One of the profound insights that are offered to readers in Viktor Frankl’s ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ is the experience of an incredible perspective shift as to the nature and quality of one’s life.
Consider that we are preoccupied with the contents of our existence, our work schedule, daily goals, life goals, past achievements, future plans, the clothes we wear, our hairstyle, our diets, our visual shape, too much fat here, too little muscle there. Alongside those mental lyrics are floating notions of the people in our lives, the quality of our relationships, partners, parents, siblings, friends, acquaintances, people who mean literally nothing to us, people we find distasteful and maybe even enemies. We further occupy ourselves with thoughts of status, money, worldly achievements, who we will remain to be when death strikes the final blow. Did we fulfill the fairy tale of glory?
By contrast, there is this reality of concentration camps, monuments of the physical torture and psychological torment that human beings inflict upon each other. Within concrete walls are genuine sadist savouring pain, starvation, infectious rotting bodies stacking up and decomposing within constant sight and reach, glaring neon evil looming over sick, dying, traumatized human creatures in every second of every day.
Such things, we never even consider might enter the landscape of our own lives, except for in the vaguest ways, such as an occasional violent and intrusive thought. Yet, they offer us the rare opportunity to reconsider our lives through the lens of a cold and brutal light. A light that subsequently transforms itself into a glow of infinite warmth and appreciation. It highlights, by means of stark contrast, the things which are so beautiful to us and in the constant reach of our immediate environment.
In exchange for a degree of mental and emotional sensitivity ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ gives readers the gift of finding eternal bliss within one’s grasp. Reading Frankl’s story and thesis, I found myself pondering whether it is perhaps only by a certain depth of processing that sensitivity is present. The sensitivity to temporarily sacrifice a portion of comfort to try to viscerally realize the horror of such stories.
Contrastingly, Frankl illustrates instances of how an inner function of sensitivity enriched life within the concentration camps.
He states, ‘In spite of all the enforced physical and mental primitiveness of the life in a concentration camp, it was possible for spiritual life to deepen. Sensitive people who were used to a rich intellectual life may have suffered much pain (they were often of a delicate constitution), but the damage to their inner selves was less. They were able to retreat from their terrible surroundings to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom’.