Sunday, November 29, 2009

Man's Search For Meaning

Read a great book last week. A powerful, life-changing book.

It's written by a man called Viktor Frankyl and titled ‘Man’s Search for Meaning.’ A slight little book, only about 160 pages. The first half is an account of the time the author spent in Auchwitz during the Second World War. A survivor’s story. I have read many such books, from the poignant, powerful non-surviving Anne Frank, to ‘Sophies Choice’ to Elie Weisel and Fania Fenelon.

But for some reason Viktor Frankyl’s book hit a deeper chord with me than any of these other terrible, wonderful books. I think it is because it is not so much an account of his time in the camps but an account of the philosophy that got him through such terribleness. He survived because he quite simply accepted everything that happened to him. Tried not to baulk and despair. A sort of ‘Que Sera’ attitude, although not quite as trite as that. It’s a wonderful story, a story of the resilience of both the human body and spirit. In it he talks about all the things people thought were not possible before the camps. Things like, under no circumstances could people sleep in the cramped conditions they were forced into, they did. People could not survive on the tiny amounts of food they were given, they did. People couldn’t survive in the bitter cold and under the excessive hard labour they were forced to perform. They did.

Viktor Frankyl is a psychiatrist and after the war he went to America where he practises and teaches. He used his experiences to develop a therapeutic system called logotherapy and the second half of his book is a brief description of this therapy. It is basically the same message all great men have given us since time began. Live in and for the moment. Do not look forward or back. Accept what Life throws at you and try to enjoy where you find yourself in each moment that you live. It is not unlike the ‘Mindfulness’ that Jon Kabaat-Zin advocates, trying to be aware of oneself in each moment that we breathe
Mr Frankyl is an interesting man and his therapy is an interesting premise. A highly recommended read.

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