About a week ago, I attended a virtual event addressing the current coronavirus circumstances. A participant commented that she could find no good in the current situation.
While I cannot say that I agreed with her perspective, I sure could see where she was coming from. I myself am not immune to concerns around the virus, vulnerable loved ones, finances, and all the other now-familiar ripple effects this pandemic has caused in our lives.
But I also know that my dear ol’ brain is like Velcro for the bad and Teflon for the good (h/t Dr. Rick Hanson).
In other words, when I find myself in uncharted territory, when I feel fear, when I doubt how any good can come from a seemingly hopeless situation, I know it’s up to me to steer my mind in the right direction.
One way I do this is by turning to someone who has more perspective than I do, someone who has been through similar or more harrowing circumstances and lived not only to tell, but to share invaluable wisdom of how they made it through – and maybe even some good that came of it.
◼️◼️◼️ This time, I turned to Viktor Frankl. If you are having a hard time finding any good in the current situation, I invite you to do the same. ◼️◼️◼️
You’ve likely heard of Viktor Frankl. He was an Austrian psychiatrist who spent from 1942 until 1945 laboring in four different Nazi death camps, including Auschwitz. During that time, he lost his parents, his brother, and his pregnant wife.
In 1946, shortly after his liberation, he wrote “Man’s Search for Meaning” in a mere 9 days. It went on to sell more than 12 million copies in 24 different languages. In 1991, the Library of Congress found it to be one of the ten most influential books in America.
It is not only a book about Frankl’s survival, but also why and how he survived. In writing it, he hoped to provide “a concrete example that life holds a potential meaning under any conditions, even the most miserable ones.”
◼️◼️◼️ His concentration camp experience ultimately validated his belief that our greatest quest in a human life is not for pleasure or power, but meaning. ◼️◼️◼️
It is a gross understatement to say that the effects of the coronavirus pale in comparison to the horrors of the Holocaust and the extinction of 6 million Jews (plus hundreds of thousands of other non-Jewish victims).
But the wisdom in Frankl’s book is both timeless and timely.
Namely, he found that how a prisoner fared had less to do with circumstances than attitude, that “the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of [concentration] camp influences alone.”
He found strength through various sources…appreciating the beauty of nature, even if the view was through the barred window of a prison carriage…enjoying art, even if it was the fleeting distraction of an improvised cabaret in a dimly-lit hut…finding a sense of humor, even in grim circumstances…deepening in one’s spiritual life, even in the grueling camp existence…and envisioning someday lecturing on the psychology of the concentration camp, even when the chances of his survival were slim.
All of these sources (nature, art, humor, spiritual deepening, future visioning) were available or creatable, even in a concentration camp. These – and so many more – are readily available to us now. It is up to you to find your own sources. If Frankl could do it, you can, too.
It is also up to you to make that “inner decision” Frankl wrote about, to discover meaning in this life.
As grief expert and Elisabeth Kübler-Ross protegé, David Kessler, writes, “Only you can find your own meaning.” (more on Kessler and his new book, “Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief,” soon)
◼️◼️◼️ And what better catalyst for meaning-making than a pandemic? ◼️◼️◼️
Maybe you will find a way to honor the sacrifices of those on the front lines…maybe you will realign your values or follow your true calling once a sense of normalcy returns…maybe you will finally address that broken relationship that you could no longer ignore while staying at home…or maybe you will find a new sense of gratitude for those simple freedoms and abundances in your former life that you once took for granted.
And if the inability to move about and congregate and travel has become just a bit too much? How about some final parting perspective from Viktor Frankl: “[E]verything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
◼️◼️◼️ So what attitude and what way will you choose? And what meaning will you make? ◼️◼️◼️
If you need a little help in the meaning-making department, then join me for the next round of Soul Digger Book Club, where we’ll be exploring – you guessed it – “Man’s Search for Meaning.” And if reading isn’t really your thing, then join me for Shut Up & Soul. It’s a great way to foster that spiritual deepening that Frankl describes.