The Existential Vacuum
I’ve borrowed this from a sub-heading in Viktor Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning” which came out of his experiences as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps.
The term though is used in discussion of more recent times.
Frankl developed a technique called ‘logotherapy’ later known as the ‘third school of Viennese psychiatry’.
Logotherapy essentially means ‘meaning therapy’ or the search for a ‘meaning’ behind what people do or how they present as a patient.
In some ways it is a very similar approach, though different in technique, to Rapid Transformational Therapy (RTT) that I have been trained in by its developer Marisa Peer.
It is really all about ‘the meaning of life’ and the reasons behind our behaviour that relate to that.
As we know, the answer to the question of the meaning of ‘Life the Universe and Everything’ is 42, which means (in computer speak) ‘anything you want it to be’ – a very clever twist by Douglas Adams.
The thing is that there is a subtle difference between ‘meaning’ and ‘purpose’.
What Frankl observed in the camps in Poland and Bavaria was that those prisoners who survived tended to be the ones who maintained a ‘purpose’ to their existence for an indefinite time as prisoners with a meaning behind it, rather than those who lost all meaning and found themselves, as he put it, in an ‘existential vacuum’.
To get the full background on this you’d need to read the book. It’s not too long and well worth it.
What’s important though is the parallel to the present day where groups of people are finding themselves in this state with seemingly no purpose to their lives and consequently a rapidly fading meaning – a rapidly fading ‘reason to live’.
The camps of Nazi Germany, and their predecessors set up by the British during the Boer War, and indeed by the Americans during the Civil Way were, and in the case of prisons now are, designed to gather or ‘concentrate’ in one place, groups of ‘similar’ people who were and are deemed to be ‘outside’ normal society.
But it doesn’t require a war or a criminal code to implement that and it doesn’t have to be a government or military initiative.
We do it all the time.
To ourselves., and to those around us.
This isn’t just about different cultural groups gathering together in specific areas where they don’t feel ‘different’ from those around them, this is more about life purpose.
There are groups of people in danger of losing their purpose and possibly their meaning as they are pushed, or should I say ‘eased’, out towards the edges of society.
The most prominent are the ‘young’ and the ‘old’.
You see, they don’t ‘fit in’ to the ‘norm’
The ‘norm’ in our ‘western’ society is to be employed, to have a ‘job’ and thus to be given a purpose in life to do that job.
This is what s taught in schools – you get your purpose from your job and the ‘meanig’ to your life follows.
It’s considered ‘risky’ not to have a job, to rely on your artistic ability, or to set up your own enterprise, or in other words to be ‘not normal’ – ‘different’.
The perceived risk is that you’ll have no purpose in life – because you’ve not been given one. The idea of developing your own purpose in life tends to be frowned upon and it’s certainly not ‘taught’.
So, as a young person, if you don’t find a ‘job’ you end up with no purpose, and even if you find one of your own it is likely to be discouraged as ‘not achievable’ or ‘daydreaming’.
But even with a purpose, it’s not clear what the ‘meaning’ of life is to a young person – it’s not in the school curriculum therefore it’s irrelevant.
It’s not surprising that so many people n their teens and early twenties come together to search for ‘something’ that they might find in gangs, drugs or other forms of hedonism.
It also points to a reason for the high rate of suicide.
There’s no ‘meaning’ to life – so what the hell?
And at the other end of the scale when people ‘retire’ their purpose inherent in their job is taken away from them.
Some people are OK because they have a long list of things they want to achieve, a purpose for later life but many don’t.
Many end up ‘concentrated’ in ‘care homes’, segregated from the rest of the community and often effectively kept prisoner, not being allowed out on their own.
Purpose has gone, meaning has gone and they are simply left to fade away.
Like the younger group they end up in an existential vacuum, existing for no purpose or meaning that they are aware of.
You and I need to ensure that we have ongoing purposes, goals and awesome special missions to achieve, and we should make sure that all those around us do so as well.
We need to be clear about the meaning of our lives which is of course whatever we want it to be, but we do need to know what it is!
Think about your purpose or purposes.
What do they mean for your life?
Stay out of the existential vacuum and help everyone you can to do so as well.