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A collaboration over too much coffee.
coffee and pen

15 February, 2005

Random Thoughts: 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 a 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 let my mind wander to thoughts about life, destiny and predestination. My thoughts strayed to the, rather prevalent, simplistic and 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 consider 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 thoughts, as I read more and learn more, seem 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 (page 303). Excerpt quoted below:

“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", the apparently limitless, limited canvas 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:

"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 random daydreaming thought was hardly an epiphany or a unique idea but something that has occurred to folks infinitely wiser than me, mutiple times, during the course of history.

Destiny then, I am convinced, 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, its 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, where the lines of control, though existent, are invisible.


Blogger SPECKLED_BAND said...

First of all, brilliant writing. Second, you have quoted one of my favourite poets, Richard Wilbur, for which many thanks!

And for that lovely epigraph from that visionary diplomat-statesman Dag Hammarskjold.

Thank you once again!

15 February, 2005 10:01  
Blogger manisha lakhe said...

a word from someone traveling a similar path...the point is NOT to come to a conclusion...what seems like a conclusion today becomes the basis of your question the next moment. also a conclusion means that the 'seeking' is over, and i doubt that any one of us has reached that state yet...

15 February, 2005 10:21  
Blogger Ashish Gorde said...

You've brought some interesting ideas that one can ponder upon and you've combined it with clever prose.

15 February, 2005 17:39  
Blogger sunil said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

15 February, 2005 19:01  
Blogger sunil said...

I loved this piece, indeed. Well, thinking is my favourite passtime.I am in agreement with your thoughts so far. Logically, it should lead to the debate between a 'believer' and an 'atheist'.The 'danger' starts from there. A 'believer', an 'agnostic' and a 'non-believer', all have definite ideas about their 'beliefs'. But leave that here. The choice leads to consequence is clear. But what when it does not always. I think the 'control' is the idea and/or knowledge and/or perception of the anticipated/expected consequence that makes us 'choose' but yet the 'desired' is not achieved in same amount, nature and form as we would love. What is it that goes to influence our desired result or consequence? I think writing one's destiny perfectly is not possible because I have 'control' over my 'choice' but not over all other 'factors',involved or attending, which must combine in the 'right' 'proportion' too. Would you say something further, Pragya?

15 February, 2005 19:07  
Blogger abha mishra said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

15 February, 2005 21:26  
Blogger abha mishra said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

15 February, 2005 21:26  
Blogger abha mishra said...

It's an excellent piece you have written, you have presented your thoughts beautifully. Those who believe in destiny may not agree,but I do think that you can change the course of fate with strong determination. Let "Him" laugh at your plans, don't ever stop carving your own destiny.

15 February, 2005 21:26  
Blogger Max Babi said...

Hey Pragya,
I did comment earlier but the damned thing melted away into cyberspace...wonder why. I had said it is wonderful to see such depth in an essay, you seem to be flowering out in full glory...blessed be the pen.
Carry on the good work!

18 February, 2005 00:33  
Blogger scribe said...

Thanks for writing so coherently. I am grateful everytime I read clear thoughts written well. I'd forgotten the "Thou mayest" (from your Steinbeck extract). Personally, the Choice factor has always been of major importance; and as I live believing in many paradoxes, I always think we allow even the pre-destined to manifest - forever changing, evolving, accepting, rejecting.

18 February, 2005 14:22  
Blogger Dan Husain said...

It is like casting image in plaster of paris. You have the choice to change it till it hardens and becomes history :-) You're good girl.

24 February, 2005 08:17  

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