What is Hope?

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“If you assume that there is no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, that there are opportunities to change things, then there is a possibility that you can contribute to making a better world.”

Noam Chomsky

Hope is an expectation of a positive outcome. To be hopeful is to be confident, to be optimistic. It is to desire a favorable event and believe in its likelihood. It is to see the possibilities for future change.

Charles R. Snyder, an American psychologist who specialized in the study of Positive Psychology, developed Hope Theory. For Snyder, three interrelated elements comprise the idea of hope: goals, pathways, and agency.

Hopeful people use different pathways to reach their goals. They are realistic about the challenges they face, motivated to overcome them. After training in Hope Theory, individuals develop practical plans, set deadlines, and visualize how they can succeed. 

Hope can be beneficial when it motivates people to be in the right mindset to achieve their goals. Even when negative situations happen, a hopeful person can examine what they can do and can’t do, before acting on what is possible.

Hope can be dangerous, however, when beliefs about positive outcomes are too unrealistic. People may imagine a perfect future, but if their thinking is deluded or fallacious, they will suffer when confronted with real barriers.

Pragmatic optimism, however, can often be valuable. Robert Anton Wilson, agnostic philosopher and author, once said in Eye in the Triangle: “Optimistic people outlive pessimistic people consistently if you compare them by sex, by eating habits, by diet, by lifestyle, by race, by all sorts of things. The optimists live longer. Also, optimists have more fun. And besides, maybe things are going to turn out okay, in which case, the pessimists are killing themselves and being miserable for no good reason at all. And the final reason is that if everything is going to turn out terribly, the optimists are having more fun before the final tragedy comes.”

Wilson wrote that optimists look for possibilities, while pessimists are blind to them. Pessimists have concluded that there are no more solutions, even when other options are present. For Robert Anton Wilson, intelligence is the ability to “receive, decode and transmit information efficiently.” To be stupid is to block information from coming in. Those who ignore, or resist, or deny the possibilities of life cannot function efficiently. They are stuck in robotic reality-tunnels.

Buddhists look at hope in another sense. People often strive to do more, to be more. They want to achieve, achieve, achieve. They believe that they will finally be happy only after they drive around in a fancy convertible, get promoted to office manager, marry, raise children, read the canon of Western literature, win a game, or whatever else they can think up. Once they get what they desire, they desire more, while fearing that they will lose what they have. As they possess more, they still feel unfulfilled. They’re often disappointed when what they strived for didn’t bring them lasting satisfaction.

Ordinary hope is unskillful. People crave what they do not have. They cling to abstractions of happiness, unable to let go. They expect to be a certain way, to produce a certain result, to maintain a certain persona, but are secretly afraid of uncertainty and impermanence.

For people to be honest with themselves, they must first be mindful of what they can and can’t change. For Oren Jay Sofer, author of Say What You Mean: A Mindful Approach to Nonviolent Communication, “The wisdom of equanimity understands that we choose neither the circumstances of our life, nor the results of our actions. Both are beyond our control. What we can choose is how we relate, and how we respond.”

To accept what is happening in the present moment is to be alive. There is no denial, no resistance. Through awareness, people can transform themselves. They can look at the possibilities of their choices and how those choices will impact the world.

Those who practice the Dhamma are hopeful. They are confident that they are walking the path toward liberation. Rather than attaching themselves to dualistic ideas of good and bad, right and wrong, success and failure, they accept the fleeting nature of the world. They’re mindful of each moment, guided by wisdom and compassion.

In Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life, Thich Nhat Hanh wrote that “Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.”

Those who endure hardships often find value in hope. Even when they are subject to abuse, injustice and death, they remember the small kindnesses of life. They desire a better future for themselves and those they care about. A path may not exist for them yet, but they believe that there is more, much more, than what is known.

Albert Camus, existentialist philosopher and author, wrote a book called The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays. In it, he said that people look for purpose in an indifferent and chaotic universe. They’re often confronted with the absurdity of their own existence, desperate for an objective meaning that doesn’t exist.

They can choose to commit suicide, but then, the point of their lives would only seem more absurd. They can refuse to examine and question and think for themselves, conforming to different belief-systems, which promise them answers. Through this second choice, they are surrendering their inner freedom for the dictates of others.

Camus proposed a third option after not being able to accept the former two. People are free to subjectively create their own meanings and values and purposes. While they have the tremendous freedom to choose, they are ultimately responsible for their choices.

Camus rejected the idea that people should have hope for an afterlife, but considered each person’s meanings (or lack thereof) to be made by them in each moment. When people prepare for another life after their death, but do not embrace their fleeting time on earth, they minimize the value of their existence.

Hope should be highly personal for each individual. People cannot ignore the fact that they will change, that they will die, that they will pursue meaning in a universe, which is not objectively meaningful.

They must be aware of these underlying tensions. They must decide how they will live, who they will be, before they perish.

There is a close connection between hope and despair. When people avoid looking honestly at their suffering and seek only pleasure, they do not find happiness. Even those who have a lot of money and power are not immune. They can only transform themselves once they are aware of their suffering.

When people understand themselves as they are, they can cultivate compassion. Like a gardener, they can plant seeds of kindness, seeds of happiness, seeds of peace, in every moment. When they are compassionate toward themselves, they can be compassionate toward others.

Roshi Joan Halifax, hospice caregiver and Zen teacher and activist, wrote an essay called Yes We Can Have Hope. In it, she suggested that people can be wisely hopeful rather than unskillfully hopeful. Whereas ordinary hope is based on a person’s desires and expectations, wise hope develops from an acceptance of life.

Through this perspective, people can embrace the impermanence of their joys and sorrows. To be hopeful is not to deny reality, but to be fully alive, helping others to awaken out of their suffering.

Halifax said, “Wise hope doesn’t mean denying these realities. It means facing them, addressing them, and remembering what else is present, like the shifts in our values that recognize and move us to address suffering right now.”

In Letters From a Stoic, Seneca wrote his own advice about acceptance and choice. He had told Lucilius, the then procurator of Italy, that people should adapt themselves to the present rather than projecting their wishes too far into the future. To live for the future is to be anxious in expectation. “Fear keeps pace with hope” because people not only want to fulfill their desires, but fear not getting what they desire, and losing what they have.

Seneca cautioned against having too many desires. When a person limits their desires, however, they can still be hopeful. They are grateful for what they have been given, and appreciate who they are, while not craving what is unnecessary. Many people wish for more than they have, worried that their expectations won’t be fulfilled. They “suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”

Potential dangers may not have happened, but they fear that they will happen. They anticipate terrible futures so much that their anticipations become habits. Their minds exaggerate their sorrows. Every moment that they worry is a moment of lost time.

Seneca wrote in his thirteenth letter, On Groundless Fears, “It is likely that some troubles will befall us; but it is not a present fact. How often has the unexpected happened! How often has the expected never come to pass! And even though it is ordained to be, what does it avail to run out to meet your suffering? You will suffer soon enough, when it arrives; so look forward meanwhile to better things. What shall you gain by doing this? Time. There will be many happenings meanwhile which will serve to postpone, or end, or pass on to another person, the trials which are near or even in your very presence. A fire has opened the way to flight. Men have been let down softly by a catastrophe. Sometimes the sword has been checked even at the victim’s throat. Men have survived their own executioners. Even bad fortune is fickle. Perhaps it will come, perhaps not; in the meantime it is not. So look forward to better things.”

Seneca advised that people should not worry about what hasn’t happened or will not likely happen. Misfortunes don’t always last or remain misfortunes. Sometimes the unexpected happens too. Rather than despairing, individuals can meditate on what choices are available and then act wisely. When people indulge their hearts on fears of the future, they prevent themselves from living.

The only way to live is in the present. Tomorrow has no meaning except in the eternal now. Pasts and futures are abstractions, but people are conditioned to live for conceptualizations of time, until they can’t relate anymore to the time they’re in.

In the Money and Materialism section of Just So, Alan Watts lectured, “So only people who live in proper relationship with the material present have any use for making any plans at all, because then if the plans work out, they’re actually capable of enjoying them. But if you aren’t fully here and your mind is always off somewhere else, you’ll remain starved and always rushing to get someplace else. And there’s nowhere to go except here.”

“Our schools don’t prepare us to relate to the material present. Instead, we’re educated to become bureaucrats, accountants, lawyers, and doctors, who are all good at making money, which is said to be incredibly important. And the children who aren’t considered fit for the college education that these careers require are encouraged to take reluctantly offered courses in trades and manual skills. You hear these jokes about being able to receive your bachelor’s degree in basket weaving from any American university, but that would actually be an improvement on our current state of affairs. The larger point is that we are encouraged to become obsessed with the life of abstractions, with problems of status, and with problems of the world as symbolized rather than the world to be symbolized. This explains our hang-ups when it comes to money. When it comes down to it, most of us are incapable of relating directly to physical existence at all.”

It is easy to mistake the finger for the moon. The finger may point the way, but it doesn’t cast an illumination. In order for life to reveal itself, people must let go of what they think they know. They can only tend to the future when they tend to each moment. While they may forget, their practice is to return to life, again and again.


Sources:

“Albert Camus (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, plato.stanford.edu/entries/camus/.

Camus, Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus And Other Essays. Vintage, 2012.

Halifax, Joan. “Yes, We Can Have Hope.” Lion’s Roar, 20 Jan. 2021, www.lionsroar.com/yes-we-can-have-hope/.

Hạnh, Nhất, and Thich N. Hanh. Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life. Bantam, 1992.

“Hope (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, plato.stanford.edu/entries/hope/.

Seneca. Letters from a Stoic: Epistulae Morales Ad Lucilium. Penguin UK, 2004.

Snyder, C.R. Psychology of Hope: You Can Get Here from There. Simon & Schuster, 2010.

Watts, Alan. Just So: Money, Materialism, and the Ineffable, Intelligent Universe. Sounds True, 2020.

Wilson, Robert A. “The Eye in the Triangle.” YouTube, 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=_p5oHdKZNBA. Accessed 2021.

Yeshe, Ayya. “Ask the Teachers: What is the Buddhist View of Hope?” Lion’s Roar, 11 Aug. 2020, www.lionsroar.com/ask-the-teachers-what-is-the-buddhist-view-of-hope/.


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The Art of Loving

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  1. The Shallowness of Modern Love

Love in modern capitalistic societies is often treated shallowly. People are seen as commodities to be used. Each person has a specific package of qualities, which when depending on the value-judgements of others, make them appear as favorable or unfavorable.

They perceive other perspective members of their groups as objects to be possessed, but not as actual human beings.

Once a potential match is made on the market of personality, an individual will enter into an arrangement where they’ll hope to gain some sort of benefit. If their expectations are not fulfilled, then they’ll no longer see the point in giving their “love” to the other person.

People market themselves based on their attractiveness, popularity, status, financial security, and whatever other sets of traits are trending at the time. Opinions change as to what is acceptable. The masses will adapt themselves to what is in favor and promote themselves for future success.

Many people in materialistic societies become infatuated and then mistake their infatuation for love. The intensity of their initial intimacy soon becomes antagonism and boredom, especially once the mirage of passion is gone. As they enter into their relationships with expectations of having perfect partners and ideal mates, they are often led to more failures than successes.

2. Alienation and False Unity

As people grow and become more aware of themselves as individuals, they eventually sense their separateness from others as well. This alienation makes them feel anxious, fearful in their loneliness, and confused about what the purpose of their existence is. They seek out a meaningful direction for their lives that can transcend their loneliness and cosmic insignificance.

People seek to transcend their anxiety of separateness through drugs, orgasms, and conformity to the practices and values of a group.

In many totalitarian societies, conformity is forced on the general population through fear, imprisonment, torture, execution, starvation, and repressive controls in the media. In democratic societies, mass propaganda, political corruption, and expensive marketing is often used to manipulate the masses into servitude.

Many members of capitalistic societies feel that they’re non-conformists, even though their opinions are strikingly similar to the opinions of the rest of their group. They all go to the same schools, work at the same jobs, read the same books, watch the same movies, and share the same favorable ideas with each other.

They have been indoctrinated into certain social, religious, and political groups from the time of their birth, not realizing that their desires have been carefully molded. They genuinely believe in what they do, and who they are, but they don’t realize that if they believed in something different, they wouldn’t have their preferred status.

Conformity is not true unity, but rather, a relinquishing of one’s free thought to the shackles of group rule. In conformity, one seeks an illusion of security while fearing exclusion.

Any unity formed through only sex and drugs is a pseudo sense of unity. Those who seek the highs of either will become attached to expectations of more and more pleasure, which will diminish overtime, after having been temporarily gained.

3. Immature Love and Mature Love

When one person submits to another to escape from their feeling of alienation, they’ve surrendered their integrity for dependence.

They have given up their boundaries to be exploited by the other. Just as that person enters into a masochistic relationship, the one who they’ve come to depend upon is dependent on them as well. The sadist is attached to the masochist just as much as the masochist is attached to the sadist.

In mature love, people unite while still maintaining their integrity. In immature love, people form false-unions in a passive relationship based on mutual exploitation.

Love is active and growing. It is ultimately done in the spirit of giving. To give is not to give away one’s principles or dignity. It is not to forgo one’s values either.

Those who are raised in modern industrial society often expect to receive because they have given. To give without getting anything for their effort makes them feel impoverished. They may even give out of a mistaken belief in sacrifice, and out of a grim obligation to the group, rather than from any sense of joy.

When a person is giving, they are showing what is alive within themselves. They’re genuinely expressing who they are. A giving person cares for the world with active interest, not passive narcissism.

They help other people to grow rather than forcing them to become carbon copies of themselves. They respect the individuality in other people, while also feeling responsible for their own well-being.

Respect is built on the foundation of freedom, not dependence. Only with freedom can there be authentic love.

With love comes acceptance. One learns to accept each unique person as they are, and not judge them.

It’s impossible to know anyone fully, to penetrate into their deepest hearts, but even in the uncertainty between people, there’s appreciation in intimacy, in being together, in learning about each other.

In the act of love, one not only learns about others, but about oneself. The mature person is humble about their incapacity to know the secrets of life, while being in awe of all its mystery.

They’re committed to caring for the world, but don’t cling onto the world greedily. To love is to let go as much as it is to care, to accept as much as it is to change, to grow as much as it is to know the limitations of knowing.

4. Sex and Love

Sexual intimacy can be a manifestation of love. At its height, two selves merge into one, immersed in the present. During sex, one forgets oneself temporarily in a bliss of togetherness.

When the masculine and feminine are distorted in a relationship, then those in that relationship overcompensate for their insecurities. They exploit though lies and manipulations and force. The masculine descends into sadism while the feminine falls back into masochism.

5. Development into Adulthood

While inside the womb, the fetus is entirely dependent on its mother for survival. Then when that baby is born, he or she depends on their mother (or guardian) for milk and warmth and shelter and water and food. As the baby develops into a toddler and child and teenager and so on, they learn of their separateness from other people and things.

During their early development, they’re unconditionally loved by their mother or guardian simply for existing. They receive love for being alive, not necessarily for anything that they have done.

The child, at first, passively accepts love for being who they are. It is only later in their development that they consider giving back.

When a person matures out of their old habits of childish egocentricity, they learn to love in another way. They learn the freedom of independence in newfound knowledge.

As they grow, they figure out how to walk and talk and dress themselves and share and laugh at jokes and write and on and on. They learn the way of the world and how to act properly in that world to be successful. They gain acceptance from others based on what they do and how they think. They fear the absence of warmth that comes from not being accepted.

Mature parents care for their children while also teaching those children how to be independent from them. They do not drag their children down into a state of perpetual dependency.

If parents are successful in their roles, then their children will have internalized their lessons, growing into unique people, engaging their lives with competence and confidence. Parents have to make sure that they are not transferring their own anxieties and prejudices onto their kids. Everything that they think and say and do will influence their children’s development.

6. Brotherly Love

Love is an orientation toward life. To love one person while neglecting the rest of humanity is only an inflated egotism of two.

To truly love one person is to love all of life.

There is no exclusiveness in love, but rather, a deep oneness with all that is.

To love is to love everyone, even those who are helpless, weak, and poor. One gives without thinking of giving and helps only to help. People are neither judged as superior nor inferior. They are viewed only as equals, worthy of affection and dignity.

In western culture, love is often seen as a spontaneous grip of intense feeling, or a clinging devotion to the life of another.

Love is not merely a feeling, but an expression, a commitment, and a promise. Feelings come and go. Love is as much an acceptance of oneself as that of another.

Self-love is not narcissism either. Those who cannot love themselves cannot love others.

The selfish person only desires more for themselves while never being satisfied with what they have or who they are. They take without any consideration for others. Those who are selfish are insecure and devoid of any creative purpose, lacking the capacity to enjoy anything for long.

To love oneself is to love others and vice versa. There’s no true difference between the two.

7. Mythological Symbolism

Matriarchal religions usually emphasize the equality of all life coexisting together. Patriarchal religions are often dominated by hierarchical structures.

In mythology, the mother-figure is one of unconditional love and interdependence, whereas the father-figure is one of justice and truth. There are often hidden mother-figures in patriarchal religions and hidden father-figures in matriarchal religions. An acceptance of these symbols, and their prevalence, depends on the conditions within a given society.

In the deepest mystical parts of religion, God is nameless, or cannot be named, because God is infinite, and there’s no way to contain what is infinite.

Many people view the idea of God as that of a helping father. They expect that God should give them what they desire, such as a partner, a happy life, enlightenment, bliss in the afterlife, a job, and so on. They perceive their religion through a childish dependency instead of though a mature love.

When people realize their ignorance, and no longer assume that they know the truth about all of life, then they become wise in the knowledge of knowing that they don’t know.

Symbols are useful but limited tools that represent aspects of life, while never being life in itself. The ultimate mystery cannot be named. It cannot be described with any accuracy. Models of reality are not reality. Some religions try to define reality, others try to define through claiming what reality is not, while others deny both the denial and the definition. Meanwhile reality, in all its endless mystery, escapes the grasp of intellectualization.

In western religions, love often comes in the form of belief and faith. In eastern religions, love often comes through a feeling of oneness with all that is.

Interwoven in most of these mythological systems are the stages of development in all of humanity, from worshiping a mother protector to obeying a father authority to being fully one with a namelessness that transcends the ego.

8. Modern Capitalistic Societies

Contemporary capitalistic societies place the idea of love in the market. People are conditioned to be productive members of the systems that they are embedded in. They are taught to obey those in power and to play acceptable roles in the social machine. Most people in western societies are alienated from their work, from their communities, and mostly from nature.

These people feel alone while longing for unity. They fill their desperate alienation with the consumption of books, movies, music, cigarettes, phones, religions, and other people, as if these were disposable products.

Everything is a refuge, a distraction, from underlying feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and fear. People are judged by how they can satisfy each other while they don’t really know each other.

Modern western societies often encourage infantile forms of love though mediums such as movies, romance novels, and magazines. Consumers are taught to chase after abstractions of love, to idolize their partners, and to depend on rituals of manipulative seduction to win over attractive mates.

All too often, many people transfer the dependencies of their childhoods onto their partners. They see their mates as another form of their parents or other authority figures. They expect to gain security and love and care and so on, usually until they grow bored, or their partner fails to fulfill their unrealistic expectations.

They live in the past and future, never the present, projecting all their problems onto others. Often they avoid real conflicts with their partners, and settle instead for petty dramas, because they fear being alone more than anything.

Individuals often sacrifice their integrity for apathy in conformity. They no longer seek truth, but rather, copy others for success in the market of personality.

Their lives are routines in a system where they must comply. They wake up to work from 9–5, marry, raise 2.5 children, listen to the radio hits, surf the web, post on social media, and consume, consume, consume in a state of idleness.

9. Self-Mastery

In order to learn how to love, people need solitude. No television, no phone, nothing but themselves. If people cannot be alone, then they will never know the vitality of their thoughts, feelings, and sensations. They’ll never learn how to listen to their inner voices.

Mature people take care of themselves. They are aware of unhealthy people and unhealthy environments and avoid those situations when they can. They listen more than they speak. When they do listen, they absorb what is being said from a place of deep openness, rather than waiting to respond.

They are fully present in what they do, whether they’re eating a bowl of rice or driving a car or sitting in a waiting room.

When people deeply concentrate as a habit, they learn to be sensitive to the changes within themselves and others. They’re not tense, but alert, not worried with doubts, but open to what may come.

10. Transcendence in Love

As people learn to love, they gradually transcend their narcissistic orientations. Rather than thinking only of themselves, they’re sensitive to the inner-worlds of others.

Those who love are humble. They strive for objectivity in every situation, while knowing how much they don’t know.

Love comes not only from each individual’s independence but from their deep trust in who they are, despite what anyone else thinks or says or does. They are faithful, not merely to their opinions, but to their dignity as human beings. They’re present, open to the world, while never betraying their inner worth.

Love can permeate every aspect of life. It is ever bountiful, passing from neighbors to strangers.

As people trust in themselves, they learn to see the value in serving others. They do not find love in any system or group, but only in themselves, and in each other.

Man’s Search For Himself

People often don’t know what they truly feel or want. They sense something missing inside themselves, an existential emptiness, an anxiety that gnaws deeply at their insides.

They do what everyone expects from them to do—from their teachers, employers, parents, religions, and communities — or at least, what they imagine these groups expect. As one ordinary person said, “I’m just a collection of mirrors, reflecting what everyone else expects of me.”

People want to be liked. They crave after attention and respect, believing rather compulsively that these things will be sufficient for happiness and meaning.

“Every human being gets much of his sense of his own reality out of what others say to him and think about him. But many modern people have gone so far in their dependence on others for their feeling of reality that they are afraid that without it they would lose the sense of their own existence.”

Social acceptance seems like a cure to existential angst, but it only temporarily relieves loneliness, fear, and anxiety. People seek approval from others while symbolically returning to the warmth of the womb, and in turn, sacrificing freedom for dependency.

What arises from such emptiness is the need for authority, for someone or something to take control of, and then make better, what is neglected within.

“When a nation, rather, is prey to insupportable economic want and is psychologically and spiritually empty, totalitarianism comes in to fill the vacuum; and the people sell their freedom as a necessity for getting rid of the anxiety which is too great for them to bear any longer.”

Those who live with existential anxiety lose themselves. Overwhelmed, confused by what is out there. They cannot clearly identify what they want out of life. They succumb to what is external instead of tending to what is sacredly internal.

They feel the threat of being cast off.

They seek social approval while avoiding isolation, alienation from the group.

Those who hide from their anxieties during the crucial stages of their development will only stagnate or get worse. Anxiety, for everyone, is a normal aspect of growth. People should be honest and confront their own anxieties, exposing themselves gradually to what they need that helps them mature.

While anxiety confuses reality, people can still choose to constructively engage with these negative feelings. “Just as anxiety destroys our self-awareness, so awareness of ourselves can destroy anxiety.”

People often, however, compartmentalize much of their lives. They use their reason to study, save themselves for fun on the weekends, distract themselves from feeling pain and fear by watching television and posting on social media. They put on shows for other people, for an invisible audience in their minds. They become performers rather than humans, caring about their actions, based on the reactions of others to their actions.

“But the artists, and the rest of us too, remain spiritually isolated and at sea, and so we cover up our loneliness by chattering with other people about the things we do have language for — the world series, business affairs, the latest news reports. Our deeper emotional experiences are pushed further away, and we tend, thus, to become emptier and lonelier.”

To find those deeper experiences, people need to live fully, vulnerably, alive in each moment. Human beings are capable not only of being nature, and being in nature, but in thinking of nature and their place within it.

People are able to be self-aware, keep time, to learn from the past, plan for the future, use symbolic systems to make distinctions and communicate. They can empathize with people from hundreds of years ago, on different continents, with other types of animals and plants, and imagine themselves as them.

These gifts of humanity come with anxieties and fears, with inner-crises. People still struggle with not only their current states of development, but with all those influences which had come from before.

People have the ability to be created by their engagement with others and what had conditioned them in their past. At the same time, they can create themselves.

“The self is always born and grows in interpersonal relationships. But no ‘ego’ moves on into responsible selfhood if it remains chiefly the reflection of the social context around it. In our particular world in which conformity is the great destroyer of selfhood — in our society in which fitting the ‘pattern’ tends to be accepted as the norm, and being ‘well liked’ is the alleged ticket to salvation — what needs to be emphasized is not only the admitted fact that we are to some extent created by each other but also our capacity to experience, and create, ourselves.”

People can create themselves by being aware of themselves as thinking-feeling-intuiting creatures deeply connected to nature. Their “selves” are not merely a sum of “roles” that they should perform to be accepted by the group. Each human can rather be fully integrated within themselves, fulfilling their potentialities.

“But the human being’s task in fulfilling his nature is much more difficult, for he must do it in self-consciousness. That is, his development is never automatic but must be to some extent chosen and affirmed by himself.”

People are unique in their consciousness of themselves. No one entirely knows the full extent of what another person feels and thinks. Each person is alone in their minds and must find their inner-strength ultimately without anyone else to do it for them.

People must affirm their own dignity and self-worth. It is far easier to blame others or oneself than it is to take responsibility for life.

To blame or praise is often to mask an arrogance of being overly concerned with one’s own importance, despite whether one feels superior or inferior. To engage in such thinking is a deception that people use to avoid a constructive attitude toward life, in seeing things as they are.

One should love oneself.

To love oneself is to love others and to love others is to love oneself. There is no selfishness in genuine caring, compassion, empathy, and kindness. When one is aware, one can let go. By letting go, spontaneous joy comes into living for each moment. One feels an expansion rather than a constriction, actively alive rather than passively existing.

To love, one must be sensitive to feelings and thoughts, to the connection of body and mind, to nature and community, to all sense and intuition, passing from dawn to dusk, over and again.

“The originality and uniqueness which is always part of a spontaneous feeling can be understood in this light. For just as there never was exactly that situation before and never will be again, so the feeling one has at that time is new and never to be exactly repeated. It is only neurotic behavior which is rigidly repetitive.”

It is easy to block awareness with routines and repetitions and busying oneself every day. Rather than idleness, contemplation and meditation, people often do without any thought as to why.

Individuals will constantly struggle to discover what they want, how they feel, and what they can do to live fully, because there are many external pressures that will prevent them from being aware.

“Strictly speaking, the process of being born from the womb, cutting free from the mass, replacing dependency with choice, is involved in every decision of one’s life, and even is the issue facing one on his deathbed. For what is the capacity to die courageously except the ultimate step in the continuum of learning to be on one’s own, to leave the whole? Thus every person’s life could be portrayed by a graph of differentiation — how far has he freed himself from automatic dependencies, become an individual, able then to relate to his fellows on the new level of self-chosen love, responsibility and creative work?”

It is normal for those who desire to grow to experience great moments of anxiety, fear, and terror.

“Moving out from a protected, familiar place into new independence, from support to temporary isolation, while at the same time one feels one’s own anxiety and powerlessness.”

People must work with feelings of anxiety, alongside an environment that pressures them to conform or rebel, while moving toward inner freedom.

To create oneself is to transcend the fit of old masks, to move beyond those dependencies of childhood, to seek unfamiliar places that haven’t yet been explored.

Unhealthy environmental influences will never support a person’s quest for inner freedom. They will rather, in the form of family, religion, government, and so on, redirect a person’s fear toward others, eventually turning that fear into hatred.

“Hatred and resentment are destructive emotions, and the mark of maturity is to transform them into constructive emotions. But the fact that the human being will destroy something — generally in the long run himself — rather than surrender his freedom proves how important freedom is to him.”

Those who suppress their hatred often feel a deep resentment. They don’t resent others or themselves nearly as much as they reject having their freedom taken away, feeling powerless to do anything about it.

Those who don’t conform usually rebel. Their rebellion is a mistaken attempt at individuality, a failure of responsibility in reaction to what is external.

“But rebellion is often confused with freedom itself. It becomes a false port in the storm because it gives the rebel a delusive sense of being really independent. The rebel forgets that rebellion always presupposes an outside structure — of rules, laws, expectations — against which one is rebelling; and one’s security, sense of freedom and strength are dependent actually on this external structure. They are ‘borrowed,’ and can be taken away like a bank loan which can be called in at any moment. Psychologically many persons stop at this stage of rebellion. Their sense of inner moral strength comes only from knowing what moral conventions they do not live up to; they get an oblique sense of conviction by proclaiming their atheism and disbelief.”

To live in reaction is not to be free. To be dependent is also not to be free. People claim freedom to do whatever they want as well. But they neglect responsibility by chaining themselves to addiction, security, comfort, and gratification, avoiding what is uncertain and mysterious, fearful and painful.

“Freedom means openness, a readiness to grow; it means being flexible, ready to change for the sake of greater human values. To identify freedom with a given system is to deny freedom — it crystallizes freedom and turns it into dogma. To cling to a tradition, with the defensive plea that if we lose something that worked well in the past we will have lost all, neither shows the spirit of freedom nor makes for the future growth of freedom.”

Freedom comes when people mold themselves and take care of others. Freedom comes first through self-awareness, expanding forever out.

“Through his power to survey his life, man can transcend the immediate events which determine him. Whether he has tuberculosis or is a slave like the Roman philosopher Epictetus or a prisoner condemned to death, he can still in his freedom choose how he will relate to these facts.”

Freedom is not given. It is developed every day. People can choose to kill themselves psychologically, unaware and ignorant, in restless craving. They can conform to the conditioning of their youth and follow a linear path made up for them to adhere to until eventually dying. Or they can gain a false sense of power through rebellion, in reacting, resisting, combating an enemy, until they wither away in hatred and fear.

To be free, however, is to have discipline. With self-discipline, one seeks to learn about life and consistently follows one’s values, discovering freedom through inner work.

“Man’s anxiety, bewilderment and emptiness — the chronic psychic diseases of modern man — occur mainly because his values are confused and contradictory, and he has no psychic core. We can now add that the degree of an individual’s inner strength and integrity will depend on how much he himself believes in the values he lives.”

To live with integrity is terrifying and uncertain at times. People often retreat from what’s not known, becoming rigid and dogmatic, protecting themselves with certainty.

“Within the creative person himself there is fear of moving ahead. In these myths there speaks not only the courageous side of man, but the servile side which would prefer comfort to freedom, security to one’s own growth.”

There is a battle within each person: for comfort and security, and for creativity and freedom. To fully conform to security is to undermine one’s inner strength. To be conditioned to the whims of others is to give up choice and awareness.

People who are ethically sensitive will struggle daily, but they will be creators of themselves. They will live consistently, aware of who they are and what they want.

When one is courageous, one can accept being alone. One is not living merely for the acceptance of others, but rather, is living fully. There then is no authority greater than oneself.

The mature person has “the capacity to love something for its own sake, not for the sake of being taken care of or gaining a bootlegged feeling of prestige and power. Certainly loneliness and anxiety can be constructively met. Though this cannot be done through the deus ex machina of a ‘cosmic papa,’ it can be achieved through the individual’s confronting directly the various crises of his development, moving from dependence to greater freedom and higher integration by developing and utilizing his capacities, and relating to his fellows through creative work and love.”

One doesn’t have to leave society to be mature or free. To be in the crowd but still maintain the “sweetness of solitude,” as Emerson said, to have integrity while still learning from tradition and culture, is to possess inner strength.

One is not bored, but interested in everything, in everyone, alive in the moment.

“Wonder is the opposite to cynicism and boredom; it indicates that a person has a heightened aliveness, is interested, expectant, responsive. It is essentially an ‘opening’ attitude — an awareness that there is more to life than one has as yet fathomed, an experience of new vistas in life to be explored as well as new profundities to be plumbed.”

With curiosity, people can explore all of life. They begin from themselves, and not from others, as a foundation for love, open to what is possible, affirming who they are through their choices, not only in action but in attitude. A person will find what is valuable for him or herself. These values will be intimately known rather than passively given.

In every choice, there is always a risk. To choose from self-awareness, however, is to take responsibility and affirm oneself though a creative decision.

Whether each choice springs from conscious or unconscious motives, whether the person will make a mistake or not, doesn’t take away from the integrity of choosing what feels right in the moment, based on current knowledge.

What matters is to be honest with oneself. Knowledge of one’s unique perceptions, impressions, and experiences, leads to clarity and a higher purpose. In order to have this self-knowledge, however, one must have tremendous courage.

“Courage is the capacity to meet the anxiety which arises as one achieves freedom. It is the willingness to differentiate, to move from the protecting realms of parental dependence to new levels of freedom and integration. The need for courage arises not only at those stages when breaks with parental protection are most obvious — such as at the birth of self-awareness, at going off to school, at adolescence, in crises of love, marriage and the facing of ultimate death — but at every step in between as one moves from the familiar surroundings over frontiers into the unfamiliar.”

People are often afraid to be themselves because they don’t want to be laughed at, ridiculed, mocked, and shunned. They hide in the crowds, avoiding taking a risk, complacent with the shaky comfort of fitting in.

One can be courageous in living and still be connected to a community. One can discover an inner power without being socially isolated. “It takes courage not only to assert oneself but to give of oneself.”

To be courageous is to let go of what is familiar. Steadily, patiently growing from awareness of one’s inner world, seeking out what is mysterious and exploring, highly creative and mature.

One is blocked from being courageous when one doesn’t stand up for his or her values, when one automatically falls into roles that others have desired, rather than living from a genuine purpose.

People need to be accepted as who they are, not for as others wish them to be. But all too often, people want to be liked, not for who they are, but for who they appear to be.

To strive to be normal and seek acceptance from outside is to give up on courage. By living after others, one feels worthless whenever the group doesn’t approve, but feels valuable whenever they do.

“Courage arises from one’s sense of dignity and self-esteem; and one is uncourageous because he thinks too poorly of himself… Vanity and narcissism — the compulsive needs to be admired and praised — undermine one’s courage, for one then fights on someone else’s conviction rather than one’s own.”

A courageous person can stand by their own convictions without the need to justify those convictions to others. Rather than trying to explain who they are and what they value to an authority, such as to a symbolic parent, they only need to convince themselves. To try to convince those who made up the rules, who want one to conform anyway, is to implicitly legitimize those rules and then react against them.

One must hold with conviction one’s own standards — no matter how imperfect they may be.

“It is the courage to be and trust one’s self despite the fact that one is finite; it means acting, loving, thinking, creating, even though one knows he does not have the final answers, and he may well be wrong. But it is only from a courageous acceptance of ‘finitude,’ and a responsible acting thereon, that one develops the powers that one does possess — far from absolute though they be.”

When people can honor their own dignity, they can see the dignity in others, even in those who are different from them. They can see the human and not the object to feel superior or inferior against.

They can feel the joys and sorrows of another, empathize, being fully present.

To love is not to exploit someone for an advantage. It is not to depend on another to reduce fear and loneliness. Love arises through mutual dignity, developed from self-awareness.

People are so used to competing, to treating each other as objects, raised on the philosophy of buying and selling, that they’re conditioned to love with undeveloped authenticity.

All too often, “love” is provided only when one gets what one wants.

Genuine love means to give, but only when one is mature enough to give, when one is internally strong enough to live through themselves.

“It is a giving of one’s self and a finding of one’s self at once. Such ecstasy represents the fullest interdependence in human relations; and the same paradox applies as in creative consciousness — one can merge one’s self in ecstasy only as one has gained the prior capacity to stand alone, to be a person in one’s own right.”

To live with the ideal of love, freedom and responsibility, completely in the present moment, with awareness and spontaneity and patience, to intimately explore one’s potentialities and face the uncertainty of life, is to be mature, to be humble about what one doesn’t know while being open to what could be. It is ultimately to be alive.

Man’s Search For Meaning

“THIS BOOK DOES NOT CLAIM TO BE an account of facts and events but of personal experiences, experiences which millions of prisoners have suffered time and again. It is the inside story of a concentration camp, told by one of its survivors. This tale is not concerned with the great horrors, which have already been described often enough (though less often believed), but with the multitude of small torments. In other words, it will try to answer this question: How was everyday life in a concentration camp reflected in the mind of the average prisoner?”
 
 The life of an average concentration camp prisoner, of one who had no special status or distinguishing marks on their sleeves, was one of daily struggle for existence.
 
 Tattooed on flesh, stolen of possession and identification, reduced to number among other numbers. To live, if only barely, if only briefly, was to know of another’s death.
 
 “Every man was controlled by one thought only: to keep himself alive for the family waiting for him at home, and to save his friends. With no hesitation, therefore, he would arrange for another prisoner, another ‘number,’ to take his place in the transport.”
 
 Viktor Frankl was Number 119, 104. His job inside camp was digging and laying tracks for railway lines before eventually tending to the sick, injured, and dying.
 
 For the Capos with their regular rations, they earned cigarettes as well as other perks. For ordinary prisoners, cigarettes were luxury items, traded for soup to prevent starvation. Then there were cigarettes for those who had lost themselves in despair.
 
 “The only exceptions to this were those who had lost the will to live and wanted to ‘enjoy’ their last days. Thus, when we saw a comrade smoking his own cigarettes, we knew he had given up faith in his strength to carry on, and, once lost, the will to live seldom returned.”
 
 When a prisoner first entered the camp, they were shocked. Unable to grasp the brutal reality of their situation. Barbed wire and spotlights. Shrill commands in German. Ragged humans slumped in a gray dawn. As the days passed from the train to the camp, prisoners dulled into a nightmarish world.
 
 “In psychiatry there is a certain condition known as ‘delusion of reprieve.’ The condemned man, immediately before his execution, gets the illusion that he might be reprieved at the very last minute. We, too, clung to shreds of hope and believed to the last moment that it would not be so bad.”
 
 Prisoners who first arrived to camp were starved and cooped together in the cold. Guards would walk to each person and inspect them, deciding on whether they would work or be sent to die. With one finger pointing to the right or left, there was existence or non-existence, life or execution.
 
 “‘Was he sent to the left side?’
 
 ‘Yes,’ I replied.
 
 ‘Then you can see him there,’ I was told.
 
 ‘Where?’
 
 A hand pointed to the chimney a few hundred yards off, which was sending a column of flame up into the grey sky of Poland. It dissolved into a sinister cloud of smoke.
 
 ‘That’s where your friend is, floating up to Heaven,’ was the answer. But I still did not understand until the truth was explained to me in plain words.”
 
 Prisoners were removed of all their items, including wedding rings, writings, jewels, photographs, anything resembling their former lives. They were stripped into a trembling nudity, whipped and beaten, washed of lice, shaven until completely hairless.
 
 “Thus the illusions some of us still held were destroyed one by one, and then, quite unexpectedly, most of us were overcome by a grim sense of humor. We knew that we had nothing to lose except our so ridiculously naked lives. When the showers started to run, we all tried very hard to make fun, both about ourselves and about each other. After all, real water did flow from the sprays! Apart from that strange kind of humor, another sensation seized us: curiosity. I have experienced this kind of curiosity before, as a fundamental reaction toward certain strange circumstances. When my life was once endangered by a climbing accident, I felt only one sensation at the critical moment: curiosity, curiosity as to whether I should come out of it alive or with a fractured skull or some other injuries. Cold curiosity predominated even in Auschwitz, somehow detaching the mind from its surroundings, which came to be regarded with a kind of objectivity. At that time one cultivated this state of mind as a means of protection. We were anxious to know what would happen next; and what would be the consequence, for example, of our standing in the open air, in the chill of late autumn, stark naked, and still wet from the showers. In the next few days our curiosity evolved into surprise; surprise that we did not catch cold.”
 
 In Auschwitz, a prisoner adapted to the worst conditions imaginable. Cold and unclean, sleeping huddled for a couple hours after hard labor, shirt weathered, feet cracked in mud.
 
 Suicide loomed in every prisoner’s mind — from the ever present danger that took those around them, threatening at every moment, to the utter hopelessness of the future. While some did kill themselves, most popularly by electrocution when touching a barbed wire fence, others, despite their small chance of living on, bared grueling days of survival, aware that they would still be sent to the gas chamber.
 
 As time went on under harsh conditions, prisoners were desensitized to emotions such as disgust and pity and compassion. From being around so much trauma, they had become apathetic, blunted of caring, in the instinct to survive. From day to day, physical punishment didn’t matter as much as the agony of injustice, of the helplessness to do anything about the terrible conditions that spread through camp.
 
 Guards regularly punished prisoners for the smallest of infractions. If somebody stepped out of line, talked back, helped another person who was struggling, or couldn’t do their work, they would be murdered, if not beaten. They were treated with the same respect as livestock.
 
 Prisoners, who had once identified as husbands and wives and students and doctors and professors and musicians and teachers and shopkeepers, were barely afforded the dignity of being human.
 
 After being reduced to such a blunted state, prisoners became primitive in their need to live each day for one more day. Just a little longer. They often dreamed more than they lived. Imagining that they had simple desires fulfilled from cake to cookies, from warm baths to deep sleep, they craved the illusion of peace while living a terrible reality.
 
 “When the last layers of subcutaneous fat had vanished, and we looked like skeletons disguised with skin and rags, we could watch our bodies beginning to devour themselves. The organism digested its own protein, and the muscles disappeared. Then the body had no powers of resistance left. One after another the members of the little community in our hut died. Each of us could calculate with fair accuracy whose turn would be next, and when his own would come. After many observations we knew the symptoms well, which made the correctness of our prognoses quite certain. ‘He won’t last long,’ or, ‘This is the next one,’ we whispered to each other, and when, during our daily search for lice, we saw our own naked bodies in the evening, we thought alike: This body here, my body, is really a corpse already. What has become of me? I am but a small portion of a great mass of human flesh … of a mass behind barbed wire, crowded into a few earthen huts; a mass of which daily a certain portion begins to rot because it has become lifeless.”
 
 Once woken from their longing in dreams, prisoners huddled together to work from a shrill whine of sirens. They barely fit their swollen feet into wet shoes before a day of labor began. If their feet could not fit inside those shoes, they would have to trudge through the snow, barefoot and frostbitten. While undernourished and starving, prisoners generally lost the ability to care about sex or anything except for a fulfillment of basic needs. Even feelings of sentiment, of caring, numbed from repeated daily trauma.
 
 “There were fifty of us in the prison car, which had two small, barred peepholes. There was only enough room for one group to squat on the floor, while the others, who had to stand up for hours, crowded round the peepholes. Standing on tiptoe and looking past the others’ heads through the bars of the window, I caught an eerie glimpse of my native town. We all felt more dead than alive, since we thought that our transport was heading for the camp at Mauthausen and that we had only one or two weeks to live. I had a distinct feeling that I saw the streets, the squares and the houses of my childhood with the eyes of a dead man who had come back from another world and was looking down on a ghostly city. After hours of delay the train left the station. And there was the street — my street! The young lads who had a number of years of camp life behind them and for whom such a journey was a great event stared attentively through the peephole. I began to beg them, to entreat them, to let me stand in front for one moment only. I tried to explain how much a look through that window meant to me just then. My request was refused with rudeness and cynicism: ‘You lived here all those years? Well, then you have seen quite enough already!’”
 
 As prisoners endured the nightly struggle of a concentration camp, sometimes only salvation could come through thought, in the rituals of religion, prayer and debate, in the rumination of a loved one. Frankl imagined his wife while marching with sore feet, touching her with memories, with his imagination of where she was, how she was, and how deeply he loved her.
 
 “This intensification of inner life helped the prisoner find a refuge from the emptiness, desolation and spiritual poverty of his existence, by letting him escape into the past.”
 
 By creating such a rich inner life for themselves, prisoners developed an intense appreciation for nature and art. In contrast with their suffering, they found glory in the small miracles of existence.
 
 “Standing outside we saw sinister clouds glowing in the west and the whole sky alive with clouds of ever-changing shapes and colors, from steel blue to blood red. The desolate grey mud huts provided a sharp contrast, while the puddles on the muddy ground reflected the glowing sky. Then, after minutes of moving silence, one prisoner said to another, ‘How beautiful the world could be!’”
 
 “Another time we were at work in a trench. The dawn was grey around us; grey was the sky above; grey the snow in the pale light of dawn; grey the rags in which my fellow prisoners were clad, and grey their faces. I was again conversing silently with my wife, or perhaps I was struggling to find the reason for my sufferings, my slow dying. In a last violent protest against the hopelessness of imminent death, I sensed my spirit piercing through the enveloping gloom. I felt it transcend that hopeless, meaningless world, and from somewhere I heard a victorious ‘Yes’ in answer to my question of the existence of an ultimate purpose. At that moment a light was lit in a distant farmhouse, which stood on the horizon as if painted there, in the midst of the miserable grey of a dawning morning in Bavaria. ‘Et lux in tenebris lucet’ — and the light shineth in the darkness. For hours I stood hacking at the icy ground. The guard passed by, insulting me, and once again I communed with my beloved. More and more I felt that she was present, that she was with me; I had the feeling that I was able to touch her, able to stretch out my hand and grasp hers. The feeling was very strong: she was there. Then, at that very moment, a bird flew down silently and perched just in front of me, on the heap of soil which I had dug up from the ditch, and looked steadily at me.”
 
 Most of camp life, however, wore on the very existence of the prisoner. One lived with mental turmoil, pain which constantly threatened one’s values, beliefs, and high purpose, “throwing them into doubt.” This brutal world ground the prisoner’s human dignity down to nothing, where the end of all struggle was death. People were used up until they their bodies failed, until their will to go on faded, like the flickering light of a candle, falling to enfolding darkness.
 
 Camp inmates often were tormented with making decisions and taking an initiative, believing that their lives were subject to fate. Small decisions could lead to life or death, whether in the moment or future.
 
 As Frankl wrote on his last days at camp before being rescued, when he thought about escaping, “We found out just how uncertain human decisions are, especially in matters of life and death. I was confronted with photographs which had been taken in a small camp not far from ours. Our friends who had thought they were traveling to freedom that night had been taken in the trucks to this camp, and there they were locked in the huts and burned to death. Their partially charred bodies were recognizable on the photograph.”
 
 Trusting in fate, at times of certain death, was acceptance of what was to come. In other ways, it was a defense mechanism against the evil of the camp. Apathy was another way of survival, of psychological defense. In conditions of starvation and death, of malnutrition and poor hygiene, of regular slaughter and grueling work, of being treated as livestock instead of as humans, prisoners had to find ways to endure.
 
 Despite the apathy, exhaustion, and irritability of the prisoners, they were never completely lost, forsaken to the hells of their psychological conditions. They still had a choice, a chance within every moment, to act humanely. There were many who, under extreme duress, acted heroically.
 
 “Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress.
 
 We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
 
 Everything could be taken from an inmate but their inner freedom. Some prisoners, despite the most terrible conditions, still maintained their human dignity. Amidst great suffering and death, they had to choose and not choose.
 
 Surrounded by the most extreme external restrictions, prisoners had the choice to reflect upon what had meaning for them, holding onto their purpose. Their attitude of spiritual freedom was a crucial element in an ongoing struggle for their existence.
 
 “The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity — even under the most difficult circumstances — to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not.”
 
 While many prisoners slumped into despair or conformity under a brutal injustice, there were some who remained compassionate, courageous and loving, giving of themselves when they had no obligation to, accepting their fate while selflessly helping others, up until their extermination. They died with no names, no families and friends, but still had the integrity to not lose their humanity.
 
 To maintain dignity while trampled on by the jackboot, to give a last piece of bread away to a sickly child, to offer a kind word before walking before the gas chamber, despite not being known or praised for their sacrifices, was to act with freedom.
 
 “This young woman knew that she would die in the next few days. But when I talked to her she was cheerful in spite of this knowledge. ‘I am grateful that fate has hit me so hard,’ she told me. ‘In my former life I was spoiled and did not take spiritual accomplishments seriously.’ Pointing through the window of the hut, she said, ‘This tree here is the only friend I have in my loneliness.’ Through that window she could see just one branch of a chestnut tree, and on the branch were two blossoms. ‘I often talk to this tree,’ she said to me. I was startled and didn’t quite know how to take her words. Was she delirious? Did she have occasional hallucinations? Anxiously I asked her if the tree replied. ‘Yes.’ What did it say to her? She answered, ‘It said to me, ‘I am here — I am here — I am life, eternal life.’”
 
 Inside the camp, there was no time, no sense of a future. Outside of the barbed wire fence, prisoners felt an unreality, an alien world to their own. Prisoners had to struggle to grasp the meaning of life and not lose themselves in the past, in apathy, in giving up to future possibilities. Some strengthened their inner lives, maturing under the horrors of their experiences, while others resigned themselves to a previous way of life that was no more.
 
 “Naturally only a few people were capable of reaching great spiritual heights. But a few were given the chance to attain human greatness even through their apparent worldly failure and death, an accomplishment which in ordinary circumstances they would never have achieved. To the others of us, the mediocre and the half-hearted, the words of Bismarck could be applied: ‘Life is like being at the dentist. You always think that the worst is still to come, and yet it is over already.’ Varying this, we could say that most men in a concentration camp believed that the real opportunities of life had passed. Yet, in reality, there was an opportunity and a challenge. One could make a victory of those experiences, turning life into an inner triumph, or one could ignore the challenge and simply vegetate, as did a majority of the prisoners.”
 
 A prisoner who could imagine a reason to survive, a “why” for their existence, in the moment or future, could endure the most unbearable circumstances.
 
 “We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life — daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.
 
 These tasks, and therefore the meaning of life, differ from man to man, and from moment to moment. Thus it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way. Questions about the meaning of life can never be answered by sweeping statements. ‘Life’ does not mean something vague, but something very real and concrete, just as life’s tasks are also very real and concrete. They form man’s destiny, which is different and unique for each individual. No man and no destiny can be compared with any other man or any other destiny. No situation repeats itself, and each situation calls for a different response. Sometimes the situation in which a man finds himself may require him to shape his own fate by action. At other times it is more advantageous for him to make use of an opportunity for contemplation and to realize assets in this way. Sometimes man may be required simply to accept fate, to bear his cross. Every situation is distinguished by its uniqueness, and there is always only one right answer to the problem posed by the situation at hand. When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task. He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden.”
 
 Inside the camp, there were those who could endure daily atrocities and those who could not. Even among those who could, they survived not only from hope, from genuine purpose in a world against them, but from chance.
 
 For the guards themselves, there were those who took a sadistic pleasure in making the prisoners suffer. Then there were those who were sympathetic but remained silent to the abuse, to the tortures, hardening themselves after years. Finally, there were those who secretly helped and cared, despite negative consequences from their superior officers.
 
 Some prisoners, who had been promoted to marginal powers, became as sadistic as the worst guards. Other guards, moved by compassion, could bring a prisoner to tears from the smallest act of kindness. No one in either group was entirely good or entirely bad. Life asked the question, in every circumstance, what type of person would they be?
 
 “From all this we may learn that there are two races of men in this world, but only these two — the ‘race’ of the decent man and the ‘race’ of the indecent man. Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society. No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people. In this sense, no group is of ‘pure race’ — and therefore one occasionally found a decent fellow among the camp guards.
 
 Life in a concentration camp tore open the human soul and exposed its depths. Is it surprising that in those depths we again found only human qualities which in their very nature were a mixture of good and evil? The rift dividing good from evil, which goes through all human beings, reaches into the lowest depths and becomes apparent even on the bottom of the abyss which is laid open by the concentration camp.”
 
 When the prisoner was finally released from camp after so many years of hard suffering, returning to the world was an ordeal. A prisoner drifted as if lost in a dream, unable to feel, unable to become human. It was so difficult for prisoners, after being routinely abused, to recover from the endlessness of a camp, where starvation and death were companions.
 Prisoners often ate an enormous amount once liberated, compensating for years of watery soup and stale bread.
 
 There was a pressure that had built inside every inmate, a repression of their yearly suffering into the unconscious, which had to eventually erupt though talk, through a discussion of what had been taboo to speak about in camp, through screams and nightmares and long cries to those murdered, a readjustment back to the unfamiliar world of the living.
 
 “One day, a few days after the liberation, I walked through the country past flowering meadows, for miles and miles, toward the market town near the camp. Larks rose to the sky and I could hear their joyous song. There was no one to be seen for miles around; there was nothing but the wide earth and sky and the larks’ jubilation and the freedom of space. I stopped, looked around, and up to the sky — and then I went down on my knees. At that moment there was very little I knew of myself or of the world — I had but one sentence in mind — always the same: ‘I called to the Lord from my narrow prison and He answered me in the freedom of space.’ How long I knelt there and repeated this sentence memory can no longer recall. But I know that on that day, in that hour, my new life started. Step for step I progressed, until I again became a human being.”
 
 Some of those freed returned and found no homes, no families anymore. Others traveled to their hometowns, where their community could not truly empathize with them or know the magnitude of their past. Yet those who survived still held onto hope for a wife, husband and child, for a future, for a meaning that lingered beyond those barbed wire fences and spotlighted towers. They found purpose in their suffering, but not through what the Nazis desired. They endured in utter depravity, for years and years, only to seek that which could transcend them.