Man's Search For Meaning

I haven't had the space to sit down and consider the the bigger stuff in over three years.  For some reason, I was so moved after reading this book that I was inspired to collect my own limited musings.  This is not an academic article, I am not an expert on world religions, history, politics or philosophy.  I just wanted to organize what I thought and felt about this book which motivated me to take some time out and think and reflect.  


For the first time in a long time, I read a book in one sitting.  It is a short read but a weighty topic.  As with any book set in a concentration camp, the first part of the book which deals with his personal experiences in four concentration camps (including Auschwitz) is harrowing.  I felt nauseous as I read about the suffering humans inflicted on one another.  Dr. Frankl used his experiences and knowledge of human psychology to survive in four concentration camps (including Aushwitz) and developed his theory of logotherapy.   Logotherapy is a process to assist us to identify our unique purpose so we can live meaningful lives.  I am not a psychotherapist or psychoanalyst,   My understanding and interpretation of this logotherapy comes from a long-term interest in philosophies and world religions.  While I was reading this book, the core essence and values of Hindusim, Christianity and Buddhism came to mind.


Dr Frankl identified three main elements that contribute to a meaningful life - Purpose, Love and Suffering.


 Purpose: This reminded me of the Yoga of Karma.  Similar to  the Bhagavad Gita, Man’s Search For Meaning is concerned with man’s pschye and horrifying experiences during a war.  The understanding remains the same - every single moment of consciousness requires us to make decisions that manifests as action or our karma.  When we make our decisions that are true to ourselves and do not result in harm we are applying our dharma / karma and contributing to universal balance aligning  our energy to the heavens and the cosmic forces.


While recovering in the sick quarters Dr Frankl volunteers for medical duties in another camp containing typhus patients as it would be more purposeful for him to die helping other prisoners instead of dying unproductively in the camp.  However, because he volunteered, it was ordered that he is minded to recovery because his medical skills were required.  


On another occasion Dr Frankl is given an option to leave the camp – he decides not to leave but to remain to look after prisoners.  He later learns that the camp he might have been sent to was riddled with disease.  He describes how he made decisions from within and these decisions saved him.  He accepted where he was at every moment and allowed everything to happen around him.


 Love – Dr Frankl spoke to his wife daily not realising that she had died.  He reflected  that even if he had known that she had died he would have continued the conversations.   ‘Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved.  It finds its deepest meaning in spiritual being his inner self’   An all encompassing universal message found in Christianity, Christ Consciousness, A Course in Miracles.  Only love is real.


Suffering.  Dr Frankl accepts that in life it is normal to experience depression, aggression and addictions bourne about by suffering, guilt and death.  Buddhist Dhamma teaches that suffering is a common human experience arising from our attachment to ourselves and our stories and salvation is reached by man turning inwards  into the recesses of our own minds in order to understand how it works so we know ourselves. 


Dr Frankl suggests that we can find our way through suffering through our actions, experiences with other people and rising above and growing from the suffering we experience.  Similar to Buddhist teachings that the Eightfold Path of belief, resolve, speech, action, livelihood, effort, thought and meditation can end the cycle of suffering.


 My Take Away From This Book.


Dr Frankl found meaning by using his experiences to help his fellow prisoners.  This fuelled his decision to make choices to provide compassion and to survive. 


I loved Dr Frankl’s realisim of self-determination.   He recognised that we are flawed.  We all have the potential to make decisions that may or may not harm others, ‘man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz.. he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, the Lord’s Prayer of the Shema Yisrael on his lips'.  Ultimately, the meaning of our life lies within ourselves as individuals.  We are free to determine our own path by our decisions and actions.    ‘We decide how we want to be in any given moment’.  


With over 9 million copies of this book being sold, I found myself wondering why we still find ourselves in an age where racism, social inequality, environmental pollution, disease,  mental illnesses are prevalent.  Are we living in a society resulting from the choices we have made individually within a global community?  Have we become more selfish through decades of consumerism worshipping wealth, power,  pleasures.  After reading this book I realised that every situation and decision is steered by our values and priorities which determine our choices.  We have a choice about how we think and what we think. We choose what we say to ourselves and to others, we choose how to shop, we choose what we watch on TV, we choose to listen or not listen.  We choose our responses - we choose to be miserable, angry or we choose to focus on the good.    Our lives are what we make of it and our choices matter, not just to ourselves but to the world and global community.   Dr Frankl understood that every action is a choice. Can we make choices that free us?  Choices that help and not hurt?   Can we find a way to live with meaning?  How do we integrate all of this with our day to day responsibilities?  This is where my work lies.