70s shift dress, Cork Wedges, Creative Workshops, District & Circle Line. Glastonbury Tor, Grassy Knoll, Growing Up, Human Behaviour, Human Ingenuity, Lateral Thought, Lizard Brain, methods of Doing, My Little Pony, Need States, Roswell, sophistry, Tickle Fights
As I lay on the sun-warmed grass of the south facing slope of Glastonbury Tor something struck me.
My Little Pony. The yellow-maned one. On the side of the head to be precise.
“Tickle Fight! Tickle Fight! Tickle Fight!” The shout went up: auguring another limb flailing biff smash crash guffaw squawk celebrity smack-down between myself, my increasingly physical 9 year old boy and his highly rambunctious six year old sister.
Tickle fight is really just an excuse to roll around on the floor. Not that children need much excuse
They had been repeatedly rolling down the slope further around the Tor from where I lay for a good twenty minutes prior to this point.
My son finds any excuse to drop to the floor and roll around. To be fair they both can find themselves sprawling across the floor at the drop of a well-turned hat.
It is not just a percussive physical strike-force strategy: i.e. hit the floor often and repeat as necessary. It is a happy and safe place for them, lying, sitting, sprawled. The more deconstructed the better.
Both can be found at different times Lying inert: staring into the void beneath the bed, by the sofa, in the hall, half-way up the stairs; usually frozen mid play, off in some other universe of being: or they’re sellotaped to the floor setting up various abstract collections of small figures, bits of plastic, random findings and parts of their parent’s more precious items configured into some form of story to be told: a battle, a fairy tale, a horror show, a chance meeting, the end of the world, cosmic catastrophe.
To be part of the invention or story requires the grown up to a) get over them selves and down on their knees, b) fall forwards onto their stomach and c) get their face into the right universe – the miraculous and magical one that has just been created a few millimetres off the ground. A little like spiritual scuba diving, the wonder in their world is a few atmospheres of imagination below us.
Grown ups know this place. Or we should do.
We once spent hours there: whether the ground in question was covered in carpet, straw, wooden boards, grass, earth, pine needles, gravel or even tarmac. (I remember as a child lying on a tarmac road on a hot day and pressing my face to its surface and using a small pen knife to lever out the small lead balls that had been set into it – miniature cannon balls for later use in some fantastic battle scene.)
It was a place of wonder, the ground; where you could still feel the gravity pull you towards the spinning orb. Where you could turn on your back and watch clouds scud above. Where bugs crept up blades of grass. Small pools of dew and rainwater hid. Where the earth smelt real and close: and yours. You knew where you were when you were on the ground.
Anything could take you there. Sometimes it was dramatic: your body suddenly and brutally pulverized by the imaginary film baddie’s automatic pistol/phaser/laser/RPG, at which point, juddering in percussive stunt man slo-mo fashion we would launch off the edge of the bed to land, in continued fake slo-mo, face crunching, on the ground. To then just lie there because it was quite a nice place to be.
Other reasons for being floor or ground bound?
The turning upside-down while sliding off a bed/bench/swing/wall/step like a slithering lizard, lower body still suspended or supported by the thing one has just slid off while the head shoulders, and most importantly, the face, come to a friction-stop, to end up adhered to the floor or ground beneath.
The siren call of a floor-based feast would signal the gathering of twigs leaves, divots of muddy stuff and strands of grass to be confected into a fresh baked pie or meal laid out in the middle of a damp rain flecked piece of grass or in the cork-muffled floor space under the climbing frame. To be sat around and tuned to perfection.
There’s the rolling-down-grassy-knolls reason of course (the non JFK type – though the presence of two small children flailing around on that one might have led history in a different direction!).
Collapsing modes of expressive dance offers many opportunities for floor bound adventure – where a few random balletic moves deconstruct downwards until the small person slumps to the floor like a pile of dropped clothes. Face pressed against the sprung floor of a dance studio or school gym (a nostril of dusty motes and the faint vibration of the boards is one of the happiest places known to man!).
Or at a really base level, you can’t make all of the subterranean tunnels, underpasses, secret doors and undercrofts required to make a killer sand castle until you get your face in the grains and GET IN!
In short, the thing that crossed my mind (just after the small yellow plastic pony) was the thought (one I have had previously and forgotten about) that the main problem with growing up is perhaps that we do exactly that. We grow up and away from the ground, elevating ourselves out of the rare and other worldly atmospheres of the imagination and the visceral experience of the planet on which we exist to take some higher plane of consciousness. We both intellectually and physically start to ‘get above ourselves’.
In growing up we move up and away from our primal connection to the natural landscapes of the imagination and the storytelling nature inherent in all of us.
Our ability, left to our own devices (and closer to the floor) to create or navigate worlds so real that we could attach quite clear cognitive and social principals to them: develop their cultures, languages and rituals: in ever increasing and ever more complicating detail, was and is for those children still doing it quite astounding.
If we weren’t creating floor-sprawling stories from scratch (which takes on a whole new meaning in this earthy atmosphere), we were navigating and revealing to ourselves the ones that already existed there in front of us: between the bugs and the blades, across the mulch under our nose; in wind as it bumped and popped our ears and rolled the blanket of sunlight backwards and forwards across the grass on the common: and in the sky above us in the shapes of the clouds and the velocity of the rain drops that dropped out of the universe to travel through science fiction to arrive as a fact, splat, on our forehead.
And I wondered what robs us of this facility to look in wonder at the simplest things? What interrupts or obscures our ability to see ‘creatively and inventively’, as a rite of human passage to a better existence or a more enlightened and joyful experience? Especially in the context of improving our immediate existence – in our ability to look at our work – is systems its processes its people and its material self.
What diminishes this almost lizard brain mechansim? Of course life sends us tests and brutal realities that knock the ‘stuffing’ out of us and pop our little balloon. Yes, the cynic must play some part in removing the infantile nature of some of the things we explored as a child. And sticking to a stubbornly naïve and willfully childish perspective (as opposed to child-like one, which we like) only serves to exacerbate the problem with those of us more partial to sharp cornered and wholly reason based perspectives.
But it seems that as some of us become increasingly more ‘grown up’ we become increasingly ‘shut down’ in our liberal creative ‘gut’ abilities – and decreasingly capable of allowing facts and reason and myths and storytelling to exist next to each other without feeling compromised and compelled to ‘choose’.
The rigour of reason and sharp cornered fact is essential in ridding the human race of the kind of voodoo puffery and hocus-pocus to which the more marginalized and frankly dangerous freaks, socio and psychopaths, manipulators, tricksters, megalomaniacs, zealots and fundamentalists flock.
In far more inane terms, frameworks structures and methodologies of Doing are critical to keeping the wheels of human existence turning. But the rote systems that prepare us for participating in their systemic truths are just that.
Systems of Thinking to fit Systems of Doing – manufacturing, trading, building, maintaining, powering, growing, stewarding, managing – allow communities and collectives to be resourceful, resilient, adaptive and endure – a primary imperative
But they are not the source of the wonder of human existence. Human ingenuity, the elevator and slingshot of all we are stems from a curiosity and a wonder of all that exists: both materially, spiritually and inventively: the collision of which creates our sense of What If?
Our frameworks of thriving seem to discount imagination and the storytelling structures it uses to exercise and process cognitive truths as broadly dangerous, fruitless or feckless.
It is as if the cool lucidity of reason can be brutally and eternally extinguished by fairy tales and myths – and anyone partaking of the Kool Aid of lateral creative and deconstructed thinking and any exercises that promote it will be rendered deaf dumb and blind to danger and threat: to risk of any sort; and fail to see the mammoth/meteorite/fight/war/financial-crash/virus coming. Strangely, as I write those out I see that the source and purveyors of most of these bar the mammoth and meteorite are the consequence of wholly sharp cornered reason minded individuals and collectives exercising their needs and desires in the world.
Put some scientists, analysts, mathematicians, engineers in a room with a creative exercise and suddenly we’re all feeling that someone is about to sell us Father Christmas and the Easter Bunny wrapped up in an “I’m a Roswell Believer T Shirt”.
In the hierarchies of need (with which I have been a little loose and free) the engineering mentality of the Surviving With Stickers and Early Thriving stage seems to have overwhelmed our ability to just Be with our most inventive self
BEING – unfettered from burdens – luxury of conscience – What If? – life’s mysteries
Thriving – accruing STUFF, plentiful, stable, secure and expanding life
Surviving With Stickers – stable, secure, comfortable with shiny treats every so often
Surviving – stable secure fixed – a happy grind, power of the collectives
Struggling – unstable, volatile circumstance, financially socially
Flailing & Failing – pick a skip, any skip – includes ‘Scraping’ – the bottom of the barrel – and reaching up to do it: the relegation zone of existence. Struggling to fulfil basic needs – food, warmth, safety.
Sometimes, when running creative exercises in workshops specifically designed to unlock the more lateral out of the ordinary parts of a person’s brain (a part that they most patently have) it is astonishing to find how many supposedly confident and rooted adults are so easily made to feel unsteady and uncertain – and not just as part of the exercise. Even though everyone knows that they will return in a matter of hours to the very narrow channels in which to reapply the relative rigour and specificity they need to do their job successfully, even a small number of hours applied to deconstructing the frameworks they know seems to leave them terrified that the process will render them a useless engine, unfit to ever apply the strictures and applications of the more engineered mind ever again.
If we had dressed grown men in a Floral Shift Dress and 1970s Cork Wedges with Roman sandal ties they would have probably felt more comfortable than they did when asked to undertake the simple act of thinking What If? for 3-4 hours (though that may say more about the latent joy the average professional UK male finds in the ‘cross-dressing up box’ than it does about their ability to unlock their lateral creative gene without a fixed outcome to aim for).
Sadly I sense that it would just be seen as some retrograde hippy exercise but I would love to just once take every super C Suite member of the Private Sector and ask them lie on the ground for an hour (the type of which they can choose of course and face down or up is up to them) and then ask them to write a short ‘ what on earth…?’ piece where they have to relate their time on the ground to some aspect of the business they run.
What on Earth does lying on the bloody floor have to do with my business? Exactly.
I feel that perhaps, in getting closer to the ground is a good thing: not because it allows us to act like a 6 year old (though to be frank I’ve seen some supposedly grown up masters of the universe types or ‘heavy-hitters’ demonstrate behaviour that make my 6 year old daughter look positively sage-like, balanced and calm).
But because it does exactly what the phrase says on the tin: it grounds us. Takes us to a simple point of interrelation, perspective and interpretation. It is hard to maintain the toxic affectations of grandeur and status while lying on the ground. The values and behaviours set alters.
Humility becomes primary: prostrate, genuflective.
Connectedness is mandatory: because more of you is in touch with the living floor of the planet on which we live.
Calm is compulsive: lie down on the floor and see how fast you decompress. It’s measurable – a flashback perhaps to the time at the end of PE at primary school where everyone lay on the floor (long before the ‘stretching’ cool down was fashionable) to just calm down after all that running about.
Consideration becomes reflex: surprising what fills your mind when all the other junk gets pushed out of the way by the smell of grass or the dusty floorboards of an exercise room.
In much the same way that we are apparently far healthier in our minds when undertaking manual constructive and generative tasks – from gardening to DIY to dry-stone walling, I feel we also become far healthier in our minds with a little ‘floor action’.
Getting ground-bound is something I would suggest we all do every now and then, not because it makes us infantile or regress to some ‘creatively compelling’ state of deconstructed dribbling being, but because it reopens some of doors that are of enormous value to our cognitive and effective states of being.
And also a change is as good as a rest.
In the same way that an ascent to stand on a desk to the chant of ‘Captain My Captain’ compelled the schoolboy characters in Dead Poets Society to change their perspective – their way of seeing – by elevating it: I would suggest for Newtonian balance that the same is true for the ground. With stickers.
As unlike its loftier cousin ‘all the way up there’, the ground down here doesn’t just connect us to a different vantage point.
I believe it also connects us to a part of ourselves and our latent social and individual memory that we tend to keep filed away or have perhaps forgotten.
So Double Bubble.
There is something poetic (both spiritually and literally) about how sounds travel through the ground. From the imperceptible nature of the earth turning to bigger things like passing lorries on a motorway, the coming storm of the buffalo, the District & Circle Line.
So lets hear it for the floor, and our connection to it. If it ensures that we ‘get over ourselves’ for ten seconds and catch ‘the elevator down’ from ‘above’ ourselves all power to it.
It might also just be the most powerful HR weapon in the armoury of reinventing C Suite propensities for invention.
Or just be a tickle fight. In which case. Who cares?