The School of Life

For many the new year signifies lots of things – resolutions, new beginnings, re-evaluations and a chance to believe that we will re-shape and re-script our lives along happier, perhaps more fulfilling paths. perhaps you’re one of the lucky few who is happy on the road you’re currently treading. But whether you are looking to make a detour or a pitstop or pack your brain bag and completely start again – there is one place I found a little while ago that might help. It’s time to go back to school. A school unlike any other; one that teaches lessons far more valuable than algebraic formulations or the difference between amo, amas and amat. This is the School of Life we’re talking about. No really. It’s actually called The School of Life. And before you start sneering in the way that we have been so conditioned to in these ever increasingly cynical times stop that lip curl and bear with me. Because this place is an absolute treasure trove.

Founded by Sophie Howarth, previously a curator at Tate, the school is part shop, part schoolroom with classes on philosophy, relationships, value systems and so on.  The school also runs  weekends away and, perhaps best of all, dinner evenings in great restaurants in London called, Conversation Dinners. Stop sneering at the back and don’t knock it til you’ve tried it.
The classes are about the practical application of philosophy on life’s core subjects – love, politics, work, family and play. Taking place over a weekend or six evenings (depending upon what fits in best with you) they’re structured around the burning questions that keep lots of people awake at night – how important is sex – why am I struggling – how can I live a meaningful life – why can’t I find/keep the love I so desperately crave?
The course on love is absolutely brilliant and was created with input from one of my all time favourite writers, John Armstrong (more on him in a not too distant post.) The courses are very interactive and rigorous and as far from self-help as you can possibly get. I can’t recommend them highly enough.

However, if you don’t want to commit to a course then at least be sure to make a visit to the school just to check out the bookshop – it’s very, very small but the selection is bang on the nose. They call it a, ‘pharmacy for the mind’ and that’s a great description. All the books have been handpicked by the team that work there and represent the best writing on all sorts of subjects; from being love-sick, worrying you’re a bad parent to just wanting some tips on how to get the best out of life. The opening hours are a little restrictive (closed at the weekends) but I really recommend a trip as the selection is constantly changing and evolving. I picked up a brilliant anthology of Barthes there as well as the most amazing book on relationships, which I’ll be covering in the not too distant future on this blog.

Finally, more on the conversation dinners. They’re an unrivalled opportunity to meet people in a relaxed setting and simply talk.  Whether it be about philosophy, life, travel, music or the things which move and engage you the most. As a way of meeting new people who share similar passions they’re hard to be beat. In a world where we seek ever more increasingly bizarre and remote ways to connect with people the art of real conversation does seem to be dying out. And when there’s opportunities like these on offer then it’d only be a fool who would turn them down or not delve just a little deeper.

So there we are. The School of Life. I wish I’d known about it a long time ago – there are some valuable lessons to be learned there. Go.

Click here to go to The School of Life

Meaning of life

Philosophy – the very word can be a barrier, seemingly impenetrable and lacking in relevance to anyone other than navel gazers or academics who relate more to books than they do to people. But leave any preconceptions at the door and it can be a fascinating subject, rich in ideas and potential answers to some of the most fundamental questions upon which we all ponder, however briefly or privately.

I grant you, the work of some philosophers is so impenetrable and dense that you find yourself almost suffocating in words and sentences that simply meander before finally ending very closely up their own backsides.
But there are others out there, writing now, who have opened up the subject in incredibly diverse and enriching ways – posing questions and answers to some of the most pressing concerns of what shapes our lives.
Many of these contemporary philosophers write about the things which interest me most – human relationships and how we communicate, behave, interact with and love or hate one another. What drives us, what should drive us and what we might one day become.

I have found that some modern philosophy has helped me greatly in gaining a greater understanding of both myself and the kind of man I want to be as well as giving me insight into the people I have loved and lost as well as those I continue to hold in my life.

One of the most easily accessible ways I have found of finding out the meaning of things from people far wiser than me was not just through books (more of which in another post) but through a brilliant series of podcasts featuring short interviews with some of today’s greatest thinkers. The series is called, Philosophy Bites and you can find out more and subscribe to the series by following the link at the end of this post.

I have embedded one of the first  Philosophy Bites podcasts I listened to and whilst at first it might seem incredibly dry I do urge you to give it a chance.
This particular podcast deals with the most fundamental question of them all – the meaning of our lives. I like it because it talks about the interior cultivation of ourselves. And that belief in something does not necessarily come before the practicing of it – i.e. you should embark upon the practice of things before you begin to believe. I rather like that philosophy…

Listen to: John Cottingham on The Meaning of Life

Click here to listen to more Philosophy Bites podcasts