Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. – Viktor E. Frankl
My father used to honor the second day of May as his second birthday. It was not an occasion for cake, candles, or gifts, but for his rare tears and a few choked up words. It was the day that, 68 years ago, American troops from the 82nd airborne liberated him and others from Nazi camps. It’s hard to even begin to imagine what that must have felt like to a teenage boy, like my father was then, on the verge of starvation, not knowing each day whether he would live or die. There were many people who survived the Holocaust only to perish shortly thereafter, as “free” people, when well-meaning liberators offered them foods that their emaciated bodies could not digest. As a child, reading about all this, I found those stories especially heartbreaking. Imagine living through unspeakable horrors only to be killed by a surfeit of fat, salt or calories, of too much of the wrong thing, consumed too quickly.
Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for. –Viktor E. Frankl
Some of us, who are fortunate enough to not be concerned about our physical safety or our next meal, have the luxury of attempting to liberate our spirits. We turn our attention to understanding the sometimes very subtle internal dynamics that keep us trapped in “survival” behaviors that served us in childhood or adolescence. At some point, we might realize that our biggest enemy is not out “there”; it’s not a mean boss, difficult parent, cranky spouse or anyone else, but a voice inside our heads that insists on shaming or bullying as we try to express our authenticity. You could call it the voice of resistance, the inner critic, the judge. Although invisible and silent to everyone but us, its effects are all too real. For some people, the internal abuse is so relentless that it drives them to suicide. Others suffer quietly, afraid to stand up to it, and hide in lives that look “acceptable” but are not really their own. Yet others walk around pretending that they are fine, just fine.
As I wrote more than a year ago, my demons almost stopped me from launching this blog. They also mounted a full scale attack when I realized I wanted to walk the Camino. And they harass me regularly about many things, large and small, meaningful and trivial. They didn’t want me to write this post, either. As I’m learning, it’s unlikely that I will wake up one day completely “free” of the noxious noise in my head. Full human liberation does not happen suddenly, nor is it done to us. As Viktor Frankl, himself a Holocaust survivor, wrote, we have to choose our own way.
For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment. – Viktor E. Frankl
How do we recognize and honor the meaning of our lives? We can carefully monitor our thoughts and resulting physical sensations to see what feels deeply true to us. We can stop gorging ourselves on either self-sabotaging or self-aggrandizing inner talk, both a kind of junk food. We can, at first, spoon-feed ourselves kindness so we get used to the taste and don’t spit it out. Over time, we learn to offer ourselves appropriately larger quantities of encouragement, appreciation and loving guidance.
Live as if you were living a second time, and as though you had acted wrongly the first time. –Viktor E. Frankl
On May 2,1945, my father and many others were given a second chance at life. Today, and every subsequent day, we each have the opportunity to live as if we are living a second time. I would only tweak Mr. Frankl’s words as follows: Live as if you were living a second time...and as though you had thought unkindly the first time.
How will you liberate yourself today?