The more I read Man’s Search For Meaning, the more I garner about the human condition and the condition of my own psyche.
The book is so chock full of substance that it’s actually unbelievable—absurd even.
Dr. Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist who lived through the horrors of the Holocaust, discusses in grim detail his experiences at the Auschwitz concentration camp, as well as his psychotherapeutic method over the course of about 150 pages.
Early on, he discusses the role of love in the context of human suffering in a powerful way.
“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—that love is the ultimate and 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. I understand how a man who has nothing left in this world may still know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved.”
In essence, love is all.
It adds an experiential component to all of Frankl’s sentiments, being that they arose out of one of the darkest places we could possibly imagine. It is hard to argue with the man, when his attitudes helped him survive the endless trials of camp life.
Love is something entirely transcendent of our circumstances, as stated clearly by his experience. Remembering someone we love in a time of pain gives us that glimmer of hope that may very well be necessary for survival.
Love inspires us to be the kind of person we need to be in any given situation. It lifts us, guides us, and propels us toward higher states of being.
“In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way—the honorable way—in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life, I was able to understand the meaning of the words, ‘The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.’“
Love gives us the incentive to power through our respective suffering, whatever that suffering might be. A true and profound connection with another human being is the most powerful thing in the universe. There is nothing like it.
Love is a resource that can be endlessly drawn from inwardly. To dwell on the ones we love in times of dire straits is sometimes all we have access to, and surely it is more than enough to contend with our predicament.
In honoring the people we care most, we delve into the deepest dimensions of our being, sinking into the most fundamental aspects of who and what we are. To elicit such a quality of depth is to induce a kind of impenetrable inner strength that carries us through even the most horrible situations.
“My mind still clung to the image of my wife. A thought crossed my mind: I didn’t even know if she was still alive. I knew only one thing—which I have learned well by now: Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self. Whether or not he is actually present, whether or not he is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance.”
Love is the feeling of intense connection at the level of spirit.
Having a fixed relationship isn’t always necessary for love to flourish, in fact it is much more of an inner quality. Knowing how much we care about someone fills us with life blood. Having this kind of connection makes us realize we are, indeed, human.
It is impossible to explain love to someone who doesn’t have an understanding of it. Love is incredibly unreasonable. This is the case because love is beyond reason. It is an unadulterated expression of soul, and thereby cannot be explained away.
Without love, we are nothing. That much is clear to me.
“There was no need for me to know; nothing could touch the strength of my love, my thoughts, and the image of my beloved. Had I known then that my wife was dead, I think that I would have still given myself, undisturbed by that knowledge, to the contemplation of her image, and that my mental conversation with her would have been just as vivid and satisfying. ‘Set me like a seal upon thy heart, love is as strong as death.’”
Love is our greatest strength, and loving contemplation is perhaps one of the most effective vehicles in transcending suffering.
Next time that we are in pain—great pain—let’s ponder the people that we care about the most. We can even talk to them in our own minds (or in reality), tell them how much we love them, and send them waves of boundless affection.
Writing about love is one of my favorite things to do because it helps me invoke that inner state of aliveness, an intensity of being grounded in compassion.
I feel myself growing stronger, more capable, and more courageous through reminding myself who and what are most important to me.
In the case of Viktor Frankl, it was his love that kept him alive.
Author: Samuel Kronen
Image: YouTube screenshot
Editor: Danielle Beutell