MAN'S SEARCH FOR MEANING
DR.VIKTOR E. FRANKL
Ultimately all of us search for a meaning in life....why are we here ? What is the purpose of life ? Some go to temples , some follow a guru and some , like me , try to find the answers in a book.
While searching for answers , I stumbled across this little book somewhere along the way. I love this book , but , today , when I am trying to capture the essence of this book ...and trying to narrate why I love this book , I find the task truly herculean !
Dr.Frankl was born and educated in Austria where he worked as a neurologist and a psychiatrist in pre war ( WW 2 ) years. He was jewish and when the Nazis came into the power , he lost all he had. He spent three years in a concentration camp , only last few months as a ( helpless ) doctor.
This book , written in 1945 , is in part , a memoir of the days spent in the concentration camp. But we find that , the author does not dwell on the atrocities committed on him but more on the mental journey of the prisoner , from the day of arrival to the camp , to the day of liberation.
Given the same hardship and terrible living conditions , why is it that some people give up all hope and die while some never do ? It was this question Dr. Frankl pondered over and the answer he got lead him to devise a new school of psychotherapy - Logotherapy.
On entering the camp , everything was taken away from the prisoners - all possessions , identity , even hair . All inmates were equal - only a number . Over the days they developed a protective shell around them - by blunting of their emotions. But surprises never ceased - some of them even good - they never knew they had it in them - the inner strength , ability to survive without even basic amenities , ability to find humor and semblance of art in these bleak , hopeless days....." Man can get used to anything ( but don't ask us how. ) "
In spite of the living conditions , it was still possible for some inmates to have a rich , inner , spiritual life - it provided solace from the desolation , hopelessness . As Dr. Frankl says " Man may be influenced by his surrounding but , ultimately , no one can take away the last of human freedom - ability to chose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances ."
Some prisoners simply gave up and died , outwardly due to infections . But if there is no hope , even body immunity is affected .Dr. Frankl quotes Nietzsche " He , who has a why to live for , can bear with almost any how. . "
His experiences in the camp led Dr.Frankl to devise logotherapy - a new school of psychotherapy which is described in the second and third part of the book.
Logotherapy focuses on the future . Striving to find a meaning in life is the primary motivational force in a man. Meaning of life is not an abstract concept , it is unique and specific to a person and can change from time to time . Dr. Frankl gives three ways of discovering it....
1. Creating a work or doing a deed ( eg. Your daily work or job )
2. By experiencing something ( truth , beauty , goodness , art , culture , nature )
By encountering someone ( love )
3. By attitude we take towards unavoidable suffering - If we can not change the circumstances , we change ourselves. If suffering is inevitable bear it bravely and with dignity .
In this modern age of automation , man has lots of time in the hand but nothing worthwhile to do - There is means but no meaning . Boredom is a modern age disease which ultimately can lead to various addictions.
Also ,a lot of preoccupation is seen with ' happiness ' - we see a many books and courses devoted to this topic - but mental health needs certain amount of tension - between what one is and what one should become . What man needs is not a tension free state but a striving , struggling state towards a worthwhile goal . " Happiness like success can not be pursued , it has to ensue as a byproduct of one's dedication to a cause greater than ourselves ."
Originally the book was published as an autobiographical account - only the first part. In later editions , appendices describing the logotherapy were added. First few times I could read only the first part - enough to make me love this little gem of a book . Now that I have read the entire book , I am even more in love with it. It may not answer all the questions but it answers many.
" Life holds a potential meaning under any circumstances , even the most miserable ones "
So.....never give up....say yes to life !!!