Archive for January, 2016

New Year’s Day

Posted in Philosophy, Uncategorized with tags on January 19, 2016 by Joe Callahan

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Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of the death of a cat in our household. I was fond of Eloise and was sorry that she died. However, I confess I did not remember the significance of the date until the cat lady in my life reminded me. The event, if not the date, stands out because it marked the beginning of a string of further (and more difficult) events including the deaths of my father and of a dear old college friend. In some ways I am surprised that a year has passed. In other ways it feels like the cat died a very long time ago. It has been a long year.

It has been nineteen days since the beginning of 2016 according to the Gregorian calendar. Of course, any calendar is somewhat arbitrary. If we were Assyrians it would be the year 6766. My ancient Irish ancestors may or may not have believed the year ended in late October. Alternatively, they may have simply seen the end of the harvest season as yet another phase of ongoing endless cycles. My point is that we assign meaning to a given date. Really it is just another morning like any other.

That isn’t to say the assignment of meaning is without its uses. Giving significance to a date allows us to put things in perspective. We can measure our progress towards goals. We can pause to be mindful of one thing or another. We can match our own lives to the patterns of nature. Certainly it spurs us to remember what has been lost or gained since we were last at this spot on a trip around the sun.

Since assigned meanings can be personal as well as collective I think I’m declaring this the actual New Year according to the calendar of Callahan. Who’s to say otherwise? Much has changed this year for good or ill. The world (at least my microcosmic world) seems subtly different. Time to move on to a new cycle.

Once more unto the breach? Better to say onward and upward.

Rainy Day Thoughts of the Past.

Posted in Agathos, arete, Stoicism with tags , , on January 10, 2016 by Joe Callahan

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Today was dark and rainy here in the Boston area. It was a day well suited for hibernation and introspection. In between making to-do lists for the week ahead and catching up on a bit of reading I drifted into thoughts about the past. People I’ve known over the years came to mind. Some I still know. Some I have no idea whatever became of them.

The past is a place best visited only in moderation. Whether the memories are pleasant or not the past can be an overly seductive place to dwell. The past informs our present but it no longer exists.

The Zen master Kosho Uchiyama speaks about this in his book “Opening the Hand of Thought”. The present moment is all that really exists. Paradoxically, the past as well as the future are contained in the present moment. The past helped to create the present moment and it will presumably lead to future moments. But it is only the present moment that actually exists. That may sound a bit esoteric but it makes sense.

What has this got to do with Agathos, the good and the worthy, and the pursuit of Arete (human excellence)? I don’t think we can achieve these things without understanding the history of the microcosmic world of our individual lives. Each one has its unique past. But we cannot dwell there because it is only in the present that we can act. The Stoics would tell us that we must act according to the role we now find ourselves playing regardless of how we got here.  What we do now is really all that can matter.

Anyway, that is what has been rattling around in my head on a quiet rainy day.