I learnt How to Fill the God Shaped Hole at the School of Life last week. The School is ploughing an erudite furrow in the rich intellectual alluvium of Bloomsbury. This is a perfect location as this corner of the capital thrums with the joy of book learning, pondering and cogitating like an auto-didactic librarian on speed. Several colleges of London University are a book toss away.
The School also looks like a bookshop so it’s surprising to walk down to its trompe l’oeil lecture room whose monochrome murals imply a messy, book-filled lounge looking out onto a garden more Hampstead than Holborn. We were fed and watered upstairs first with wine and snacks – the tuck shop before the school bell.
I sat next to Steve who’d had a spiritual revelation the previous week so he thought perhaps his god-shaped hole didn’t need much filling. Others, ‘a flurry of radio 4 listeners’ as someone said, were bright, middle class and mostly female. Many I’m sure were familiar with the residents of Ambridge, but luckily more besides. Several had been to School of Life lectures and sermons before. Students ranged between mid twenties and late forties. One woman was in her sixties.
Our lecturer was Mark Brickman a documentary film maker and all-out renaissance man (he takes several classes at the school). We’d been given homework via email a few days before – exercises in thinking about our spiritual pasts.
Referencing philosophy, cultural history, psychology and anthropology, Brickman took us whistle stop tour of spiritual hole filling. We had breaks to reflect and ruminate like masticating judges on Master Chef. Barely had we sniffed existential philosophy then we were nibbling a ripe slice of St. Augustine, and knocking back Buddhist meditation with a chaser of nihilism. The evening was more running buffet than set menu. Usefully, our input and personal throughts were an important structure for the evening. We kicked off early evening and had finished by 9.30pm.
In a break Steve explained how he was using meditation to assist his dealings as a day trader – perfectly personifying the current trend for all things spiritual while not missing the chance to earn some lucre. ‘It’s not about the money,’ he said, ‘the money is a sign that you’re winning.’
For me, I hadn’t realized I was filling my god-shaped hole with such useful wadding as love, friendship, gift giving and growing strawberries. Useful to be reminded, though.
Evening lectures at the School of Life cost £30