Friday, October 7, 2011

Viktor Frankl: Finding Meaning in Life

"When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task. He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden."
-- Viktor Frankl --
("Man's Search for Meaning")

 To the unenlightened being, the Buddha observed, life is suffering. The existential question this raises, then, is how do we find meaning in a life full of suffering?

While the Buddha found that suffering can be overcome through the spiritual awakening of enlightenment, Dr. Viktor Frankl, a psychotherapist who survived Auschwitz, found conversely that it is in embracing and overcoming suffering that one may find purpose in life.

In Frankl's view, desperation arises only when there is suffering absent meaning. So long as there is meaning in suffering - so long as man can offer something back to the world, even if it consists merely in overcoming the circumstances from which suffering arises - there need be no despair. Despair, he notes in the video interview below, arises only from suffering without meaning.

"As long as an individual cannot find any meaning in his suffering, he or she will certainly be prone to despair and, under certain conditions, suicide," Frankl points out. "But at the moment they can see a meaning in their suffering they can mould ther predicament into an accomplishment on a human level, They can turn their tragedies into a personal triumph."

"But if these people, like so many segments of present day society's population, cannot find any meaning whatoever in their suffering, (so long as they) cannot see anything meaningful," Frankl notes, "more often than not . . . they cannot find anything to live for."

"What we have to accept is the incapacity of our humanity," says Frankl, "our incapacity to understand our ultimate meaning in intellectual terms."

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