Lisboa: finding beauty in the after-party debris

street wisdom cafe lisboa

It’s a sign of either sheer naivety or incurable optimism that I chose to host Lisbon’s first Street Wisdom on a Saturday morning at 9am sharp, starting from Mercado da Ribeira’s garden. It’d only been three to four hours since the night’s revellers left for their beds and the signs were everywhere; sticky pavements, abandoned beer bottles, Lisboa lazily waking up to the weekend.

street wisdom slow right down lisboa

And so it felt incredibly special that six humans and one dog turned up to find fresh answers to their questions (the dog does not do social media, and had been tipped off by its human master. Phew).

Despite the enormous differences that make Southern and Northern European folk their own cultural breeds, urban life in the West is made of very similar trappings. Once the group had opened up about their questions, it became obvious that there is no foreign land when it comes to being human in the city.

‘Am I ready to move to the country?’, ‘Does it still make sense to run my business?’, ‘What’s next for me?’ were the sorts of very universal matters we discussed. One of our participants had no questions at all, but appreciated learning how to switch the mindful toolkit on. The majority of participants were on corporate careers, trying to navigate their true sense of self within those structures.

And if you can see beauty in everything, when surrounded by the after-party debris of the biggest outdoor urban rave in Europe (p.s. it happens every Friday and Saturday), then you’re really jamming it when it comes to the tune up. We spotted happiness in a group of drunks wearing less-than-flattering nylon fancy dress onesies, saw jigsaw patterns in the mash of cigarette butts on the pavements, and looked slightly differently onto the groups of pigeons hanging out by the park benches.

street wisdom pigeons lisboa

I always feel blessed and privileged to witness what participants are willing to share at the end of the Quest. Connection is part of what makes us human and yet, somehow, we’ve been socialised into walking anonymously in the city. We swapped tips about where to grow vegetable patches in Lisbon (before checking out to the countryside), learnt about the joy of talking to complete strangers, and opened up about very personal struggles. And we did it without hesitation, before a group of strangers, our only armour being strong expressos and the stunning late Spring Lisbon sunshine.

Lisbon, get ready. We’ve only just started with you.


A Notting Hill Street Wisdom

Do you take too many photos at concerts or read your emails while you’re on holiday? Do you busily walk down the street and forget to appreciate all that is beautiful around you? Most of us fall into these little traps and have a deeper knowing that it’s not what we want. When we slow down and go a little bit inside our bodies we remind ourselves that we are craving more wholesome day to day experiences of life. The great thing is that we don’t have to go very far to start having these experiences.

I facilitated my first Street Wisdom event a couple of weeks ago. Street Wisdom is a way of using the streets to get our senses more in touch and more in tune with our immediate environment and using that to help us find the answers to some of our more testing life questions. We use streets to get from a to b but outside of that straight line journey is an opportunity to learn about who we are, what we like, what we want and what steps (or not) to next take.

Six participants used the lightly chilled early springtime buzz of Portobello Road Market in Notting Hill in pursuit of getting their big question answered. The three hour event is split into three parts. Firstly we use shorter walks to tune our senses into the streets. We use the simplicity of our senses in a different way and feed off the sounds, sights, colours and people to fuel a better understanding of ourselves. The second part is where we take that question we want answered and roam the streets for an hour in search of whatever inspiration and direction is offered around us to get closer to an answer. Lastly we get together and discuss our discoveries.

There were some powerful messages flowing through the streets from the book shops to the dustcarts to mother-child bonding and urban greenery. There were conversations in record stores and posters on walls offering gentle signals. We learnt to trust and honour our intuition. We were reminded that sometimes it’s important to remove yourself from your familiar environment and relationships to gain a wider perspective on what you need from life. We saw how enjoying the creativity of others encourages our own creative pursuits.

I enjoyed this feedback from one of the participants: ‘The process reinforces my conviction that when one is open to explore the rich resources that is beyond the self, the meaning of one’s quest is within our reach.’

Use your streets in a way that serves you best. That gold mine of wisdom you’re searching for, how close by is it? I bet not far at all.

Vernon James @casualartist

street wisdom london vernon

Covent Garden, 6th May, ‘Train or Try?’


How about both?

With hundreds of people wanting to either attend or lead events up and down the country, we came up with a day when people could do either – or both. 30 or so would-be Street Wizards gathered in the Covent Garden piazza – braving the horizontal rain – to learn about how to run a Street Wisdom by experiencing it, under the guidance of David Pearl, Chris Barez-Brown and the Upping Your Elvis gang.

But that wasn’t all.

After lunch 12 ‘newbies’ stayed on to lead their own Street Wisdoms with a new set of participants who arrived in the afternoon. From fledgling to facilitator in a few hours. Amazing. It’s a format we intend to run again. And not just in London.

We’re working to feed all the sparks of inspiration around the country. So do keep in contact.


Training the Street Wizards

Inés Alonso and the AHA! moment that followed

I approached the Street Wisdom event eager to try out a new way of learning. I already had experienced on my own the power hidden in streets, but I wanted to go further and find out how giving a structure to the experience could enhance the outcome.

The tuning up was useful to make me notice things that I usually would not pay any attention to, such as the Apple store, where the simplicity of the design aims to keep stimuli to a minimum and provoke conversations. The quest provided me with lots of insights but somehow they didn’t match my question, I felt confused. Then, when sharing the experience with the group, new insights emerged, but still didn’t make much sense to me.

InesI had a lot of fun, I met fascinating people and I learnt a new technology for learning, all of it for free!

However, deep in me, I could notice a hint of disappointment and discomfort, it felt like wearing a woolen cloth, a welcoming itch. It’s been lingering in my mind since then, until after reflecting deeply, finally the AHA! came.

The signs I got from the streets were not intended to answer my question, but to show me the path to dissolve the blockage that was preventing me from stepping further and finding the answers.
WOW! This is more than wisdom, it’s magic!

Thank you all, leaders, participants and of course streets for being so inspiring and fun!

Inés Alonso

Victoria Fenton – Street Wizard, Covent Garden, 6th May

My journey with Street Wisdom began with a childish giggle when I arrived in Covent Garden on Wednesday 6 May to be greeted by a giant, luminous pink Shaun the Sheep statue, covered in painted confectionery.

Though my day ended with me shivering, damp and buffeted by the Great British weather, the time between these two moments was full of insight, inspiration and reflection.

During my time that morning I listened, watched and responded, tuning into the thrum of Covent Garden and allowing the sights, sounds, smells and symbols to talk to me and help me find answers to my questions.

The first hour – tuning in, slowing down and recognising the magic – tumbled into the second. My slightly esoteric nest of questions were unwound via another Shaun the Sheep statue (this time painted as a bright red London bus) a serenading opera singer, an ancient London restaurant and the menu of a ice cream parlour.

Far more than answering my specific questions (which it did), my morning with Street Wisdom showed me myself, my approach to the built environment and surroundings, and my receptivity to the energy within.

During our final hour together, sharing stories, coffee and smiles with my fellow explorers, I was aware of an overwhelming sense of the peace within us all. Everyone seemed to come away calmer, more in touch with their sensory connection to the environment and more at ease with their questions and with themselves.

As I left the piazza in the drizzle and damp, Shaun the Sheep grinned back at me as I snapped his picture and saved him to my iPhone wallpaper. A constant reminder that the world is full of magic, and there really is Wisdom on every street.

Victoria Fenton

‘Street Dope’ on Harley Street, April 30th, 2015

This was the first Street Wisdom event that I have led, and it was wonderful to see the participants so easily tune into the environment and start to draw inspiration from the streets. The area looks quite empty at first and I wondered whether the experience would be as rich as my first in the colourful streets of Soho.

How wrong I was. As you tune in you notice so much in these fascinating streets. Deep history, complex architecture, lushious roof gardens falling over balconies, docs, quacks and quirks, menders, the broken and the mended.

When the wonderers returned they were full of ideas and inspiration, and had answers and attitudes that will make a difference.

My favourite piece of participant feedback was when one of the group referred to one of the tune up sessions as “the Street Dope bit”. It showed me that the whole team saw through the exercise that we all have the ability to tune into our own built in supply of neuro-chemicals that can relax us everyday, and inspire answers to any question we may have.

Gavin Presman

Gavin Presman

Soho London April 23rd

Saw things about this street (Greek St) that I hadn’t seen before. Opened up very quickly to the innate beauty that is always present but often hidden. Amazing to see myself and others “slow down” so quickly amongst the bustle of Soho and begin to tap into our own wisdom.

For me I was suprised that as soon as I started asking my question answers appeared from everywhere. Sometime quite directly (Be at One – Open Till 3AM) told me I need to make it easier for people to contact each other outside of normal hours, a beautifully crafted conductors baton opened up a meaningful analogy about conducting an orchestra and the art of direction.

I noticed things I hadn’t seen were here before, and that in itself told me that there was more to this street than often meets the eye. Open to that truth, I was quickly able to get answers to my questions. The process was not only eye opening, but satisfying and enjoyable.

Thank you David for opening me up to the Wisdom of the Street, I look forward to sharing this with others.

Gavin Presman

Gavin Presman

Be here now – Writers Ink

It was a beautiful spring afternoon when the group members of Writers Ink – Creative Writing Group – based at Coalville Library, Leicester, undertook a Street Wisdom walk to seek answers and writing inspiration.

We took the walks slow and steady noticing anything and everything. One member remarked “what is insignificant becomes significant”. Who knew a discarded hairband would become an infinity sign? Who would ordinarily notice a tiny sticker on the pavement that said the word Champion?

We all thoroughly enjoyed the walk. One member mentioned she had never been to certain areas of the town – even having lived here for a while, and found it very refreshing. Another member noticed there were lots of opposites – magnolia next to holly and old edwardian fronts next to modern shops – finding the positioning of opposites charming.

We all said we noticed what we wouldn’t have ordinarily and the group leader found her question “how can I procrastinate less?” answered in chalk written on a wall – the answer was “be here”.

Insightful and inspirational.

Thank you!

Katie Sone   Write Away Arts

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Ian Cooper – Soho Square 26th March 2015

I’d have to put myself forward as one of those people who is somewhat sceptical about some (most) of those ‘out there’ concepts and techniques. My wife’s best friend had been a Bowen Therapist for quite some years before I would let her near me despite a catalogue of niggles, aches and pains. I eventually relented under protest and in severe pain from a back injury which was rendering me immobile and in agony. A poke here and a poke there (well, a few more than that) and I hobbled away full of doubt. A couple of days later, whilst not exactly leaping about the place, I was able to do up my own shoelaces without fainting with the pain… so, maybe, there was more to this mumbo jumbo than met my doubting eye.

Since then I’ve tried to be more open minded about such things, so a damp grey Thursday morning saw me joining 4 other explorers and our guide Nick in Soho Square to see what this was all about.

We started with a brief explanation of Street Wisdom and then went into a few tuning exercises each of about 5 minutes in order to prepare for our longer walk and exploration of our question.

I was surprised at how easily we all (yup, including me) seemed to drop into the technique and really gain unexpected insights and observations.

The BIG question session was, effectively, an extension of each of the shorter ones allowing us time to follow thoughts and patterns. I’ve been pondering accepting a voluntary trusteeship in a charity but to do so would mean taking up time that I could be doing other more fun or profitable things.

I noticed 2 buildings in the square… upon one were painted the words ‘House of Charity’ the other was a former Hospital for Women, supported by voluntary contributions. Further down the street was a sign for free wifi then, later, another for free hair consultations at a salon… suggesting it was OK not to charge for things? The sign for the restaurant L’Escargot with its picture of snails led me to question whether I had to rush into a decision or, possibly, that I was behaving like a snail… so get on with it.

Ian CooperLater in the cafe, talking about our walks, it came to me that an analogy I used to use in business could be applied to our learning. It’s like when you do a jigsaw puzzle. You start with all the edges to create a framework into which you drop the remaining pieces.

What I’d experienced in Street Wisdom was the tuning of my mind and a framework to recognise clues and to collect my observations. Whether I put them together in the right order or I discard some pieces is up to me but, maybe, the street does have the answers or, at least a route to them.

Not bad for an old sceptic, eh?

Ian Cooper