One crisp Saturday morning twenty-one intrepid individuals and Dillon the 3-year old Bassett Hound, met for the second “Street Wisdom” event to be organised at the Cheese and Grain in Frome, Somerset. Brett Sadler, Dave Wiles and Keith Harrison Broninski our designated “Street Wizards” expertly navigated us through an initial “tune in”, the main “Quest”, then final group reflections.
Street Wisdom is the brain child of David Pearl, an innovator who works in business, the arts and social change with a connection to the RSA (shorted for Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce). The three-hour experience coined “walking-based problem solving” is a mix of psychology, mindfulness and cognitive science where individuals and organisations are provided the skills to see the urban environment in a new way, ask a question and use the answers they discover to unlock fresh thinking.
TUNING IN – AWAKENING YOUR INNER COMPASS
During the first hour, four distinctive mindfulness based exercises served to focus our minds before the main quest unfurled.
#1 WHAT ATTRACTS YOU?
My Observations: The languid flowing waters of the River Frome that lazily snakes past the car park caught my attention. Looking closer, eight suspended white, green and red striped plastic canoe slalom gates gently blowing in the breeze draws my mind to our journey through life. The metaphor develops further in my mind as I attach meaning to each individual gate; our future decisions and actions that are perceived “successful”, “right” or “wrong” against our current conventional social and cultural norms. By looking beyond this pre-designed path, a world of possibility exists. This vision links to wider thoughts and feelings of creativity, freedom and innovation but underpinned by risk and a deep-rooted fear.
#2 SLOW DOWN
Physically savour inhaling and exhaling each breath; take a step and perceive how your muscles shift and flex to accept your body weight.
Mentally calm your cycle of thoughts, feelings and judgements.
My Observations: Turning and taking six considered steps from our meeting point; time slows down as I immerse myself in the richness of the surrounding micro-environment. Breathing deeply, the cool autumnal air seeps deep into my chest between thick padded layers. Capturing a few words on the blank crisp white page of my notebook, I gaze at the empty void waiting to be filled with ideas translated from my inner self. I purposely pause to watch the grey pencil lead form patterns and swirls, and contemplate how my written English would only be discernable to a relatively small portion of the world. A single strand of my hair falls on the page turning blonde, rust, red and back again as the sunlight ripples through.
#3 OBSERVE PATTERNS
Notice the connections, configurations and relationships that exist between the physical objects, shapes and outlines present within the urban environment.
My Observations: My eyes are drawn to the distinct linear patterns that cut through the urban environment; the neat metal railings standing tall, positioned equidistant to each other stretching alongside the pavement with the sharp angular defined lattice of the paving stones. Each one the same size and shape; yet unique. I consider how as an individual person, particular patterns have played out across my life.
The unconscious minds constantly receive, categorise and assign order to a seemingly endless bombardment of information on our senses. Our human default setting mode automatically interprets everything around us, informs how we make meaning and recognises our place within the bigger picture. This information is organised into patterns through our language, decisions, behaviour and relationships, which play out again and again across our work and lives; often beyond our self-awareness. The ability to recognise when you’re simply repeating history and clearly discern your own patterns of behaviour by taking an external perspective is enlightening.
#4 SEE BEAUTY IN EVERYTHING
My Observations: A wry smile passes my lips as a particular memory flashes back to an iconic moment in cinematic history. In the film American Beauty, the beauty in everything is captured by the image of a white plastic bag blowing in the wind. I’d unwittingly caught a glimpse of this beauty in my surroundings during the previous three exercises. The exquisite splendour of the final stages of autumn; an inevitable part of the life cycle as death and destruction makes way for new life.
My resident inner coach makes an unprompted connection to my business and fires question after question:
What is it time to let go?
What needs to hibernate or die*?
Where do my energy/time/creativity/financial assets need to be invested to support these aspirations?
* Please note, this is from a metaphorical not literal perspective and links to particular projects or business development ideas.
Sufficiently “tuned in” to the surrounding urban environment, our facilitator channelled our attention to the main focus. Individual quests ranged from fully formed, precise questions to more vague and notional concepts; the transition into retirement, an exploration into possible questions and methodologies for PhD research, the unseen changes in society, how to stop the endless flow of life, and my own mission around “creating space” across work and life. After being granted the freedom to explore Frome for an entire hour everyone scattered in different directions. The remit to simply be fully present; and notice what captured your attention.
I pause to contemplate the vast swathes of clear, blue sky that stretches seemingly to infinity. The infinite expanse of time and space flitters across my mind; that contrasts with my desire to plan, control and fill each waking moment. This engrained habit unsurprisingly consigns spontaneity and impulsiveness to the edges.
How do you find space inside?
When my internal rhetoric occasionally fades to silence, my deeper authentic creative qualities are granted permission to flourish. I’ve recently adopted the practice of scheduling “NOTHING” highlighted in bold, capital letters my diary; ironically these periods of time and space are again and again the most innovative and resourceful periods of my week. Something always yields from nothing.
Wandering through the central shopping centre I consciously ease back from my usual brisk stride. Casting my eyes upwards, I trace the linear silhouette of painted brickwork set against a radiant cobalt sky. Positioned centre stage, a clock face with no arms tells no time; the perfect visual metaphor to capture the essence of my quest.
The bitter cold seeps through my boots and urges me to seek shelter inside. The River House café provides a welcome oasis of warmth encapsulated within the poignant framed quote “There’s always time for tea”. I automatically reach for my iPhone; this habitual response is commonly triggered when any brief window of opportunity appears; snatching a quick social media fix waiting for the tube, the kettle to boil or my husband to get ready. This time I resist the urge, lift my head and open my senses to soak up the atmosphere. The deep rich undertones of freshly ground coffee beans, the measured movements of the talented barista as he expertly crafts my flat white; and a group of friends huddled over piled plates of poached eggs on sour dough and sweetcorn fritters topped with avocado, the friends fully immersed in conversation.
Back outside, my pace slows even further as I luxuriate in the present. I aimlessly wander under stone archways and ramble down cobbled streets. After granting myself permission to slow down and let go; my quest to create space is realised for a brief, fleeting interlude. This transitory insight offers a short glimpse of possibility and creativity, that lies beyond our insatiable thirst for distraction and perpetual busy-ness to let time, space and energy unfold in each day rather than react to the external forces.
The clock struck one and everyone reconvenes at the Grain and Cheese to share insights, discoveries and revelations. This open forum offers the chance to glimpse inside others’ minds, connect your inner quest back to a wider reality and harness the collective creative capital of the group. Each member systematically took their turn to impart an abridged version of their experience illustrated with vivid descriptive images, their internal interpretation and final conclusions to take away.
“I didn’t find an answer. More a stepping stone”
“It’s given me a metaphorical kick up the arse”
“I realised I don’t need to travel to Tibet. The answers are around us here”
“Shut up & listen”
Several weeks later, re-reading through my notes and pondering over individual words to build into sentences, my mind drifts back to the underpinning theme of connectivity that emerged. Making time to connect with yourself; then one other. Several participants had revealed their enchantment by the bare, naked autumnal trees whose branches framed the sky. The conversation naturaly shifted to the unseen, underground root network through which individual trees connect and communicate. In an example of classic serendipity, I’m tucked away in the corner of Moody café in Chamonix, surrounded by the black silhouette of trees set against a deep orange sunset. A reminder of our inherent individualism and desire for connection.
If you’re interested to head outdoors on your own “Quest” and experience Street Wisdom find an event near you or discover more:
David Pearl: https://davidpearl.net
Street Wisdom: www.streetwisdom.org
Street Wisdom Frome Facebook Group: www.facebook.com/RSAFrome
This post is part of the “MOVE” blog series pulling together ideas and concepts from evidence-based research from the disciplines of neuroscience, mindfulness, positive psychology, cognitive behaviour and ancient historic traditions; combined with my professional and personal experiences. The overall aim of this series is to encourage people to make the first step and take conversations outdoors.