In Our Hands?

Ever since I made the decision to delve into the world of Yoga as a career, I’ve found myself on occasion contemplating the concept of free will versus fate or destiny. When I worked in retail management, opportunities presented themselves to me as I first began making my way in that industry, and due to my age and inexperience, I assumed that life would continue to unravel in a similar fashion…I would continue to follow the paths offered by these opportunities, and all would be rosy. After allowing this philosophy to guide me through 13 years, I found myself lacking any sort of satisfaction or contentment from my professional life, at which point I decided it was time to retreat, regroup, and rethink my approach to my own life.

A couple of weeks in 2008 found me in Greece, deeply focused on not focusing on my quandry…in fact, I pulled one of those moments where we offer up our dilemma to a higher power and ask that the answer manifest itself with the reassurance that only a sign from above can possess. During these weeks, I was reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, and one paragraph from her travel tales jumped out at me:

Destiny, I feel, is also a relationship – a play between divine grace and willful self-effort. Half of it you have no control over; half of it is absolutely in your hands, and your actions will  show measurable consequences. Man is neither entirely a puppet of the gods, nor is he entirely the captain of his own destiny; he’s a little of both. (freewill) We gallop through our lives like circus performers balancing on 2 speeding side-by-side horses – one foot is on the horse called ‘fate‘, the other on the horse called ‘free will’. And the questions you have to ask every day is, Which horse is which? Which horse do i need to stop worrying about because it’s not under my control,and which do I need to steer with concentrated effort?

For years, I had a strong foothold on the horse called “fate”, until its grip loosened enough to make me question if my foot had ever been comfortable there to begin with. With the assistance of the universe around me, I dug my foot into “free will” and started riding away from that place of uncertainty, not once darting a questioning look back over my shoulder. The metaphor of the two horses  made perfect sense to me, especially because it described the balancing act that we all attempt to master throughout life, regardless of the fact that mastering it is near-impossible…we can always do our best, and then re-assess our approach when that balance starts to teeter one way or the other. The ironic thing is that despite relating to the idea of balancing between destiny and free will, my actions showed me that my approach showed absolutely no inclination towards balance. I was literally riding one horse completely, with both feet firmly dug in, until it stopped serving me, at which point I jumped on the other horse until I felt stable enough to replace on foot back where it had been for years before.

Since then, I find myself carefully taking stock of where I am professionally and where it seems to be leading me, and adjustments are made constantly. The past week has found me immersed in another fantastic book, Nikolski by Nicolas Dickner, a Montreal-born author whose work I’m loving right now is also partly based in Montreal. Cut to me, 30 minutes ago, on the sofa reading (and nursing my traumatized kidney that passed a stone a couple of days ago), and, once again, a passage jumped out at me that I believe may have created in a shift not only in my perception, but in my consciousness as well:

Most people have clearly defined opinions on the subject of free will: Fate (no matter what you call it) either exists or does not exist. There can be no approximations, no in-betweens. I find this hypothesis reductive. In my view, fate is like intelligence, or beauty, or type z+ lymphocytes – some individuals have a greater supply than others.

The notion that fate may not strictly be something consistently definable from one person’s life to another fascinates me, and also leads me to the realm of thinking where I find myself wondering if destiny is something that can unfold based on the active decisions we take in our lives. Much like the Choose Your Own Adventure books I devoured as a child, can fate guide us to where we’re supposed to be after we take the necessary steps to unlock the door of possibilities? Or are we always where we’re supposed to be? What do you think?

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