Controlled Chaos

We are not permitted to choose the frame of our destiny. But what we put into it is ours.”
– Dag Hammarskjold

Controlled chaos to me, is akin to the dynamism of our destiny. Our actions and inactions, the choices we make and the consequences we face as a result of those choices. This “chaos” is only “controlled” by Dag Hammarskjold’s perception of the “frame of our destiny” or the world that Richard Wilbur’s “heart’s crayon” sought to “spangle and fulfill” [see poem below].

Sometime ago, during a moment of lazy introspection on a long bus ride home, I got to ponder about life, destiny and predestination. My thoughts strayed to the rather prevalent fatalistic understanding of our eastern philosophy. A layman’s interpretation that implies predestination and our abject powerlessness in the grander scheme of things.

But something within me refused to believe in this fatalistic outlook. At that instant, looking back at how my life had shaped up thus far, I wanted to think that I have control over my destiny, that I have never been powerless, that I can forge my own destiny. But again, I did some rethinking and the agnostic in me wanted to say, “What If?” So, I settled on the possibility that perhaps it is all predestination after all, with a twist.

Perhaps we all enter this life with a blank outline of how things would be. Essentially a pencil sketch on a wide-open, blank canvas, unimaginably infinite and beyond comprehension. And we are also given the tools – the paintbrushes, the colors, the painting medium, a palette and then it is up to us to make the choice of colors, of mediums of what we want to express. The essential element is probably the power to choose. And each choice we make dictates what our next step will be. A large and growing, “if-then” tree of choices and consequences, with the branches spreading in every possible direction, without any noticeably discernible pattern.

My stray thought, as I read more and learnt more, seemed to find an echo in the works of several authors and poets who I admire, leading the charge – John Steinbeck, in his East of Eden (pages 301-303). Excerpt quoted below:

[Lee said,] “The King James version [of The Bible] says this — it is when Jehovah has asked Cain why he is angry. Jehovah says, ‘If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.’ It was the ‘thou shalt’ that struck me, because it was a promise that Cain would conquer sin.”
Samuel nodded. “And his children didn’t do it entirely,” he said.
Lee sipped his coffee. “Then I got a copy of the American Standard Bible. It was very new then. And it was different in this passage. It says, ‘Do thou rule over him.’ Now this is very different.
This is not a promise, it is an order. And I began to stew about it. I wondered what the original word of the original writer had been that these very different translations could be made …
“My [elders] felt that these words were very important too — ‘Thou shalt’ and ‘Do thou.’ And this was the gold from our mining: ‘Thou mayest.’ ‘Thou mayest rule over sin.’ …
“The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel — ‘Thou mayest’ — that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’ — it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’ …
“Now, there are millions in their sects and churches who feel the order, ‘Do thou,’ and throw their weight into obedience. And there are millions more who feel predestination in ‘Thou shalt.’ Nothing they may do can interfere with what will be. But ‘Thou mayest’! Why, that makes
a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.”

Yes, we always have the choice and as long as we have the choice, we have the tools to forge our own destiny, to fill our destined frame and the limitlessly limited canvas of our destiny with the colors of our choice.
Richard Wilbur, the poet seems to be making the same point in his poem – At Moorditch, in the final verse of the poem:

“Now,” said the voice of lock and window-bar,
“You must confront things as they truly are.
Open your eyes at last, and see
The desolateness of reality.”

“Things have,” I said, “a pallid, empty look,
Like pictures in an unused coloring book.”

“Now that the scales have fallen from your eyes,”
Said the sad hallways, “you must recognize
How childishly your former sight
Salted the world with glory and delight.”

“This cannot be the world,” I said. “Nor will it,
Till the heart’s crayon spangle and fulfill it.”

So, obviously, my daydreaming thought was not an epiphany or a unique idea but something that has occurred to folks infinitely wiser than me during the course of history.
Destiny then, is not static or fatalistic. We cannot assign anything to “kismet” or to a nonchalant, laissez-faire attitude that is resigned to it “being written”. It is not written, it needs to be written. It is a dynamic destiny. There is a plan, it’s boundaries lost in eternity, in infinity, unfathomable and unknowable. And the plan probably encompasses several lifetimes and not just the one that is of immediate concern to us. It is in essence, controlled chaos, with the lines of control existent but invisible.

1 Comment

  1. I think, in a broad sense, no pun intended, I agree with your premise on choices and destiny. Though, I am not really certain i buy into even a grand plan or outline.


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