Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Meaning, Purpose, Suffering...

I was re-reading one of my top five most loved books today and it was very helpful. It was a reality check, a purpose check, and an attitude check. The book is Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl. HERE is a link to more on him. HERE is a link to his book. Bottom line—he was a German psychologist who survived several Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz.

The first part of the book is very difficult to read, and is very deeply disturbing. As one of my brothers says, we need to be disturbed. I agree. We need to be disturbed to take action and bring change. We need to be disturbed to start caring. We need to be disturbed to become more grateful. We need to be disturbed for many reasons....

The following quotes are in the order they are found in the book. Part of the book is about the psychological effect of concentration camps on the prisoner. Part of the book is about finding meaning in suffering, and in life in general. It has been intensely helpful to me in a multitude of ways, pre-cancer and with terminal cancer, and I can’t recommend it more highly.

“When the last layers of subcutaneous fat had vanished, and we looked like skeletons disguised with skin and rags, we could watch our bodies beginning to devour themselves. The organism digested its own protein, and the muscles disappeared.... One after another the members of the little community in our hut died. Each of us could calculate with fair accuracy whose turn would be next, and when his own would come.” (p.49-50)

“No man should judge unless he asks himself in absolute honesty whether in a similar situation he might not have done the same.” (p. 69)

“Our friends who had thought they were traveling to freedom that night had been taken in trucks to this camp, and there they were locked in the huts and burned to death. Their partially charred bodies were still recognizable on the photograph.” (p. 83)

“ the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone. Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him—mentally and spiritually.... It is this spiritual freedom—which cannot be taken away—that makes life meaningful and purposeful.” (p. 87)

“If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death....” (p. 89)

“ But in robbing the present of its reality there lay a certain danger. It became easy to overlook the opportunities to make something positive of camp life, opportunities which really did exist.... Such people forget that often it is just such an exceptionally difficult external situation which gives man the opportunity to grow spiritually beyond himself.... One could make a victory of those experiences turning life into an inner triumph, or one could vegetate, as did a majority of prisoners.” (p. 93)

“We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life-daily and hourly. Our answer must consist not in talk and meditation, but in right action and right conduct.” (p.98)

“When the impossibility of replacing a person is realized, it allows the responsibility which a man has for his existence and its continuance to appear is all its magnitude.” (p. 101)

“The crowning experience of all, for the homecoming man, is the wonderful feeling that, after all he has suffered, there is nothing he need fear any more—except his God.” (p. 115)

“What a man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.” (p.126)

“To suffer unnecessarily is masochistic rather than heroic.” (p. 136)

“Pleasure is, and must remain, a side-effect or by-product, and is destroyed and spoiled to the degree to which it is made a goal in itself.” (p. 145).

“....every human being has the freedom to change at any instant.” (p. 154)

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