We are being challenged today at a fast pace to change our habits and our lifestyle. It feels a little bit like being an adolescent again, being imposed upon by stifling rules that cause me to declare with an impudent tone ‘Why should I?’ The truth is, it is a legitimate question. Why should I sacrifice my comfort? Why should I invest time and effort? I have to have a good reason.
Sometimes all we want is pity. We want to complain. We want things to go our way. We want what we want, even when we get in the way of our own happiness. Logotherapy aims to make the client aware of what he really longs for in the depth of his being. To do that, you need to stop venting at some point and figure out how you can do something useful with the current situation.
For example a couple in marital counseling find within themselves a willingness to sacrifice for the sake of the relationship. A person who is depressed finds a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
Whether it is for the sake of someone you love, for the sake of an ideal you uphold dearly or for the sake of your own dignity, there is always a ‘what for’ that motivates me to be proactive. One might ask: For the sake of what beyond the four cubits of my ego-desires am I living?
The ‘what for’ in Jewish tradition is what Frankl refers to as ultimate meaning, namely God. – ‘All of your actions should be for the sake of heaven.’ (Avot 2:12) A Biblical verse captures this well. ‘In all of your ways know God.’ (Mishle 3:6) The Talmud calls this verse ‘a small passage that the bulk of Torah depends upon.’
How does one go about knowing God specifically in all of your ways?
There are a number of commentaries. For one thing, your lifestyle reflects your values. See everything as a means to the end of knowing God. Thus, Maimonides notes that one can eat merely to satisfying one’s taste buds (like an animal) or one can eat in order to promote good health. A human being should look at the benefit and eat what promotes health whether it is sweet or bitter. But health is not the ultimate goal. You should eat in order to maintain good health so that you will be able to contemplate God, since you cannot think lofty thoughts if you are in pain.
There is a different way to read the verse. See divine wisdom in everything. When you eat, be amazed by the wisdom by which this food has the power to nurture you. This is the opinion of the Ralbag.
So you can do things with a higher purpose in mind or you can recognize a higher value within the thing itself.
A third approach is suggested by Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaCohen Kook. Seek God by being present in what you are doing. When you are studying don’t be distracted by other thoughts. When you are praying don’t think about your studies. When you’re helping a friend, be fully with them and give it your all. You will find God in what you are doing now because God is with you in what you are doing, not somewhere else. God is already there. You just have to show up. (Musar Avicha 2:2)
A fourth interpretation is suggested by Malbim. How can you know God in everything you do? Be compassionate. Have patience, generosity and humility. Be connected to God by being God-like.
Rabbennu Yona of Gerundi gives a few answers but all of his explanations point to the fact that that your actions should reflect God’s will.
Remember that God is the power behind everything you do. Furthermore, make everything you do a service to God, not for your own self-glorification. Finally, consider whether or not what you are about to do is what God wants from you.
The goal of therapy is to get unstuck; the goal of knowing God is a religious ideal. Despite their divergent goals the conversation between therapy and religion is of vital importance because the power behind the technique of Dereflection in logotherapy is self-transcendence, and among the meanings to which one can transcend is ultimate meaning.
Each of these interpretation represents a different aspect to finding the ‘what for’ that makes life worth living according to logotherapy.
1) To whom or what am I responsible?
2) How can I focus on the meaning that is inherently there?
3) Who am I?
4) What does life expect from me?