The Triumph of Meaningful Suffering

The next day of the conference I heard a plenary address given by Dr. Teria Shantall, who supervised me in my logotherapy training and now leads the English logotherapy training program in Israel of which I am her assistant facilitator.

Let me preface this by saying the complete presentation was handed out on several pages. This will be a synopsis of my notes. Since no presenter ever reads exactly from the page, each kind of summary (a written presentation and notes) completes the other. [Dr. Shantall did not see these notes and hopefully they will be true to the presentation. The same applies to all of the speakers I am summarizing in this blog.]

The Triumph of Meaningful Suffering

Conventional therapy picks up on the fight-flight tendency of the client and puts the focus on how they can adapt and cope with life or how they can achieve self-actualization.

What is unique about logotherapy is that it aims to establish the truth that suffering has meaning. In logotherapy you are not told to contend to the best of your ability with the situation but instead to find the challenge in it. The inherent question in any given life situation is: challenged to what?

Simply put: Logotherapy works! It goes right to the heart and essence of who we are and what life is about. It is no less than the art of living!

This is so because logotherapy addresses the basic facts of life. Who can say “I will never suffer,” “I will never make a mistake” or “I will never die?” These things can either make life meaningless or it can challenge you to ask “What is the meaning?” We can escape or we can ask what we need to do in the face of it. Life provokes us, corners us and challenges us. The question is always the same: To what are we being challenged??

Are we meant to only acknowledge and accept everything as it is? Is that all it’s about?

No! It’s also about surrender. To what or to whom am I surrendering? It is up to me to answer that. Surrender brings determination. I have to know where I’m going and go there. I have to surrender to my tasks and my mission, to what I’ve been given and what I am meant to do with it.

Every single person is a precious soul and has unique skills, sensitivities and tasks. Man is future-directed. Our lives are reaching a higher state of awareness and effectiveness and we’re moving forward. This is a healing process. When we face suffering and deal with it we come alive and transcend. As we move forward with determination we are lifted above our present state of being.

Furthermore “suffering establishes a fruitful tension and awareness of what ought not to be.” The defiant power is a protest. Suffering fills the whole space of your being. In Nazi Germany they tried to break the human spirit to feel as if you are a nothing. Dr. Shantall related the story she heard from one holocaust survivor who told her that as a young girl she told the Nazi guard who held a gun to her head and commanded that she bow down to him and beg for her life that while he has the power to kill her she answered him that “the freedom not to bow down to you is mine.”

Clients come to us in doubt and confusion. They have negative self-images. It’s as if these negative images define them as worthless and they come because there’s a protest against life. Are we as therapists supposed to let them go into the problem only in order to agree and concur that life is unfair?!!

Rather, we are to look at the courage that brought the client to come, to look for evidences of the defiant spirit. (Dr. Shantall outlined a case of an autistic boy and an abused girl which are outlined well on the hand-out pages.) The human spirit wants to relate and we have to acknowledge our (unconscious) relatedness to the divine.

You grow with this kind of therapy. When you hear the call you see the client come alive.

At this juncture the presentation shifted to the global meaning of logotherapy. There is a mission of mankind as a whole. There is a surge of the cry for meaning in our times. All the turmoil in the world of natural disasters and political upheaval is a call saying: “Wake up.” “Adam where are you?” is a call to each individual and to each nation.

The Jews represent what is true of every person. They represent the message to the world and the meaning of history: be conscious and be responsible. Hitler articulated this clearly when he said “no” to circumcision and “no” to conscience. The Jews were set apart through circumcision. This represents the imperative that we be conscious of who we are and be true to ourselves.

In addition, life is a task. Conscience means we are instructed by ethical commands to come to awareness of right and wrong. You are to give an account to the one who has given you life.

From this we might conclude that logotherapy is set up as an ethical system. That is not the case. It’s not just a question of right and wrong. There are different good things. There is a need to hear what you need to do. Where is your spiritual capacity to hear the voice of the divine sounding through and asking: “Who are you?” “What are you?”

We bring judgment on ourselves. We’ve been given the ability and the WILL to make good out of what we’ve been given. Who else can we blame??

Israel as a country is forced to be highly alert. People the world over are being brainwashed to believe again that we have no right to exist.

A certain female tour guide was showing a tourist around one of the beautiful forests on the outskirts of Jerusalem when they were attacked by terrorists. As she was being knifed repeatedly she said “Shema Yisrael” – Hear of Israel the Lord our God the Lord is One.” The will to live rose up in her.

In another incident in the town of Itamar both parents and three of their small children were murdered by terrorists. Neighbors later found in the room of one of the victims, named Yoav a beautiful letter about the meaning of living an ethical life. He had written for himself “I love everyone and want to fulfill “Love your neighbor as yourself.” He quoted there the verse from Psalms “As water reflects one face back to itself so is the heart of man reflected back to his fellow man.”

What we see here is an ideology that glorifies life versus an ideology that glorifies death.

In the nearby villages they were celebrating the murders of these family members – Can we allow such indoctrination? The murderers said “We’ll do it again. We are going to paradise by killing Jews.”

Our world is cornered by suffering. The world is called back to what it should and must be.

Are the perpetrators happy people? A life trampled underfoot leads nowhere.

The call of suffering brings out the the beauty of humanity. Can that which assails life be called life?

And so the world, as the individual is being challenged, and we must ask ourselves: Challenged to what?

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