Man’s Search for Meaning: The Space Between Stimulus and Response.

VIKTOR FRANKL (1905-1997)

One of the greatest victories we can achieve in life is the mental, emotional and spiritual victory over inevitable circumstances and the struggles they create. If someone like ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ author Viktor Frankl, who endured and overcame extreme tragedy and horror in his life, having lost most of his family in various concentration camps during World War II, can see the opportunity for growth that is dormant within pain and adversity, then none of us can really believe that we have any excuse to simply give up and allow life’s circumstances to get the best of us and bring us down. What I can understand to be the meaning of Frankl’s wonderful quote is that, between any given situation we face and our reaction to it, there is what he calls a ‘space’, a moment of introspection. When we enter this sacred space, it may feel as if time has stopped, as if we are suddenly struck by pure timeless realization. We are saved by a mere moment of contemplation, of profound meditation. Many of us have no idea what this space really means, but when one’s life is turned upside down and one is suddenly in a life or death situation from which there is no escape, cultivating this sacred space becomes essential, not only for survival, but for sanity’s sake as well. What this space signifies is nothing but the magical science of intuition. Through the wisdom of a second of silence we find that we are freed from unconscious bondage; we are no longer compelled to react based on raw animal instinct or habitual behavior patterns we have developed over time. Emotion is no longer our master, and we are now free to examine a situation with the light of pure consciousness, with the infallible wisdom of the spirit.

What we find is that this serene space, this intuition that we speak of, allows us to analyze any situation objectively from within the deepest and wisest part of our spirit, that part which is beyond all duality and contradiction and which is connected with God, with the oneness of it all, putting aside even the strongest of emotions and the subtlest yet most sinister sense of entitlement in order to perceive something as it truly is, to perceive it in all honesty and with painfully perfect purity. Purity is painful to those accustomed to the pursuit of pleasure, and at times our intuition will go against what our illusory self wants. It is imperative that we follow our deepest and noblest realizations, which will allow us to remain unshaken through the storms of life. Only then will we be prepared to react appropriately to any unpleasant situation which may arise, or to any confrontation against righteousness. We are not speaking of any superhuman ability,  but rather of the deepest part of our being as human beings. We can all learn to carefully control our reactions to external events, and in fact, our overall life satisfaction throughout our journey’s different stages and in general will depend a great deal upon this sole factor. Whether we are able to react calmly and sincerely to the obstacles of life, or whether we will be overcome and mercilessly consumed alive by emotions as destructive as lust and greed, being dragged around by our necks from here to there as unconscious slaves of our own uncontrolled passions.

We have all been guilty of trying to use our circumstances as excuses for why we have not gotten ahead in life and why we never will. We attempt to justify and normalize why we should and always will conform with living mediocre lives far from the true and meaningful works of art we know we were meant to mold our lives into. So many of us want to improve ourselves and the world as a whole, but a profound inability to take control of our own thoughts and actions unfortunately means that we probably will never give life to the creative projects floating around in our unique brains. The pressures of society make us feel that it we fail we will not only be forever labeled and rejected as failures, but that we will never be able to reintegrate into a mediocre life if we ever choose to return to it, having failed in the pursuit of the extraordinary life we always dreamed of. Mediocrity becomes  so comfortable because it allows us to go on reacting to things as we please, as we always have, without analyzing and correcting our own behavior, without taking responsibility for improving our lives. The real reason why we fail to get ahead, however, is because we are afraid of pain, we are terrified of struggle, and we lack purpose. The main point in Viktor Frankl’s life-changing book is this: We all need a purpose in order to move forward. Purpose can inspire one to persevere through pain of the worst kind, and even through persecution. 

Fear destroys ideas before they are even manifested outside of the thought realm. Too many people see adversity as something to be avoided at all costs, and they fear situations which will remind them of their weakness. They want to stay in mediocre situations that will not demand change of them. We all want to be heroes, but we often fail to see that usually the very same people who have been through and have eventually overcome nightmarish situations are the very same people who have also become some of the most successful and admirable people we know of, people who have made history and who have inspired millions simply by example. Viktor Frankl is someone who I personally admire very much and who I believe we can all learn much from. Again, Frankl lost pretty much his whole family who were executed in concentration camps by the Nazis. Viktor explains in his masterpiece book how he would often notice that whether or not a prisoner had hope of surviving the war or not greatly influenced how long they were able to endure cruel treatment and even live through disease.

We all need motivation in order to survive. We all have goals we want to achieve, projects we want to undertake. After some time living life it becomes clear that we will never be able to achieve these goals if we cannot stand adversity, if we break down in the face of the most insignificant inconvenience. In order to succeed we need to have a purpose. Once we have a purpose of which we are certain then it becomes much easier to avoid the distractions and to get right down to business. Acknowledging our obstacles, we accept what is. Only then can we plan out how we will overcome the obstacles. This gives us purpose, meaning. We can only find purpose if we stop following our own habitual ideas and take a moment to analyze each and every one of them, from the perspective of the spirit, from the serene space we are talking about.

None of us are perfect, and all of us know it. Yet, so many of us want to pretend that we are, even knowing that everyone else also knows we’re not. We want to keep up appearances so we never let anyone know about our creative projects, about the innovative experiences we are looking to have and create in this world. We have all become so consumed by the wanting to belong to the crowd that we ignore original ideas too often simply because they fall outside the box of social norms. Many of us know there are problems in our lives. Sometimes these problems might be dangerous and life-threatening, and imposed upon us by external forces such as in the case of Viktor Frankl and all people who were persecuted, imprisoned and murdered by Nazis and many other oppressive and corrupt groups of people throughout history. Other times our problems are not so life-threatening. In fact, since we lack wisdom due to never getting into that space of wisdom and intuition, we probably cannot even perceive that there is a problem at all, or we might know that there is a problem, but being so advanced in ignorance at this point, we succeed in completely banishing the troubling thought from our minds – for a while. Because of this reason, because the problems maybe appear minor, we choose to ignore them completely, since it is often much more comfortable to simply ignore problems than to work on them. After all, we have never had a glimpse of what our life could be like if we resolved our problems. 

We know that if we were to fix this specific problem our life would be better in this specific way. Yet we are comfortable with our dysfunction now that it has become a mental habit. We accept that we are mediocre, that life just sucks and there is not much magic to it, so we sit around and do nothing productive day in and day out, slowly adopting a cynical attitude towards life and the world, complaining that everything is a problem and nothing goes our way. Well, guess what? Your problems are the way you can get things to go your way if you simply choose to stop ignoring them. How do we learn math or science or any other subject in school? We are presented with problems which we must solve day after day until we become accustomed to solving such problems. We come to know that if we want to find the answer, a problem must first be solved. In life however, we refuse to see problems as growth opportunities, as obstacles we must rise above in order to strengthen our character – we fail to see that problem-solving gives life its meaning.

What we all need to do is to realize that we have within ourselves immense power, such as the power to survive a holocaust, to keep on living with purpose even after facing the death of all those we love, to forgive the killer of our child, like the video I saw the other day where a grieving mother hugs and forgives her child’s murderer in court. I personally don’t know if I would be able to do either of these things I have mentioned were I to act in the manner I have in the past, or were I to give in to my own habits and tendencies. The problem is not that human beings cannot do these things, they clearly can. The problem is that too many of us believe we can’t, and so we never try to become such people. As a limited human brain, I cannot do these things, but if I practice tuning into that space of intuition, then every step will become clear and I will overcome in the end. You see, these people like Viktor Frankl, or like the mother who forgave her son’s killer, have made an inner decision. Their determination didn’t overcome adversity and hatred because they were born different from us ordinary people, or because they have a purer spirit than ours. We are all children of God, whose infinite power dwells within us all as one pure and universal spirit. Our spirit cannot become more pure or impure. All that can change is the amount of negative and positive habits in our brains, which are the physical instruments which allow us to perceive reality, both physical and spiritual. 

This invincible and godly spirit is capable of rising above emotion, above thought, above comprehensible human logic, and it can make miracles happen. When we become painfully aware of this to the point that we cannot help but live in the holy manner the spirit requires of us, then we will be able to live not only with purpose, but with The Purpose. The highest and only Purpose, after all, is the divine will. Man makes his decisions freely, but all is directed to balance out in the end, all flows and transforms and God’s will is always achieved. Obstacles are God’s will and mercy. They are the consequences of our own evil actions, not as individuals but as humanity, for we are all surely one spirit, and God has embedded into these obstacles the opportunity for us to learn and thrive from them, to derive purpose in correcting these mistakes and finding unity behind duality, finding peace beyond the never-ending conflict on earth which we are all susceptible to, finding the space in which we can be with our spirit amidst all the trials and tribulations. 

Create a space. Meditate. Analyze your actions, evaluate your values. Correct your ways and see if your friends follow. If they don’t follow your path, then at least make sure they don’t try to lead you astray from it and if they do then stand firm in the spirit. Our culture has become one of mindless, unproductive desires being acted out in every selfish way imaginable with no regard for anyone else or for the environment which is being affected. We need to realize the importance of living with purpose again, of doing things with meaning. We need to take a moment to reflect on our thoughts and our emotions and to make sure we do not react by escaping from those we find unpleasant, but by facing them, by identifying the problem and by creating a solution. While creating said solution, we must stay present in the moment, and we must not make the process of creating a solution a burden. We must come to love the struggle, the urge to keep on improving; we must finally realize that life’s obstacles are its biggest blessings, since duality is only an illusion, and in the end, all is one, both the good and the bad. Once we realize this it will mean we have finally come to value purpose and meaning in the way we always should have.

~ REBEL SPIRIT ~

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