What noises could you hear while you were stood on the train platform this morning? Who was standing next to you on the tube? Can you describe the architecture of the building you work in?
As we scurry along the street, most of us have got two things in mind – our destination and whatever we’re looking at on our smartphone.
But one man thinks if we slow down and take in our surroundings, we’ll speed up our brain with a healthy dose of inspiration.
Social artist David Pearl runs Street Wisdom – a non-profit organisation helping people to be more mindful of the world around them.
“The idea of Street Wisdom really started years ago in a traffic jam in Kentish Town,” says Pearl.
“I was stuck on a bus between sweating commuters hating my life when suddenly it occurred to me – imagine I was dead and I was offered a minute of extra life right here on the bus. I wouldn’t spend those 60 seconds moaning. I’d drink in every miraculous, mysterious magical detail. Including the sweat.
“That thought kicked off years of experimenting with techniques to get more present in the everyday routine.”
That experimentation led to Street Wisdom, which Pearl now runs along with friend Chris Barez-Brown.
The three-hour-long Street Wisdom inspiration workshop is split into three sections.
The first is a discussion designed to help people tune into their senses and pick up more information than they would normally register.
Then, attendees are asked to think of a question and go out onto the street and see who or what can answer it.
“Inspiration comes from everywhere and you connect things you wouldn’t normally. It’s like breaking a code. The street really starts to speak to you.
“It’s amazing how often people bump into strangers that are exactly the right person for them to be speaking to,” Pearl says.
Finally, in phase three, participants get back together to share what happened and what they learned from the experience.
Pearl previously worked in the arts industry, in theatre, opera and TV, but became interested in the concept of mindfulness at a young age.
“I suppose it really started the day my brother got knocked over in front of me when we were kids,” he says.
“Okay, it wasn’t a great day, but it did teach me the lesson that reality can be turned upside down in a moment.
“There is no such thing as an ordinary day. Extraordinary things are happening all around us all the time, if we look. Ever since, I have been looking out for unexpected – good and bad.”
Pearl believes Street Wisdom can help people place mindfulness over commercialism.
He says education (with painful tuition fees and student loans) is becoming more and more commercialised, but Street Wisdom seeks to show you don’t have to pay to learn, you just have to pay attention.
“Also, you only have to see those Black Friday scenes of rioting shoppers to know we’re becoming dangerously over-commercialised,” he says.
“We’re losing the plot – battling each other for stuff we don’t need and often can’t afford. Street Wisdom says lets use the streets not just for shopping, but for learning.”
We all know how manic December can be, with gifts to buy, work to finish and parties to, well, party at.
Thankfully Pearl says mindfulness doesn’t mean “being a hermit and drinking rainwater” – instead, it’s about being present in all the noise and enjoying the little things.
For those of us struggling with mindfulness over the festive period, Street Wisdom has created Winter Wander-land – a series of SMS instructions sent to your phone, one a day from 1 – 25 December.
Each SMS will contain a simple challenge for participants to try on the street. They only take a few minutes but “build up into a real adventure.”
“When you really appreciate the small stuff, there’s less need for excess,” Pearl says. “Maybe a great December isn’t about the presents, but the presence.”
To sign up for Winter Wander-land visit streetwisdom.org/winter-wander-land/.