Amor fati. The love of (your own) fate. The Stoic philosopher Epictetus appears to have been the first to put this together as a Latin phrase in writing. In Yoruba, it’s called “ayanmo.” The concept has been around—I suspect—as long as humanity has been suffering life’s ill effects. Fate. It’s what happens to you and what you do with what happens to you.
Because that’s the thing, isn’t it: we don’t amor our fate a good deal of the time. Loss of loved ones. Loss of health and work and esteem. Fati sucks a lot of the time. Yet the human family has agreed on the point: what happens to you matters as a spiritual exercise. You grow from it and even achieve oneness with everything, as Yoruba teaches, or you don’t.
The ancient Hebrews thought we brought our fates upon ourselves: The LORD was good to the good and bad to the bad. The Book of Job is an interrogation of that concept with the unsettling conclusion that sometimes, our fate is just about G-d and Satan playing games.
The Stoics believed in a coldly logical cause and effect. The logos that set everything in motion also guaranteed that everything that happens from now on out happens because of the logic of the beginning proposition and all the following effects, right up to this moment. Love your fate, the Stoics taught, because that’s all that could possibly happen anyway.
The logos of Stoicism entered into Christian thought as “In the beginning was the word (logos), and the word was with God, and the word was God.” Christians meant something a bit less logical and more divine than Stoics, but the outcome of the thinking was the same: love your fate because God is in charge and it’s all supposed to happen this way.
Many sub-traditions in both Christianity and Islam have held onto this view: love your fate, because it’s your fate and God gave it to you; you may not like it all the time, and you may even change some circumstances with effort, but, in the end, it’s your fate. You can love it, but you can’t leave it.The advent of science has not changed the old human equation. Yes, there are more ways to alter fate these days, but, in the end, the end is the end.
You can love your fate or not, but the question behind the question has always been just which parts of fate are . . . well, fated. The fact that the sun will burn out and the solar system will go dark is fated. Death is fated. Perhaps even genes are fate. But what about one’s position on the economic ladder? Is the fact that this person is rich and this one poor fated? How about gender, race, or the place on the planet one is born? These certainly determine a great deal of fate, but are they fated?
Texts written in the pre-industrial world aren’t much help in solving this conundrum. Ancient economies just weren’t built on the notion of progress, as is the dominant understanding today.
So it is that amor fati is in the eye of the beholder. But how we react to what happens defines who we are—from Yoruba to Daoist, everybody seems agree on that. How much of what happens that we decide to amor says a lot about each of us.