Sunday, September 8, 2019

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

It's when I've felt that I have a purpose in life that I've been able to quiet doubts about why I exist in the first place. Even when daily routines of taking care of my daughter and son when they were babies frequently felt like drudgery, there was an undeniable purpose dialed into motherhood. To dutifully protect and raise vulnerable babies, no matter how I felt about the process at any given moment.

Now that my kids are adults, I am surrounded by oceans of freedom, to get up and pursue anything I want. All day, every day. Ironically, the freedom to do anything without a dialed-in purpose sometimes has me flailing. Drowning in freedom, longing for the confines and drudgery of duty.

I don't think freedom is incompatible with purpose. But freedom WITHOUT purpose is hell. So is purpose without freedom.

Logotherapy is the therapeutic approach that the late Viktor Frankl explains in the second section of his book: Man's Search for Meaning (1959). It is an approach that beckons me to pursue meaning instead of byproducts of meaning (e.g., happiness, joy, comfort, etc.)

He points to laughter as an example. When someone commands me to laugh, it's almost impossible to will myself to do so. Same thing with commands to love, to choose happy, to orgasm, to have fun, to be authentic, to have faith. Even scripture says strong-armed faith is no faith at all.

The first section of his book is a memoir of his time as a prisoner of Aushwitz. Conceptually, it's hard to imagine a moment in a concentration camp where happiness or laughter could be experienced. Surely the context couldn't allow room for anything besides despair.

Frankl explains that no matter the context of suffering, be it the drudgeries of parenting, existence in a concentration camp, illness, accidents, betrayal, etc., it is possible to live with meaning and therefore possible to experience the byproducts of meaning in ALL circumstances of life.

I search daily to answer the question: What is my purpose?

Sometimes I feel clarity. Other times, ambiguity. Frequently, I find that as long as this search is conducted with a quieted ego, I am able to refrain from editing out neither bursts of tears nor roars of laughter that arrive not through commands, but as byproducts of a life with meaning.

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