Life

Finding Meaning in Life: 3 Paths Inspired by Holocaust Survivor Viktor Frankl

On numerous occasions, we find ourselves ensnared in perplexity or ensnared in the void. Upon delving into the root cause, one discerns its correlation, more or less, with a failure to comprehend the inquiry, “What is the essence of existence?”

I have previously penned articles, elucidating my ruminations on this matter.

Today, I aspire to impart to you the insights of psychologist Frankl, a luminary who endured the horrors of a concentration camp.

Viktor Frankl, the progenitor of logotherapy, renowned as the “Vienna Third School of Psychotherapy,” succeeded Freud’s psychoanalysis and Adler’s individual psychology.

During the cataclysm of World War II, owing to his Jewish lineage, he endured three harrowing years in concentration camps such as Auschwitz and Dachau, an ordeal that underpinned the inception of logotherapy.

Frankl posited that individuals navigate three distinct avenues in quest of the essence of life. Regrettably, his treatise expounds insufficiently upon these paths.

In this discourse, I endeavor to furnish a precise elucidation and elaboration of these three modalities, drawing upon my personal experiences and reflections.

The initial avenue to glean meaning in life: through the creation of a magnum opus or the pursuit of a vocation.

1) Embark on a creative endeavor
Creation, once experienced, reveals itself as an exquisitely profound pursuit.

Throughout the creative process, we harness our entire repertoire of faculties, unleashing hitherto undiscovered wisdom and potential, culminating in the fruition of a masterpiece.

The essence of creation is profoundly nuanced:

It may manifest in professional domains, such as crafting prose, composing treatises, cinematography, conceptualizing literature, or curating pedagogy.

It may transpire through avocational channels, such as painting a canvas or capturing the essence of a metropolis through the lens.

Creation can be grandiose, such as founding an enterprise, propounding theoretical frameworks, or devising marketing strategies.

Alternatively, it can be modest, such as devising a culinary hack or innovating a culinary technique.

All such endeavors constitute creation.

Why does the act of creation confer meaning to life?

This is owing to the fact that, in this process, we not only unleash our latent potential but also engender tangible outcomes, be they monumental or modest. Thus, the process begets not only exhilaration but also fruitful results.

2) Pursue a vocation

For myriad individuals today, work transcends its traditional connotation of a mere livelihood, devolving into a means to an end—a tool for sustenance and familial support. Consequently, individuals metamorphose into mere ‘tools,’ emblematic of the ‘alienation’ of labor.

What does ‘alienation’ entail?

It delineates the transmutation of that which was innately ours into an antithetical entity.

For instance, labor—originally a quintessential facet of human existence—has metamorphosed into a means for procuring sustenance, indulging in leisure, and gratifying desires. The means, consequently, transmutes into a tribulation—a chore necessitated for the procurement of sustenance, indulgence, and gratification.

In this milieu, work undergoes alienation, no longer constituting a vocation but metamorphosing into drudgery—an onerous obligation rather than a vociferous pursuit.

Engaging in such labor precludes the attainment of existential fulfillment.

True fulfillment ensues only upon the transmutation of one’s vocation into a calling.

When one immerses oneself in a vocation, one experiences ardor, motivation, elation, contentment, and an enduring sense of flow—compelling one to greet each dawn with zeal, thereby obliterating the demarcations between weekdays and weekends, and obviating the need for balancing work and life.

It is therein that one finds the essence of life.

The second modality to procure meaning in life: through experiential revelations or serendipitous encounters.

If the former method—of ascertaining the essence of life—accords significance not only to the “denouement” but also to the “process,” then the latter method is wholly fixated upon the “process.”

1) Embrace experiential revelations

We have all partaken in moments of profound experience. For me, gazing upon a tree constitutes an exquisitely beautiful experience.

Observing trees bathed in sunlight, with luminous specks dancing upon verdant foliage, evokes a sense of tranquility, remoteness, and opulence—imbuing life with a sense of immediacy.

This, too, imparts meaning to life.

A comparable scene unfolds in the film “Soul.”

A soul, dubbed “22,” adrift in existential despondency, futilely seeks the ‘spark’ of life and eludes passage into the terrestrial realm. Analogously, one may interpret “22” as a forlorn, precocious, and world-weary youth adrift sans purpose, ensnared in mischief—proved an incessant quandary for mentors and guardians.

By happenstance, “22” inhabits the corporeal vessel of the protagonist, Joey, and partakes in a life replete with terrestrial marvels. Seated upon a thoroughfare, “22” beholds trees swaying serenely beneath the waning sun, tenderly grasping fluttering foliage. A torrent of emotions inundates “22,” as enlightenment dawns—life’s essence lies in savoring each moment, from mundane occurrences like sunsets and leaf-falls to leisurely strolls and culinary repasts.

In that epiphany, “22” discerns his unique ‘spark,’ thereby obtaining passage.

Beyond quotidian experiences, grandiose encounters—such as beholding truths, virtues, and aesthetics, or communing with nature and culture—profoundly impact our souls, endowing life with significance.

Confronted with wondrous natural spectacles or beholding cultural relics that endure through epochs, we experience an emotion dubbed ‘awe.’

It is a sensation so profound as to render us speechless, wherein we perceive ourselves and erstwhile concerns as inconsequential. Our spiritual essence, sanctified by nature’s magnificence or humanity’s grandeur, impels us to safeguard and perpetuate these phenomena.

If you’ve beheld the Yadan landforms, boundless deserts, or millennia-old ruins, akin to my experience, you’ve likely undergone a profound revelation.

These experiences bestow upon life its raison d’être.

2) Encounter another soul

Over the course of our lives, we encounter a plethora of individuals. To perceive the uniqueness of another soul, to embrace them with empathy, or to love unconditionally, bequeaths unto life its essence—irrespective of the culmination thereof.

Repeated encounters broaden our horizons, expand our minds, and enrich our emotional tapestry. Through these encounters, we glean insights into ourselves, others, and the world at large.

Even if childhood friends drift away, and acquaintances disperse, the act of ‘encounter’ imbues life with meaning.

Should one not only encounter others but also cultivate and reciprocate love, life’s essence burgeons exponentially.

In my treatise, “Cognitive Awakening,” I pose the question: What is love?

My response is thus: Love constitutes profound comprehension and acceptance—the support and encouragement of another’s intrinsic vitality.

Undoubtedly, within such love, life assumes profound significance.

The third avenue to procure meaning in life: through our disposition towards inevitable tribulations.

The aforementioned sources of existential meaning—replete with their kaleidoscope of experiences—pave the path to enlightenment. However, the third avenue may leave one befuddled—how can tribulation engender meaning?

Indeed, tribulation in itself is bereft of significance.

However, our stance towards inevitable tribulations confers meaning unto life.

Frankl elucidates thus in his oeuvre:

I was consulted by a geriatric, profoundly despondent physician, unable to reconcile himself to his spouse’s demise (two years prior, his profound love for her endured).

How may I assuage his anguish? What counsel may I impart?

I refrained from soliloquies, posing but one question: “What if you were to precede her in death, leaving her bereft?”

“Ah,” he exclaimed, “she would suffer immeasurably. How could she endure such torment?”

To which I rejoined: “Behold, you have spared her that agony, assuming her burden—albeit at the expense of your own profound anguish.”

Subsequently, he uttered naught, merely nodding pensively ere departing my office.

In a certain sense, the moment meaning is ascertained—such as the significance of sacrifice—tribulation ceases to be mere torment.

Life, fraught with travails, remains an inevitable facet of existence. Often, we recoil from it, resent it, abhor it—deeming it antithetical to the idyllic life we envisage.

But what if our disposition towards inevitable tribulations underwent a metamorphosis?

In “Cognitive Awakening,” I expound upon the four stages of grappling with tribulation. The third stage involves transmuting one’s anguish into life’s blessings, while heeding the cues inherent in suffering to chart one’s path.

Faced with the torment of shattered relationships or thwarted professional aspirations, I eschewed escapism, instead contending with the tribulations head-on, ruminating and acting to surmount them.

Gradually, I unearthed solutions, transcending my anguish. In navigating these tribulations, I honed my capacity for profound cogitation, evolving into an expert in cerebral fortitude and personal growth—aiding others in resolving their tribulations and queries, enabling them to embrace their uniqueness and wholeness. And thus, from my tribulations sprung forth enlightenment.

Should we discern, within tribulation, the means to refine ourselves and actualize our latent potential; should we transmute the torment into life’s boons; should we burgeon amidst adversity—then, and only then, do we carve out a chasm of ‘freedom’ amidst tribulation.

Despite life’s tempests, we find anchorage, our roots firmly ensconced in the earth, traversing joyfully towards a radiant future.

As Frankl so eloquently opined, “In bravely confronting the gauntlet of tribulation, life assumes meaning—a meaning that perseveres until the denouement.”

Epilogue

Frankl proclaims three avenues to attain meaning in life:

The first avenue: through creative endeavor or vocation.

The second avenue: through experiential revelations or serendipitous encounters.

The third avenue: through our stance towards unavoidable tribulations.

One delineates the fusion of process and outcome, another extols the sanctity of process, while the third underscores the significance of disposition.

May you, too, unearth the essence of your existence.

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