Yoga Book Club – Man’s Search For Meaning

Thanks to all you lovely people who came along for Yoga Book Club last night . It was a challenging book but brought up some really interesting discussions covering mental health, resilience, finding meaning and purpose in life and robots in old people’s homes.  We are so lucky that Dr legumes give us the run of their restaurant so we can enjoy a meditation without disturbing other diners and the feast they served us as always was a treat. If you haven’t eaten there yet, go!  It’s fabulous ️. Next date and book to be decided – head over to the Facebook page or get in touch if you want to be involved next time – all welcome, the more the merrier.

About the Book
This is a very real account of the way humans can adapt and survive under extreme circumstances detailing the minutiae of everyday life in the camp.The worst thing about the book for me was having to read about the ways in which humans are capable of treating each other.  However, the experience allowed him to develop his ideas and theories which were then put into practical use when he set up the school of Logotherapy.

Obviously, this is a really challenging book to read but I feel like it has many, many lessons for us to learn from.  The main theme of the book is about finding meaning in the suffering experienced during those terrible times and for Viktor Fankl the idea of his work and manuscripts was what kept him going.  Perhaps by us, and the millions of others who have read this book, learning from his experiences this gives the suffering meaning.

Maintaining the will to live – “He who has a why can bear any how” – Nietzsche
 Viktor Frankl talks about the fight for survival.  The relentless struggle for food, for your life for you and your friends.  How your identity, possessions and even clothes are  removed so you are simply a number and existence hangs on a knife edge. All of this can lead to the loss of humanity, to apathy as you become more and more accustomed to the horrors. The only way to survive are to keep the will to live.

The book details the different ways in which the prisoners tolerated the conditions:

Loved ones
 “The salvation of man is through love and in love. A man who has nothing left in this world may still know bliss in the contemplation of his beloved.”  Viktor contemplates his wife and speaks to her. His inner life becomes more and more real and intense.  The prisoners look to the past for comfort.

Inner world
Spirituality and connecting with the inner world/self.  He observes that those who can retreat from their surroundings to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom seemed more able to endure camp life.  That inner life becomes a refuge .  

Grim humor becomes a weapon in the fight for self preservation.

Healing beauty of nature – as the inner world intensifies, art and nature become more powerful as a way of escaping the reality of the situation.  A reminder of how beautiful the world can be.

But these things alone were not enough to maintain the will to live.

Pleasure becomes relative so that meagre escapes from suffering become pleasures – or a negative happiness and the prisoners accept their fate. 

Meaning is found through action and conduct, how you bear your burden.  This also applies to the guards as well as the prisoners.  Viktor talks about how some of the guards showed kindness and how some of the prisoners behaved brutally.  There was decent and indecent behaviour on both sides.   “Life in the concentration camp tore open the human soul and exposed its depths.

By the time the prisoners are freed their humanity has been so blunted that they have to relearn to be human.  Some of the oppressed become the opressors and some of the guards go on to be heros of a sort.

Lessons We Can Learn

  • Freedom comes from the ​behaviour and reactions of the prisoners to their suffering.  There is proof of this freedom in the prisoners who help others and perform heroic acts.  Apathy can be overcome.  “Fundamentally, therefore any man can even under the circumstances decide what shall become of him, mentally and spiritually.”
  • There can be meaning and dignity in suffering. Suffering is inevitable like fate and death.  The way that suffering is dealt with can add a deeper meaning to life. 
  • Man needs a goal, a future to look towards.  “Looking into the future is a salvation in the most difficult moments of existence”  With no goal time slows down and life becomes meaningless.  Loss of the future = loss of hope.
  • He finds that by observing the suffering and being curious and detatched about it he is able to manage it.  Spinoza says – “Emotion which is suffering ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it. 
  • He sees how the prisoners state of mind affects their hope and courage and this in turn affects their immunity, health and ultimately their life.
  • Striving and struggling for a worthwhile and chosen goal.
  • “Live as if you are living the 2nd time around and had acted as wrongly the first time as you are about to act now.”
  • Imagine the present is the past and that the past can be changed

How We Can Create Meaning and Purpose
Creating work or deed – mission, vocation
Experiencing something or someone – love, nature, truth, beauty
Attitudes towards unavoidable suffering

Is Man Free?
 Man is free and can change the world and himself for the better.  Freedom needs to go hand in hand with responsibility.

We are self determining
We have all potential behaviours within us
It is decisions not conditions that affect how we behave.

If you read the book but weren’t able to come along I would love to hear your thoughts on the book?  What lessons did you take away from it?  

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