Three stages of confinement – Three paths to meaning

I awaken lying on a cliff. If I move my arm a milimeter it will dangle over the edge of the chasm. As I move out of dreaming, the sensation morphs into a vast mindspace of emptiness. Engulfed in a sense of futility, the title of a book I’ve never read flashes behind my eyes: Man’s Search for Meaning.

Alarms sound in my brain: Dangerous territory! Do Not Enter! I mentally regroup. What day is this? Saturday. What’s on the calendar? Nothing. Nothing today, or tomorrow, or for the foreseeable future.

I haven’t yet opened my eyes.

I remind myself I’m a writer. I have an unfinished novel to address. I’ve neglected my blog posts. I’m behind in e-mails.

I have so much free time it feels like nothing is urgent. I can waste as much of it as I want. Never before has that been the case for me. It probably isn’t the case now but that’s my perception of these days of separation from friends and family. This ongoing confinement.

I open my eyes.

Gray light filters through the curtains. Stormy skies encircle a gap in the clouds where glowing pink-gold promises a sunrise. I snap a photo on my phone which has become the sixth digit on my right hand – my only connection to what once was my life.

Normally at this point I would kick into action: make my bed, get dressed in yoga clothes, make coffee. I skip steps one and two and go directly to coffee.

Minutes later, sitting in my journaling chair that first cup of steaming caffeine beside me, curiosity surfaces and I Google Man’s Search for Meaning. I click on Book Summary. In a few sentences the hair on my arms stirs then pops into gooseflesh. It’s happened again. The very moment I need it, the Universe delivers a gift.

As I’ve said, I’ve never read Man’s Search for Meaning. In fact, when I first saw that title it was during a period in my life when I had very little patience with men in general and no time at all for men in any kind of self-indulgent, solution-seeking mid-life crisis in particular. I’d just been replaced by a much younger version of myself when my then husband sought meaning for his life. Ouch.

I’ve learned to take notice of things that appear between dreaming and waking. That book wasn’t at all what I needed when I noticed the title at forty-something. But it turns out it’s precisely what I need now. Did I know that? No. So what brought so clearly to mind that specific book that I hadn’t thought of in thirty years? There’s something profound at work and although I’m not religious, I’ve lived in Bali long enough to know there’s a lot more to the unseen than meets the eye.

Imagine my surprise, and the pang of guilt that stung as I read the first few paragraphs summarizing the book. Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist who survived the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, observed the effects of confinement on the human psyche then went on to found Logotherapy: healing through meaning, and write his book.

Frankl describes three stages of the human response to confinement:

  • Shock
  • Apathy
  • Depersonalization

I’m somewhere between apathy and depersonalization: a lack of interest and a sense that things around me aren’t real. His book charts a course through the craziness of what we are experiencing globally right now. It couldn’t be more pertinent. He suggests three paths to discovering meaning:

  • Through achievements and accomplishments, doing deeds, or creating works of value
  • Through experiencing positive things like love or the beauty of nature
  • Through suffering which can be a major human accomplishment if we can find meaning in it

This is a bare sniff of the banquet Frankl lays out. There was enough meat in that summary to fire up my natural optimism. I set two goals for today. First, I’ll post this experience to my blog. Then I’ll brave the empty streets of Ubud hoping to find a copy of the book.

. . . . .

As I journal these thoughts, the protests raging throughout the world in response to George Floyd’s brutal murder come to mind. People – immense numbers of people – have burst out of confinement to ‘suffer for the cause’ and ‘do deeds’ grabbing hold of meaning with both hands.

The battle against racism has been fought for decades but never won. Perhaps now, when men and women worldwide grapple to make sense of the craziness, conditions are perfect. We’ve been stripped of the things that ordered our lives. We’ve been told we can’t go back to the way it was. Many of us don’t want to. We’ve been shown no map for the road ahead. So what exists, which has never existed before to this magnitude, is a colossal, blindingly brilliant opportunity to reshape reality, society, governance, and create a system that values and sustains life, plant, animal, and human, no matter what color it is.

What are you doing to create meaning in these strange times?

Has the Universe offered up any sychronicinistic gifts while you’ve been confined?

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. stevecastley
    Jun 06, 2020 @ 11:28:07

    Thanks for sharing this blog. I found it very interesting and think I too am working through the 3 stages. I’m focused on achieving writing goals and hit my mark most days, but I have to push through the ‘no urgency’ feeling.And my gift has been Bayu. I celebrate that social isolation has made a good friendship even stronger. He is here to help in any possible way and I too and here for him. It is such a blessing. I look forward to coming out of the cocoon and hope I am one of a zillion butterflies, but I’ll probably end up as a blowfly. What will be, will be. (Wise words from Doris Day. Hugs. Stay safe and well. Steve.

    Liked by 1 person

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  2. healingpilgrim
    Jun 06, 2020 @ 12:11:02

    I first read Frankl’s seminal work in my late teens (or quite possibly even earlier, in high school Holocaust studies), and I remember how riveting and thought-provoking a read it was back then. As you rightly point out, it’s the perfect ‘companion’ for these times; reminding us of the attitudes and behaviours that we can consciously adopt, and all the benevolence and optimism that CAN arise out of these strange and secluded times. I hope you found a copy, maybe at Ganesha?

    Liked by 1 person

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  3. sageblessings
    Jun 06, 2020 @ 23:28:39

    One of your very best blogs Sherry. I identify with exactly where you are in terms of having unlimited time yet accomplishing little. Such a strange place to be for me. I, too, hope and believe we are at the beginning of great opportunities.

    Like

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