Posts Tagged ‘Logotherapy’

Death, and dying are not topics that we discuss freely in our Western Christian culture; we tend to live life with the certainty of death hidden in the recesses of our mind.  It is all around us, but we dare not think of it in case the impact of it is too much to bear.

We have made enormous advances in openly discussing other existential issues – relationships and human sexuality immediately come to mind.  We have matured in our various faith (or non-faith) communities to the point that we can, at least in many quarters, discuss issues that were previously taboo, or ‘brushed under the carpet’ as we would colloquially refer to it.

But death……death is still stubbornly knocking at the door that we dare not open.  From an early age, we have been taught not to talk about it – perhaps this has not be conveyed to us consciously, but sub-consciously through the culture we live and move in, or the avoidance of the issue in our homes and places of worship.

We fear death.  Most of us, if we were truly honest with ourselves would admit to this as a factual reflection of our emotional status.  We fear the unknown, or the ambiguity, or the fact that we take that final journey alone.

Yet, if we face death head on, we find that we can liberate ourselves from the shackles of fear and meaninglessness, and instead walk in the light of peace and contentment.  Yes, that might sound clichéd, insensitive and lacking in pastoral tact, but it does have a biblical basis and a sound psychological underpinning.

Viktor Frankl, the eminent Psychiatrist, Holocaust Survivor and best-selling author made the point ad infinitum, in his writings and speeches, that there is meaning in all circumstances and situations, including death and the process of dying.  Our will to meaning may indeed be enhanced when we face the finitude of our earthly life and contemplate what lies ahead.  We may be, in the words of NT. Wright’s book title, be ‘Surprised by Hope’, or in the Franklian sense ‘Surprised by Meaning’.  Those of us to minister to others in such circumstances can attest to that, although we may find it difficult to articulate the profundity of our observations at the time, or to grasp its import fully without a period of prayer and reflection.    We have seen it in front of us, in its rawness and unpredictability, therefore we can attest to it in our convictions.

As part of my training as a Logotherapist & Existential Analyst, my colleagues and I were required to write a  ‘spiritual autobiography’ (with the spiritual aspect not being confined to the ‘faith dimension’, but rather in the much wider sense as delineated by Frankl to include all of those experiences that make us uniquely human). This autobiography took us from before we were born to how we might envisage our death , and importantly, our legacy – not, at first glance, a particularly easy thing to do!  Nor was it in truth.  But it was, as I’ve alluded to a few seconds ago, not only enlightening, but it was uplifting.  As Frankl understood, it is only in the shadow of death that life can be seen for all its beauty, and the opportunity to realise meaning in its myriad forms presents itself more clearly and urgently.

In our Christian faith, our tradition has much to say about the topic of death, particularly in terms of continuity and a new mode of being. But how that manifests itself in practice is often difficult to pragmatically articulate, and crucially, to employ as part of a wider roadmap that can be consulted as we inevitably go astray from time-to-time.

By far the most helpful book I have come across in that respect is a small volume by Dr. Ann V. Graber, author of the incredible ‘Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy: Method of Choice in Ecumenical Pastoral Psychology’ and a Professor of Pastoral Logotherapy.  This book, published in 2009, entitled ‘The Journey Home: Preparing for Life’s Ultimate Adventure’ is nothing short of phenomenal; Dr. Graber combines a detailed, and a times very personal insight with her talent for writing simply, yet profoundly, distilling a wide-range of pertinent issues into an accessible format.

Dr. Graber asks those questions we are sometimes so reticent to ask: 1) how can we help a loved one who is dying, 2) does death frighten us, and 3) how would we, as unique individuals, deal with the reality that we were about to die, if and when, that situation arises?

Now you might be forgiven for thinking that such questions would inevitably result in a book that is very difficult to read! Instead what we find is a book that represents a journey, or an unfolding adventure that begins with an exploration of Dr. Graber’s own transformative experience, where she confronted mortality following a traumatic injury.  She writes convincingly of an ‘expanded awareness’ that she encapsulated in this short reflection: ‘There is a wondrous life to be lived, here and beyond, as we love and serve each other!’

Throughout, Graber skilfully and gently offers practical suggestions as to how those who are facing death can do so in a meaningful way, thus confronting uncomfortable emotions that can be characterised by fear and uncertainty. As Dr. Graber describes this ‘transformation of attitudes’, it can be facilitated and understood in terms of one’s belief system, but crucially, can also go ‘beyond the rites and rituals available to a person’.  She identifies these as ‘attuning to nature, imagery, stories, art, music, and whatever helps one cultivate an inner peace in which fears melt away’.

Preparation then, is central to the process of understanding the nöetic dimension of the dying process.  Graber rightly points out that, as Viktor Frankl himself noted, we need to prepare ourselves for death before we can venture to help others.  Part of that process includes acquainting or re-acquainting ourselves with the insights of religion, science, poetry, literature and philosophy and how they enrich and underpin the ‘transitoriness of our mortal existence’.

Key to Graber’s approach, as explained in her own words, is that ‘the transformative process will take on a hopeful note if it is accepted as a presupposition that spirituality is central. And that a person’s particular religion is supplemental’.

In journeying with others, Graber posits altruistic love, or self-transcendent caring, where the soul of another is touched at its core, as a liberating experience; how that works out in practice differs between individuals.  Although the overarching meta-narrative is the same, the micro-narrative differs from person to person.  Thus the ‘familial encounter, friendship, or therapeutic relationship’ is moulded to suit individual personalities, needs, desires and fears.

In reflecting on her own experience, Graber refers to the journey into one’s own ‘interior castle’ where meditation and the invocation of particularly meaningful imagery leads to a ‘communing with one’s ‘higher self’, the point at which we experience peace and wellbeing within.  This state of acceptance then is a powerful antidote to the fear of the unknown that often characterises death.  Moreover, by facing our fears directly, they lose their power to manipulate and direct our wider emotions.  Graber moves beyond ‘meditation’ and examines the role of storytelling, the arts and music as a repertoire of accessible tools which can lead to a gentle acceptance of fate.

Graber briefly touches on the conceptual elements congruent with a continuity of consciousness beyond death, based on religious insight, particularly that of Christianity.  That personal and empirical insights can be instructive to those facing their own mortality is a point well made by Graber. In that respect, I am reminded by a few short words penned by Søren Kierkegaard: ‘The highest and most beautiful things in life are not to be heard about, nor read about, nor seen but are to be lived’.  One could apply such insight into the spiritual process, and experiential value, attendant with dying and death.

At our Journey’s end, Dr. Graber draws on Prof. Frankl’s maxim that our lives are a monument to our experiences and values.  It therefore makes good sense that Graber discusses memorialising and ways that the needs of the living can be expressed healthily in their grief and attendant loss of a treasured friend, relative or colleague.  In-so-doing she touches on various practices such as candle lighting ceremonies, prenatal loss memorials, commemorating body/organ donation and memorial plantings and gardens, among others. Throughout Graber emphasises sensitivity to individual preferences, a practise that is increasingly important in an evolving society that becomes more pluralistic by the day.

Perhaps the most touching part of Dr. Graber’s book is the example of one person’s specific preparation for ‘the journey home’ as explored in the final chapter entitled ‘Kay’s Legacy’.  She asks the question ‘how do we assist people who seek us out to be available to them, soul to soul, as they explore inner territory that is unfamiliar or hitherto untraversed?’  That indeed is the crux of the matter for those of us who minister to others.

Kay’s preparation was a very conscious one – she began by withdrawing from ‘earthly’ attachments such as property and business interests, prioritising healing relationships by expressing thanks for those who enriched her life, and extending forgiveness to those who had wounded her. She embraced those ‘spiritual companions’ who loved and supported her.  Her specific journey thereafter consisted of a ‘final farewell’ get-together, was surrounded by those who meant most to her.  Her funeral included participation by loved ones and a garden was constructed as a lasting memorial to her life.

Graber ‘s last sentence in her epilogue sums up succinctly the purpose of her book, that it ‘was written for anyone who may be willing to consider death as a doorway one passes through when physical life comes to an end and new vistas on the continuum of consciousness open up’.

For those who are searching, for those who are afraid and unsure of the contours of the ‘journey home’, how to live well and to die well, this book is a must read.  Our final earthly journey is an opportunity to realise meaning in profound and unexpected ways; Dr. Graber’s book provides us with the opportunity to reflect deeply on our own mortality, the continuity of consciousness and how we can embrace others.

May you journey well, Scott

Here is the text of my sermon from today’s service at Cliftonville Moravian Church:

Grounded in Reality; Transformed by Hope!

On Wednesday evening, I was teaching dream analysis in Glengormley to a group of therapists and other interested individuals.  Here, in our church, I have spoken briefly about dreams as they occur in the Biblical narrative, particularly in relation to the Old Testament; that is a story I will certainly pick up again in the future – there is so much we can learn from reflecting on those moments and situations where God reveals important truths to us. The form of those dreams varies from straight-forward instruction to metaphor and allegory.

The type of dream analysis I do in a professional capacity is of course a reflection of the kind of Psychotherapy I do – Logotherapy & Existential Analysis, a meaning based approach to confronting the vagaries of life and dealing with them intelligently and purposefully.  At the beginning of last Wednesday’s session, I spent a few minutes providing an overview of the philosophy behind Logotherapy – without an understanding of that philosophy, it is not possible to go very far in making sense of our dreams.

In its most basic of forms, the philosophy of Logotherapy always strikes me as having similarities, and intertwined motifs, with Judeo-Christian theology. It is nonetheless a secular psychology grounded in human experience that is not bound by any faith tradition; it is universal in its application.

But I do often think about how Logotherapy speaks gently to my own faith orientation.  In that respect, I am drawn specifically to the highs and lows of life articulated in the Psalms; Leopold Sabourin, in his book ‘The Psalms: Their Origin and Meaning’, reminds us that the Psalter has been referred to as ‘a microcosm of the whole Old Testament… the epitome of Israel’s spiritual experience’. It does, in my opinion, go far beyond that; it provides the foundation and points towards the Christ of the New Testament.

In Logotherapy, we refer to the ‘tragic triad’ that epitomises our existence: suffering, guilt and death.  No life is spared these three experiences.  Likewise in the Psalter, we see suffering embraced and lamented, not just once but repeatedly.  Consider the Psalmists cry in Psalm 88:18 – ‘O lord God of my salvation, I have cried day and night before you’. And what about guilt? Well, we see it in Psalm 38:4 – ‘My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear’. And then of course, there is death; Psalm 82:7 describes its inevitability in poetic terms: “Nevertheless you will die like men and fall like any one of the princes.”

 If the ‘tragic triad’ was where Logotherapy began and ended, then we would certainly be in trouble! But it isn’t.  Viktor Frankl, the founder of Logotherapy, talks at length of the case for ‘tragic optimism’, where we remain optimistic despite life’s enduring difficulties. In her Foreword to Viktor Frankl’s book, ‘Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning’, Claudice Hammond says this – Frankl ‘talks of tragic optimism….that life brings pain, guilt and death and yet, for the most part, we manage to carry on’.  Somehow we manage to get through. And it gets better! Frankl also understood the reality of the ‘triumphant triad’, where there is healing, forgiveness and meaning.

In the Psalms, that ‘triumphant triad’ is also clear to see. Even in the Psalms of lament, optimism remains, seeping through, sometimes at points when we least expect it. How true that is in the reality of our own lives.  Consider again what Claudice Hammond says of Frankl’s philosophy – she writes that Logotherapy is a personal catalyst for radical change and progressive development.  As individuals then, Hammond reinforces Frankl’s philosophy, where she brings us back to our call to ‘turn suffering into achievement’, to ‘use guilt to improve’ ourselves and to utilise ‘the knowledge that life is short as a spur to action’.

Interestingly, the triumphant and the tragic often co-exist in the Psalms, just as they do in our day-to-day lives.  Our Old Testament Lesson, Psalm 39, is one such example, where despair and hope are expressed, and those two realities held in tension throughout.  There is a recognition that hope would be incomprehensible if it were not for anguish and despondency.

Here then, is how that observation plays out in our Psalm.  In the second verse, the Psalmist writes: I was silent and still; I held my peace to no avail; my distress grew worse’, but then goes on say in verse seven: “And now, O Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in you”. Life, as we know it and as the Psalmist understood it, is never clear cut….the edges are often blurred and our emotions fluctuate. We can feel despair and hope in the same day…..and in the same moment.

It is in the latter half of the seventh verse, though – “My hope is in you” – where we see the entire Christian message writ large.  Our hope rests very firmly in God.  We look to him through our individual experiences of suffering, guilt and the shadow of death and see him radiant in our sights. We call on, and cleave to those words that reverberate intensely in Psalm 55: 22: Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken’.

So yes, we live lives that are frequently difficult. But we also live lives that are grounded in hope and animated by expectation.  Viktor Frankl was a realist; the Psalms, and the wider Old and New Testaments are realistic too – they echo with the stuff of a life lived authentically, the tragic juxtaposed with the triumphant.  From our faith perspective, we can go even further.  Our hope is infinite; it is all around us; it moves as the Spirit moves and it seeks us out.  We must allow ourselves, in the midst of life, to be engulfed in love and transformed by hope.

Although I have spoken in this short reflection in very broad terms of the message of the Psalms, and Psalm 39 in particular, let me finish with some New Testament wisdom, specifically Romans 15:13: ‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit’.

Powerful, yet serene, there is nothing to either add or take away from Paul’s striking message to the church in Rome. It is a call to reflect deeply on our journey and gain insight into the radical nature of Christian faith.

And so, it seems appropriate that, in a few moments of silence, we allow ourselves to reconnect with the God who meets us where we are – in the reality of pain, suffering and death, but also in the transformative realm of healing, meaning and hope.  We are met on that journey with a love that knows no boundaries; a love that seeks us out. Let us feel the vigour of the Holy Spirit move among us and within us, in the stillness, and deep peace, of this holy place…………..where we are grounded in reality and transformed by hope.

‘Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever’. Jude 24-25.

AMEN

Viktor & I: An Alexander Vesely Film (2010)

Screening on Thursday 26th January, 7.30pm @ The Strand Arts Centre, Belfast
Part of Holocaust Memorial Day

Viktor Frankl and I_dvd_cover

Viktor & I is about famous Holocaust survivor, Dr. Viktor Frankl, author of ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’. Filmmaker Alexander Vesely travelled the world to document the personal and unique side of this important man. For the first time in film, people will see Dr. Frankl through the eyes of those closest to him. A defining character of the 20th century, he was not only a genius, doctor and survivor of Nazi terror and tragedy but a man who lived, believed and loved. Making his US directorial debut, Vesely shares intimate glimpses of his eminent grandfather who, amidst great suffering also gave us all hope.

Rev. Dr. Scott Peddie, Logotherapist & Existential Analyst, will give a brief introduction to the film, while Prof. Paul Miller, Consultant Psychiatrist and Trauma Specialist, will give a short postscript talk on trauma and human responses to it.

Tickets £4.  To make a booking, or for further information, visit the Strand Art Centre’s website at: http://www.strandartscentre.com/movies

suffering

self-worth

compassion

resilience

celebrate-uniqueness

logotherapy-legacy

For those of you who are interested, I’ve updated my Logotherapy & Existential Analysis website (www.scottpeddie.com).  Logotherapy is a meaning-based approach to psychotherapy founded by the Psychiatrist & Holocaust Survivor, Prof. Viktor Frankl.

www.scottpeddie.com

I’ve recently received my diploma in Logotherapy & Existential Analysis from the Viktor Frankl Institute of Ireland (Dublin) and the International Association of Logotherapy and Existential Analysis (Vienna).  I will therefore be offering Logotherapy (a meaning-centred approach to the treatment of a condition, illness, or maladjustment) at Mirabilis Health in Holywood, Co. Down, Northern Ireland, an innovative mixed private practice of psychiatrists, therapists and psychologists (www.mirabilishealth.co.uk).

Prof. Alexander Batthyany of The Viktor Frankl Institute Vienna writes this of the background to this specific therapeutic approach:

The development of Logotherapy and Existential Analysis dates back to the 1930s. On the basis of Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalysis and Alfred Adler’s Individual Psychology the psychiatrist and neurologist Viktor Emil Frankl (1905-1997) laid down the foundations of a new and original approach which he first published in 1938. Logotherapy/Existential Analysis, sometimes called the “Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy”, is an internationally acknowledged and empirically based meaning-centered approach to psychotherapy.

In Logotherapy/Existential Analysis (LTEA) the search for a meaning in life is identified as the primary motivational force in human beings (http://www.viktorfrankl.org/e/logotherapy.html).

Similarly, Dr. Stephen J. Costello, Director of the Irish Frankl Institute explains the range of conditions and circumstances in which logotherapy can be utilised:

Those who have identifiable symptoms such as:

• phobias

• obsessive-compulsions

• stuttering

• sexual dysfunctions

• stress

• depression

• anxiety

• addictions

• panic attacks

insomnia

Those who are questioning or exploring the meaning of life, love, relationships, sexuality, work, or experiencing meaninglessness, boredom, emptiness or despair, or simply feel that they have not reached their full potential or perceive they are leading an unfulfilled life (http://www.viktorfranklireland.com/Viktor_Frankl_Institute_of_Ireland_-_Therapy.html). 

The first logotherapy service available in Northern Ireland will be launched shortly.  I will be initially offering consultations on Tuesday evenings and all-day Friday.  Should you require any further information, or have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me via e-mail (scottpeddie@sky.com).  Alternatively, you can contact Mirabilis Health directly – details are available on our website (www.mirabilishealth.co.uk).

Mirabilis Website New

It don’t often post my sermons on this blog, but here’s one I delivered today in All Souls Church in Elmwood Avenue, Belfast:

Finding Meaning through Faith: Learning from Viktor Frankl

MEANING IN LIFE?

In response to the question: ‘What is the most important lesson life has taught you?’, one of my favourite contemporary philosophers (if that doesn’t sound too pretentious!), Slavoj Žižek replied somewhat tetchily: ‘That life is a stupid meaningless thing that has nothing to teach you’. 

Succinct and brutally honest. But Žižek was at least trying to articulate his worldview that the quest for meaning is in and of itself meaningless….so we might as well just get on with life unencumbered by distractions and wishful thinking.  Freedom then, for Žižek, comes from accepting and confronting our meaninglessness.  It just is what it is – nothing more and nothing less.

Contrast this outlook with another of my favourite philosophers – although he’s much more than that – Viktor Frankl.  Professor Frankl was a deeply interesting man: he was a psychiatrist, a neurologist, a philosopher, prolific author and founder of ‘the Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy’ – otherwise known as ‘Logotherapy’ (or therapy through meaning).

Frankl’s worldview, both clinical and personal, was shaped to a significant degree by the fact that he was a Holocaust Survivor.  From 1942-45 he lived, or rather existed, in four concentration camps, including the infamous extermination camp, Auschwitz.  What he witnessed and experienced there left an indelible mark on his psyche, deepening his comprehension of human nature and the centrality of meaning.

Frankl’s most famous book is ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’.  It’s a slim volume and it recounts his experience of the Holocaust.  Against that backdrop of unimaginable horror, he lost all of his family members and suffered terribly, yet his book is hopeful and inspirational.  Each page is replete with meaning.

Now when we talk about meaning, it’s important to remember that Frankl spoke of it terms of ultimate and proximate meaning.  The ultimate is difficult to quantify; as finite creatures we often find it difficult to comprehend the infinite.  But in simple terms, for someone like me, and yourselves, as people of faith – ultimate meaning equates to God.  Proximate meaning on the other hand, is still linked to the ultimate, but it consists of the things that we do, or attitudes we take, that give us meaning in everyday life tasks.  So for example, I find an enormous amount of meaning in the work that I do as a mental health advocate; I find meaning in my family life…and so it goes on; that’s proximate meaning, but it’s inextricably linked to my sense of ultimate meaning – or my Christian faith.  I can’t decouple the two.

Your story will be different.  But as I’ve just said, like me you will find that the ultimate meaning informs what you do in the rest of your life.  If there’s a disconnect there, then it leads to tension and strain.

All Souls

All Souls

MEANING & FAITH

As Christians we’re called upon to look for, and to find our ultimate meaning – and in doing so we connect God.  And here I’m reminded of a sentence from the Book of Isaiah:

‘Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace — in peace because they trust in you’ (Isaiah 26:3).

Here we have the Prophet Isaiah transmitting a very powerful  and well thought through message.  He makes us think….. that a mind that is steadfast – or fixed on God – is a mind that has engaged with ultimate meaning.  When we understand God, in-as-much as we are able given our very obvious human limitations, we find meaning: meaning in happiness….or failure….or pain……or suffering. We find meaning in all that is around us….in the frailty of relationships, the broken dreams and stilted aspirations…..just as much, or even more, as in the positive aspects of life….the beauty of friendships and the wonder of creation.

We transcend ourselves when we fully engage our faith.  We look beyond our failures and victories and we see that we are part of something greater than ourselves.  Our faith can be expressed in a myriad of different ways.  Viktor Frankl was a practising Jew his entire life, but he was very careful not to impose, or even be seen to be imposing, his religious conviction upon others; that was not the way he operated as a therapist, physician or man.  He understood that each and every one of us must reach our own conclusion – and find ultimate and proximate meaning for ourselves; we are after all, fully responsible for our own lives and the way we live them.

All Souls

All Souls

The Nazi’s who persecuted Viktor Frankl and millions of others, simply because of their religion, race, sexual orientation or political affiliations used their freedom to pursue nihilistic goals.  They misused their freedom and perverted their will to meaning; they did not understand the concept of love and it fuelled their malevolence and barbaric cruelty.

Paul the Apostle wrote of how we should properly use our freedom in a letter he wrote to a number of Christian communities in Galatia.  He said this:

‘For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one command: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”’ Galatians 5:13-14

The choice is there for all to see.  Paul understood it; the churches in Galatia also understood it.  It is a stark choice that applies to us all; it is timeless – we can use our lives selfishly, or we can use them to make a difference, large or small; to truly love our neighbours as ourselves.  Viktor Frankl writes of one such occasion, or more likely a series of occasions where the love of neighbour was made manifest in the actions of a number of people; this was a costly and humbling love this still moves me to this day.  He wrote in ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’:

‘“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man (person) but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”’ 

This ability to choose one’s own way is a central strand of Frankl’s Logotherapy.  Reclaiming that ability is of inestimable therapeutic value.  Too often we let events overtake us and we feel stranded. But we have the ability, as Frankl did, to change our attitude in difficult situations.

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany license.Flag of Germany.svg Attribution: Prof. Dr. Franz Vesely

Prf. Viktor Frankl. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany license. Flag of Germany.svg
Attribution: Prof. Dr. Franz Vesely

Consider this story from ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’:

“Once, an elderly general practitioner consulted me because of his severe depression. He could not overcome the loss of his wife who had died two years before and whom he had loved above all else. Now, how can I help him? What should I tell him? Well, I refrained from telling him anything but instead confronted him with the question, “What would have happened, Doctor, if you had died first, and your wife would have had to survive you?” “Oh,” he said, “for her this would have been terrible; how she would have suffered!” Whereupon I replied, “You see, Doctor, such a suffering has been spared her, and it was you who have spared her this suffering — to be sure, at the price that now you have to survive and mourn her.” He said no word but shook my hand and calmly left my office. In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”

Indeed.

OUR LEGACY

And there is just one more thought I want to leave you with today.  We are very much a sum of our parts; as we make our way through life we accumulate much in the way of experiences, both negative and positive. That is the nature of life.

With Frankl though, no experience of meaning is ever lost or wasted.  We take it with us.  As he has said himself:  “In the granaries of our past everything is safely stored.”  So even suffering cannot erase that sense of meaning and the experience of meaningfulness; it does not, no matter how hard it tries, have the last word. Here we have Frankl again: I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered. These sufferings are even the things of which I am most proud, although these are things which cannot inspire envy.’ “

And so when we look back over our lives, there will no doubt be periods of regret or disappointment, or even times when we’ve been ashamed of our actions or inactions.  None of these experiences and feelings have been wasted if we can recognise within them a kernel of meaning.  We cannot change the past, nor should we attempt to try, but we can always attempt to place it within that wider context.

We may think of a job lost through redundancy for example.  In a life lived where such an event is seen purely through the lens of suffering a misfortune, there is no room for growth and positive experience.  But where we have a change of attitude, we can see past the difficulty and be thankful for the space to reflect and re-evaluate, and ultimately, to re-orientate our priorities and to move our life in a different direction.

Many of us will have experienced real hardship for reasons beyond our control; the death of a loved one; the loss of a home; a life-changing illness. Frankl’s experiences teach us that in all situations, even in the unimaginable horrors of the concentration camp, there is meaning. He found it every day in the simple things – the sunset, human company and being able to use his medical knowledge to help and console his fellow inmates.

Nothing is ever lost.  When we die there are the memories that live on; there are the people we have helped and the family members we have left behind, their personalities shaped by our influence.  The struggles? Well, they live on too, shaped by the meaning we’ve assigned to them.

The physicist and Anglican Priest, Professor John Polkinghorne, gives us one final pause for thought. He puts his understanding of what happens when we die this way:  “God will download our software onto his hardware until the time he gives us new hardware to run the software again for ourselves.”  So then we have even more reason for hope; the meaning we have engaged with and has so enriched our earthly lives goes with us too.

CONCLUSION

To conclude, Viktor Frankl, and his Logotherapy, can help us and guide us through our faith journey, encouraging us to finds meaning in our worldview and to practice the ethic of self-transcendence.  Looking beyond ourselves, engaging in service and living for others is the very basis of the Christian life.

Understanding Frankl’s message can help us to become better Christians, to understand our motivations and to be happier in our own vocations and content to live the life God has given us.

And let us not forget, as I give the last word to Viktor Frankl: “Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfilment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it.” 

AMEN

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany license.Flag of Germany.svg Attribution: Prof. Dr. Franz Vesely

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany license. Flag of Germany.svg
Attribution: Prof. Dr. Franz Vesely

Viktor Frankl, founder of the third Viennese School of Psychotherapy – Logotherapy and Existential Analysis – makes a very important point about the meaningfulness in life and how a person of faith experiences life in a different dimension.  It is this dimension that augments a person’s understanding of life as a task (or series of tasks) that they are uniquely given to fulfill.

Frankl says this in ‘The Doctor and the Soul’ (p.70-71):

While the man who is not conscious of his responsibility simply takes life as a given fact, existential analysis teaches people to see life as an assignment.  But the following addendum must be made: there are people who go a step further, who as it were, experience life in a further dimension.  They also experience the authority from which the task comes.  They experience the taskmaster who has assigned the task to them.  In our opinion we have here an essential characteristic of the religious man: he is a man who interprets his existence not only in being responsible for fulfilling his life tasks, but also as being responsible to the taskmaster.