Written by Victor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning is “a classic tribute to hope from the Holocaust”. I still can’t believe that I laid my hands on such a remarkable and fantastic work. It is the kind of book that possesses the power to turn one’s life around. It would pick your broken pieces and give you the psychological tools to get the pieces back in place and redeem your life all at once. I feel like I read it in one breath. And now that it’s over I feel like I’m earnestly and almost thirstily breathing an air better than the one before I beheld the book. One filled with freshness and hope. It would make you appreciate your life and be thankful for the problems you have encountered, however brutal they once felt like. I highly recommend it to all the readers and non-readers as well. Good news for non-readers is that it is a quick read and would leave a chip on the back of your head, that would give a direction to your life.
Countless works have been produced in order to help us find the purpose of our lives and lead a life of meaning and example. But, only a few such as this have had the power to reach deep into one’s soul and impacting us in ways we had been promised. It is a book of modest volume and can be easily read in one sitting. However the impression it would leave on you would undoubtedly last a lifetime. Life is a one time opportunity, yet many of us give up when the times are tough. This book would, in many ways, make your problems seem too trivial to put your life at halt for. It would introduce your own strengths to you. Trust me when I say that it is one of it’s kind in survival literature.
Victor E. Frankl was a professor at Vienna Medical School where he taught neurology and psychiatry until his death in 1997. He remains a much revered hero of many. And the book having sold more than 12 million copies, speaks for itself. It more or less, reminded me of Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl. What is common to both is their way of getting the readers emotionally involved and leaving us with the feeling that we have personally experienced some of their grief and hence we understand what they are speaking of. Along with the numerous accounts of the horrors faced by the author, there also are lessons of life spoken with such passion and positiveness in the face of unimaginable adversities, that leave the reader with nothing but respect and admiration for the survivor. One of the biggest lessons here is to deal with every situation with the best of your faculties, for we can’t control the situations but our attitudes. In Frankl’s words “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.”
The book is divided into two parts. The first part comprises of an autobiographical story where Frankl gives accounts of his depressing and painful life at different Nazi concentration camps during World War II, including at Auschwitz. While the prisoners were treated like animals with no identity, many of them couldn’t stand the physical and emotional torture. Yet there were many, who kept the virtues of humanity flaming within and denied to become what was expected of them. They chose to stick to their lives as respectable humans with empathy and zeal. Frankl has presented many such instances where he empathizes with others and happily puts in little possible efforts from his side so as to help his fellow inmates. In the second part of the book he introduces to the readers the concept of Logotherapy and then onward we are introduced to numerous other technical terms and application of the therapy in different spheres of life.
Having a Psychologist in the family, I have come across some beautiful and astounding techniques of Psychotherapy. So, perhaps that was the reason I saw Logotherapy in a clearer light and absolutely loved the vivid descriptions of real life implications. However, it is absolutely fine if you don’t want to bother yourself with the statistics, therapeutic descriptions or findings included in the later part of the book.
If I am asked to give out my favorite parts, I would end up writing down the whole book here. For each page had something brilliant to offer. Laced with helplessness was a shimmer of hope, which kept Frankl going. At a point of time, a thought transfixed him. That love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. And he concluded that “The salvation of man is through love and in love.” While his life was falling apart he created his wife’s image in his mind with much acuteness and clung to it as if his life depended upon it. It was a beautiful and touching part.
There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions as the knowledge that there is meaning in one’s life. There is much wisdom in the words of Nietzsche: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
Another part that left me awed was the story of Death in Teheran, and the way the Author compared it to the ill fate that his inmates faced later.
A rich and mighty Persian once walked in his garden with one of his servants. The servant cried that he had just encountered Death, who had threatened him. He begged his master to give him his fastest horse so that he could make haste and flee to Teheran, which he could reach that same evening. The master consented and the servant galloped off on the horse. On returning to his house the master himself met Death, and questioned him, “Why did you terrify and threaten my servant?” “I did not threaten him; I only showed surprise in still finding him here when I planned to meet him tonight in Teheran,” said Death.
While going through the photographs which had been taken at a different camp, the author stumbled across the images of partially charred bodies of his friends who had then thought that they were traveling to freedom, the night they were loaded into a truck and taken to another camp. But actually were locked in huts and set on fire. Frankl reflected upon the fact that how fickle human decisions can bring major impacts upon the destiny. How fate had toyed with him and the remaining prisoners who got to live.
In the whole story, there are umpteen accounts of death. Somewhere, someone is dying every once in a while. And yet, the essence of LIFE has been so well propagated through it. In the later part of the book where Logotherapy has been discussed, many other aspects have been brought to light. The meaning of life, love and suffering could not have been explained any better, in such short an excerpt.
And ah, what profound ending.
“So, let us be alert-alert in a twofold sense:
Since Auschwitz we know what man is capable of.
And since Hiroshima we know what is at stake.”
As the tradition goes I sat pondering over my to-be resolutions on the New Year’s eve, while flipping through the leaves of previous year’s journal. As it lay there open and inviting I could not resist the temptation to go through each and every page in the utmost details trying to relive a few of the exuberant moments while patting myself on the back for all the times I succeeded in the tests laid for my patience and perseverance. Last year was an unrealistically salubrious mixture of good and bad experiences. And however badly I might have cursed my fate during those hardships I now feel that they were necessary. They HAD to happen to help me build the person I am NOW. A few hard but right decisions, persistence even when the going got tough, showing calmness on the surface even when the storm deep within kept getting worse day by day; while I was trying them I learned that it is not that bad as it seems. Believe me when I say that I started enjoying it after a while. When life throws at you unfortunate and ugly challenges at a breakneck speed and you start looking at the world through your ever moist eyes, life may not look that beautiful and worthy. But it is. It is as beautiful as it was always meant to be.
A short time back as I was battling through my furious mood-swings and never ending nervous breakdowns I looked at life as a burden I had to carry; breathing a mere compulsion. Right before our placement week, a couple of months back my body gave up and I suffered from the kind of fever that was not getting down even with the loads of pills I took. I had stopped talking to people and I could not ask for help. I could not share my plight and that was literally taking me down. I did not narrate what was going on to my own father who happens to be a doctor. I was feeling confused, frustrated and pathetic all the while. But my decision to persist still makes me happy beyond measures for I would not have been rewarded had I given up and did not even try. I am sure it was a test which the almighty had planned for me to appear. Before this I had never experienced any genuine challenges. Tough times I mean. Life had always been a bed of roses. No health issues, no family problems, no personal problems. I actually LIVED my life in these 4 years of B.Tech life. It seemed like life never got tired of throwing stones at me. And in an attempt to answer back I took up habits that magically helped me drown my sorrows for short blissful moments, however made me feel more pathetic and empty deep down as time passed by. Here is a plea for all the youngsters out there- never take help of alcohol, smoke, drugs or other such harmful stuff to overcome temporary states of misery. They corrupt you of the beauty of your life, they corrupt you of the most beautiful human emotions, the innocence you were born with.
Each and every experience in itself is benign. All of them are worth experiencing. As I am writing this I am smiling to myself. That wicked smile I had never smiled before. For now I feel that I am starting to understand the rules of the game. The only rule for the game of LIFE is- “There are no rules. I make my own set of rules and I have the complete freedom to break them, distort them, redefine them as many times as I wish.” I have the right to commit mistakes for if I don’t I’ll be living the same year of my life over and over again. And no doubt that would check my growth and creative ability. And ultimately the purpose of my life would be lost. Do I want to live the same year 75 times or more and call it a life? Well the voices ringing in my ears are screaming NO a thousand times. And ignoring my inner voice while I so obediently lay my ears to the rest of the world with patience would be the most unintelligent decisions I would ever make.
What life is it to have not experienced all possible human emotions? Not having the courage to risk your bed of roses to get a view of the world out there. The taste of your own warm blood gushing out of the flesh ripped apart. The music played by the strings of your own heart. The touch of magic and madness of nature. The smell of nostalgia.
No doubt I would encounter situations that would not always be in my favor. I may not always be able to win in each and every walk of life.I may stumble while walking through rough times. I may not have people always by my side to take care of me. I may fall, I may get wounded, I may cry like a baby, I may feel helpless and tired at times. But will I stop living? NO. That is how this game is played. No matter what, you gotta keep moving or you would lose. And who exactly wins in this game? Well all of them win who COMPLETE the game. They may not always be at their best. But if they keep going even when they are drained out of all the energy, that counts.
I already am hearing a thousand applauds, people screaming out my name in unison in the stadium I call my life, for I have played brilliantly they say. I see myself in peace, for I have made my presence count. I see myself content, for I have acknowledged the essence of life. So my only new year resolution this year is to be myself and keep playing my level best. However demotivating the audience becomes I would not quit the ground. Tons of bricks they may throw my way for I don’t try to fit into their stereotyped rules and expectations; I will create a mansion so magnificent and beautiful that even the wisest of them would doubt whether those are the same bricks I used to create my dream home that they had thrown with the intention of bringing me down. My stand will be firmly rooted for my inner voices would overpower those of the critics. MY VOICE is all that I need to hear. If the crowd cheers along, great! And if it doesn’t, even better. All that matters is I keep playing no matter what. I would not quit the game of life!