August – the heavens get a look in

The scene I will one day finish painting, using this photo as a reference. Or maybe I won't.

The scene I will one day finish painting, using this photo as a reference. Or maybe I won’t.

Remember, friends, as you pass by,

As you are now so once was I.

As I am now, so you must be.

Prepare yourself to follow me.

An epitaph for the month of August. How gloomy. Yet one of the month’s targets was to ‘explore the heavens’ and what better time to do so than the silly season, the one time in the year when life goes ‘off timetable’ and there is time to reflect on the Big Issues (and I don’t mean copies flogged by that guy with a street cat named Bob sat on his shoulder). Most minutes of most hours, across most of our days, we risk getting dragged down by issues that in the great scheme of things are barely worth a passing thought, let alone irritation or anger. In the end our time on this earth is short and we really must make the most of it, yet also take time to reflect on what, if anything, comes next.

Whilst visiting my friend Jeannie in good ol’ Porlock – a favourite village on the Somerset/Devon borders – I took my trusty sketch book down to the heavily pebbled beach with the intention of sketching the sky. The little watercolour pallet mentioned in my last blog was also tucked in my pocket, along with my camera and a diddy plastic bottle of water just in case there wasn’t enough sea to dip my paintbrush. As tends to be the case, I was enjoying the scenery and peacefulness far too much to even contemplate any attempt at artistry when fate played its careless hand. I slipped on some pebbles and went down on my butt with an undignified crash, a mere 50 yards from the only other walkers within sight. Feigning nonchalance (aka ‘I did that intentionally, you know’), I reached for the pad and my pencil and did a quick sketch of the view just to prove I was reclining for that very reason. I even sploshed on a couple of daubs for the sky (or heavens – I have to find a link somewhere) until I realised the disinterested family group had strolled out of sight, enabling me to stagger back on my feet without too much ado. I then promptly forgot my crap creative efforts and continued on my merry way.

Back in Jeannie’s cosy little flat, continuing the ‘merry’ theme, we toasted the sunset through one or two glasses of grape juice before chatting lazily into the evening. At some point we got to the inevitable moment where the multiple channels on Sky stretched out to grab our attention and whilst Jeannie began flicking through looking for something intellectual we could pretend to understand, I took a book off the shelf which instantly solved the dilemma of ‘August: explore the world and the heavens’. It was aptly titled ‘Proof of Heaven’ with the useful subtext ‘A neurosurgeon’s journey into the afterlife’ (Dr Eben Alexander). For the next couple of days, whenever my pal left the room or there was a lull in the conversation, I flicked through a few pages (having told her, of course, that my curiosity was fired by the need – no, the desperate desire – to ‘prepare myself’ for the inevitable). I do like a plan.

Sadly I have to disappoint my innumerable fans and admit that, apart from banging on quite a bit about swimming through a mud like substance during his near death experience, Dr E did not give me any cast iron answers. But one paragraph rang true and sticks with me still.

‘How impossible it would be to understand all that exists – either its physical/visible side or its spiritual/invisible side, not to mention the countless other universes that exist or have ever existed.’

Not a bad cop out.

Ironically, today was the very first day of the new academic year, minus children as it was a staff INSET (in service training, in case you’re wondering what the acronym stands for … and you’re right, those initial letters don’t match the words which means it isn’t an acronym). The overarching theme of these events is inevitably holy, (I teach in a Catholic school) but today’s was a particularly interesting concept– what is the difference between spirituality and religion? I won’t go into the detail (other than to say there was an awful lot of ‘you have ten minutes to discuss’ moments), but the definition of the former given by OFSTED pretty much hit the nail on the head – for me, anyway. So, given that it’s not often I agree with the guys in suits, I thought it worth sharing here.

Pupils’ spiritual development is shown by their:

  • beliefs, religious or otherwise, which inform their perspective on life and their interest in and respect for different people’s feelings and values
  • sense of enjoyment and fascination in learning about themselves, others and the world around them, including the intangible
  • use of imagination and creativity in their learning
  • willingness to reflect on their experiences.

There’s a sentence missing here which I will edit in if I ever manage to track it down – something along the lines of recognising the value of the intangible over and above the materialist. In other words, true happiness is something that money just can’t buy.

Though a bit of the folding stuff sure helps when working on the other aim for August – explore the world. That is a tale that will have to wait.
In the meantime: September, pursue a passion. Given that I have a global blog outstanding and a trip to China lined up for October, the passion I am going to pursue is learning – a few Mandarin phrases and an online history course about the Silk Road…

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One Response to August – the heavens get a look in

  1. Paulette morris says:

    Interesting update but miffed that I had to (once again) search for this in my junk email .looking forward to hearing about the autumn term xxx


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