I was recently listening to a talk by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, and a person from the audience asked him, “Guruji, is marriage free will or destiny?” Sri Sri Ravi Shankar smiled and said funnily, “Well, if it’s working it’s free will, and if it’s not it’s your destiny.”
And while this reply may seem like a joke, it holds quite a bit of truth in it I find, in the sense that we often say something is fate or destiny when we experience it as limiting, hard, uncomfortable, painful, frustrating, or full of some obstacle we can’t seem to push through, “Oh, it must be my destiny, my fate!” We say this because we feel powerless, and as human beings we need to feel a sense of control to give ourselves some much needed comfort and soothing in this unstable thing called life.
A question perhaps as old as humanity itself is: Is life free will or destiny? How much of it is pre-determined, and how much control do we actually have?
Life is a combination of both free will and destiny, in my humble opinion, as consciousness weaves us in through both. It is not an either/or, it is both/and. In other words: Free will is a movement that resides within the hand of destiny; and yet both need one another to exist. But let’s dive into this fascinating topic much deeper today, as I’ve also gotten a few questions on my perspective about it – and you know how much I love to dive into spiritual, mystical and philosophical topics.
For the purpose of time and this article, I will be referring to fate and destiny as one – meaning all that we perceive as pre-determined, all we refer to as “written in the stars, written in stone, meant to happen, up to God, beyond our control”, as most people use these two words interchangeably and the intention for asking these questions and behind these words is of similar nature.
To speak of free will versus destiny, we need to also speak of our human relationship with, and to, control and the fear of surrender. And let’s be honest: We, as human beings, have a very messy and complicated relationship to these both.
Life has its own pulse, its own rhythm. It inhales and exhales in its chest like breath; it moves like the waves in the sea with its ebbs and flows; and yet as the moon, the waning is always held by the waxing even when we can’t see it because the sun hasn’t yet shined on that part of the moon. And in itself, each breath is needed, and each aspect of purposeful.
As human beings, we are conditioned in our minds and have very limited understanding, so we will never know it all, we will never see nor understand the higher perspective of things or the grand design behind it all. We will never know it, and we were never meant to know it all anyway. The humility of this deserves to be treasured.
In times of instability, it is only natural to tighten up our grips – because we want to gain back some sense of control and to give ourselves some stability. It is absolutely terrifying to feel powerless, and to feel like something is beyond our control. And so we try, as best as we can, to gain back some sense of control, to soothe and comfort ourselves. This is natural, it is human, and there is nothing wrong with this. We are only trying to hold on to the ground, to the rails, as a windy storm or tornado just came upon us.
As human beings, we also need to understand things, because this also gives us a sense of comfort and control; so that’s why perhaps we are obsessed with information, numbers, boxes, categories, knowledge, learning – because we need to shape something, observe it, study it, to see in a more tangible way that which we cannot see. Because if we see the thing or person or situation as a defined thing with lines and structures, we’ll study and know its patterns better, and maybe, we will prevent ourselves from feeling pain. We hope to make sense of things. But all beneath heaven is unstable – and perhaps this is why we even have bodies, so that we feel some stability – which is what grounding means: to feel embodied and present in your body right now.
We all want to know and understand things, but when does digging in further become distracting ourselves from experiencing life and moving through its changes and natural rhythm? Can a preoccupation with either extreme of all fate or all free will actually become a distraction from healing? We need to try to become comfortable with the uncomfortable and with the unknown – we need to have more trust, and trust is a scary thing also. But trust in the natural unfolding of life, in the unknown, allows us a sense of humility, keeps us in our humanness, and allows us to actually live more fully.
One of our greatest lessons in this life is trust. Trust in self, trust in God, trust in the unfolding of our life without always wanting to control things and outcomes. Trust in the heartbeat in your chest, because even though you can’t see nor touch the heart with your hands, you feel it, you trust it, you know it’s there. Trust in life – trust that life will find its way through the hands of others to provide to you what you need. There is humility in this. There is wisdom in this. Self awareness, inner work and soul growth serve our confidence and serve our faith in the path that way.
In one way or another we are all surrendered to the the higher laws of God. Free will is perhaps meant to make us feel safer in that surrender, to soothe us or ease our pain or comfort us as we walk with the fear of surrender, and essentially, perhaps its lesson is to inspire us to trust more. Free will allows us to let go of the blame towards ourselves and towards life, take stability in our own personal power and self authority moving forward, and respond to life with a compassion of rhythm, so that we lead a more conscious life of self awareness.
I believe free will resides within the hand of fate – and it is an important part in the path of our destiny – because when we don’t blindly surrender to fate, nor stay as mere objects at the mercy of the circumstances around us and externally, we get to experience the mystical experiences along the twists and turns of life’s walks.
Through these mystical experiences, through self awareness, through spirituality and the inner walkings of self knowledge, we go deeper. We go deeper within ourselves because we want to touch something that dissolves some of the preconditioning of this world and allow is to experience a different kind of freedom. We see that we can be something, or do something, beyond our conditioning, beyond what we thought we could. So this serves our confidence – it serves the faith on the path that way. It serves also the purpose that we can now be of more help to others also – because through self awareness, we gift ourselves a great gift and others too, being more aware, more conscious of our choices and more discerning of our actions. Clarity of mind, purity of heart and intention in action is what this life is about.
Free will is important for us because for some people it even brings them closer to God, and to their own hearts and inner wisdom and power. Because if life was just fate, we as humanity wouldn’t even surrender to God nor its divine light and grace. We wouldn’t see the grace. We wouldn’t see the way life flows in and through us. We’d get stuck, stagnant, lazy, just flowing in the rivers not even growing on a soul level.
So perhaps one cannot exist without the other, and yet free will is contained within that hand of fate. In other hands, we have free will within fate, not the other way around. Free will allows us a movement that is purposeful and needed. And in my opinion, its higher purpose is to help humans find their way back to God. Free will exists because it gives us hope, a sense of control, and it is kind of like saving grace within the actuality of fate.
But fate too can be a divine consolation – because we understand that not all in our control, it gives us relief from the constant self blame or self guilt or “it’s all my fault, I manifested it all”. There is a freedom and a relief in knowing this – and we open our palms again, so that we don’t hold on so tightly out of fear.
Free will is the soul believing that all comes from within me. Often times, the lessons along this path are lessons of disillusionment, humility, a lot of inner work to find and accept God within, and the need to show compassion for others.
Fate is the soul believing all is shaped from the outside world; and the lessons on this path would be ones that would then ask you to step into your own inner power and conscious initiation, inner work and self awareness, bringing awareness and reasoning where and when these beliefs of fate are needed and appropriate, and having empathy and compassion for all people without judgment.
Some schools of thought say that we have no control at all – that we are kind of like objects in this universe left to the total mercy of circumstances, and all spirituality and self awareness tools are woo-woo things, or elaborate, artistic, non-sensical and interpretive forms of emotional management. But to think that all is pre-destined is a fatalistic, and a bit of a naive or childish, or even infantile, approach to life. It is also full of fear and dogma.
And then on the other extreme are those who believe in the total acquisition of control – like the free will new age “manifest all you want” mentality. But to really believe that all in your control is grandiose; it’s a bit arrogant, selfish and ego-centric, with an undercurrent of a God complex. Not everything revolves around us, because we are not the center of the universe. And this extreme path too is full of fear – fear of surrender, of feeling powerless, and of accepting that we are merely human not Gods.
On that free will “manifest all you want, it is all up to you” path, there can often times arise feelings of shame, self blame and guilt, because a person might be doing all their work, all the “steps”, and yet still nothing is coming to fruition – which then turns back the lens on themselves and they think that it their fault. We need to remember that there are other souls with their own free will, paths and destinies, and many things need to align for something to happen – this has its own timing. And trying to force things to happen may even be at our detriment, because we simply, as human beings, do not hold the overall vision of life and have limited perspectives.
Both free will and destiny are in their essence right and exist simultaneously; and none are, nor should be, absolute, because absolutism sinks us the water likes stones.
Our relationship with, and to, control, if we want it to be a healthy relationship, is about understanding what is in our sphere of control and what isn’t, and what shouldn’t be.
We try to control with money, applied power, conversation, seeking answers, study and information, structures, and on and on and on. We often overwork to feel control also, especially if we are dealing with change and instability. But all these are only our attempts and desire to block or evade change, or to soothe a loss in our life. That’s natural, that’s human. It’s okay. But we need to understand that we need to sometimes feel powerless enough, so that we heal and deal with the changes in life – we need to have that humility and humbleness of being human, no matter how scary it might feel.
Surely, we have control over things in this life. We exercise our free will in the way we respond, how we adjust, how we apply our self efforts and perseverance, how we choose to act and initiate, what values we align to, the kind of person we choose to be, what opinions and beliefs we take in, and how we make our choices in life overall.
And surely, if you have a good astrologer or spiritual practitioner, they will be able to offer you insight on what may be ahead and what you may do to navigate through or avoid entirely – what is within the realm of possibilities, so that you can make better and more discerning choices allowing you soul growth as well, rather than perpetuating the same cycles over and over and feeling trapped in circumstances.
Spirituality is about moving through the change rather than armouring ourselves against it. So while we do not have control of whether it will rain today or not, we can choose whether we want to get an umbrella so we don’t get wet, or stay home cuddled up, or dance outside in the rain. But if we go outside and get wet, even though we could have seen clearly the clouds kissing and thunders singing, well, complaining about getting wet after is immature.
We are not powerless, and we shouldn’t be fatalistic nor dogmatic. Yet we should also try not to fear surrender so much, and think all revolves around us with these modern unhealthy “manifest all you want” ideas, which eventually will cause you self blame and self guilt and keep you trapped in your conditioning. Yes, you have power in this life, yes, you need to do your inner work and be self aware, but don’t think that a vision board will magically create things for you the next day.
Understanding the essence of fate keeps us in our humbleness and humility – and these are virtues – and yet the danger of this concept, if taken to the extreme, is that we keep ourselves stuck, stagnant, and may only do things for karmic rewards. What do I mean by this? Well, a lot of people may be looking to do “remedies” just to relieve their karma, while on an inner level their intention isn’t all of purity of heart. So essentially, they are not really contributing much to their soul’s growth and evolutionary path – because their focus remains on the external rather than the internal self development and self awareness.
And the danger of the free will mentality, if taken to the extreme, is that it creates, in a very subtle way, the me-against-the-world belief; it may eventually lead you to too much ego, extreme individualism and even selfishness, to the point of leaving you with little ability to actually work with others in healthy ways and understand interdependence. You may also begin to lose your sense of humility and belief in a higher power, in God, and forget your sense of proportion within this world with respect to other people. Essentially, we forget how to live healthily in a community as humankind.
You are a dancer meant to become the dance itself.
As a dancer, you have your body and talent, which is fate and destiny, and you have your free will which is your willingness, dedication and effort to work on your craft. You dance with both free will and destiny while listening to and moving to the natural rhythm that life and love are; you dance until you become the dance itself one day – when life itself will flow in and through you.
Consciousness flows in and through both fate and free will – both are necessary. This is the middle path. And the middle path is a humble process, so either way, you will get to this understanding and universal wisdom. But if you want to walk the middle path, rather than the two extreme ones, then know it is a balancing path, and a humility in accepting that both co-exist. When we stop the resistance to the natural energies, the dance takes us, and it may very well shape as something much more beautiful than we ever thought. And through this dance, others may be inspired to dance freely also – because true freedom means: to know we don’t know it all, thereby letting go of the burdens of that which we cannot control anyway.
And the last thing that I’d like to speak of, perhaps one of the most important ones, is that we cannot truly speak of free will and destiny without also treasuring God’s grace. Because even fate itself carries within itself our free will – it is the free will of our yesterdays, and the consequences of it. And yet – divine grace is what may often times save us from our undoing; a grace as light and often unseen like the lightness of butterfly wings on our skin; a grace of God to gently guide us returning us to love, and to our higher path. The humility of this deserves to be treasured.
One of our highest spiritual lessons in this life is trust. Trust in life, trust in self, trust in God, trust in the natural unfolding of your life. But trust can only happen when we allow it too – when we don’t know the answers to all. Beyond the hands of our man made clocks are the other clocks, unstrikeable and unclockable by us. There, time has its own timing, beyond our control, but know that God resides within you, in the home of your heart, so nurture that trust, nurture the humility that while we’ll never know it all, it is okay, we were never meant to know it all anyway. In the unknown feelings flow, God breathes, beauty shapes with trust, kindness and patience of rhythm. And only on these blank pages, miracles can surprise us.
In love and peace,
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The cover photograph is of the Aladzha Monastery in Bulgaria.