In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl writes about life in a concentration camp in the Holocaust:
“In the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone. Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him—mentally and spiritually… Of the prisoners only a few kept their full inner liberty and obtained those values which their suffering, afforded, but even one such example is sufficient proof that man’s inner strength may raise him above his outward life. Such men are not only in concentration camps. Everywhere man is confronted with fate, with the chance of achieving something through his own suffering.”
What I take from this is that to live a spiritual life is a choice, and it’s a continual choice, an effort one puts into life on a regular basis. For me it has to be daily, though I often go astray, especially when life is going well. It’s through suffering that I’m brought back to a place of humility, and then that I reach out and ask for help, as well as offer help, if I’m keeping my heart open.
Take last week for example. I spent the week going through the motions, doing homework, going to work, not getting a lot of writing done but some, most of it complaining about petty things that don’t really matter (most of which I did not post) instead of getting into the deeper questions. I didn’t want to do any inner work. I just wanted to finish homework so I can get through this, graduate, make more money, get my own place, and live happily ever after, right? Ha!
By the end of the week, in my head I was bat-shit crazy. I may have looked normal on the outside, like business as usual, my friends, but I’m telling you, in my head I’d had a thousand different arguments with basically the rest of the world. This person over here wasn’t doing what I wanted, that person over there didn’t respond to my texts (don’t they know who I am?), I got jealous of this other person, and another person, and when am I going to get mine? I have so much school work to do and not enough time, how am I going to spend quality time with myself and my friends plus do everything else? That dude ripped my heart out and now I can’t love anyone else and it’s all his fault, yada yada, blah blah.
It’s all total bullshit. Petty bullshit that doesn’t really matter.
Yesterday I spent the day on the river with a friend, silently resentful about all of these things, thinking, Eff ‘em all. I don’t care. I’ll do my own thing and go off on my own island and everyone else can do whatever. It was the old me. The old me crept back in, and I wasn’t even aware of it. It was a gorgeous day and I could barely appreciate it because I was so focused on where this is all going and who’s going to take care of me.
On the ride back home I told my friend about this book I’m reading, and he said something along the lines of what Tara Brach often talks about, which is this: What really matters? What is it that truly matters on a deeper level?
That’s when I realized, Oh my God. None of that stuff I just wasted the day ruminating on, building up resentments about, even matters.
Then another friend of mine spoke last night of how he can get so focused on what’s in front of him that he can’t see the bigger picture, which is why he has a therapist and a sponsor to help guide him in that.
We can choose our guides to help us along the way. I have access to my spiritual guides who help me remember to focus on what’s important. Because, let’s be real: do I really care about that little thing that was bothering me? And if so, why? In the grand scheme of things, is that truly important? What is it that’s really bothering me? What does that particular situation mean for me?
It usually boils down to this: a fear of abandonment, of being alone, forever, with no one.
But what I’m forgetting is that I have someone. I have a lot of someones, a lot of friends, and of course my sisters, and I have access to an inner strength that I can draw from at any time I choose, and I have a belief and a purpose that there’s something bigger than me, there’s a bigger picture. Which doesn’t make me or my feelings any less important or any less valid.
In Frankl’s book, he writes about how a few of the prisoners would offer some bit of hope or generosity to someone else, in spite of their own suffering. What I got from it was that this was a person who utilized their suffering to access an inner strength by showing compassion for someone else. Most people who suffered became violent or apathetic, and those who became apathetic died because they no longer had the will to live. Some of those who died anyway were able to access this inner strength before they died. My point is, it brings me back to this: How do I want to spend today? Do I want to spend my time worrying about minor things, or do I want to look at the bigger picture of what’s truly important? Relationships, how we relate to one another, how I can show love and compassion for someone else, and for myself, that’s what matters. And in finding gratitude for all the things, big or small, that life has to offer.
I’ll close with this: yesterday I witnessed a cormorant dive into the water, swim under water, catch a fish (presumably), then fly off back over the water. This is probably an everyday occurrence that everyone on the river sees happen all the time, just like the sky is something I see every day, but that doesn’t make it any less fascinating to watch. We can look at the world with childlike curiosity.
And right now, at 8am on a Monday morning, construction workers just started their work on our front porch. I hear there’s a jackhammer involved, but right now all I can hear is an electric saw while the smell of gasoline floats into my room through the window unit. Effing with my serenity as I write about birds floating over the water and let’s all sing kumbaya, folks. Hahahahaha! Good thing I woke up at 6am and meditated already this morning. Which is more than I can say for what I did last week, and you see where that got me.
And hey, if a man can survive a Nazi concentration camp, I can live through a few hours of noise pollution. And this just might be my cue to go to Zumba, another self-care/self-love act I didn’t do last week, and which I’ve been wanting to write about for ages because I love it so much. But I’ll leave that for another day.