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

man standing on a rock

The Art of Living

Walking Tour of a Living Exhibition

Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dr. Viktor Frankl, the Viktor Frankl Museum in Vienna first opened its doors to the public on the 19th of March 1995. Its was an initiative of the Viktor Frankl Center in Vienna, aiming to preserve the life and legacy of Viktor Frankl, MD, PhD, who lived and worked at this location from 1945 until his death in 1997. The Art of Living program of the Austrian Radio Station [ORF] aired on January 10, 2021, with Brigitte Krautgartner, explored the themes that come alive as we enter the doors of this unique exhibition, offering a view into the timeless wisdom and timely message of logotherapy. The interviewer accompanies Ms. Elisabeth Gruber, Director of the Viktor Frankl Museum Vienna, who shows us around the exhibition hall and leads us through some of its interactive features (Viktor Frank Museum Vienna, 2021).

The following are reflective notes that summarize the interview:

  1. From Life and Work to a Museum / From Museum to a Living Exhibition:

Ms. Krautgardner opened this interview by reminding her listeners that an awareness of meaning in life is most helpful in difficult times since it helps to overcome external difficulties and inner challenges. We can learn a lot from Viktor E. Frankl, the founder of Logotherapy and Existential Analysis, who was of Jewish origin, and “…one of the greatest teachers when it comes to affirming life.”

We know from Frankl’s biography (Frankl, 2000) that during the second world war, he survived several concentration camps. Due to tragic circumstances, he lost his young wife, their unborn child, his mother, father, and brother. From 1945 to 1997 the year of his death, the world-renowned psychiatrist lived in his apartment in Mariannengasse 1, in the IX district of Vienna. His second wife who is now 95 years old still lives there. Part of the apartment has been transformed into a museum.

Because of the coronavirus, the museum was closed for some time, and currently it operates with limited opening hours. Mrs. Gruber unlocks the door stating: “When we first came through these doors and decided to set up the museum, we asked ourselves: ‘Viktor Frankl is world renown; If we do not do it, who will? If we do not do it, when will it be done?’ –so, we did it.” This is how the museum came into being.  

Mrs. Krautgardner remarks that the words of Rabbi Hillel: “If I do not do it, who will do it? If I do not do it, when shall I do it? And If I do it only for myself, who am I?” –are words Viktor Frankl often quoted. The quote offers a fitting appeal to explore our area of freedom with our possibilities and opportunities. Which one of these, as of yet unfulfilled potentials, depend upon our courage and determination to be fulfilled?

  • Scaling the Mountain Cliff: 

In the entrance, we are greeted by a large photo of Dr. Frankl scaling a mountain cliff. Ms. Gruber stops to explain the significance of this photo: “This is a very fascinating image because Frankl suffered from fear of heights, but he did not want to let this deter him. So, he said to himself, who is stronger ‘I or me,’ ‘Is it my anxiety or is it me as a person?’ ‘And he said to himself, I will go climbing with my anxiety and despite my anxiety!’” Frankl took the advice that he often gave to his patients: “Do not take every nonsense from yourself” and he prescribed the same medication for himself as he would prescribe to his patients: “Take a bull by its horns” and as you do so, the anxiety will loosen its grip. We are stronger than our emotions and physical reactions. We can do things that we never thought we would dare to do if we see a strong meaning that beckons us. Frankl wanted to live what he preached. As early as in 1928 and 1929 when he first took up maintain climbing (Viktor Frankl Institute Vienna, 2021), we see that he was ready to challenge himself and to “take his own medicine.”

  • A Thread Running through the History of our Lives:   

The Director of the museum leads us through the museum past historical boards showing how Frankl was first influenced by Freud and then Adler, and he founded the “Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy.” She stops at this point, reflecting on the metaphor of a “thread.” She explains that a thread that runs through our lives connecting us with it. At each step, we can grow beyond ourselves as this rope holds us up. “…And this means that we have a connection with the ultimate Thou—who is concerned about us and watches over us and extends a hand to us so that we can master life’s challenges”—this is the reason why we are invited to say ‘yes’ to life.

Ms. Krautgardner reminds us that in his book, “Say Yes to Life, a Psychologist Experiences the Concentration Camps” [which was translated as “Man’s Search for Meaning” in English and first published in 1959; Viktor Frankl Institute Vienna, 2021], Viktor Frankl detailed his experiences “…not to elicit sympathy or to complain but to help others gain strength.” This book moved millions of people around the world. Its main thesis, which Viktor Frankl never tired repeating, is that meaning is available in every life situation.

  • Every Situation is Unique and Every Moment in Precious:

Continuing the tour, we hear an excerpt from one of Frankl’s presentations [quoting Nietzsche]: “Who has a why in life can bear with nearly any how.” And another excerpt that explains this statement: “This is to say that whoever has a goal and a task, whoever can perceive that there is a mission that only he or she can fulfill, who, in other words, sees meaning in life, is capable of enduring suffering…for the sake of this meaning…for the sake of a loved one.” Mrs. Gruber pauses to emphasize that his is one of the main points. And the other is to emphasise how precious each moment is. When we come face to face with death, we become aware of the limitations of life, and our vulnerabilities. That is why we can say “…death is the engine of life.” When we can see that every moment is unique, unrepeatable, and irreplaceable and no moment comes again in life—this is what death brings into awareness—that each moment is precious. As Frankl stated, “…Faced with life’s transitoriness, it is meaningful to act.” If there were no such limitations, each action and decision could be procrastinated indefinitely.   

These words remind bring us back to the present. Certainly, these times of the coronavirus pandemic remind us of the unique and unrepeatable moments we live in. On several occasions, it was remarked that this present crisis confronted us with our own vulnerabilities and finiteness.

  • “Seeing Through” Means Appreciating the Healthy Core of the Person:

Next, we arrive to a glass case housing the glasses of the psychiatrist. Mrs. Gruber explains that “…the glasses for him were the symbol of seeing through.” To see through in a situation would mean that we are aware that the anxiety and stress affects us physically, psychologically, and emotionally. However, what we do not want to miss and what we really want to keep in front of our eyes is that “…wee have a healthy core that is the indestructible part of our being—of every human being.”

This unconditional belief in the meaningfulness of life is what Viktor Frankl wants to call our attention to, explains Mrs. Gruber, as she points to several questions illustrated on boards. “What is the point of life?” “What is worth living for?” “Will death destroy all what we achieved?” –These are philosophical questions that philosophers have grappled with for centuries. Through the lenses of a three-dimensional view of the human person, we can see people not only as they are but as they can be. We can appreciate that the core of the person is the spirit, a healthy core, that is inherently dynamic and oriented toward meaning.

  • Inherent to human existence is a Will to Meaning:

Above, through the speaker we hear Dr. Frankl repeat the phrase which he repeated innumerable times during his lifetime: “Fundamental to a human being is his or her will to meaning.” Thus, the question of meaning is timeless. For, it is an age-old question that was with humanity since its creation. According to Dr. Frankl, “In the last analysis, a human being can not exist without meaning.” And when he is ill, or close to death, is when the question of meaning is most likely to surface in his or her depth…that is when he is confronted with the question of meaning, for “…people do not question meaning when everything is going well, but when they suffer.” That is the point when they need something desperately to hold on to. “A man who suffers and sinks into hopelessness and despair unless he can decisively hold on to meaning.”

  • Reaching to the Infinite:

Mrs. Gruber explains that, after 1945, Frankl had not much left in terms of material possessions. Great was the weight of the death of his loved ones. He still held on to the belief that life holds meaning and that is in a unique position to fulfill this meaning. In his Jewish family home, he experienced protection and unconditional trust.  Yet, he wanted to reach beyond his Jewish roots to a point that connects us all as human beings and ties us all into one human family. He pointed to something that transcends all denominations and addresses the heights to which we can aspire. “Whenever someone spoke of God, he related it to a notion of ‘God as the most intimate partner of our soliloquies.’” This means that “…whenever we are talking to ourselves in honesty and in solitude, we can say that we are talking with God.”

“His advice is indeed rewarding in our times,” remarked Ms. Krautgradner, who chose to end this program with melodies of trust and safety from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Missa Brevis in C-Dur, K. 220.

Indeed, the Viktor Frankl Museum Vienna is a living exhibition that invites its visitors to participate in life fully and take up courage to scale every mountain that may lie ahead.

References:

Frankl, V. E. (2000). Recollections. Cambridge, MA: Perseus.

Krautgardner, B. (2020). Viktor Frankl neu gelesen. [Re-reading Viktor Frankl]. Broadcasted 10 January 2021. Retrieved on January 11, 2021 from: https://radiothek.orf.at/oe1/20210110/624571/1610261069190

Viktor Frankl Institute Vienna. Website. Biography. [Retrieved on January 11, 2021 from: https://www.viktorfrankl.org/biography.html

Viktor Frankl Museum Vienna. [Retrieved on January 11, 2021 from: https://www.franklzentrum.org/english/viktor-frankl-museum-vienna.html

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.

Carried by the Spirit

“Carried by the Spirit: Our Hearts Sing”

Discerning Meaning during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Edited by Maria Marshall and Edward Marshall

Published through the Ottawa Institute of Logotherapy

New book available on Amazon

September 2, 2020 Paperback; September 3, 2020 Kindle

Contributors from around the world recorded their experiential observations and reflections on how the principles of Viktor E. Frankl’s Logotherapy and Existential Analysis (LTEA), a meaning-centered psychotherapy, can activate the resources of the human spirit to increase resilience and alleviate existential suffering while facing the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The writing process blossomed into an expression of selfless giving and self transcendence. Words of wisdom, courage and solace emerged in response to suffering. Healing words sprang forth in response to the wounds of humanity. A circle of care from person to person overarched our world to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic with care and compassion.

The book includes an original article from 1935, authored by Dr. Viktor E. Frankl (1905-1997), which is published for the first time in the English translation with permission from the Viktor Frankl Archives in Vienna. This edifying instance offers a unique insight into Dr. Frankl’s work. His humanity and closeness to his patients offers a legacy that enriches our understanding of what it means to be a loving human being.

The editors gratefully acknowledge the support of Prof. Dr. Franz Vesely and Dr. Gabrielle Vesely-Frankl at the Viktor Frankl Archives and the Viktor Frankl Estate, Vienna, who granted permission to include an original article written by Prof. Dr. Viktor Emil Frankl in 1935. We are thankful for their acquaintance and friendship.

We wish to thank all our colleagues for the gift of their presence and caring. Especially our contributors: Dr. Teria Shantall, Rabbi Dr. Reuven P. Bulka, C. M., Dr. Tamas Ungar, Valquiria Gonҫalves de Oliveira and Dr. Eugenio Ferri, Dr. Meba Alphonse Kanda, Prof. Dr. Rachel B. Asagba, Matti Ameli, Mar Ortiz, Prof. Dr. Daniele Bruzzone, Dr. José Martínez-Romero Gandos, Prof. Rev. Andrzej Jastrzebski, Prof. Rev. Wladimir Porreca, Dr. Adriana Sosa Terradas, Dr. Robert Hutzell and Vicki Hutzell, Sharon Jones, Dr. Cynthia Wimberly, Dr. Willem Maas, Prof. Dr. Svetlana Shtukareva, Panayiota Ryall, Erika Dunkelberg, Rev. Zoltán Nyúl, David E. White, Sladjana Milošević, Mónica Montes de Solares, Elena Osipova, Sabine Indinger, Blanca Ramirez Gonzales, Prof. Dr. Vladimira Velički, and Miro Raguž.

This book was written in solidarity with those who suffer from the global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

All proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to a United Nations fund aiding refugees and displaced persons.

Meaning is a need or meaning as a need?

Meaning is not a “need” in the sense of basic needs that are ends to themselves and their aim is rest and homeostasis upon fulfillment until the next need arises-as is the process in the dimensions of the body and mind (i.e. Frankl, Existential Dynamics in the Will to Meaning). In the dimension of spirit, existential dynamics is fundamentally reaching beyond oneself toward meaning. There is a tension between being and meaning. Between what is and what could be, should be, ought to be. That is why Dr. Frankl spoke of a “will to meaning” instead of a “need” to meaning.

In relationships, one can have different ways of relating: physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual. The depth and height of this bond can evolve, mature and “grow” to mutual transcendence toward meaning–love as a spiritual act, free and responsible dedication and commitment. In such relationship a physical-emotional bond reflects and corresponds to the the highest form of valuing and spiritual communion (i.e. Frankl on the Meaning of Love in the Doctor and the Soul).

Do we “need” meaning? Do we need meaning in relationships?

Let Dr. Frankl answer:

“But let us come back to the issue of meaning: I hope I could show you that man’s basic concern is neither the will to power, nor a will to pleasure, but a will to meaning, his search for meaning-precisely that which is so much being frustrated today! But man needs not only meaning but also something else: he needs the example and model of people who have fulfilled the meaning of their lives, or at least are on the way to do so. And this is precisely the moment at which the issue of the family comes in. For I regard the family as a lifelong opportunity to watch and witness what it means to fulfill meaning in life by living for others, nay, by living for each other: the family, indeed, is an arena where mutual self-transcendence is enacted!” (Frankl, 2010, The Feeling of Meaninglessness. Milwaukee, WI: Marquette Press p. 205).

In our spirit, we can take a stand toward what our physical, social or psychological circumstances may be. Our social connections can be a source of meaning. Our connections to other people can encompass different dimensions.Spiritual connectivity can transcend the dimension of human.

How much we long for meaningful relationships in our human family today….

“Maslow’s distinction between higher and lower needs does not take into account that when lower needs are not satisfied, a higher need, such as the will to meaning, may become most urgent” (Frankl, The Unheard Cry for Meaning, 1978; p. 33).

Culture and Personality

There is a role for education to help individuals develop their personality throughout life. Beyond the influences from the somatic and psychological dimensions, the person has the capacity to reflect and decide how to respond to life. The freedom of will of the human spirit also influences culture, since culture is amenable to develop over time. Personality relates to the individual whereas culture relates to the community. Within the community individuals exercise their freedom with responsibility. Their lives and response to life have consequences on other members of the community.

There has been an emphasis on the discoveries of determining factors in society. To have a complete picture of what humans are capable these factors need to be complemented with acknowledging the human capacity to decide a meaningful response to the environment. To bring awareness of the human capacity to freely respond to reality in spite of conditioning factors according to reasonable judgment is one of the roles of education and psychotherapy.

For example, we may reach conclusions through statistical research about the influence of the economy on mental health and how an economic crisis situation can precipitate a mental health deterioration on predisposed individuals. The person can feel excluded from the community or develop low self-esteem because it becomes impossible to keep up with expectations of society. On the other hand each individual can develop the capacity not to be completely determined by such external factors. This is the time to look outwards to what can be done to improve the situation which may benefit the community as a whole.

The person needs to take the initiative beyond expectations in their particular circumstances to the benefit of the community even though the community is not expecting much from the person. Leaders in position of power have it easier to exercise this capacity of outreaching to the community since this is what is expected from them, but individuals suffering from lack of employment, failure, marginalization, the effects of immigration, minorities, chronically ill, disabled, etc., are not expected to contribute much to the community, and their input is perceived at times bothersome and unwelcome. These are the individuals who require to mobilize the resources of the human spirit the most in order to reaffirm their dignity, uniqueness and humanity. In essence, to become leaders, or agents of change in their own right.

The first step to strengthen the capacities of the human spirit is an invisible change that happens inside the person to perceive the world not as a threat but as a place to explore and improve. From the time the person starts to think about how to reach out to others rather than focusing only on personal problems there starts to be a benefit for the community. This internal spiritual change, may translate into action, to alleviate the suffering of those around the person.

According to personality theories, there are certain types of personality which may have it easier to develop this outward way of thinking. This doesn’t mean that this change is not possible or available to any individual.

Breaking the barrier from changes in interior life to visible action can also have its difficulties, since there would be a reaction from other members of the community, not necessarily encouraging or welcoming. There may be reluctance that the change comes from the so called marginalized, since the majority of the community have excluded those individuals in the first place. It is then when the individual needs to put to the test the defiant power of the human spirit fighting for what is right. This is a psychological fight rather that a physical one. The individual needs to adapt and be flexible to aim at what is possible within their means to promote peace, compassion, and love, to those afflicted by suffering. Encouraging peer support, community building, friendship and love are possible targets in most situations.

Personal and community development are about learning how to respond to life situations meaningfully. Personality and culture are developing in the right direction when there is a process put in place involving the search for meaning. Most of the times to find the right answer to the world problems requires a search for the best option, since it is very difficult to get it right at the first attempt, with subsequent initiatives required, to respond adequately to the same or unprecedented problems.