“Between the stimulus and the response, there is a space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and freedom.”
~Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
We have more power in this life than we realize. I used to feel like a victim of circumstances and people. My husband and I were struggling to establish our careers and were in plenty of debt. I had issues with people around me. I couldn’t see how things could be bearable under those circumstances and around those people. When I read Man’s Search for Meaning, in which Viktor Frankl describes how he survived four Nazi concentration camps by harnessing what he understood about psychology (he was a psychologist before the Nazis decided he had no value), I was given a simple directive towards a more peaceful, contented, and joyful life. I had the power to choose my response. Between the situation or the person causing me distress, there was a space, and in that space, I had a choice. If Frankl could survive the atrocities and horrors of the camps with his mind fully intact, I had no right to doubt my ability to transcend the minimal troubles of my own safe and privileged life. The responsibility was on me.
Application of this truth activates a kind of everyday transcendence. It may seem cliche but the Serenity Prayer works wonders when applied to that space: the space between the stimulus and the response.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
It is becoming habitual for me to pause when something upsets me and to ask myself, “What can I control in this situation? What can I change?” If the answer is, “nothing,” then I ask for the ability to accept the situation or the person as it/they are. Accepting a situation or the behavior of a person does not mean that I agree with it, like it, or endorse it. It means that I am not giving that situation or that person negative power over me. It’s a choice that conserves my mental, emotional, spiritual and sometimes physical energies. It’s a practice ultimately of strength under control, a definition I have heard applied to “meekness,” a much-maligned virtue that actually requires strength, not weakness. By accepting my condition in any given moment, I can more readily find the good. By choosing how I respond, I do not become emotionally embroiled in dramatic situations. By practicing at choosing my response, I slowly learn how to transcend many of life’s frustrations, disappointments, and difficulties. It takes daily application of these truths, and I have much more practicing to do; I will always have more practicing to do. I wish I did this transcendence thing more perfectly, but that’s okay. It doesn’t have to be perfect as long as I am moving forward towards “growth and freedom.” How can Viktor Frankl’s potentially life-changing words help you to transcend your everyday struggles? How can the Serenity prayer help you to live a life of transcendence?