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.

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:

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.

Resilience, Hope & The God Within

The existentialist philosopher Albert Camus’ famous quote: “In the depths of winter I finally learned that within me resided an invincible summer”, reminds us that resilience resides within.

Hope is intrinsic to our existence; it cannot be attained by wealth, power or anything that the world can bestow upon us.

It is the work of a lifetime to uncover our inner strength and to utilise it in the realisation of meaning. Herein lies the purpose of Logotherapy, the Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy, founded by Viktor Frankl.

The insert of the front cover of the revised and enlarged version of Frankl’s ‘The Unconscious God’ points to a greater reality of the inner life, namely: ‘in the Unconscious God, Dr. Frank rediscovers the truth that so many of today’s philosophers and psychologists ignore: essential to man’s humanity is his awareness, conscious or unconscious, of a God within him that distinguishes him from other animals.’

Resilience, hope and the God within represent the trinity of self-understanding and are the precursors and catalysts to living a meaningful life.

‘When I Needed A Neighbour?’

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It often strikes me just how convoluted we make our Christian faith appear, when in reality, at its core, it is relatively straightforward. Granted, the Disciples often misunderstood Jesus and struggled with the countercultural essence of his narrative; and so do we. But in essence, Jesus’ message was clear, especially when we consider the pragmatism of his ethical teachings.  His exhortations to reach out to the marginalised, to love the unlovely and to respect the dignity of the person, were profound. There are many examples in the Gospels where Jesus talks, in strident terms, of the neighbourliness imperative and the demands placed upon us; to embrace the stranger in our midst and to disaffirm restrictive tribal affiliations.

One such example of this is found in Matthew 25:44-45 –

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

And then there are the lyrics of the hymn ‘When I Needed a Neighbour’, sung by so many over the years, the first verse of which is reproduced here:

When I needed a neighbour,
Were you there, were you there?
When I needed a neighbour, were you there?
And the creed and the colour
And the name won’t matter,
Were you there?

Each hour, day, week and lifetime we all experience the situations and circumstances where we can be proactive neighbours. Moreover, how we engage and who we engage with is a very personal task; we all have unique skills that are there to be utilised in the service of others.

I think Viktor Frankl, Psychiatrist, Holocaust Survivor and founder of Logotherapy and Existential Analysis, captured the essence of that uniqueness when he wrote:

 “Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it.”

A Call To Service

The concept of self-transcendence and service to others is at the core of Christian belief and practice. Consider as an example Isaiah 58:10 – ‘If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday’. Or in the New Testament, 1 Peter 4:10 makes the point very succinctly –  ‘Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received’.

It would be erroneous however to think that religious belief has a monopoly on self-transcendence; it has a rich secular hinterland.  In Viktor Frankl’s classic book, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ he addressed his understanding of ‘”the self-transcendence of human existence.”‘ and wrote: ‘It denotes the fact that being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself–be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter’. And crucially, ‘The more one forgets himself–by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love–the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself. What is called self-actualization is not an attainable aim at all, for the simple reason that the more one would strive for it, the more he would miss it. In other words, self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence.”’

The Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was cognizant of the fact that service need not be complicated or restricted to particular occupations; it is open to all of us, regardless of who we are and how we are categorized by society:

 

The Perennial Quest For Ultimate Meaning

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As a Logotherapist and a Christian Minister it comes as no surprise to me that Logotherapy is compatible with, but not exclusive to, the practical expression of a Christian worldview.

The best book on the subject, in my opinion, is ‘Logotherapy and the Logos of God in Christic Wisdom’ by Jeremiah Murasso, a Priest and Therapist. Murasso briefly elucidates the key similarities between Jesus’ ministry of healing, and the principles of the Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy, that is Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy and Existential Analysis.

These words from Murasso strike me as being particularly meaningful (note: he uses masculine references as gender-generic):

Although man has often become distracted and at times despondent in his search for ultimate meaning, he has never abandoned this quest.  The reason for man’s persistence lies in the resiliency of man’s spirit, which although buried and at times bruised by the world, yearns for wholeness and completeness. The Christic Wisdom of the New Testament describes Christ nourishing the bruised yet yearning human spirit as he seeks to rekindle man’s awareness of his noetic core.