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TOPIC: Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl 28 Aug 2018 16:58 #109804

Welcome, Shankari. I know just the passage that you refer to and so I'm going to paste it below with my favorite line in the book bolded because it's just so powerful. I totally agree with you about compassion being *the* thing to cultivate, but my much younger self struggled mightily with meaning and totally misunderstood compassion. Funny how we change, but thank goodness we do.

What was most poignant for me reading this passage was the knowledge that Frankl would never see his wife again.
We stumbled on in the darkness, over big stones and through large puddles, along the one road
leading from the camp. The accompanying guards kept shouting at us and driving us with the butts
of their rifles. Anyone with very sore feet supported himself on his neighbour’s arm. Hardly a word
was spoken; the icy wind did not encourage talk. Hiding his mouth behind his upturned collar, the
man marching next to me whispered suddenly: "If our wives could see us now! I do hope they are
better off in their camps and don't know what is happening to us."

That brought thoughts of my own wife to mind. And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy
spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another up and onward, nothing was
said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where
the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank
of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife's image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her
answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more
luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.

A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many
poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth —that love is the ultimate and
the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that
human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love
and in love.
I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only
for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man
cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his
sufferings in the right way—an honourable way— in such a position man can, through loving
contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfilment. For the first time in my life I
was able to understand the meaning of the words, "The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation
of an infinite glory."
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Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl 29 Aug 2018 12:42 #109809

Having finished the first half of Frankl’s book again after many years, the humanity of the entire experience - both the tortured and the sadists - left me deeply moved. As distant and apart from one another as these two elements appear at first, their common ground - dis-empowerment - is closely related: the abusers thrust upon their captives the brutal ground of their own life horrors, unfairness, misuse, wounding. I believe sincerely, from my own life experience, only the tortured can torture, only the wounded can strike, only the disregarded can cast off with flippant cruelty the humanity of someone standing before them. A human raised with affection, humility, a strong sense of moral obligation, humour and honesty, spawns an adult that is much less likely to have the capacity for cruelty, for they have not internalized it. The concentration camp guard, senselessly beating a cowering prisoner, at some level, may well be beating over and over what he hates in himself - the prisoner’s cowering bringing up their own vulnerable centre, and the violence acting in some way as an attempt to kill off their own terror, their own wounded humanity.

“Compassion and self-hate” by Theodore Issac Rubin is a must read for people wanting to see the intricate but clear connection between self-loathing and expressed cruelty. It’s an academic read slightly veiled as a consumer book, but worth pouring over if you’re interested in how rage and brutality are conceived. Information is power, and Rubin empowers us with the hope of diminishing the expression of our own issues by paying attention to where they were conceived in our life experiences.

When I am not kind, am self-centred, unclear, impatient: the answer is not far away, it is in my own unfolding woundedness. The hope for all the humanity I encounter is the healing of the humanity in me, and seeking those soft, tender spots out: that is the real work. Most of this work is just letting it be what it is, and letting go when I habitually constrict. Although I am a curious student of life, I’m not crazy about reading the news: I have my own repeated inner patterns of cruelty, non-acceptance, slyness and weirdness to keep me busy for this lifetime.
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Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl 29 Aug 2018 13:01 #109810

Terrance Justin your post reminds me of a weekend seminar I took years ago to learn deeper ways of assisting violent youth. The takeaway for me was this one-liner: People who hurt, hurt.
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Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl 29 Aug 2018 18:31 #109811

Viktor Frankl is the founder of a branch of psychotherapy called "Logotherapy." Logotherapy is based on the realizations he had as a student, an activist and as a working psychiatrist in Vienna and while surviving in Nazi prison camps. Logotherapy is based on the idea that meaning is the most important human trait - that a life without meaning is likely not a "good" life, and that many of our ills are due to a lack of meaning, or what Frankl might say is undiscovered meaning. For example, becoming unemployed, Fankl found, causes a crisis not so much due to lack of income but to lack of meaning. If unemployed patients pursued volunteer work, assuming paid work was unavailable to them, they could find meaning in their lives once again. I can relate to this. What I cannot relate to is how Frankl discovered meaning while surviving the death camps, but that is important to his thesis that meaning can solve so many human issues, even under dire and uncontrollable circumstances. Human beings who could not find meaning died more quickly there. Those who could find meaning tended to survive.

Has anyone among us ever used logotherapy or been a patient of a logotherapist? I've been in therapy a few times but I'm embarrassed to say I hadn't even heard of logotherapy before reading this book. I suspect meaninglessness might explain a fair amount of what we see happening in recent times in developed western nations. Are we always searching for, but not finding, meaning? Is discovering meaning, in Frankl's terms, an individual process or could it also be a societal process? We tend to think we need to be happy, but Frankl says we need to find meaning, a more fundamental process as happiness follows from meaning. As a meditator, I find this very understandable. I can defend the fact that for me, happiness is a result of other processes. It is not a satisfying objective because it's fleeting... impermanent.
Last Edit: 29 Aug 2018 18:46 by Chris Marti.
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Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl 29 Aug 2018 21:56 #109812

The timing of your post is impeccable for me, Chris. Thank you. I think I find myself in a "lack of meaning" mode when I feel I have outgrown circumstances that were once challenging and fulfilling to me, yet I don't have the courage or confidence to fully let go and embrace whatever the next challenge is.
I can't imagine finding meaning in Frankl's absolutely adverse life situation was easy, but from what I have read, meaning was found in the small things, the small graces, simple acts of kindness among the prisoners. Meaning was found in humor, in imagination, in determination and a host of other inner resources. Inner resources that all of us can cultivate through patience and practice, if we choose.
In Dharma, people often speak of the misuse of imagination on the hindrances, and things one can't control. Frankl demonstrates his ability to use his imagination fruitfully - thinking of things that helped him fill up on the inside while facing desolation, emptiness and death on the outer conditions. In short. he focused on love and all of its facets in an environment that was starkly void of love in contrast.
It amazes me when I read of such stories of human strength. We may say "oh I couldn't ever do that" but when the chips are down, we find out that we actually CAN and do, successfully. Where does that come from? It is universal, and I believe it comes from a passion for life and an appreciation for the precious nature of life. Clearly it is a choice that can be cultivated daily. The beauty of it is, one doesn't have to be perfect at this stuff to overcome life's challenges - a seed of willingness and an ounce of determination is all it takes.
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Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl 30 Aug 2018 07:53 #109813

I recently watched a very good interview with Frankl where iirc he talks about happiness being a byproduct of meaning:

I agree that a lot of the 20-21st century Western society malaise probably springs from a lack of meaning. This is something that I struggled with as a pre-teen. It got me into all sorts of trouble, but it also got me into existential philosophy which helped me start digging my way out and ultimately led me to practice. And to this very moment, typing this post on a forum. Quite the twisted path!
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Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl 30 Aug 2018 13:56 #109814

Thanks for the viideo Andromeda. It really broadened my Frankl exploration to see him being interviewed live. This led me to doing some online research on Frankl, coming across two thought-provoking articles. The links are here in case anyone wants to read them (I welcome any comments and will weigh in myself once I’ve given it more thought):
www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/authorit...gainst-viktor-frankl
www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/authorit...nizing-viktor-frankl
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Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl 30 Aug 2018 18:19 #109816

Cheers to Neso for digging up the dirt! Of course, Frankl was just another flawed human being just like the rest of us.

There's so much to go into there. I find it particularly interesting that the author of the critical Frankl biography looks back on his first edition and says that he was undoubtedly "channeling oedipal rage," and his 2nd edition is less harsh. As children we think our parents are perfect, but then at some point we realize it isn't so. And how angry we are when we figure it out! How betrayed we feel. This is a pattern that may repeat for us with teachers and mentors. Particularly in the spiritual domain, there is the temptation to put people on a pedestal but even the most accomplished is only human and imperfect.
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Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl 31 Aug 2018 09:08 #109819

Frankl says meaning is the essence of our lives. Buddhist orthodoxy says meaning is a construct. A mind object. Here we might say that Frankl and Buddhism part ways. If, as a meditator, we discover that mind is the source of meaning do we then drop meaning altogether as a way to make sense of the world?

I vote no.
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Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl 31 Aug 2018 09:55 #109820

The befuddling thing about criticism is that the person's intent is never really explored. Frankl obviously (in my mind) had good intentions and turned unbelievable levels of his own suffering into what has helped many people, in developing logo therapy. No system is perfect; no human in that system is perfect. And, how soon we forgot that not every therapeutic approach is going to resonate with or truly help everyone.
I have been in therapy sessions in the past where I wanted to scream "tell me what you think I should do!!" So, for Frankl to offer such answers and goals to his patients is actually sensible to me, in a way. Healthy approach? No, not at all. But very sensible and imperfect. Yet I still have great respect for Frankl because he came from hellish conditions and got it together enough to help people heal their suffering and woundedness.
I have been in systems where counsellors and teachers tell you how screwed up you are, and leave you to sort that through yourself. At the very least, Frankl tried to empower people, albeit imperfectly.
Until I am perfect, who am I to judge... and yet I do.. which is something I work on when I see it; and I don't always see it right away. Perfectly imperfect human beings, all of us.
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Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl 31 Aug 2018 10:31 #109821

In reading your comments Andromeda I realize I’ve been guilty of putting teachers on a pedestal and feeling they were to blame when they failed to live up to my expectations. In one particular case the teachers themselves claimed an unrealistic degree of perfection that I was foolish enough to believe. What was the quote? Nothing is as conducive to sloth as contemplating the virtues of another, or as conducive to arrogance as contemplating their flaws? What I realized from reflecting on your comments was that I was using my very real grievances as an excuse not to take responsibility for my own unfolding. The perceived failings or virtues of another can’t really help my own awakening if I’m not willing to do the work. Thank you and Neso for raising these issues. Very helpful!
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Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl 31 Aug 2018 10:49 #109822

Neso,

Thank you for posting the video and the two articles on Frankl. You have provided me with the "on the other hand" start for what I need to know to be able to better discuss this man and his psychology, both professional and personal.
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Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl 01 Sep 2018 07:34 #109825

I am thinking about meaning as a construct and the parable of the raft of dharma, which we may use to get across the river and then put down. Isn't the raft then a construct of meaning? Did not the Buddha then need it, at least as a teaching tool? Was the Buddha not a lifelong creator and shaper of meaning, in his role as teacher? Constructs can be very useful if we hold them lightly but highly problematic when we cling to them too tightly.
Last Edit: 01 Sep 2018 07:40 by Andromeda.
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Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl 01 Sep 2018 07:48 #109826

Namgyal liked to quote the Buddha as saying:
“I too use concepts. But I am not fooled by them.”

I love this pragmatic approach to relative/absolute reality.
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Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl 01 Sep 2018 14:14 #109827

Neso wrote:
Thanks for the viideo Andromeda. It really broadened my Frankl exploration to see him being interviewed live. This led me to doing some online research on Frankl, coming across two thought-provoking articles. The links are here in case anyone wants to read them (I welcome any comments and will weigh in myself once I’ve given it more thought):
www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/authorit...gainst-viktor-frankl
www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/authorit...nizing-viktor-frankl

I've read both articles and I found them very interesting. Indeed, many things about Frankl's persona are very questionable and I have contradictory feelings about him. Honestly, I wasn't shocked reading those articles because there are so many examples in history when a shining inspiring figure turns out less inspiring when looked at closer. One example that readily comes to mind is Gandhi, with his sleeping naked with his niece to prove he can resist temptation (and what about the poor niece?!), 'blaming the victim' statements (in 'India of my dreams' he basically says that a woman can't be raped unless she submits to the rape and urges women rather to die than to let themselves get defiled) and forcefully cutting off the hair of women in his commune so that men are not seduced. There are also examples of spiritual teachers whose behavior caused a lot of turmoil in their communities and was sometimes very harmful.

The problem for me is not when someone makes mistakes, it is in when these mistakes are covered or 'rebranded' as something wholesome instead of being admitted and, if possible, rectified. This is where the reality is sacrificed to ideals and such a sacrifice can't bring anything but more delusion. And in this second article we see a lot of it going on around Frankl.

On the other hand, when we read about the mistakes of 'the great' it is important not to devalue the important positive contributions those people may have done. One of my friends used to say 'Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future' (...and Buddha has only present, I want to add ;) ) The topic of Frankl's positive contribution is an open question for me personally because I don't know much about logotherapy outside of this particular book but I still admit the possibility that it made a positive difference in the lives of Frankl's patients.

So I wouldn't write Frankl off as a complete hoax just yet but at the same time I accept that his figure is very inflated and mystified. It is unpleasant to find 'dirty laundry' behind a heroic appearance but when it happens it is also a humbling lesson about how easily we are deceived by our desire to see some grandiose top to bottom perfection and how we get invested in promoting this image -- at least in our own minds.
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Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl 01 Sep 2018 17:16 #109828

Well, I think it's pretty clear that Frankl and his work have helped many people. Just yesterday, I was able to chat with a woman who has been using logotherapy for decades in her career as a counselor where she has a particular interest in working with at-risk youth. She told me that it was particularly useful and effective for this because it allows her to talk about meaning in a secular environment, without infringing upon a person's religious beliefs or lack thereof. It isn't a perfect system by any means, but it has its uses.

That being said, Frankl was most certainly a complex and imperfect figure who made mistakes. I don't think that's any reason to disregard his work, imperfect and incomplete as it also is. But I totally agree with you that it's unfortunate that we tend to cram people into boxes of good or bad and whitewash over inconvenient facts about our heroes. Your example of Gandhi is a good one.

I'll go you one further, though, and my apologies if this offends anyone. But I like to think about the Buddha, who was like us just a human, and wonder what stories about him have gotten whitewashed or purged in the thousands of years since his life. One of my favorite suttas tells the tale of how he gave his monks a teaching on the repulsiveness of the body and then went off into the forest on retreat with instructions not to be disturbed. In his absence, the monks became so disgusted by their bodies that they decided the right course of action would be to hire an assassin to finish the job by killing them! A month later, the Buddha returns to find that 60 of his monks have effectively committed suicide in this way.

I find this moment in the story almost darkly comedic, with the Buddha looking around and asking "Where'd everybody go?" Except it's horrible, just horrifying and tragic when you think about it. Ananda tells him what happened and basically says, "Hey, maybe you ought to teach them a different method since that didn't turn out so well." And so the Buddha teaches anapanasati.

I can only imagine what that moment must have felt like for the Buddha. Enlightened, yes, but he was still a human being who had made an error in teaching that resulted in the deaths of 60 of his beloved friends who looked up to him. And to me this just makes him and his work that much more inspiring as it gives me hope for the rest of us. I'm certainly no saint--in fact, I may have sinned more than most--but with practice maybe I can get just a little bit better. Even the Buddha couldn't nail it every time, but he kept at it and so obviously my own mistakes aren't any reason to throw in the towel and quit trying.

Here's a link to the Vesali Sutta: www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn54/sn54.009.than.html
Last Edit: 01 Sep 2018 17:30 by Andromeda.
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Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl 01 Sep 2018 20:44 #109829

I'm surprised I never heard that bizarre story about the Buddha before. When you mentioned him not being perfect, I immediately assumed you were referring to him abandoning his wife and child. Many justify that action on the basis of his historical context, overpowering emotional distress, and eventual results. But it's hard to imagine having a favorable impression of a contemporary dharma teacher who did that. His actions could easily color my interpretation of his teachings.
Last Edit: 01 Sep 2018 21:00 by Michael V.
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Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl 02 Sep 2018 00:39 #109830

Michael V you make a good point about the Buddha abandoning his wife and child, one that's often raised. Here's another take on that, from Body, Speech and Mind by Namgyal Rinpoche as heard by Cecilie Kwiat, that shocked me when I first read it:

"The Buddha’s whole motivation for enlightenment was not for the sake of self, but for the sake of his son. He had been in the market and for the first time he had seen old people, people suffering from various illnesses, and he had seen corpses. He had been brooding about that before his son was born. Looking at the child, there came the realization that no matter how rich, he was ultimately incapable of doing anything of lasting value for either his son or his wife. The love he felt for these beings was a strong enough motive to carry him through all the subtleties of conditioned ignorance and come to knowledge. His motivation for undertaking this search was the fact that he could do nothing for those he loved. After he had attained awakening, the scriptures tell us that he preached to the mother and son."

He goes on:
"There has never been a selfish enlightenment. The true motivation for enlightenment, the motive that will carry you through, is not there unless it is based on love for others. You can never have the power, the puñña, to awaken unless your motivation to attain is for the sake of others. But not just one or two others; there can be no discrimination. There is no discrimination in any awakening, there is just Sammasambuddhassa. ‘Samma’ means ‘all’; all others. Which is nearer to total understanding: enlightenment for the sake of one, or enlightenment for all? The motivation for ‘your’ enlightenment will never be strong enough, can never have enough push. You can never have enough love for yourself, but you can attain to enlightenment for the sake of others."

I love this take on the Buddha's "Call to Adventure" moment. The texts had most his close friends and relatives with the exception of cousin Devadatta (who he predicted would be a Buddha in the future) attaining stages of awakening thanks to his initial renunciation - his wife, son, parents, cousins, etc. Whatever mix of parable and history we ascribe to the story, I find it deeply inspiring.
Attachments:
Last Edit: 02 Sep 2018 00:42 by Ranger. Reason: Corrected in the 2nd edition
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Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl 02 Sep 2018 02:07 #109831

Andromeda, I'd forgotten that story. It's so moving - not the least because you relate it in such a relevant, modern context. The other day a wise friend said of a certain behavior: "I just can't imagine the Buddha doing that." I had to agree in that case. So I think this line of inquiry is challenging us to reexamine our own assumptions about perfection - whether projected, claimed, or both.

Thank you for sharing this, and for your insightful reflections on a disturbing case of counterproductive teaching in spite of the best of intentions.

One last Namgyal quote. He said after such incidents the Buddha discouraged suicide "because it sets a bad example for others." Definitely the case!
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Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl 02 Sep 2018 08:20 #109832

Ranger wrote:
...

"The Buddha’s whole motivation for enlightenment was not for the sake of self, but for the sake of his son. He had been in the market and for the first time he had seen old people, people suffering from various illnesses, and he had seen corpses. He had been brooding about that before his son was born. Looking at the child, there came the realization that no matter how rich, he was ultimately incapable of doing anything of lasting value for either his son or his wife. The love he felt for these beings was a strong enough motive to carry him through all the subtleties of conditioned ignorance and come to knowledge. His motivation for undertaking this search was the fact that he could do nothing for those he loved. After he had attained awakening, the scriptures tell us that he preached to the mother and son."

He goes on:
"There has never been a selfish enlightenment. The true motivation for enlightenment, the motive that will carry you through, is not there unless it is based on love for others. You can never have the power, the puñña, to awaken unless your motivation to attain is for the sake of others. But not just one or two others; there can be no discrimination. There is no discrimination in any awakening, there is just Sammasambuddhassa. ‘Samma’ means ‘all’; all others. Which is nearer to total understanding: enlightenment for the sake of one, or enlightenment for all? The motivation for ‘your’ enlightenment will never be strong enough, can never have enough push. You can never have enough love for yourself, but you can attain to enlightenment for the sake of others."...

Freaking awesome story.
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Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl 02 Sep 2018 10:07 #109833

I agree with Matt's assessment. Excellent story, Ranger. And I think that's a rational way of looking at the Buddha's possible motivation. I think I've heard similar versions elsewhere, but that one really hit home.
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Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl 03 Sep 2018 08:42 #109838

Love the story, Ranger. It makes such an important point about motivation for practice. A desire to decrease our own suffering can really spur us on in the beginning but as we actually manage to do that, it isn't really enough to sustain our momentum. The more I practice well, the less harm and the more good I am able to do in the world. And it's little stuff that can be so satisfying--simply having the presence to make a joyful connection with the cashier at the supermarket or lend a friendly ear to a work colleague who's having a rough time is for me evidence that it's working and a good reason to keep at it. :)
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Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl 03 Sep 2018 10:29 #109839

Thank you Andromeda. I think you make an excellent point in that in the early stages of practice, our personal suffering is so blatantly apparent that the need for practice and awakening is impossible to ignore. Then as the grosser ethical and emotional tangles of our lives get combed out a bit through the three trainings, there can be a tendency to relax and rest on one's laurels. "Everything's fine. Why should I work so hard?" That's where the alertness and sensitivity to the suffering of everyone around us reminds us that we're all in the same boat, heading for the eddies, rapids, waterfalls and rocky bottom that end every life, so we'd better get on with it. I still have major challenges with this: cycles or peaks and troughs in practice when that empathy is permitted to fade or grow dull. Somehow the balance between "not trying to fix it" and "awakening or bust" still eludes me more than I'd like.
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Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl 03 Sep 2018 11:12 #109840

I've come to think balance is basically a chimera. If it exists at all it is only just a momentary thing, and the best I've managed is to avoid swinging too far to either extreme in any aspect of my life that needs balancing. I keep trying, though!
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Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl 04 Sep 2018 07:14 #109842

“Everything in moderation, including moderation.”
- Oscar Wilde :)
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