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December 22, 2015

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PQ Book Club: Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning”

You are all familiar with the famous quote: “That which does not kill me, makes me stronger.” It originated from the existential philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, and the meaning behind this simple phrase had a powerful impact on Viktor Frankl—in his endurance as a prisoner in concentrations camps and in his analysis of survival and the art of deeper living.

Real Experiences, Real Emotions

Man’s Search for Meaning is broken into two distinct sections. In the first section, Frankl describes the brutal conditions prisoners were faced with, as well as both the psychology and the stages they went through on their journey of survival or death. Despite everything, Frankl maintains that “human life, under any circumstances, never ceases to have meaning, and that this infinite meaning of life includes suffering and dying, privation, and death.” We are taught that what makes life meaningful are only the good and beautiful things, and we often forget, or have never learned, that suffering is part of life, and moreover: suffering has meaning. “…there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer. Only very few realized that.”

The second section of the book, “Logotherapy in a Nutshell,” explains the theory and practice of this form of therapy: the will to meaning. Unlike mainstream or Freudian psychology, which maintains that humans are driven by pleasure, logotherapy believes the driving force is the meaning of human existence, and the search for this meaning.

What is Meaning and How Do We Find It?

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” This is another quote by Nietzsche that Frankl repeats throughout the book. What does this mean and why is it important? The “why” is the internal purpose and meaning in one’s life; the “how” is the outside circumstance. Any outside circumstance can be overcome by the deeper power within the self.

There is a strong correlation between Frankl’s belief in meaning and Pacific Quest’s mission: We both believe in, and are activists for, cultivating a life of purpose. Through horticultural and wilderness therapy, teens take action, create and experience. There is purpose through patience, routine, connectivity, community and nature. All of these elements strengthen personal growth and development.

In logotherapy, we can discover meaning in life in three different ways:

  1. “By creating a work or doing a deed
  2. By experiencing something or encountering someone
  3. By the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.”

The first, by way of achievement is easier and more understandable. “The second way of finding a meaning in life is by experiencing something—such as goodness, truth and beauty—by experiencing nature and culture or…by experiencing another human being in his very uniqueness—by loving him.” The last way, but certainly not least, is to find purpose in suffering. This is the most blessed opportunity of all, for in moments of suffering and tragedy one can “bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph…we are challenged to change ourselves.” When we allow ourselves to change, we allow ourselves to grow. When we create, when we love, when we suffer, we grow and become whole.

This is a great book and we highly recommend it—for anyone seeking more out of life. Interested in other PQ Book Club reads? Click here or here.
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November 19, 2015

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PQ Book Club: The Journey to Self-Discovery in “The Pilgrimage”

“The great human adventure…is the adventure of traveling toward the unknown,” Paulo Coelho writes at the start of The Pilgrimage. He is about to embark on the Strange Road to Santiago in search of his sacred sword. Ultimately, he knows that even if he does not find his sword, the pilgrimage will enable him to find himself, because at the heart of The Pilgrimage is the belief that in every journey lies the difficult and beautiful discovery of oneself.

The Great Human Quest

The novel deals with two major themes: growth and transformation. Both are essential and inevitable in any journey, particularly one that occurs in nature, as you are confronted with parts of yourself that are usually hidden. Petrus, Paulo’s guide, tells him: “When you travel, you experience…the act of rebirth.” The great human quest is a commonly explored motif throughout life and literature—it is Don Quixote dreaming the impossible dream, fighting the impossible fight, it is a student participating in a wilderness therapy program in Hawaii. Religious or not, people every day embark on sacred paths or roads-less-traveled, in search of something.

In Paulo’s case, he is in search of his sword, though he does not truly know why, and it takes him many lessons to discover the purpose. “When you are moving toward an objective,” Petrus says, “it is very important to pay attention to the road. It is the road that teaches us the best way to get there, and the road enriches us as we walk its length.” Paulo learns that the accumulation of his experiences along the road are what make the sword the meaningful object that it is. So how does the path become meaningful and fulfilling?

What helps Paulo answer these questions are a series of therapeutic exercises that create a union between the natural world and the deep interior world within ourselves. These exercises bring empowerment, revelation and self-discovery, extremely similar to the experience that wilderness therapy programs in Hawaii provide.

Exercises to Inspire Personal Transformation

Let us step together, for a moment, into the unknown, with examples of two exercises that inspire personal transformation.

1. The Seed Exercise, in which one imagines themselves as a seed blossoming into a large, strong tree. Visualizing his growth from seed to tree, Paulo “discovered that although the earth and my sleep were full of comfort, the life ‘up there’ was much more beautiful.”

2. The Speed Exercise advises one to walk for 20 minutes at half the speed you normally walk. Repeat for seven days. “Changing the way you do routine things allows a new person to grow inside of you.”

Fighting the Good Fight

A powerful piece of wisdom in The Pilgrimage is the motto: Fighting the Good Fight. The Good Fight means being generous with ourselves. It means fighting against anything that causes “pain”—feelings of defeat, indecision, or fear. It means, never stop dreaming. It is not the dreams of sleep we must hold onto, but the ones that bring us as close as we can to enthusiasm and love. Those are the dreams you must cherish. That is the fight you must fight. The Pilgrimage is one journey in many, and one book that will bring students at Pacific Quest insight into their own personal journey with wilderness therapy. (What was there before …how to believe in the extraordinary experience of life and of themselves.)

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