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

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).