In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl, a renowned Austrian Jewish psychologist and Holocaust survivor, writes that: “When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task. He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden” (pg. 77-78).
In other words, we must bear our cross. We need to reshape our attitudes towards our trials and tribulations and accept that suffering can be useful as an avenue for increasing our self-awareness. It allows us to dig deeper into the self and microscopically analyze our past and current beliefs and actions. Further down the road, we can reach a state of enlightenment and inner peace by accepting the difficulties that life throws at us and turning them into positives.
Reality is that the majority of humans don’t want to suffer and are unwilling to carry their cross. Even scarier is that most of us don’t realize that our thought life is the catalyst behind the majority of our problems. Obstacles are a normal component of life, but our negative thinking patterns often paralyze us, preventing us from benefitting from difficult situations. Our primordial fear is uncertainty and the less faith we have the more we complicate our circumstances. We attempt to control the uncontrollable, fuelled by a cycle of anxiety-ridden thoughts and behaviours.
As twenty-first century humans addicted to technology and hypersensitive to rapid information inflow, we have become wired for fear. In an age of global terrorism and economic uncertainty, we fear for our safety, for our children’s safety, for our job security, and fundamentally for our future. We have become so vulnerable and lonely that the notion of an urban community has become eroded. As an example, the other day it dawned on me that I’ve taken the same commuter train for over three years without actually having met a fellow passenger. While I consider myself far from antisocial, in my eyes this observation highlights the general state of isolation in our society.
Frankl writes “The salvation of man is through love and in love” (pg. 37). While loving and sacrificing yourself for a significant other or family provides a purpose in life, I’d like to further add that openness and love for one’s community are important. This requires a sense of trust in others and a leap of faith to venture outside our comfort zones and past the wall of fear to build meaningful connections. Where strong communities exist, the support systems in place are healing. While suffering is an inevitable and in itself a profoundly corrective force in life, we don’t have to go about it alone.
Frankl, Viktor E. Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984. Print.