This idea of surrendering ourselves to something beyond our control is foreign to our natural inclinations as human beings. At our core we are meaning making creatures who tirelessly seek to rid the world of uncertainty, and have power over our natural environment. We develop myths, rituals, belief systems, and socio-political institutions all in an attempt to influence the outcome in our favour – to shape our own destinies. According to the author and psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the development of culture is humanity’s attempt to reduce the inherent unpredictability of the external world, to make order out of chaos.
Despite the sophisticated technologies and narratives we develop, we remain at the mercy of Fate. Our attempts to tame and influence the external world to our favor are futile at best. A friend gets suddenly ill, a natural disaster tears apart our community, we don’t get the job that we think we deserve. Through this we learn about the indifference of the universe. This idea is further exemplified in Seneca’s brilliant prose,
We are all chained to fortune: the chain of one is made of gold, and wide, while that of another is short and rusty. But what difference does it make? The same prison surrounds all of us, and even those who have bound others are bound themselves…….. Honors bind one man, wealth another; nobility oppresses some, humility others; some are held in subjection by an external power, while others obey the tyrant withinSeneca: On Tranquility of Mind
What philosophy and ancient wisdom teaches us is to embrace hardship and uncertainty rather than run away from it. Rather than seeking comfort or security, we must willingly plunge into the abyss – the great unknown. Leaning in to fear and discomfort is where growth and personal transcendence happens.
Plagued with a life of hardship and illness, Fredrich Nietzsche found solace in the idea of Amor Fati, the love of fate. In his book Ecce Homo he writes,
My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it… but love it.
Nietzsche is not asking us to endure what happens to us, but embrace it – love it. To accept times of embarrassment, despair and remorse is to comprehend that every experience shapes who we are and who we become. To embrace Amor Fati is to come to terms with who you are. It is not a call to resignation nor apathy. Rather it is an understanding of the inherent vulnerability of the human race, and an acknowledgement of the fact that there are things we can and cannot control.
When I first came across this concept I was completely captivated, so much so that I wanted to get a tattoo (still forthcoming) of the phrase to have the opportunity to constantly be reminded of its significance. It’s a prompt that will encourage me that we always have the power to reshape or reframe events to give them a new meaning.
We are too quick to judge and interpret situations without taking a broader perspective. Both Buddhism and Stoicism teach us that events in themselves are neither inherently good nor bad. Rather it is up to us to decide how we can interpret them. While a time of hardship or difficulty may seem insidious in the present moment, you may look back on this period in retrospect as one of transformation and personal growth.
Like the Stoic philosopher Seneca alluded to, in some shape or form we are all chained down to something beyond ourselves – be it the will of Nature, Fate or Fortune. Instead of engaging in a senseless fight against what is outside of our influence why not embrace it with open arms. Why not take ownership over it and imagine this was something destined for you?
In times of doubt, chaos or uncertainty , remember Amor Fati. I can see of no other way to live.
This post was originally posted on my personal blog: A Life of Virtue: Philosophy as a Way of Life – In Search of Inner Freedom
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