28/11/2014 04:30 GMT | Updated 27/01/2015 05:59 GMT

How to Turn Mindless Shop-Fest Into Mindful Adventure


"Every day", writes Tich Nhat Hanh, "we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognise".

Love the quotation. And the aspiration.

But it's tough to connect with the miraculous when you're battling through streets crammed with shoppers, dodging traffic, crowded subways. Especially as the stuffocating spend-fest of Christmas approaches. It's no wonder we head for the hills in search of peace.

Are the wide open spaces of Nature intrinsically more inspiring than urban landscape? No doubt Machu Pichu, the Himalayas and the Okavango are uplifting but they're also thousands of expensive, carbon-spewing miles away. Can't we find the miraculous on our own doorstep? Afterall, cities are where we humans increasingly live. A good thing, too, if we are to concentrate our resources and control our planetary sprawl. But does that mean we metropolitans are cut off from the majestic? Where's the everyday magic for us Muggles?

At Street Wisdom we say it's right in front of your nose. On the streets.

This is not a totally new idea. The flâneur (literally 'stroller') movement that sprang up in 19th century France luxuriated in the textures of the industrialised city, seeing it as a moving photograph ("un daguerréotype mobile et passioné") of human experience. 'Street connoisseurs' like Charles Baudelaire revelled in the din we now dismiss as background noise: "the lover of universal life enters into the crowd as though it were an immense reservoir of electrical energy".

Sound like your daily urban experience? Er - probably not.

For most of us, the street is just something to rush through, head down, on our way to or from work; plugged into our devices, dodging those pesky charity collectors, absorbed in our thoughts. What if we looked up and out? What if inspiration was all around us and we didn't realise it. What if there was no such thing as an ordinary street, just ordinary thinking?

Those questions are the inspiration behind Street Wisdom, the non-profit social start-up I founded with Chris Barez-Brown (of Upping Your Elvis) last year. It's a radically simple, street-based workshop that turns the ordinary city street into a place of extraordinary learning. Free.

Walking Wisdom

"Great works are often born on a street corner" - Camus

"All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking"- Neitzche

"I can meditate only when I am walking. My mind works only with my legs" - Rousseau

How does it work? You tune up your senses so you are way more sensitive to what's happening around you. You think of a question you'd like a fresh answer to. And then you wander and see what answers the streets - and the people you meet on them - offer you. Finally participants get together to share what happened and what they learned. It's so simple, we can't really believe how powerful it has become.

In just three hours people have resolved problems dogging them for years, found new business ideas, changed careers, found new direction, learned how to deal differently with life and loving, debts and dying. It's turning out to be equally applicable to work and private life, with businesses like Google and the FT waking up to the possibilities of an untapped inspirational tool right on their own doorsteps.

In these days of increasingly commercialised education, this is a disruptive form of learning where you don't pay fees, you pay attention. We've conceived it on shareware lines. Once you've had the Street Wisdom experience you are eligible to run your own. All we ask is that participants share stories of their experience to encourage and inspire others.

Because of its DIY nature, Street Wisdom events are springing up all over the UK (London, Brighton, Leeds, Sheffield...) as well as overseas cities like San Francisco, Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam, Tel Aviv, Chicago, Sofia and Los Angeles.

And Dec 1 sees the launch of a new SMS-based program that's designed to turn that normal December crescendo of last minute work, office parties, shopping and mince pies into a 25 day adventure of mindfulness and miracles.

We're calling it the Winter Wander-land (see what we did there?). And it's open to everyone with a UK mobile phone. There's no charge - though donations very welcome.

If you fancy some Christmas presence amid all the Xmas presents, give it a try. Looking at the rest of Huff Post today, we can all agree the world needs more wisdom. And maybe that starts outside your door.

David Pearl is Managing Partner of Pearl Group

Main image: shutterstock