I am reading Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl. It is extraordinary and rich. Richness has little to do with money or power and everything to do with service, responsibility, and love. The laying down of one’s life and will for another’s sake, that is wealth, and that type of wealth is not popular.
Recently the power of choice has been a central theme of my understanding. As a teacher of k-8 graders, I will often emphasize their self-determination and empowerment by telling them to “make good choices.” In the concentrations camps, Frankl tells us that the phenomenon of choice often decided between life and death. It was rarely admitted because the power of debasement, the loss of self-determination, the horrors of camp life where so extreme that to blame anyone for dying seemed out of the question. No doubt the condition of suffering in the concentration camps were so terrible that death was expected, normal, almost inevitable. Still, as Frankl’s title suggests, the choice each individual made to find meaning through the suffering, even amisdt the absence of a future would often decide whether they would live or die that day. Frankl calls his psychological practice logotherapy – an art he describes as finding a “will to meaning.” For those of you who know Nietzsche, you’ll hear his voice in Frankl’s work: “As we said before, any attempt to restore a man’s inner strength in the camp had first to succeed in showing him some future goal. Nietzsche’s words, ‘He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how,’ could be the guiding motto for all psychotherapeutic and psychohygenic efforts regarding prisoners. Whenever there was an opportunity for it, one had to give them a why—an aim—for their lives, in order to strengthen them to bear the terrible how of their existence.”
A powerful lens into the depths of human suffering Frankl’s work joins the ranks of books that describe the horrors of Nazi concentration camps. The value of Frankl’s book is the meaning. There is meaning. If we are not careful, the experience of suffering will drive us toward absence and meaninglessness. The power of choice does not mean life is responsible for our suffering, rather that we are responsible to life through the suffering. We are to be found worthy of our suffering, especially when and if that is all we have to offer. I do not have a bad day… my day… has a bad me. Within that re-evaluation of values encapsulates all the necessary power to chose wisely and our actualize potential.
My relationship to meaning has been reaffirmed over and over through countless philosophies and especially through experience. My experience is that meaning is overwhelmingly present, is Presence itself, refined, purified through consciousness and our greatest sufferings. I like to call that meaning God.