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Thursday, August 05, 2021

Is it destiny or self-determination that controls how we navigate the web of life?

Himani A Datar writes: Regardless of what determines our journey, we must carry on, with wisdom and strength.

Written by Himani A Datar |
Updated: June 28, 2021 8:37:18 am
The debate between destiny and the power of self-determination in the web of life is not going to be resolved anytime soon. Does the web of life then extend beyond the tentacles of human control?

A spider creates the web, to trap other creatures on whom it preys for sustenance. A web in an ecological community is a succession of organisms that are linked to each other through the transfer of energy and nutrients. Human history is replete with stories of webs of intrigue in royal families or business houses. The world wide web, which started as a means of military communication is now our lifeline – it makes communication, entertainment and education possible through a web of invisible waves that enable the exchange of information.

Physicist Fritjof Capra, in his book The Web of Life, refers to a web as relationships and interdependencies between psychological, cultural, biological, social and physical phenomena. We treat these sequences of events either as destiny or as our own achievements, the results of deliberate thought and action. Unexpected meetings, providential escapes, instant likes or dislikes, a sense of déjà vu in a strange situation or location — are these caused by a web of invisible forces beyond our control or do we have the power to determine whether something will or will not happen?

The debate between destiny and the power of self-determination in the web of life is not going to be resolved anytime soon. Does the web of life then extend beyond the tentacles of human control?

Tentacles, generally associated with an octopus, are used to reach out and catch prey at some distance from the animal. Used in the context of human beings, can we refer to tentacles as the sense of control that a human can enjoy on ideas, feelings and events in his or her life?

As we mull over the question of “to be or not to be”, we make choices among different paths or options based on our knowledge and to the best of our abilities. Our present choices determine our future circumstances. We believe that we are making these choices, though sometimes our belief in our role may be misplaced or exaggerated. There are far too many imponderables that make it impossible for anyone to navigate the storms in life with certainty.

Several authors and motivational speakers have propounded theories and cited anecdotes to illustrate the power of human thought. Advocates of self-determination extol the virtues of a 100 per cent commitment to a goal that you have set for yourself. Thoughts are things and if we believe strongly enough, it unleashes universal forces to actually make things happen.

Is this belief in the power of thought, just a “feel good” theory like a mirage in the desert, that spurs people on to face insurmountable odds or the courage to face the inevitable uncertainty of life? It nurtures a strong belief system that can help you remain afloat amidst life’s stormy seas. It gives a sense of direction and a destination without which no journey is possible.

We need to develop the tenacity of the “itsy bitsy spider” from the popular nursery rhyme who “went up the spout again” once the sun was out. As Shakespeare wrote, “The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together.” The web of life may perhaps be beyond human control. But rise we must from the ashes, like the Phoenix, reborn with a wisdom and strength that creates a light that shines bright enough to help, encourage and inspire (ourselves and) others out of their darkness.

This column first appeared in the print edition on June 28, 2021 under the title ‘Life in a web’. The writer is the general secretary of a large NGO in Chennai

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