What Does Providence Mean?
A few days ago, I went to South Pointe Park in Miami Beach for an afternoon of reading and meditation. It was a beautiful day, and the park was full. I sat on one of the two-person benches, which I expected to share with other people who needed to rest after a jog or a long walk, or just use it as I did for meditation, reading or contemplation. I remembered a sentence someone told me a long time ago: “Each new person you meet will have a message for you.” I decided to test this tip on the next person who sat next to me.
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The people we meet
I didn’t have to wait too long: a vivacious young woman in her early 40s took the seat and started taking pictures of our surroundings with an impressive camera, the features of which were a natural opening to our conversation. After the initial contact, she was quite loquacious, and happy to share her life story with me.
“One thing you have to know about me”, she said, “is I’m very lucky: I went to a community college and had no major ambition, but I had a passion for photography which I did as a side hobby. In my last year of college, the new management of the local newspaper in my hometown decided to enliven the digital edition and social media presence with more photos and began to recruit heavily. Because it was a small town, there was not a lot of competition, and I got the job quite easily. And because the new editor-in-chief was very talented, the readership grew exponentially, expanding to neighboring towns and counties, and my career boomed! I am now a nationally-acclaimed photographer with a heavy following and great life, when I could have had an average existence if the newspaper hadn’t had this management change at the precise time of my graduation!” We chatted some more, and then she left. I didn’t know her name, but I called her Luck, since I decided her message to me was about luck.
The next person to sit next to me was a man in his late 50s, who looked very tired. Asking him if he was all right was a great way to start the conversation. He was touched and more than willing to talk. “Look, everything in life is predestined and there is no use to fight it. I have this 9 to 5 job which I do pretty well, then I go home where I have a steady routine with my wife of 35 years. My children are grown up and they have their own routines, we’re all just playing along, not trying to make waves and quite content. When I was younger, I tried several times to do more but never succeeded. At the same time, I have survived several economic crises and layoffs at my employer and even some trouble in my marriage. It seems to me that I am on a certain path, unexciting but solid. Destiny, my friend; I’m just following my destiny!” Clearly, his message was about destiny.
On providence and self-alignment
My next bench-mate was a much older man with a navy cap. He had a long white beard and piercing blue eyes. He looked so wise that I hesitated to talk to him, but he must have sensed this hesitation, so he addressed me first: “So, what can I do for you, my friend?”. I was a bit shy at the beginning, but we had an excellent conversation. When I asked him what his main message to me would be, he said:” Believe in providence, it will support your goals, ambitions, relationships and overall happiness. It applies to everything you do!”
I was confused, so I told him about my earlier interaction with the lady I called Luck. His response was instantaneous: “You should have called her Providence. If she hadn’t had that passion for photography, all the luck in the world wouldn’t have changed her situation. That’s a great example of providence: you do your part, and nature does its part. I am sure you have heard the saying, God helps those who help themselves!” But I was still confused, so I told him about my next interaction with the guy I called Destiny. He erupted: “This is another example of providence. People use destiny to justify doing nothing. Yes, destiny exists: clearly some of us start in a much better position than others, but destiny is only the starting point. You have a role to play in what you become, where you go with the assets destiny gave you. Destiny is not an excuse for being lazy! And providence will help you – or not – depending on how much effort you put in. In the case of your friend, he didn’t want to do more than was expected of him, so he never got more. But he was conscientious and honest, so providence protected him at the level he was.”
I was loving this conversation, so I tried to confirm: “So, you are telling me that providence is a mysterious propensity of the universe to help us achieve our goals, provided we are really working on them. The amount of support providence will give us is directly proportional to the intensity of our own efforts in achieving these goals.” He acquiesced, then paused a little before saying: “Let me give it to you in terms you will really understand: Imagine that we are all working for a gigantic company; this company put us on this earth for a purpose. Now, where on this earth we live, what resources are available to us, what our genetic composition is, that’s all destiny. However, what we do with what we have been given will get rewarded through providence. Just like in a regular company, where you have a salary and a bonus. The salary is what you expect to get if you do your job, but if you work hard, you will have a bonus, and possibly a promotion. That’s providence. And on the other side, if you neglect your duties, you can be demoted, and your salary can be reduced. It’s also a form of providence, unfortunately. Some people call it karma.”
It made sense, but I still had a few questions. So I said: “That’s pretty clear, but you can’t deny that some people seem to get outsized rewards compared to their accomplishments, while others seem to be punished excessively for the size of their misdeeds.” Again, he nodded in agreement: “I can’t explain everything in this world, but if I had to guess, I would say that the universe is not perfect, just as we are not perfect. So, if we stick with the example of the giant corporation, you could say that in general, the best performers get rewarded and the worst performers get punished, but there are always exaggerations: sometimes the boss or HR committee is in a good mood and more indulgent than usual, and other times it’s the opposite. I would say that the universe also has these flaws.”
Interesting theory, but my thirst wasn’t quenched. I asked: “I get the comparison with the large company, but a large corporation has job descriptions for employees to follow, targets for them to achieve and appraisers to monitor what they achieve. If I wanted to follow your advice, where do I get the equivalent of the job description and targets and who decides if I performed well or not?” He smiled, as if he was waiting for the question, then answered: “Providence has one agent in dealing with you, and it’s you! You are the one deciding what you need to do in terms of career, love, family, relationships, etc. and you are also the one deciding whether you are living up to your potential, whether you are contributing to society and whether your presence on this planet is beneficial or not. Providence will believe you; because you can lie to everyone but not to yourself.”
After this very compelling conversation, the old man left and I stayed, pondering another truth emerging from his message: finding your own self-alignment is key to harnessing the forces of the universe.
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