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New Year’s Day

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



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.

Personal Blind Spots and some Sci-fi Wisdom

Posted in arete, Martial Arts, Philosophy, Uncategorized with tags , , on September 15, 2014 by Joe Callahan


Any enclosed discipline sets its stamp, its pattern, upon its students. That pattern is susceptible to analysis and prediction.
– Frank Herbert, Dune.

I first read the novel Dune when I was 15 years old over Christmas vacation in 1978. In those young pre-internet days I hadn’t ever encountered anything quite like its curious mix of science, spirituality and politics. Whatever your preferences regarding sci-fi it is worth checking out (a brief synopsis and discussion of the novel’s enduring relevance and appeal here). Since that first reading I’ve come back to it a number of times. My appreciation of the novel has changed with time and my own shifts in perspective.

Recently I picked up Dune again and was struck by the quotation above. In the novel this passage refers to different schools of intelligence and counter intelligence operations. In a larger context I think it is an axiom that can be applied to most activities and many parts of our lives. Thinking on this started an evaluation (still in progress) of my own background, education and life experiences. I wanted to consider where this might apply to me. This seems a worthwhile exercise since predictability and being easily read are disadvantages in most of life’s more competitive situations.

The first thing that came to mind was the martial arts. Whatever arts you’ve trained in will identify what tactics and techniques you are likely to apply. Some idea of an opponent’s orientation can be guessed from different backgrounds like MMA, “traditional” arts or military combatives. If an opponent has practiced Muay Thai there is a strong likelihood that some kicks and knees will be coming your way. Deep training in an art gives strong skills such as very effective grappling for a Judoka. It also suggests potential vulnerabilities and reveals a likely mindset. The only real solutions to this problem of predictability are to train a wide range of techniques and train across different disciplines. If you are like me, there simply may not be enough available hours in a week to really do that.

I also considered how this can apply to the business world. Viewpoints and approaches can differ between someone from a big company career ladder background and someone with a more entrepreneurial, small team history. What sorts of industries have people worked in? Are they the product of a business school?

You get the idea. This axiom can be applied to all sorts of information about any individual. This certainly can give you some valuable insights if you take the time for a bit of intelligence gathering. On the other hand, the same can be done to you. A personal inventory of the “enclosed disciplines” in one’s life can show where to find new ways to expand a repertoire and act as a reminder to sometimes confound expectations.

Stoic Week 2013: A Very Good Forbes Article

Posted in Uncategorized on December 2, 2013 by Joe Callahan

Stoic Week has come to a close for this year.  It was nice to see that the event received some decent media coverage.  I didn’t find that much of it was very informative however.  Often the reader was left with no more of a real understanding of the event or the philosophy than at the start.  That might account for a lot of reader comments along the lines of “Huh?  Why would anyone want to be all stiff necked and cold hearted?”.  Now, as the event closes, along comes what I think is one of the best pieces of coverage by far.  It is an article by Carrie Sheffield who contributes to Forbes.  It being Forbes she highlighted managers that have looked into Stoicism.  That was of interest to me given my own entry on Stoic Week and business.

The article is here and I would recommend it to anyone as a quick intro to the Stoic outlook and what the event sought to achieve.

Stoic Week 2013 and Business

Posted in Uncategorized on November 25, 2013 by Joe Callahan

Not a productive business solution.

Not a productive business solution.

A focus for today in the Stoic Week experiment is what lies within our power and what does not.  For  recognizing that externals are beyond our control you can’t do much better than dealing with business.  There are the obvious factors beyond our control like the economy, the state of a particular industry, the agendas of competitors.  In a way those are easy to deal with in terms of pathe, passionate emotions.  Those environmental factors are impersonal.  To use a gangster film cliché “it’s nothing personal, it’s just business”.  It becomes more difficult when dealing with subtle factors that seem like they should be in our control but aren’t.  If you give a presentation then it is within your control if it is successful, right?  Either you gave a good presentation or you didn’t.  The good presentation wins the day.  That is how the heroic model works.  When I write about Agathos, that concept has its origins in the Homeric epics.  It is the idea of the good and worthy individual as skillful, effective, able to achieve.  The heroic figures of the Iliad used their abilities (along with the odd bit of divine intervention) to effect outcomes.  The results might be joyfully successful or tragically suck but the outcome was directly linked to the individual’s impact on events.  Later Greek philosophers, notably Stoics, would recognize it is not always so.  The CEO you are presenting to may just have had a bad breakfast and dislike your boldly colored tie.  You may give the best presentation of your life and it may not make a bit of difference.  This lack of control can be even more frustrating when you are dealing with people who theoretically should be in cooperation with you.  It can be hugely frustrating when those who seem to be sharing common cause towards common goals become your greatest hindrance.

Marcus Aurelius talked about this at length in his Meditations.  He certainly had cause to know.  As Emperor of Rome one would think he, of all people, could clap his hands and say “Let’s go team!” and it would be so.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  But as he observed, Stoicism teaches us to recognize that these external frustrations are no hindrance to our conducting ourselves well or to our internal well-being. Do any business outcomes harm our character, our rational faculty?   It is part of our life as human beings, living in accord with nature, to work with others and accept the limitations and frustrations that come along.

Begin the morning by saying to thyself, I shall meet with the busy-body, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to me, not only of the same blood or seed, but that it participates in the same intelligence and the same portion of the divinity, I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him, For we are made for co-operation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away.  

Meditations 2:1

I freely admit to struggling with that.  I DO take some business matters personally.  I find it hard to ignore when a supposed ally acts against my interests.  I DO want to launch a thousand ships and storm the walls of the company that doesn’t sign the deal.  Part of me still recites the old line from Schwarzenegger’s Conan and vows to crush my enemies, see them driven before me and hear the lamentations of their women.  Stoicism (as well as practices from Buddhist and Taoist thought) helps me to get over it and move on.  I remember to detach from outcomes and focus on the process and on my own character.  It helps to refer to my favorite passage from meditations which I’m sure I have quoted on this blog before. 

Every moment think steadily as a Roman and a man to do what thou hast in hand with perfect and simple dignity, and feeling of affection, and freedom, and justice; and to give thyself relief from all other thoughts. And thou wilt give thyself relief, if thou doest every act of thy life as if it were the last, laying aside all carelessness and passionate aversion from the commands of reason, and all hypocrisy, and self-love, and discontent with the portion which has been given to thee. Thou seest how few the things are, the which if a man lays hold of, he is able to live a life which flows in quiet, and is like the existence of the gods; for the gods on their part will require nothing more from him who observes these things.

Meditations 2:5

It doesn’t have quite the primal satisfaction of “Crush your enemies” but it has its virtues.

Jungian therapy, Chi Gung, Kung Fu and Creativity: An Interview

Posted in Uncategorized on July 4, 2013 by Joe Callahan
Jon Katz is a friend and fellow student of White Crane Qigong/Kung fu. We both had the very good fortune to study with Sifu Woo Ching who’s system embraced Chinese and Tibetan martial and meditative practices. The interview revolves around Jon’s integration of Qigong and psychotherapy. Worth checking out if you find such things of interest.

Some thoughts from a pianist about practice, art and an authentic life.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on May 1, 2013 by Joe Callahan

I haven’t posted anything for a few weeks.  Life has just been a little hectic.  But I read this essay today and thought it was worth posting here.

James Rhodes is a concert pianist who wrote the piece below for The Guardian.  It is an interesting reflection on doing what you are most called to do regardless of societal pressures that would dictate otherwise.  It is also a compelling argument for an ongoing commitment to one’s practice.  He is speaking about art but the ideas could be equally applied to business, martial arts or playing Go.  Considering the theme of this blog it seemed apt.

In the next few days I’ll get back in gear and report on the progress of One Hundred Days Of Practice.

Nature Break

Posted in Uncategorized on December 26, 2012 by Joe Callahan

2012-12-26_16-01-15_736After an accident earlier this month I didn’t move around much for a few weeks.  It was, I was told, in my best interest to be sedentary and avoid making anything detach or strain or implode.  So, I am happy to be able to get back to hiking and martial practice.

Today was a good day for a long slow contemplative walk.  The forest was quiet and the light subdued.  There is a heaviness in the air as we wait for a rain/snow storm to roll in here tonight.

Many years ago I received a bit of wisdom from an uncle who introduced me to backpacking in the mountains.  His belief was that there is no form of spirituality, no enlightenment or revelation that can’t be experienced and understood by spending time in nature.  It made sense to me then and it still does now.

The weather today encouraged hibernation but it was also easy to be awake out there.