How often have you paged through the whole of your life and considered the difference a few smalls changes could have made; a few small twists of fate and circumstance? What would your life be like if your luck had just been different? If the fates had seen fit to place you gently in to a life of abundance and health and you had not the opportunity to suffer the great pains and injuries that plagued your existence? If you had not the mountains of struggle in your rear view mirror would you be further along on your path? Would you be better and happier and more whole than you are today? What then would you have to say about your life?
If you were honest with yourself, I think you would say, “That is not my life. It is the life of someone other than me because what I am today was only made possible by all of my experiences. By the scars and the bruises and the setbacks as much as the triumphs. I am all of my life and every piece of it has made me who I am today.”
And you would be right. You can not be the you that you are today without the pain and loss and misery you felt but yesterday. You can not embrace a single, solitary joy, pulling it to your chest and loving it with all your heart, without equally embracing all the pain that brought it to you. Because it all comes together. It is all part of one whole thing that is all required in order to get any of it.
Amor Fati – The Love of Fate
Friedrich Nietzsche, an influential philosopher and fledgling psychologist of the late 19th century, gave a name and a philosophical theory to this radical acceptance of all the fateful things that life brings to all people. Amor Fati. The love of fate. Nietzsche’s ideas on this concept seem to run parallel to the ancient Greek Stoic philosophers, who also emphasized the importance of focusing your attention for change on those things to which you had firmly under your control – namely your reactions and emotional responses to things – and learning to accept those things you do not; which is everything external to yourself.
Amor fati is the idea that, in order to truly attain a consistent and enduring level of happiness in life we must become comfortable with all the maladies and miseries as much as with the fortunes and joys. We must find as deep a love for the misfortunes that we face as for the fortunes that we seek because they are all a necessary part of the only thing we have; Life.
Nietzsche suffered heavily during the later stages of his life. Stricken by crippling illness and debilitating diseases that left him bedridden, wasting away and eventually overcome by insanity and it is to this personal depreciation that he reached out towards the idea of loving your fate and living fully, despite the insistence of time and life that we are to casually devolve into a wasted shell of what we once were. There is no denying the grand fate of man and in its acceptance comes a freedom to perpetually create, without the struggle against your fate.
Like a tree planted in malnourished soil, you do not begrudge your poor luck at lacking the things you need to thrive. You find a different way to grow or you die trying. You do not curse the seasons of your falling leaves, but embrace the necessary losses required for your future sprouting, because life demands of you to accept the occasional pains and losses of prosperity. It demands that you accept the difficulties of living so that you can enjoy the accomplishment of life. It demands that you learn to accept those things to which you have no control and then you find a way to grow despite them.
You will never be handed ideal conditions in which to grow in life. You will always be faced with the myriad of killing things that threaten to destroy you, but the true and lasting strength of your story comes from your endurance. It comes from the scrapes and cuts and breaks of living. It comes from thriving despite your fate.
There is so much growth that happens underneath what we can see. The spreading of roots that is ours alone to know. The stable things that nourish you and keep you whole and healthy, those are the things that we must protect in order to show the world the pretty things that we can blossom above ground.
So what do we do?
Let go of the time you spend raging against those things that you can not change, the things that have been willed by fate for you to endure. The things that make you stronger, heartier and more apt to weather the future storms of life. The time you waste focused on your bad luck is time better spent getting to the work of starting again.
There is no complaint so loud that it would ever change your luck, and there is no action so quiet that it would ever keep you still. The purpose of complaining is to convince the world that we have been wronged. We have been accosted by the whims of providence and as such we have an excuse to prevent us from accomplishing what we sent out to accomplish. I do not deny the influence of fate in changing the direction of our lives, but you either accept that and move on in a new direction or you drift along rudderless and curse the wind for not taking you to where you wanted to go.
Nietzsche said it best when he said:
“My formula for human greatness is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not in the future, not in the past, not for all eternity. Not only to endure what is necessary, still less to conceal it — all idealism is falseness in the face of necessity — , but to love it…”
The Paradox of Fateful Ownership
Yes. There is a paradox to the idea of loving your fate and also choosing in every moment to create the life you want. But there doesn’t have to be.
The point of loving your fate is not in accepting all things that come to you simply as they are and sitting on the sidelines of your life as though you had nothing to contribute to the working of fate. The point is to come to accept that, even the best-laid plans, the deepest felt loves, the hardest worked fields and the strongest felt desires can all be scorched to the ground by the randomly shifting fires of fate. You accept this, but you never let it deter you from starting again; building atop the smoldering ruins, a firmer foundation and a higher ideal.
We should always strive to create more and better, within the working of our fate, but never come to be consumed by the result. Like a great painter, if we are not satisfied with the product we have created we merely begin again, delighting not in the finished work but fully in the process of creation – in the eternal beginning again and again – with the lesson learned and the vision clearer. We should never be burdened by the imposition of judging the result. Others will judge it for us, to that we can be sure, but all that truly matters is if it fulfilled the promises we made to ourselves.
Embracing the Pain
There have been many times in raising my son that he has come across some pain, physical or mental, and my fatherly advice to him has been, “embrace the pain.” Now, I do not ask this of him as a manly thing, or as an emotionally dulling thing, but as a vigorously human thing. A critical skill to be learned in order to be prepared for the eventual and inevitable pains that life has to bring.
And of course there are times when I embrace the pain in him for the both of us – when I hold him and comfort him and wipe the tears from his eyes as if they fell from my own – but there is so much value in learning to embrace the pain of life – value that he will see when he is faced with personal pain that I can no longer embrace for him, no matter how much I want to.
And when he is grown, and I stand beside him and I see the strength that he is willed into his mind and body and heart and soul and he perseveres despite the odds placed against him or the circumstances to which he is thrown, I will know that he has learned to “embrace the pain” to which he was given and has found the fortitude to start again despite it all.
So look at your life, knowing what you now know, and ask yourself, “Is it time to embrace the pain and move forward? Is it time to accept the circumstances of it all to such a degree that I can start again to live? Is it time to accept your fate to such a degree that you can begin the real, honest work of living?” The answer is; Yes, it is time. Now is the best time. Now is the only time. Now is when you endure the fates, but you begin to create your life. Now is when you stop complaining about what you were handed and you start creating what you think you deserve. Now is when you develop the endurance to run the long distance and to suffer the long pains.
Because now is all you have, and we are fragile, fleeting creatures, tempered to strength only by the pains that we endure, the fates that we accept. There is no hardening of the metal of our minds without the beating of the hammer on our emotions. We are born fragile, but it is through the struggles that we must face that we are forged into greatness and it is only through this process that we can come to endure that which life asks of us; to accept, to create and to live fully within.