In this fast-paced society, we tend to go on with our lives without questioning the patterns we follow socially, culturally, or mentally; without looking at what is going on inside or getting in touch with our feelings; without wondering whether we are living a life of substance, a life with meaning and purpose, or just going on ”automatic pilot.“ That is, until something shakes us up—a loss, an unexpected change, or an illness—and stops us in our tracks.
Of course, when I reflect on these things, I can’t help thinking about Viktor E. Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist who wrote about his experiences as a Nazi concentration camp inmate, and this eventually led him to a psychotherapeutic method called logotherapy, which is a type of existentialist analysis.
I have always admired Viktor Frankl, and I am grateful to my father for introducing me to his work. He was able to transcend the unfathomable suffering and humiliation of the harshest of conditions, not knowing whether he would survive another day, or whether his loved ones were still alive, and rose above it all to help others. Freud believed that life is primarily a quest for pleasure; Adler that it is a quest for power; for Frankl, life is a quest for meaning, and life can have meaning even under the most miserable circumstances, because it is our spiritual freedom that makes life purposeful. He wrote:
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way.
As the Austrian psychiatrist noted, the camp inmates who lost all hope also quickly lost their lives, while many of those who held on tight to even a faint sense of hope found the strength and courage to survive. We have the freedom to choose how we perceive our circumstances, no matter how hard they appear to be; to find meaning in what we do and purpose in what we experience.
Furthermore, we have the choice to do things consciously, with clear purpose and intention, to bring life and energy into anything we do. And most importantly, we can understand the purpose of anything and everything in our life by shifting from the “automatic pilot” mode into the journey of self-exploration and self-inquiry; by shedding the light of awareness and discrimination into the individual world where we materialize our thoughts, intentions, tendencies, and desires. That in itself is a life of substance and meaning: a life worth living.
Perhaps, as Viktor Frankl points out, it is time to stop wondering what you expect from life—to go the way you want it to—and start inquiring what life is actually expecting from you. Because in the end, no matter how much you may fit within the standards of “success” and “fulfillment” in the world, you are the only one who knows whether you are listening to the inner guidance that tells you if you are doing what you are really supposed to be doing; and whether you are doing it in the best possible way: fully conscious and aware of who you are and what your life is all about. Now, can there be a more meaningful life than a life guided from within?
© 2011 Yol Swan. All rights reserved.