s mobility needs, and nailed the home learning plan for our daughter. Unconsciously I had made my life busy, because I hadn’t learned how to stop. This is the story of my learning.

For years now, I have spread a message about filling classrooms and teaching practices with uncertainty, unknowns, and participation. It’s impossible to predict everything – so why try? I spoke of anti-fragility (growth through randomness/shock/unpredictability), I told stories of chickens in small tins, and the need to question orthodoxies. I gave teachers boxes containing objects which went unopened for three days, I told people to leave space for others to fill. During this time, I was conditioning myself, I was looking busy, I was peddling the old ways, I was moving too fast.

I busily squirreled away on Monday morning, desperately trying to fit as many Zoom calls into my day as I possibly could – to maintain the facade of someone who is needed. Hidden Giants is a business – if I’m not needed, what do I have? I was desperate to connect, to suggest answers, to be productive. I attempted Joe Wicks PE 9am class. I walked with my family. We watched Newsround together. I noticed the empty skip. I saw male neighbours’ power-hosing every inch of their drive ways, I heard distant sounds of power tools. I ensured my step-son was up and walking. I scrambled about for missed payments, for potential contracts. I watched my daughter ease comfortably into a new way of being.

I’m sure for many of us we now know what 4am looks like – our heads balancing on pillows, desperately trying to persuade ourselves things will be okay. Things will go back to normal. I run. If I can rescue anything from this situation it will be some weight loss. I run through the graveyard at the back of our house, past the dead but only think of the living. I return to my house and pass the empty skip.

The WhatsApp and Twitter messages grow in intensity with new ways to fill your child’s day. Joe Wicks booms out in the background as he desperately attempts to keep things normal. As long as we are star-jumping in front of our TVs the world will be okay. Consumption is the theme of the day. A mass panic seems to build: everyone must look busy – “Quick, generate content”. Send! Transmit! Broadcast! Maybe what this says is we don’t trust our children, and we keep making the same significant mistake of filling their time for them. It doesn’t need to be like this. Remove the accountability. Build trust. Let’s stop.

It’s Wednesday. I don’t run today. I physically stop. I didn’t wake at 4am this morning. My heart rate has slowed back to normal. Things that were feeling urgent and important seems to have jumped to the ‘not urgent or important’ box. No-one is speaking the words of the old world – maybe the folk music of 2020 will mourn for ‘attainment, data, and 85%’. The grieving process is well under way, the melody fills the quiet streets and parks. Denial has set in. What happens if people stop – how will can we measure how far they have moved?

I put the bins out on Thursday morning. I’m not sure why. It feels like something people did in the old world. Almost as if we need a different solution for refuse, just as we need a new solution for everything else. The skip still lies empty. I notice the scrapes and bumps along its sides, and wonder what it has contained, where the contents are now, and why I thought it would be a good idea to fill my time. We have created a new space in our house – not physical, but instead emotional and social. We are learning to be in flow by stopping. We are seeing what each other’s needs are and have the time to respond. Things are emerging because spaces are open. We notice what is happening around us, and we pay attention to those things that are important.

Stopping is really difficult. I don’t type that lightly. Learning to stop – I mean really stop – is tough. The feeling of guilt we all carry with us for not doing enough means we keep moving. Even in a world in which we can no longer move, we still try and fill our time. We commit to learning a new language, an instrument, and even to fill a skip. Stopping means letting go of the things that you thought scare you most: not having money, not having a job, not being wanted. We have constructed such fragile systems that have lured us into the fiction of climbing the ladder. A ladder we thought must lead somewhere, but may have been a hamster wheel all along.

There is nothing to do now. I’ve completed what I have set out to do. Hidden Giants is done what it has needed to do. My task-list has gone. My mind is clearing. I am stopping. I can turn my mind to new things. I can turn my mind to what I am learning in this new world:

I am learning that sharing a work space with a 6 year-old is fraught with challenges
I am learning that pet hamsters don’t love people being at home all the time
I am learning that we can’t act immediately
I am learning to show love and care for lots of people in my life
I am learning that switching off the news is important
I am learning what happens next isn’t important – because we don’t know
I am learning that running helps, but it doesn’t answer the questions
I am learning my daughter knows how to spell “fuck” – and it seems to be my fault

Let’s try to stop. I mean really stop. Stop sending out resources that didn’t work in the old world, with the expectation they will work now. Stop searching for control when no one has it. Stop thinking you can sort this – you can’t. Stop thinking about all the things that have consumed you – let them go.

Hidden Giants has learned how to stop. It’s difficult and worth it.

The skip still lies empty.

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