Day 9: The Inward Journey: How one extraordinary man found the Real Me by practicing Mindfulness in harrowing conditions.
His name is Dr Viktor Frankl. The first time I read his story in his world acclaimed famous book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ I was moved to tears. There is hope in adversity. This is what I want to talk about today.
Dr Viktor Frankl was born in 1905 in Vienna to Jewish parents. In his early twenties he received the degrees in Doctorate of Medicine and Doctorate of Philosophy from the University of Vienna.
During World War Two he experienced incredible attempts to dehumanize him as he struggled to survive the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Dachau. His personal identity, including his name, became number 119104. He and his sister were the only family members to survive the war. His father, mother, brother and his wife perished.
Stripped to naked existence, exposed to hunger, cold and brutality, hourly expecting extermination, how could this man possibly survive and believe that life can be good?
Surprising enough, not only did Dr Frankl survive but through his suffering he developed a philosophy about human existence, to which he employed the term ‘Logotherapy’– or, as it has been called by some authors, ‘The Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy’.
In essence Logotherapy is about man’s search to find meaning for his existence. Dr Frankl argues that all life is purposeful and when this is not readily seen, the individual gives up hope and the will to live. While in the concentration camp, he noticed that any attempt to restore an individual’s inner strength required belief in a future goal. When this belief was gone the individual literally gave up and died within days. Dr Frankl also noticed that the inmate’s chances for survival were significantly enhanced when belief in self and in the future were restored.
In the words of the nineteenth century philosopher, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche,
‘He who knows the why to live, can bear with almost any how.’
Dr Frankl’s incredible courage and spirit not only helped him to survive but it also helped others to survive and made possible, the recovery from the terrible atrocities experienced in the camps. He also observed over and over again that the prisoners who managed to stay afloat, despite the persistent ongoing abuse in the camps, were those who helped one another. His documentation is living proof that altruism works and egotism causes struggle and strife.
Dr Frankl’s story gives us hope, especially if we have also experienced a great deal of pain in our own lives. One way to become well again, despite great adversity, according to Dr Frankl, is to focus on the needs of others. All pain, he argues, is easier to bear if we believe that our existence here on this earth is of worth and of benefit to others in our community.
Note to self.
I read Victor Franklin’s story as a teenager and it had a profound effect on my life. I firmly believe that his ‘logotherapy’ works and I try to the best on my ability which can be wanting at times, to put it into practice during my days on this Earth.
But hay, who could practice altruism in a place like Auschwitz? I even get upset when someone steps in front of me in a queue for God’s sake! Would I be willing to give my last piece of bread to another inmate if I was starving? I hope so but I am not sure. Thankfully in my life to date, I have not been tested in such an excruciating way.
But I do know this, life can be hard sometimes and yet, it is these self-same challenges that shape and mold us into becoming better human beings. As my mother used to say ‘What doesn’t break us, makes us strong’ to which she would add her favorite quotation from the Bible.
‘We are often troubled, but not crushed; sometimes in doubt, but never in despair; there are many enemies, but we are never without a friend; and though badly hurt at times, we are not destroyed’.(St Paul’s Second 2nd Letter to the Corinthians.4:8)
My darling Irish Mother the inspiration behind this blog on Mindfulness.
Have a great week you guys.
Love and hugs,