Early this past Saturday morning, sitting outside Ridgewood’s ‘Boulangerir Patisserie’ coffee shop, in what seemed to be the first sunny day of Spring for the City of New York, I finished one of my current reads; Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search For Meaning.” I will not attempt to generalize or to depict the weight of which this book holds inside of itself, for my attempt to do so will not serve the book, the author, nor the moment in time from which it comes the justice and the respect it deserves. Below however, I will share with you a few passages from its bindings which resonated in me deeply emotional connections with my currently evolving, yet growing, perspective on life, paired with brief interjections of my own undertake. Enjoy…
I consider it a dangerous misconception of mental hygiene to assume that what a man needs in the first place is equilibrium or, as it is called in biology, “homeostasis,” i.e., a tensionless state. What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.
Though we may sometimes fool ourselves into believing that what we want is in fact a life free from suffering and from toil, in actuality what we yearn for is the ability to overcome whatever struggle we are presented, for on the other side of this overcoming is a stronger, more resilient, beautifully worn version of ourselves. This act of overcoming brings about meaning but is also derived and endured for the meaning upon which we place on it… ourselves.
If architects want to strengthen a decrepit arch, they increase the load which is laid upon it, for thereby the parts are joined more firmly together. So if therapists wish to foster their patients’ mental health, they should not be afraid to create a sound amount of tension through a reorientation toward the meaning of one’s life.
The meaning of our lives are not always presented to us; In fact, I would argue they never are. We do not simply stumble upon what it is we want in this life, but rather on the contrary, we create the lives we want based upon experiences, struggling, failing, overcoming, and placing meaning upon which what we want to place meaning to. Think about that. What is life if we do not place value upon our own meanings? I am aware of the “stumble upon” moments in our lives which do in fact lead to some sort of deeper understanding of the world around us and of ourselves, but it is still the individual who decides that meaning and learns from it and uses it how they choose.
To achieve personal meaning, he says, one must transcend subjective pleasures by doing something that “points, and is directed, to something, or someone, other than oneself… by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love.
Do not fall for the false heroism of individual pursuit, for it is merely a lonely existence placed upon a pedestal, believed to bring about courage and grit but instead leads to isolation and the yearning for connection. We are people, and we need people; it is that simple. This is not to say that there does not exist room for individual pursuits during the duration of our lives, but they shall not outweigh nor lessen the value of the collective, whatever that collective is to you (your family, your spouse, your relationship, a team, a group, a business, a community, etc.). Do not isolate yourself to be alone while forgetting that you are not. We are here to help and to sometimes be helped.
The choices humans make should be active rather than passive. In making personal choices we affirm our autonomy. “A human being is not one thing among others; things determine each other,” Frankl writes, “but man is ultimately self determining. What he becomes– within the limits of endowment and environment– he has made out of himself.”
We have all heard the saying that “this life is meant to be lived.” It is… but not in the way we are sometimes blindly lead to believe. This statement does not mean that life will present to us the means to our ends or the points to be reached, it simply means to live your life. Not every day will be great and not every moment one to be remembered, that is if we hold expectations for these to be handed to us; that is not how life works. If we want our lives to consist of days which are great and of moments we want to remember, we must first understand this… that that is completely in our control, determined upon our choices, our actions, and our perspective, all of which are collectively intertwined. Though many times throughout our lives we do not choose the environment nor the situation, we do however chose our reaction and our meaning; let that bring you peace. What we take from the moments which make up our lives, what we subsequently learn from them, is ours; observed, analyzed, reasoned, understood and applied uniquely to our perspective and to our meaning.
I do not know why exactly, but I feel the need to end this with a verse from one of my favorite John Lennon songs, “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)“. Though derived from a different time and from a different nature, contextually it makes sense, as most things do in this life if we stop and observe, simply studying the cohesiveness which exists in our universe:
Before you cross the street
Take my hand
Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.
If I had to put a meaning to it and its relevance to my reading of this book, I guess it would be found in the simplicity of the verses tone. “Before you cross the street”… that is to say before you make decisions in your life, think and provide meaning. “Take my hand”… remember you are not alone and your pursuits should not bring about unnecessary isolation. It’s OK to take someones hand; there is more reward in helping others than in selfishly helping ourselves. “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”… there is a life to be lived, and what we become falls upon the responsibility of ourselves. Not every moment has to have some sort of philosophical meaning, and that makes life beautiful. The meaning may be thought about later, or it may not. Though I understand the contradictory ending to this, understand that that is OK. Enjoy your life, the highs and the lows, and craft your own meaning, accordingly.
City Reads NYC