It was late 1930s. He was a young man in love. She was a young woman who was delighted to be asked by him. They were married. Soon she was to be a mother. But the clan they belonged to were not allowed to procreate. She was made to abandon the baby even before it was born. They both were sent to different concentration/death camps. But their love story did not end there.
Despite shoveling snow with no shoes on, going for months without proper food, constant beatings and humiliation, not knowing which instant he would be walked to his death, he carried on loving her. He did not know if she was dead or alive but he loved her every second. He hoped to see her again. His longing kept him alive.
Four years later, he was freed and he found out that his sweetheart had passed away soon after their separation, at the age of 24. His father, mother and brother had met the same fate in that ugly assault of humanity on itself. His sister had survived and moved to a faraway land.
Viktor E. Frankl was a Psychiatrist. He took 9 days to pen down his learning and thoughts which became a book – ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ that sold millions of copies all over the world as it helped them transform their suffering .
He pioneered a new way of counselling patients called Logotherapy or ‘meaning-based-therapy’. When asked of the difference between Psychoanalysis and Logotherapy, he said, “In Psychoanalysis the patient must lie on a couch and tell you things which sometimes are very disagreeable to tell. In Logotherapy the patient may remain sitting erect but he must hear things which sometimes are very disagreeable to hear.”
It is a future focussed approach through which the patient is reoriented toward his unique and specific attributes aligned to a purpose which can be fulfilled by him/her alone. It is based on the premise of freedom – the freedom to choose our response to our experiences, the freedom to choose the stance we take when faced with a difficult and unchangeable situation.
Over the last 5 years I have read Frankl’s book at least 5 times, each time deriving new inspiration. Last week I had the good fortune of being able to share some of those insights on-line with a community close to my heart. The Compassionate Friends helped me discover that Frankl’s love story will never end. It is interwoven into yours and mine and with the love-stories of those yet to come across it.
More Vietnam veterans have died by suicide than were killed in Vietnam. According to the Veterans Administration, one veteran dies by suicide every hour in the USA.
‘The survivor is a disturber of peace. He is a bearer of ”unspeakable” things. About these he aims to speak, and in so doing he undermines, without intending to, the validity of existing norms. He is a genuine transgressor, and here he is made to feel real guilt. The world to which he appeals does not admit him, and since he has looked to this world as the source of moral order, he begins to doubt himself. And that is not the end, for now his guilt is doubled by betrayal– of himself, of his task, of his vow to the dead. The final guilt is not to bear witness. The survivor’s worst torment is not to be able to speak.’ – Terrence Des Pres in ‘The Survivor’.
”If the thing they were fighting for was important enough to die for then it was also important enough for them to be thinking about it in the last minutes of their lives. That stood to reason. Life is awfully important so if you’ve given it away you’d ought to think with all your mind in the last moments of your life about the thing you traded it for. So, did all those kids die thinking of democracy and freedom and liberty and honor and the safety of the home and the stars and strips forever? You’re goddamn right they didn’t.” – Dalton Trumbo in ‘Johnny got his gun.’.
Viktor E. Frankl said, ” Suffering ceases to be suffering when it has meaning.”
Meaningless violence gives birth to more meaningless violence. There are no winners. All sides loose.
In the 1920s, a Russian film director, Lev Kuleshov filmed a male matinee idol staring in turn at a bowl of soup, a young girl in a coffin and an elegant lady reclining on a couch. The actor got rave reviews from the audiences on his ability to effortlessly evoke hunger, grief and desire in the film. What they did not know was the fact that the director had used the same shot of the actor each time, just cut to each different object.
Humans have an innate need to impose order on the world. If we are presented with disparate images, we will try to assemble them into a meaningful order. It we are given a bunch of jumbled unrelated words, we will try to arrange them into a sentence that might mean something.
In the mid-twentieth century, Wiiliam de Kooning emerged as one of the pioneers of Abstract Expressionism. His art is known to put brains in a tizzy, desperately trying to order and make sense of the shapes within. Faces? Animals? Semi-clad human forms? Women? Doors?
(The Excavation, by William de Kooning)
Maybe life is the same – unrelated images randomly juxtaposed, the human mind desperately struggling to make sense of them.
Positive thinking and Positive Psychology are not so positive as implicit within them is a resistance to the negative. I believe that positive and negative are two sides of the same coin. As humans we place undue focus on the negatives. So, it is good to shift our attention to the positives and see what makes happy people happy.
Martin Seligman is credited as the father of Positive Psychology and its efforts to scientifically explore human potential. In his book ‘Authentic Happiness’ (2002), he describes a useful equation:
Seligman’s Happiness Equation
H = Happiness
S = Sum of our genetic capacity for happiness (50%)
C = Circumstances (10%)
V = Voluntary Control (40%)
S and C are pretty much beyond our control. V is the only one we can do something about through our thoughts and actions. There are 4 ways to think about happiness:
Pleasures (sensory and immediate; we can become numbed to them. Eg. handbags)
Gratifications (absorbing; may not be pleasurable at the time but take us towards something worthwhile; create a positive memory or strengthen our social networks. Eg. a game of tennis)
Meaning (Using our strengths in service of something larger than ourselves like family, community, an institution, knowledge, justice or something spiritual. Eg. volunteering)
Flow (the sort of feeling we may get from a task that fully engages our abilities but doesn’t test them to breaking point. Eg. writing or music)
“Use your signature strengths and virtues in the service of something much larger than you are.” ~ Martin Seligman