Creating Space

In reading Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning I have changed my life and the lives of my children. This is the first post on that journey. It is also my inaugural foray into the world of public writing.

Our culture is full of one dimensional façades of happiness, purveyed as reality through social media, the response, ‘fine’ and other Wizard of Oz-esque tactics.

When in fact our lives are full of suffering.

Way back in 1958 this trend was described by Edith Weisskopf-Joelson, “….Unhealthy trends in the United States, where the incurable sufferer is given very little opportunity to be proud of his suffering and to consider it ennobling rather than degrading. {So that} He is not only unhappy, but also ashamed of being unhappy.”

The reality is that suffering is both uncomfortable and inevitable.

This culture, where the individual’s internal reality of suffering does not match the collective culture’s outward demand for a denial of suffering causes inner-warfare for many people.

I am one of those people.

I continuously struggle to shed our culture’s insistence that I strive to be “happy.” Now I work to find peace and comfort in suffering.  I was fortunate to have Frankl’s book as my wake up call.  And ultimately to find the purpose of my life.  However, Frankl does not provide answers, only questions for the reader to use to search their own soul and life.

Each individual has their own path, their own life from which to glean peace and meaning.
How then to make peace with the discomfort and shame of suffering?

How can finding meaning and value in suffering create a sense of pride and accomplishment?

In reading Man’s Search for Meaning I find that the power of thought and attitude; ultimately meaning, can lessen the discomfort of and the shame associated with suffering.

Though, the unavoidability and discomfort of suffering are difficult things to find peace with. Frankl offers us the assurance that not only is suffering inevitable; it is necessary and vital to life. This is illustrated in his words, “Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.”

However it is difficult to find comfort in these words as our society does not value or even give space for suffering.
Finding the courage to be proud of and acknowledge suffering are challenging things to do. There are so many inputs and people demanding happiness.  From drugs which promise happiness to movies that inevitably end with “happily ever after.”

The message is clear; if you aren’t happy something is wrong.

I have often desperately chased after this ideal of happiness. I searched for it in the abuse of alcohol in my early twenties, the acquiring of ‘things’ in my early thirties and of late; distraction through social media, YouTube and other electronic outlets.
Frankl speaks to a healthier form of escapism, which gives perspective and can help many find meaning in their most strenuous times of suffering.

During WWII Frankl was detained in concentration camps. When things were particularly difficult there, he pictured himself standing in a lecture hall giving a talk about the psychology of his situation. He “observed them as if they had already past.”

The effect is captured in his quote of Spinoza, “emotion which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it.”

Most often my crisis point happens during my children’s loud, angry and seemingly unending tantrums. The repressed suffering of my childhood is ignited by the present-day suffering of my children.

In these moments, it often helps me to think of what a funny story it will make to my friends.  Thinking in my head of funny hashtags to describe my child’s unending tantrum over a seemingly tiny thing helps me gain perspective. This ability to gain some distance allows me to observe the scene with a new perspective and from a ‘third party observer’s’ point of view.

By engaging my conscious as a third party observer I am no longer sucked into the struggle at hand.  I can handle it with more grace and compassion than I could if I were caught up in how enraging and inconvenient is.

A critical step in using this strategy is “noticing.” Noticing that suffering is happening and not automatically defaulting to distraction, avoidance or anger.  Paying attention to what feelings are coming up in any given circumstance. This has always been difficult for me.

How to create space?

My most challenging time is when my frustrated child is screaming in my face.  My body and my brain have a visceral need to scream back and by any means necessary get him to stop.  These reactions are not helpful for him and leave me feeling horrible. Through a regular mediation practice, deep breathing and mantras said in the moment; I have, miraculously, made space.

Through listening, I have provided myself with the opportunity to choose, the opportunity to have control over my attitudes and actions.  Though it wasn’t always accessible, the choice was always there.

Frankl makes this point in his book, “everything can be taken from man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms–to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.” Frankl learned this in a concentration camp, under unimaginable circumstances.  We can find freedom in choosing.

We do not have to suffer on the same scale to find the same truth.

Listen. Wake up. Notice when things are hard.  Notice the avoidance. Notice the anger.

Let the suffering to wake you up.  The suffering is a beacon of light, of hope, a reminder that we are alive. That we have choices.

Noticing was hard for me.  It is not the answer I wanted.  It may not be the one you want.

It felt true, though, it felt right.  And it was for me.

Allowing this book and its messages to permeate my life has led to amazing, seemingly miraculous, changes.  Through meditation and allowing myself to suffer I have found an inkling of what is possible.  But more on that next time…..

2 Replies to “Creating Space”

  1. Yes! I had a similar revelation when I saw my busy ‘squirrel self’ getting and spending and reproducing and quarreling as a separate entity from the me who was watching the squirrel. I don’t remember it very often though. Thanks for the reminder and the insights

    Liked by 1 person

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