Perspective on Catastrophic Failure

Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

Our airways are a buzz these days with messages of uncertainty, confusion and pending doom. No wonder that the Canadian Association for Mental Health (CAMH) statistics are reporting a steep decline in mental health (doubling is a significant exponent).

Mental health is a complex issue, but is the solution necessarily complex?

I was tempted to list a few of the current CAMH statistics, but decided against it; it’s a heavy read. Suffice it to say that the fact is that the mental health of Canadians is in a serious decline. If you’d like to read the actual report, you can do so HERE.

Whenever I start to wonder about how bad things could get, I like to reflect on the life of Viktor Frankl, the Jewish Psychologist who was imprisoned at Auschwitz during world war two. Having been to Auschwitz (and Birkenau) personally, I have to believe that is a fairly reasonable representation of hell on earth. If you found yourself to be imprisoned there, you would like believe that your life had landed in the realm of catastrophic failure. Hope would be a faint whisper at best for most that existed there.

So – when Frankl emerges from Auschwitz to speak, I am listening. He describes one scene from Auschwitz where there are a group of them huddled together in the “showers”. They are standing there, naked, with every possession removed and all of their bodily hair shaved off of them. When water began to flow instead of gas, they began to laugh hysterically, for they realized that they had nothing left to lose except their naked lives.

The atrocities of concentration camps are well documented, and if you would like to read the complete account of Frankl’s experience, see Man’s Search for Meaning).  I would recommend that every human being read it – a must. The statements that flow from Frankl following his imprisonment are insightful and inspiring (digest slowly – adagio):

  • “The experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action. There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress.”
  • “What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life…it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us…Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfil the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”
  • “Most men in a concentration camps believed that the real opportunities of life had passed. Yet, in reality, there was an opportunity and a challenge. One could make a victory of those experiences, turning life into an inner triumph, or one could ignore the challenge and simply vegetate, as did a majority of the prisoners.”

Frankl emerges from Auschwhitz to create Logotherapy, which is based on the premise that the primary motivational force for man is meaning in life. Within logotherapy there is a technique Frankl labelled as “paradoxical intention”.

  •  “…the twofold fact that fear brings about that which one is afraid of, and that hyper-intention makes impossible what one wishes […] In this approach the phobic patient is invited to intend, even if only for a moment, precisely that which he fears.” 

What truly is catastrophic failure? If we all enter this life with nothing, and we must all leave this life with nothing, then why does the thought of “losing everything” bother us so badly? Is it the actual occurrence of losing everything, or is it simply the prospect or potential of it?

If anxiety is the uncertainty and fear of the unknown, then maybe the answer is in courageous interrogation of the unknown so that it is known. Frankl reminds us that the “he who has a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’…”. Follow the trail of “why” as you interrogate your fear.

  1. What is it that you are afraid of? Why?
  2. Answer.
  3. Why?
  4. Answer…and so on.

When I do this, I find that there is nothing for me to fear and that the restlessness, anxiety and fear are nothing more than shadow puppets in a virtual reality set. I can keep nothing – so I have nothing to lose. Time is all that stands between me and this outcome – and none of us truly knows how much time we have anyway! Having said that, anxiety, fear and worry rob me of the power for living today. So then, if this is true, would I not have already forfeited all?

When I begin to despair the loss of the “life” (aka the trappings of life) that I have built, I wonder why I feel that I should have any of this as my own – even my closest relationships – when so many of the billions who have walked this earth have nary experienced an iota of it. Does it not strike as ironic? Is it possible that he who has nothing could laugh more freely through all we are facing?

The Great Reset, the Global Pandemic, the political power shifts, the National debt…all of these will have an impact on our lives in many ways. However, there is no reason to lose hope for our future if our hope is grounded transcendentally beyond the temporal shifting of political and economic tides – even beyond the reach of a virus – to the Creator of All things, in whom all life is sustained. The One consistent, steady, changeless essence, pure in its intention.