Our Search for Meaning

treed jen

Jen in a tree near Mt. Fuji. Photo by Tzing

“Man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a “secondary rationalization” of instinctual drives. This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can be fulfilled by him alone; only then does it achieve a significance which will then satisfy his own will to meaning. There are some authors who contend that meanings and values are ‘nothing but defense mechanisms, reaction formations and sublimations.’ But as for myself, I would not be willing to live merely for the sake of my ‘defense mechanisms,’ nor would I be ready to die merely for the sake of my ‘reaction formations.’ Man, however, is able to live and even to die for the sake of his ideals and values.” — Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning

How many of us are on that path that can be ours alone versus following what has been laid out by others with very different backgrounds?  Do we feel a queasy sense of hypocrisy and dissatisfaction with ourselves and our lives, or can we be confident that we are giving it our best shot this time around?

Deep down, we know why we are here.  If we are confused about that, there are no doubt layers of conditioning to work through, but we have to be honest with ourselves about the messages we get from our body-mind-spirits and feedback from the environment, which is not “random,” nor so wholly apart from us.

Sometimes we are so debilitated that it is hard to hear any voice of inspiration or imagine what meaning could possibly exist.  In my own life, I have gone through excruciatingly long periods of apparent stagnation and difficulty, but when I came to have faith that I do have a purpose and that nobody else can do my job, and that furthermore, following my heart will benefit all beings immeasurably, even my worst suffering started to seem like more of a teacher and less of a punishment.

We could play the role of the skeptic and say that such talk is verging on a delusion of grandeur, but when we consider that, as compassionate humans, we cannot be happy unless everybody else is happy, we should see our absolute obligation to at least make the most of our own existence!  It is frightening take on this responsibility, and there is no telling where it might lead.  I’m getting better at trusting that it’s worth the risk.