Each January, I lead a Dream Board workshop where attendees complete an intention-setting craft.
They select and paste pictures depicting their calendar year’s intentions on white poster board. Most intentions center around weight loss, finding love, or making more money.
By now, the Facebook meeting invites would have been sent and flyers displayed at offices and area eateries. The craft sets from Oriental Trading would have arrived, and the poster board purchased from the local craft store. But the craft store went out of business this year, and the office and eateries are closed.
And even though my 2020 intentions—sell my house, finish my book, lose 10 pounds—mostly came true (damn those 10 pounds), I can’t bring myself to sit around and paste wishes on boards. It doesn’t seem worthy of our 2020 experience. We need something bigger.
For Christmas, my husband gave me a book by Viktor Frankl after I mentioned liking several of his quotes. Although this is not a typical book to gift, it was perfect for me this year.
Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist who survived four Nazi prisoner camps only to discover, upon escape, that he’d lost his entire family in them. The book he wrote as a result, Man’s Search for Meaning, was originally meant to be published anonymously. He never wanted to be famous. He just wanted to share how he and others had survived their horrific experience. The book has sold over 15 million copies worldwide.
I started reading it the day after Christmas and, within an hour, cried more than once. The work is broken into two parts. The first describes the concentration camp experience and the second explains how he and others survived. I found myself reading a few pages from the first part and then turning to the second quickly for relief. I repeated this over and over.
How did he survive? By finding meaning to his life. He wanted to publish a manuscript the Nazis stole from him upon entry to the camp. He believed it to be his life’s work, and this belief helped sustain him through the camps. Later, after publishing over 30 books, he said the true meaning of his life was to help others find the meaning of theirs.
“We can discover the meaning in life in three different ways: 1) by creating a work or doing a deed; 2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; 3) by the attitude we take toward suffering.”
I’ve seen these tools work in my life. Years ago, when I experienced repeated losses (divorce and death) over the course of three years, I was devastated. I felt like that spider of nursery rhyme lore, crawling up the waterspout, only to get washed down over and over.
I wrote about my grief journey multiple times for Elephant Journal. Each instance gave me distance and perspective, and a community of others going through the same thing. Writing provided a purpose and helped me see suffering as a part of life. It gives much-needed context and helps us stop taking things and others for granted.
So even though I’m not leading a Dream Board session this year, I am setting an intention. To continually find meaning and purpose in life. To seek out ways to be creative and interact with others. And to change my attitude toward suffering.
If Viktor could do it, we all can.
How will you find meaning for your life in 2021?
“If one cannot change a situation that causes his suffering, he can still choose his attitude.” ~ Viktor Frankl