The question of Destiny versus Free Will has kept philosophers debating for centuries and on some level, each person must determine what they believe in order to proceed fully with daily life. I first encountered this conundrum as a child, when I wondered if the Universe had pre-ordained my lot. Destiny seems to have the upper hand when you have no legal status and you must confer all your choices to authority figures. Unpredictable and severe punishments were meted out regularly and though I defended my innocence, I could not escape the violence. Instead of seeking short-term remedy, I changed my tactics toward long-term emancipation. My iron will and my commitment to the strategy worked. I found my independence at an early age and my life changed. Did my will create this freedom or was it my destiny to find it?
From my perspective, Destiny exists as a divine contract with teachings we have come to explore and a purpose we are here to fulfill. Our Free Will is our creative freedom within this contract. My heart whispers that our common purpose is to evolve through the vibration of Compassion – but exactly how we approach that is our unique masterpiece. Yes, the Universe has told us to paint, sculpt, dance and sing about Love but we can do this in infinite ways. Our biography will reveal whether we studied the beauty of love or the ugliness of life without love. Either way, we learn about Love. In this transcendent reality, there are no “mistakes” because every experience becomes a valid teaching. The “doing and having” of something teaches us yet the “not doing or not having” also teaches equally.
According to our contract, there are certain characters who play very visible parts in our life story and when we meet them, we do important evolutionary work together. Then, there is the cast of background characters from past and present whom we will never meet in person but they will have impacted the matrix of our reality in immeasurable ways. Even our own personality and particular circumstances are part of our divine agreements – such as the type of body, family, culture, class, race, geography or era we are born into. They set the stage for our teachings and instill the key topics through which we will evolve.
Perhaps you have noticed that strange and distinct feeling of Destiny on occasion? It’s similar to the feeling of Deja-vu when Time freezes for a moment and you gain the heightened awareness of a peculiar truth. You sense that you were meant to meet this person or be at this event for a reason. That fateful sensation can arise from something tragic or something beautiful because the contract employs both pleasure and pain as instigators for evolution. At this time of history, many people can feel that they are here to help birth a new consciousness even though others despair under the weight of the world’s issues.
Romantic films often center on the lead character’s unique destiny with either epic Love or Heroism. The protagonist discovers that they are the “Chosen One” and must save the beloved or the planet. Despite great trials, they do not abandon the journey because they know they have a destiny to fulfill. We resonate with the Hero because like them, we would like to know that our existence has a special and meaningful purpose. We would like to believe that we too have a noble destiny and an epic story to live out. If we are not merely random biological programs in a mechanistic universe, then striving for a life of honor is worthy of our energy and devotion.
Yet the idea of having a destiny or contract is frightening to many. It can be perceived as a severely limiting force which can coldly dismantle dreams or wishes that are not in accordance with its mysterious will. The greatest fear is that Destiny does not have glory in store for them, but great suffering! Fortune tellers or psychics are sought by both rich and poor in ancient civilizations and in modern societies in the hopes of deciphering Destiny’s intentions. Many successful CEO’s are known for keeping an astrologer on retainer, to map out auspicious dates for their personal and business decisions. With some knowledge, they hope to work in alignment rather than in opposition to these great cosmic forces.
Destiny is sometimes called “God’s Will” or “divine will” and come what may, many people do find some relief in surrendering their personal will to a greater force. Whether we follow a spiritual faith or not, we all seek a measure of peace within our world view. Our inherent paradigm is the backbone for our existence and our actions. What we believe determines how we make choices in our lifetime. Even atheists need to reconcile with their life force and learn how to work within their perspective of reality.
I was an atheist for some time and then an agnostic. Through both lenses, I remained committed to my evolution because I had found my personal mission. I had decided that if there really was no inherent meaning or purpose in this atomic universe, then I would create meaning for myself. For as long as I lived, I would bring as much beauty and nobility as I could to this “god-forsaken” place. Even if such qualities did not inherently exist, I would do my best to make them real while I lived. Eventually, my agnostic view turned mystic when I communed with the divine heart of the Universe and found that it was more beautiful than I ever imagined…
Though the awareness of a “divine” contract has been used in suppressive ways by past and present cultures (e.g. “divinely” appointed rulers or “chosen” peoples), even the tribulations we experience are part of the sacred work. Our lives are not about suffering but it is impossible to live in this realm without experiencing some pain along the way. My own childhood, albeit unhappy and painful, was the profound catalyst for my spiritual journey and I can now look back with appreciation for how it shaped my destiny and my will so eloquently.
On the flip side, the idea of Free Will can be equally disconcerting for people. Some feel that humans should not and could not have that level of power and freedom. When they think about the concept of Free Will, they imagine a world where there are no checks and balances for the infinite greed, violence and corruption that humans are capable of. They may prefer believing in a deity who will discipline us when we breach guidelines of right and wrong. Or they may prefer trusting in earthly authority figures to control us by enforcing laws and penalties. When people see murderers and dictators running free and fancy, they feel angst at the failure of either human laws or divine laws. Thus, the idea of karmic consequences or the notion of Heaven and Hell may be a soothing balm of accountability that takes up the slack where our visible justice systems end.
Even those who accept the existence of Free Will are not necessarily free from angst. The weight of life choices can bear an existential burden on even the strongest shoulders. If there really is no destiny but the destiny we make with our own might, we will either persevere with determination or we will abandon our dreams when we lose steam. It can be a lonely planet when we must rely solely on our own wits to survive. Capitalism is inherently a proponent of Free Will over Destiny: “Come to America and build your dream!” Those who came left behind old world destinies of potential poverty in search for the infinite possibilities the new world offered. If they worked hard enough, they could finally be masters of their Destinies. Their oppressed ancestors would have been proud. Many of the European and Asian societies had cultivated systems that were inherently “destiny” based: you were destined from birth to be a king or a peasant.
My own journey has involved the conscious and peaceful integration of many paradoxes. (Whether we are aware or not, we all live with paradoxes). With the perspective of divine Destiny and Free Will working in harmony, I am able to take action according to my individual desires yet surrender to a sense of ultimate perfection at the same time. I feel the purpose of my appointed destiny and the freedom of choice in my will. Being both human and divine, I can stumble along the way yet I can do no wrong.
For example: In the 2 weeks prior to my trip abroad, I had wondered for a moment if I should go to India at this time since a host of obstacles were arising. In the end, I realized that the obstacles were a reflection of my inner state and a perfect teaching for my personal evolution. If I had allowed these obstacles to stop me from traveling, then I would have experienced a meaningful adventure in Vancouver for the winter. But since I persevered and proceeded to India, then whatever is to come from my travels abroad will also bring the perfect teachings.
A lot of people ask me whether this sense of perfection will cause complacency. My response is that quite the contrary, we are fueled with new vigor and boldness! We are more willing to take risks because there is less fear about making “right” or “wrong” choices. We are less willing to make judgments about outcome because we realize that there is a higher perspective for every situation. And just as our nerve endings help us avoid injury, our spiritual nerve endings help us evolve towards compassionate action towards others and ourselves. Though we are permitted to take any fork in the road, we can still be intentional in approaching our teachings with noble action and by listening to our heart’s guidance.
We exist in an incredible feedback system. Though we have a destined meal to cook in our lifetime, we can choose how we make it. If something doesn’t taste good to us, we can try changing the recipe. Yet whatever flavor we do experience (be it bitter or sweet) we can practice accepting it as the perfect medicine for that moment. Destiny may give us the meal plan and some key ingredients, but there is much freedom in what kind of dishes we will create, what kind of chef we become and how delicious we will find the journey…