Philosophy and Ethics

Reflections on the New Year....

candle

We slip imperceptibly from 2017 to 2018. The clock keeps ticking, the next second will seem just like the last, and yet time flows in a single direction; we shall never go back, have no choice in the matter. A new year arrives and the moments slip past us in a smoothe movement, shaping us, moulding us.
Although, conventionally, New Year is a time for new starts, resolutions, reviewing and anticipating, in reality nothing changes any more at this particular midnight hour than at any other.

The 13th century Zen philosopher Dogen saw 'time' as the name we give to the continuous flow of being.
He argued that time is a 'passageless passage' as one state of being flows into the next. Time is not something that happens - for, if it were, we would only perceive it in the gaps between events. It is not a framework that we can examine in the absense of the very events the sequence of which we take to be their existing 'in time.' Nor can time be a fixed, structural feature of the objective world (thank you, Einstein) but only a way in which our senses order experience (thank you, Kant). Time is flow.

Hence the candle. Like wax, we soften, shift, mould round events and people, move on. We are essentially plastic. If we follow Aristotle and see the human person as the shape stamped onto the wax, we also need to remember that the shape is never immune from a little warmth. There is no permanent self, no fixed entity above the changes of life to which we can cling, no self-image that is not due for revision. Hence the Buddhist argument that the attempt to grasp and hold life, hopelessly wanting things to remain fixed, as though we might possess each moment and everything it offers, can only lead to dissatisfaction and frustration.

Nothing has an absolute starting point, nor does it ever finally end - even if, for convenience, we like to see things that way. The chain of events that influences who you are, started long before your birth, and in unknown ways your life will have an influence long after your death.

The flow of being is rich and varied. One moment is remembered as transformatived - falling in love or witnessing death, success of failure - minutes, days, years slip by, in retrospect almost forgotten. Yet all is equally the flow that is time, some parts of the passage more memorable than others.

Mostly we try to avoid the sensation of flow ( except when, in the ecstasy of creativity we forget ourselves) and find life easier to handle in defined chunks. Hence the good intentions as one year slips into the next and make our resolutions. At certain times, as now, we - unpausing in our flow - try to take stock, re-evaluate, re-formulate our dreams, learn to live with, or rectify, the things we most regret. Yet, like it or not, we take it all with us as we move on, forever changing, forever nurturing our hopes. Enjoy your plasticity; only the very cold think of themselves as fixed.

Good luck, as you continue along the passageless passage of time, and...

Happy New Year!

31st December, 2017

 

 

 

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