My First Class

I began attending practical philosophy classes when I was 21. I was studying in college at the time and trying to make sense of myself, everyone else, the world around me and what my role in life was. I wanted to be happy, to reach my full potential and to live a life where I could make a positive difference in the world. I don’t think I was ticking any of those boxes at the time so when I saw the advertisement for the course in practical philosophy I thought it had been written for me.

I remember so clearly that first class and the short exercise in attention that we were introduced to. I could not believe that such a short simple exercise could have such a profound effect. I think that up to that point I had felt that I was someone with problems or ‘baggage’ and that I had a lot of work to do to be free of that. That short exercise gave me a taste of the peace and happiness within that has nothing to do with all the usual ideas and beliefs I have about myself.

All the ideas we were introduced to in that first course were so practical, simple and life changing. We talked about the ‘waking sleep’ and how for so much of the time we are not really present to what is happening around us.  I began to see how often my mind was preoccupied with thoughts, dreams, fears, anxieties and worries. The simple practice of connecting with the five senses during the day and ‘waking up’ was revolutionary. Maybe happiness, joy and love were not so far away after all. It’s not that all difficulties and stresses were banished or anything like it. It was like discovering there was another way, another direction to go and taking a few baby steps on its path.

A Broader Perspective

Over the years I have been so inspired by the people I have met in the school of philosophy. These people seemed to really embody the philosophy they spoke of and yet faced all the same challenges in life as the rest of us.  The tutors and volunteers in the school took great care of the students and seemed to genuinely want to pass on the benefits practical philosophy had given them. All this was a great source of encouragement to me.

Studying practical philosophy opened up so many areas of interest for me. I had always been an avid reader and it seemed to me that all that I had loved in books, poetry and music were an expression of this deeper understanding about life. I began to read more books about Christianity and other mystical traditions and to appreciate what they were expressing. I became more aware of the riches in our own culture and less caught up with me and my little life.

Another feature of the school of philosophy that appeals to me is that it is a school of enquiry. We are encouraged to have an open mind and to question our own assumptions and attitudes. The emphasis is on truly listening to those who you may disagree with, rather than defending a particular viewpoint. This is extremely challenging in everyday life but seems to me to be essential if we wish to have real communication with people on the important questions of life.

Meditation

After a little over a year I was introduced to the practice of meditation. I had dabbled in meditation classes in college but this was different. It required a commitment to practice every day regardless of what was happening or how I was feeling. The benefits are not always obvious and often it can seem like an uphill struggle so a certain faith is required to stick with it.

The school of philosophy provided great support to me as a student. There were meditation groups that met early in the morning, individual meetings with tutors and weekend retreats in Townley Hall. All these were dedicated to helping students value and enjoy meditation. I don’t think I could have managed without them. Now, I can say, having meditated regularly for many years that it is the greatest gift I have ever been given. It is a daily source of rest, stability and strength.

Fruits Of Philosophy

Studying philosophy has brought innumerable benefits to me over the years. It has given me great joy. It has helped me rediscover the happiness and beauty that surrounds me daily. People and situations in life are constantly presenting challenges to us. I often feel I’m getting things wrong or could do much better. Through philosophy I can examine my habitual responses and attitudes to situations and try a different approach. However, this is easier said than done! The practice of meditation and the weekly group meetings help a lot.

Philosophy For All

The school of philosophy and economic science was set up with a vision that went far beyond a personal journey towards happiness or fulfilment. I listened to a talk recently given by Shane Mulhall; He described the vision of the school as being, for ‘All of humanity’. It’s not always clear how practicing philosophy individually can be for ‘all of humanity’. On the face of it, it may look like a self-centred pursuit. What I have observed over the years is that philosophy helps people realise the potential within them. They are more responsive to the needs around them and more capable of giving. They see things more clearly, not thinking about their own ideas or wants.

Over the years the school of philosophy has always sought to reach out to the wider community. Classes has been offered in economics, parenting, marriage, health and love, so that people may have a forum to discuss these important aspects of life. Public talks are offered regularly and events such as the Cultural day, Plato day and Art in Action have inspired many.  I hope that my continuing practice of philosophy will help me to expand more in this direction, away from the concerns and preoccupations about my own life towards a greater care and openness to needs of those around me.


Thinking of coming to a course in Practical Philosophy? We are celebrating 50 years of Practical Philosophy in Ireland by offering a 10 week introductory course for just €10 nationwide this September! For booking & more info click here.