Suffering as a continuum

Our logotherapy English training course in Israel did a workshop yesterday. One participant asked: Frankl’s experience of the holocaust was so extreme. How can that help us in our ordinary lives? The answer given was that if he could find meaning in such an extreme situation all the more so we can find it in less severe circumstances. It was also mentioned that suffering is suffering. Whatever happens to a person that feels meaningless causes existential suffering on some level. There is a continuum and if we understand that the basic interest a person has is for life to be meaningful then minor irritations also fit into this category.

Right before our program started I experienced a series of irritations. First my car door on the driver’s side wouldn’t open so I had to climb in from the passenger side. (This sometimes happens when I forget to unlock with the electronic device for that purpose and try to open the car while it’s still locked. This time it happened after someone locked and then unlocked it by hand.) Then I went to the gas station because I was out of gas but their gas pumps were out of order so I had to drive another ten minutes out of the way to a different gas station. Then I went to park my car and the parking lot ticket feeder wasn’t working so I had to call the attendant to fix it. (This has never happened to me before!) By the time the bus of my friends arrived we had no time left to sit and eat something. Then after picking them up I went to the second place to park on the street and the machine had my coins fall straight through, so that I was not able to get a stub to put on the window for parking. (Fortunately I was not ticketed.) Oh, and we forgot the DVD with the short film we wanted to show in the car.

It will be easier to deal with minor things than major but the skill is the same in kind. The meaning is in the overcoming of the problem or obstacle. You’re never the same person after you successfully overcome an obstacle as you were before. In the midst of it, it helps to think about what kind of person you might be if you were handling this in an ideal way.

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