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  • Writer's pictureKrishna Bhatt

Sense Of Meaning - Taking A Leaf Out Of Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

“While we were waiting for the shower, our nakedness was brought home to us: we really had nothing now except our bare bodies – even minus hair; all we possessed, literally, was our naked existence.” 


These lines shook me to the core. The book is a living testament to human suffering, and the title (Man’s Search For Meaning) seems a figurative expression of the lives of millions of people who suffered unthinkably inside large concentration camps. I read the book, not as a silent spectator or protagonist or even a victim; this book has something more to offer. Although the book is very profound and equally dark, it is very uplifting, especially in times of individual crisis; the book gives you strength.


Several passages in the book beautifully encapsulate life's fundamental truths. Despite the daily horrors and the enforced physical and mental hardships of life, the writer suggests that spiritual life can deepen. He also notes that individuals who were once thinkers and led intellectually rich lives before the camps, despite their immense suffering, were less affected at their core. They remained resilient, easily finding solace in their spiritual freedom. This insight into the resilience of the human spirit is a powerful lesson in personal development.


“ A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life, I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth - is that love is the ultimate or the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: the salvation of man is through love and in love.” 


Life is suffering. Indisputable! We generally run after impulsive pleasures because they give us the necessary kick in the midst of all the problems that we encounter. Here, finding meaning is not just thinking because if we think so much about life situations, we tend to distract ourselves by the impulsive definition of good and evil or pleasure and pain. Instead, meaning is a deep instinct, far more profound than existential issues or philosophy, where we try to discover in each life situation, every concrete life situation confronting someone, the desire for meaning therein and go on to fulfil it. The best way is to pay attention to the situation in life, and if we pay enough attention, the meaning gradually comes out. This emphasis on the importance of mindfulness and attention in finding meaning can help the reader feel more enlightened and aware of their own life situations.



What is meaning really? Meaning, by definition, from the perspective of an individual, when you are involved in doing something or experiencing something, you are getting some value out of it. Value does not necessarily always mean a tangible value or any benefit, but a feeling of responsible engagement. In a metasemantics parlour, it is a relationship between two things: signs and the kinds of things they intend to express or signify.


Why is meaning important, and how is it related to responsibility? Why suffering is indisputable? And why need to embrace human sufferings?


People do not really suppress the things they do not want to face; they fail to unload them. For example, maybe you regularly go to your office and do your job sincerely, but when you come back home, you feel a bit disgusted. You ignore that disgust. Still, it is somehow voluntary, so you move away from it by doing things, perhaps watching a movie or game, talking to your partner or maybe playing with your child, anything but paying attention to that repugnant feeling. We think that it is natural and often necessary to avoid anxiety or stress, but that illusive disgust doesn’t just fade away. It goes away, sorts it out and comes back to you in the same form or any other form. We experience it every day, and this is the reason we are not happy per se; maybe we enjoy certain impulsive pleasures here and there but are constantly chased by phantoms of that deceptive disgust. However, only when you pay attention to your disgust can you unpack it. You pay proper attention to your disgust, and then it will reveal itself, and then only it transfers the message. However, many of us don’t do that, so we remain in that perpetual sense of disquiet. So, meaning also means, in other words, to pay attention to everything and confront it even if your mind resists it so violently.


Even if you pay enough attention to that sense of disgust, it is tough to transform into an actionable plan, so you need a good relationship where you can talk about it.

What we observe in our lives is a situational crisis. Through situational crises, we try to extract fragmentary senses of meaning, and often, fragmentary senses of meaning are overwhelmingly powerful. Let’s say anger, which is a powerful deterministic factor for the crests and troughs of your life. You can’t just focus on your anger and think about it because, in most cases, you put it in an unbalanced mode.


Pathologising a Sense of Meaning

A sense of meaning is a phenomenological experience to experience something meaningful. It is not a pristine definition because it can’t be comprehended just by your senses. You can approach the sense of meaning through your activities. For example, when you engage in a particular productive activity, you forget your vulnerability, you forget your external sufferings, maybe you lose the sense of time, or maybe you forget about your deep-rooted existential crisis. It is also vital that you are doing things not out of compulsion but of a deep instinct that pushes you to do things that you like deeply.


Our physiology plays a significant role and is, in a sense, deeply linked to our spiritual inhibition. For example, you can corrupt your sense of meaning or pathologise a sense of meaning by adopting falsehood. It is not exactly the same as telling lies. Falsehood is something deeper and more complex when you are in a mode of self-deception.


In our nervous system, neurotransmitters are programmed sufficiently in a way that they give the proper signal when we are engaged in something. You need to pay proper attention to understand the subtlety of the “voice” of your nervous system. So, if you are in a self-deception mode and pathologise your psyche, you slightly twist and warp your internal structure. It is not an ethical claptrap but a profound scientific observation. When you start orienting yourself with your world without being pristine and honest, then you can’t rely on your internal orienting mechanism. If you are deceitful, insincere and lying to yourself and others, then you create a problem in your internal physical mechanism. Then, it will eventually lead you to a confused state of meaning.


Summary 

Although the book showcases a vivid account of unimaginable suffering, it lucidly explains that suffering is not necessarily about finding meaning. There are positive correlations between a search for meaning and other variables, such as positive affect, mental well-being, and self-contemplation. Look at things from different perspectives to unlock the dormant meaning of your experience.



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