Dancing and Viktor Frankl, Part 2

I’m sure you’re sick of hearing about Liliana’s dancing, but what’s so amazing to me is that she alters her movements to parallel the mood of the song.  Even her face mirrors the singer’s voice–his or her emotions.  We put Brandi Carlile’s “The Story” on for her, and if you know the song (I’ve included the link to it at the end of this post), you’ll know that Carlile ramps up on the chorus halfway through, and you’d think she’s crying out the pain of her life.  How does a two-year-old know to do that?  She hasn’t really lived yet (or perhaps I am wrong; she has felt pain, since both biological parents rejected her).  She is quite precise when it comes to feeling a piece of music.   It’s remarkable, and I’m not just saying that because I’m her adoring parent.

The speed with which she’s acquiring English is astonishing, and there have been many times where Dan, Worthy, and I are talking quickly, joking over her, and she responds with a word that’s appropriate (and frightening, since we didn’t know she was paying attention).  Every day she comes up with new words, new actions.  She’s able to explain now how she’s feeling; there are only a few times where we’re not sure what she means, then we say, “Show me,” and she does.  How can it be that just seven weeks ago we were flying home with her to America, and now she can “get by” so remarkably well?

One thing I’m very pleased with is that she’s aware of how she feels from moment to moment, and she knows how to solve the problem (or she tries).  She knows when she’s cold (she shivers and puts her arms around herself and says, “Cold,” then she goes for something to wrap around herself, whether it be a blanket or a towel or a beach wrap).  She’s been rapid bait for the mosquitoes where we’re staying, and she knows when something “itches” or doesn’t feel well.  I’m not sure I was aware when I was a child of what I was feeling.  I simply followed my parents’ lead.  I’ve always wanted my child to be aware of how she’s feeling, then problem-solve on how to fix it.  This will come in handy later when we’re working through emotional problems, so that I can validate her “feelings.”  If all this is sounding a little like gobbly-gook, then you’ll have to forgive me.  Knowing how you’re feeling at every moment is a gift, and I intend to give it to my child.  Not many children receive this gift from their parents.  And lest you think I’m patting myself on the back, I’m not.  I only regret that I didn’t possess this gift until very recently, say, five to six years ago, and looking back, I realize there’s a boatload of difficulty in my life that could have been erased had I had the gift of simply knowing what I was feeling at any one time.  I would have been able to “listen” and change my behavior, therefore avoiding the unnecessary hurt.

And that brings me to the second day of Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning, which I recommend that you buy at your earliest convenience and devour in one sitting.  I finished it last night.

Recap: Frankl was a psychologist who lived in Hitler’s concentration camps during WWII.  He lost all his loved ones, except one sister.  The book is part memoir, part self-help.  What’s interesting about it is how Frankl came up with a theory of psychological practice (logotherapy) before the camps, and how living in them only reinforced his theories.  If you’ve ever gone to therapy or counseling, or whatever you want to call it, you’ll know that you often look to your past to find what has gone wrong somewhere along the way.  Then you give a hard look at it, and relive it once again, so that you can “feel” properly the second time, which oftentimes lessens the pain.  At least that’s how I see it.

Frankl does something different.  He claims that if a person has the ability to find his or her meaning for life (it’s different for everyone), then they are able to live and look back at their lives with satisfaction.  He said that people who came out of the camps reacted in one of four ways: as a perpetrator of violence themselves because they felt people owed them; persistently bitter because no one cared or validated what they had gone through–“We had no idea what happened in those camps, and besides we wouldn’t have been able to do anything anyway”; overwhelmingly disillusioned because the happiness that they believed they would receive upon being released from the camps dissolved when they found out all their friends and relatives had perished; grateful that they had one last chance at life, that they had a task to accomplish or a person they could love.

This last reaction was the one that Frankl was interested in, because in his practice after the war, he realized that it was a person’s attitude in his or her suffering that was key.  He said if you’re suffering needlessly, that’s masochistic, but if you can’t remove your suffering, you’ll need to find a way to get through it (or live in it).  By looking to the future and asking yourself what life expects from you (not the other way around), you begin to hope; you begin to see a purpose in life.  Frankl does not discriminate religiously, either.  Everyone is able to do this.

This striving for meaning, though, may “arouse inner tension rather than inner equilibrium.”  Frankl goes on to suggest that it is this needed tension that propels a man or woman forward (and provides mental health).  He claims that the assumption that humans need a “homeostasis” or equilibrium is false–“the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what one should become…is inherent in the human being and therefore is indispensable to mental well-being….What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.”

This makes sense to me.

Listen to this.  Doesn’t this ring a bell?  “Let us consider, for instance, ‘Sunday neurosis,’ that kind of depression which afflicts people who become aware of the lack of content in their lives when the rush of the busy week is over and the void within themselves becomes manifest.”  On this note, wherever we go, Dan has always pointed out the sheer numbers of young people on cell phones–constantly.  He wonders aloud whether or not those young people would be able to sit still in a room by themselves, without any communication at all–would they be able to enjoy their own company, or would they go crazy?  It’ll be interesting to see how many of those kids fare in life–whether or not they’ll know themselves, be comfortable in their own skin, without needing outside stimulus.

Interesting story in the book.  “We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed….Let me cite a clear-cut example: Once, an elderly general practitioner consulted me because of his severe depression.  He could not overcome the loss of his wife who had died two years before and whom he had loved above all else.  Now, how could I help him?  What should I tell him?  Well, I refrained from telling him anything but instead confronted him with the question, ‘What would have happened, Doctor, if you had died first, and your wife would have had to survive you?’  ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘for her this would have been terrible; how she would have suffered!’  Whereupon I replied, ‘You see, Doctor, such a suffering has been spared her, and it was you who have spared her this suffering–to be sure, at the price that now you have to survive and mourn her.’  He said no word but shook my hand and calmly left my office.  In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of the sacrifice.”

What is your meaning in life?  What is life asking of you?

As promised, I’ve included Brandi Carlile’s “The Story.”  Enjoy!

[Post image: “Sad music, Mama!”]

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The quote I live by

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.
--Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet

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