It is said that these are three things that cause us all the distress we have in life. These are the anxieties about Fate, about Guilt, and about Doubt. Our anxiety about our fate is our subconscious realisation that we do not control Fate and are at its mercy. It creates this compulsion in us to want to control everything. Our anxiety about guilt is our subconscious realisation that we are totally responsible for how we live creating this compulsion to succeed. Our anxiety about doubt is our realisation that life has no meaning unless we create it and this creates our compulsion for certainty. I will talk about the last two anxieties over the next two weeks. I will write today about fate – this natural anxiety you carry around with you about your future that you do not control.
Our realisation that our fate is not entirely within our own hands creates chronic unease. Despite the popular myths that your dreams can come true if you try hard enough, we are haunted by the awareness that this is not entirely true. Everyday life, like a suspense movie, is filled with this anticipatory uncertainty about what is going to happen next.
We listen to the news everyday which tells us the same two things over and over again. The first is that “People Die”. The second is that “Bad things are happening”. In other words, “Your Fate May Not Be Good” is what Six-One News tells you every evening, day after day.
Fate is your destiny. A destiny that is not determined by you alone. Though you are giving directions you are not the one driving your own bus – fate is! Though you know where you want to go and though fate appears to listen to you some of the time, you still do not drive the bus of your own life. He/she takes you down different roads. Like taking a taxi in a foreign city, you give the directions but you have no idea where you are going, or how you are going to get there. Despite what the motivational books say about following your dreams, and realising you destiny, you are not in full control of your own Fate. You know only too well that illness, accidents, tragedies, traumas, diversions, accidents, mistakes, and so many unforeseen things can happen to you at any time.
Because of this you move through the hours and minutes of your life with this vague anxiety and unease. It comes and goes. At its best it is experienced as excitement and anticipation. The excitement that comes from realising that fate is working in your favour. It is the bliss of enjoying the moment because you know it to be the only moment. It is the pleasure of realising that the gods seem to favour you, for now. It is also the excitement in you when you feel you can trust fate. It is that feeling that whatever happens in your life will be okay. It is a kind of inner confidence that life will be good to you and if it is not, you will be able to deal with it.
This natural anxiety about fate can be soothed into calm about life. This can happen when you remember that you are blessed and when you feel grateful for life’s uncertainty. You strive to live for the ‘now’ because when you take your eyes off the present moment, the distant drumbeat of anxiety is heard in the distance.
But no matter how good we can feel about our future, the anxiety of fate never goes away. If you are a parent you know this feeling only too well. It is this ever vigilant sense of danger that lurks around the corner of your child’s innocent exploration. You know that the fate of illness, accidents, and unexpected events are never but a few steps away from your vulnerable child.
We can find some relief from our anxiety about Fate through control. We don’t just sit back and wait for fate. We try to counter fate by simply making plans and setting goals. We try to operate on the assumption that we are driving our own bus and try to live accordingly. We counter the dread of fate with our efforts to control our lives and the behaviour of those close to us. Exerting control gives us some passing sense of being in charge of our immediate life. We ease the anxiety. It is necessary and essential in order to live and make our way forward through life. Having a sense of agency and control is the fire of life. However, this temporary control is set against the background of the unknown fate that life has in store for us.
The danger of control is that we often take it too far. We can become control-freaks. We can become so controlling that we freak out when people do not conform to what we expect – be it our children or partners. When our need for control takes over we can become aggressive and demanding.
Or else we turn inward and scheme and plan how we are going to outwit the day ahead of us. We try to ensure we have some kind of controlled victory over our work, our boss, or our family.
We can find a resolution to the problem of our helplessness through acceptance. An acceptance that affirms the fact that you are not in control of life, that you do not need to be, and that the very essence of life is its unexpected nature. Your task in life is to enjoy the scenery on the daily detours away from your best made plans! Acceptance of the vulnerability of life can bring a humility and ease. It is a realization that you do not need to be in control because you never can be. Your partner and children are free entities with their own destinies separate from your plans. Acceptance helps you to access the divine freedom of life. You can find that your love of Freedom is the antidote to your fear of Fate. And the gateway to this freedom is through Hope.
The sparrow in my garden, whose nest has been accidentally destroyed by hedge clippers, is not crestfallen. He has not become distressed or hopeless. He has not been filled with despair. He just gets on with it. He starts to build another nest. There is no self-doubt, there is no guilt, and there is no fear. He is courageous in accepting fate and life and he is heroic in persisting with a physical optimism. His family home has been destroyed. Does he feel like a failure? Not at all No, he just moves to the next stage of life with courage and enthusiasm. His Fate is not denied. It is accepted. But in his acceptance there is a pulsating self-affirmation. There is no surrender to fate. There is hopeful participation. It is delightful to behold.
Dr. Colm O'Connor is a Cork Psychologist. He has written hundreds of articles on family psychology - some posted here.