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- Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
I needed to see this today. I often get attached to results when I set intentions. I forget that sometimes what I want might not be the best for me. I still crave and chase, just in a more sophisticated way through setting intentions. How does one balance desire for helping others and making a positive difference with surrendering results?
I have read about intention from a lot of different writers and they all seem to say that goals are not needed. I was in a space of having very little ambition recently, and like everything else, that state has passed, and now I am searching again. Intellectually I often say "the right things come to me at the right time." Inwardly there is still the drive to "contribute" (AKA control) to the process, and as I am writing this I just had the insight that the drive I have is fear-based. Hmm. Let go of goals and being driven, and relax might be the answer. In other words, let go of the fear that lurks within my intentions. Double hmm. Search and find from a place of knowing... not fear and anxiousness. HMM. This is something to soak in and cultivate.
It's nifty that all the answers are truly within. I LOVE this path.
Given his medical training, it is no surprise that Frankl's initial impression is that the woman might be mentally ill. And yet, this is not my conclusion and perhaps not his eventual one either. I think she simply got it.
I'm sure this is true for a lot or most of us, but many of my spiritual experiences have been with trees. At 18 lying at the base of a great leafless tree in winter, high on LSD, I looked up and felt/heard the Earth pulsing up through my body and the trunk of the tree, coursing up into the sky and touching the stars overhead, who pulsed back down through the tree and me to the Earth. We knew we were all connected, and I have never forgotten this. And then there are the meditation platforms in trees. Aren't those great? Also a similar experience to my partner's, but without any sense of crisis. In the second month of a retreat I was standing in the snow near my cabin, and a small fir tree seemed to commune with me for the longest time. I remember and appreciate that tree better than some people I have known over the years, haha.
I find it so inspiring that this young woman took comfort in this way under such dire - and apparently final - circumstances. Thank you for sharing this!
I imagine we all have our openings facilitated by trees. I'd love to hear some from you amongst our group here.
(I took these little snaps at the Dharma Centre of Canada near Kinmount, Ontario a couple of decades ago.)
Ranger wrote: At 18 lying at the base of a great leafless tree in winter, high on LSD, I looked up and felt/heard the Earth pulsing up through my body and the trunk of the tree, coursing up into the sky and touching the stars overhead, who pulsed back down through the tree and me to the Earth. We knew we were all connected, and I have never forgotten this.
Beautiful image. I had a similar experience at the same age and while on the same substance (though it began earlier in the evening with a confrontation with dukkha so beyond imagining that it personally confirmed the aptness of Aldous Huxley's choice of binary metaphors in his essay "Heaven and Hell"), but the object of my connection was the Moon, and its circular shape likely conveyed wholeness and completeness and exemplified the cosmic womb out of which all creation emerged from a Big Bang. And I felt like every tree, mammal and mote of dust were closer to me than kin, were fundamentally connected, and absolutely nothing in or about creation was lacking.
In addition to their relationship to life and change, I associate trees with the idea of "going with the flow." I enjoy watching trees when the wind isn't blowing discernibly and they seem so perfectly, and even profoundly, still. But then there is a breeze and the absence of resistance and each leaf or thin branch moves as much as the movement of air dictates and no more -- without preference or resistance. As a teenager I would marvel at the dramatic swaying of the bottle brush tree in our backyard in Florida. Its thin limbs presumably survived numerous massive storms. I can't remember, but I may have been starting to intuit a life lesson that I wasn't ready to accept.
Paddling solo on a large lake the other afternoon...spreading Metta to all the life forms living inside and out of the water. Relaxed, concentrated. When I looked ahead to the shoreline beyond a nearby island, all of the trees suddenly revealed themselves to be full manifestations of Green Tara (Bodhisattva of compassion). Gazing round at the full shore I found myself literally surrounded by all shapes, sizes and shades of the green deity, pouring her life-giving compassionate energy into me, overfilling me to the point it naturally flowed back out in all directions. Everything in nature became connected to this experience: even the green reeds along the shore became part of the Tara retinue. Plump pink flowers sitting on the water-plants were precious gems for me to offer up to Tara. What followed for a period of time was quite surreal (or real?
Then everything went back to normal...a wavy lake, evergreens, an intimidating spider in the hard-to-reach cockpit of my kayak and sore hamstrings from not stretching enough during my paddle.
My favorite tree memory is actually rather ordinary. A childhood treehouse built by my father, where I used to lie on my back looking at the leaves and read books every summer. Books were some of my best friends: Jack London's Call of the Wild, Robert Heinlein's Red Planet, Madeleine L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time, C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia. Ordinary, but nonetheless utterly magical.
Another tree story: I remember being on an Anapanasati retreat, looking as a group at the Buddha’s recommendations at the beginning of the Anapanasati Sutta: ‘Here, monks, having gone to the wilderness, a foot of a tree, or an empty building, a monk sits down with legs crossed and body erect. Establishing mindfulness to the forefront always attentive he breathes in with mindfulness and breathes out with mindfulness.’
On this particular retreat there was a participant who struggled with severe social anxiety. Young and a first time retreatant, it was looking like he was going to go home early after the first several days of high discomfort in the retreat environment. Then he found an enormous tree to sit by in the rain forest. He described how being in the energetic embrace of the tree’s roots and enveloping branches relaxed him enough to be able to calmly investigate the experience of being alive. For him, part of that experience included many sensations connected to anxiety. Nestled in the forest by that tree, for the first time in his life, he was able to gently follow the everchanging physical and mental sensations that made up the pattern of ‘anxiety’. It was life-changing for him. What a joy to watch him walk into the meditation yurt with a little swagger for the rest of the week long.
My own take on this, is that most of our systems have at least partially as their goals, to keep things as they are: don't tell kids too much about sex, they might enjoy themselves. Don't encourage wandering in the bush, building your own house, volunteering abroad for a year, starting your own campaign for change when you're 12....instead the -- very old - message is: graduate. Choose a lucrative career. Level up as high as you can, then see a therapist to help you figure out how and why you wasted your time. I'm cartooning this somewhat obviously, but if personal 'meaning' is a core discernment (which I believe it might be), I have to wonder why our kids are not taught to slow down, listen internally and see what's happening there....what are we as adults and a society afraid of??
"What are we as adults and a society afraid of?" Well, that at least is straightforward: we're afraid of collapse, a breakdown of society that leads to chaos and terrible things like genocide. And well we should be. Civilization is but a thin veneer on a lizard brain, a product of the cerebral cortex which overlies the more primitive structures common to other mammals and, deeper still, reptiles. If you're used to thinking of ourselves as god-men with a transcendent destiny, this is a pretty disturbing thing to consider. But if you look at the human animal as just another animal, it's actually unbelievably cool how we've evolved over millions of years from single celled organisms to thumbed creatures capable of dancing, building cathedrals, composing symphonies, and launching ourselves into outer space. But that cerebral cortex is also what designed the gas chambers and the atomic bomb. Everything has its shadow side.
Take the fate of the sick - especially those who are incurable. I once read a letter written by a young invalid, in which he told a friend that he had just found out he would not live for long, that even an operation would be of no help. He wrote further that he remembered a film he had seen in which a man was portrayed who waited for death in a courageous and dignified way. The boy had thought it a great accomplishment to meet death so well. Now - he wrote - fate was offering him a similar chance.
Eight years ago I attended a conference of socially-minded entrepreneurs that was founded by a wealthy philanthropic investor who inherited a fortune and a congenital kidney defect that meant he wouldn't live very long and could die at any time. He told me his whole life of generosity and mentoring bright young people to use their talents to help others was born out of his intimacy with death from an early age. Being a fan of Carlos Castaneda who wrote of keeping death as an advisor (any time we feel petty, look over our left shoulder and ask death if this is something to waste our precious little time and human dignity over), I mentioned those books. The man smiled and told me that was the basis for his whole way of living.
Several years before this conference, an unrelated young woman who admired the man offered to give him a kidney, and she did. Suddenly his death sentence was commuted. When I asked him how he got so much energy and zest for life, he said "get a twenty-year-old kidney!" Seriously though, the fact that someone was willing to do that for him is a testament to his life, inspired by death. Thought-provoking.
It sounds morbid, but regularly imagining all my friends and family dead is also an extremely useful Stoic exercise. It made me kinder, less prone to argument, quicker to forgive and tell people I love them. I appreciate people more. Particularly painful the first time you do it, but it gets easier. Last summer, my first nephew was born and I felt positively awful killing him off in my imagination the first time after he' successfully emerged from the womb! But he became even more precious to me for having done so.
Something different: This evening my partner and I were talking about sociopaths (in the context of a disturbing drama we watched, Unforgotten Season 3). We reflected on the commonalities between the clearly psychopathic villain of the story and sociopaths we have known. The commonalities were the lack of empathy, acute ability to study and simulate friendships and emotions toward very specific ends without appearing to be touched by them, and high functionality in a high stress environment. My partner suddenly said, "What if Viktor Frankl was a sociopath? Wouldn't that account for his facility in absorbing and surviving the outrages he suffered?"
Food for thought. What do people here think about this? To what extent were his coping mechanisms developed in response to his trauma, and how much of his strength did he have going in? How much humanity would I be willing to trade for survival in such a situation? I do believe Frankl's book displays a great deal of empathy. What accounts for his remarkable resilience?
Chris Marti wrote: I manage an executive program for the industry I support. The executives who attend for five weeks over the course of two years are required to do an industry project as part of the program. Many of them choose to focus on hiring and retaining employees since that's a major problem they face. The industry produces and distributes a basic commodity so it's not sexy and cool, like Google or LinkedIn or a financial firm or pharma, so it's just not a place where a lot of people want to work, especially young people. During a class session to talk about their project yesterday morning, the idea came up that employees need to feel they serve a purpose beyond the basics of earning money in order to survive. This was the CEO of a large company. So, of course, I referred them all to "Man's Search for Meaning."
Ranger wrote: My partner suddenly said, "What if Viktor Frankl was a sociopath? Wouldn't that account for his facility in absorbing and surviving the outrages he suffered?"
Food for thought. What do people here think about this?
Not specific to Frankl, but given that some highly revered dharma teachers have been labeled similarly after the revelations of years of secretly abusive behavior toward their students, I am less and less likely to be surprised to find someone very influential -- regardless of the arena of influence -- was systematically and unapologetically selective in his/her approach to moral behavior.
Edit: I also just recalled that a local Holocaust survivor of some renown made a very cynical statement a number of years ago about another local public figure who was running for reelection. I was taken aback by the ugliness of the remark -- comparing a commonplace policy to Nazism or something similar -- but found it a useful reminder that surviving concentration camps doesn't make you perfectly empathetic or somehow above ignoble behavior. I began to wonder how many survivors were actually so deeply scarred that it was hard for them to consistently access sincere forms of certain emotions like empathy.
That said, he obviously was far from perfect, but I doubt he was a sociopath. What accounts for his resilience? Well, that is a good question.
I'm in awe.
And I'm grateful to have a prayer practice, as it means something very real and meaningful to her when I say that she and her family are in my prayers.