Simply Consciousness: An Interview with David Pearl

The challenges we are facing as a planet aren’t going to be met by being smarter – but by being more conscious.

Today I have the pleasure of interviewing David Pearl, a creative confidante to the leaders of some of the world’s leading businesses – helping them and the teams they lead perform at new levels. He is perhaps best known for the artful way he designs, orchestrates and animates high-stakes business events, his inspiring keynotes and accessible business books.

Can you please tell us a bit about yourself?

Well my website tells me that I am an ‘innovator in the arts, business and social change”.  Sounds like an interesting combination.   I grew up in a house with a father that did two professions at once – dentist and lawyer.  He also studied philosophy and history.  And, later in life, became an artist.  I think from him I learned that you don’t have to be one thing.  I started singing at the age of nine at the Royal Opera House and have been involved in opera and theatre ever since.  Also film and tv.   In my 20s I set up a circus and opera company (why do just one, right?) and was happily doing that when an international management consultancy asked me if I could use the arts to help them ‘connect with each other in ways they wouldn’t have dreamed possible’.   That was the beginning of my work bringing arts and creative thinking to some of the world’s biggest companies and organizations.   Today I am doing that, and singing in an improvised opera company and running an international urban mindfulness non-profit, and trying to be a good dad and husband.  And cycling Italian hills.  And doing some life drawing….  So, my father’s son, I guess.

What is your definition of consciousness?

I am not sure I can define it.  For me it’s an aspiration.  Noticing what I am noticing.  To use a theatre metaphor, it’s like being on stage and watching yourself on stage at the same time.  And being aware that ‘you’ doesn’t really exist in any meaningful way.  It only makes sense when you see things from the perspective of a big, inclusive you.

So, yes, not sure I can define it succinctly!

How did your awareness process start?

For me, the process didn’t have a defined start.   More like a process that’s been unfolding.  And is continuing.   There were a couple of life shocks that woke me up.  Seeing my brother hit by a car when I was young.  That upended reality for me.  He’s fine, now, by the way.  But my belief in so-called reality never really recovered.   As a young man I also grappled with depression.  After a while I began to realize that darkness is part of wholeness and that nudged my awareness onwards.   Working in theatre is all about examining and playing with what it means to be human which was very helpful.   And I’ve continued exploring, turning over stones ever since.  

What are you the most aware of in your daily life?

Well, I get as caught up in the drama as anyone, but when I remember to be aware, I tend to focus on the apparently uninteresting stuff.

My social business, Street Wisdom, is all about being aware of the ‘normal stuff’ you encounter everyday in every street and appreciating that it is actually miraculous.  When you hit the pause button and really experience what’s happening, life can be truly wonderful  –  or, as we call it at Street Wisdom – wanderful.  That’s also the title of my new book!

Modern life is a distracting and sometimes disorientating place to be. It’s not surprising that we shove in our ear-phones and plough on, screening out the background noise and those annoying strangers – lost in our thoughts.

It was this awareness that prompted me to create Street Wisdom. We have so many wanderful stories from Street Wisdom WalkShop participants all over the world, that share the message that the key to access clarity and inspiration every day is to unhook ourselves from our daily routine, all that rushing from A to B, and find new ways to wander. Not just physically but mentally too. Straight-line thinking is less and less helpful in our complex AI focused world. To find a way through all the twists and turns, we need to wander our way into answers. By waking up the internal guidance system we all have within us, it helps us set a new direction and stay orientated. It will nudge you towards choices that are going to be more rewarding, authentic and healthy.

What was the deepest internal change that you have personally experienced from transforming your consciousness and how it did impact your life in both spiritual and practical ways?

Big question.  I think it’s really a set of experiences over my life that have shown me, in a profound way, that I am not here. It ultimately helped me feel gratitude for everything that I have in my life, even the dull moments. They can often be the most inspiring.

What is the best advice, words of wisdom that you would like to share with our readers about the importance of becoming more conscious?

The challenges we are facing as a planet aren’t going to be met by being smarter – but by being more conscious. I think that’s what they are ‘for’.  We’ve designed a puzzle that requires us to grow. So, it’s more consciousness or bust. 

Please inspire us by telling us about your current project or projects?

I didn’t expect Street Wisdom to grow as it has. The simple idea of using streets to learn, to problem-solve by walking, to find new direction – has really taken hold. We call it the modern urban route to mindfulness. From nothing a few years ago, we are now in 40 countries and counting. There have been nearly 600 public events from San Francisco to Shanghai, all run by volunteers and completely free. Street Wisdom is funded by businesses who’ve fallen in love with the methodology too. 

I am really excited that my book, inspired by all we have learned and are learning through Street Wisdom, will be published in January ’20. It’s written as your very own wander, a bit like a cityscape you can browse and find your own path through. I will be sharing thoughts, stories, tips and techniques including a few from famous strangers we ‘bump’ into.

I really want to help make this confusing planet a little bit more wonderful – and wanderful – together.

I also have a secret project where I am going to be working with an orchestra.  Oh, I guess it’s not secret anymore.

And my improvised opera company has a new project where we bring museums to life after hours called MUSO.   That’s scary but indecently good fun. 

What is the biggest problem in the world today?

The biggest problem for the world is climate change.  The biggest problem in the world is we don’t collectively recognize that. The quicker we do, the sooner we can get on to creating and solving even more interesting problems.

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