“Do not seek for things to happen the way you want them to; rather, wish that what happens happens the way it happens.” ~Epictetus
I was sitting in a cafe, writing. To the left of my laptop was my phone, face up in case someone called. To my right was a latte, my favorite treat. I had written endless opening sentences, deleted every one. I checked my watch, lamented that I only had forty minutes before guitar class.
Did I imagine it would only take a latte and a free hour for inspiration to strike? For me, deadline writing is never going to be anything other than complete drivel. I finally yielded, stowed my devices, sighing in frustration. I’m skilled at being discontent, wanting each moment to be something more, something different, something else. My mind questions constantly, looking more for busyness than real answers. I long for time alone to simply be, then fill it with incessant mind chatter the moment I’m handed the gift, noise as escapism. True silence is an endangered species.
That’s when I see the smiling man sitting by the window. He’s sipping a cappuccino and watching people pass by outside. Every now and then he closes his eyes and sighs happily, needing only hot coffee and a sun-drenched spot to enjoy it. I surreptitiously watch him until I have to leave. He never checks his phone or picks up his book to read. He only sips and sighs, living his best life.
I think of the Stoic practice of Amor Fati, accepting and embracing everything that has happened, is happening, and has yet to happen. Like the Sanskrit imperative santosha – meaning complete contentment – amor fati is directly translated as a love of one’s fate. It’s a deeper, richer emotion than happiness, which depends on the absence of discontent. It’s a welcoming of it all, an open-hearted acceptance that the very nature of the universe is changing. And without change, we would not exist. Whether we label the moment as good, bad, enjoyable, insufferable, boring, exciting, or heartbreaking, it is necessary. It simply is.
I think about how frustrated I felt just mere moments ago. We struggle and strive, and much of our dissatisfaction arises from our own making, a refusal to accept the moment as it is.
Like a lightning bolt, insight comes to me. I sit here, stunned by the magnitude of the awareness this smiling, content man has given me.
My biggest fear is that I’m basic. After digging deep into memory and opinion to write week after week about how to live a magical existence, the truth keeps coming back. I’m a dime a dozen. My stories don’t make me unique or especially interesting. I’m not as special as I want to believe and I’m not as talented either. I badly want to believe that my greatness cannot be contained by an algorithm, but truthfully, if social media has taught me anything, it’s that for everything I churn out, there are a hundred more on the same topic written by people with far more talent than me. So I create this scenario where I convince myself that the world is waiting with bated breath for my next opinion. As if the world needs more opinions, more senseless noise.
“Ma’am, are you ok?” the barista places a hand on my shoulder, looking concerned. I’m surprised to notice that there are tears streaming down my face. I assure her I am fine, embarrassed. As she walks away, I realize that I wasn’t lying. They aren’t tears of grief for being a basic bitch. Instead, they feel something like relief.
I’m the heroine of my own story, but I’m just a bit player – or, at most, a supporting actress – in the tale of those around me. Or, like the coffee shop guru in the window, I’m touching lives in ways I shall never know. That is enough.
A love of one’s fate.
Amor fati, indeed.