Meaning through Helplessness

“Most important, however, is the third avenue to meaning in life: even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation, facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by so doing change himself. He may turn a personal tragedy into a triumph.”

Viktor E. Frankl. “Man’s Search for Meaning. An Introduction to Logotherapy.” ed 3, Simon & Schuster, NY, 1984.

There are many reasons why Frankl might consider this the most important path.

In the book he gives examples of some prisoners of war in North Vietnam, and a young man paraplegic from a diving accident, all claiming to have 'benefited' from these 'growth experiences'. Today this phenomenon is known as post-traumatic growth - in contrast to PTSD.

Should we lack meaningful relationship to work (1st path) & loving experience (2nd path), intimate encounters with constant change, aging, sickness & death cannot possibly be missed. How we dance with these inescapable existential challenges, that are the very fabric of life, is our individual, completely unique, performance art - our part of the flow of life.

During meditation practice, we may experience extreme pain / suffering. The intensity can be such that it seems to surpass one individual's capacity to bear - more than "a fair share" of suffering. This may be an opportunity to transcend the personal into the collective - an opening to process our collective, human suffering. Perhaps holding it as a loving group effort is the only way one can bear it. Purging impurities from gold by fire comes to mind. In this sense, great personal suffering is our work (1st), our experience (2nd), and unavoidable (3rd path) in the sense that it's now time for us to process this and move on, transcending this level.


"Your joy is your sorrow unmasked" - what a fabulous koan - Kahlil Gibran's poem:


The Old Apothecary Bakery & Cafe, Halifax, Nova Scotia

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