Peacemaker/problem solver Shirley Jones on Viktor Frankl about suffering and finding meaning in life

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http://brightdays.wordpress.com/2007/12/20/viktor-frankl-on-suffering-and-life%E2%80%99s-meaning/

Brighter Days for you and me!

Looking at the brighter side of life!

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Viktor Frankl on Suffering and Life’s Meaning.

by brightdays

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While reading Viktor E. Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning,” I was impressed by his insight into the mental suffering of human beings.  After having himself suffered through some of the most torturous conditions known to mankind, he not only survived, but shared his newfound knowledge with the rest of the world.  His greatest legacy is his impressive understanding of human nature and the valuable lessons he passed on.

While people often recommend this book, they rarely put into words what it is that so impressed them.  I’d like to share some of what gave me those “Aha!” moments, where the light bulb went off in my head and I recognized the value of the lesson.  One particular passage was related to the transitory nature of life and how his therapy “logotherapy,” is an active technique, rather than reactive.  What struck me however, was how he points out a fundamentally sound view of old age that I believe is one we would all wish to emulate:

“To express this point figuratively we might say:  The pessimist resembles a man who observes with fear and sadness that his wall calendar, from which he daily tears a sheet, grows thinner with each passing day.  On the other hand, the person who attacks the problems of life actively is the like a man who removes each successive leaf from his calendar and files it neatly and carefully away with its predecessors, after having first jotted down a few diary notes on the back.

He can reflect with pride and joy on all the richness set down I these notes, on all the life he has already lived to the fullest.  What will it matter to him if he notices that he is growing old?  Has he any reason to envy the young people whom he sees, or wax nostalgic over his own lost youth?  What reasons has he to envy a young person?  For the possibilities that young person has, the future which is in store for him?  “No, thank you,” he will think.  “Instead of possibilities I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of suffering bravely suffered.  These sufferings are even the things of which I am most proud, though these are things which cannot inspire envy.”

What a joyous and wonderful way to live!  To live fully each day, so that you can end your days without regret, envy or loss.  In his book, he repeatedly speaks of finding the meaning of life and meaning in suffering.  The two are irrevocably intertwined.  Suffering occurs in every human life.  The ability to transform tragedy into a personal triumph is as unique to each person as it is necessary.  Here is a great example from his book:

“Once, an elderly general practitioner consulted me because of severe depression.  He could not overcome the loss of his wife who had died two years before and whom he had loved above all else.  Now, how could I help him?  What should I tell him?  Well, I refrained from telling him anything but instead confronted him with the question, “What would have happened, Doctor, if you had died first, and your wife would have had to survive you?”

“Oh,” he said, “for her this would have been terrible; how she would have suffered!”  Whereupon I replied, “You see, Doctor, such a suffering has been spared her, and it was you who have spared her this suffering – to be sure, at the price that now you have to mourn her.”  He said no word but shook my hand and calmly left my office.  In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of sacrifice.”

Of course, Frankl himself found such meaning with memories of his wife’s love while enduring the torments of the Nazi camps in hopes of eventually reuniting with her.  Since we cannot always avoid suffering in life, the idea of finding a meaning in it is immensely sound.  Although I thoroughly support and believe in happiness and an optimistic view, I find great healing in the idea that if we suffer, we suffer for a reason.

I’ve know friends and family members who suffer in harsh, chaotic home situations, or work jobs they dislike.  Far from wanting unhappiness, many of them simply suffer these problems for a greater good, or a greater meaning.  They may be trying to pay for their children’s college funds, or they are working to heal an addicted person in their family.

Finding the meaning in our suffering helps us endure our pain with dignity and grace.   It is the gives us endurance far beyond our usual capacity and fills us with hope and love.  It is an inner freedom that not even the worst circumstances can remove from us.  May we all be blessed to know the meaning that gives purpose to our lives.

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http://liveboldandbloom.com/02/self-improvement/are-you-suffering-how-find-to-meaning-through-life-difficulties

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Your personal suffering

Although you and I have not endured the horrors of life in a death camp, each one of us has endured our own private sufferings. Some have been life-altering and traumatic. Others are an accumulation of the small difficulties, indignities, and sorrows we encounter over time. Suffering is simply part of the human experience. We cannot escape it as hard as we try to manage our lives in order to do so.

So how do you respond to suffering?

Do you rail against it?

Do you sink into it, or allow it to taint your entire experience of life?

Victor Frankl reminds us that we have a choice. Even in the most difficult situations, we have a choice about who we want to be, how we want to live, and the power we have to find meaning in the midst of suffering. In fact, he suggests that without having meaning in suffering, there can be no meaning at all in life.

The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity — even under the most difficult circumstances — to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal.

For each of us in the solitude of our own lives and our personal difficulties, we have a choice about our response to suffering and emotional pain. We can resist it, fall into bitterness or despair, allow it to undermine all aspects of our lives. Or we can rise above our knee-jerk instincts, gather our strength, shift our internal attitudes, and make the choice to find meaning in spite of or through our suffering.

Through suffering we can . . .

  • learn more about our capacity for inner strength, forgiveness, and resiliency;
  • transform our sorrow into service, inspiration, and purpose;
  • tap in to our capacity for creativity, action, and love.

I invite you to reflect on the difficulties and suffering you might be experiencing now. Examine your personal response to these situations and your feelings about them. Have you exercised your power of choice in order to find meaning through your hardships? If not, how can you transform your suffering into meaning?

Please share your experiences in the comments below about how you have transformed suffering into meaning.

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http://newparchment.blogspot.com/2011/08/finding-meaning-in-suffering-lessons.html

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Finding meaning in Suffering: Lessons from Dr Frankl

 

Dr Viktor Frankl related in his book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’, an incidence that can help us – or those we care for – appreciate the meaning of suffering.

 
He said:

“Once, the mother of a boy who had died at the age of eleven years was admitted to my clinic after a suicide attempt. [She was invited to join a therapeutic group where she told her story.] … At the death of her boy she was left alone with another, older son, who was crippled, suffering from infantile paralysis. The poor boy had to be moved around in a chair. His mother, however, rebelled against her fate. But when she tried to commit suicide together with him, it was the crippled son who prevented her from doing so; he liked living! For him, life had remained meaningful. Why was it not so for his mother? How could her life still have a meaning? And how could we help her to become aware of it?”

Dr Frankl asked her to imagine herself at the age of eighty, on her death bed, looking back over her life.
 
This is what she said:

“I wished to have children and this wish has been granted to me; one boy died; the other, however, the crippled one, would have been sent to an institution if I had not taken over his care. Though he is crippled and helpless he is after all my boy. And so I have made a fuller life possible for him; I have made a better human being out of my son.’ At this moment, there was an outburst of tears and crying, she continued: ‘As for myself, I can look back peacefully on my life; for I can say my life was full of meaning, and I have tried hard to fulfil it; I have done my best– I have done the best for my son. My life was no failure!”

Dr Frankl further commented:

“… viewing her life as if from her deathbed, she had suddenly been able to see meaning in it, a meaning which included even all of her sufferings. By the same token, however, it had become clear as well that a life of short duration, like that, for example of her dead boy, could also be so rich in joy and love, that it could contain more meaning than life lasting eighty years.”

 

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http://www.antiochian.org/node/25880

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Chaplain’s Corner: Finding Meaning in Suffering


By Fr. George MorelliMany people hold the common belief held that life should not include hardship and suffering and that events that occur, and the way people act should be the way we want them to be. Psychologists have picked up on this attitude system as a major source of emotional disorders. Karen Horney (1950) called it the “tyranny of the shoulds.” Albert Ellis (1962), talked about – demanding expectations – that people and events should always follow our preconceived ideas. Psychologists have attempted to find the meaning of illness, suffering, and death. Just the titles of some books by one well-known psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, illustrate such attempts: Man’s Search for Meaning (1959); The Will to Meaning (1969); The Unheard Cry for Meaning (1978).Different religious traditions have attempted to understand suffering. Hindu tradition considers suffering a consequence of inappropriate living. Buddhism considers suffering a form of craving, not dissimilar to the shoulds and demanding expectations discussed by Horney and Ellis. Buddha teaches: “No sufferings befall the man who is not attached to name and form, and who calls nothing his own.” (Dhammapada 17: 221). The Koran, in Islamic tradition, points out: “If ye are suffering hardships … but ye have Hope from God, while they have none. And God is full of knowledge and wisdom. [4:104]. In Judeo-Christian Sacred Scripture, the Book of Job presents the quintessential spiritual perception. From a human perspective, although Job’s sufferings are unjust and inexplicable, nevertheless, he retains his commitment and trust in God.

Our Eastern Church Father, St. Maximus the Confessor, (Philokalia II), expands on this theme but also provides insight into other possible motivations individuals may have: “A man endures suffering either for the love of God, or for hope of reward, or for fear of punishment, or for fear of men, or because of his nature, or for pleasure, or for gain, or out of self-esteem, or from necessity.”

Finally, to find meaning in suffering we could apply the teaching of St. Isaac of Syria: “A time of trial is beneficial to everyone: the diligent are tried so that their wealth may increase; the lax, so that they may be preserved from harm; those spiritually asleep, so that they may prepare themselves for watchfulness; those who are far from God, so that they approach Him; those who are God’s close associates, so that they may come closer to Him in freedom of speech.” (Brock, 1997).

 

REFERENCES

Brock, S. (1997). The Wisdom of St. Isaac the Syrian. Fairacres Oxford, England: SLG Press.

Ellis, A. (1962). Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy. Secaucus, NJ: Lyle Stuart.

Frankl, V. (1959). Man’s Search for Meaning. NY: Simon & Schuster.

Frankl, V. (1969). The Will to Meaning. NY: New American Library.

Frankl, V. (1978). The Unheard Cry for Meaning. NY Simon & Schuster.

Horney, K. (1950 Neurosis and Human Growth. NY: Norton.

Palmer, G.E.H., Sherrard, P. Ware, K. (trans.) (1981). The Philokalia, Volume 2:; Compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain & St. Makarios of Corinth. London: Faber and Faber.

– See more at: http://www.antiochian.org/node/25880#sthash.uUch0pMU.dpuf

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