It takes something special to get me back into our capital city at 9.15am on a Saturday. But this weekend I ticked a little box on the long-term to do list.
Three or four years ago now I remember reading blog posts from some HR peeps I know in the UK who had taken part in something called Street Wisdom. I was intrigued by the premise of finding answers to big questions “on the streets” but largely forgot about it until a chance discussion with a new client earlier this year about mindful practices had me Googling for more info.
At the centre of Street Wisdom lies the idea that every moment is extraordinary and every street is full of inspiration – that there’s no such thing as an ordinary street, just ordinary thinking. Now I know that sounds incredibly wanky but trust me. Stick with me here.
You see, the beauty of Street Wisdom is that anyone can run it. The guys in the UK who developed the concept made it open source and free to use – and therefore free to attend! So while I discovered it had been run in New Zealand once or twice, it was not a regular event here and I figured if I wanted to experience it for myself I would have to make it happen. But the problem was that I wanted to experience it as a participant not run it!
And so it was that under the guidance of our Street Leader (or Street Wizard), the wonderful Alyson Garrido who I had somehow coerced into picking up the idea and running with it, sixteen of us gathered in the CBD intrigued, excited and not a little nervous. And the sun shone for us after two grey, wet days.
After the briefest of intros we were off and running. Street Wisdom takes place in three parts. First, Alyson sent us off on our own to tune up our senses. These were a series of ten minute exercises that filled the first hour as we were invited to walk to a part of the city we were most attracted to. The next instruction was to SLOW RIGHT DOWN – walking, breathing, eye movement. This was the most profound part of the morning for me. I’m a fast walker. I get from A to B as quickly as my legs will take me. Now I had nowhere particular to go and no reason to hurry. Suddenly the buzz of open doorways in shops and cafes consumed me, the smells of coffee, food, noticing people and places. I started to see beauty where I hadn’t noticed it before – beauty in street art, architecture, symmetry, small details on the tops of buildings, the rich spring colours all around me.
Next we were instructed to sense the story, to see our surroundings as an unfolding narrative and notice how people and events relate to one another. I found this part a little hard to be honest, but wandering along a largely deserted laneway, I found myself being drawn to the history of the buildings – real and imagined.
Finally, we were asked to see the beauty in everything. This wasn’t hard at all. I had been taking photos of everything interesting I saw on the way because I’m just used to doing that (all of the photos here I took on the day).
The group then gathered together to compare notes before we were sent off for the final hour to fulfil our own individual mission, our street quest – where you ask a question of yourself and see what answers present themselves. Again, you might be thinking “he’s gone all new age and lost the plot.” But trust me when I say how amazing an ordinary street can become when you’re really aware of those hidden messages, chance meetings and unexpected discoveries.
At the end of it all I think everyone found it both an eye opening and fulfilling experience. For me personally, I achieved absolute clarity about something I’ve been grappling with for a year or two and not made any progress with. I’ve now got a plan, know what I want to achieve and the motivation to make it happen.
If you are looking for something a little different to spark your own or your team’s thinking, then I absolutely recommend Street Wisdom.
Massive, massive thanks to Alyson for putting this together and leading us through the experience with skill, warmth, humour and donuts. If you are based in Wellington, contact Alyson directly via her website if you want to know about future Street Wisdom events in the capital or fancy running one yourself.