Community, Inspirational things to do, Interview | 15 December 2021
Taking the time to slow down with Street Wisdom.
We’re a creative team at Kiss House and find inspiration everywhere.
With a lot to do, time can feel like a luxury we’d like more of, this means ways of unlocking greater creativity that can be used alongside busy schedules have great appeal. Enter Street Wisdom…
Modern life is such that at times we find ourselves overloaded with things to do, and without enough time to pause for thought. Technology in the home can save us time but it can also disconnect us from the simple things in life, like cooking and eating together. So much is built for speed.
In an article entitled “Making a connection,” The Slow Movement state, “who would complain about vacuum cleaners and electric stoves, but have these technologies really given us more time to enjoy life? We rush our food, our family time and even our recreation.”
What if we made the most of the extra time our appliances and devices could give us? What if we took that time to slow down and take notice of our surroundings and the spaces around us? Would we be more inspired and have enhanced creative thinking?
We explore why it can be so hard to slow down, plus what influences our current social attitude towards switching off and its impact on our ability to think creatively. We then speak to Street Wisdom founder David Pearl, whose community organisation aims to slow us down, help us live better and enable us to realise that “there is such a thing as good slow” as Carl Honoré suggests in his Ted Talk, “Praise of slowness.”
We live in an always-on society. We are now always contactable, pressured to appear constantly active on social media, and with home working becoming increasingly popular following the Covid pandemic, the ability to separate home and work life is becoming harder. As Finlay Haswell, physiologist at AXA PPP healthcare puts it, “the world we live in is hyper-stimulating and distracting.” Finlay Haswell asks, “have you noticed that our best ideas often come while we’re out walking, cooking or in the shower? This is because during these periods of downtime a different part of our brain is allowed to work so it’s certainly worth noting how you feel when you give yourself time to switch off.”
Yet as Carl Honoré noted “slow is a dirty word in our culture. It’s a by-word for lazy, slacker, or being someone who gives up.” Add to this the findings of studies such as “Conspicuous consumption of time: when busyness and lack of leisure time become a status symbol,” by Silvia Bellezza, which suggests that culturally we equate busyness to importance, and the result is that we are often too scared to stop!
“Who would complain about vacuum cleaners and electric stoves, but have these technologies really given us more time to enjoy life? We rush our food, our family time and even our recreation.”
The Slow Movement
The idea of busy equalling important is heightened by the media we consume. By celebrities publicly complaining about “having no life” or “being in desperate need of a vacation,” as referenced by Henry Alford in his New York Times article, “If I do humblebrag so myself.” Finlay Haswell believes that exposure to this creates an environment that brings a “constant pressure to make more money, be fitter, more productive.”
Evidence suggests however that the reality of this busy culture is that it destroys productivity, pulls us away from deeper relationships, and is a potent cause of stress and therefore a key contributor to poor health, according to an ideas42 study cited in the Harvard Business Review.
Claudio Zanet, marriage and family therapist and co-founder of 360 Relationship in San Francisco says in his Physchcentral blog, “many of my clients have integrated being always on into their defence structure. It’s a tool to protect themselves from difficult feelings, and it has tremendous value to them in their lives.” This is explored by Tim Kreider, in his New York Times article, “Busy Trap” who says it isn’t “generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the I.C.U… who tell you how busy they are… it’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily.” He goes on to suggest that these people are keeping busy, “because of their own ambition or anxiety. They’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.”
As Carl Honoré continues in his Ted Talk, “in this head long dash of daily life, we lose sight of the damage that this roadrunner form of living does to us.” The strategy of keeping busy runs its course when individuals start experiencing anxiety, stress, or depression.
Never fear — this picture is not all one of doom and gloom, we can learn how to switch off, step off the treadmill of life and create space for thinking, being, and doing nothing rather than doing it all even in the middle of a busy day. We don’t need to be off-grid or to create special surroundings, we just need to know how, and it isn’t complicated.
There is a perception that if you want to connect to nature, you must be in a rural setting. Kensho Life discuss this in their article “Connect with your surroundings,” saying “it’s easy to connect with singing birds in the middle of the forest, but connecting to the fumes, traffic and hordes of people in a city can be a real challenge, and it probably requires a bit more effort.” However, they go on to outline a simple practice, “while you are on a regular routine (e.g. daily commute), you make a conscious choice to pause, notice and observe around you with an open and non-judging curiosity: people, architecture, ads, shops, street-art, spaces, whatever surviving bit of nature you can find… Allow yourself to discover and be immersed in the magic and richness of the mundane.”
“Make a conscious choice to pause, notice and observe around you with an open and non-judging curiosity...Allow yourself to discover and be immersed in the magic and richness of the mundane”
Organisations like Street Wisdom are dedicated to bringing this knowledge to a wide audience — which is a relief, as according to “Global change and the ecology of cities, published in the journal Science, “more than half of the world’s human population is now living in cities.” It can’t be denied, that although these urban areas have many positives — more employment, better education opportunities, higher incomes, and better health care access, they can be isolating, overwhelming, and thus increase our inability to switch off.
It is a fact that we often seek to tackle isolation and overwhelm with technology, creating connections to others through screens instead of reality, and in turn exacerbating the fact that we are “always on.” Our reliance on online communities and social networks can affect our relationship with the physical world around us. In “How to make the most out of your urban environment,” FlashPack argue that “by seeking refuge in the controlled safety of our virtual worlds, we lose our connection with the cityscape itself.”
Therefore, eschewing this trend by connecting with our urban environment can boost our mental awareness and presence of mind. Perhaps the antidote to all the rushing and anxiety lies in exploring our city and streets at a slow pace and creating deeper more meaningful connections to our urban environment. Honoré, says that “by slowing down at the right moments, people find that they do everything better… they live better.”
With all of this in mind, we were delighted to be introduced to “Street Wisdom” in two recent team sessions, with coach Kate Southerby of I Am Me Coaching. Our team was so impressed by the sessions, how they made us feel and the conversations that resulted from them, that we decided to track down Street Wisdom founder David Pearl to interview him.
After spending years exploring how our urban environment can deliver fresh insight, David set up Street Wisdom to help others connect more with their environment and to find wonder in the everyday. David describes Street Wisdom as “a dynamic mix of psychology, creativity, mindfulness and cognitive science,” and explains that it ”is based on the simple idea that wisdom is available at all times when we know how to look.”
We wanted to find out more about how taking to our city streets can teach us to fight the constant desire to be busy and help us to stop, plus how to take a more time to gain inspiration from our surroundings.
Here is our interview.
Tell us about Street Wisdom
Street Wisdom is an everyday, creative practice you can use as you walk. A smart fusion of mindfulness, neuroscience, and wellness, it unlocks your mind and unblocks your creativity with every step. Suddenly, every street is full of inspiration. Whatever your questions, you find answers are everywhere. We run WalkShops and offer free resources to help people use Street Wisdom as part of an everyday practice.
How did Street Wisdom become what you do?
To be honest I think it came gradually in the course of my work as an innovator with businesses all over the world. I saw people getting stressed and struggling to be creative and sort problems at their desks. Yet when we get them out onto the street and wandering their way around problems, answers seem to come easily. If you’re looking for that special thing, the thing that is your path through life, you’re unlikely to find it by marching along, following in a straight line with everyone else. What Street Wisdom does is it wakes up a kind of navigation system that we’ve all got on board, so that you can wander and find what it is you’re looking for.
“What Street Wisdom does is it wakes up a kind of navigation system that we’ve all got on board, so that you can wander and find what it is you’re looking for.”
How did Street Wisdom begin and how has it evolved?
The first Street Wisdom WalkShop began in Covent Garden in 2011. We had no idea how it would evolve but through a network of passionate and inspiring volunteers, we are now in 80 something countries and counting.
What are your personal values and how do they affect how you lead Street Wisdom?
Creativity and love are probably my main values. I think that means leading “from the side not the top,” not seeking to impose my view but instead being open to what wants to happen. Also love, because that’s what the world needs now, right?
How has Street Wisdom enhanced your own life?
Street Wisdom keeps me connected to daily magic. It reminds me that wonder is always available if you are willing to look.
“Street Wisdom keeps me connected to daily magic. It reminds me that wonder is always available if you are willing to look.”
What matters most to you and your team at Street Wisdom and why?
I’m an optimist, but I describe myself as an optimist that worries a lot, and frankly, when I look around the world, I know I am not alone in this. I have found myself thinking we’re all better than this. Street Wisdom helps people make better decisions. We all know there are better ways we could be living and working. Better for our wellbeing, for our loved ones, our organisations, our communities, and our planet. Street Wisdom gives people the time to think about those important questions and inspires answers.
What gives you creative energy?
My family, of course. And frustration. We are better than this.
How does your work speak to our deepest needs and what do you think Street Wisdom is uniquely able to deliver?
We like to say it helps people find the wonder in the everyday, every day. We don’t all have the inclination to meditate, so instead of flying to exotic climates for retreats and static meditation, we help people find the delight in their everyday lives. It’s like a treasure hunt for joy, it’s all around us, if only we paid attention.
Street Wisdom gives people the chance to go off the beaten track. We are all so busy rushing from A to B that we miss the delicious opportunities in life’s side roads. It helps people to wander where they need to go and makes cities more liveable and loveable.
“It’s like a treasure hunt for joy, it’s all around us, if only we paid attention.”
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
If you are spending time getting annoyed or worried, you have forgotten you’re not going to live forever.
What are some of the greatest insights that people practicing Street Wisdom have shared?
One of our volunteer facilitators said recently, “the thing I love about Street Wisdom is that everyone always has an experience, and you can’t say that very often.” I think that’s true; we have heard the most incredible synchronicities. People bump into old school friends they’ve not seen for years, are given some advice from a stranger, notice things they’ve never seen on roads they walk every day. It’s just incredible what happens when we’re tuned in.
“If you are spending time getting annoyed or worried, you have forgotten you’re not going to live forever. ”
How can finding wisdom from the streets impact us?
It connects people with their innate creativity in a delightful and different way. It makes creativity available anywhere, anytime. It’s like uncovering a new search engine. Once you’ve learned the techniques, you can use them whenever you need some fresh answers. It is also about using our embodied intelligence when we think of making decisions. We often think it’s our brains that make those decisions, but scientists now recognise that thinking happens throughout the body. Street Wisdom wakes up our internal navigation systems.
What has been the greatest challenge Street Wisdom has faced?
We thought that lockdown was going to make Street Wisdom impossible, after all our WalkShops are based out on the streets. But of course, the streets were empty. I ran an Online WalkShop to connect our global community, we played around with some exercises that could be done from home (think Bookshelf Wisdom). Taking our WalkShops online unlocked so many exciting opportunities. It somehow evolved into a weekly gathering with hundreds of people from around the world. It was just joyful to bring together strangers from Bogota and Bognor Regis, during a global pandemic. Volunteers had led WalkShops in over 80 countries around the world and suddenly we were connecting directly with this community.
“It makes creativity available anywhere, anytime. It’s like uncovering a new search engine. ”
What role does your home play in your creative process and how did being at home during lockdown affect you?
I used to travel the world constantly but over lockdown my home has become my base, my studio, my nest. I have put more energy into the house and the garden than ever before. It sounds odd but now I feel more at home, at home.
I have converted (stolen) my wife’s office into a music room / studio. It is now where most of the questions arise and some of the answers. When I get stuck, I go out into the street.
“We believe that the future depends on the one million small choices we are all making day to day. ”
As a global organisation, how do you encourage collaboration between groups in different countries?
We’ve continued running online events. These monthly online WalkShops invite our community from around the world to gather and dive a bit deeper into Street Wisdom now include special guests.
We also have an audio guide that enables people to take part from their smartphone whenever and wherever. We found this increasingly popular over lockdown and so have created a series of five audio tracks that can be weaved into a daily routine. They are short exercises that collectively make the Street Wisdom experience. The audio tracks are step one and done alone; a way to continue exploring with likeminded folk from around the world. People take part on video and show us where they’re wandering. It’s a delightful way to connect at a distance.
You can also stream them for free on Spotify here on your way to the shops, waiting for a train etc.
What’s your vision for the future of Street Wisdom?
Our mission is to bring inspiration to every street around the world. We’re translating our audio tracks into different languages to make Street Wisdom reach more people and help those people to find better ways. We’re at a unique moment in history where the choices we make could have an existential impact on our future journey. We believe that the future depends on the one million small choices we are all making day to day.
Street Wisdom have recently produced a film all about story-telling and inspiring stories of hope to inspire change and action, a change from the stories of despair that seemingly surround us in the media.
Their film highlights many people, including women and indigenous leaders, who were not represented at COP26, yet hold some great answers to the solution for change.
It’s a really inspiring watch and we really enjoyed watching it. We hope you do too.
Thanks to David for sharing his insights with me. I hope you feel encouraged to get out into your streets and to ask them for answers. I despite some initial hesitance, am a total convert having got so much out of the two sessions the Kiss House team took part in. I can hand on heart say that they resulted in me asking questions I wasn’t even aware I had and finding answers to them. The result being I felt like a achieved a kind of reset and creative boost. Go ahead and try it…