I’ve written before about writing a thousand words a day, every day. (Yes, any sort of writing will do. A thousand words of anything, as long as it really is writing. Do tweets count? I’m not sure tweets count.)
Someone, I’m not sure whom, commented that if I wrote every day, and writing was a pleasure, then I was doing something that gave me pleasure every day, and I thought – more than that. And my thoughts went back to some passages in Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.
I’ve had an interesting and difficult relationship with that book. I love what Frankl has to say about life in general, about how our central driving force is the search for meaning. The difficulty is that I can’t seem to get through the first part of the book, where he describes being in a concentration camp. It’s not that the section is horrific – quite the opposite. It’s so ordinary, and I have a difficult time with the idea that one person can treat another person that way, or one group of people can treat another group of people that way, and it can become ordinary. I find that a profoundly painful, although very important, realization.
The second part of the book, which is theoretical, is much easier to read, and I think that’s a sort of failure on my part, that I can take the theory but not the practical experience on which it was founded.
But there are parts of the theory that are important to me. Frankl essentially states that the search for meaning is our most important drive, and that we can endure almost anything if we can find a meaning in it. But also that meaning, searching for it and finding it, is what leads to fulfillment, to joy.
More specifically, he writes,
“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.”
“One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as his specific opportunity to implement it.”
“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In other words, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”
What I get from this is that I have to find the meaning of my life, and that the process of finding it will be something I continue to do (there is no endpoint), and that the meaning will alter depending on where I am in my life and my circumstances. And I am the one who is asked to find that particular meaning. It is my meaning, not necessarily anyone else’s.
And this comes from elsewhere in Frankl, I think, but it’s important for me to realize that I am called to find that meaning, whether that call emanates from within me or comes from outside. Either way, it’s a call and I need to answer it, to respond. To be responsible is to be the one who responds – not by fulfilling anyone else’s meaning, not by doing what anyone else tells me to do, but by doing what I am called to do.
Frankl also writes, and this I find to be very important,
“We can discover this meaning in life 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.”
I’m not going to talk about (3) because that’s the territory of concentration camps and chronic diseases, and I have no right to talk about that. I have never experienced unavoidable suffering. Frankl does say, and this is important to me, that suffering is not itself ennobling, and should be avoided whenever possible. There is no point to seeking out suffering. But if it truly is unavoidable, one can experience it in such a way that one retains meaning, and therefore a reason to continue on, to live. And one can even die with meaning.
Writing falls, fairly obviously I think, under (1), which Frankl calls “the way of achievement or accomplishment.” I think I would rather call it the way of work. Because for me, the meaning of writing is not in achieving or accomplishing something, which implies that meaning arises when the work is done, but in the activity itself. I find meaning in the act of writing, in the creation.
So, by writing a thousand words a day, I’m not just giving myself pleasure. I’m also creating meaning in my life. And that’s even more important, I think. If meaning is the aim of life, our fundamental drive, then every day I’m working toward that aim. I’m responding to that call.
Frankl says, “The second way of finding a meaning in life,” meaning (2) above, “is by experiencing something – such as goodness, truth and beauty – by experiencing nature and culture or, last but not least, by experiencing another human being in his very uniqueness – by loving him.”
I know I’m not doing the experiencing enough. I’m not getting out into the natural world enough (well, it’s winter, and I hate the cold), or the museum enough, which would give me my dose of beauty. And that last bit, I wrote about in my blog post “Thoughts on Love,” which was about experiencing another human being in his or her uniqueness. I’m not sure you can experience another human being in any other way. If you want to change another human being, to make him or her into something different, you lose the uniqueness, you lose the human being. I suppose what Frankl means, in a sense, is that the other human being will have his or her own meaning, his or her own response. And you have to respect that.
But what I wanted to do, here, was talk about writing a thousand words a day. If I do that, I give myself pleasure, but more than that, I provide myself with a way to both generate and discover the meaning of my life, at this particular moment. One blog post at a time.