“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Man’s Search for Meaning Viktor Frankl
A great jewish psychoanalysis said that in a book he wrote in 9 days, after being released from a concentration camp, where he suffered unimaginable cruelty at the hands of people blinded by ideology and war conditions.
His book Man’s Search for Meaning, which I highly recommend to everybody, details the day to day life in a German concentration camp during WWII. The point of the book, in my mind, boils down to this: We do not choose are circumstances in any given moment. Things could be great one minute and dire the next. We may desire for eternal joy, sunny days, and happiness, mainly because these things feel great. But if any state was constant, it would become meaningless and empty.
You wouldn’t enjoy the sun if it never rained. How could you even know what joy is, without it’s void in times of crushing sadness. This dichotomy is intrinsic to existence; the well known Ying/Yang scale balancing the universe.
We are not powerless in this equation. We always have a choice; How do we react. What’s the frame of mind we look through.
This may not always seem like a choice. Our ego seeks to narrow this choice, whispering to us, justifying our worst tantrums, relishing in dragging those around us down. The world isn’t fair! Look at their situation, they are ahead of us and not working as hard, or suffering as much, or bla bla bla…
We become angry, jealous, aggressive, confrontational, and attack. Then we feel that it was the perfectly right thing to do under the circumstances. A choice has been made, and is self supported as the only possible option.
What if this was always the wrong thing to do. What if we took responsibility for this choice which spread the negativity that we seeming uncontrollably receive & feel. We always have the choice.
This is not about silently internalizing the bad things, letting them stew and bubble inside of us. If you bottle up all these little things, they will eventually explode, sending a shock wave far and wide. Out of habit and poor teaching we think we should collect and stock pile these intense feeling, in case we might need them in the future. This is such a routine procedure that we are not even aware that it is happening sometimes. Things just resurface latter. This is bad practice. A string of bad habits.
I suggest that you can consciously conduct what could be called ‘a mental override.’ You feel the impulse to react in a certain way but you chose to override that feeling with your own will. Example: Having a phobia of cockroaches. Ones crosses the table right in front of you, and after a jolt of fear, you accept the truth that it can’t harm you, and mentally overriding this fear by forcing yourself to pick it up in your hands and put it outside.
Why would you do this? Because if you make the choice to push forth your positive, loving, nurturing, understanding, and empathizing self, even if it seem like it couldn’t possibly change the exterior world which is pushing with great intensity against you, you will experience and enjoy the benefits that come from these forces. So will those around you.
But how can you do this? With great patience and practice. You must first challenge your own perspective each and every time it starts to generate a reaction which you can feel is destructive, diminishing, conflictual. To gain the ability to do this you must first practice silencing you mind, through meditation, or any other practice which takes your attention inward. It is from this state that you are able to see you reactions from a conscious perspective instead of being constantly carried from one moment to the next by them unconsciously. Being aware sometimes doesn’t make it any easier to resist the inertia of your programmed impulse.
The ‘mental override’ step is even harder, and requires even more practice. I do not have any easy answers for this because I am no where close to mastering this. My whole reason for writing this article is because I once again failed this morning to be able to override a storm of fury that I woke up with. I felt like I woke up in a canoe heading down current towards a waterfall. I could see what was coming but didn’t have the strength to paddle. Take the good with the bad right? Ying and Yang.
Yes, and no. If we have the power to be a conduit for either force, why choose to spread the negative further than it already is. I chose to believe that it is possible to over ride this, and change the course of my behavior. More and more with each attempt.
I believe Viktor Frankl.
In Viktor Frankl four years of imprisonment during the war he nearly died many times. Pain and suffering and starvation were the constant reality, but he never completely lost the will to live. He attribute this to having a purpose, a reason to continue living. To teach this message.
He tells of the time where he hadn’t eaten in days, his skin gripped tightly his bones, as he worked outside in a snow storm. Exhaustion over whelmed him and he collapsed in the snow. As he lay their, his mind was telling him that this was it, time to let go and let this miserable existence fade into the comfort of death. But in that moment he had an image flash before him. The sight of himself, in the future, teaching in a lecture hall to university students, using his knowledge of psychology, and experiences of seeming humans at their best and worst. In that moment he mentally over rid his demise, and stood up. Years later he was doing exactly that in the University of Vienna, Medical School.
The last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.