Today I listened to a short but tremendously inspiring book – “Man’s Search For Meaning”, by Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist and survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
He believes that the cause of much 20th century malaise (and this is probably even more true of the 21st century) is a lack of life purpose. It was his own strong sense of purpose – the book that he intended to write – that helped him survive the horrors of the holocaust. When you have a strong enough reason why you want to stay alive, you’ll find a way how.
Not for a moment to compare my Atlantic crossing with a concentration camp – it was pretty bad, but nowhere near that bad – but I was interested to find that I stumbled across a couple of psychological survival techniques that he mentions.
When his life at Auschwitz was at a particularly low point, he mentally stepped outside his immediate situation, and imagined himself giving a lecture on the psychiatric aspects of the experience. In a much more mundane way, when I was struggling to cope mentally with the Atlantic crossing, I found it helpful to think about a speech I was due to give in New York in a few months’ time, and how I would summarise what I had learned on the ocean. It really helped to get some objectivity, and to derive something constructive from my struggles. The retrospective perspective.
He also mentioned something that has echoes in my obituary exercise. In helping people to find meaning in their lives, he suggests that they consider the biographies of the people they admire, and to deduce from that what might bring meaning to their own existence.
So maybe what I went through in my early thirties was not an early midlife crisis, but actually the realisation that I was in what Frankl calls an “existential vacuum”, that the pursuit of money and possessions could not fill.
He quotes statistics (from the 1980s, I think) showing that the “existential vacuum” is especially prevalent in the USA. This made me think of, and be encouraged by, the recent youth eco marches spearheaded by Alec Loorz that were called “iMatter”. I hope this movement is a sign that the tide is turning, that a new generation is emerging where individuals know that they matter, that they are responsible for their future, and that a life with no purpose is no life at all.
Having rowed my little heart out yesterday to reach a particular latitude, above which winds were due to turn favourable, I was rather crestfallen to receive an updated weather forecast saying that the goalposts had moved, and the good winds were still at least 60 miles to the north. So today, after a rather spectacular rainbow at dawn (see photo) I found myself in a meteorological “no man’s land” – no wind and not even much of a current. A funny kind of inbetweeny day.
That Big Something was around again. A quick dash and splash at the surface, but not revealing enough to offer clues as to its identity. I’ll call it the Heffalump after the mysterious creature in Winnie the Pooh.
Richard in DFW – the creature could be a Nessie, but would be a very long way from home! Loved the latest instalment of the poem. Very funny! (Oh dear, I’m sure I really shouldn’t encourage you!)
Special hellos to special friends – Doug, Jenna and Gabrielle in Chesapeake Bay, John in Juneau, Norm of the prairies, and Martha Kaufeldt. Martha – good to hear about the Maker Faire. I’m really intrigued by the Maker phenomenon since Vic mentioned it in our podcast, and will definitely be checking it out once I’m back on terra firma. It has to be the way of the future, if we’re going to avoid living in a Wall-E world!
Laurey – sorry to hear about your cancer diagnosis. You’re an incredibly strong woman, and I’m sure you will once again face this with a positive and purposeful outlook. I’ll be thinking of you and sending you my strength and love. And I’m sure the rest of the Rozling community will also be sending you their best wishes for a full recovery.
Mum tells me this is an amazing video. I can’t watch it from here, but I’ll post the link so you can enjoy it. Youtube video of a dolphin leading two whales to safety out at sea after they had been stranded on a sandbar in NZ. Humans had given up hope of helping after their rescue attempt failed. Sounds amazing.
Sponsored Miles: David Church, Joe Dominguez (several miles each)