Searching for Meaning

One of my goals for camp was to read 2 books per month. Since arriving on August 26th, I’ve read 7. This pace will no doubt slow now that I have a job. Man’s Search For Meaning by Victor Frankl is the author’s personal account of his life as a prisoner in the worst of the Nazi concentration camps. Frankl was a psychiatrist who struggled through but survived unimaginable cruelties, finding meaning in the suffering that he experienced and witnessed.

Relating this personally, I know that campers here will ultimately walk out of this place when their time is completed. But who wants to just walk out? If I need to be here, I desperately want this time to be important, significant, positive–I want it to have some meaning. Frankl would say that the key to success here is to look outward to someone or something bigger than me. He would say to live in the moment, not the past, but to look to the future with hope. Some inmates do that, but many fail. It won’t just happen. There are challenges while incarcerated. I’m told that small units of time, like hours and days, seem endless while longer units, like weeks and months, pass quickly. For that reason alone, Intentionality is critical to success.

Certainly we can find meaning through experience and love, but Frankl proved that we find meaning through suffering. I know my own search has been overly focused on experience or attempting to experience success and the approval of others. Such a road is fraught with risks. As the Christian writer Richard Rohr says, such a climb toward success can lead to a worldview that is “distorted by misconceptions, illusions, fear of failing and a radical disconnection from the heart.” Rohr believes that there are really only two “cauldrons of transformation” toward meaning: great love and great suffering.

With a touch of irony, Frankl concludes that I shouldn’t even ask what the meaning of life is. Instead of me asking what the meaning of life is, life should ask me what life’s meaning is. I am (we are all) questioned by life about it’s meaning, and I can only answer that question by being responsible.When I am questioned by life, I can only answer by being responsible.

Responsibleness is the essence of human existence. I think he’s saying that if I am consumed by searching for meaning, I will never find it. In a sense I am to look inward, and in doing so may just find something bigger than me.