“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life…”
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
When I was going through my divorce about seven years ago, I spent a lot of time in reflection. I devoured self-help and inspirational books like a “spiritual junkie,” sometimes reading three at a time (you should see me with a TV remote).
I went on what I could only describe as a hero’s journey, discovering authors, concepts, religions, meditative practices, only to spiral up and back and around to the place where I started. It took me a long time to realize that what I was really searching for was my authentic self, and my life’s purpose.
One of the books I read during this period, and am now re-reading, was Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. For those of you who are not familiar with what has been described as one of the 10 most influential books in the United States, I’d recommend a read. The book chronicles in part, the author’s time and observations as a prisoner in the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist, noted the way a prisoner imagined his future affected his longevity.
In his book, he also discusses logotherapy…the belief that it is the striving to find a meaning in one’s life that is one of the most powerful forces within humans.
Frankl believed we could discover the meaning of life by:
- creating a work or doing a deed
- experiencing something or encountering someone
- the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering …and our ability to choose our attitude in any given set of circumstances.
Powerful stuff, right? I believe at midlife many of us are presented with challenges or shifting circumstances that make us question our purpose, that test our mettle. Divorce is a big one. Empty nest is another. Job loss or illness are other major challenges.
I believe Frankl is correct; the attitude we take toward the unavoidable suffering, the search for meaning in our lives, the search for purpose, is the journey to our authentic selves.
I believe with all of my heart, and even on bad days, that our purpose is to serve. What that looks like is different for each of us. Our journey, our way to healing is how we express service and love in our lives, be it through kindness, words, deeds … by creating beauty in any form or passion.
We might not really understand what life has in wait for us, what wacky, happy, cruel, uplifting, soul-searing adventures lie on the road ahead of us. Especially at midlife. But how we handle the ups and the downs, the successes, the failures, is up to us. We can choose to find meaning in the journey, we can choose our outlook, as Frankl says, and we can choose to serve.
This is the meaning of life, love. This is the hero’s journey for which we all embark upon, that we all share. So if our paths were to cross at any point on this journey, know, even if the words are never spoken, that I wish you well, I wish you love.
“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 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.” —Viktor Frankl