Where destiny lives

Usually, I feel pretty much in control of my life – for better or worse – but over the last six months or so, I’ve felt more at the mercy of circumstances beyond my control than is comfortable for me. By turns I’ve felt anxious, sad, overwhelmed, and disheartened, which isn’t normal. In fact, my normal emotional stasis point is pretty damn sunny to be honest, so this  stress and malaise caused by things I can’t fix is new and frustrating.

Or it was, but lately I’ve been thinking (obsessing, really) about the role of choice in our lives, about the power we have to make things different that too often goes unused because we don’t realize we have it.

My attitude about the circumstances of my own life started to change when I read Annie Neugebauer’s excellent post, “Creating the Life We Want.” In it, she acknowledges that we all face things we can’t control, like illness and tragedy, but that even in those situations (maybe especially in those situations) we make choices that affect the quality and sometimes even the basic structure of our lives. “Choice,” Annie says, “is what allows us to create the life we want.”

I love the whole post, but the part that got me rethinking my approach to recent events in my own life was this:

Each time I get a rejection for a short story and send it back out, I’m choosing to be a writer. I’m choosing to keep pursuing a goal. I’m constantly creating the life I want. We all are. We can acknowledge things beyond our control, but we can also employ the things that are within our reach. It’s never too late to start, to change, to redesign the structure of your desire and make the choices that fulfill it.

What I love about her example is that she didn’t say, “every time I sit down to write, I’m choosing to be a writer,” although, clearly, that’s true too. To illustrate her point, she chose resilience in the face of rejection. A hard choice that writers (and all creatives who put their art out into the world) have to make over and over again.

It got me thinking about how easy it is to get fixated on the broken stuff. In Annie’s example, for instance, it’s easy to get focused on the work’s not being accepted, the part you can’t control beyond writing the best story you can, rather than on the power of choosing to be brave and persistent in the face of (inevitable) rejection.

Which in turn got me thinking about luck. Annie has an agent now, and it would be easy to see her as one of the lucky ones, but the truth is, her luck was created by a series of choices she’s made, big and small.

In his SF Gate piece, “How to get lucky,” Mark Morford argues that luck is itself a choice. He quotes Richard Wiseman, an author who has written whole books on the subject:

Unlucky people are generally more tense than lucky people and this anxiety disrupts their ability to notice the unexpected. As a result, they miss opportunities because they are too focused on looking for something else. Lucky people, on the other hand, are more relaxed and open, which means they see what is there.

So, can you make a choice to be more “relaxed and open”? I think the answer is yes, though I acknowledge that the choice is easier for some than for others. If your nature is to be very cautious or suspicious, it will take a conscious, constant effort to be open and receptive to opportunities that fall outside of your expectations. But still, the decision to do so is a choice.

Mark Morford writes:

It’s a dead-simple thing, really: Luck is a choice. Luck is a modality, a way of operating, a thing you can switch on in an instant and then enjoy its throb and heat and pulse forever and ever until you die, like a cosmic rabbit vibrator for your soul.

(You gotta love that.)

And couldn’t we easily replace the word luck in that passage with happiness, openheartedness, creativity, or even success?

I recently completed the 21-day meditation challenge hosted by Oprah and Deepak Chopra (which I loved, by the way. I’ll probably post about my adventures in meditation soon). In one of the meditations, Deepak talks about the role of choice in Karma.

In the spiritual law of Karma, every action generates a force of energy that is returned to us in kind. Simply put, what we give, we receive. When we chose actions  that bring happiness and success to others, the fruit of our Karma is happiness and success. The key to using the law of Karma or the law of cause and effect is becoming aware of the choices we make in each moment.

I have to say that it is a tiny bit daunting and a whole lot empowering to believe that choice lies at the heart of my reality, that my life is shaped not by the circumstances beyond my control but by the choices I make in response to and in spite of them. I can choose to be frustrated and sad or I can choose to focus on what I want to expand in my life, and act accordingly. More love, more art, more adventure, more gratitude, grace and serendipity.

According to Shakespeare, it is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves.

I’m choosing to believe that with everything I’ve got.

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31 Responses to Where destiny lives

  1. Nancy December 5, 2013 at 11:06 am #

    Oh J…LOVE this post! I’ve just come out of a phase where I was so busy making lemonade out of the lemons the tree of life gave me (it became a Lemon tree!), that I let anxiety rob me of some joy in being open and brave. In truth, what started the whole anxiety thing was a choice to be brave, but I still bought in to needing to have external validation. I knew the truth, and the truth led me to take a risky action….I just didn’t completely own that I did not need the external validation — I just needed to own the choice, believe in my right to make that choice, and to live the day to day wisdom of the choice of Karma. To think I almost did that medication challenge, but I found it at the last minute and was in overwhelm space.

    Have I told you lately I love you (I mean, I have, telepathically!)? Because I sure do, and your ability to put these thoughts into a lovely, cohesive, cogent and stirring essay is but one of the reasons!

    I’ll probably be around more in the online world, but it is a choice I want to make intentionally and not out of relief. I really need to be very thoughtful about my choices now, the synchronicity of your post with other happenings in my day-to-day world are saying it loud and clear!

    Big hugs.

    N.

    • j December 6, 2013 at 8:19 am #

      You bring up an excellent point, Nancy. I’ve done that too – been brave, and then waited for accolades or approval. When I didn’t get them, I felt defeated and doubted the choice, rather than realize the problem was not my bravery but my looking outside for validation. It’s similar to Annie’s focusing not on the rejection but on her response to it, her continuing decision to be a writer.

      I’m so glad this post struck a chord with you. After I read Annie’s post, I kept finding things (the luck piece, Deepak’s karma thoughts) that felt like the universe screaming: j, this part you think you can’t control, you can; just shift your focus.

      As long as your choices keep you crossing my path, I’m happy. Much love, my friend. xo

      • Nancy December 6, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

        Sweetie, my choices will always include me crossing your path. xo

        • j December 11, 2013 at 11:15 pm #

          <3

  2. Nancy December 5, 2013 at 11:26 am #

    I’m also digging that I wrote “medication” instead of “meditiation.” How appropriate!

    • j December 6, 2013 at 8:21 am #

      Hee hee. Freudian much?

  3. Karin December 5, 2013 at 1:06 pm #

    I’m not usually a big proponent of luck, but karma I definitely am (in fact, karma may be a factor in my derby name).
    The luck thing though reminds me of what people call self-fulfilling prophecies. Telling yourself you’re going to win or that you will get often leads to the actual event itself happening. The reverse can also be true: telling yourself you are worthless or that things will never work out for you usually leads to just that happening. This path leads to a cycle of ruts and crunches and is self-defeating.

    Choosing to be happy is hard for some who have no control over their emotions. Wanting to be happy though helps people who struggle with this overcome those bad moments/days/weeks and find themselves enlightened and part of the world again.

    I may have gone completely off the path here, but that’s what your post made me think of.
    xoxo

    • j December 6, 2013 at 8:30 am #

      I absolutely believe that what we tell ourselves influences hugely our outcomes. I think the voices in our head can be very convincing so it’s best to keep the messages positive. “I’m going to brave enough to share my art,” for example, rather than “No one is going to like what I have to share.”

      I believe few people actually have no control over their emotions, with the exception of people whose brains don’t process things in the expected way. If you struggle with depression, for instance, I don’t think that’s something you can simply decide to stop doing. But for most of us, our emotions are much more a choice that we think. There is science that proves when you make the effort to produce a smile, even a fake smile, the chemicals that get released in your brain are the same as the chemicals released when you smile from the heart. The brain can’t tell the difference. Act happy and you feel happier. Chemically. :)

      It’s not always comfortable to accept, but I think we have so much more control over the unfolding of our days and lives – through choice – than we imagine.

      And, just to be clear, I LOVE when we go off track here. I learn some of the best things on our side roads! xox

      • Karin December 9, 2013 at 6:11 am #

        You bring up a good point! Happiness = more happiness. The little things that bring a smile to our face can make a whole difference in our day.
        So maybe it is an unconscious thing, more than we realize. :)
        Funny how a little thing like a smile can change our whole perspective.

        • j December 11, 2013 at 11:04 pm #

          It is funny. And awesome. :)

  4. Lana Angel December 5, 2013 at 5:54 pm #

    Such a thoughtful, attitude-altering post – will definitely be reading it again.

    • j December 6, 2013 at 8:31 am #

      Thank you, Lana. This one was near and dear to me. Something I needed to work through. I’m glad it resonated with you.

  5. Clare Flourish December 6, 2013 at 7:53 am #

    Mmmm.

    I did a few open mic comedy sessions and one gig, for minorities. I then gave up.

    Indeed, make the choice to keep sending the stories despite rejection: and I need baby-steps towards such resilience. No-one is completely without resilience, and I may develop it. If that feels too much for me, I will see what I could start at to work up to it. x

  6. j December 6, 2013 at 8:37 am #

    Well, for what it’s worth, I sent my novel to six agents and then stopped because I didn’t feel tough enough to withstand the rejection (or silence as the case sometimes was). I may, at some point, jump back into that fray, but it wasn’t the right time for me then. And that decision has led me to some remarkable places – writing personal essays, drawing, painting, my Etsy store.

    Like you, I think I need to work on it, toughen up, get more and more brave, but I also think resilience (and success) takes many forms. :)

  7. juliafehrenbacher December 6, 2013 at 2:06 pm #

    Wow- there is so much good stuff here, J.

    This: “I have to say that it is a tiny bit daunting and a whole lot empowering to believe that choice lies at the heart of my reality, that my life is shaped not by the circumstances beyond my control but by the choices I make in response to and in spite of them.”

    pretty much says it all for me.

    For me, it’s so empowering when I look clearly at what is beyond my control and let go like crazy around those things (what people will think, how many sales I’ll have -or not have- whether or not it will snow, etc..). And to recognize that I always have a choice as to how I will respond to what happens (or doesn’t happen). So often we try to control what we have no control whatsoever around and forget that, in so many cases – we can choose (to say yes or no, to respond with kindness – to choose to treat ourselves /others with love).

    I love this post, my friend. You always give me something to ponder and continuously inspire me with you courage and love.

    • j December 6, 2013 at 11:10 pm #

      Yes, letting go of what we can’t affect is another hard choice (which, of course, shouldn’t be hard) that we have to make over and over again. Even better, if when we let go, we can redirect all that worry-energy into positive, north-y action – like Annie’s sending her stories back out again after rejection.

      Being brave. Being persistent. Dreaming on… one choice after another.

      Thank you for your thoughts Julia. This was, for me, a personally important post. I’m so happy it resonated with you too. xo

  8. Annie Neugebauer (@AnnieNeugebauer) December 6, 2013 at 2:38 pm #

    J, I can’t tell you how much this warms my heart. To know that my words meant that much to you is really special. I’m carrying this one with me. <3

    • j December 7, 2013 at 10:32 pm #

      Yay, because obviously I’m carrying your post with me. It’s helped more than I can say. xo

  9. Pam December 7, 2013 at 9:22 pm #

    An endlessly interesting topic.

    For me it feels like the power is in the way we think about our lives and circumstances and how THAT has huge power over what we notice and therefore do next. I think the mindset of “I’m a loser, nothing I do works out” turns out to be true because it leads to decisions and reactions that sabotage one’s life. Maybe that’s because the part of ourselves that is telling us the story of ourselves just has to be right–or maybe it’s something else entirely–but I have seen it in plenty of people’s lives.

    I also think there are some circumstances that arise in life that interrupt the flow we had going, and therefore frustrate us. I think a key to those is keeping frustration a transitional response–then finding a work-around or a new timeline or a new angle and not just stamping “thwarted” on that plan with a big official ka-chunk.

    • j December 7, 2013 at 10:35 pm #

      I agree completely, on both counts. I think your first paragraph is in perfect alignment with Annie’s choice to bounce back after rejection. Actually, both your points do. Rejection doesn’t mean we are losers and the sadness that inevitably accompanies it must be transitional… on our way to more of the dream. Otherwise we wind up stuck, believing ourselves powerless in the face of what life has dealt us.

      And that’s true whether you write or not. As you say, it applies to any time life interrupts our flow.

      Excellent points, lovely!

  10. Alarna Rose Gray December 9, 2013 at 3:11 am #

    Judy, this is a really meaty post and so full of stuff I need to absorb. The year draws to a close, and some days all I feel I can think about are the ways I’ve messed things up this year. I believe what you say is true…we choose our destiny. The tough part is understanding why we make self-sabotaging choices (as Pam mentions above)! But maybe I’m too hung up on that, instead of the way forward… I’m going to have to revisit this post, and all of those wonderful links. Thank you for sharing the insights from your process :)

    • j December 11, 2013 at 11:12 pm #

      I actually do think it’s valuable to spend time thinking about why we self-sabotage. With me, I find it’s almost always about some bullshit story I’m telling myself that has nothing to do with reality. I wish it was as easy to let go of the stories as it is to latch onto them.

      But you’re right. The most important thing is to move on. I kind of think if you keep making that choice – the one to move on – you’ll be all right. (And by you, I mean me, of course!)

  11. Chris Edgar December 11, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

    Yes, it does seem helpful to think of life as being about the choices we make in every moment, as opposed to expecting a single choice we make in life to shape our destiny. That takes the mystery (and potential disappointment) out of some of the motivational literature regarding “choosing to succeed,” “visioning,” “manifesting,” and so on — there’s nothing mystical or woo-woo-sounding about the process of simply choosing to write one word after the other.

    • j December 11, 2013 at 11:15 pm #

      Good point, Chris! It’s not about making one magical choice to succeed, it’s about making a million little choices on our way to success (or love, or happiness, or art).

  12. J December 12, 2013 at 9:09 am #

    This post is absolutely gorgeous. I get the reason, which is great.
    I see the logic, and the view from its heights is breathtaking.
    But the energy this packs, a kiss to the chest that hits like a punch
    has me excited to give, and that’s always a win.

    I love being reminded of who I want to be. I especially like it
    coming from you.

    • j December 12, 2013 at 7:19 pm #

      You should see my smile right now. I think I only remind you of who you already are, my friend. But thank you so much for this comment.

  13. Estrella Azul December 14, 2013 at 10:23 am #

    I really like this post of yours, j, such truth in the points you’ve made.
    As of yesterday, my life got a whole lot more complicated, and as much as it’s simpler to “blame” others, my choice is to stick with it and make it work one way or the other.

    So far, I’m choosing to rest for a while, yet keep my mind engaged and busy by blogging every day until X-Mas. As much work as it sounds, I’m happy to be able to do it, and hope I’ll manage to keep at it, too.
    Two blog posts down, only 10 more to go ;)

    • j December 14, 2013 at 12:10 pm #

      Yikes! Blogging every day and resting don’t seem like they go together to me, but good luck! I’ll pop over and see what you’re talking about.

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