Notes: Man’s Search For Meaning
This month, I was reading quite a few books that coincided - Man’s Search For Meaning, In The Garden of Beasts, and a history book called Europe 1789-1989, about the transitions and changes in Europe from monarchies and dictatorships to communist, socialist, and democratic societies. So much change, so much evil, so much good.
In “Man’s Search For Meaning,” which I highly recommend as a way to stop and pause for a bit, the author writes about his experiences in—and surviving—the concentration camps of Nazi Germany in the late 1930s.
I finished up the last pages of the book while standing in line for a boat to a magical island, and obnoxious chattering pulled me out of the book’s heart-wrenching stories of the pain that can be associated with human evil. A woman was cutting in line and people were jeering at her, calling her names, bitching and moaning. I watched, quiet, and then I remarked,
“I’m reading about the concentration camps in Germany, and we’re all heading on the same boat to a luxury island. I think we’ll be OK if one person goes in front of us.”
The chatter stopped. It’s all about perspective. Look widely, live freely, and be thankful.
In the foreword to the book, written by Harold Kushner, he says some things worth noting:
Nietzsche: “He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How.”
… if this is true, I would offer up the question, why do we always strive to change the How, the Where, and the What, and not challenge up the Why?
“Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure, as Freud believed, or a quest for power, as Adler taught, but a quest for meaning.” — that is, why am I here? what’s the point?
“Suffering in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it.”
Yes. I have seen a lot more and been through a lot more than most people realize in my life—it cracks me up when I hear comments about how easy my life must be—but at the same time, I know how wonderfully fortunate I am to be here, now, able to do everything I’m doing.
But what does it matter without meaning?
Frankl saw three possible sources for meaning: “In work (doing something significant), in love (caring for another person), and in courage during difficult times.”
I agree with Frankl’s positions—doing great work, despite the setbacks; loving each other and finding friendships across the world, like the ones we develop here and beyond; and working through challenges and setbacks—these are the gems; the meaning; the gold in life.
Showing up in New York and finding a friendship in Kym and Lauren and laughing like silly people and talking about everything? This, this is what’s worth it.
Drumming with Mark in the streets of Portland and hugging and being able to cherish sound and music? Love.
Talking triathlons and encouraging George across continents and building comradeship? Brilliant.
He says further on in the book, “What tricks are you learning while mastering the art of living?” This resonated with me. mastering the art of living.
He says, “You can master the art of living, even in a concentration camp, if you learn how to use humor, apathy, spirituality, acceptance, and hold on to the threads that make life important to you, no matter what anyone else says or does to you; in spite of the injustice of it all.”
The internet is a proliferation of advice about things, stuff, and life design — as if traveling throughout the world (the what, the how) is what’s important. That’s just on the surface. Giving up all your crap isn’t the important part. Finding out what really matters to you is the important part. The act of giving things up can reveal the why; the process helps us identify what we love and who we are; they are not the means to an end. These tools, these travels, these adventures are all smaller steps in uncovering our indiviudal meaning, and what value we place on our own lives.
So, this post is neither short nor simple, it turns out. But it’s not about me listing random accomplishments, or posting a photo of my adventures, or having some sort of checklist. Yes, that’s all part of the process—but it’s more than that. I love writing. I love doing. I’m doing things because I think in doing them, it will help other people build better lives, too.
I write because I see so much stunning beauty in the world, and writing makes my soul come alive. I love it. I also know, as I go through each turn of events, that the challenges and strife are OK. It’s part of the process. Each iteration, each turn, each choice—reaffirms my belief in what’s important and my acceptance of the fact that the HOW is not as important, as long as I have a WHY.