Meaning for survival

One of the ideas I picked up this week from the reading Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, is where it is we find meaning, and how we go about it. We can find alternatives to an actual meaning and be left unsatisfied but living in an existential vacuum as he puts it. Going in depth with a psychoanalysis can only do so much, we can discover what makes us function as we do, but it cannot tell us why.

Logotherapy explores this why and it doesn’t go in depth of how the person works but attempts to find the meaning in a person’s experience, it is no longer internal it is external. Because every individual is different inside and out, by nature so should their meaning. This is why Frankl notes:

“Thus far we have shown that the meaning of life always changes, but never ceases to be. According to logotherapy, we can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.”

Surely, we have experienced all these feelings. We can be so focused on a paper to be published, meetings to change the face of the college or club, being a significant part of an institution can help give one a sense of purpose. Some may look at a paint, read a book, explore the world or even the city they live in and immerse themselves with the sensations of the culture. Others may find comfort in a loved one, with a friend who is caring and a grandparent who is compassionate. What I notice about all these reasons or meanings of life are that when experienced we don’t consider them a meaning. When experienced we don’t even feel the void pulling and tugging for our attention as a young child, at that moment we are satisfied.

When we find a meaning in life it is not only a way to escape the feeling of existential dread of our lives entirely but can be used as a weapon for perseverance. When nearly all the men with Frankl were in despair and hope was fading fast he used this knowledge not only to his advantage but everyone else’s. He proclaimed:

“They must not lose hope but should keep their courage in the certainty that the hopelessness of our struggle did not detract from its dignity and its meaning. I said that someone looks down on each of us in difficult hours—a friend, a wife, somebody alive or dead, or a God—and he would not expect us to disappoint him. He would hope to find us suffering proudly—not miserably—knowing how to die.”

Keeping the hope by reminding people where their meaning may lie, fighting to persevere for someone or something. Even for Frankl, he discusses his wife when he truly needed to persevere and other times he talks about saving his manuscript and jotting down notes to retain it. Finding meaning does not have to be in an achievement, in art and beauty, or in a loved one. It seems it can be a part of all three. Depending on what we need to continue and provide the courage for that mentality is when we call for a different reason at that time. Frankl agrees to say:

“For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.”

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One thought on “Meaning for survival

  1. Francis, I really like the way you’ve broken down and approached the concept of meaning; it can be such an elusive notion to grasp let alone generally define. I was drawn to your mention of not necessarily feeling “meaning” within certain moments, but rather happiness or triumph which we may later regard as meaningful. It seems sometimes that we do not recognize the poignancy of certain moments until we find ourselves in need of a passion to persist. In this sense, our meaning often becomes sewn into our past and we are easily caught up in nostalgia; the meaningfulness of life is calmly surrendered to our stored realities rather than threaded into the anxiety of the present moment. The trick is not to settle in these memories, but to use them as motivation for living within meaning and trust that we will look back fondly on these present passings just the same. Thank you for sharing!

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