Viktor Frankl analog Desmond Tutu on suffering: Choose to be ennobled instead of embittered

http://www.google.com/search?q=search+for+meaning+in+life+images&hl=en&tbo=u&tbm=isch&source=univ&sa=X&ei=HLQeUcKrB-KbjAKZi4GICg&ved=0CC0QsAQ&biw=1440&bih=784#imgrc=VjNd3Sja6RfLIM%3A%3Bnxt2j-xcKxIv2M%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fsustainableman.org%252Fwp-content%252Fuploads%252F2012%252F11%252Fcampbell-e1352925499339.jpg%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fsustainableman.org%252Fshould-we-pursue-meaning-or-the-experience-of-aliveness%252F%3B700%3B393

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http://www.google.com/search?q=search+for+meaning+in+life+images&hl=en&tbo=u&tbm=isch&source=univ&sa=X&ei=lrQeUeD1F8mZiQKolYH4Aw&ved=0CC0QsAQ&biw=1440&bih=784#imgrc=G1yLutraWDkTBM%3A%3BIbGh5GBxfFOddM%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252F3.bp.blogspot.com%252F_x9OREFrEElE%252FTF_Huc5s6oI%252FAAAAAAAAAI0%252FNtm_cV3E5Js%252Fs1600%252F800px-Japanese_maple_roede_blade.jpg%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fmindfulnessworkshops.blogspot.com%252F2010%252F08%252Flife-sucks-and-then-you-die.html%3B800%3B465

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http://www.gregjohanson.net/page.asp?ID=80

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from Desmond Tutu:

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 I am sorry to say that suffering is not optional. It seems to be part and
parcel of the human condition, but suffering can either embitter or ennoble.

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That is, to see with the eyes of the heart and not just the eyes of the
head. The eyes of the heart are not concerned with appearances but with
essences, and as we cultivate these eyes we are able to learn from our suffering
and to see the world with more loving, forgiving, human, generous eyes.

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We tend to look on suffering as something to be
avoided at all costs, and yes, we need to work to remove suffering whenever and
wherever we can in our lies and in the lives of others.   But in the universe we
inhabit there will always be suffering.

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This should not discourage us. It should simply allow us to see suffering—and
our role in decreasing it—differently. When we are able to see the larger
purpose of our suffering, it is transformed, transmuted. It becomes a redemptive
suffering.

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While we are not free to choose whether we suffer, we are free to choose whether it will ennoble us or instead will embitter us. Nelson Mandela spent twenty-seven years in prison, eighteen of them on Robber Island breaking rocks into little rocks, a totally senseless task. The unrelenting brightness of the light reflected off the white stone damaged his eyes so that now when you have a picture taken with him, you will be asked not to use a flash. Many people say, “What a waste! Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if Nelson Mandela had come out earlier? Look at all the things he would have accomplished.”

 

Those ghastly, suffering-filled twenty-seven years actually were not a waste. It may seem so in a sense, but when Nelson Mandela went to jail he was angry. He was a young man who was understandably very upset at the miscarriage of justice in South Africa. He and his colleagues were being sentenced because they were standing up for what seemed so obvious. There were demanding the rights that in other countries were claimed to be inalienable. At the time, he was very forthright and belligerent, as he should have been, leading the armed wing of the African National Congress, but he mellowed in jail. He began to discover depths of resilience and spiritual attributes that he would not have known he had. And in particular I think he learned to appreciate the foibles and weaknesses of others and to be able to be gentle and compassionate toward others even in their awfulness. So the suffering transformed him because he allowed it to ennoble him. He could never have become the political and moral leader he became had it not been for the suffering he experienced on Robben Island. So much was anger replaced with forgiveness that he invited his former jailer to be a VIP guest at his inauguration.

 

In jail he became an instrument of good where previously there had been so much evil. It seems that in this universe redemption of any kind happens only through some form of suffering. However, it is possible to be in jail for twenty-seven years and come out of that experienced of suffering angry, bitter, wishing to pay back those who jailed you. Or you can be in jail for twenty-seven years and instead of your experiences become a negative influence on your life, they can become a positive influence and, in face, amazingly even an enriching one. Thank God for South Africa that this was the case for Nelson Mandela.

 

Almost all of those who have changed the world have experienced suffering of one sort or another. Take the Dalai Lama and his exile as one example. Or Jesus as another. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus could have avoided the Cross. He could have made the choice that said no to the Cross. . . .But he made a deliberate choice, and in making that choice transformed suffering that could have been a numbing, meaningless thing into something liberating and meaningful. He turned death and evil into new life and a source of good.

 

Even in our own lives we can see that growth and redemption generally come through suffering. Sometimes you may wonder why is it that a child must be born through pain. Why is childbirth painful? Birth is such a wonderful thing. Wouldn’t it have been possible for it to happen without pain? . . .In a strange sort of way, it seems to be part of what binds a mother to the child. The fact of having brought this one to birth in pain. In many ways in human relationships there seems to be a far greater bonding when people have gone through rough times together, more so than if all that they experienced was uninterrupted hunky-doryness.

 

The texture of suffering is changed when we see it and begin to experience it as being redemptive, as not being wasteful, as not being senseless. We humans can tolerate suffering but we cannot tolerate meaninglessness. This is what I mean when I say we can transform our suffering into a spirituality of transformation by understanding that we have a role in God’s transfiguration of the world. Even our own suffering serves to remove the dross, just like it did for Mandela, to burn away the impurities and allow us to fulfill our role in God’s plan.

 

What is it that allows us to transform our suffering, to transmute it? Ultimately the answer is love. How does a mother make her suffering at childbirth a positive thing, not a thing that makes her resentful and bitter? . . .It is because of her love.  Or a mother who is prepared—even when she is exhausted and thinks she’d just pass out—to sit by the bed of a beloved child, to take on the suffering, which often she doesn’t even see as suffering. It becomes not suffering because a mother’s role has meaning, has purpose, as does her love. Would she rather be in bed asleep? You bet. But she is able to transcend herself and even to take on the suffering of another, and that child’s suffering is also transformed, as his or her fear and pain are diminished by the mother’s presence.

 

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http://doctorkarin.com/2013/01/mans-search-for-meaning/

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During my life’s challenges, I have time and time again found great inspiration in reading Viktor Frankl’s work, Man’s Search for Meaning.  He became a world-renowned Austrian Psychologist after surviving the horror of imprisonment in concentration camps during the Holocaust. His view of the world resonated with me and influenced me to become a therapist.

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First, because of my precious relatives in Germany who were extinguished by toxic gas during the war at the camp in Hademar because they were thought to be mentally ill (although I believe they were suffering PTSD) …

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and secondly, because I am in awe of how Viktor Frankl used his own story to instill hope in millions of people throughout time because of his interpretation of the meaning of suffering.

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Dr. Frankl developed logotherapy, a meaning-based method of counseling and viewing the resiliency of the human soul. Specifically, he was able to find meaning in suffering and has helped us in the counseling field help others do the same (as well as ourselves). 

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As a first generation American, and a daughter of a mother who survived the war and immigrated to America via Ellis Island, I am forever inspired by his writings and the meaning of the suffering that came before me.  Talk about inspirational scar tissue …

 

Here are some of my favorite quotes of Viktor Frankl’s:

 

“Everything can be taken from a man or woman, but one thing: the last human freedom is to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

“Live as if you were living a second time, and as though you had acted wrongly the first time.”

“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.”

“In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”

“Our main motivation for living is our will to find meaning in life.”

 

Hold on. Keep pushing ahead.  Keep searching for meaning.

Your struggles will have their own meaning one day, and your life will be grounded in strength, survival and triumph.

One day, your scars will be a source of inspiration for somebody else.

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http://mindbodydoc.wordpress.com/2010/04/22/in-search-of-the-meaning-of-it-all/

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‘To live is to suffer, to survive is to find meaning in the suffering. If there is any purpose in life at all, there must be a purpose in suffering and in dying.  But no man can tell another what this purpose is.  Each must find out for himself, and must accept the answer that his solution prescribes. If he succeeds, he will continue to grow despite all the indignities.’   

So writes one time Harvard Professor of Psychology, Gordon Allport in his preface to Viktor Frankl’s abiding monument,  ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’.   He claims it as the central theme of existentialism.  We might, however question whether it is always necessary to suffer in order to grow.  There is something Calvinist in that notion.  But what Frankl shows us through his narrative is how it is possible to withstand the most dreadful pain, torture and privation by finding and retaining an essential meaning in life.

Viktor Frankl was a jewish psychiatrist, living in Vienna in 1939.  He could have escaped to America; he had a visa, but he could not bring himself to abandon his parents to their fate.   He was arrested by the Nazis and taken to Auschwitz, but he survived.  He wasn’t a Capo, a privileged collaborator; he found the meaning in his suffering to survive.   

‘Man’s Search for Meaning’  focuses on everyday indignities and privations, the cruelty, the lack of food, sleep and adequate clothing, the lice, dysentery, work, and endurance.     

After the initial shock of becoming a number instead of a human being, a prisoner enters into phase of apathy and indifference.  He tries not to be noticed, merges in with the crowd, gives an impression of smartness and fitness for work; does  anything that would stop him being singled out and sent to the gas chambers.  Many gave up, refused to work and accepted their fate, but those who survived discovered and nurtured an essential purpose in life that was worth clinging on to.

Frankl describes how the memory and love for his wife kept him alive.  In the midst of the most dreadful degradation, he focussed on thoughts that uplifted the soul;  an image of mountains, the coming of spring, music, snatches of poetry, the book he wanted to write.     

There is nobility in suffering,  Frankl claims, opportunities to find a moral compass and retain human dignity.  Suffering can bring out the best in a person if he sees meaning in it.

Fyodor Dostoevsky said that the only thing he dreaded was not to be worthy of his sufferings.    Those who let their inner hold on their own dignity and meaning, eventually fell victim to the camp’s degrading influence.   They gave way to introspection and retrospection, lost purpose and hope, and just lay on their bed of stinking straw and were taken away to die.    

Frankl described a strange timelessness in the camp.  Hours or days of degradation and pain, passed slowly, but months and years passed quickly, punctuated by suffering.  Survivors saw it as a provisional existence, something to be endured for as long as it took; they retained the hope  they would be free.

Prisoners were supported by  the companionship of mutual privation.  They tried to help each other.  They kept each other warm at night, they remove the lice from their hair, they shared their food, they told grim jokes. They were a kind of community; they trusted each other.  Religion was a potent bonding force; prisoners often gained solace by praying together every night.

Unfortunately, their suffering did not always end when the guards left and the camp gates were opened .   Release was all too often associated with bitterness and disillusion.  Life had moved on.  Their family had died.  There was no work and they had lost the companionship of shared suffering.  Others could not understand  

For Frankl, his experience in Auschwitz became the mainspring of his life.  From it he developed a philosophy of hope and a psychotherapy for those in despair, based on the discovery of the meaning  of their suffering.   It was Niezsche who said, ‘He who has a why (a purpose) to live can bear almost any how.’   Frankl explains that the ‘why’ of existence is was not so much what we expect from life, more what life expected from us in terms of work and family.   Life ultimately means taking responsibility.   Sometimes action is needed, sometimes contemplation, sometimes it’s just necessary to accept fate.  When a man realises that suffering is his destiny, he will accept it as a challenge.  Such thoughts can keep a prisoner from despair.   Again, Nietzsche,  ‘That which does not kill me, makes me stronger.’

Few of us in the west have ever been tested in the way Frankl was.   But meaning can be threatened in other ways,  such as the  death of a spouse, the devastation of divorce, the collapse of love, the loss of purpose in retirement or unemployment, the estrangement from one’s children, the disillusion with a cause or faith.   When people lose meaning and purpose, then they succumb to an inner emptiness, an existential vacuum,  the boredom and loneliness, which lies at the base of much of the unhappiness of modern life.

Empty people try to fill their lives with thrills and diversions;  the sexual libido becomes rampant in existential vacuum, so does the pursuit of power, the addiction to shopping, alcohol, drugs, the accumulation of money.  It is pure escapism into immediate gratification, a frantic search for meaning in sensation.  ‘We had such a wicked time, I got smashed, the sex was fantastic!’

Such diversions rarely lead to meaning.  Quite the reverse;  often the will, the hope, the purpose and the self respect dies a little more.  Frankl states that people can transcend the thrill-seeking self and discover a meaning in their lives by creating a work or a deed, by experiencing something or encountering someone (such as falling in love), and most of all, by the attitude we take towards unavoidable suffering.

He claims that we can be ennobled by taking on the suffering another would have to bear, like giving up a relationship that would devastate them, an ambition that would cause them pain. This might give suffering a meaning, but it is avoidable.  And is martyrdom and self sacrifice ever a valid route to redemption and happiness?   Only if the sacrifice has a deeper meaning to the integrity of the ‘soul’,  outside of the act itself.  

Survival of identity and meaning  (what I tend to regard as the soul) is more important than mere corporeal integrity.   The anorexic starves their body so that their basic identity and meaning can thrive.  And for many other sick people,  illness endures the meaning of what has happened, until a person can bear to bring it to mind.   If the meaning and purpose are devastated by life’s vicissitudes, then the body will easily become vulnerable to disease.  Mind, body and soul (meaning) are a continuum, which contains health and happiness.  

‘Man’s search for meaning’ was first published in 1946 in German under the title of ‘Ein psycholog erlebt das konzentrationslager’.  Frankl developed the existential concept of logotherapy from his experience.  Unlike psychoanalysis, logotherapy  does not dwell on the past, but focuses on the  development of a meaning in a person’s suffering that can break the cycle of loneliness and unhappiness. 

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6 Responses to Viktor Frankl analog Desmond Tutu on suffering: Choose to be ennobled instead of embittered

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