photo of pathway surrounded by fir trees

The Road Less Traveled: Reflection on the Dictum that One Becomes the Value that one Actualizes; One Becomes the Cause that one Makes One’s Own

Maria Marshall, PhD, RP

“Two roads diverged in the wood, and I-I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference”

(Robert Frost)

In “The Will to Meaning,” we find a paragraph where Frankl reports that he has been asked by some of his students about conscience. Specifically, about how Hitler ended up the way he was? He replied that “Hitler would have never become what he did unless he had supressed within himself the voice o conscience.” (Frankl, 2014b:46). He went on to say that “…only an erroneous conscience will demand a person to commit suicide, homicide, or genocide” (Frankl, 2014b:46).

Frankl understood human beings as entities who want to shape their lives in a meaningful way(Lukas, 2000). He made it clear that “Logotherapy is a life-affirming stance” (Frankl, 2014b:46). In the same paragraph, he explained that “…No logotherapist can pretend they know the value and know what makes sense and what does not” (Frankl, 2014: 46). No therapist can impose their values on others. But what they can do is to refer people back to their own conscience to show what is of value and what is meaningful or not.

There is a description of what conscience is in Elisabeth Lukas and Heidi Schőnfeld’s (2019) book entitled “Meaning-centered Psychotherapy.” Conscience has been denoted as the meaning organ, a resource of the human spirit, a specifically human phenomenon, whose function is to intuit, and discern what is meaningful. Meaning is present in a value that stands in relation to a person. In Frankl’s definition, meaning is objective and not subjective (Frankl, 1994). It is subjective only to the extent that it is person, and situation specific. It is an objective reality through which a human being is called every moment and in every instance.

We can be either consciously or unconsciously in search for meaning. The actualization of the value that we intuit is the most meaningful in a particular situation, brings it into the reality, makes it appear in a concrete and visible form this value that we “make our own.” This is the case with creative values, when we put into the word something that was not there before. We literally, co-create. It is evidenced in the case of experiential values, were we take something from the world in relationships with nature, or persons.  Attitudinal values represent our inner stand through the defiant power of the human spirit. Meaning is thus actualized in the context of a relationship between a person and a value, in that a person reaches out to a value that he or she intuits, recognizes, and acknowledges as the meaning of the moment.

Conscience has intuitive, aesthetic, and creative capacities. Intuitive refers to the capacity to anticipate outcomes and points to what really matters, a “vision,” of what ought to be. Aesthetics refers to what seems in harmony and flow freely, what “should be.” Creative refers to possibilities, what “could be.” The three aspects of conscience encompass the realms of Intuition (Ethical Conscience); Inspiration (Aesthetic Conscience) and Justice (Moral conscience).  These aspects correspond to the aspects of meaning as Truth, Beauty, and Goodness (Marshall & Marshall, 2022). Not every possibility that we can think of or can think of is equally meaningful. In general, what is meaningful to us in a particular moment is what is tailored to our context, our abilities, possibilities, and responsibilities (Batthyány, 2021).

Furthermore, the values that we choose to actualize need to conform to the aspects of meaning: they need to be true, good, and beautiful. At least, we need to aim for the actualization of the best possible alternative in a situation. The best is what reduces the suffering in the world as much as possible, and at least, does not harm the other and does not harm the person. The value that we actualize needs to conform to the “Laws of the Universe” and to the laws of universal values, to be meaningful. Universal values consider the dignity and uniqueness of each person, the value of each life, the dignity of the person. The meaning of the moment must be in harmony with “Ultimate Meaning” (Frankl, 2000). There needs to be a connection and a relationship between the here and now and the eternal, and when this connection is lost, alienation is inevitable (Marshall & Marshall, 2022).

When conscience is ignored, supressed, or repressed, when its voice is not brought to consciousness, or pushed back to the unconscious, one’s actions will not be meaningful. Most likely, they will not be in line with universal values and thus, not in line with harmony in the universe, not in line, in deep spiritual terms, with the “Will of God.”

This can happen when conscience is not formed to conform to the laws of the universe, when the spiritual muscles atrophy, and when a person chooses to turn away from the call to bring out the best that they can, are able to, and are called to, in the world.

The consequence of this alienation is objectification. The person will see their objectives in treating others as means to ends. They can even consider them as replaceable, their value depending on their utility for one’s own self-imposed goals.  However, at the root of their actions will be a motivation by primitive instincts and fear, science Basic Trust, a belief in life’s ultimate meaningfulness and value, is compromised.

As the will to meaning remains unheard and frustrated, one may reach to power to enforce one’s ways. Violence, aggression, the blatant disregard for human rights and freedoms, mass murder, can happen when the other is alienated to the point of being objectified, and denigrated to the level of the less than human as one projects one’s own faulty image of the person onto others to justify one’s erroneous and mistaken actions.

When reflection to hear the voice of conscience to discern value is not heard, the loud screams of violence take over. Worse yet, a calculated and cold mastermind can spread suffering and destruction in the world, foreshadowing his or her own demise.

Frankl distinguished between subjective meanings, based on feelings, and objective meaning, that are actualized in the world (Frankl, 1968). He referred to rat experiments that were conducted in California, whereby brain regions of rats were stimulated with LSD, giving them the sensation of instant satisfaction, orgasm, and elation. The rats habituated to the drug very quickly and pressed the lever with increasing frequency, to the point that they cared only for the feeling and rejected actual sexual partners and real food. Frankl explained, that when one resorts to subjective meaning, one by-passes real meaning possibilities in the store because they seek for meaning within themselves, and neglect objective meaning that is waiting as potential to be fulfilled in the world.  Once we have actualized the potentiality, we rescued it into the past, where no one can take it away. But the other way it is true: what we did not actualize is lost forever. Within this realm lies our responsibility. No one can always actualize every meaning possibility, but that is part of human reality, of fallibility and vulnerability and does not hinder the actualization of objective meaning, exactly in the face of transitoriness, fallibility, and vulnerability. We have to aim not to pass by transitory potentialities, for once we actualize them, we have rescued them forever (Frankl, 1968).

Only what is meaningful will remain in the world. Only what was courageously suffered, the guilt that was overcome, the consolation that was given, the unavoidable suffering courageously faced, the goodness shared. What is meaningless will remain meaningless and return to meaninglessness, into nothingness, into non-existence.

The basis of existence is self-transcendence (Frankl, 2014a, 2014, 2019). Human beings reach to a value, reach toward a cause to make their own and a person to love, or a difficult situation to handle. Through actualizing creative, experiential or attitudinal values is that they actualize meaning. One of the characteristics of human beings is the ability to make decisions and to be able to reflect on their values and the consequences of their actions. Thus, human beings are free, within their potential freedom as a finite, vulnerable and fallible human being, to “create themselves:” to shape themselves, mold themselves, to re-form themselves. They can make the choice to break an unhealthy habit and to shift from habitual or dysfunctional ways into a new direction. When one embraces meaning, one may travel the path “less travelled.” In other words, it may not be the most convenient, obvious, or easy path. However, one takes this road considering its promise: to conforms to the person in the image and likeness of that which was intended form the beginning—a self-transcendent and meaningful life that shows response-ability, responsiveness, and responsibility toward the self, toward others, toward the environment, toward the world, and the Transcendent.

What one has become, one has become through one’s choices. When one actualizes a wrong possibility, they become that what they chose. A person ordering the murder and killing of others becomes a murderer. A person who steals things from others becomes a thief. A person that does teel the truth becomes a liar, and so on. But they are still a person with the possibility to let meaning imbue their being and per-sonat, sound through their being in the world (Lukas & Schőnfeld, 2021).

The person is conditioned, but not determined. The person retains his or her value. To the last breath, one can bring meaning into the world a flood one’s life with meaning. But for that to happen, one needs to alter course, change heart. Have an honest conversation with oneself in the light of what the rules of the universe demand, what universal human values point to, what one is asked to do. One does not, one can not and one should not invent meaning and create it, because ultimately that is not the truth. It is a self-deception to think that one is leading a meaningful life if one created and fabricated meaning oneself without consulting one’s conscience and acknowledged the truth.

Meaning can not be invented, created, or fabricated. That is where the mistake lies. Conscience is creative because it can help us actualize a value that was intended in the circumstances in ways that it is possible for us to accomplish with our resources that are given and available.

The voice of conscience can be awakened by being present and being with. It cannot be done in isolation, talking to ourselves. It is not just a monologue to oneself, it needs to be in a dialogue with what is meant in an honest encounter in the light of truth, beauty, and goodness.

Quite frankly, “Life is not something, it is the opportunity for something,” Frankl affirmed (Frankl, 2019:50 quoting Hebbel, a German poet 1813-1863).

In a lighthearted way, he remarked, “…I am quite convinced that God knows when someone has made a confusion of Him with oneself…” (Frankl, 1994:284).

References:

Batthyány, A. (2021). La superación de la indiferencia. Overcoming Indifference. Herder & Herder.

Frankl, V. E. (1994). Logotherapie und Existenzanayse. Texte aus sechs Jahrzehnten. München : Quintessenz.

Frankl, V. E. (1968). Subjective and objective meaning. Viktor Frankl Institute Vienna: Videoclip Archives.

Frankl, V. E. (2000). Man’s search for Ultimate Meaning. New York, NY: Perseus.

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

Frankl, V. E. (2014b). The will to meaning. Foundations and Applications of Logotherapy. New York, NY: Penguin/Random House.

Frankl, V. E. (2019). Yes to life in spite of everything. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Frost, R. (1993). The road not taken and other poems. Dover Publications.

Lukas, E. (2000). Logotherapy textbook. Toronto: Liberty Press.

Lukas, E. & Schőnfeld, H. (2021). Meaning-centered Psychotherapy.  Bamberg: Elisabeth Lukas Archives.

Marshall, M. & Marshall, E. (2022). Viktor E. Frankl’s Logotherapy and Existential Analysis: Theory and Practice. Ottawa: Ottawa Institute of Logotherapy. Peck, S. M. (2002). The road less traveled. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

gray soil pathway between grass

How can we support refugees and displaced persons?

The current crisis in Ukraine is described as one of the greatest and fastest evolving humanitarian crises since the Second World War in Europe. It currently counts 1 million displaced persons who left Ukraine in matter of a few days. Most of these people are mothers and children. How can one help refugees?

The obvious answer is to make their path safe and provide for their immediate needs such as shelter, water, food, clothing, and sanitation. There are several aid agencies operating close to the borders. Financial aid to these agencies, through the Red Cross or the UN World Food Program, and others ensures that more people can receive the essentials they require in a timely manner. In addition to organizations, individual citizens have offered to help with their means. We have seen images of people in Poland and Hungary welcoming refugees at the border crossings and providing transportation and temporary accommodation. The European Union opened its door to refugees. Canada pledged to welcome any number of people fleeing from the war in Ukraine.

As the war drags on and the days are passing, more and more people are expected to cross the border and those receiving them have to be prepared to tend those who have been exposed to combat, wounded, and traumatized. Professionals with training in this field can access several guidelines for disaster mental health and many are accessible to anyone through the newly created depository of articles “For Each Other” at www.foreachother.at.

Here, I would like to mention a few considerations from personal experience that may be helpful for understanding the experience of being a “displaced person,” myself having had this experience thirty years ago. From now, on, I will refer to the fact of having to flee from a war situation or a conflict situation leaving behind one’s residence and seeking refuge elsewhere, usually in another country as a person who has been displaced and seeking refuge.

What do we need to keep in mind about a person who has been displaced? I will describe a few general considerations:

• Decisions had to be made at the spur of the moment or in very short time to leave

• The first consideration was to get children, the elderly and vulnerable individuals to a place of physical safety

• Minimal essential personal belongings were possible to carry from home

• The path was not exactly planned out and the details to the destination often unknown

• One counts on help from others and good luck to make it there

• The warmth of home is still in every piece of clothing, every piece of food or drop of water that one has

• One knows that going back is not an option, therefore the only way to advance is to look forward

* Many others join the same path. Crowds form and one is pressed. One hears the cries and laments of others. Sheds warm tears.

• Keep what is most essential in focus: a child. Every effort is worth saving this life.

• One discovers strength that one has not had before. Determination and courage flow to the person, as well as there is a flow of adrenaline. Heart palpitations, intense emotions are common.

• The future calls and one listens to one’s conscience. It nudges to not to give up. Keep going.

• One finds oneself in unfamiliar surroundings, surrounded by strangers. One implores that they are friendly.

• Even though one is in a new place, one has the feeling, one is still the same person.

• Nature is grounding. So is the pumping of the heart, the warmth, and the breath of a child.

• Memories are compressed, time seems altered.

• One’s heart clings to loved ones. In spirit, one is with them for brief moments at a time.

• Heartache. Warm tears running down the cheeks.

• Language that one des not speak. Words want to come but they do not surface. They are swallowed up by tears.

• Communication is any ways one can.

• One is still the same person. And one searches for the eyes of the other, notices their gestures, even tiniest forms of expression. One reads eyes, hands, and lips. Body language.

• One looks down. The pain in the eyes is hidden.

• One needs to ask. One needs to beg. One needs to explain.

• One needs to remain hopeful. Everything seems to be possible, yet the nothing can be taken for granted.

• Caution.

• Goodness has no boundaries.

• There are those willing to aid. There is a smile. A gentle encouragement. There is warm food. Water. A place to rest.

• A quick prayer is said.

• Thanking from the bottom of the heart. Gratitude and joy. Inside is restlessness and hesitancy. Outside it is words of thanks.

• The cell phone. The connections. The rest of the family. How can one reach them? Are they alive? Worries. Sleepless nights. Nightmares.

• A kiss for the child. It was all worth it. Find a soft toy. Give a hug. Caress the face.

• Tomorrow will be better. Life can be hard. Very hard. But it can make one stronger for the challenges ahead.

• For this young life. It is worth it. For a better life, its worth it.

* Keep going. Keep being you. Always keep going. Never give up.

I was told that once I am an immigrant, I will always be an immigrant. I did not understand these words at the time. Later, I learned that immigrants and refugees pass through several stages and phases in a process of “assimilation and accommodation,” as it was called in those days, and “adaptation” to their new host country. They pass from the ‘honeymoon stage” full of enthusiasm and hope to “disillusionment” and experiencing obstacles and hindrances. They may succumb to depression and despair as difficulties and challenges mount, and they do not have the means to effect change, to feel in control of their lives. They may then pass to a stage of gaining skills and abilities and eventually, come to be “well functioning” members of their society, considering themselves to be “experts” in both their original culture and their new environment.

I would like to complement this picture by adding what keeps displaced persons strong and resilient to withstand despair.

• Each time one sees a displaced person, one sees not a victim, but a survivor.

• A person of hope, who had strength to listen to their conscience and follow its dictates.

• A person who is not equal to hat they have, which may be very little. A person who is.

• A person with an indestructible spirit.

• A person capable of sacrifice.

• A person with emotions and feelings but not equal to emotions and feelings.

• A person with thoughts and convictions

• A person with a sense of values and justice

• A loving person whose heart reaches out to those left behind

• A caring person who found themselves in situations that many of their fellow men/women in the world may have never experienced and hopefully may never have to experience

• A professional, a mother, a father, a sister, a child, who is someone loved and awaited

• A person who seems to be alone but is never alone

• A person who may look forsaken but represents the wounds of humanity

• A person who may look deficient in expression, speech, language, writing, spelling and many other things, but has a heart in flames for the just cause

• A person who may be easy to reject, look down upon, distance oneself from, in order to escape from facing one’s own fears, but ignoring the most important: what is right and good and noble about being a displaced person

• A person with dignity that is often tested

• A person with dignity that is unconditional

* A person with hopes, skills, ideas, ideals and dreams

• A person who represents the hope of the world for peace.

Therefore, in treating a displaced person, the main thing is to do it with humility and sincerity, with humanness, simplicity, and honesty. The touch of humanity, such as a smile, a gentle touch or encouraging word can make the sunshine appear behind the clouds. Tears of pain can turn to tears of healing a hope. Yes, displaced persons will have deep emotions and many emotions. They will express a range of them if allowed. One does not need to be afraid of these emotions. They are not intended toward the helper, although at times they may seem like it. They are intended towards the wrongs, the injustices and the incorrectness that displaced persons are keenly aware of. Sometimes these emotions will subside over time, although they may be easily triggered by subsequent challenging events.

Symptoms of post traumatic stress, anxiety and depression may be experienced by those who have been exposed to violence and of curse this applies to those who have witnessed torture, loss of life, and cruelty. With insight into the body’s reactions to intense and prolonged toxic stress, one can build up one’s resources for coping. Beyond that, one can get in touch with one’s inner strength. With benevolence and support, the emotional wounds can be compassionately cared for. Self awareness and self compassion can gradually allow to reconnect with sources of hope and realistic optimism. One can at this point, be able to see beyond the concrete situation and connect oneself with universal values. There is, in a way, a space crated to consciously affirm what deep inside one always knew and what one was acting according to without it being explicitly stated.

Reinforcing what is good and positive, who one is beyond one’s means, goes beyond providing basic needs and reaffirms displaced persons in their sense of value and dignity. Finally, displaced persons can see themselves as not just a person who was forced to leave their home because their lives were in danger, but a person who was called by life to now become a citizen of the world and to rise above traditional ways of living, being, and doing things, to a new level of living, being and doing things, or better to say, a new dimension of living, being, and doing things, not just for the sake of the self, but for the sake of the world.

Therefore, it is important to reiterate and to make such persons to feel that they are of value, they are loved, they are good for something, they matter, and they are awaited in the world.

Walking in the streets of my new country I often had the feeling of de-realization in the first years. It felt as if I was walking somewhere in my body, and I could see myself from the outside. I had a sense that I was present in spirit. I kept telling myself that I was strong in my spirit, even if my spirit was invisible. I also told myself that a power much greater than myself is protecting me. Even though I could barely speak any English, was aware that my spirit was entirely healthy. My mind was, at that time, quickly running back and forth between attempting to retrieve the right English word for the one that came to mind in Hungarian. Later, the German and the English started to get mixed. Finally, I had some dreams in English, but most nightmares in Hungarian, my mother tongue.

Language is one form of expression. The language of the heart is another. It is the language of the heart that understands the other, without words needed to be said.

Therefore, for those who accept a refugee, or who aid a refugee, I would like to add a few more points:

• Your presence matters. It was saving and healing. This will never be forgotten.

• None of your good words, good deeds will go unnoticed.

• None of your good actions can be removed from this world.

• You are a person of courage.

• You do not need to be perfect. In your attempts to help, there will be challenges. There will be sorrows. There will be thigs you wish you could do more, different.

• You will feel the emotions of pain, grief, and sorrow if you are close to a person who suffers.

• Do not let this break you down. You are not the cause of the pain if you are there to genuinely offer your best.

• People who reveal to you their weakness trust that you are strong enough to handle it. They feel safe with you to share.

• Be clear on what you can offer and what is beyond your limits. This will help to problem solve.

• Be prepared that not everyone in your neighborhood may see you with good eyes or praise your actions. The indifference of others will hurt your heart to the core.

• Remain steadfast and entrust the person in your care with you to the Providence.

• Respect their choices and decisions.

* Trust their inner strength

• Accept that they may not be in the position even to thank you or show gratitude. Nevertheless, your reward is eternal.

• Be creative, flexible, and open to life.

• Be open to learning. Helping someone else builds you up as much as it can save the life of someone or make it more peaceful and dignified.

• Be grateful to life that you can be in this position.

• Offer grace for every way you can serve.

In conclusion, those who are helped and those who are helping are accomplishing a valuable mission together that without one or the other would not have been possible. As time passes, those who are helped and those who helped are both stronger, wiser, and better able to reach out to others who may tend a hand for help.

This is how a network of good deeds generates further good and makes our world a friendlier and more humane place to be. This is how, from a mustard seed, a huge tree can grow, and it can be tall enough so that all the birds of the sky can come and find rest on its branches, and shelter amongst its leaves. Love and care make it possible for such tree to grow.

yellow petal flowers

Choosing the Path of Meaning: Breaking the Chains of Violence and the Aggression of War

In addition to crimes against humanity, the irreplaceable cost of the loss of countless lives, the displacement of millions of people, economic downturn, and sending shock waves through the entire human family, the current war in Ukraine rests on a fundamental error and faulty attitudes that lead to a vicious cycle of destruction and self-harm. While the implications of this harm to the self, in addition to others, may not immediately perceptible, its consequences are far reaching and deeper than physical wounds. These are the wounds of the soul. (6) The purpose of this article is to describe the nature attitudes that lead away from meaning and propose and to present possible meaning-centered interventions for altering course.

According to Viktor Frankl, MD, PhD, (1905-1997) an Austrian psychiatrist, a survivor of the Holocaust and the founder of Logotherapy and Existential Analysis, the Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy, the fundamental motivating force for human beings is not the will to pleasure, or the will to power, but the will to meaning. (4) His most well-known book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” which sold millions of copies around the world, testifies to the endurance and resilience of a human being to find meaning under all circumstances, even the most miserable. LTEA is a meaning-centered and evidence-based approach to psychotherapy that rests on three fundamental assumptions: (1) The Freedom of Will; (2) The Will to Meaning; and (3) Meaning in Life. (1,8)

The first concept, the Freedom of Will, rests on Frankl’s three-dimensional conceptualization of the human being as a body, mind, and spirit entity. In the “Ten Theses on the Person,” Frankl, asserted that the dimension of the spirit is an indelible aspect of human existence that is not a substance but a dynamic.(2) The spirit is the source of the will to meaning, the human capacity for searching for and finding meaning, self-distancing, the capacity to distance oneself from the self and to observe oneself from the outside; self-transcendence, the capacity to reach out toward meaning, and other meta-physical phenomena such as love beyond the physical, gratitude, humor, kindness, forgiveness, hope, and faith. These capacities of the human spirit are, like an inner reservoir, the well spring of resilience, self-transcendence and growth that have a protective effect in crisis prevention and curative effect in crisis intervention. (3)

The first basic tent of logotherapy, Freedom of Will, asserts that humans are not fully subject to their conditions and the circumstances that surround them, but they can, within the limitations of those circumstances, and in view of being a fallible, vulnerable and finite human being, take a stand toward both internal conditions (such as one’s own biological and psychological state, instincts, drives, genetic makeup, thoughts, and emotions) and external circumstances (social factors, the past and what others decide to do). (1) The freedom to take a stand derives from the dimension of the spirit, which in Frankl’s holistic view of the person is conceptualized as the essentially human realm. The spirit is who we really are, over and above the dimension of the body and mind, of what we have. Body and mind are the instruments of the spirit. (1) As spiritual persons humans are infinitely more than reacting organisms, they can choose their stand toward their circumstances and shape themselves and their lives. (2)

The second concept, the Will to Meaning, asserts that, in addition to being free, human beings are free for something, they are free to reach their goals and accomplish purposes. (1) These goals and purposes are present in reaching out for meaning that is present in values that stand in relation to every person in each situation. Realizing meaning is seen as a fundamental motivating force of human behavior. (1) When the Will to Meaning can not reach its target, the feeling is experienced as a nagging feeling, followed by a sense of meaninglessness. (4) There are other forms of existential manifestations of the Will to Meaning being inhibited in its natural dynamics. The term “existential frustration” describes when values that used to be actualized, can no longer be actualized for some reason, and a person feels an inner sense of exasperation. (4) “Existential vacuum” is the feeling of inner emptiness that follows long-standing feelings of existential frustration. (4) “Existential struggle” results from not living up to one’s values or trespassing them. (7) “Existential distress” accompanies existential frustration and existential vacuum characterised by a feeling of despondency. (8) “Existential Angst” has been traditionally used by the existentialist to refer to a sense of meaninglessness (8). “Existential Threat” is used to refer to one’s existence and fundamental values being in jeopardy. The frustration of the will to meaning can lead to the pursuit of avenues that may mimic the effects of finding meaning, such as pleasure, success, or power seeking. (5) It can also result in aggression, addiction, depression, self-harming, and self-defeating behaviors as well as increase the severity of psychological and emotional distress. (1)

LTEA was specifically developed to help people become aware of and to tackle the obstacles that hinder the accomplishment of meaningful goals. (1,4) In LTEA, people are led to areas of freedom where meaning potentials can be found. However, they are not given or offered specific meaning contents because they need to discern and discover these for themselves with help from their conscience and will to meaning. The will to meaning is the strongest ally of the helper because it is that source of vitality and elan that is aimed at detecting realistic meaning possibilities that one can accomplish. (8)

The third principle, Meaning in Life, asserts the belief that life offers purposeful goals worth accomplishing in every situation. (1,4) Meaning is a thought of as a trans-subjective value standing in relation to the person. Thus, meaning is an objective reality that addresses the person, not an invention or figment of imagination or wishful thinking, arising from the soma or mind of the person. (1) Meaning is intuited through conscience and discerned in the dimension of spirit. (2) A person is invited to use their freedom of will and responsibility to make the best of a situation and of themselves. While ultimate meaning is abstract and impossible for humans to fully comprehend, as it is only with faith that one can approach its mystery, the meaning of the moment in harmony with ultimate meaning is a concrete possibility and task that is awaiting each person, linked to their specific circumstances and situation and in a state of change from moment to moment. (5) Thus, instead of finding a general meaning in life, one is invited to keep an open mind and remain flexible to accomplish the call of the moment, and thus shape oneself and one’s life moment to moment and day by day. (1)

There are three therapeutic techniques that form part of the non-specific tool kit of LTEA. These methods have been developed to deal with patterns, tendencies, and attitudes that can block the will to meaning and cause emotional and psychological suffering. Each of these techniques are evidence-based practices. (8)

Paradoxical intention has been used since the early 1930s in the treatment of obsessive and compulsive tendencies, and anxiety. (4, 5, 6) The basic premise of this method is that excessive avoidance of anxiety provoking stimuli can lead to excessive fear. Attempts to ward off this fear can be coupled with fear of fear. Fear of fear leads to a vicious cycle in which self-observation, hyper-vigilance, and hyper-attention, bring about the feared symptom. (4,8) Thus, excessive fighting against, leads to symptom amplification. The way to break the vicious cycle is to create a distance between the self and the fear, face the fear instead of running from it or warding off from it though safety behaviors, identify the trigger of fear, learn how to tolerate fear, and employ humorous formulations to exaggerate it to create even more distance between the spiritual self and the fear, which breaks the vicious cycle and symptom amplification. (1,8)

De-reflection has been used in the case of sleep disturbances, sexual dysfunctions, and anxiety disorders, where the root of symptom amplification had to do with anxious self-observation, anxious rumination, and hyper-intention. (1,5,6) The increased attention and intention, coupled with increased anxiety led to a vicious cycle of hyper-arousal that interfered with spontaneous functioning. Right passivity, though drawing attention away from the physical and emotional self toward areas of freedom and values allowed the spontaneity and natural flow to return. (8)

Modification of Attitudes is focused on identifying and altering attitudes and expectations that block meaning fulfillment. (1,8) Such patterns can be habit forming and alienate a person from being in touch with themselves, with their aspirations and meaning potentials in life, thus alienating them further and further and reinforcing maladaptive a poor choice that are causing suffering to themselves and others. Rather than value impositions, telling people what to do, ordering and commanding them how to alter their maladaptive patterns of behavior, therapists reach to the root of these behaviors in attitudes that are unrealistic, exaggerated, counterproductive, or self-defeating to help them gain new perspectives and outlook that may offer a fresh path to a productive and fulfilled life. The Socratic dialogue is used to challenge old and maladaptive assumptions and to bring up the possibility of re-thinking and re-committing oneself to new ways of seeing and doing that brings meaning into the world. The aim of the Socratic dialogue is to help to re-connect with universal values, and to re-connect with truth, beauty and goodness, aspects of meaning that one can bring into the world. (1,8)

The faulty assumptions underlying the idea of war can be seen in collectivistic thinking, reductionism, and fanaticism. (3) Collectivistic thinking requires to relinquish the individual agency and freedom of the individual to the thinking of the group. (3) In the case of an autocratic style of leadership, individual freedoms and responsibility is required to be relinquished to a central figure.

Reductionism is the idea that complex realities can be understood along lower levels. (3, 5) Such thinking denies the freedom of will of the individual.

Fanaticism is manifested in the elevation of a relative value to the absolute. (3) The danger of fanaticism is an “all or nothing thinking” in which the value on the of a pyramidal system is absolutized, idealised and quasi “worshipped.”

Three vicious cycles are created by the wrong attitudes: (1) “Existential threat,” the one’s values are in jeopardy, are exacerbated by a fanatic attitude in which one value is idealized and absolutized. Fanaticism evokes a feeling of “existential threat,” and the feeling of “Existential threat” reinforces the fanatic zeal to protect this value from being lost. (2) “Existential Angst,” a sense of meaninglessness fostered by reductionistic thinking provokes a fear of fear. The fear of fear reinforces the existential angst. (3) The perception of “existential threat” of the autocratic style evokes “existential angst” and the existential angst reinforces the perceived existential threat.

The will to meaning is temporarily blocked by these three obstacles. Existential frustration surfaces, but the voice of conscience is ignored and continually supressed. In the absence of meaning, the motivation may change to seeking pleasure and appreciation of utility instead of inherent value. Since this path des not lead to meaning, it is frustrated and leas to existential vacuum. In the vacuum aggression, violence, abuse, and harmful behaviors flourish.

In the continued absence of meaning, a will to power may predominate. It reinforces the fanatic zeal, but ultimately, fails to bring a sense of fulfillment and leads to frustration and despair. The consequence is existential despair.

From the perspective of LTEA, without restoring a healthy meaning-orientation, suffering amounts. Pain is inflicted in the self and on others. There are three points of intervention that can help to remove the obstacles from the path of the frustrated will to meaning: (1) breaking the fear of fear through paradoxical intention; (2) modifying the fanatic attitude through the method of modifying attitudes; and (3) re-instating a three-dimensional view of the person in one humanity by de-reflecting from self-interest and considering others. This will fully re-instate the dynamics of the will to meaning.

Paradoxical intention to break the pattern of existential angst and fear of fear can focus on being able to face fear and tolerate it without lashing out and hurting others. It is a normal phenomenon to experience fear of meaninglessness. The fear itself points to the significance of finding meaning. Excessive fear leads to a paralyzed sense of rigidity or attempts to fight the fear by frantic action and acting out. It is a human prerogative to take a distance from oneself, from one’s inner state. It is a human achievement to look fear straight in the face and deal with it, like the bull fighter tackles a bull by its horns. “Take the bull by the horns.” “You are in a unique position like no one else in the history of this world to effect change, and defeat fear by looking not its eyes and defeating it through your resolve to be stronger than it.”

Modification of attitudes can tackle the vicious cycle of fanaticism and the feeling of existential threat. Whenever we idealise a value, and place it on a pedestal, we place it in a position that if it is not possible to achieve, we are risking having no value because we put everything on the line, “we put all our eggs in the same basket.” An idealized value makes us loose sight of the fact that we are not the one wo assign values, but it is life. Rather than placing values, we need to live them. The Socratic Question helps us to reflect on: “Rather than us asking what we an expect from life, we need to ask, what is life asking from us in this moment?”

The third vicious cycle between existential threat and the existential angst that blocks the will to meaning can be alleviated through de-reflection. We think of the future beyond our self-interest. What is it that we want our legacy to remain in the world? According to Albert Einstein, if all the resources that are invested into the war could be put to a good use, the world could be a much better place to live in. Let us imagine and build such a world.

Frankl, a survivor of the Holocaust believed that when the basic need for meaning is ignored, disregarded, and shunned, then even success, power and fame will feel empty and futile. (5) In the absence of meaning, falls into the abyss of despair. In the presence of meaning, however, even a perceived failure can lead to a sense of fulfillment. (5)

He outlined three avenues through which life can be made meaningful. (1) Through creative values, to which category belong everything that we bring into the world through work, and creative activities. (2) Experiential values, though which we can find meaning in what we receive from the world, such as its beauty and the relationships we cultivate; and (3) through attitudinal values, the possibility of facing unavoidable suffering with courage. (4, 5) This latter in the highest form of human accomplishment because it offers the deepest possible meaning until the last breath. The attitudinal values are subdivided into another triad: meaningful attitudes to pain, guilt, and death. (5)

As human beings, we are fallible, vulnerable, and finite. However, our essence is not what is fallible, finite, and vulnerable, but that what is eternal—our essence. Surely, what we have done, cannot be undone. However, the attitude toward pain confronts us with the possibility of taking a stand toward fate. In the case of guilt, one has the chance to take a stand toward oneself. Because of our freedom of will, it is a human prerogative to become guilty of a wrongful act, and it is a human imperative to overcome this guilt, to have a change of heart. (5)

As for the third aspect of the tragic triad, life’s transitoriness, Frankl remarks that we usually see only the partial picture:

Usually, man only sees the stubble fields of transitoriness and overlooks the full granaries of the past. In the past nothing is irrevocably lost but everything is irrevocably preserved and saved, safely delivered and deposited. Nothing and nobody can deprive us of what we have rescued into the past. What we have done can never be undone. This adds to man’s responsibleness. For in the face of transitoriness of his life, he is responsible for using the past opportunities to actualize potentialities, to realize values, whether creative, experiential, or attitudinal. In other words, man is responsible for what to do, whom to love, and how to suffer. Once has realized a value, he has fulfilled a meaning, he has fulfilled it once and forever” (5:52).

Man’s Search for Meaning” expresses trust in the realistic optimism that change is possible. Through the freedom of will, a human being is uniquely in the position to shape and to mold him or herself.

I speak of a tragic optimism, that is, optimism in the face of tragedy and in view of the human potential which at its best allows for: (1) turning suffering into a human achievement and accomplishment; (2) deriving from guilt the opportunity to change oneself for the better; and (3) deriving from life’s transitoriness an incentive to take responsible action” (4: 129-130).

It is possible to follow a path that does not lead to meaning. It is possible to recognize that that path is dead-end, and at any moment, it is possible to choose another path that leads to life. A human being can become aware of meaning and has the capacity to defy inner or outside obstacles to fulfill the meaning of the moment, if they maintain their vitality, and exercise their spiritual muscles.   

Sources:

(1) Batthyány, A. (2022). Logotherapy and Existential Analysis. Open document available from: The Viktor Frankl Institute, Vienna. https://www.viktorfrankl.org/logotherapy.html

(2) Frankl, V. E. (1950). Logos und Existenze. Vienna: Amandus Verlag.

(3) Frankl, V. E. (2010). The Feeling of Meaninglessness. A Challenge to Psychotherapy and Philosophy. Edited by: A. Batthyány. Milwaukee, WI: Marquette Press.

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

(5) Frankl, V. E. (2014b). The Will to Meaning. New York, NY: Plume.

(6) Frankl, V. E. (2019). The Doctor and the Soul. From Psychotherapy to Logotherapy. New York, NY: Vintage Books.

(7) Marshall, E. & Marshall, M. (2021). Logotherapy for the Management of Moral Injury. Ottawa, Canada: Ottawa Institute of Logotherapy.

(8) Marshall, M. & Marshall, E. (2022). Viktor E. Frankl’s Logotherapy and Existential Analysis: Theory and Practice. Ottawa, Canada: Ottawa Institute of Logotherapy.

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, produced by Ms. 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. Ms Maria Harmer 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. Harmer 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. Ms. 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.  

Ms. Harmer 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. Harmer 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.” Ms. 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. Ms. 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 Ms. 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:

Ms. 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. Harmer, 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.

Krautgartner, 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

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).