life journeys

Is Meaninglessness a Malaise of our Times?

A lack of meaning might be called a malaise of our times. When we encounter challenges in life, often we discover that we can’t find a center, a way to cope. What is it all about?

Studies measuring meaning and purpose in life have found that meaning in life mediates uncontrollable stress and substance abuse, depression, anxiety and self-derogation, among others. This meaning or deepest human value, this WHY, points us to reach beyond ourselves, to enrich our lives, and to unfold a deep fulfillment in our work and personal lives.

About The Program – Calming the Storm

This program offers daily ways for you to overcome difficult situations, to help you to find the WHY that will energize and animate your life. In finding your own WHY, in discovering your meaning and your purpose, your pain will be lessened. You will discover ways to unfold meaning, as well as a personal calling through tasks that you can fulfill, relationships that you can strengthen and enrich, and attitudes that you can develop and cultivate.

This practical, inspiring, and potentially life-changing program will take you step by step through a process towards a more fulfilled and enriched working and personal life.

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Suffering Ceases to be Suffering – Viktor Frankl

Renewed Purpose (2)“In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”
Viktor Frankl

See the online course: Calming the Storm to discover your own personal meaning.

This Precious Human Life by His Holiness the Dalai Lama ~ Each Day Recite This

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“Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.” His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Image from a walk along Trappieskop in the Southern Peninsula of Cape Town: Sitting feet on the rock looking down.

Bangkok and Sri-Ayuttaya

guest house

Photos of some of my stay in Bangkok at Sri-Ayuttaya and a couple of other pictures. I wish to record how thankful I am to the owners of this Guest House, for their kindness and for visiting me when I was in hospital over Christmas, with what the hospital thought was a collapsed kidney. The Bangkok Mission Hospital is fully vegetarian, so that was a treat.  I would recommend Sri-Ayuttaya to any traveler and they made wonderful Thai curries for me, with Tofu. The joys of good vegetarian food. Where: Sri-Ayudthaya Soi 14, Behind National Library Dusit,10300, Bangkok Thailand.

How sad I felt, tethered to a drip, prostrate in white linen with Christmas Carolers singing downstairs. How traveling challenges you with a kind of violent physical purging, especially when traveling in Asia. Physical afflictions plagued me in both Thailand and India. My romantic notions of living in India soon smashed into reality when I become violently ill the moment I ate something in a Delhi eatery. My sensitive sensibilities protested wherever I went. Strange coming from Africa and a warm tropical climate. Just like the mosquitoes like moths, the bacteria and viruses saw a wonderful if unwilling host, territory to be conquered.

Wat Pho – Reclining Buddha Temple

reclining buddha temple

 

The Reclining Buddha

The Reclining Buddha

 

My Breakfast Spot

My Breakfast Spot

 

Tiger Temple

Tiger Temple

Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi, Thailand.  It was an incredible experience, there were tigers all around…this one turned his head and put my whole arm up to the elbow into his mouth…the monk quickly put a white powder on the rock and the tiger let go and turned to lick it…WOW AND WOW! Almost sans arm!

 

Where I used to sit.

Where I used to sit.

Frankl and the Sustenance of Love | More Luminous than the Sun

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What sustained Frankl, gave him courage, or even inspired him during the time of his suffering?

An example from Frankl will illuminate this question. It occurred on an early morning march to the work site. Amidst shouting, and stumbling over rocks in the cold of the morning, the man marching next to him whispered: “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.”(Frankl, 2008:48) Frankl began to think of his wife, through icy stumblings his mind clung to her, he heard her voice, and saw her encouraging look. He describes that her look was “…then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise” (Frankl, 2008:48) He was transfixed by the words of poets and thinkers who had pointed to the truth. “…That love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire…the salvation of man is through love and in love. (Frankl, 2008:49). In this way Frankl was transported to another world as he communed with his beloved. He realised that love goes beyond the physical person and that it is a deep spiritual experience of the inner self. This communing with and visualisation of his beloved wife, sustained Frankl.

 

Reference:

Frankl, V. (2008). Man’s Search for Meaning. Great Britain: Rider.

Image purchased at Creative Market – Huge Nature Photo Set

Happiness Ensues

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Profound words by Viktor Frankl:

“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.” ~ Viktor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning. 

Image purchased at Creative Market – Huge Nature Photo Set

The Felt Weight

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“She had not known the weight until she felt the freedom.” 

― Nathaniel HawthorneThe Scarlet Letter

I can say, that for me the release after the weight comes in moments, some of which I record here and will add to in time:

Sitting in a green cafe amidst Bangkok, soft light, sparkling glass, tranquil surrounds, beans seen through a glass-topped table, staring into the tangle of flyovers, concrete, cars and every transport mode known to man, realising the reality of the tranquil space, insulated in the muted sounds and air-conditioning, my daughter beside me – “we are doing it”. Ahaa, the reality of the freedom and the choice. The lived felt juxtaposition of chaos and tranquility.

The back of a small motorbike, whizzing around a tiny Thai town, can do, can do. Having noticed a woman at the boarder crossing into Laos, now on the back of her bike. Once crossed I walked with the weight of my backpack digging into my shoulders, eventually finding a small place in Wien Tien with a lovely courtyard. Sitting there, I saw the same woman and spoke to her in Afrikaans: “Ja wragtig ek dink jy is van Suid Afrika, (yes, I really think you are from South Africa)”. And yes, she was, of all places to find a fellow South African. How we laughed till tears fell that day and the next. How these moments lent an appreciation for small things, a cool room, tepid shower water, someone to laugh with from home, and the possibilities. Ahaa the freedom, the absence of weight.

Moving, boxes and chaos, empty spaces, exhaustion, emotional disarray, loss. How to cope? Thinking, I can apply what I know from meditation, I can label the emotion, name it, then think of it as if a cloud, passing over and dissipating, a watershed moment, again and again I did this, applied to life’s streams it gradually became easier to be more resilient, to lose the weight of the felt moment, by accepting, by letting go and simply being, knowing, really feeling it in my pores, that this moment too shall pass. Ahaa, the absence of weight. Be and be still. Meaning unfolding.

A Bangkok Park – Swamped by birds, the moments:

bangkok park swamped by birds

 

Image purchased at Creative Market.

The Last Thing I Ever Say

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Do you think it is possible to grow into the following recounting by Benjamin Zander, of the words of an Auschwitz survivor, she said that she vowed:

“I will never say anything that couldn’t stand as the last thing I ever say”?

Image purchased at Creative Market.

Provocation to Meaning | We are Called

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Provocation to Meaning, (inspired by Langle and Viktor Frankl – Man’s Search for Meaning)

This formed part of a portfolio for a course on Logotherapy. For Frankl, meaning has an element of a unique demand that is made on us by the situations we find ourselves in over the course of a lifetime. So this kind of turns the idea of “meaning” into something a little different to our usual ideas. It is something with which we enter into a dialogue, in the words of Langle (2003): “the capacity for dialogue is a characteristic of being a person (i.e., a being with mind and spirit and a potential for decision making.” Since we are beings who are dialogical we look for something or someone who “speaks” to us, calls us, needs us, talks to us, looks for us, challenges us. This element of provocation then emerges from everything that confronts, challenges or engages us. This being provoked means we are called.

So then this unique demand or call from a place of value creates a moral imperative to act in a personally responsible and accountable way. Each situation requires that we do or be something. This speaks to our conscience and provokes us to “do the one thing that is required.” Meaning for Frankl is not found like a gold coin under a rock, it is something given to us.

We can think of meaning as unfolded as we live our lives and are provoked to meaning and towards self-transcendence in this meaning. This meaning then is beyond and ahead of us pointing to a future. Frankl once defined meaning as: “a possibility against a background of reality”. [1]

For Frankl conscience is something spiritual and transcendent which has universal and timeless significance. Therefore, it seems to suggest that life’s meaning exists a priori, waiting to be discovered. Perhaps it is enfolded waiting to be opened, (this could also be too much poetic licence here). This makes me think of e. e cummings:

“Somewhere I have never traveled, gladly beyond

any experience, your eyes have their silence:

in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,

or which I cannot touch because they are too near.

Your slightest look easily will enclose me

though I have closed myself as fingers,

you open always petal by petal myself as spring opens

(touching skilfully, mysteriously) her first rose.”[2]

Langle, (2003) talks about a meaningful existence that is characterised by “inner consent” which relates to what we do, commit ourselves to, or leave out. This continuous consensual activity has a two-sided dialogue – one external characterised by questions like: “What appeals to me? What attracts or challenges me? Where am I needed or what do I want to do in this situation?” The other side of this dialogue goes around whether I agree with my decision. If inwardly, I have said yes then there will be harmony between inner experience and outer action.

Let’s look forward with hope then that we are all provoked to meaning to the “most worthwhile (the one of greatest value) and realistic possibility present in a given situation and one for which we feel we should decide. “ (Langle, 2003:19).

A meaningless life by contrast could be filled with trivial pursuits, such as seeking wealth, power, popularity, without an awareness of the richness of meaning. This could be characterised by depression, cruelty, sadism, anger and aggression amongst other things.

How do we experience meaning in life?

In three ways in Frankl’s view:

  1. Goals or projects – creative values
  2. Through love and loved ones – experiential
  3. Through a right attitude to life and the tragic triade: pain, guilt and death – having the right attitude – attitudinal.

[1] In Langle 2003: 34. The Art of Involving the Person.

[2] Reference for Cummings: www.k-b-c.com/poetry_eec.htm (Accessed 05/05/2012).

References:

Frankl, V. (1963). Man’s Search for Meaning.

Langle, A. (2003). The Art of Involving the Person – Fundamental Existential Motivations as the Structure of the Motivational Process. European Psychotherapy, Vol. 4, No. 1.

Image from Creative Market purchased Epilogue Presentation.

Aha at the Mekong

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But, at the Mekong River, I had one of those AHA moments. I was doing a visa run into Laos. I was sitting at a table watching the expats and their young Thai partners, thinking how I saw the worst of my own culture in this place so far from home. Then my gaze shifted to the Mekong. The mother of all rivers. I watched as it became dusk. At once, more conspicuous as a person than I had ever been, but never more independent. The lights came on over in Laos. Small craft passed by, I could hear the gentle voices floating over the water. I was utterly alone. Then I had this flash. Nothing is impossible, I could do whatever I set my mind to, all I needed was courage and probably foolishness.

Image purchased at Creative Market.

Pai in the Sky

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I loved this place…sat in the lounge of a wonderful house under a huge tree…people from all over the world were jamming…smells from home – pasta – children playing dogs mingling…a wind came up and leaves and rain blew through the slats at the top of the wall onto my face…the cool…after bangkok…i wept…pai in the sky…how one comes to value the simple pleasures of life…it was Songkran…people were throwing water everywhere…street happiness…largess…i found a magic place after several tries…garden birds…wafting white mosquito nets…green…friendly people…wood everywhere…akin to a paradise…how lucky i was…this was my last journey…after this…when i got back to Bangkok i became sick with chicken pox…after…came home…AFRICA!!!! I came into the airport having wished so hard, like a child wishing for Christmas, that i would hear african singing when i came back home…customs…welcome home…smiling faces…AND african singing. As my luggage was pushed out into the cold highveld air, i screamed AFRICA! Big open skies…my home.

A Pai street:

pai street

Homeless by Ladysmith Black Mambazo from KwaZulu-Natal. I had been homeless and now I was home. Grammy award winners.

They played with Paul Simon, remember Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes? How South Africans can sing, dance and laugh.