Can you "Love Your Fate" in the Time of Coronavirus?
Amor Fati is a Latin phrase meaning "love of fate". We live in a time when a pandemic is killing an inconceivable number of people, an economic collapse is imminent, and our political leaders have failed us. Our way of life is now uncertain. You might ask: Who could love this?
During the shutdown I have had more time to read and go more deeply into Greek and Roman Stoic philosophy, how it relates to modern psychology, and my own well being. I have been thinking a lot about Marcus Aurelius, who was the Emperor of Rome, and a Stoic philosopher. Marcus wrote a beautiful journal of his thoughts about how to live a life of tranquility and happiness. His journal was never meant for publication, they were simply his thoughts at the end of the day. When he was writing his meditations, he was at war, living on the front lines with his army. Plague, suffering, and death were a constant reality. I imagine the threat of assassination was also a possibility. Marcus was responsible for solving the problems of the empire. All the things that could not be solved at a lower level landed in his lap. His meditations did not ever mention these calamities. All indications are that he lived a life of tranquility.
The Stoics believed that the only thing we possess is our character. We can lose everything else, even our freedom, but we do not lose our character unless we give it up. Marcus would view every obstacle as an opportunity to grow his character. In this respect, the obstacle becomes the way. The Stoics would put their energy into things that they can control, and not worry about things beyond their control. We control our thoughts and actions. Nothing more. Non-attachment to outcomes from our actions was also an attitude of importance for them. Therefore amor fati makes sense to me. If the boss yells at me, I love that. If the line in the supermarket is too long, I love that too. If my way of life unravels, I love that too because I can use this to further grow my character. We can turn an obstacle to our advantage. I don’t control a virus, the economy, or our political leaders. This mindset reduces my stress, and I love that too! I care about the world, but I do not control it. Not watching the news obsessively helps also. Modern existentialist psychology would agree. Viktor Frankl expresses it very succinctly, “You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.” I think this is very much in keeping with Stoic philosophy.
The Stoics also practiced negative visualization. Each morning I imagine what life would be like if I lost the things I have. I imagine what it would be like if my car stopped working, or the water got cut off, the internet stopped working, etc. To me it is less abstract than gratitude, and I find it helpful.
My wife Dao is from Thailand, and she is a Buddhist. Buddhism has much in common with Stoicism. She lost her job in a Thai restaurant where she worked. I was working in Santa Fe when she called to tell me. She walked three or four miles to get home that day. Dao is a farmer. The day was sunny, and the plants were starting to bloom. When I arrived home that evening, she showed me photos that she had taken of the blossoming plants that she saw on her walk home. She did not complain about losing her job. Now she spends her time gardening using the 3 or 4 square meters that we have at our apartment. She cooks Thai food and the house smells lovely. I work online helping people, take lots of breaks, and I get to read. The city is quiet in the morning and I can hear the birds. We take walks in the afternoon, and she has come to know most of the plants in the neighborhood. She checks their progress daily as she watches them grow.
Life is good...Amor Fati. I DO love this.