20 Nov 2018
Lessons from a Master
What is the very worst thing you could experience?
Most of us face challenges and upset on a frequent basis. Our emotions are impacted by events and people, life can be stressful sometimes. In my book I tell the reader that it is the myth of ‘outside in’ thinking that your feelings come from the outside world, when in fact they come from our thoughts and our physiology. Pretty powerful stuff to take in on an intellectual level never mind apply it yourself!
Recently I have been reading a classic by Victor Frankl. ‘Man’s Search for Meaning.’ He describes his experiences at Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp. They were used as slave labour in construction and from time to time were rewarded with coupons which could be exchanged for cigarettes, which in turn could be exchanged for soup or scraps of bread which were “a respite for starvation.” When an inmate was seen smoking, they knew he had given up.
So how did Frankl survive?
Imagine being offloaded from a train, the weaker inmates directed by a wave of the arm, unbeknown to them toward the gas chambers whilst the ones who look fit enough to work are stripped of everything they have: possessions, clothing and dignity, their heads and bodies completely shaved. When everything you have is taken away what do you have left?
Victor started to think about his wife and have conversations with her in his head, he did not know if she was still alive but that did not matter. “I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment in the contemplation of his beloved.” He learned, along with other inmates, to appreciate his luck when he was not put in the charge of a foreman who beat them and feeling joy at being sent to Dachau (no oven) rather than another death camp.
What he learned was that, “Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress.”
So how can we apply the same learning? By accepting that a negative emotion is coming from a thought, even if we are not consciously aware of it. Indeed, it could be the way we are thinking about something. We have a negativity bias which hugely magnifies threats to protect our ‘inner cave person.’ Once you realise it is your natural bias you can put it into perspective by thinking about all the good things that are going on in your life, immersing yourself into happy memories or appreciating all the good things you have.