I Cannot Do Nothing—The Search for Meaning
Et lux in tenebris lucet: and the light shines in the darkness
Man is a creature that seeks meaning–alone among our fellow creatures it is humans who are able to seek and find meaning in the events that befall us, the relationships we find ourselves in, and in our intimate proximity to the natural world. For many of us, the importance of meaning is made vivid only in its absence. Unless we find some pattern or significance in our lives, we fall easily into ennui, nihilism or despair.
In this series of Olios, we will explore a variety of meaning-seeking vectors and strategies, seeking in each attempt to push past the limits of analytic language to arrive at an awareness of what meaning-seeking is, in the way we live our everyday lives. This is what lives at the heart of our search- the act of seeking meaning is a bid for increased awareness. The search itself contains the seed of that which is sought-it is like a lamp that once lit automatically dispels darkness; it what lamps do. But this is not easy. In order to seek out meaning in circumstance, we must grapple with randomness and we must confront difficulty.
Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning
“Live as if you were living for the second time and had acted as wrongly the first time as you are about to act now.”
One of the great books of the 20th century, Man’s Search for Meaning has moved generations of readers with its first-hand description of life in Nazi concentration camps. Between 1942 and 1945 psychiatrist Victor Frankl labored in four different death camps while suffering the loss of his parents, brother, and wife. He argues that we cannot choose the events that befall us, but we can choose how we react to them. His experiences led him, post-liberation, to form a theory of psychiatric treatment Logotherapy. (Logos: Greek for meaning) It holds that our primary drive as humans is not to seek pleasure or power, but to seek meaning in circumstance.
This seeking inevitably reveals how much our own attitudes interfere with an inborn capacity for insight. Frankl offers readers who are searching for answers to life’s dilemmas a critical mandate: he does not tell people what to do, but rather why they must do it.
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Teacher: Michael Prettyman
Michael Prettyman is an artist and scholar of Eastern Religions. He holds a Masters Degree in Theology from the Harvard Divinity School and teaches on the subject of religion and the arts, Asian Religion and philosophy at Hunter College and the CUNY Graduate Center in New York. He has been a visual artist for twenty years, with gallery shows in New York City, Hong Kong and Barcelona.