Updated: Mar 23
Take Home Message: “That which does not kill you, only makes you stronger.” Nietzsche.
This book is perfect for anyone who is searching for more meaning in what appears to be challenging circumstances.
Can you imagine that everything you have ever owned is taken away from you? Your clothes removed, every hair on your body is shaved and your name is stripped to just a number? Nothing personal remains beyond the inner sanction of your mind. The guards may have take away all Frankl’s possessions but they could never take away his ability to think. The same goes for you and your life. Your outer world need not dictate your inner world.
Even in the challenging of circumstances and at the darkest hour, like Frankl and many others in the concentration camps, there are still strategies that will help you. Frankl’s strategy was to shave (his beard), stand smartly and walk upright. This gave the impression that he was fit. Those who were fit were asked to work. Those who were not, were sent to the gas chambers. Just goes to show, no matter what you are going through, there is a plan that will help you. You just have to think it through and then take action upon it.
Inside the concentration camp, willpower was especially important. A piece of bread in your pocket may need to last all day. You may take a crumb from it only to hold out to eat the rest in the afternoon. That’s inner strength right there.
Apathy or the blunting of emotions were the symptoms arising that lead to insensitivity to the daily or hourly beatings. A strategy necessary to create a layer of protection from the harsh conditions.
Even while living in a concentration camp, it is important to master the art of living or to “find freedom from suffering in any circumstance” as Schopenhauer stated. As there was no way of physical freedom it was to be found in different forms. This was done through the inner life of the prisoner, to find refuge from the emptiness, desolation and spiritual poverty of existence. Strategies included: thinking of the past, remembering the events with such detail could move one to tears or like one day when a man runs inside to the sleeping quarters and yells at everyone “come, come quickly…….there is the most beautiful sunset.” Just goes to show; we can all find joy and appreciation in the small moments.
In spite of the enforced physical and mental primitiveness, you can deepen your spiritual life, create an inner life of richness and spiritual freedom. Frankl had the freedom to think about his wife, who he didn’t know was dead at the time. They had conversations, she gave him frank and encouraging looks while he worked hard in the snow digging trenches. This happens in traumatic experiences where fantasies are created in the mind to counterbalance the nightmares of reality.
He talked about love and the salvation of man is through love and in love. Love is the ultimate and the highest goal
which a man can aspire.
Spinoza is quoted as saying “Emotions, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering when we make a clear and precise
picture of it.” Find the benefits and meaning in the experience.
This story left an impression on me and I wanted to share it with you verbatim; It is Victor Frankl talking to a patient of his in the hospital at the Concentration Camp.
“F, my senior block warden told me one day, "I would like to tell you something, Doctor. I have had a strange dream. A voice told me that all my questions would be answered. What do you think I asked? That I would like to know when the war would be over for me. You know what I mean, Doctor-for me! I wanted to know when we, when our camp would be liberated and our sufferings would come to an end."
"And when did you have this dream?" I asked.
“February, 1945," he answered. It was then the beginning of March.
"What did your dream voice answer?"
Furtively he whispered to me, "March thirtieth."
When F told me about his dream, he was still full of hope and convinced that his dream would be right. But as the promised day drew nearer, the war news which reached our camp made it appear very unlikely that we would be free on the promised date. On March twenty-ninth, F suddenly became ill and ran a high temperature. On March thirtieth, the day the war and suffering would be over for him, he came delirious and lost consciousness. On March thirty first, he was dead. To all outward appearances, he had died of typhus.
How powerful is our intention to live or to die?
The highest number of prisoner deaths was during Christmas and New Year’s day. It was on the hope that they would be freed during this time and mentally couldn’t live another year. Nietzsche say “He who has a why to live, can bear almost any how.” Your why strengthens your will to live.
There is no way of knowing when you were going to be released so talking about the future was pointless. You then cease to live for the future. Your existence becomes provisional and in a certain sense you can’t live for the future or aim for a goal. Everything in life becomes pointless and you lose your grip on life. A prisoner who lose faith in his future, his future was doomed. Such people forgot to use the experience to grow spiritually beyond himself, to use the experience as a test of inner strength.
Reality is showing an opportunity and a challenge. There were two choices, make a victory and turn life into an inner triumph or simple vegetate, as did a majority of prisoners. Frankl had decided that he would not give up hope or give up.
The book continues on to discuss Frankl’s specific way of thinking which he labels as Logotherapy. Logos is the Greek word for meaning. Logotherapy is not focused on the past or pleasure like psychoanalysis, it is focused is on the future. Therefore, you are confronted with and reoriented with the meaning of your own life. What meaning will you create in your own life’s circumstances?
I love the quote towards the end of the book. He states “I consider it as dangerous of mental hygiene to assume that what a man needs is equilibrium or as it is in biology, homeostasis, a tensionless state. What he needs is a striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.”
With gratitude, Tanya X