On Destiny, Improvisation and How It Relates to Philosophical Health

Improvisation is an understudied topic in philosophy in general and in philosophical practice in particular. In the context of philosophical counseling and philosophical health, it might be believed that a more reflexive and rationalized form of living might involve less spontaneity. There is a general assumption since Thales that the philosopher is not attentive to present surroundings, and lives in the mind, making all sorts of pragmatic or domestic mistakes for lack of attention. More generally, lack of present awareness and daydreaming is sometimes considered a feature of the human species. In the last decades, psychological experiments showing that most of our awaken behavior is performed in a state of semi-consciousness, or “autopilot” have become popular. If our individual destiny is predetermined by the Heavens, as it was believed in the religious tradition, or by our genetic, neuronal or social determinism, as it is believed in multiple scientific approaches, we might wonder what would be the use of philosophical health practices: should we not spontaneously and “simply” follow our line of life, go with the flow and accept our fate stoically?

In my counseling practice, I often tell my interlocutors that I will help them unveil their highest destiny, and then it’s up to them to embrace it. This suggests that we may have a plurality of destinies available, such that our social or organic conditions can be transcended, sublimated by thoughts, coherent or even systemic choices, a philosophical stance. The existentialist tradition in philosophy, from Kierkegaard to Sartre, advocates that destiny is a creative project, and that we can somewhat generate at least part of the reality we live in. While many people today might accept this idea, it is important to have a conversation, step by step and person by person, on how this might be possible and sustainable.

The concept of improvisation, musically understood, can provide a good analogy for the kind of agency that a successful destiny might imply. A musical improvisation is never random, it follows a tonality, a rhythm, and it is a crealectic (creatively more-than-dialectic) attunement between fidelity and freedom. Fidelity to what? In the philosophical context, each individual can, with some work and courage, unveil a personal conceptual constellation, a set of connected higher principles (for example Justice-Creation-Listening), or a motto which delivers a personal philosophical tonality. “Attuned destinal improvisation” then becomes a dual attunement to, on the one hand, our philosophical stance, which should be flexibly unshakable and, on the other hand, to the creative variations of life, such that both excessive wandering and rigidity are avoided.

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