(Title: Friedrich Nietche: Twilight of the Idols – 1888)
My attitude to my circumstances very often dictates my actions as well as the end result.
Natasha (his wife) has just come up to the window from the courtyard and opened it wider so that the air may enter more freely into my room. I can see the bright green strip of grass beneath the wall, and the clear blue sky above the wall, and sunlight everywhere. Life is beautiful. Let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression and violence, and enjoy it to the full. (TROTSKY’S TESTAMENT – 27 FEBRUARY 1940)
In his poignant book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl (what an appropriate name!) describes his experiences in a German concentration camp. He shares the methods that he applied to carry him through this horrific ordeal and helped him find a reason to live.
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 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.
According to him, when we are no longer able to change a situation – like an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer – we are challenged to change ourselves. Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him – mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp.
Frankl set out three different ways to discover this meaning in life:
1. By creating a work or doing a deed
2. By experiencing something or encountering someone
3. By the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.
He writes that it does not really matter what we expect from life, but rather what life expects from us. In the concentration camp “…we needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life – daily and hourly. Our answer must consist not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfil the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”
We should live as if we were living already for the second time and as if we had acted the first time as wrongly as we are about to act now!
Frankl concluded that the meaning of life is found in every moment of living. Life never ceases to have meaning, even in suffering and death. Frankl demonstrated this notion in a group therapy session during a mass fast inflicted on the camp’s inmates trying to protect an anonymous fellow inmate from fatal retribution by authorities. He offered the thought that for everyone in a dire condition there is someone looking down, a friend, family member, or even God, who would expect not to be disappointed. He came to the conclusion that a prisoner’s psychological reactions are not solely the result of the conditions of his life, but also from the freedom of choice he always has even in severe suffering.
The inner hold a prisoner has on his spiritual self relies on having a hope in the future, and that once a prisoner loses that hope, he is doomed.
We see an example of Frankl’s idea of finding meaning in the midst of extreme suffering in his account of an experience he had while working in the harsh conditions of the Auschwitz Concentration camp:
… We stumbled on in the darkness, over big stones and through large puddles, along the one road leading from the camp. The accompanying guards kept shouting at us and driving us with the butts of their rifles. Anyone with very sore feet supported himself on his neighbours’ arm. Hardly a word was spoken; the icy wind did not encourage talk. Hiding his mouth behind his upturned collar, the man marching next to me whispered suddenly: “If our wives could see us now! I do hope they are better off in their camps and don’t know what is happening to us.”
That brought thoughts of my own wife to mind. And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another up and onward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife’s image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.
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 honourable way – in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfilment. 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”
In the original musical, Time, by Dave Clarke the character, Akash – brilliantly played by the late Sir Laurence Olivier, delivers the following verdict:
Throughout the universe there is order
In the movement of the planets, in nature
and in the functioning of the human mind.
A mind that, in its natural state of order,
is in harmony with the universe
and such a mind is timeless.
Your life is an expression of your mind.
You are the creator of your own Universe –
For as a human being, you are free to will whatever
state of being you desire through the use of your
thoughts and words.
There is great power there.
It can be a blessing or a curse –
It’s entirely up to you.
For the quality of your life is brought about
by the quality of your thinking –
think about that.
Thoughts produce actions – look at what you’re thinking.
See the pettiness and the envy and the greed and the
fear and all the other attitudes that cause
you pain and discomfort.
Realize that the one thing you have absolute
control over is your attitude.
See the effect that it has on those around you
for each life is linked to all life
and your words carry with them chain reactions
like a stone that is thrown into a pond.
If your thinking is in order,
your words will flow directly from the heart
creating ripples of love.
If you truly want to change your world, my friend,
you must change your thinking.
Reason is your greatest tool,
it creates an atmosphere of understanding,
which leads to caring which is love
Choose your words with care.
Go forth … with love.
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(Oh, that voice, that voice…)