Viktor Frankl survived a Nazi prison camp and was able to maintain his attitude of hope even during those horrible times. I cannot imagine worse conditions. Yet after suffering through these cruel and vile circumstances, including the loss of most of those he loved, he went on to develop his theory of logotherapy, a psychological system that has helped millions find meaning in their lives.
To choose one’s attitude under the worst of conditions reveals the true freedom of the mind. How awesome is this gift! And it’s a given, for it is within us.
We not only can choose our attitude, we are choosing it all the time.
Our attitude arises from our core beliefs, and we will only know these by deep investigation into what is happening inside our mind and body.
What thought do you believe most deeply?
The body keeps the score of what the mind is doing and how we respond (or react to) what life brings us. We can let our body be our ally by not getting angry or frightened when pain and disease visit us. There is a message in our pain. It can lead us to our healing when listened to deeply and with compassion. (See Lost Connections by Johann Hari for more information)
What is our present attitude? What is going on in our mind? What are our emotions? What are we thinking? Is there tightness in our body? What sensations are flowing us now? Reflecting on these will tell us what our attitude is. Is it one of hope? Of dread? Of confidence? Of faith?
Our attitude points us in the direction we are headed.
We can’t really go forward unless we know where we presently are, just as we can’t plan a trip without starting from our present location.
Change can only come after we accept where we are.
Often we are in such a hurry to get things done, to get through something, that we don’t take time to notice either our inner dialogue or our emotional state. What is vital to pay attention to is ignored.
As I write this my body is feeling slightly tired and sluggish. My present attitude is one of forbearance, endurance. My body feels heavy. I’m feeling some disappointment and sadness.
I pause, breathe deeply, relax and own where I am emotionally and physically. As I do, I notice a slight shift. I become aware of new possibilities. Now I note that my attitude has become more hopeful, lighter.
I’m the one doing this! My attitude is changing as I take time to watch my mind and feel my body’s sensations.
My attitudes are of my own creation. I give things the meaning they have. My perspective is the lens through which I view life. Even suffering has meaning. As Dr. Frankl has written, we can bear almost anything when we can find meaning.
Attitudes point the direction we are going. They point this way, or that. They may not immediately change the outer circumstances, but they head us in a direction, going towards something. What or where is up to us.
I recently watched a film about Sitting Bull in which he spoke of his time in prison, explaining that even though his body was behind bars his soul was soaring like an eagle.
Even in prison he chose his attitude.
Of course this takes practice. Dr. Frankl goes on to say that everything in life has meaning and therefore suffering has meaning.
What are we to learn from pain and suffering? What does it mean to us? What are our beliefs about suffering?
As we notice what our mind is doing, we notice what is healthy and what is unhealthy, what causes suffering and what brings joy. There is something within us that chooses that which is truly more pleasant and wholesome.
Through this practice wisdom grows and our attitudes become more peace filled. We move into a place of acceptance of what is; where true change can come about.
We have new attitudes, optimistic attitudes, for we have found meaning in all that has transpired.
When we fight against things we remain a soul divided against ourselves. And that hurts, for a house divided against itself cannot stand.
Now I notice my body has lightened and I feel ready to do the next right thing. I don’t know what will happen or what the turn of events will bring. But I feel hopeful.
Happiness really is an inside job. Joy comes from inner optimism.
The Universe has created us to learn and to soar—even when we seem to be stuck or imprisoned—for we can move through these times and learn from them.
We are a mind that chooses. This is our freedom.