Pain is unavoidable. The systems that we can put in place to help our future selves deal with them is possible. The more well-designed and attuned our system to our inner meaning, the better off we will be.
When I started walking home after I fell on my butt and ripped my jeans, I almost immediately started thinking about what I am going to write. Looking back, I realize that pre-writing in my head had helped me pull myself together and more so, see meaning in my pain. If I didn’t see any meaning for why I am experiencing acute pain, it would be meaningless and thus unbearable for the human brain and soul.
The topic of finding meaning in one’s life and daily tasks cannot be more relevant than now, “during these unprecedented times”. Barred from multiple social layers, each of us is left with the emotional emptiness of their room and the looming question of “What is my “why” and how to find the motivation to do it?” We either respond to this need or override it with activities that distract us from it. I can see this happen with my closest friends, most of whom are taking this semester off: excluded from the infrastructure and meaning of a selfish system of a university, we are posed with the real question of meaning. If all it takes is to press the mute button on Zoom, what is the reason for not doing that? What is the reason for me to crawl out of the bed this morning? What difference does it make?
We suffer from a lack of meaning in things we do. Victor Frankl, a psychiatrist who went through the concentration camp during WW2, developed logotherapy, which explains the human need for meaning. One of the most famous quotes:
“Those who have a 'why' to live, can bear with almost any 'how'.”
What I found interesting is that the “finding of” the meaning is an exclusively individualistic task that cannot be delegated. Selfish systems each have their own “meaning” and naturally they encourage and celebrate it as “the way”. Similar to how the negative cues always POP, the imposed values of external systems and their respective meanings will eventually pop too, perhaps in an unhappy life, dissatisfaction, etc. Imposed meanings of parents, surroundings, even our internal personas are the worst weapons for killing our individuality, thus our individual ability to be driven and rewarded by your meaning.
The meaning of college is to effectively push you through the four years towards the completion of a degree, then repeat the process with more people, thus growing its prestige, wealth, and power. A paramount issue that has not been addressed is the framework helping students find their “why”. Like yes, there is a percentage of people coming in with a clear intention but 2/3rds of freshman say “I came to college to figure it out”. It’s implied that the existing push-through-4-years structure throws you into enough diverse fields to give you a chance “to figure it out”. However, the finding of meaning and training towards pursuing it effectively is such a crucial task that the first stage of college should be exclusively dedicated to that. “What do I want in life?” followed by “What do I need to learn to get there?” instead of “Learn a bunch of things” followed by “Figure out how to make them work”.
Two years ago I met a very peculiar person playing this piano at the main street in Jerusalem. I found out he came from Bar Yohai, a religious part of already religious Israel. So having become liberal, Israel (that is his name) knew both worlds of extreme religion and freedom. What he said about religion has stuck with me forever:
“Religion is a warm sweater but you have to knit one yourself. ”
Why am I talking about religion? Because religion is extremely effective in answering the painful questions that each person’s life presents, thus preventing people from falling into the void of overwhelming uncertainty and lack of meaning.
Circling back to my accident and will for writing about it, I can say that I already had this system of blogging in place to help me alleviate the daily pains and confusions by condensing and sharing my insights for others to learn. What Israel told me about knitting the sweater yourself is the process of setting up these sorts of systems in different realms of life. So that when the pains of life happen, they can be put into the system of some meaning that you must find the will to pursue.
There are truly a lot of pains in life: regardless of anything we do, we are doomed to suffer the loss of the people we love. Maybe we also don’t always get what we want, maybe we become an “unlucky” victim of an accident we thought “only happens to other people”. So overall, pain is unavoidable. The systems that we can put in place to help ourselves in the future deal with them is possible. The more well-designed and attuned our system to our inner meaning, the better off we will be.
Certainly, Victor Frankl wasn’t thinking “How do I go through a concentration camp and stay alive?” when he started developing logotherapy way before WW2. I wasn’t thinking “How do I make my limp home less miserable?”. But I was pursuing something of general interest to me and what I could see as a significant way to go through the expected pains and confusions.
With this, I am finishing the trilogy stemming from my skateboarding accident. It was very insightful and revelational for me. I hope it was for you too. I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback.