How to live a happier life, by the Croydon and Bromley School of Practical Philosophy


By - Wednesday 29th October, 2014

Bernadette Fallon talks happiness, philosophy and how Croydon can press pause on stress


Croydon’s Symposium: Adam Hall, on the right, with members of the Croydon and Bromley School of Practical Philosophy.
Photo author’s own.

Are you happy? Should you expect to be happy? And how can you make yourself happier?

If any of those questions have idly passed through your mind then you might be interested in what’s going on at the School of Practical Philosophy: Croydon and Bromley.

But what on earth does the word ‘philosophy’, with its connotations of academic knowledge and vague impressions of Plato and Socrates, have to do with happiness?

Adam Carter, one of the school’s tutors, provided me with the answer when I met him to find out more about the school – and to see if philosophy has any place in our very busy, rather stressed, increasingly pressured twenty-first century lives.

“People can find the word ‘philosophy’ threatening and we are mindful of that”, says Adam. “The issues we work with in our courses are practical – they are life experiences”.

A calm mind is a great asset

“When we use the term ‘practical philosophy’ here, we are taking it back to its core meaning, which is ‘wisdom’”, he continues. “It’s about learning ways to develop our lives wisely by exploring ideas and by putting them to the test in everyday life”.

The school runs regular courses in practical philosophy – drawing, as it says on the school’s website, on the philosophic teachings put forward by Socrates, Plato, Confucius and others And despite Adam’s explanations, I’m starting to get images of disciples gathered at the feet of the master.

“On our courses, it is not the tutor who answers the questions and it’s not the tutor saying what they think”, explains Adam. “It’s a group of people coming together to find answers”.

He continues: “Mindfulness is useful in introducing clarity and calmness to what might be difficult concepts”. A calm mind, a mind that is ‘mindful’, is a great asset when it comes to understanding these ideas.

Pause and create a space where things become clear

It is for this reason that the school has decided to run free four-week mindfulness courses which will next run in the New Year. Check the website for details and to register.

So what happens, when the thirty-eight people who have registered for each course come together in the large airy garden-view room in the school’s premises on Addiscombe Grove, central Croydon?

“Take an exercise we did last week for example,” says Adam. “We showed the class a page of words without punctuation. Everybody found it hard to make sense of it. Then we showed people the page with punctuation – with pauses between words and sentences – and suddenly its meaning became clear”.

 So this is the benefit of pausing in our lives; it creates a space where things become clear.

 Try the exercise that the mindfulness class has been practicing, using the word ‘Stop’.

S – Stop

T – Take a breath

O – Observe what is happening around you

P – Proceed

Try this a few times a day to introduce a ‘pause’ into your life and create mindful awareness. The beauty of it is that you can do it at any time, anywhere, and nobody will know. There’s no need to set aside a special time for the practice.

The school’s courses are also not ‘academic’ in the way you might expect. There isn’t lots of reading to do, though hand-outs to help with understanding are given at the end of each session. The courses are more about being in the moment, and bringing that into everyday life.

And there lies the difficulty. We might be able to enjoy being mindful in an isolated hour in a beautiful old Victorian building on a quiet side street in Croydon, but can we take mindful living into the hustle and bustle of everyday life?

People start to notice practical results

“I can see the difference in people who apply learnings from the sessions in their everyday life and those who don’t” Adam tells me. “I always suggest people keep a diary during the course, to notice the effect of pausing. People may see some practical results – maybe having fewer arguments with their family for instance. And people learn from each other by sharing their weekly experiences”.

With our growing reliance on technology to find information, to communicate, to stay in contact and to do our jobs, people feel increasingly compelled to be constantly ‘plugged in’, checking emails, texting, updating social network statuses. This has led, Adam claims, to recognition of the need to be calmer. And people have now started to look for that peace and calmness inside themselves.

Got a stirring of interest in finding out more about mindfulness and pressing pause in your life from time to time? If you only read one book to help you, says Adam, make it The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.

“In fact it might be even better than doing a course,” he laughs – while admitting that it would be great if it actually inspired you to take one of their courses.

“Because the great thing about being in a group is the chance to discuss the ideas you are reading about, to ask questions and to listen to other people’s answers. It’s a great way to deepen your understanding”.

Practical Philosophy: Croydon & Bromley is at Athene House, 13 Addiscombe Grove, Croydon, CR0 5LR 020 8688 2634.


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Bernadette Fallon

Bernadette Fallon

Bernadette has been a journalist since the age of 7 when she devised, designed and launched ‘Fallon’s News’ – much to her family’s delight. Brought up in Ireland, she was born in Addiscombe where she now lives, though it took her several decades to find it again. She works as a journalist and broadcaster. Follow her at Twitter.com/bernibee

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