"No fate", carved Sarah Connor unconsciously on a piece of wood in Terminator 2. It might be a cheesy classic to quote from, but it sure addresses one of the biggest issues in life.
No fate but what we make for ourselves. Here’s quite an empowering statement that gives purpose to our life, but it’s at the same time a huge responsibility to be carrying forever on our simple shoulders. The wake up call might be rough and blaming it on ourselves when the walls come tumbling down around us is not the easiest thing to do. How much more convenient then to blame it on fate or God, and to downplay our role to that of willing puppets.
But what if both sides of the coin were actually combined into a more universal theory? What if fate was a real factor in our lives, and yet could be manipulated any way we see fit?
We’d have the best of both worlds. An infinitely powerful giant hand to guide us and lead us towards our destiny, and then also a small remote control hidden in our pocket that would allow us total control over the mighty hand. Free will combining with fate, interacting with it. Out of awareness and sometimes unconventional choices, we’d be able to alter the course of what seems to be written for us. That, in the end, might be the only real wisdom there is.
To sum it up, as it was said: "Have the strength to change the things you can change, the patience to endure the things you can’t, and the wisdom to know the difference."
But for all this to work, one more element must be defined a little better; that’s the apparent conflict of chaos and chance vs. probability.
In comes my theory of "Fate as a tree".
For the purpose of my argument, we’ll imagine a tall beautiful tree, maybe a descendant of Lothlorian’s mallorns. Tall slender trunk leading to a sudden explosion of branches and thick foliage.
The tree represents our life, painted on the unforgiving scale of time; past, present and future. We are forever struggling in a frozen moment, a point that will never change and remains unique in its essence and almost beyond definition: now. The present.
A second elapses and it has already become the past. The present is elusive and cannot really be grasped until one stops trying to grasp it. It is just here and now, no questions asked. It is embodied and carried by the actions and events of the past, and it lets us catch a glimpse of the future’s promises, in turn dark and gloomy and then shinning like diamonds.
The elusive moment we are in, our fragile present, is located precisely at the junction of the trunk and the branches of our tree.
Looking down, and back in time, only one direction leads to where we are now. The trunk is smooth and even though some scars are visible where branches were cut or have died, there is no way to start climbing up the tree and not arrive exactly where we are.
Our life’s path up to now has been written, and no matter what the circumstances were, and what mixture of fate and free will they were made of, here and now is the result. The smoothness of the trunk discourages any regrets. There is no going back, no changing what has been done or choosing a different direction for our past.
But now comes the extraordinary part. We must keep climbing. And as we do, the trunk is going to keep stretching upwards and our life experience will grow with it. But we will always be standing (or clinging) at the point where the branches begin because as soon as we choose a new branch and begin to climb on it, it solidifies and merges with the trunk, becoming vertical and an integral part of our path, and our past. The other past branches disappear into the parallel universe of speculation.
This is exactly where the theory becomes fascinating. Let’s look up. We see main branches leading from where we are towards smaller branches. There are also smaller branches starting right away. There are even some unhealthy branches that are broken half way up, or have died already and lead nowhere, nor do they support leaf growth.
There’s our future at a glance. It’s all there. Infinite possibilities, some invisible, others almost unavoidable. Some mainstream, logical and strong, others thin and frail, and dangerous. In time they all cross and re-cross, in an tangled, blurry, complex pattern. Or maybe only one choice seems available.
Fate is the main branches. They are thick and strong, and it is really hard to venture away from them. They are calling us, they make it easy for us to climb on no matter what, and whether we’ve chosen to willingly or just got distracted and kept climbing.
There is more than one fate, as there is more than one branch. I’ll call these the mainstreams. They are the main currents in our lives. In some people’s tree yes, there might be a single obviously bigger branch. These would be the trees of geniuses, of the best athletes, of people who achieve great things. Or they could be the trees of the opposite kind of people: those who go through their lives without being too aware nor achieving much, staying on the easiest main track.
But other trees are so complicated that the outcome of the climb appears totally unpredictable. Hello, that’s me! Fantastic potential, but also so much to choose from that it becomes confusing and the climb, rather than following a straight line, zigzags right and left, and at times wanders onto thin and fragile branches, off the beaten path and away from the mainstreams.
Yet it’s impossible to completely part with fate. The mainstream branches are the only possible vehicles for one to continue the climb of life. So no matter what the chosen path and how unconventional it was, it always must lead back towards a bigger branch, one that might have been invisible earlier but nevertheless existed – unless it has grown as fast as we were climbing. That return to a mainstream could involve some scary jumping and imply that a dead end was reached, but it is necessary to remain in the game.
So fate prevails. And yet it isn’t the stiff unchangeable prison we thought it to be but instead it turns out to be somewhat flexible, changing and unwritten. Fate is a guide, it’s an explanation for recurring patterns and hard to avoid events. It’s a comforting reason to go on because it pretty much guaranties that there is a meaning to where we are and that a clearer and stronger path lies ahead.
Fate is telling us that there are mainstreams in our life, directions to choose from to go further faster. These aren’t the same for everyone though, as each tree is different. And of course, everything still remains possible as one could decide to do the entire climb clinging to small unsafe or challenging branches. It’d be a more difficult journey but not necessarily a more rewarding or happier one.
But one thing is for sure: once an instant, a moment, a decision, a move or an action shifts from the fleeting present into the single stream of the past, which branch it came from stops to be relevant.
From that point on, we WILL NEVER KNOW if it was fate-induced or not, if it was meant to be or if we pushed our luck, if we went the right or the wrong way. It has just become the only way.
We do, however, at times, manage to get a sense of right or wrong from our climbing decisions. It’s a matter of awareness. Not only might the branches stretching above us appear suddenly very different then they did a while before – and that would be a simple consequence of our choices – but we could also simply “feel” a wrong turn, or get a glimpse of the results of a bad move.
That feeling doesn’t mean we can change anything to the past climb. But it might be a warning, and it most probably means we have ventured too far away from a mainstream branch, and from fate.
So in the end, what should we do? How should we act? Where should we decide to aim our climb?
Fate is there above us, but it isn’t always clearly visible and it might be changing. It remains our choices that will lead us towards it or away from it. It’s not unavoidable, nor is it ever written in advance. It is, however, strong and difficult to move away from.
The more aware we are, and the more focused and open-minded, the easiest it should be to identify and follow fate’s mainstream if it looks like a healthy path, or to stay away from it if it looks doomed.
Could we miss out on a great fate stream? Definitely, by repeatedly making the wrong decisions, or failing to make the right ones. Could a single bad choice divert us away from a mainstream branch forever? Probably not. Fate seems pretty resilient to mistakes, seen from this angle. But it can’t be immune to them.
What about serendipity, then? How does it fit into the "Fate as a tree" theory? Can there be pure coincidences?
Why not? If we happen to come across another branch while climbing up a mainstream, it seems possible to suddenly be given a totally different opportunity, unrelated to our current path. Choosing it would then become fate, yet skipping it could still have been fate…
I have a headache now. ;-)