It Is Life That Asks The Questions Of Us

Viktor Frankl

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The question can no longer be “What can I expect from life?” but can now only be “What does life expect of me?” What task in life is waiting for me?

Now we also understand how, in the final analysis, the question of the meaning of life is not asked in the right way, if asked in the way it is generally asked: it is not we who are permitted to ask about the meaning of life — it is life that asks the questions, directs questions at us… We are the ones who must answer, must give answers to the constant, hourly question of life, to the essential “life questions.” Living itself means nothing other than being questioned; our whole act of being is nothing more than responding to — of being responsible toward — life. With this mental standpoint nothing can scare us anymore, no future, no apparent lack of a future. Because now the present is everything as it holds the eternally new question of life for us.

The question life asks us, and in answering which we can realize the meaning of the present moment, does not only change from hour to hour but also changes from person to person: the question is entirely different in each moment for every individual.

We can, therefore, see how the question as to the meaning of life is posed too simply, unless it is posed with complete specificity, in the concreteness of the here and now. To ask about “the meaning of life” in this way seems just as naive to us as the question of a reporter interviewing a world chess champion and asking, “And now, Master, please tell me: which chess move do you think is the best?” Is there a move, a particular move, that could be good, or even the best, beyond a very specific, concrete game situation, a specific configuration of the pieces?

One way or another, there can only be one alternative at a time to give meaning to life, meaning to the moment — so at any time we only need to make one decision about how we must answer, but, each time, a very specific question is being asked of us by life. From all this follows that life always offers us a possibility for the fulfillment of meaning, therefore there is always the option that it has a meaning. One could also say that our human existence can be made meaningful “to the very last breath”; as long as we have breath, as long as we are still conscious, we are each responsible for answering life’s questions.

Excerpt from Yes to Life: In Spite of Everything. Viktor Frankl (1905–1997) was a Viennese neurologist and psychiatrist imprisoned in the Auschwitz concentration camp, where he lost his mother, father, and brother. His 1946 memoir Man’s Search for Meaning remains one of the profoundest and most vitalizing books ever written, abounding with wisdom on how to persevere through the darkest times and what it means to live with presence.

Seed questions for reflection: How do you relate to the notion that the meaning of life can change both by individual and moment? Can you share a personal story of a time you became aware of the fluid but real nature of meaning? What helps you answer the question of meaning in the present moment?

Add Your Reflection:

8 Previous Reflections:

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    On Jul 2, 2020 Sonal Shah wrote:
    Being in present moment. Awarenessof mind should be there. Consumption of things matters for our day to day life if possible.

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    On Jul 1, 2020 Ambika wrote:
    Choices a plenty. Constantly we are bombarded with making choices. Sometimes its difficult, most often it is confusing andrarely easy. Choice between 'this or that'. We are not familiar because we have not been woken up to the truth that it does not have to be between this or that but a third option. Beyond this or that there is 'My Way' as an option. Why not my way? This can remain as a question. The answer lies within the person. The truth is that a question always arises from an answer. No answer, no question. Most often answers appear through the process of Osmosis. We need to allow the question to rest and grow in the warmth of the answer. Then the answer appears when you are ready to receive it. The question disappears. The answer was always within you. At the necessitated time it makes it's appearance.
    Life is not a question. life is an answer to it's desire, excitement and need to celebrate the created.
    . . 

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    On Jun 30, 2020 Sandra wrote:
    I think the general meaning of life for everyone is to learn to love ourselves, each other, & the world around us to the best of our ability.

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    On Jun 30, 2020 Sunil, Bangalore wrote:
    Spiritually, in life impermanence is the only permanence. The meaning of
    thisfleeting human birth may be found in serving its core purpose of crossing the cycle of 84 to merge self into HIM.
    ​​​​​While practicing the Surat-Shabd yoga to achieve this you may have a glimpse of such an experience. The intellect and wisdom gained during this process may offer all the answers to move forward meaningfully.

    ​​

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    On Jun 28, 2020 David Doane wrote:
    All creation is one whole, one activity, one being that is constantly changing. There may be the appearance of separate and static, but the nature of real being is oneness and fluidity. The meaning of life is to grow individually and collectively, which means to be continuously responsive to constantly changing reality in a way that enhances growth. Awareness of that came to me through discussion, reading, reflection, and living, an awareness that was initially a whisper and has grown and continues to grow in volume, clarity, and depth. As stated earlier, what makes sense to me is that we are here to grow, and my inner voice and my best judgment help me know that.

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    On Jun 26, 2020 Jagdish P Dave wrote:
    There is an existential approach or standpoint when it comes to asking the question what is the meaning of life. The meaning of life is not static and so is the question. Life is dynamic. Life is changing. How do I relate to this truth of life? By using the past frame of reference or by planning for thee future? My response to life is relating to life as it unfolds. The unfolding life presents specific challenges in the concreteness of here and now. We all are aware of the challenges we are facing at this time. We see the cruel face of mankind, the hurting heart of mankind, the angry outburst of mankind. This is an existential challenge to all of us. How do I relate to this existential challenge? I do not believe in remaining indifferent or quiet. I also do not believe in taking it in piecemeal or in a fragmented way. It is a systemic problem and it needs to be tackled in a systemic way. I am examining myself and becoming aware of my own biases and prejudice. Is my mind static? Am I h... [View Full Comment] There is an existential approach or standpoint when it comes to asking the question what is the meaning of life. The meaning of life is not static and so is the question. Life is dynamic. Life is changing. How do I relate to this truth of life? By using the past frame of reference or by planning for thee future? My response to life is relating to life as it unfolds. The unfolding life presents specific challenges in the concreteness of here and now.

    We all are aware of the challenges we are facing at this time. We see the cruel face of mankind, the hurting heart of mankind, the angry outburst of mankind. This is an existential challenge to all of us. How do I relate to this existential challenge? I do not believe in remaining indifferent or quiet. I also do not believe in taking it in piecemeal or in a fragmented way. It is a systemic problem and it needs to be tackled in a systemic way. I am examining myself and becoming aware of my own biases and prejudice. Is my mind static? Am I hiding myself from myself? These self-examining questions are very important to me for understanding and relating to what is happening in our society.

    I am helping myself by allowing what arises in my consciousness. It is like welcoming the unwelcoming, those parts of myself that I do not want to look at, sense or feel. It is liberating myself from myself to have a clear vision of what is and how can I relate to that is-ness.
    Namaste!
    Jagdish P Dave'[Hide Full Comment]

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    On Jun 26, 2020 rahul wrote:
    Not so long ago, I was struggling with a person who lived near me. Her behavior seemed hostile, selfish, destructive, and obstinate all at once. In the face of directly observable facts-- like those that were recorded on video-- she rejected any notion of an agreed upon reality or set of baseline facts. I was simply flummoxed and at the end of my wits to understand how to deal with this person. Then it just so happened that I became aware of her extreme financial vulnerability. The room spun. Suddenly I understood why she couldn't meet me in 'reality'. My view of her transformed from 'destructive and obstinate' to 'scared and desperate'. I could see both of these views, and knew they were both stories -- two among many that existed simultaneously. This multiplicity of views does not mean that all views are equal, but exposes a nearly universal flaw in our thinking where we simultaneously assume there is only one right view (ours) and also identify with and c... [View Full Comment] Not so long ago, I was struggling with a person who lived near me. Her behavior seemed hostile, selfish, destructive, and obstinate all at once. In the face of directly observable facts-- like those that were recorded on video-- she rejected any notion of an agreed upon reality or set of baseline facts. I was simply flummoxed and at the end of my wits to understand how to deal with this person. Then it just so happened that I became aware of her extreme financial vulnerability. The room spun. Suddenly I understood why she couldn't meet me in 'reality'. My view of her transformed from 'destructive and obstinate' to 'scared and desperate'. I could see both of these views, and knew they were both stories -- two among many that existed simultaneously. This multiplicity of views does not mean that all views are equal, but exposes a nearly universal flaw in our thinking where we simultaneously assume there is only one right view (ours) and also identify with and cling to that view as if the core of our being and the meaning of our life depends upon it.

    Meaning is a story to respond the question of 'why?'. Why me? Why here? Why now? Why this? At first, we're given the stories of our culture, religion, family, and society to answer those questions. Some of those stories cause us pain or make us uncomfortable, especially if we're not the type to be placated with easy answers. Then a few of us learn the art of spinning our own stories. These stories open a new level of power, as we begin to take agency and responsibility in the face of suffering. From this space of choice and activity, yet a smaller number us still sit uncomfortably with the meaning we ourselves spin. If we're courageous enough, we can sit with what is without seeking or clinging to any meaning. Finally one day we may arrive at something beyond meaning on the other side of all our whys. Before that time, each person sits with a unique river of circumstances, questions, and stories which they navigate on an inevitable journey towards the ocean we must all cross.[Hide Full Comment]

    1 reply: Bansi | Post Your Reply

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