Saturday, February 5, 2011

Nietzsche: He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how

"Everywhere man is confronted with fate, with the chance of achieving something through his own suffering" - Viktor E. Frankel

Human suffering is relative. Even the most stoic individual has a breaking point, even  if they choose to hide it. What do you do when you hit rock bottom? Maybe your dreams were crushed and set to flames, a loved one dies, you're drowning in debt, you're trapped in unrequited love's insufferable grasp, your boyfriend/girlfriend cheats and lies to you,  your computer crashes and gone are all your essays and pictures, you're ignored or rejected in some way, demoted at your job, maybe you lost your job,  everything just went wrong in one day or for the last couple of months things have been flying downhill. What do you do when you feel as though your prayers aren't answered? When you realize that your tears aren't shooting stars? What do you do when you turn to a friend and not even they really understand? How many times have you heard, "it will be okay," and yet know that those words have done nothing to purge you of the terrible gut-wrenching aches overwhelming your being. You're at your most vulnerable, now what? It's through challenges you discover your potential.

 Viktor E. Frankl, a holocaust survivor and a psychiatrist who studied both neurology and psychology,  uses his harrowing holocaust experience and his skills as a psychiatrist to help others find meaning in life through his book, " Man's Search for Meaning." He discusses logotherapy,which he founded, and which centers on finding a purpose in life to continue living, and the power of optimism.  He "[considers] it a dangerous misconception of mental hygiene to assume that what man needs in the first place is equilibrium or, as it is called in biology, "homeostasis," i.e., a tensionless state. What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him."  Sounds rather strange, right? No one actually wants tension, but at times tension offers an opportunity for growth.
Today I read a novel telling true sad stories about various Chinese women. A daughter crushed in an earthquake and dies fourteen days later in her mother's arms. Waiting for the love of your life for 45 years only to discover he remarried because someone told him you were dead during the Cultural Revolution where both of you were separated. Discovering that during an earthquake your son's legs were crushed and your daughter was gang raped. Falling in love and discovering that that man is cheating on you and when you confront him and the woman, he beats you and humiliates you. Growing up with the knowledge that your father raped you as a little girl. There are countless of horrifying stories, and maybe you might think that yours just can't compare.

 In any case, there's a time where the world feels like it's crumbling around you and all you really want to do, despite the admonitions from your friends and relatives, is curl up into a ball and cry (maybe you just wish to fall asleep unhindered by the pain plaguing your being) that's when you  have to stop, release the emotions from your system. Then stop yourself before you go too far and contemplate jumping off a cliff or sinking into the claws of death.

 Dr. Frankel makes a valid point when he states that "suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete. The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity-even under the most difficult circumstances-to add a deeper meaning to his life." It's important during times of suffering to never lose hope. Indeed, "What does Spinoza say in his Ethics? -'Affectus, qui passio est, desinit esse passio simulatque eius claram et distinctam formamus ideam." Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it. The prisoner who had lost faith in the future-his future-was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay."

Dr. Frankel expounds on this later when he tells a tale of a man who lost hope and died of typhus:

Those who know how close the connection is between the state of mind of a man-his courage and hope, or lack of them-and the state of immunity of his body will understand that the sudden loss of hope and courage can have a deadly effect. The ultimate cause of my friend's death was that the expected liberation did not come and he was severely disappointed. This suddenly lowered his body's resistance against the latent typhus infection. His faith in the future and his will to live had become paralyzed and his body fell victim to illness-and thus the voice of his dream was right after all

What if I can't sleep? What do I do? CHANGE YOUR ATTITUDE AND KEEP OCCUPIED
Drink some tea. Read a book. Start telling yourself a story where you're somewhere else, somebody else, where everything is okay. Start planning your next step forward. Stop replaying the events that caused you so much pain. Instead view your suffering as your strenght and utilize it in a manner that will help you achieve future goals. Give your life meaning. Frankel states that "according to logotherapy, we can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (I) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering." Maybe it's easier said than done, but the most rewarding experiences are difficult to achieve.


 At some point, you have to accept what happened and move forward. Just don't over think, don't abuse your already tired mind and heart. Sometimes depression saps away all your energy and desire to do more. Try to do something. And if you're alone, not wanting to let the world know your troubles, talk to yourself, take a break, and write down your goals. I know sometimes it's hard to force yourself to go to work the next morning when you're bone tired from crying, but it's getting up that gives you the strength to move forward. It sure doesn't feel that way, but the greatest satisfaction  and achievements stem from moments where you push yourself when you're at the bottom. Frankel points out.that "what...matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one's predicament into a human achievement."
Have you ever ran uphill? And as you run,  the hill slopes higher and higher, steeper and steeper. Your legs burn. You're panting. You have no water. You're probably complaining about how much it sucks.  It's getting harder and harder to push yourself forward. In the end, your legs are stronger, your heart healthier, your stamina far higher than before. Sure, you wanted to collapse, give up, lose hope. But after you make it, you realize it was better to give it all your energy.

I got lost once and was forced to keep walking uphill until the sun set. I couldn't stop, because if I stopped  I would never find someone to help me. I had no food and no water. It was a tiring and terrifying experience where I walked and ran miles and miles uphill, surrounded by tall bushes, and the sounds of frogs and crickets. I trudged through mud and walked past cow dung. My hope sank when I saw the sun begin to set, and then set. But several hours later everything was okay.


You will be okay too. Just keep on pushing forward. Find the best way to deal with your grief.  Remember, your suffering, your experience is unique to you:

"Was Du erlebst, kann keine Macht der Welt Dir rauben." (What you have experienced, no power on earth can take from you.) Not only our experiences, but all we have done, whatever great thoughts we may have had, and all we have suffered, all this is not lost, though it is past; we have brought it into being. Having been is also a kind of being, and perhaps the surest kind."

Don't lose faith...


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Sand-Dollared Cataract by Sofia Mitchell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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