I winced in pain. I couldn’t believe it. I was doing it again. I was getting (yet another) tattoo. An ankle tattoo.
“BUZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!” went the needle.
While I spent my time on the artist’s table lying down, my head rushing, I had plenty of time to think about what I was doing to myself. Was I crazy? Yes, very possibly. Not just because of the intense pain from the tattoo that I was experiencing, but in a general sense. But after all, that was one of my main reasons behind this tattoo in particular.
“What is to give light must endure burning.”
Please allow me to elaborate: This specific quotation comes from the distinguished, world-renowned psychiatrist and neurologist, Dr. Viktor Frankl. Dr. Frankl was also the founder of logotherapy, a form of psychotherapy (the kind which I specifically personally find to be most influential and relevant).
In a nutshell, logotherapy has its name derived from the Greek word, “logos,” which translates as “meaning.” The idea behind it is that life is, contrary to previous belief, not actually about the pursuit of pleasure, nor the pursuit of power. Rather, it is the pursuit of meaning that makes life valuable, that makes it worth living. That is what we as a human race are ultimately striving towards. The fact is, suffering is inevitable in this life, but the way we choose to cope with it and (hopefully) learn from it is what motivates us to keep on going, no matter what.
At first glance, I had to think about the topic a bit to truly wrap my head around it and Frankl’s words from his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,”… but not for terribly long. This book was an outstanding work that truly aided me in my darkest hour in late 2012 and 2013, when I was pregnant and dangerously suicidal. To me, it simply made perfect sense, from beginning to end.
“BUZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!” the needle continued as I mused and recalled.
Dr. Frankl wrote about his horrific experiences in different concentration camps, not unlike numerous accounts that I had read before. He had lost absolutely everyone and everything in his life before being liberated by the Soviets, but he was still able to find meaning in what was arguably the cruelest, most senseless atrocity in human history. A sense of purpose and meaning is what drives us and keeps us alive, in spite of the most hellish of circumstances.
Bottom line from Frankl’s 184-page masterpiece? When you have meaning and a reason for life, which everyone has, life is worth living.
“BUZZZZZZZZ! BUZZZ-BUZZZ! BUZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!” The artist started applying a thin layer of ointment to my fresh tattoo. It was finally over!
I looked down at my ankle. Well, to be honest, it looked *bigger* than I had initially agreed to at first glance. And I was a little surprised that the artist had taken it upon himself to add a bit of red to the design (Dude, that *wasn’t* part of the plan!). But overall, the writing was there and legible (and spelled correctly!), and that was the main point. I was quite contented with my new ink.
I hobbled out of the parlor and continued thinking. The fact is, pretty much anything that Dr. Frankl ever said or wrote down is absolutely brilliant. So why this one quote in particular?
A part of it, I admit, came from the fact that I had a limited amount of space on my body that I was willing and able to use (I have to keep my day job, after all).
These words in particular spoke to me. At first, they may seem a little esoteric, like poetry or a far-fetched riddle. However, just like some of the best poetry ever published, it is easy to find your own personally relevant interpretation of this emotionally-condensed phrase.
For me, this quotation’s meaning is two-fold. When I think of, “giving light,” I have often thought of the teaching profession. When you teach and get through to your student, you are indeed lighting a fire, you are inspiring, you are influencing, and you are changing the lives of others. But on the flip side, of course, it is quite easy to experience “burn out” in this profession. It is one of the most emotionally taxing and demanding careers out there. But that is the price that we as educators pay for the job that we are in.
As a spin off, these words can also speak to those who may not be teachers, but those who seek to lead meaningful, fulfilling lives. Living this kind of noble existence is similar to a fire that gives light (think of a candle lighting another candle). However, in order to continue giving light, we must first take care of ourselves, as to not exhaust the flame or to wind up extinguish ourselves, but to carry on to continue burning and giving light. Not abiding by this truth was one of the factors that played a role in my own personal burn-out from my job and return to instability, when I honestly started to doubt myself and to question whether what I was doing was making a difference, whether my life mattered.
After having the opportunity to take a much-needed step back, I am able to see that it does, indeed. But in order to keep my fire going and give light, I need to take the steps necessary to care also for myself, so that I may continue to endure burning. I cannot afford to forget that.
(Finding Meaning in Difficult Times – Youtube clip)
“The salvation of man is through love and in love.”
- Dr. Viktor Emil Frankl (1905-1997)