Destiny and Free Will: Shaping Character and Purpose

Hand with destiny written on paperI was inspired to write about this after a conversation with someone in my building about personal choice. We were discussing a former tenant who was now homeless and living on the street as a result of his choices, including refusing to go to a shelter even temporarily. I empathize with his fear and anger toward a system that often is dehumanizing, frustrating, and ineffective.

We agreed that he had mental issues, although we disagreed on the degree. She seemed to believe he was capable of making the choices he was making; I suspected he was not able to fully explore his options and make wise choices. I also said he was where he was supposed to be at this time and was simply fulfilling his destiny. She totally disagreed.

Practitioners of the Yoruba faith believe we choose our destiny in collaboration with Olodumare, our name for God, and then promptly forget our choices the moment we are born. Everything we do and that happens to us subsequently is part of that destiny. Within that destiny is the opportunity for free will in that we make our own, specific decisions about any number of things, but the path is not ours to create anew but to fulfill. Our purpose in this world is to develop “Iwa Pele,” or good character, and we either honor that goal or don’t.

Now, I expect that there are as many opinions about this topic as there were about God’s unconditional love. My fellow tenant thought my belief was ridiculous. I’m sure some of you will agree.

Be that as it may, my belief is difficult to live with at times. Specifically, when things don’t seem to be going well (e.g., my practice has fallen off in terms of numbers, or I am questioning my choices around this or that), I may say, “What was I thinking when I chose this? What was Olodumare thinking when he chose this with/for me?”

That question leads me to look for the lesson in everything that happens. That’s difficult when I feel confused or lost. It’s also difficult to trust that I will have clarity at some point but need to be patient and remain in the question. It can also be frightening, and can trigger the fear of losing what I have.

I’m not saying I remain passive in these times of uncertainty and doubt. I try things out and sadly accept when they don’t succeed in the way I envisioned (that’s where the notion of free will comes in). But I do become discouraged and even demoralized. Ultimately, I do my best to “turn it over,” as they say in 12-step programs, and try to be patient. That’s not easy, either. As human beings, we have a strong desire to “know.” We also tend to worry a lot.

What also helps, and I have the advantage of having lived a few years, is to look back at all those experiences I thought were total failures or major disappointments from which, at the time, I didn’t think I could ever move on. I look upon those false starts and painful experiences as part of the path that Olodumare and I chose. Sometimes I can figure out the lesson or the meaning. Other times, I’m just glad I survived.

At the moment, I’m in one of those confused states. And I do worry, even though I know intellectually that worrying is one of the least satisfying and least productive ways to spend my time. But when all is said and done, I take several deep breaths and say to myself, “It will be revealed.”

© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Kalila Borghini, LCSW, therapist in New York City, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • clancy

    clancy

    February 28th, 2013 at 12:12 PM

    pretty deep. . . I might have to come back to this for a few days in a row to fully digest and even figure out if i believe it or not

  • norah

    norah

    February 28th, 2013 at 10:37 PM

    I’d like to believe we create our own destiny, that nothing is pre-written or even a template given. true or not I will never know but at least the sense of being in control is pretty satisfying!

  • clancy

    clancy

    March 1st, 2013 at 3:50 AM

    so I have given this some thought since I posted here yesterday and I think that I am still struggling1 i sometimes think that yes my life has been mapped out for me, but then by the same token I think that this could give those with little initiative and drive and excuse to do even less. They will just shrug and choose to do nothing to better themselves because they will say that who they are and become is all predestined and predetermined anyway. I don’t think that this line of thinking is how God intended us to be. I know that there is a plan for me but I still have to think that the actions that I take still heavily influence what that plan and the outcome will be.

  • Q.P

    Q.P

    March 1st, 2013 at 11:10 PM

    Life is a flow chart.There is a map and a template to it but hey, there is also multiple ends. What we chose, which step we take determines where we end up. We are not programmed but we are not totally free either. (We cannot just wish and have take birth on a different continent if we wanted!)

    But we have choices at the same time. It is a balance and is something that can reap rich dividends if we learn how to navigate and make the right choices!

  • Peter

    Peter

    March 2nd, 2013 at 9:34 AM

    I love this whole idea and would love to explore it more. Do you have any sugegsted readings that I could pursue because I find this fascinating and kind of goes against the grain of society, which appeals to me in some weird way. I like the thought that there is someone else in control, who put the planets awhirling, and not that I am not responsible for my actions, but that there is something even more powerful who ulitmately holds all the cards.

  • tudor

    tudor

    March 3rd, 2013 at 11:52 PM

    some believe everything is written and that we’re only living out what is written in fate. some others believe fate is a blank page and that what we do fills it out as we move through life. I like to think of it as something in between the two extremes or beliefs. we can choose but there is also destiny that plays a small part.

    Thank you for this article, it is a very interesting topic to discuss. I will definitely be talking about this with friends and see what each one thinks.

  • dana

    dana

    March 4th, 2013 at 3:51 AM

    So would you say that one being mentally ill actually does nothing to influence their free will as most of the choices in their lives were predetermined anyway?

  • Kalila Borghini

    Kalila Borghini

    March 4th, 2013 at 10:52 AM

    Thank you all for your thought-provoking comments. Let me address two specific questions: In terms of books to read, if you’re interested in the Yoruba religion there are lots of books out there. One of the best is by Odowu called “God in Yoruba Belief” which might be a good place to start. Dana, I would say that having mental illness in ones life is part of that destiny. The way one chooses to deal with that mental illness is part of a person’s free will.For example, if a person is suffering (destiny) and does nothing, the person will continue to suffer. If the person is suffering and takes action to ameliorate that suffering as well as learn from it, that combines both destiny and free will. The specifics of the action are also part of free will (e.g. get counseling, etc.) Hope that helps.

  • pete

    pete

    March 4th, 2013 at 11:37 PM

    don’t you think a feeling of having everything predetermined takes away control from you the individual? that would then mean little incentive into work and effort. because things are meant to be, anyway. I don’t mean to offend anyone holding this belief but it is something I can never wrap my mind around. I’d like to think we have it in us to turn things around and to dodge situations with a little tact.

  • kathryne

    kathryne

    July 29th, 2016 at 7:04 AM

    I don;t feel everything is predestined, but God can make any action a good one. It does matter what we do if we love God. We want to find ways to live a good responsible life, as we honor that love relationship. God may have the whole plan in God’s mind but it is not something we can fully see from our life. We seem to be limiting God to our perspective rather than trusting God has a plan and we have choices to make that will work with that plan and when they don’t, or don’t seem to from our perspective, we learn to make better and better choices.

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