A Life Of

Learning, Relating and Gratitude

With Linesh Sheth


About Viktor frankl

Early in my career, life was busy with struggle to earn to have a comfortable survival. I had lack of means in life in terms of a place to live and money to survive. It was during one of my periods of daily mediation that i felt, a comfortable survival is important but there has to be something more than survival for a man, as otherwise, he makes no difference between him and an animal. I did not know what that "something more" was, until i heard, during one of the lectures given by Silo, where he said: “Life has a Meaning".

In his book, Inner Look, Silo said: “If you live or die or were not born at all makes no difference to the world, your life has no meaning". He further said that "Life has no meaning if everything ends with death". There were several discussions, time and again, with Fernando, my guide and mentor, and my humanist colleagues on this subject. That environment made me curious to know more about meaning of life.

It was during this period of my psychological obsession about meaning of life that i came across the writings of Viktor Frankl, one of most influential and enduring writers and psycho-therapists of 21th century. Frankl was also called the prophet of meaning of life and was known during his life as a Voice of hope and contribution to positive psychology. I read his famous book "Man's Search for Meaning", "Man's Search for Ultimate Meaning" and several other books written by those who worked lifelong on his proposal of Logo therapy.

Frankl's writings, his illustrations and affirmations, were so convincing that i decided to become a diplomat on meaning of life (Logo therapy) through his one year distance learning course from USA. The more i read him, the more i remained conscious on making my own life meaningful. What i liked about Frankl what his saying that:

1. "What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him". The contemplation on this aspect changed my seeking in life. Earlier, i was seeking peace in life but this statement made me revise my goal from seeking of peace to seeking for a purpose and meaning of life.

2. Frankl spoke of "intensification of inner life" that helped prisoners stay alive. he considered the trascendental power of love: "Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self. Whether or not he is actually present, whether or not he is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance."

3. On actions in daily life Frankl said "Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answers to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual" he said, "It is not what happens to us that matters. It is how we respond to what happens that is significant. Same with business. We cannot control all the elements of our personal life or business."

4. Frankl said freedom in life is not the last word; it is only part of story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is irresponsibleness. Without responsibility in life, freedom degenerates into mere arbitrariness. What is really needed is a fundamental change in our attitude towards life. We have to learn that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. Life constantly questions us in each situation, what the right action is and what right conduct that gives meaning to it is.

5. Frankl's Logotherapy is trifocal. It focuses on three fundamental facts of human existance: A will to meaning, a meaning in suffering, and a freedom of will.

About meaning in suffering, Frankl states that human potential, at its best, is to turn tragedy into triumph. He says, the measure of a man is the way he bears up under misfortune. Regarding man's freedom of choice, Frankl's says, the freedom is not only to choose one's own way of living, but even one's way of dying.

I would say along with Silo, the one who influence my life deeply is undoubtedly the work of Viktor Frankl in the field of positive psychology that aims at giving meaning to life.

Powerful Insights from Viktor E. Frankl that can Change the way You Look at Life

The first time I read the line “Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!” I was in a very trying time in my life. Those words sparked a fire in me that got me through those dark times and I was forever grateful. But, at the time, I had no idea where those words came from. So years later, I looked it up. That is when I discovered Man’s Search for Meaning, and the amazing story of Viktor E. Frankl.

Frankl was a successful Jewish psychologist in Vienna, who in 1942 was arrested and placed into a concentration camp along with his family. 3 years later when that concentration camp was liberated, most of Viktor’s family was dead. Including his pregnant wife.

In 1946 Viktor wrote Man’s Search for Meaning, which detailed his time in the camp where he worked as a therapist. Imagine that scenario: a Jewish therapist in a concentration camp. When I first started reading the book, I couldn’t think of a more soul-crushing experience…and then I got to this:

  • “A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth — that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way — an honorable way — in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, ‘The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.'”

Those words changed my life. In honor of Viktor E. Frankl, I have chosen some of my favorite passages in the book, and I hope they touch your soul the way that they have touched mine.

  • “Everything can be taken from a man 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.”

  • “Don’t aim at success — the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run — in the long run, I say — success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.”

  • “In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”

  • “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

  • “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

  • “It is well known that humor, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds.”

  • “Man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life.”

  • “The more one forgets himself — by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love — the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself. What is called self-actualization is not an attainable aim at all, for the simple reason that the more one would strive for it, the more he would miss it. In other words, self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence.”

  • “Man’s search for meaning may arouse inner tension rather than inner equilibrium. However, precisely such tension is an indispensable prerequisite of mental health. There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that so effectively helps one to survive even the worse conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life.”

  • “Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment.”

  • “One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it.”

  • “Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him.”

How Viktor Frankl's teachings influenced my life

My obsession of discovering meaning of life was ignited basically by writings, sayings and teachings of Silo. The idea of meaning of life as a clear desire of life percolated slowly as i got involved into work of humanist movement deeply. During that period meaning of life appeared to be something inherent to life but had a mystical touch for me. I could not clearly define it nor experienced it as a felt sensation of what can be called a meaning of life. However, later during my involvement, Silo introduced four Disciplines of School wherein Purpose of life was stressed upon as a necessary conducting thread of life. Yet both purpose and meaning had a little transcendent and mystical connotation. I could not come to grasp the idea that i can touch, feel and realize. This was my inability.

However when i came in touch with Viktor Frankl's writings, he clarified that meaning was something to be discovered in everything one does and experiences in life including one's suffering. His book "Man's Search for Meaning" and "Man's Search for Ultimate Meaning of Life" provided a concrete understanding of how meaning can be discovered. He even had formulated a PIL (Purpose in Life) test procedure that help one discover it.

Following this, i chose to complete a distance learning course of Logo therapy which concerns with solution to the life through discovery of meaning. The course gave a Humanist approach to meaning that differs distinctly from therapy and therapists like the Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler. In process, it made me constantly aware of what is meaningful, what is purposeful and what is not, in life.

Of particular importance was Frankl's reference to the fact that "There is more to life than being just happy". A life can be apparently unhappy, yet meaningful. What is of importance is not pursuit of happiness in terms of having a roof over head, food to eat, monetary comfort and life of negative freedom to do what one likes, whether it is moral or immoral, but a life that gives meaning and substance to it. In a fact a consumerist life for pursuit of happiness is, in effect, is a life of being a "taker" whereas a meaningful life is a life of being a "giver".

It set me thinking when i saw that there were abundant examples in history and in everyday life wherein people willfully chose a difficult apparently torturous and suffering life in order to give meaning to it. Gandhi chose an ascetic and simple life, more prone to inconvenience, rather than a comfortable life because he was wedded to larger and meaningful cause of freedom of India. Thousands of ascetics, revolutionaries, freedom fighters and cause oriented people do the same because meaning they achieve in life is far greater than a simple and comfortable happy life.

Viktor Frankl's entry into my life, i can say, gave more definition and clarity about meaning and purpose. Purpose, according to Frankl, is translated in terms of having meaningful goals. Goals essentially become meaningful when they have to do with helping others and helping them to grow in life.

Viktor Frankl's teachings helped me clarify discovery of meaning and purpose. It threw clear light on them.

Linesh Sheth