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Posts from — February 2015

No Accidents

No Accidents

The legendary psychiatrist and neurologist Viktor Frankl founded a therapeutic model he called “logotherapy,” a method of existential analysis based on the idea that we human beings live within meanings, and that it is these meanings that inform and shape the tone and impact of our experience more than factual events alone. Frankl adapted this philosophical approach in his work with clients, where he observed that the greatest stress we face is the loss of meaning, a loss that the incessant distractions of modern life and fingertip technology seem all but designed to inflict.

If we take upon ourselves the commitment to live meaningfully—that is, to conduct ourselves toward meaning, to adopt meaningful living as a requirement, and to make choices and follow directions that serve and satisfy that requirement, something remarkable happens. Events that we might have considered accidental or random acquire the significance of our commitment to meaning; that is, they become opportunities to discover deeper and richer expressions of the meaning of our identity and our story. Even if in some sense we allow that life brought us an accident, our resolve to live meaningfully transmutes the dross of accident into the gold of a serendipitous or even synchronous event.

There is a profound principle at work here, one that has the power to lift us out of despair and deliver us from feeling as though we are at the mercy of events. Given the nature of the creative, meaning-seeking beings that we are, no situation has the power to make us victims without our permission, for what the victim suffers, the student of life recognizes as instruction, a wake-up call, even guidance. The unconditional commitment to live meaningfully takes the sting out of adversity, turns defeat into sobering lessons, and transforms losses and setbacks of every sort into spiritual victories.

In counseling sessions, we see that this principle has the power to liberate instantly, even in cases where the client’s suffering has been protracted and resistant. As we watch these clients open to the meaning hidden in their predicament, we see again and again that the wound is the gift, that we can resolve anything that we can transcend. Frankl saw this enacted dramatically during his nightmare in the concentration camps, where prisoners would sometimes walk over to the electrified fence and end their lives. Under such inhuman conditions, death became the only meaningful option for some. In this act of unimaginable courage, they were not embracing death but meaning, not forsaking life but life lived meaninglessly. Their fate had brought them to the edge of the world, yet they found, even there, a way to affirm their existence—the only way left open to them.

Most of us will never face such dire conditions. Yet the principle holds. We have the power to transcend any condition by transcending accidental living and its mandate of perpetual reaction. We can rise above conditions and claim the greater awareness, truer truth, deeper self-knowledge, and stirring of wisdom that remain ever hidden from the eyes of the victim. Our life is, in the end, as meaningful as we require. That is in our nature, and nothing can take it from us.

February 24, 2015   Comments Off on No Accidents