Last Thursday, I spent three hours exploring the Northern Quarter in Manchester as part of a 'Street Wisdom' event. I had heard about this event whilst booking a place at The Mindful Living Show and booked the morning off work, eager to explore what the streets had to offer me. I resisted my usual urge to read as much information as possible about the event to try and keep an open mind and a more natural curiosity to discover how to use the 'streets as my university.'
As I'm sure is the case for a lot of people, having three full hours of doing something entirely for myself is not part of my normal daily narrative. Having my phone switched off (or more accurately on airplane mode so I could capture some of my experience through photos) is normally only something I do during solo cinema trips where the plan is to immerse myself in someone else's world for an hour or two in order to escape from my own. This time, I not only had the added benefit of being outside, but walking around very familiar surroundings that offered up so much new information to me - even though I visit the Northern Quarters shops and bars on a weekly basis, I realised that I had never really looked at what was all around me. I was naturally drawn to the older buildings and red brick structures but fascinated by the changing landscape and themes of decay, regeneration and new growth that was evident all around.
I find 'mindfulness' by itself quite difficult as I can't seem to quiet my mind or resist the urge to check my watch or wander away from the breath and the body. I like to find stillness but find quiet by itself too distracting. I usually find it much easier to combine my more reflective 'meditating' with a more physical experience such as during my yoga practice or a trip to my allotment. Street Wisdom gave me an opportunity to be really mindful of my experience, my feelings and myself in combination with a physical activity (walking) but within a more vibrant and stimulating environment than I have previously been able to overcome.
I came to the experience with a question in mind about the direction of my future career and left with an answer (quite literally - I discovered an advert for a workshop entitled 'Don't give up the day job'!), a clear mind thanks to the meditation provided by Breathworks at Manchester Buddhist Centre, and some really positive reflections on the experience. Doing this as a solo adventure but with group reflections allowed me to also learn from the experiences of my peers - most notably the idea that doing nothing can be as good for the soul as doing something.
Street Wisdom was an absolute treat for the mind, body and soul that left me thinking about it for days. It came as no surprise to me when I saw this study from America which found that after a lesson in nature, teachers were able to teach for almost twice as long without having to interrupt instruction to redirect students' attention - I found an increase in my concentration and engagement levels for the rest of the day back at the office. I am planning to facilitate my own 'Street Wisdom' event in the near future and can't wait to share the simple power of the environment as a mindful problem solving process.
To find out more, or to book yourself on to an event (go on - do it!) visit http://www.streetwisdom.org