Amor Fati

Do you believe in fate? Also commonly referred to as destiny, karma, kismet, luck or lot, it’s defined as something that unavoidably befalls a person.

The family we happen to be born into, the part of the globe we occupy, the socioeconomic stratosphere we inhabit, the spouse(s) we choose.

Spilling a drink on your future boss at a family reunion, missing your flight due to weather and bumping into your estranged sister at the airport Starbucks, a starry-eyed chance encounter 3,000 miles from home with a handsome stranger who lives on your same street back home.

While this is the stuff of movies, it is also very much the stuff of real life. What does it all mean?

There is a Latin phrase, “amor fati,” which means the love of one’s fate. It is a useful attitude to adopt in that it calls us to see everything that happens in our life, from the most weepingly beautiful to the most gut wrenching, as essentially neutral…all part of the master plan. To be sure, I’m not suggesting we whitewash trauma and tragedy, but for the less debilitating events (and perhaps many things, in time) there may be a sense of peace gained in the practice of loving one’s fate.

An alternate way to interpret perceived fortune and misfortune can be found in a Zen tale about a farmer and his son. It’s a clever one-two punch: be careful what you wish for + seek the silver lining. This 3-minute video will make you think twice about what is good news and what is bad news, and how fate weaves through our lives.

If it’s meant to be then it cannot be stopped, or so the old adage goes. But the universe has its own timetable. And a rather slow one, I’ve noticed, given the speed at which I like things to roll. Yesterday is my first preference; immediately, my second. And sometimes I can wait 24 – 48 hours if I simply must. (And while I’m in demand-mode with you, universe: tidy box with a bow, please.)

In the 1998 film Sliding Doors, starring Gwyneth Paltrow, we follow the unfolding of her life in two dramatically different ways based on her having caught the subway vs. having just missed it. While the trailer is a bit hokey, the movie itself is thought provoking and lends itself to more closely observing the slings and arrows of fate in our own lives.

Just as an oak tree is the inevitable outcome of the acorn, “each person bears a uniqueness that asks to be lived and that is already present before it can be lived,” according to the late Jungian psychologist and scholar James Hillman. He is the author of the “acorn theory” which is outlined in his book The Soul’s Code; In Search of Character and Calling.

When destiny deals you a hand you aren’t happy with or didn’t plan on, pause for a moment and attempt to reframe it. Are there any gifts here? Is a “no” to this job/relationship/school/opportunity possibly a “yes” to something else? Seldom easy to do in the moment, consider it an aspirational goal.

Despite his lack of gender sensitivity, philosopher Karl Wilhelm von Humboldt nailed it with the following:

“It is usually more important how a man meets his fate than what it is.”

While unwelcome experiences can be revelatory and shouldn’t be ignored or glossed over, imagine the possibilities if people put as much focus on the positive experiences in life too. It’s not Pollyanna-speak or playing spin doctor. It is the idea to look at things from all angles and not always ruminate on the negative. (Sadly, this is the default in the brain’s wiring so it takes concerted effort to override.)

If life is a learning lab, and I believe that it is, then we are best served to honor the teacher that is our life. So as you prepare to show love to your honey, your kids, your grandma or humankind this weekend, consider a shout-out (if not a box of chocolates) to your fate…both the favorable and the lousy.

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