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Nov. 29, 2020
Man's Search for Meaning

I recently read a book called “Man’s search for meaning” by Viktor Frankl. It was recommended to me by fellow USC trojan, Seth, and if anyone wants a good book, ask Seth.

This book is divided into two parts. The first half is Victor’s own experience of being in Aushwitz, a Nazi concentration camp. The second half is his life’s study of psychology, and a brief overview of what he has learned, and how it can help us. It is a deeply spiritual and religious book.

The whole book is fantastic, but given the shortened time of this meeting, I will only be able to talk about a couple highlights.

The first part, he tells about entering the concentration camp. This is what he says.

We heard the
hoarsely shouted commands. We were driven with
blows into the immediate anteroom of the bath. There
we assembled around an SS man who waited until we
had all arrived. Then he said, "I will give you two
Minutes. In these
two minutes you will get fully undressed and drop
everything on the floor where you are standing. You
will take nothing with you except your shoes, your belt
or suspenders. I am starting to
count - now!"
With unthinkable haste, people tore off their
clothes. As the time grew shorter, they became increasingly
nervous and pulled clumsily at their underwear,
belts and shoelaces. Then we heard the first
sounds of whipping; leather straps beating down on
naked bodies.
Next we were herded into another room to be
shaved: not only our heads were shorn, but not a hair
was left on our entire bodies. Then on to the showers,
where we lined up again. We hardly recognized each
other; but with great relief some people noted that real
water dripped from the sprays.
While we were waiting for the shower, our nakedness
was brought home to us: we really had nothing now except our bare bodies - even minus hair; all we
possessed, literally, was our naked existence. What
else remained for us as a material link with our former

So none of us has had that experience, but I think we can all sympathize with it, and I think we can understand what would happen if everything that represented our past lives was stripped away from us. Viktor also talks about his wife, and how she was stripped from him as well, but we’ll get back to her later.

First I wanted to dive into part of his analysis of the meaning of life. He brings up the phenomenon of “the existential vacuum” which, if anyone has been on the internet or social media long enough, they have probably felt “the existential vacuum”. This is what he says:

The existential vacuum is a widespread phenomenon
of the twentieth century. This is understandable; it
may be due to a twofold loss which man has had to
undergo since he became a truly human being. At the
beginning of human history, man lost some of the basic
animal instincts in which an animal's behavior is imbedded
and by which it is secured. Such security, like
Paradise, is closed to man forever; man has to make
choices. In addition to this, however, man has suffered
another loss in his more recent development inasmuch
as the traditions which buttressed his behavior are
now rapidly diminishing. No instinct tells him what he
has to do, and no tradition tells him what he ought to
do; sometimes he does not even know what he wishes
to do. Instead, he either wishes to do what other
people do (conformism) or he does what other people
wish him to do (totalitarianism).

Sisters and brothers, I would add that this vacuum is alive and well inside our church, and just coming to church isn’t going to get you out of that vacuum.

A statistical survey recently revealed that among my
European students, 25 percent showed a more-or-less
marked degree of existential vacuum. Among my
American students it was not 25 but 60 percent.
The existential vacuum manifests itself mainly in a
state of boredom. Now we can understand Schopenhauer
when he said that mankind was apparently
doomed to vacillate eternally between the two extremes
of distress and boredom. In actual fact, boredom
is now causing, and certainly bringing to psychiatrists,
more problems to solve than distress. And these
problems are growing increasingly crucial, for progressive
automation will probably lead to an enormous
increase in the leisure hours available to the average
worker. The pity of it is that many of these will not
know what to do with all their newly acquired free
Moreover, there are various masks and guises under
which the existential vacuum appears. Sometimes the
frustrated will to meaning is vicariously compensated
for by a will to power, including the most primitive
form of the will to power, the will to money. In other
cases, the place of frustrated will to meaning is taken
by the will to pleasure. That is why existential frustration
often eventuates in sexual compensation. We can
observe in such cases that the sexual libido becomes
rampant in the existential vacuum.

He then goes on to talk about tension,
If architects want to
strengthen a decrepit arch, they increase the load
which is laid upon it, for thereby the parts are joined
more firmly together. So if therapists wish to foster
their patients' mental health, they should not be afraid
to create a sound amount of tension through a reorientation
toward the meaning of one's life.

Have you felt the existential vacuum? I sure have. But I have also found a lot of meaning, and I found it in doing service work or missionary work, or anything which constitutes “loving my neighbor”. But not just in that. I have also found it in doing meaningful work.

The last part of the book I wanted to share is back when Viktor is in the concentration camp. He mentioned his wife. He talks about the labor that they would make him perform, and how he would gain strength from his wife. This is what he says:

The accompanying guards kept shouting at
us and driving us with the butts of their rifles. Anyone
with very sore feet supported himself on his neighbor's
arm. Hardly a word was spoken; the icy wind did
not encourage talk. Hiding his mouth behind his upturned
collar, the man marching next to me whispered
suddenly: "If our wives could see us now! I do hope
they are better off in their camps and don't know what
is happening to us."
That brought thoughts of my own wife to mind. And
as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots,
supporting each other time and again, dragging one
another up and onward, nothing was said, but we both
knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. my mind
clung to my wife's image, imagining it with an uncanny
acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile,
her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look
was then more luminous than the sun which was
beginning to rise.

A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I
saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets,
proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers.
The truth? - that love is the ultimate and the highest
goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the
meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and
human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation
of man is through love and in love.

In front of me a man stumbled and those following
him fell on top of him. The guard rushed over and used
his whip on them all. Thus my thoughts were interrupted
for a few minutes. But soon my soul found its
way back from the prisoner's existence to another
world, and I resumed talk with my loved one: I asked
her questions, and she answered; she questioned me in
return, and I answered. "Stop!" We had arrived at our work site. Everybody
rushed into the dark hut in the hope of getting a
fairly decent tool. Each prisoner got a spade or a
"Can't you hurry up, you pigs?" Soon we had
resumed the previous day's positions in the ditch. The
frozen ground cracked under the point of the pickaxes,
and sparks flew. The men were silent, their brains
My mind still clung to the image of my wife. A
thought crossed my mind: I didn't even know if she
were still alive. I knew only one thing - which I have
learned well by now: Love goes very far beyond the
physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest
meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self. Whether
or not he is actually present, whether or not he is still
alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance.
I did not know whether my wife was alive, and I had
no means of finding out; but at that moment
it ceased to matter. There was no need for me to know;
nothing could touch the strength of my love, my
thoughts, and the image of my beloved. Had I known
then that my wife was dead, I think that I would still
have given myself, undisturbed by that knowledge, to
the contemplation of her image, and that my mental
conversation with her would have been just as vivid
and just as satisfying.

----so then he goes on to explain:

Love is the only way to grasp another human being
in the innermost core of his personality. No one can
become fully aware of the very essence of another
human being unless he loves him. By his love he is
enabled to see the essential traits and features in the
beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is
potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet
ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the
loving person enables the beloved person to actualize
these potentialities. By making him aware of what he
can be and of what he should become, he makes these
potentialities come true.

Isn’t that exactly what Christ does for us? Doesn’t Christ make us aware of what we can be and of what we can become?

I love that story about his spiritual relationship with his wife. I love how he was comforted by her even when she wasn’t around.

Brothers and sisters, this is the spirit. This is exactly what we pray for when we take the sacrament each week. We pray to have the spirit of Christ with us.

I love Viktor Frankl’s story because he found this truth in a way much different than I did, but I know his words to be true, because truth is available to all men, but the way we arrive at that truth might be different.

In my opinion, this is the meaning of life--love. I love the church of Jesus Christ because it is the one that recognizes, confirms, and sanctifies this love that Viktor Frankl discovers. I know that through the blessings of the priesthood, we can be together with our loved ones forever. I know that we each have a spirit and that this spirit is eternal, just like our Father in Heaven. I know that this spirit is endless and powerful and we can find meaning in life by understanding that through all our possessions and physical attributes, we are spiritual beings.

I know that through the gospel we can understand our purpose here. I know that if we try and become sensitive to the spirit, we can overcome the existential vacuum. We can find purpose and meaning in every day.

Recently, Russell M. Nelson said "In coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing and comforting influence of the Holy Ghost." I love how Frankl learned how he was able to survive with the spirit of his wife, and I think it is even more powerful with the direction of the Holy Ghost and Christ.

I know Christ lives.