Straight Line Theory
When you think about your life, do you think of it as a straight line of predetermined events, or would you prefer mountain paths and free will?
Do you think your life has already been planned out and it is just waiting for you to go through the motions?
When I was about 19 or 20 a friend of mine gave me an amazing perspective on this that I think about often. I have shared this philosophy many times with many people.
Some of the people I have shared this with have come back to me years later and told me how this perspective has changed their life.
So first, thank you Rich wherever you are for this wisdom I am passing on today. Somewhere in the journey of our lives, we have lost touch. Looking back, I can’t even pinpoint when. But know, if you ever see this. I think about this theory and wonder how your life has played out so far.
I don’t know if this is his original thought or if this is a known philosophy out in the Universe. If it is out there, I don’t hear it talked about, so I feel the need to share it here.
Introduction to the Philosophy
I am not sure if I thought that much about my life, how it was unfolding or where it would end up when I was 20. But I remember sitting in a booth at a restaurant with Rich and another friend as we discussed life, faith, and a number of other topics. I remember him asking me if I thought my life follows a straight line of predetermined events. I don’t remember my answer at that time. Being young and feeling immortal as you do in your early 20s, I probably replied something along the lines of not having thought that much about it.
Imagining the Mountain
He told me to imagine a huge mountain, then visualize a ton of water being poured over the top of it. Picture the water as it rolls down, creating paths down all the sides of the mountain, so many you cannot even comprehend it. First, there are big, thick main arteries, then smaller ones that stem off each of those, then smaller ones still branching from those. This repeats itself over and over causing an infinite number of pathways.
Each pathway varies in length. Some are extremely long, and others are much shorter, the rest are somewhere in between.
All of the paths have the same starting point.
From this starting point, every single branch that appears on the path represents a choice in our life. A choice we have the freedom to make, a choice that has not already been made for us. In front of us are the incomprehensible number of paths our lives can take.
Each choice we make moves our life in a particular direction, down the set of paths connected to the one we are on. Any pathway that is not connected to the current branch we have chosen will disappear. They are no longer options for us. There is now no way to access them. We can choose to change our mind about something and go back, but even that will be on a new path created and not one we were previously on.
What does it mean?
We are responsible for making choices, and each choice moves our life down a set of paths that we choose. Choosing to get in this car with this person at this moment, that choice will shorten or lengthen my life. Just like choosing not to get in this car at this moment with this person will shorten or lengthen my life.
We never know which of the choices we make cause us to shorten or lengthen our lives. But every choice we make causes a new set of paths to unfold in front of us while others close. But even with this theory, it seems perhaps the infinite paths on this mountain are all predetermined.
Possibly. But the choices I make and the way I go down the mountain are not.
Predetermined after all?
Maybe all the zillions of options our lives could possibly end up taking are predetermined mapped out on this mountainside. That is entirely possible. However, I choose to believe the choices we make to create our journey have not already been decided for us. If all of the pathways and crossroads we face on our journey are predetermined and already laid out on this mountain, I’m fine with that. As long as how it all unfolds, how my life maneuvers down these various paths is a result of my choices. I like this theory versus the straight line because it’s comforting to me to think my actions and decisions determine the course of my life.
Even though I never know if the choices I am making are shortening or lengthening my life, there is comfort in believing the choices I make are mine and have not already been made for me.
Straight Line or Mountain, Why Does it Matter?
Why does it matter anyway?
Either way, I don’t know what’s coming next. In both scenarios, I don’t know how this will all end, or when it will end. So why does it matter?
I don’t know.
I guess it just makes me feel like my life is more my own. My decisions matter more when I think each decision I make opens the door to new possibilities. I prefer to think that the choices I make are mine – not ones I was supposed to be making.
To me, it makes life more exciting, more of an adventure and it makes my life feel more like my own.
People and Their Purpose
This theory of having an infinite number of possible paths causes me to think about the relationships in my life. I think about the people who have come in and left my life. How the choices I make bring people in or out of my life. Changing jobs, moving, choosing one class over another in school. These decisions that seem arbitrary put people in, or remove people from my life.
As I get older and I think of the rest of my life, it becomes more and more important to me that my life looks the way I want it to look. I make choices to bring me closer to a life that will be fulfilling to me. No matter the choices I make, I will run into roadblocks, toxic people, and tragic situations. Those are part of life and cannot be avoided.
The people who have touched my life, whether they are still in my life or not, are important contributors to my journey.
This is not meant to be a solitary experience.
I also think if my life was a straight line, how boring that would be for my committee. Mountain paths and freewill would be more exciting for them to watch unfold.
Who is my committee?
My committee is all of the significant people in my life who have passed away. I believe they are watching out for me. Enjoying watching my journey unfold. I believe they picked my children. And I believe they are supporting me and encouraging me.
Believing this is how I keep them alive in my life even though they are no longer here. In the moments when something happens, like I don’t fall and hit my head when I trip. When I catch myself mid-fall, I give them some credit. I always look up and thank my committee. It’s just a fun game I like to play to stay connected.
I don’t think I’m alone here or that this life is all on me. I think I have help and support.
If my life was a straight line of predetermined events, I think of how boring that would be for my committee. With mountain paths and free will, I feel them watching with excitement. I think of it like them watching a movie, enjoying watching the plot unfold, and wondering what path I will follow. Where my next choice will lead me. I enjoy keeping them present in my life like this. I envision them engaged and invested, cheering me on. I think they are on the edge of their seat, waiting to see the next choice I make and waiting to see how that choice changes the direction of my life. I believe they are watching to see if I push on even when things get hard, or if I give up just before something great happens.
The Comfort in Mountain Paths and Freewill
For all of these reasons, I cannot believe in the straight-line theory. I need to feel like each choice is mine and they will each eventually lead me to places that bring me peace and happiness. It might not be a direct path to peace and happiness, but each part of the journey has lessons that are necessary.
I think when we are young we take life and time for granted. As we get older, we see the importance of our life as our safe haven. The choices in my life are mine to make and I have the power to make my life look the way I want it to look. It’s important to remember this. It’s my choices that forge my journey down the mountainside. It’s my belief in mountain paths and free will that brings me peace and makes me see my life as an amazing adventure that I get to define.