(*Quote of the Month)
OK, I’ve got a pretty penetrating excerpt this week for my Quote of the Month. It’s from Austrian psychologist Viktor Frankl’s, Man’s Search for Meaning. I’ll admit it is also more of a passage than a quote, but I wanted to share it in its entirety, as it is pretty incredible, particularly within its circumstance.
Frankl (1905-1997) was a three-year survivor of several Nazi death camps during World War 2, liberated in 1945, and became a world-renowned psychologist following the war and founder of a psychological approach called logotherapy: its major tenets include finding meaning in all experiences of life, including horrific suffering. Man’s Search for Meaning (1946) was his first book, rewritten after his notes were taken from him and destroyed in his first prison camp assignment. This is a profound book, and yet is one of 39 written by him. I read it again recently, just a tiny little thing, in which he first describes his Holocaust experiences and then draws conclusions for the foundations of his philosophy. It is a simple but very thoughtful read. (Hit this link for more quotes from this insightful book.)
One of his recollections referred to the healing effect of natural beauty within the context of their misery. Here we go:
As the inner life of the prisoner tended to become more intense, he also experienced the beauty of art and nature as never before. Under their influence he sometimes even forgot his own frightful circumstances. If someone had seen our faces on the journey from Auschwitz to a Bavarian camp, as we beheld through the little barred windows of the prison carriage the mountains of Salzburg with their summits glowing in the sunset, he would never have believed that those were the faces of men who had given up all hope of life and liberty. Despite that factor -- or maybe because of it -- we were carried away by nature’s beauty, which we had missed for so long.
…the healing effect of natural beauty
within the context of… misery…
In camp, too, a man might draw the attention of a comrade working next to him to a nice view of the setting sun shining through the tall trees of the Bavarian woods, the same woods in which we had built a hidden munitions plant. One evening, when we were already resting on the floor of our hut, dead tired, soup bowls in hand, a fellow prisoner rushed in and asked us to run out to the assembly grounds and see the wonderful sunset. Standing outside we saw clouds glowing in the west and the whole sky alive with clouds of ever-changing shapes and colors, from steel blue to blood red. The desolate grey mud huts provided a sharp contrast, while the puddles on the muddy ground reflected the glowing sky. Then, after minutes of moving silence, one prisoner said to another, “How beautiful the world could be!”
It gave me joy to read this, imagining these tormented men in this situation. God’s creation truly does possess a remarkable ability to lift us, to draw our spirit to a higher plane of mindfulness, contemplation and delight, regardless of our circumstances.
~~ RGM, January 23, 2014
P.S. A key to Frankl’s psychological philosophy is that, no matter our circumstances, good or appalling, the opportunity is still ours to choose our response to it. No wonder he and others could find a modicum of pleasure even in the prison camp context. That’s something for us all to muse upon a bit this week.