Fate is fundamental to many modes of self-development, ranging from established philosophies such as Buddhism and Stoicism, to ‘new-age,’ modern-day spiritual communities. It’s not always explicit, but the ethos goes something like this: outside of your conscious control, Godlike forces influence your reality. Aware or unaware, your life’s experiences are designed to present the exact lessons you need to grow into your fullest potential.
Very quickly, this line of thinking arrives at a moral dilemma. If we ‘choose’ experiences, and reality presents us with unpleasant circumstances, does that imply victims of abuse chose the abuse? Is there a malevolent God? Is poor fortune or negative events people’s fault? Exploring the depths of these questions is beyond the scope of this article, but they do lead to a philosophical conundrum: how do you relate to events far outside of your control, especially unfavorable ones?
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Buddhism states that suffering is inevitable, and accepting this leads to inner peace. Stoicism suggests your approach to events, not events themselves, shape your destiny. New Age thinkers promote the idea that, as the creator of your reality, you can transcend limitations and choose a higher path. Another great thinker — Friedrich Nietzsche — championed accepting the hand you’re dealt.
Fate played an integral role in Nietzsche’s overall philosophy of life, fulfillment, and happiness. More than others, Nietzsche suggested your relationship with fate was the path to greatness. It all gravitates around a Latin phrase and the focus of this article: amor fati.
A Formula for Greatness
Amor fati translates to ‘love of one’s fate.’ Nietzsche held this practice in such high esteem, he called it a “formula for greatness in a human being,” and “the highest state a philosopher can attain.” This mindset has the willingness to see everything that happens in life as necessary; the good, the bad, the ugly. It’s beyond simple acceptance. Nietzsche encouraged would-be philosophers to love, not simply accept, all events. In a letter to a friend in 1882, Nietzsche wrote “I am in a mood of fatalistic ‘surrender to God’ — I call it amor fati, so much so, that I would be willing to rush into a lion’s jaws.”
As can be expected from one of humanity’s most profound thinkers, Nietzsche’s approach to amor fati is far from clear-cut, despite appearing straightforward on the surface. Comprehending amor fati requires an understanding of the wider context of Nietzsche’s work, and in particular, his ‘affirmation of life’ which is captured in The Will to Power:
“If we affirm one single moment, we thus affirm not only ourselves but all existence. For nothing is self-sufficient, neither in us ourselves nor in things; and if our soul has trembled with happiness and sounded like a harp string just once, all eternity was needed to produce this one event—and in this single moment of affirmation all eternity was called good, redeemed, justified, and affirmed.”
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This excerpt points to Nietzsche’s radical gratitude for living, that sees each individual life as a small part of a much bigger, interconnected web. From the Big Bang to the development of the Earth’s atmosphere priming the conditions of life, to multicellular life, to the first mammals, to homo-sapiens… all of it is imbued with meaning. And within that, here you are, a person with a name and a subjective experience and a life where good, bad, and everything in between unfolds.
With amor fati, Nietzsche taps into a cosmic perspective of being — as expansive a perspective as possible — with profound results. How often do we reflect on the sanctity of life, when caught up in day-to-day worries? Are we able to see the bigger picture, to embrace our role as witnesses to something far beyond our comprehension, a type of universal fate unfolding in front of our very eyes?
A Mindset for Transformation
Nietzsche’s amor fati was inspired by Stoicism. Marcus Aurelius channeled the spirit of amor fati when he encouraged people to “accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.” Seneca echoed the same sentiment when he wrote that “fate leads the willing, and drags along the reluctant.” Leading Stoic thinkers explored the notion of fate as part of a divine plan by God, inclusive of an ‘inescapable’ sequence of causes.
Crucially, the Stoics believed in elements of free will, that within this divine plan, there was an opportunity to choose a virtuous life, to grow, to transform. Clearly, Nietzsche agreed, by calling amor fati a ‘formula for greatness.’
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The element of control and intent is the bridge between philosophical concepts and practical application. Whether there is a divine plan or not, loving one’s fate is transformative in its very nature. It dilutes regret, eases unnecessary suffering, and develops a life full of purpose.
One of the most prominent spiritual teachers of the present age, Eckhart Tolle, tackles this conundrum when he writes: “Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it. Make it your friend and ally, not your enemy. This will miraculously transform your whole life.” This aligns with the Buddhist approach of non-judgment as a way to ease suffering. Whether or not fate is an objective truth, act as if it is, and witness the miraculous transformation.
How Amor Fati Relates to Self-Development
Many philosophers have contemplated the intention behind Nietzsche’s words. Our purpose isn’t to academically deconstruct amor fati, but to help you apply its wisdom to your life. With that in mind, how does this mindset relate to change? Does it mean we should all give up, surrender to God, and run into the lion’s jaws? Or is there a way this can be integrated, to move towards greatness, whilst still feeling in control of life?
Amor fati is a reminder that so much of what happens in life is outside of our control. Resisting this, fighting it, wanting things to be different, regretting things in the past, all contribute to unnecessary suffering. Only when you let go of all desire of how you wish things were different, can you fully embrace your present reality. Only when you fully embrace the present, can you change course, and move towards what you truly desire.
When viewing all of life’s events as meaningful and purposeful, everything takes on a new dimension. Rather than a passive ‘shit happens,’ everything is presented as like the growth mindset on steroids — not only is every experience an opportunity for learning, it’s part of a cosmic divine plan, you playing your part in nature’s evolution.
It takes time and practice to authentically embrace amor fati in an embodied way. It’s no small feat; remember Nietzsche calls this the “highest state a philosopher can attain,” making it on par with forms of Eastern enlightenment. Be patient with yourself, and let amor fati inspire you. Be aware of the risk of intellectually wishing to love everything that happens, in a way that leads to emotional suppression, or denial.
Start with acceptance. Whenever you notice yourself stuck in the past, or getting caught up on things not going as planned, let yourself consider that this is fateful, that there’s a much greater lesson being learned, that the hand you’ve been dealt is leading you to horizons you wouldn’t have chosen, but that will elevate you to greater heights. Above all else, in loving your own fate, don’t become passive. Amor fati isn’t resignation, but the wisdom to love that which is inevitable.
Take everything as it comes, and be bold enough to become the master of your own fate, to write your own script, orchestrate your divine plan, to fulfill your personal destiny.
Life is a journey. And with amor fati, you’ll learn to love every step.
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