If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no benefit in worrying whatsoever
For the last three weeks, we have been on a fascinating journey to find life’s raison d’etre or reason for living, based on the beautiful book, Man’s Search For Meaning, by Viktor Frankl. We have traced the story leading to the incarceration of Frankl, the horrific circumstances at Auschwitz and how it all boils down to taking responsibility no matter what questions life asks you. The last post elicited a very spontaneous response from the readers, and almost all agreed to the line of argument I had put forth. In this post, we’ll discuss Logotherapy, a concept propounded by Frankl based on his experiences in various concentration camps. This discussion will not be an esoteric one but rather bring forth some practical points which you and I could use in our daily lives.
Logos in Greek means “meaning” and hence Logotherapy is the method which helps a human being find a meaning for his existence. Frankl believed, and quite correctly, that if a human being understood the meaning and purpose of his or her life, no amount of hardship and suffering would be able to rattle them. The concept germinated in Frankl’s mind as he witnessed the horrors of the concentration camps and consequent deaths, many of which were due to the fact that the person had lost their will to live. Once he was treating a man who had lost his wife in another camp and had gone into depression due to which no medicine was working on him. He could not reconcile to the fact that his life-partner had left him, and he would never be able to see her again. Frankl gently reminded him that if he had died before his wife, she would be going through these pangs of loneliness and depression. “Would you have liked to see your wife in your condition?”, he asked this man, who immediately saw the silver lining even in this dark cloud of gloom.
Logotherapy has three pillars which aid in finding one’s raison d’etre.
- By creating a work or accomplishing some task.
- By experiencing something fully or loving somebody.
- By the attitude that one adopts towards unavoidable suffering.
We will take on each of the pillars one-by-one and decipher them to find some practical ways in which we can apply this esoteric concept in real life. I am not a psychologist, and what I write is based on my convictions and experiences in life. In a way, this is the essence of Logotherapy by a common man for a common man.
The first pillar of the Logotherapy concept talks about “creating a work or accomplishing some task” and hence is a pillar in the physical realm. Many a time we find ourselves anxious, fearful, disturbed, irritated or experiencing similar negative emotions. The cause for such negative emotions may be extrinsic – an obnoxious boss, an irritating colleague, a rash driver who cuts you off, your child’s report card, a tiff with your spouse, or a multitude of other reasons. The cause may also be intrinsic – the memory of a bitter event, anxiety for a forthcoming event, a general feeling of unhappiness etc. In all of these situations, you are putting yourself at centre-stage and relating everything to you and feeling unhappy.
If you shift your focus to something else other than yourself, maybe the situation will not look so gloomy. If you immerse yourself in work, a task, a hobby, anything which gives you a broader focus, your unease goes away. The work you have undertaken becomes the raison d’etre for you; its successful completion will provide satisfaction and happiness to you. The larger the cause for the task or work, the more elated and accomplished you will feel. A reason or cause which is related to your country is bigger than the one related to your organisation which in turn is bigger than the one related to your personal advancement. The bigger the “why”, the more intense will be the focus, the more tangible will be the raison d’etre.
The second pillar of “experiencing something fully or loving somebody” refers to the psychological or emotional domain. You would have noticed that when you are immersed in certain activities, time just flies past. You don’t even feel hungry or tired despite the intense physical or mental effort. This state is called the state of “Flow” when you lose yourself to the activity being performed. Artists frequently experience this state of flow – musicians, writers, painters, and other creative people give their best in this state. Leonardo Da Vinci could never create another Monalisa; Beethoven could never make another Ninth Symphony. Even Lord Krishna, when requested by Arjuna to recite Bhagavadagita once again, expressed his inability to do it (AnuGita; Ashwamedh Parva of Mahabharata.) We all have this state of flow, though we may not be overtly aware of it.
For me, writing and singing (I am a learner and amateur in both, but that’s not the point) are two activities where I lose myself, feel invigorated and energetic and really look forward to it. For some of my friends, a game of golf gives them this flow, for someone else running a marathon, for someone else cooking or gardening, the list is endless and specific to each one of us. We need to find these activities which bring us into a state of flow and attempt to do them more frequently.
The second part of the second pillar, “loving somebody” is rather self-explanatory. When we are in love, our focus turns outwards; we tend to care for that person more than we do for ourselves. The love could be for our parents, spouse, lover, child, pet, our organisation, our nation or anything else. The point is that we put somebody above us in the order of priority and that gives us our raison d’etre. There are stories of frail-looking ladies lifting a car when they found their child trapped under it. Soldiers sacrifice their lives for the “Naam, Namak and Nishan” of their Paltan, without even thinking of their families or themselves.
The third pillar of Logotherapy, “the attitude that one adopts towards unavoidable suffering” relates to the spiritual realm. We have alluded to this fact in earlier posts – nothing happens by chance in this world or to us. It’s all about the cause-and-effect cycle. We reap the rewards or punishments for the acts we have done in the past (in the current life or before that.) Actually, reward or punishment are the wrong words, for any outcome or result is neutral in itself. It is our comparison of the effect with a pre-decided result, which causes pain or pleasure. Remember what we discussed in the last post – pain is unavoidable (it’s a part of the ebb and flow of life), but suffering is optional.
We will also do well to remember that actions are both, a cause (karmbeeja – the seed; what you are doing now or have done in the past) and their consequence (karmphala – the fruits of action you are getting now or will receive in the future). Every action has an immediate consequence (output – intended or otherwise) and also a long-term one (outcome – difficult to predict while you are doing the action.) Any result, howsoever passionately you may desire it, may or may not manifest as many other personalities are involved in producing any effect – good, bad or ugly. All these personalities bring their fundamental nature (prakriti) to the table, thus making an outcome or result highly dynamic. You would have noticed in your life that the same or similar efforts often bring forth distinctly different results.
Chapter 18: Verses 13-16 of the Bhagvadagita state that you have control over your action alone and not of others and hence the results can’t be predicted. The results could be very good or terrible – learn to remain equanimous in both. What you are experiencing right now is your Karmphala – the fruit of your previous actions. How you react to this result or outcome will be your Karmbeeja – the seed for your future results. What you have done in the past can’t be undone, so the only thing in your control is your reaction to the results as they occur. Learn to get your response to the happenings, your Karmbeeja (Responsibility=Response+Ability) correct, the outcomes or future results are bound to be good. Learn to act without expectation – Nishkam Karma; to work is karma; to work without seeking a particular result or controlling a specific outcome is Karmyoga. Be a Karmyogi – bear the pain stoically and don’t suffer; pain may be extrinsic, but suffering is always intrinsic.
I hope I have been able to give some practical pointers to the readers out of my understanding of our scriptures and the book, Man’s Search for Meaning and the technique of Logotherapy. Next week we will explore an exciting variation to Logotherapy called Ikigai and try to glean some practical lessons which we can apply in real life.
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