Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Logotherapy and Rosh Hashanah

I’m not sure what brought Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning in my hands on Rosh Hashanah .  Maybe it is the “meta” feeling of the High Holiday.  The High Holidays can be a letdown.   The liturgy, the long hours in the synagogue, the archaic and sometimes alienating images of a God who is King (and male) who rewards and punishes, who inscribes people in book of life or a book of death.  All these concepts can be profound (after all, what else is more important than life and death) but also difficult to grasp, even in ten days, even with all one’s strength and attention
So, Frankl’s book on “existential” psychology probably acted as a counterweight to grand theories of life and death.  By definition, existentialism tries to avoid overarching "meaning" systems.  For Frankl, a survivor of the Nazi death camps, there is only the moment, and how we frame the meaning of that moment.  Frankl’s book gives numerous examples of how this is done, and that is the meat of the book.  Toward the end, there are silly sections about the therapeutic school he founded based on these insights, replete with technical jargon that sounds outdated and odd.

But that is not the lesson we should take away from Man’s Search for Meaning.  Finding meaning, God, self, love, are ongoing activities, happening at every single moment.  It never ends.  When we stop trying to find a meaning in each moment, we fall into a torpor which is a kind of death.   

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