Year 1, Week 5: Kayaking, Cutting and Pasting, Viktor Frankl

1:5

A good week. Lot’s of fresh air, good weather overall, kayaking and walking. More exercise for the arms, as well as for the legs, as the terrain around here is hilly, in contrast to the flatness of Ottawa.

As a result, a bit more tired than usual, but good muscle and outdoors tiredness, all part of my ‘conditioning regime’.

Balancing the physical activity was the ‘cutting and pasting’ from the iPad to the Kindle/Kobo versions. Tedious but done, so the two separate editions are largely ready, save for the final touches to the conclusion.

While the cottage was a perfect break, I realized just how reliant I am on good internet connections. Not only with respect to keeping up to date and my blog, but for all the background processes and backups that seamlessly happen on high-speed networks. Frustrating to have a fast computer with a slow connection!

Reading wise, I finished Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, his reflections, as a psychiatrist, on lessons he observed and developed after surviving concentration camps, including Auschwitz, during World War II. Powerful reading and a powerful case that it is our search for meaning that keeps us going; once we lose that, whether in the extreme of the camps, facing cancer, or life in general, our immunity weakens and our susceptibility increases. Much deeper than popular notions of attitude making the difference.

On meaning, including in suffering:

An active life servers the purpose of giving man the opportunity to realize values in creative work, while a passive life of enjoyment affords him the opportunity to obtain fulfillment in experience beauty, art, or nature. But there is also purpose in that life which is almost barren of both creation and enjoyment and which admits of but one possibility of high moral behavior: namely, in man’s attitude to his existence, an existence restricted by external forces. A creative life and a life of enjoyment are banned to him. But not only creativeness and enjoyment are meaningful. If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.

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 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. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not.

On our looking to the future:

… It is a particularity of man that he can only live by looking to the future – sub specie aeternitatis. An this is his salvation in the most difficult moments of his existence, although he sometimes has to force his mind to the task…. Nietzsche’s words, ‘He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how,’ could be the guiding motto ….

On the meaning of life – action, not talk:

We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life – daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.

And lastly, on how this meaning is not just at the individual level, but how it involves and related to others:

…. It (self-transcendence) denotes the fact that being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself – be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself – by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love – the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself. What is called self-actualization is not an attainable aim at all, for the simple reason that the more one would strive for it, the more he would miss it. In other words, self-actualization is possible only as a side effect of self-transcendence.

Helpful thoughts as I finish up the conclusion.

On a lighter note, we went to hear Salar Aghili and the Hamnavazan Ensemble last night (Youtube sample here). Lighter than classical Persian music, but a strong voice and some wonderful instrumental work (the Ensemble does a lot of work with leading Iranian classical singers). One of my former colleagues also came to the concert and it was nice touching base with him and catching up.

To my Jewish readers, best wishes for Rosh Hashanah and the coming year.

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11 thoughts on “Year 1, Week 5: Kayaking, Cutting and Pasting, Viktor Frankl

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