This meditation is about Fate, and about Free will, both. I happen to think both are useful concepts.
Feel free to run for the exit now if you want; I know a lot of modern astrologers react to any mention of Fate like touching a hot iron. It runs against the grain of our modern affluent American culture.
With the modern, optimistic view of astrology there is a very heavy emphasis on choice, and on people being able to choose how they deal with the energies in their charts, and how they live their lives. The power is yours, the responsibility is yours, to make of your life what you will.
Encouraging and comforting, yes?
Well, No – not always.
I want to share a period from my own life where the opposite was true; modern optimistic astrology felt oppressive, and traditional notions of fate were very comforting.
I was married to my second wife for over 20 years when she told me she had found a lump in her breast. That was 2007. Later in the year she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, and she died in 2009.
One astrologer friend, who I suppose you could call very spiritual, was very into the power of positive thinking and of belief – he flat out said in so many words that rescue is always there if you only believe.
He said this to me once about three months after my wife died.
Now think that one through carefully – rescue always comes if you only believe – my wife died – so rescue didn’t come – so I must not have believed enough.
Conclusion? I contributed to my wife’s death, if I didn’t cause it outright. It was my fault because of my wrong thinking.
I was guilty of causing my wife’s death.
Please try to imagine how that made me feel; it wasn’t pleasant.
I know from experience that in with the grief process there is quite a bit of feeling of guilt – one of the first things I said to myself the night my wife died was, She’s dead, and it’s all my fault. Now part of me knows that is not true and my mind is nowhere near that powerful, but part of me felt that.
So, that is where my friend’s positive thinking, faith-based comments hurt me. A lot.
I first began studying traditional astrology shortly before my wife found her cancer.
I was looking for a form of astrology that could make sense of the rough parts of my life, the things out of my control. At around the same time I discovered the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius and the philosophy of Stoicism, which was one of the most popular philosophies during the first flowering of traditional Hellenistic astrology.
Like much of traditional astrology, Stoicism puts a heavy emphasis on Fate. The Universe is ordered, and we fit within that order, so the shape and events of our lives are largely – or, perhaps, completely – determined and out of our control. The emphasis in stoicism lies in how we can choose our response to what happens to us. We don’t always control events, but we always can choose what kind of inner attitude we take.
During the period of my wife’s illness and eventual death I found this attitude, of accepting what I couldn’t control and focusing on how I responded, to be very practical. It helped me stay functional and resourceful through some very difficult times.
Also, if I was dealing with fate, with events out of my control, this meant that nothing had gone wrong, and I was not guilty of causing the illness and death. In fact, I found quite a bit of comfort in viewing the period as being as much a part of the natural order of things as the birth of a plant in my garden, its growth, flowering and death. There was a rightness to the process that I would never have found if I had not opened my heart to accepting it rather than fighting it.
I learned, deep in my heart, that Death was not my enemy; it is part of the natural order, and accepting Death in that way enabled my wife and I to find much love and beauty in those final days. It was the hardest part of my life, but it was also the most beautiful, and would never have been able to realize that had not I accepted our Fate.
Yes – there was and is great comfort in Fate.
Even now, I don’t view Fate as an enemy or something that the Universe is doing to me against my will. Fate is like a well-written and well plotted novel where I am one of the characters, playing my part the best I can. I embrace Fate just as I embrace free will, and the two are complementary models that need each other – each by itself is incomplete, imbalanced.
It is like the serenity prayer attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr:
God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
In some situations our choice and initiative make a lot of difference, and emphasizing our free will is helpful and powerful.
In other situations, where events are out of our control, it is wise to accept Fate and concentrate on our response; there, a stoic acceptance is helpful and powerful.
Yet other situations are a mix, and I can view them sometimes through the lens of fate, sometimes through the lens of free will, and find different helpful aspects with each point of view. Even where I freely choose situations, I can sometimes get a sense of a rightness of my fitting within a larger order when I view the situation through the lens of fate.
Fate is not something where the universe outside of me is doing something to me or against me; fate is something that is both outside of me and springs from within me, it is an order I am included in. There is no opposition between inner and outer order; they are One.
Either way – when I find myself at just that right point of inner balance in my attitude, there are times that I feel deeply blessed just to have been created, and I can sense this amazing complex order that I am part of, and I realize that I am exactly where I need to be – that’s it, a sense of rightness. It’s quite wonderful.
Sometimes Fate really is a comforting and wonderful thing.
And sometimes, the emphasis on freewill and the effect of human choice and attitude is appropriate. That will be the subject of the next post.