A trunkful of insights

By Bryony Taylor

What I know now is that it is very nearly as energising to facilitate a Street Wisdom event as it is to participate in one.

Yesterday I met with seven willing participants in beautiful Leamington Spa for my first experience as a volunteer Street Star. The group were amazing – one of my biggest takeaways from the event is that the power of Street Wisdom sits very firmly with the participants.

Leamington Spa is famous for its Victorian elephant trainer, Sam Lockhart, and his troupe of elephants (known as the three graces) – Wilhemina, Haddie and Trilby. The elephant theme is prevalent in the town and came to the fore several times during the afternoon. I have David Pearl’s twitter punning mastery to thank for the title of this story.

Using the elephant statues as our base we worked through the tuning in exercises. My group really engaged in the exercises and we had examples of every sense being used:

  • One participant commented on observing an act of beauty when she saw a man running down the street after a homeless chap to give him some change
  • One commented that she was aware of hearing snippets of conversation through slowing down her own movement through the streets
  • Another noticed walking by two people who smelt delicious!
  • Another felt drawn to stroke the metallic elephant statues and observed that one looked as though it had been touched/ climbed on less than the other two
  • And finally, one participant treated herself to a mindful cake while tuning in – it seemed to work for her.

An interesting observation at this point was the group noticing the responses of other people when they had slowed themselves down. More than one commented on other people smiling at them but were unsure whether this was in response to them appearing more relaxed themselves, or whether under normal circumstances they simply wouldn’t have noticed the interaction because they were too tied up in their own thoughts.

The elephants were being trumpeted again (see what I did there) by the group noticing new levels of detail in the streets around them, including these panels depicting Sam Lockhart with his famous Three Graces.

Having tuned the group into the streets they departed to follow their own individual quests while I spent some time taking photos of the town, which I have lived in for many years, but hadn’t taken the time to notice much of what is around me.

The feedback session in one of Leamington’s many independent coffee shops was, as expected, the most interesting session of the afternoon with the group bouncing off each other’s observations and experiences to build some really fascinating discussions. When the participants came into the cafe there was a pleasing sense of spaced out euphoria, coupled with some very windswept hair.

One had found some initial answers to their question through street signs which had meaning for them, another through observing behaviour. My favourite insight came from one participant who watched an elderly lady looking through her binoculars at the top of the town hall. As she decided to approach her and ask what she was looking at the lady crossed the road to get a better view of her unknown subject. Rather than chase her down she identified this moment as a metaphor, in relation to managing her work-life balance, that she should not rest until she was happy with her own vantage point.

A number of the group did not have a specific question to ask of the streets but, through having what they described as ‘permission’ to slow down and take some time for themselves, had regardless found some answers. One had consciously chosen not to pursue the question she had come with but to make the most of the opportunity to take inspiration from observing others joy. Another observed feeling almost too tuned in and found the urban environment was therefore just too noisy – from this she has taken away the knowledge that she benefits from somewhere quiet for her own reflections but was adamant that she had found the experience rewarding nonetheless!

My own experiences since attending Street Wisdom as a participant as well as the discussions during my first experience as a Street Star facilitator have enhanced my own understanding of the power of Street Wisdom. I believe that curiosity and creativity are an intrinsic part of human nature but are trained out of us as we become increasingly aware of others views and judgement. Street Wisdom opens up the freedom to tune into our natural creativity, to observe, make links and share our thoughts in a safe and supportive environment. It delivers a number of techniques that you can consciously draw on, but which also unconsciously become part of your thinking. From a personal perspective I have started to interpret the signs around me and used them to draw conclusions. More noticeably I have increased my engagement with people – whether that is a smile on passing in the street, or striking up a conversation with a stranger. Answers are everywhere and the streets have indeed begun to wink at me.