But My Mind Will Remain

For the last five years, Man’s Search for Meaning has been on my to-read list. For the last few weeks, with an increase in anxiety levels for the future and pondering the meaning and purpose of my existence, I decided to finally open the pages of this book by Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl.

Before World War II, Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist and neurologist. He was a respected man in his community. He was also Jewish living in a part of the world that was more interested in his ethnicity than in who he was as a person. He was removed from his home in Vienna in 1942 and spent his next three years in a several different concentration camps. All his possessions, his work, and even his name was taken away from him. He, like his fellow prisoners, was identified by a number. His life became one of forced labor with only a meager ration of bread and watered-down broth for sustenance.

So far, this book (I’m only halfway through) has been remarkable, but there has been one passage that has been exceptionally memorable. Frankl was asked to give words of encouragement to his fellow prisoners. In his speech, he spoke of the suffering they had endured. But despite this suffering they still had reason to hope. Despite what they had been through and what they were reduced to, there was still meaning for their lives. I have read his speech over and over and was left with one overwhelming thought. No matter what their conditions, no matter what tortures the guards inflicted on their bodies, they still had the power of their minds. And their minds could not be touched unless they allowed them to be touched.

If you lay violent hands on me, you’ll have my body, but my mind will remain on Stilpo.*

Zeno

Throughout history, man has always tried to rule over his fellow beings. They have found ways to exert ownership over those they deemed to be inferior. And though they may have found success in owning the bodies of others, they could never own their minds. Our minds belong to us, and they are unable to be owned by another, unless we allow them to. It reminds me of another philosopher who was once a slave. Epictetus said, “Any person capable of angering you becomes your master. They can anger you only when you permit yourself to be disturbed by them.” For most of his life, Epictetus did not own his own body. But for his whole life, he owned his mind.

Many of us will never have to endure the suffering Frankl endured in the concentration camps. But in our own ways, we are all fighting a hard battle [link]. Our suffering may be unjust, but it has meaning. It is up to us to not lose hope and remember that what does not kill us will make us stronger (Nietzsche). We cannot always control what happens to our bodies, but we can always control our minds.


Feature photo the Auschwitz Concentration Camp by Frederick Wallace on Unsplash

*Zeno, the founder of Stoicism, was influenced by the Greek philosopher Stilpo (360-280 BC)

Happiness and Flow

There are some days where flow seems impossible. A sporadic mind, a cell phone designed to distract and interrupt, and countless other trivialities spring up. Those days are difficult. Items need to get checked off the list, but the boxes remain blank. It is easy to get frustrated when this happens. It is easy to blame the universe and those within it for destroying your chances of productivity. Such an unhappy state!

But then, there are the other days. There are days when you are gifted with a laser-like focus. You are in the zone, and you got the flow. You don’t need the coffee and its stimulating effects because what you got within is more than enough. Those days are the best. Pure bliss!

Happiness is a good flow of life.

Zeno

If you want to be happy, you must find the flow. Whatever that flow is, doesn’t matter. It is your flow. All you must do is get on and enjoy the ride.

This state is available to all of us. You can find it in a day, or it might take you a lifetime. Such is the quest for happiness. You define it, then you pursue it, and hopefully, finally, you find it. You will meet it on your own terms when you are ready.


Feature photo by Peter Conlan on Unsplash