I recently posted an essay exploring the difference between destiny and fate:
Are You Pursuing Your Destiny or Surrendering to Your Fate?
There is one thing in this world which you must never forget to do
In the comments, Ryan Bell(a talented short story writer you should be reading) responded:
“I can’t help but feel that pursuing this Destiny would be so much easier if someone would tell me what it was!”
While we may never be able to know our destiny with any level of certainty, there does exist one sure way we can always recognize when we’re moving toward it, when we’re walking destiny’s path, and when we’ve strayed into the scattered lanes of fate. Think of it as an emotional GPS. And as long we act consciously to stay on the path of destiny, we can trust that we’ll eventually arrive.
First, let’s talk about what it means to “follow a path” in life.
Carl Jung once said
“Life is a luminous pause between two mysteries that are yet one.”
For billions of years, the universe existed without us in it, before we were born. It will continue to exist for billions more after we die. Our lives are a blip between those mysteries — birth and death, the world before us, the world after us.
And in the whole course of that tiny blip, of our personal journey from cradle to grave, we really only do one thing.
We make choices.
As explored in the previous essay, our destiny is what we enter the world capable of becoming, what the seed of our true selves would develop into over the course of life if allowed to grow and flower to its fullest. Our fate is the sum of all the limitations imposed on that growth by our family of origin, our biological ancestry, our socioeconomic status, our education, our religion (or lack thereof), and the culture of our time and place.
Every time we make a choice, we follow the path of either destiny or fate, of growth or limitation. Every decision we face is, at root, a choice between an action that frees our true selves to grow, and an action that contains us. We are always choosing to be bigger or smaller, to become more ourselves or to conform to outside demands.
To “follow the path of destiny” means to approach every choice, large and small, with mindfulness. It means committing ourselves to choosing, consciously and consistently, freedom over containment, growth over limitation, destiny over fate.
Over and over again. Choice by choice by choice.
What Would Dionysus Do?
But how can we identify which path is which, which option is destiny and which is fate, especially in the sometimes fast-paced, high-pressure moments when decisions are required of us?
In Aristophanes’ comedy The Frogs, first produced in Athens in 405 BC, Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, of ritual madness, fertility, theatre and religious ecstasy, travels to Hades to retrieve the great tragedian Euripides and bring him back to life. The soul of the playwright Aeschylus, however, declares that he is the greatest, and should be restored to life instead. A contest ensues, with Dionysus as the judge.
… the two playwrights take turns quoting their own plays and mocking their rival. Euripides argues his plays are better because they’re more logical and true to life, while Aeschylus argues his idealized characters serve as models of heroic virtue. They also mock each others’ poetic style, quoting their best verses at each other.
Finally, to end the endless duel, a scale is brought in, and both playwrights are told to speak a few lines into it. Whoever’s lines the enchanted scale determine have more “weight” will tip the balance and win the contest… Aeschylus wins, but Dionysus is unconvinced.
He’s not sure who to revive, and decides he will award victory to the poet who gives the best advice about how to save Athens. Euripides’ answers are cleverly worded but hollow, while Aeschylus provides practical advice.
He’s heard all the arguments. He’s weighed the alternatives. He’s got all the facts in front of him.
So, how does Dionysus choose?
Here’s the actual moment of decision, from the English translation of “The Frogs” by Ian Johnston:
DIONYSUS: I’ll make my choice between them.
I’ll choose the one who’s pleasing to my soul.
The One that Thrills Your Heart
You see what he did there? After hearing all the arguments, gathering all the evidence, weighing all the options, Dionysus set all of that aside and chose the one that pleased his soul.
In Through the Dark Wood: Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, Jungian psychologist James Hollis offers this updated, secular translation of Dionysus’ statement:
“I’ll choose the one that thrills my heart.”
And that, right there, is how you can reliably separate destiny from fate, freedom from constraint, growth from limitation.
Sure, listen to the arguments. Gather all the evidence. Make lists of pros and cons. Weigh the possible consequences.
Then set those deliberations aside and follow your heart — by which I mean your feelings (there’s nothing esoteric here), that sense of giddy pleasure and attraction we all feel in the presence of what we love. Follow that.
Even if it’s not rational. Even if it’s risky. Even if everyone you know thinks you’re crazy.
Because when you don’t follow what thrills your heart, when you take the safe path and choose what you don’t love, you’re surrendering to your fate.
You’re choosing fate over destiny.
You are leaving the path.
Because what you love IS your path to destiny.
To find out which playwright Dionysus brought back to life, you’ll have to read Aristophanes for yourself!
Thanks for reading!