Saturday, November 22, 2014

Ultimate Quest

by Christina Carson

I recently finished a second reading of Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. A psychiatrist and neurologist by training, Dr. Frankl, at age 39, found himself a prisoner at Auschwitz and then moved to a camp associated with Dachau. It was under the intensely forbidding circumstances of prison life that he was compelled to begin exploring the nature of and need for meaning in human existence. One of the conclusions he drew was that man can find meaning in any situation and, in fact, must, for it is only through meaningful existence that we can endure, even the intense suffering he knew.

Among all its gruesome imagery, the book is liberating. My first reading of it years ago allowed me to understand the power that comes to those willing to take responsibility for their lives. I figured if Frankl managed to live without blaming others for his fate, horrible as it appeared, how could I stand there and point fingers at others in a much less dire set of circumstances? That choice invited me to look more deeply into my life. When I did, what I saw was me assigning meaning to the actions and events around me not searching for meaning within them. The former results in blaming others and traps you in your fate. The latter gives you a vision of how you can endure and rise beyond the problem confronting you.

We are raised to be far more interested in assigning meaning than in accessing it. Prisoners in a concentration camp, however, can’t
afford that luxury if they want to survive. That’s what Viktor Frankl came to understand and made incredibly clear to me: We choose how to perceive our circumstances; we then get to live with what we chose. This is the most accessible level on which the search for meaning exists, but there are others.

When Mark Twain observed: “The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day your find out why,” most people assume the quote refers to some mighty achievement or a holy grail for our personal lives. We anguish over the lack of sense and fulfillment our lives offer us and assume finding that would be the be-all end-all. However, as grand as a meaningful project or relationship can be, they are not the hallmark of human existence. 

There is an even more profound yearning for meaning at the species level, cosmic rather than personal. Life is meant to expand, not contract. We are creatures of incalculable wisdom and creativity. We are meant to be free spirits, unattached to the plethora of habits (mindlessly applied meanings) that keep us petty and afraid. That explains to me why in one of those seeming unbearable moments when Viktor Frankl cried out for relief what came to him were these words: "I called to the Lord from my narrow prison and He answered me in the freedom of space."

Ultimately we are here to grasp the fundamental meaning of human nature – spacious, serene and unchanging. We are called to know beyond doubt what we truly are and why we are here. Imagine a life driven by that search for meaning. Just imagine…

Integral to the novels I write is
 a search for meaning, since for me,that is the
driving force in life.


  1. Well said! Thoughtful examination of our condition, who's to blame, and who's to credit.
    Great timing to be able to read this on Sunday when I cannot attend church (work).

    1. Appreciate your comments, Chip. There are so many things to explore in the way of viewing life we were all handed. It isn't the only one or the only way to perceive and understand.

  2. I remember that book well and its graphic messages. And yes, I can only imagine a universe peopled with Spiritual Beings searching for that ultimate regognition that they are already complete, whole and its a done deal!!! A reflection of the divine shine, the divine order , the divine universal ominscience Now may we get busy applying it with no excuses blame game, merely demonstration of Love.---Merri so good to read something from you...

    1. It certainly would be grand to have a few more, that's for sure. It tends to be such a short line. Thanks for stopping by, Merri. I have been buried in work, so it felt equally good to steal a few hours and write. Thanks for being there to read it.

  3. Thank you for introducing me to this work. I'll have to read it...

    1. I think one could call this work a classic. It has been a great inspiration to me, twice now. I hope you find much to ponder within its pages. Thank you for stopping by.