“The existential vacuum is a widespread phenomenon of the 20th century.” said Viktor Frankl.
I am living in an existential vacuum. We pay a price for our relative freedom. Animals are rooted in being governed by instincts which they are obliged to follow. Humans are set free from this obligation. We escaped from a life of instinct only to have tradition curtailing individual freedom. Modern society has allowed us the opportunity to wrestle free from these bonds, but, like a child thrown into a swimming pool by a parent eager to teach it to swim, we tend to flail about having been left to our own devices. A feeling of abandonment may lie deep within my soul. My reliance on instinct and tradition has been pulled from under my feet. What should I do? Follow the crowd, or look for an authority that is going to tell me what to do and think? Or stand on my own two feet and find my own path?
These are questions that Viktor Frankl asked himself, and through which, in the midst of physical captivity and ill-treatment, he found spiritual freedom. Even in the midst of despair it is possible to discover that life has a meaning. It is the idea of the meaningless of life that prompts people to give up.
Frankl never gave up. He proposed four keys to grasping life’s meaning, leading to “the self-transcendence of human existence”. The first is synchronicity, meaningful coincidences according to Karl Jung. There are spiritual connections where no physical connections can be found. The second is in carrying out fulfilling work. He provides the following example: His only possession in the concentration camp was a manuscript he had written that was ready to be published. He asked his captors if he could keep it, but it was taken from him. He understood how important it was so set himself the task of rewriting it. I know what it feels like to spend ages writing a long post here and losing it before it gets posted and having to start again from scratch. I can’t imagine how I would feel if I had lost a complete manuscript. The real enduring love shared amongst people holds the third key. We can only find true meaning through love. The fourth key lies in facing suffering with equanimity. He survived the concentration camp because he bore his suffering and never lost hope. His suffering became, for him, a great teacher.
It is up to me to find my way out of this existential bubble I find myself trapped in. I ask myself, do I have the will to break free.
Who wouldn’t be inspired by Viktor Frankl? They could take away all of his physical possessions but they had no power to take away one thing he possessed, spiritual freedom.
I would appreciate the thoughts of others on life’s meaning, and how their views affect the way they live their lives.