A Snapshot of Meaningful Moments with Prof. Dr. Elisabeth Lukas

Maria Marshall, Ph, RP

If I was to arrange my memories with Dr. Elisabeth Lukas in a photo album, the album would span several decades. In this essay, I will draw out my favorite pictures from the album and share them with you.

My first memory reaches back to 1982. There is a beautiful Christmas tree in my grandparents’ home. It is set on a table with glorious decorations and best of all, marzipan candies covered in chocolate and colorful, shiny wrapping paper. It is comfortable to sit under the tree and listen to the conservation of the adults sitting around the dinner table in the kitchen, adjacent to the living room. My father leads the conversation. He talks about Dr. Frankl and Dr. Elisabeth Lukas. He visited Dr. Frankl a few years earlier and is in touch with him about setting up a local telephone hotline for the prevention of suicides. It is the first initiative of this kind in our region. A lot of psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers will collaborate under my father’s guidance. The line will be available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, so many volunteers are required who are willing to help. The discussion shifts to Dr. Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning” and the second world war. The memories of my grandmother are still vivid from the time when children she used to play with on the street were forcibly taken to unknown locations, neve to be seen again. The memories are fresh for my father as well, since his great grandfather perished in Auschwitz and his father came back alive from the forced labor camps. Everyone is silent for a while. My grandmother wipes tears from the side of her eyes. Then, my grandfather proposes to try my grandmother’s pie.

The second picture is from 1989. It is a chilli but sunny, beautiful, spring morning. My father leaves to work on his bicycle early in the morning to start work at 7:30 a.m. at his hospital. I have some time before I need to leave for school. There is a noise at the door as the flap of the mailbox closes. I run downstairs to empty the contents and retrieve a brown envelope with my father’s name and address on it. It is written with a blue fountain pen and impeccable spelling of our address 16 Vase Stajića, Subotica, Jugoslavien. The sender is Dr. Lukas and her husband, Mr. Gerhard Lukas, at the South German Institute of Logotherapy in Fürstenfeldbruck, Germany. I place the envelope on the living room table, ready for my father to open when he comes home from work. That evening, I see for the first time some images of Dr. Frankl and Dr. Lukas in the Jahresbericht (the Annual Report) of Dr. Lukas’ Institute. I sit in a comfortable armchair covered with grey velvety fabric and spend hours taking in the images.

The third picture is from 1991. There is a war in Yugoslavia. Everyone suspected that war would break out, but no one was really prepared for it. As soon as I arrive home for the summer holiday after my first year of university, my parents send me back to Hungary with the earliest train in the morning. All I can take with me is a backpack. They reassure me that they will join me later that day, when they cross the border in their large van with my six siblings, pretending to go on a holiday. They give me the address where I should go and wait for them. The day seems like an eternity. Finally, late in the evening, they arrive. They made it and got through the border safely. The van is packed to the brim. Even then, there is only one suitcase for each person. Inside mine, I discover the few books by Frankl that my father owns and used to read in the dim light at night, with pen in the hand.  The books are heavily used, and the pages somewhat discolored brown, with shorthand side notes, and some exclamation marks. The yearly reports from the South German Institute are there as well, the whole package enveloped into a few T-shirts. This is the only literature that travels with us during the next few weeks while we wait to receive the immigration papers to Canada. The waiting seems unending. We wash our clothes in rivers. We sleep in abandoned parking lots or quiet streets, in the car. Finally, after two months of hope against all the odds, the visas are granted. We book plane tickets for nine persons: two adults and seven children, to Calgary, Alberta. We are off to the “unknown.” The suitcases are boarded onto the plane. They fly with us to this new land.

The fourth picture is from 1997. Nearly ten years have passed since we have been in Canada. The date is September 2. I am in the Counselling Psychology Doctoral Program at the University of Alberta and have just received a list of signatures from committee members who approved that my doctoral research with the title, “The Applications of Viktor E. Frankl’s Logotherapy in Counselling Psychology” can go ahead. Six committee members have approved the proposal and recorded their signatures in black ink. I am beyond words, elated. I have no idea that thousands of kilometres away, on the other side of the ocean, in Vienna, Dr. Viktor E. Frankl passed away on this day. I do not have e-mail and no internet. But I do have Dr. Frankl and Dr. Lukas’ books with me, and that is enough to get me started in my work.

The fifth picture is from the year 2000. I have just finished my Doctoral Dissertation a few months ago. It is November, and I am walking toward the South German Institute of Logotherapy. Dr. Lukas has invited me to be her special student at the South German Institute of Logotherapy. After participating in several presentations that she offered in Canada, the United States and in Germany, today is the day of the final exams. The class time seems to have passed very fast. It was a stellar opportunity to hear Dr. Lukas speak and demonstrate how she applies the principles of logotherapy in practice. As she talks, my attention is all on her. I soak in every word and every movement. I feel that I understand her very well, even though when she askes me if there are any nettles in Canada, I get so embarrassed that I stutter something like: “I do not think so.,” in German. To which Dr. Lukas says that that maybe I live in places where there are no nettles! There is a wonderful book that she hands out as a present to the class, written by one of her former students.  It is about “Ortie” a little nettle who grows up to be different from the other plants around her, and must learn that she too has an important place to fill in the world. In this class, I get to know people who become life-long friends and colleagues. Among them are Dr. Alexander Batthyany, in charge of the Viktor Frankl Archives at that time, and the late Dr. Cvijeta Pahljina, a psychiatrist from Croatia, who knew my father. Everyone in the class is very supportive and I quickly forget that speaking German is not effortless. Will I do well on this final exam? I spent the entire night reading through the books again.

The sixth picture is about the final exam in Dr. Lukas’ office. It is the end of November, and Christmas is approaching fast. We are sitting around a large, round, glass table. In the middle is a candle. Dr. Lukas light it, which gives a reassuring sense of comfort and peace. She asks me a few introductory questions and then to describe the qualities of the human spirit. I do know some things, and she adds a few more concepts about the relevance of the resources of this specifically human dimension in health care. We speak about the first and the second Creed in Frankl’s logotherapy, according to which the essence of the person, the spirit can not become ill. It is a healthy core and resource. A person can become ill, but behind the mask of the illness, the spirit is always present. A person may be disturbed, but they can not be destroyed. At the end of the exam, Dr. Lukas does not tell me if I passed or failed, because this is not a pass or fail exam. I find out why. Dr. Lukas trusts me to keep learning and applying logotherapy and she has confidence in me. We walk to the front of her office where all of Frankl’s book and her books are exhibited on shelves. She invites me to indicate, from among all the books that I see on the shelves, the ones that I already have, and which ones I do not have yet. I am hesitant to admit how many books I still do not have, but I want to be honest, so I point to all the beautiful new editions, one more desirable than the other. One by one, Dr. Lukas lifts the books from the shelf and gives these books to me as a present!  I have no words for her kindness and no words to describe how I feel. I am now the proud owner of almost each of her available books, and several new editions of Dr. Frankl’s books in German.

My book collection has been growing ever since. This is thanks partially to my husband, Edward, who has the same love for logotherapy as I do. Together, we direct the Ottawa Institute of Logotherapy in Ottawa, Canada. We have five children ad we distribute our time between taking care of the children, seeing patients, research, writing, and teaching logotherapy and related topics. Our connection with the Vienna Institute is fostered through a bond of friendship and collegiality that has endured the past twenty years.

What was Dr. Lukas’s influence on me? More than what one can express in words and write in an essay. I look up to Dr. Lukas as pioneer in presenting and teaching the applications of logotherapy in clinical practice and transmitting the ideas of Dr. Frankl in their purest form. I admire her work ethic and sound judgement. I admire her wisdom and her peaceful manners. I am in awe of the number of books she has written over the years and the knowledge and experience that she has in the areas of logotherapy and existential analysis that is helpful for clinical practice and for everyday living. I like her charming sense of humor and her sophistication. More than any other female psychologist, Dr. Lukas is a role model whose influence I cherish. Despite the distance in miles, Dr. Lukas feels close in spirit.

Nowadays, I am with Dr. Lukas, each time I cite her books, articles, or presentations. She is mentioned and referenced in most all the books that we have ever published through the Ottawa Institute of Logotherapy. Thanks to technology, I can regularly follow her presentations on the television or radio and get notified about her new publications.

With Dr. Lukas, Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy and Existential Analysis continues to be an invitation to keep learning, reading, thinking, and comprehending, to be able to give and to give generously. Finally, to live, and to live to the fullest.

red leaf trees near the road

Saying Yes to Life

Notes from an Interview with Alexander Batthyany and Elisabeth Lukas.

On January 15, 2021, Professor Dr. Alexander Batthyany, Philosopher and University Professor at the Universities of Vienna and Budapest, Director of the Viktor Frankl Institute in Vienna, and Viktor Frankl Chair for Philosophy and Psychology at the University of Lichtenstein, and Professor Dr. Elisabeth Lukas, Clinical Psychologist, and former student of Dr. Viktor Frankl, were interviewed by Andreas Obrecht at the Austrian Radio [ORF] with the program title “Saying Yes to Life.” It aimed to provide an opportunity for Dr. Batthyany and Dr. Lukas to present their latest book with the title “Logotherapy and Existential Analysis Today: A Current Standpoint.” [Logotherapie und Exystenzanalyse Heute: Eine Standortbestimmung, 2020].

Dr. Batthyany studied logotherapy with Dr. Lukas over twenty years ago. These two prominent advocates of Viktor E. Frankl’s work collaborated in writing the book that explores the position of Viktor E. Frankl’s Logotherapy and Existential Analysis with respect to our complex reality today. The program provided an opportunity for listeners to express their views and ask questions.

Referring to the current pandemic, Andreas Obrecht explained that “Difficult questions arise in difficult times.” The interview aimed to explore some of the answers that logotherapy and existential analysis can provide in response to these questions. He prefaced the interview with the remark that “Logotherapy and existential Analysis, also known as the Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy, was founded by Dr. Viktor Frankl, an exceptional doctor, psychiatrist, neurologist, and philosopher.” He then chose one particular crucial point in Viktor Frankl’s life, 1941, when he held a valid visa in his hands that would have allowed him to immigrate to the United States. Since he was of Jewish origin, the visa was very significant for it would have allowed him to escape the horrors of the concentration camps. However, he decided to let it lapse because he wanted to protect his family. In 1942 his entire family was deported to the concentration camps where his wife, parents and his brother perished. He was liberated in 1945 by American troops.

From this brief window into the life of Dr. Frankl, Mr. Obrecht returns to the book in which Dr. Batthyany and Dr. Lukas state that it is hard to characterise Dr. Frankl since “his life was multi-faceted” and he was an exceptionally talented man. Dr. Lukas explains that “… One of the most remarkable qualities of Dr. Frankl was the coherence between his convictions, his teaching, and his life example which gave him a high level of credibility.” Namely, we can see that soon after the liberation when he found out that his loved ones perished, and he was struggling, he established to himself that there must be a ground and a reason for his suffering why he would be in a unique position to shoulder it and he held firm to the belief that a meaning that he can realise must be waiting for him in the face of it. Dr. Lukas explained, “…He had been granted a second life. This was a present. The first life ended in the camps. The second life was a gift of grace that he said he wanted to show himself worthy of it.”  He wanted to use it well and so he lived in a way to help others.  Another example of the congruence between his actions and words can be seen in the fact that “…he determined that he wanted to keep his heart free from hate and grudge.” Dr Lukas explained that “…hate and grudge dwell in the soul and weighs it down. The only way one can free oneself from both is by focusing on the present and how one’s life in the here and now can be filled with a meaningful content.”

The interviewer remarks how Frankl had written his book Man’s Search for Meaning very soon after his liberation and it become popular immediately after its publication. It is still a widely read book today, perhaps exactly because it offers an example for people on how to deal with suffering and even very intense suffering, such as Frankl experienced in the concentration camps. Dr. Lukas pointed out that Frankl dedicated himself to helping others as a doctor fully respecting each person. He did not ask his patients what their convictions were. His sole aim was “… to help people live a healthy life and this is what helped him to regain his own stability.”  

The title of this new book is “Logotherapy and Existential Analysis Today: A Current Standpoint.” From the perspective of this historical vista, one can reflect on the contributions of this psychotherapeutic orientation today. Although the interview allows for only very brief remarks, Dr. Alexander Batthyany, notes that it is relevant to recall that the foundations of logotherapy have been laid before the second world war because this point is often missed or misunderstood. The roots and basic formulation of logotherapy were already laid by Frankl before the war and to think that he developed his theories in the camps or after his liberation emerged with this theory is of course not correct. What Frankl witnessed in the camps is that “…all the methods and therapeutic formulations that he gathered through his experiences earlier were applicable and held up in the camps and after.” Regarding the contribution of these principles today, Dr. Batthyany notes that he had been fortunate to hold presentations on logotherapy in different parts of the world, for example Japan or Africa, and he was always impressed by the realisation that the basic principles and the corresponding therapeutic methods are so to speak “trans-cultural” and timeless. “The basic factors, the basic principles remain, although the conditions may change with time and from place to place.” We live in some countries and on some continents in wealth but not on others and so the circumstances and the challenges may be different. However, the methods that have been applied across several cultures and have proven to be time-tested and effective. The principle what Frankl asserted is that fulfillment can be found “…not by intending that what feels good but discovering and doing what one is good for.” Thus, “…one can not aim for pleasurable activities to overcome hardships because there will be still hardships left but rather to think: how can I remain a human being in the good times and in the difficulties, through the ups and downs, and become a human being who leaves their own contribution to the world?”

One chapter in this book is entitled:” Happiness is what we are saved from.” This is a thought- provoking title. Dr. Lukas explained that it is easy to forget about life’s blessings: “What one experienced in the past is a wealth that was a gift. Each new day is a gift.” Looking carefully at the current situation, we realise that even what we take for granted, for example, our everyday lives, “…normalcy itself–is a present.” Dr. Lukas then asserted that “…even loss has an element of thankfulness about it that is easy to overlook.” Often it is only when we have lost something that we realise how precious it was. For example, if one loses a loved one. Or if one loses a job and realises how much one enjoyed work. These are values in life that we may temporarily overlook. She noted that it is relevant to become aware of the precious things that surround us. It is good to be mindful of everything that we value so that when we need to let go, we can think back with gratitude that we were blessed, and we were given these values as a present.

The first caller is a lady who has attended Dr. Lukas’ presentations and would like to point out another important contribution of Frankl that he summarized with the quotation “Whoever has a why can bear with nearly any how.” An experienced educator, she wondered how this idea could be presented to young people and if the formulation that if we have a reason, we can learn from our challenges could be explored in today’s classrooms. Dr. Lukas affirms her point by remarking that those who can see a task waiting for them can handle frustrations easier as they are searching for where they can responsibly contribute to making our society better.

Next, the interviewer invited Dr. Batthyany to summarize two main concepts in logotherapy: self-transcendence and self-distancing. Self-transcendence, said Dr. Batthyany, is the dynamics of reaching beyond oneself. “…It is an empirically demonstrated phenomenon. As human beings, we are capable of observing and reflecting on ourselves. Beyond self-awareness, we are able to reach beyond ourselves into the world and an area of possibilities in the world. These possibilities represent the area where our area of freedom lies. Not all of these possibilities are of equal value and this is where the element of responsibility enters. Some could be accomplished, some may be possible, and we need to aim for discerning the one task that is waiting for us to become actualised, that only we can bring into reality. This is our contribution. This is when we look not so much for what is good for me, but for what am I good for, what is meant for me to accomplish?”

Reflecting on Frankl’s remark that “responsibility is at the same time frightening and at the same time wonderful,” Dr. Battyany explained that it is a gift that we are able to act and that there are possibilities to choose from in our area of freedom where our values beckon. The realisation that without us acting none of these values can actualised, can fill us with a frightful sense of responsibility.  Thus, “…we are all writers, and we write by the minute, the hour and the day our own stories. We decide what title we give to the chapters in our lives.”

Self-distancing, continued Dr. Batthyany, has to do with freedom. We have a physiological and psychological reality. For example, we have impulses and thoughts that may come and go. The question is if we are fully dependent on these psychological or physiological realities, “…do they have the last word, or can we gain some distance from them?”  Here is where an area of freedom opens, at least in our attitudes. Dr. Lukas continues the explanation of this concept by referring to Dr. Frankl’s notion of the tragic triad of human existence: pain, guilt, and death. “No one is spared of pain, no one is free from guilt and we all have to face our finality.”  In this relation to fate that which we do not have direct control over, or very little or no control over, we have little or no responsibility. We are not the ones who ask the question of why bad things happen to good people. Life does not answer these why questions. However, we are the ones who are being asked by life, what we are going to do in response to fate.  “Until the last breath, we have a choice how we answer to life. We can answer with a yes or a no to life. That is what it means to be responsible.”  Dr. Lukas explained that “…we can choose to be constructive, loving, or negative, bitter and cynical.”

The next caller asked why there is a strife between logotherapy and psychoanalysis. Dr. Battthyany explained that the roots of the differences go back to radical positivism. Historically, Frankl elaborated on the foundational principles of psychotherapy and the anthropological view of the human person to include the dimension of the spirit and unconscious spirituality along with the resources and capacities o the spirit which logotherapy mobilises. Thus, “…the are clear differences between psychoanalysis and logotherapy.” He goes on to say that “…If we omitted the changes that happened the evolution of psychoanalysis and we still considered it in its dogmatic origins with these principles at the forefront, then the differences would be very marked, indeed.” The differences would be even contradictions, for in logotherapy the therapist’s main concern is not the uncovering of hidden motives or drives. “Logotherapy rest on the recognition that we live in the world and our intentions are not ends in themselves; we are not primarily aimed at achieving homeostasis but that we are directed toward the world.” At the same time there are differences, there are instances in psychoanalytical thinking where we can see that “…the two orientations coincide”, noted Dr. Batthyany, and this is “…because ultimately, we are both talking about people in the world and the aim is the same: to help people. This is a common denominator. We want to understand people and support them. Thus, while there are some differences, there are some inherent similarities.

The next caller expressed the view that through Frankl’s talks and presentations, one which he was fortunate to attend, there was always a thread of deep-seated trust and faith. Not necessarily in a religious sense, but the deep-seated trust of a believer, that was absent in Freud’s atheistic bent.  He recalled the example mentioned at the start of this interview where Frankl shared that when the Vienna synagogue was destroyed [1938], he found a marble piece with on the Ten Commandments engraved into it and it was the one: “Honor your mother and father so that you may do well in the land” and he acted accordingly. He based his decision on his faith and not on positivistic atheism.

The interviewer asked Dr. Lukas about the scientific basis of logotherapy following the findings of her dissertation [1971]. She explained that she measured two parameters. First: “To what extent people see their lives as meaningful?” She developed a test [Logotest] for measuring this first parameter. Second, the mental stability of her subjects. “The interesting finding was that with ninety nine percent certainty one could observe a correlation between mental health and seeing meaning possibilities in life.” Her findings offered one of the first empirical validation of Frankl’s work. This was an early study and since then, evidence for their validity has been mounting, with extensive research on the methods and the applications of logotherapy and existential analysis.

The question arose “What would Frankl say in response to the violence and aggression we see through the media today?” Dr. Lukas replied saying that each time has its negative trends. Frankl said that “…each time has its own illnesses and its own therapies.” Aside from reductionism, he identified fanaticism, fatalism, and collectivism. Nevertheless, there are several positive trends in today’s society as well, examples of kindness and altruism. Thus, we are confronted with the question “…whether to give in to these trends or to join those people who stand for hope and a better future.”

A caller requested to have some more information on the ways in which logotherapy can be applied in the case of treating emotional disorders. Dr. Lukas explained that logotherapy’s principles are applied with the intention to help the person in the present. “…We are not concerned so much with the past, and roots of the disorder but giving first aid in the present and exploring what possibilities the person has in the present.” In facing psychological difficulties and limitations “…we want to point to an area of freedom whereby one can develop a vision for the future.” Thus, logotherapy is primarily present and future oriented and helps to mobilise one’s inner resources in response to trauma or emotional challenges.

A caller who is currently a student of logotherapy and wishes to apply it in the future in his work with young people inquired about whether there is an international network of research and training insitutes in logotherapy? Dr. Batthyany replied that there are about 140 institutes in 40 countries. There are small institutes and larger institutes among them. [The list of these accredited institutes can be found on the website of the Viktor Frankl Institute: http://www.viktorfrankl.org]. There are innumerable publications of book and articles in many languages. However, the main point he wanted to emphasize is that “…the idea is always greater than the institutes.” What Frankl wrote and his students developed on the basis of his thoughts, ”… is wholesome and transculturally applicable.” The second point he made was that, as the saying goes: ‘the taller the tree, the deeper the roots,” and there is a lot of opportunities for an in-depth study of logotherapy and existential analysis.

A caller reported that he developed a program based on logotherapy and positive psychology with an emphasis on gratitude and mindfulness. He was wondering if happiness could be taught and learned? Dr. Batthyany lauded his efforts. However, about the question if to cultivate happiness can be made an intention, he offer this alternative: “…I think that aiming for a fulfilled life would be more realistic [than aiming for a happy life]. Happiness is only a small segment of life.  There is also pain and grief. And if we focus too intensely on our own happiness it may cause us to be a bit blind to the suffering of others and the suffering where we could be helpful. …Engendering hope and being helpful, acting with responsibility and accomplishing something worthwhile that is waiting for us to accomplish is what I think can be helpful.”

[Dr. Batthyany’s proposition stems from Dr. Frankl’ assertion that happiness is the by-product of a meaning-filled life, and it will ensue by itself, we do not need to intend it. It may come as a gift, or unexpected, as a surprise when we least expect it. Such as with the words of C. S. Lewis who said that “At the times of intense suffering we may still be surprised by joy.”]

A person sent in a comment wondering if lack of thankfulness is an overgeneralised statement. Alternatively, if we have the right to ask people in difficult situations to be grateful? Dr. Lukas answered these remarks with a personal example to illustrate that gratefulness does not need to disappear and it can be present especially in the most difficult situations. She related that her husband passed on after 44 years of happy marriage.  It was a tragedy for her and “…the only thing that helped me was this great sense of thankfulness about having been happily married for so many years.”  Illustrating the way in which gratefulness can be present and helpful, she explained: “…On my left side is thankfulness and on my right side is grief. Whenever grief on my right-side whispers into my ear: ‘You have lost something wonderful,’ gratitude in my left side whispers: ‘You had something wonderful.’ This is of great comfort.”

Another caller was wondering if logotherapy’s applications are too abstract and authoritarian. Dr. Lukas noted that it is one of the basic guiding principles of logotherapy that the therapist can not prescribe or command another person what to do or what should be meaningful to them. “…What we are attempting is to help people connect with their own inner resources, their own inner voice, one can name it one’s conscience or inner compass that orients them toward values and meaning that is inherent in the situation.” People need to discover for themselves best what it is that is a meaningful next step for them. “Therapy is successful when we can bring people into harmony with what they discern to be meaningful with their inner resources and we can help them gain awareness of it.”

The last caller asked if logotherapy can become a religion for a secularised society? Dr. Lukas’s answered this question with an empathetic “No.”Logotherapy is a form of psychotherapy that is brief and effective. It is open to both religious and non-religious people.” Dr. Batthyany added that “…Frankl very clearly stated that logotherapy is for all people. It helps to intuitively discover meaning though being attuned to the inner voice of our conscience.”

References:

Batthyany, A & Lukas, E (2020). Logotherapie und Exystenzanalyse Heute: Eine Standortbestimmung. [Logotherapy and Existential Analysis Today: A Current Standpoint] Innsbruck/Vienna: Tyrolia Verlag.  

Obrecht, A (2021). Ja zum Leben sagen. [Say Yes to Life]. Austrian Radio [ORF] program aired on January 15, 2021. Retrieved from: https://radiothek.orf.at/oe1/20210115/624865

art bright burn burning

Wax will Glow—Candle Meditation

The Candle Meditation according to Dr. Elisabeth Lukas can be found in the chapter “Wachs wird zu Leuchten” [Wax will Glow] of her book “Alles fugt Sich und Erfullt Sich: Die Sinnfrage im Alter” [Everything is linked and gets fulfilled: The question of meaning in old age] (Lukas, E. 1994: 81-83).

This meditation is very timely. A challenging year is coming to its end and a new year is about to begin. This year was not an average year as we struggled with the global impact of the Corona virus. Our strength, resolve, and courage were tested in unforeseen ways. It is a wonderful gesture to invite all of us to light a candle and to hold it up witnessing our hope as one humanity.

I would like to preface the meditation with my familiarity with it. This will take us back to the history of how I got to know about the Candle Meditation and its significance in my life. I hope you will trace the steps of this journey with me.

No year passes that I do not remember my first encounter with Dr. Lukas in her office at the South German Institute of Logotherapy. I have seen her and interacted with her on several occasions before while I attended her lectures, presentations, and seminars, both in the United Sates and in Germany. This time, it was different. She has set the location of my final exam to take place in Furstenfeldbruck, Germany, where the South German Institute of Logotherapy with her leadership was operating since 1986. The year was 2000. It was a cold winter day in December. 

Christmas was near, and I was looking for a suitable present to bring her. Something that would express my appreciation and my admiration of her work that I was familiar with from her lectures and workshops and attempted to memorise word by word. But what can you buy as gift for a person who means so much to you? Dr. Lukas was a former student of Dr. Frankl, internationally recognised and accomplished. I was a budding psychologist. I had just recently finished my PhD degree and eager to work using the principles laid out in her books.

On my way, I bought a package of festive candles. The candles were neatly wrapped, and I added some ribbons and a card, wishing her and her husband Merry Christmas and happy New Year. It seemed surreal to think that after traveling from so far, soon I will meet her and have a chance to give her this humble token of appreciation.

What a surprise awaited me when, entering her office, I saw her sitting at a round table that had a candle lit on it! She explained to me that we will leave the candle burning until we talk. This will remind us that we do not only have the two of us present in the room, but our dialogue is meaning-oriented. Looking at the light made me feel much more at ease while Dr. Lukas graciously accepted my simple present and placed it on an adjacent desk. 

The oral exam consisted of one question. It was about the properties of the human spirit in Frankl’s theory. We talked about how the spirit is the essence of a person, how it can never become ill, and how it is a seat of our healthy resources. At the end, Dr. Lukas asked me to wait a few minutes while her husband filled out the certificate. In the meanwhile, she asked me which books I had in German that she had written. Anything that I did not have, she gave me a copy. When Mr. Lukas was ready, we went over to their apartment and she had a piece of cake and refreshments ready! I do not know if anyone ever in the history of psychotherapy had such a pleasant encounter with their mentor, I only know that I felt myself in heaven and left with a strong sense of mission to read her books and to help others learn about them, too.

Exactly, twenty years have passed since. When I was contacted about the project of translating Dr. Lukas’s Candle Meditation, the memories came flooding back. The “Candle Meditation” is a chapter in one of her books entitled “Alles fugt sich und erfullt sich” (Everything is linked and gets fulfilled). It was one of the few books that she gave me in Furstenfeldbruck. This book has travelled with me over countries and continents. I was thrilled to get to work at once….

I translated the chapter “Wachs wirm zu Leuchnen—Ene Kerzenmeditation” as “Wax will Glow—A Candle Meditation.” This title is symbolic of the transformation that occurs as soon as we light a candle, and the substance of its wax is transformed into light and warmth. Let us follow the steps carefully, with guidance by Dr. Lukas. I will summarize the main points below:

Most of us have a candle at home. Maybe it remained from another celebration. It was carefully saved somewhere for a special occasion or time of need. Whether on a joyous occasion, or on a sad occasion that we thought we may need this candle again, now we can use it on this occasion to reflect on life that spans between birth and a death and learn valuable lessons from a small demonstration that we will do together. 

Dr. Lukas invites us to observe our candle. It stands there new, and intact. Upon a closer look, we can see that it is made of two components, two substances, wax, and wick. The wick runs inside the wax and is almost invisible. Still the wick is essential for the candle being what it is, a candle. It belongs to the nature of the candle being what it is, a candle, and not just a piece of wax.

We could make a comparison between the nature of a human being and this understanding of the wick being all but covered by wax. Observing a human being, we see the body, the organism, “animated” by facial expressions, gestures, speech. The appearance of a person makes us infer the presence of the “soul” behind the “mask” of the body and mind. It is that part that is invisible, yet, the essence of a human being which was “breathed into the dust of the earth.” “The soul elevates the human person from the animal body of evolution and makes him or her a unique and singular wonder of creation” (Lukas, 1994:82).

Returning to our candle, we are now going to light it, and pay special attention to what happens to the wax. We observe that as soon as the flame reaches the wax, it becomes liquid and evaporates. We may experience a bit of sadness at the sight that the wax is melting in front of our eyes and there will be less and less of it as time goes by. Drop by drop, our candle will lose its height and its remaining “material” will be less and less.

Comparing this process with human life, we may observe that as soon as the “flame of the spirit” is lit, our vital functions are getting used and over time, they become less able to regenerate, more fragile and brittle. As the organism that ages, it loses its vitality, cell by cell.

Yet, we know from the laws of physics and chemistry that in the universe nothing gets “lost.” Material can change its shape or state, energy cam be found in different form. As we pay attention to the wax, we observe that it is changing into warmth and light. In other words, substance changes into function. Furthermore, there is a proportional relation between the length of burning and the amount of light and warmth given: the longer the candle was lit, the more light it gave. Similarly, the more substance it has lost, the more it has fulfilled its function. By giving more light, the candle has increasingly filled and full-filled its function. Thus, we realise that we need not “mourn” the loos of the wax that melted as it is proportional to the extent to which the candle “achieved” to fulfill its purpose. It has given light and warmth instead of remaining forever unlit and unused–a “dead” candle that “held back” all its wax. This candle, our candle that has been “awakened” by the flame –it glows.

Dr. Lukas always links her work with that of Professor Frankl. She remarks Dr. Frankl once wrote about human beings: “At the start, life is full substance that is unused; in the course of life, one keeps losing substance that has changed into function so that at the end a human life is brought forth into reality with all that one accomplished, what one experienced and what one suffered” (Frankl, 1982: 84).  To “bring forth” something means to actualise it in time. “Whatever exists in the history of time flows and merges in time where all time merges: eternal truth” (Lukas, 1994:84).

Dr. Lukas explains that before we lit the candle, the reality of the light of this candle did not yet enter time. It has not yet taken place, did not become visible. The substance of the candle was there but the function was not yet fulfilled. We could also say: the candle has not yet fulfilled its meaning. Or we could say, the candle has not yet entered time, it was not yet been “brought forth”. In the moment when we lit the wick, the function of our candle was set into motion.

The reality of our candle is that it can burn for seven to eight hours and after that, not much will be left of it.  However, even if the candle’s flame goes out, the fact that it was glowing can not be undone. What was brought forth and actualized has become eternal. Paradoxically, exactly when the candle has visibly disappeared, while there is still a trace of the burned wax or a trace of the wick, is when its meaning is once and was fulfilled once and for all.

Dr. Lukas again makes reference to Dr. Frankl’s work who reminded us that all that remains in human life after death is what we have “brought forth: what we accomplished, what we experienced, and what we suffered. He stated that whatever we accomplished and experienced or suffered during the course our lives enters truth where it is safely and securely stored against any distortion or destruction. “Only when our bodies have changed and become feeble does that what we caused and accomplished with its help become forever “young,” since the truth into which all time merges is itself timeless, without beginning and without end” (Lukas, 1994:86).

Next, Dr. Lukas instructs us to extinguish the light and let the wax of our candle cool down. We want to do a small experiment in which we have to break the candle. We want to philosophically think about these broken parts that represent human brokenness. We do not need to understand the philosophers in detail to relate to the fact that every human life has its challenges, its twists, failures, losses, unfulfilled meaning potentials. What was accomplished, experienced, suffered and brought into reality in the course of time is often not without pain. Coupled to this are the physical and psychological injuries to of the organism whose substance could still be changed into function. These injuries can be caused by ourselves or others. We are going to symbolise this brokenness by breaking off the top third of the candle. If this task is a bit difficult to do by hand, we can use a knife to help us as we merely want to make cut on the candle so that the wick is not severed. The candle should still stay in unity and wholeness just as injured and ill people still are.

As the candle lies in front of us on the table, Dr. Lukas invites us to lift it up by one end. We observe that the piece where we made cut is hanging down with some tiny crumbles of the wax around. The “wounded piece” hangs on the invisible wick that runs in the middle of the candle. The candle in its entire entity is not broken, only the wax: the wick is still intact. Thus, we observe that to call the candle “broken” is not really accurate. Well and unwell parts are mixed; wax is “unwell” only at a certain location where it shows a cut, and it does not hold together. It may be scratched or dirty in other parts as well, but these shrink in significance to where the brokenness can be observed.

Here lies a valuable lesson about injured and ill people: It would be wrong to call them “broken” people because in each person there is something that is in principle healthy and indestructible such as his or her spiritual origin and reason. The “Divine Breath,” as it is called in theology, is the basis of the unlimited dignity of the human person in Frankl’s anthropology. “Whatever is of spiritual nature is not born, it does not die, it does not stay healthy or become ill since it stems from an entirely different dimension” (Lukas, 1994:89).

We have likened the human spirit with that of the wick in the candle—inseparable from the organism through which the flame of life burns through earthly time into eternal reality.  We have also learned something else: “The spiritual person can be disturbed but not destroyed” (Frankl, 1990: 173)—it can be broken but not annihilated. Through this example we can see that people with severe physical or mental challenges, “…people with severe handicaps or limitations can still fulfill meaning in the world through the exemplary way in which they carry their heavy burden” (Lukas, 1994:89). 

With a bit of effort, it is possible to prop up our “wounded” candle and light it again. We may have to hold it so it stays up right, just for a while, with help, with care, with attention, and light it again to observe that even this candle, whose substance was damaged, can still fulfill its function and its reason. The same applies for a wounded person.

Yet, Dr. Lukas explains that mystery of meaning fulfillment goes even deeper. It will reveal itself if we are patient and keep waiting a bit longer. “The fulfillment of meaning is the absolute antidote of brokenness, which in the context of our meditation means: not only will the wax glow but the glow will redeem the broken parts. In other words: a life that glows, glows through its breaking points…” (Lukas, 1994:90).

As we remain relaxed and concentrate on our candle, we observe that it is growing ever smaller and smaller and the tiny droplets of wax flow over the point of the damage as if to smoothly cover and glue it together again. As the flame keeps glowing and nearing this breaking point, the edges will soften and soon the fracture melts into light and fulfills a function, despite everything. Observing this mystery opens a new perspective. Does the sight of this once broken candle that has overcome its brokenness not warm our hearts even more than the sight of the intact candle? Perhaps now it is easier for us to see that a person who with some help manages to “straighten up” and “radiate” something positive into the world can heal him or herself. We may choose to remain with our candle for a few more minutes and ponder this thought.

Reaching the end of our meditation, Dr. Lukas proposes that we can reflect on the process: We lit our candle, extinguished it, burned it, and observed how its light can be “restored.”  We have seen that the longer it fulfilled its meaning, the smaller it became, and this shrinking held intrinsic value.

At this point, we will add a few final considerations: Friends and relatives, who were not in our house, have not seen any of what happened. They know nothing about the light of our candle. If they come to visit one day, there will be nothing left from our candle, nothing left from the light that they can experience. Will this alter the fact that our candle gave light? –The answer empathetically is: “Certainly, not!”

We know about the light shine of our candle. What would happen if we decided to turn our backs to the candle, left for the other room and closed our eyes? Would the lack of perception of the light or our lack of attention to it make it not real? -Again, the answer is: “Certainly not!”  

Thus, we may conclude that “…the truth is truth and remains the truth even if not perceived” (Lukas, 1994:93). The truth is not dependent on our perception. The truth is not dependent on awareness or knowledge. The role of the candle does not in the least depend on the fact if anyone can see it, perceive it, or appreciate it. The most important fact is that the candle is in fact glowing and the light and warmth are true. Since this truth entered reality, it is eternally true, regardless if someone knows about its truth or not. In a dimension greater than our limited human perception, or different than our finite knowledge, everything dwells safely in the truth.

Before we blow out the light, Dr. Lukas instructs us to briefly recall the all the bright and meaningful events that we have accomplished in our lives and hold on to the thought that it does not make any difference if anyone else knows about these events, recognises them, or grateful to us for them. And when no one can see it: “Light remains light and meaning remains meaning” (Lukas, 1994:93). Or, in Frankl’s words: “The act of looking at something does not create that thing; neither does the act of looking away annihilate it” (Frankl, 2019: 110).  –Could it be that, even if the whole world ignores our good deeds, they can not be destroyed?

These words may summarize our conclusions: “In the past, nothing is irretrievably lost, but rather, on the contrary, everything is irrevocably stored” and treasured. To be sure, people tend to see only the “stubble fields of transitoriness” but overlook and forget the “full granaries of the past into which they have brought the harvest of their lives:” the deeds done, the loves loved, and last, but not least, the suffering they have gone though with courage and dignity. “Nothing can be undone, and nothing can be done away with. I should say having been is the surest kind of being (Frankl, 2014: 113).

As the person who had the honor of presenting this text entirely in gratitude and crediting Dr. Lukas and Dr. Frankl, I would like to add the affirmation of a personal belief that every life is a gift and an opportunity for something. Every life offers the possibility of bringing into reality truth, beauty and goodness that merges into eternity.

May the Light of this World, illuminate our paths as “Light from Light” bears light, and quenches the thirst for meaning.

To use our resources to soar above the ground,

To seemingly defy gravity,

To fly, sometimes, despite the odds,

To accomplish what we were meant to do,

To leave a gentle presence over the peaks,

And to land where our home awaits,

While we glow and share the light that is entrusted to us.

My husband, Prof. Dr. Edward Marshall, joins me in wishing you a joyful New Year!

Maria Marshall, PhD, RP

Ottawa Institute of Logotherapy

Ottawa, Canada

December 31, 2020

References:

Frankl, V. E. (1990). Der Leidende Mensch. Munchen: Piper Verlag.

Frankl, V. E. (2014). Man’s Search for Meaning. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Frankl, V. E. (2019). The Doctor and the Soul. New York: Vintage Books.

Lukas, E. (1994). Alles fugt Sich und Erfullt Sich: Die Sinnfrage im Alter. Stuttgart: Quell Verlag.