Avicii And The Myth Of Sisyphus

Such sad news breaking today – Swedish DJ and musician, Avicii (Tim Bergling) has died.  His music was unique and had an existentialist flavour to it; he dealt with themes of meaning in work/life, relationships and self-worth.

‘Levels’, released in 2013, was a good example of this. In the video you see a reference to ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’ as popularised by French absurdist/existentialist philosopher and author, Albert Camus.

Sisyphus was condemned to an eternity of hard, repetitive and frustrating labour.  His assignment was to roll an enormous boulder up a hill; each time he seemingly achieved his goal, after much exertion and application, the boulder rolled back down to the bottom of the hill again. And so the story unfolds with monotonous repetitiveness into eternity.

Avicii’s ‘Levels’ explores the meaning of work and the deadening weight of a repetitive existence. But like Sisyphus, there is more than just a modicum of hope in the story. Avicci’s character breaks out of that monotony and issues a wake-up call to colleagues and others he makes contact with; Sisyphus also, eventually finds meaning in his task.

Such is the reality of our existence; the search for meaning and purpose is an essential part of being human; it manifests itself both consciously and unconsciously.  It is possible to find meaning in any moment, even in the midst of dullness. It is also possible, in-as-much as we are free from external constraints, to do something different – to seek a change in direction.

As Viktor Frankl once famously wrote: ‘Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom’. It seems that understanding this quest was important to Tim Bergling too.

The Inner Journey

“If you ask for grace to realize who you are, ask also for the courage you will need to do so. To realize who you are, you will have to walk through all the shadows in your inner landscape. It is not easy. You will need to give up all your views about yourself again and again, each time they crystallize into a pattern. You will have to experience and release all the pain in your life. You will have to embrace your death. You will have to bear everything to realize everything. A perfect divine economy”.  James Thornton,  in: ‘A Field Guide to the Soul: A Down-to-Earth Handbook of Spiritual Practice’.

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The most important, and arduous path we take, comprises of the inner journey that the world knows nothing of, and only God can see:

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”’ 1 Samuel 16:7.

Thomas Merton: The Core Of Our Reality

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Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time, there would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed . . . .

Thomas Merton

Moltmann: ‘Without Hope One Cannot Live’

“Totally without hope one cannot live. To live without hope is to cease to live. Hell is hopelessness. It is no accident that above the entrance to Dante’s hell is the inscription: “Leave behind all hope, you who enter here.”  Prof. Jürgen Moltmann, in ‘Theology of Hope’.

Moltmann articulates the truth at the heart of the Christian message – that hope is intrinsic to our faith journey. Hope is immutable; it exists regardless of external circumstances and is accessible in even the most dire of circumstances.  As the prophet Isaiah made clear in relation to God’s promise, as articulated in 43:2 –‘When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze’. Or who could fail to be moved by the words of Jesus in John 14:27 – Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid?

Hope is a beautiful reality that is with us whoever we are and wherever we might go.

 

Logotherapy & Identity: Who Am I?

The novelist Ralph Ellison wrote in ‘Invisible Man’: “When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.”  There is much wisdom in that short quote; it takes seriously the work of discovery and the individual nature of that quest.

Identity is important It gives us a sense of well-being and self worth; it celebrates our uniqueness. It is also inextricably linked to how we find and express meaning and purpose in our lives.

Lutheran Minister, Theologian and anti-Nazi activist, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, expressed the contradiction that we often find at the heart of our identity in his poem ‘Who Am I?’ At the end he finds his answer: ‘Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!’

Logotherapy & Existential Analysis is a therapeutic approach that allows and promotes self-discovery in each individual. Each journey is unique.

In this short video I explore some of the issues surrounding identity and why it’s important in our lives:

Bonhoeffer: The Transcendent Church At Easter

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Cliftonville Moravian Church (Photo by John Cooper)

“[Believers] do not believe in people or in the good in people that ultimately must triumph; they also do not believe in the church in its human power. Rather, believers believe solely in God, who creates and does the impossible, who creates life out of death, who has called the dying church to life against and in spite of us and through us. But God does it alone.”

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is on the Cross: Reflections on Lent and Easter

World Bipolar Day: Living Beyond Limitations

Today, on World Bipolar Day, I’m reminded of the words of Carl Jung: ‘The one who learns to live with his incapacity has learned a great deal’. 

World Bipoar Day

We all live with incapacity to some degree, not just those who live with a Bipolar diagnosis. Adapting to it, and finding meaning and self-transcendence in it, and through it, makes an enormous difference.

I know many people, who use the insight gained through living with a particular illness, to help others in comparable situations. They turn their incapacity into an advantage (and of course to the advantage of others). In that respect they are unique and are fulfilling a task no-one else can in quite the same way.

As Paul the Apostle wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:27: But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong’. An apt reminder of the purpose inherent in living with a life-limiting, but also life affirming condition, such as Bipolar Disorder.

Weapons Of Mass Destruction: Christianity & A Call to Action.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists recently announced that they have moved the Doomsday Clock ahead 30 Seconds, to 2 minutes to midnight (the symbolic point of global annihilation); this is the closest to midnight recorded since 1953, the height of the Cold War.

At the Doomsday Clock announcement at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., in January 2017, it was stated that: ‘North Korea’s nuclear weapons program appeared to make remarkable progress in 2017, increasing risks for itself, other countries in the region, and the United States. Hyperbolic rhetoric and provocative actions on both sides have increased the possibility of nuclear war by accident or miscalculation …. ‘. Added to that Vladimir Putin’s recent ‘state of the nation’ address to Russia’s Federal Assembly, where he raised the issue of potential additions to the country’s already enormous strategic nuclear arsenal.

The Christian response to the issue of nuclear weapons and the potential for a nuclear exchange, deliberate or by error, has not been uniform in its scope. Some would argue for the deterrence value of maintaining a nuclear arsenal as the ultimate guarantor of peace; others would take a radically different view and claim that possession of weapons of mass destruction, never mind their use, is morally indefensible.  For example, Christian CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) advocates on behalf of Christians ‘who want to witness on the basis of their faith against nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, while also positively campaigning for peace’. This statement, together with other information on their stance is available at: http://christiancnd.org.uk. Christian CND have produced a helpful summary of the various statements on nuclear weapons from UK churches: Church-statements-poster.

Consider also what Thomas Merton, the Cistercian Monk, Writer and Peace Activist wrote in is article entitled ‘Nuclear War and Christian Responsibility’ published in the Feb. 6, 1962 issue of Commonweal (https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/nuclear-war-and-christian-responsibility):

‘In atomic war, there is no longer question of simply permitting an evil, the destruction of a few civilian dwellings, in order to attain a legitimate end: the destruction of a military target. It is well understood on both sides that atomic war is purely and simply massive and indiscriminate destruction of targets chosen not for their military significance alone, but for their importance in a calculated project of terror and annihilation. Often the selection of the target is determined by some quite secondary and accidental circumstance that has not the remotest reference to morality. Hiroshima was selected for atomic attack, among other reasons, because it had never undergone any noticeable air bombing and was suitable, as an intact target, to give a good idea of the effectiveness of the bomb’.

Each one of us – Christian and non-Christian – is called to reflect on our position with respect to nuclear weapons; the stakes could not be any higher – it is after all undeniable that they pose an existential threat like no other. So, I want to leave you with a very sobering TEDtalk by atmospheric scientist Brian Toon; he explains how even a small nuclear exchange could destroy all life on earth and suggests ways that we can prevent such a horrific scenario coming to fruition:

Merton & Frankl: Meaning & Responsibility

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Thomas Merton Plaque, Louisville (Photo Source: I.W. Marsh)

The following quote, from the Cistercian Monk Thomas Merton, on responsibility and meaning could easily have been written by the Psychiatrist and Founder of Logotherapy, Viktor Frankl:

“In the last analysis, the individual person is responsible for living his own life and for ‘finding himself.’ If he persists in shifting his responsibility to somebody else, he fails to find out the meaning of his own existence”.

As a Logotherapist, I understand that the ‘meaning of our own existence’ functions at two different levels: proximate meaning and ultimate meaning.  The former can vary from day to day and hour by hour and can be characterised, among many other things, by fulfilling relationships or a purposeful career. The latter represents a higher order of meaning, which underpins the proximate, and has been described by Frankl in ‘Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning’ as the ‘unconscious desire for inspiration or revelation’.

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Prof. Viktor Frankl (Photo Source: Prof. Dr. Franz Vesely)

Frankl, like Merton understand that free will, or the freedom to make a stand, is mirrored by an individual’s absolute responsibility to respond to life’s questions and to chart a unique path in line with their calling and individual values.

Frankl and Merton have much in common; their understanding of love, responsibility and meaning show a degree of sophistication and insight that is enhanced by their divergent backgrounds and unique experiences.