The second in our new series of responses to the prompt cards from our resource Navigating with Kindness comes from former Head of Creative Programmes at People United, and now People United Trustee, Liz Flynn.
We asked Liz to consider the card “slow down” (pictured below), with the following prompt:
It’s easy to keep focused on getting things done and moving things forward, but stopping and reflecting are important – giving yourself the opportunity to take a break from what you normally do and perhaps shift priorities or change direction. COVID-19 has forced those of us not on the front line to stop, to slow things down and think about what really matters.
She came back with this blog, which we hope will inspire you to slow down and take some time to listen to the world around you…
Taking time to slow down.
Whenever I’m delivering an event, the most important thing in my back pocket is my Gantt chart. If you haven’t had the pleasure, a Gantt chart is a painstakingly detailed document that lists every task in a project or event, who is involved, at what time and in what place. These detailed plans are necessary because running an event requires thousands of actions to be completed in a few hours or days. It has to be a well-oiled machine. There’s no time for working things out on the hoof, you need a solid line of processes that will hopefully lead to a great event, followed by a hot bath and a glass of wine at the end of it all.
I sometimes find myself itching to write a little Gantt chart just to get through a busy day, to make me a bit more efficient. No, to make me doubly efficient – able to juggle two or three things at once- even if that means skipping lunch and cancelling my social life.
So many of us work incredibly hard all the time, often without even being asked to. We get to work early, we stay late. We don’t take breaks, but we do take work home, and we wake up at 4am to start thinking about it all over again. We keep on top of twitter and read five different newspapers to make sure things we’ve done our research before we offer an opinion- just in case we get condemned by some online jury. People like me self-load these pressures up until we’ve squeezed and suffocated every second from our week. We have an addiction to working.
If your child came to you, stressed and exhausted by mountains of schoolwork, what would you say? Would it be ‘Well you’d better toughen up, ‘cos this is just the beginning!”. No. I thought not. We want children to enjoy the world. We want them to sing and dance and play and laugh. We want them to marvel at the shape of a flower and dedicate an entire afternoon to making a scrapbook about it. We don’t want them to cry over piles of homework or be too stressed to join their friends on a bike ride. That’s not what childhood is about.
Yet when it comes to adulthood, this notion goes out the window. Of course, as adults we have many more responsibilities and pressures, and there will always be busy, manic days ruled by deadlines and Gantt charts, but surely we should make space for some daydreaming and creativity. We can all rattle off the reasons why slowing down, wandering in a wood, singing a song, drawing a picture or baking a cake are important to our mental and physical wellbeing, yet we constantly let things get in the way.
Those of us who aren’t key workers are in an unfamiliar place right now- plucked from our hectic, noisy, filled-to-the-brim days into a locked-down No Man’s Land, with an unknown amount of time stretched out before us. But even now, how many of us are trying to fill our days by getting that DIY done or spring cleaning the house? How many of us are feeling like we must have something to show when this crisis is over, like a new skill or a revamped garden?
Maybe the skill we need to learn is how to slow down.
As I write this, I am sat in my garden watching my dog, Luna. She is lying 20ft away, stretched out on her stomach, chewing a ball. She’s eyeing the ball thrower lying in my lap. She knows if she brings the ball back to me, I will throw it. But she can’t be bothered, and frankly, nor can I. So, we’re just sitting and watching each other, blinking in the sunlight.
I start to focus on the sounds I can hear… Bird song. Sparrows. Blue Tits. Seagulls, always. A neighbour mowing the lawn. A single car driving past the house. A few more cars in the distance, heading for the motorway. A flag flapping next-door. A windchime. A spade scraping. Bees humming. Voices, then laughter. Something else… our loose gutter, tapping faintly.
The longer I listen, the more sounds I hear when just a few moments ago I thought I was sitting in silence. I wait for the noise to subside, but it doesn’t. There isn’t a single moment of pure silence, even in nature. The world never stops. But I’ve allowed myself to do exactly that. To just be. Not running about, not fixing or mending. Just observing, listening.
My neighbour’s cigarette wafts over the wall and the smell stirs a memory, a silly moment of goofiness between friends. I smile. It’s strange, I haven’t thought of that moment in a long time, even though I smell my neighbour’s smoke every day. Maybe I’ve made space for it. The memory leads me back to an earlier life. I was making my own clothes and working on a business plan during the day, in the evenings I’d cycle from Canterbury to Chartham and back, and at the weekend I’d spend time with friends. Work was busy, but I don’t remember much about it to be honest. The memories that flood my mind are of nights out, afternoons at the beach, spending time with people, spending time alone. I remember that year as a good one, a time when I learned a lot about myself.
The following years were not as simple. My newfound energy and confidence propelled me into a cycle of work and career choices. I was on a trajectory and the time I’d invested in myself was paying dividends. The pressure to keep succeeding meant I saw my friends less. I made things and did things to achieve a goal, never just to play. The faster I went, the more I neglected myself.
Last year I decided to make a change, to slow things down again. I started by giving myself time to create small spaces- I took lunch breaks again and went on peaceful walks. I got home on time and I did less work over the weekend. At first I felt guilty and worried. But work rebalanced itself surprisingly quickly, I rediscovered my creativity and I gave myself time to think, time to process. Time to work out what was challenging, what I needed. Time for myself.
I realised that we need to de-condition ourselves from the mindset that success is about running around in constant circles trying to achieve everything. You don’t have to do it all. Heck, you don’t actually have to do anything. It’s OK if you wear a mismatched outfit because that’s all that is clean. It’s OK if the house has loose gutters. It’s OK if the grass between your toes is really long and weedy. It’s all OK. Give yourself a break. Don’t waste the opportunity you have right now to slow down.
For more photos of the lovely Luna, check out her Instagram account @btlunaflynn (because we all need to see more cute photos of animals right now!)