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How often are you searching for tools to make sense out of life?


Today is June 24 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often are you searching for tools to make sense out of life?” In his 2022 autobiography Putting the Rabbit in the Hat: A Memoir, actor Brian Cox wrote “the human experience can be labelled as…disappointing. But as a species, we are, at times, exceedingly vulnerable. Our vulnerability lies in the inability to understand life and its purpose. We hunt for the tools to make sense of it all: religion, science, politics, sport, the theater. We explore and search for meaning by discovering new worlds and climbing mountains, and a great many of us find tremendous solace and comfort in these activities, but the one thing that is absolutely certain is that we are born and that we will die. The rest is propaganda.”


Throughout a career spanning six decades in theater, television, and film as an actor, Cox would eventually search for tools to help him navigate the chaos of his moments of crisis surrounding marriage, family, and other personal concerns. One such tool was the work of Russian philosopher George Ivanovich Gurdjieff who “taught that most humans live their lives in a state of hypnotic ‘waking sleep,’ but that it is possible to awaken a high state of consciousness and achieve full human potential. Cox explained that to awaken from this ‘waking sleep’ one needed to “expend considerable effort to effect the transformation that leads to an awakening, attaining that higher level of consciousness.”


To help him awaken and achieve a higher level of consciousness, Cox worked with Betty Gloster, a disciple of Guardjieff. Gloster taught Cox a simple exercise that he could use to ‘self-remember’ to awaken. Each time he touched a door handle, she instructed him to tell himself to awaken and that would serve as his reminder. Cox explained in his memoir that such a tool did indeed work. Like most people who navigate the chaos and translate one dream after another into reality, however, he sought additional tools to use.


A second tool Cox used was logotherapy. Developed by neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, logotherapy is based on the premise that the primary motivational force of an individual is to find a meaning in life. According to Frankl, "We can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering" and that "everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances"


As Cox wrote in his memoir “Our main motivation for living is our will to find meaning in life, and life has meaning even in the most miserable of circumstances. I take some comfort from that, believe it or not, while at the same time feeling a great sense of existential horror at the idea of the world without me. I do believe that we simply flick off, like an appliance. You don’t get a choice how. You can only choose your attitude at the time. That’s how you make it a good death.”


Logotherapy is one of three life philosophies explaining the driving force in human behavior. The other two are the will to power and the will to pleasure. The will to power is a concept in the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche and describes what Nietzsche may have believed to be the main driving force in humans. The term can be summarized as self-determination, the concept of actualizing one's will onto one's self or one's surroundings and coincides heavily with egoism. The will to pleasure is a concept in the philosophy of Sigmund Freud and involves the instinctive seeking of pleasure and avoiding of pain to satisfy biological and psychological needs. Obviously, each of these three paradigms suggests a completely different driving force in the behavior of humans. The will to find meaning was introduced by Frankl in his famous book Man's Search for Meaning, in which he outlines how his theories helped him survive his Holocaust experience.


In the article "Living with Meaning: Realize Your Will to Meaning," author Alex Pattakos wrote that upon examination both the will to pleasure and the will to power seemed to be missing something for Frankl. Both approaches were merely attempts to cover up, but not necessarily fill, a void of meaning in people's lives. Thus, Frankl believed that because the will to meaning had been a frustrating experience for people, those individuals chose one of the two alternative paths to follow--paths based on the premise that pleasure and/or power would somehow be able to replace what had been missing. “But it is only the search for meaning, Frankl would say, that holds the potential to bring the kind of authentic enrichment and fulfillment that most people desire from their work and in their everyday lives. And it is the ability to realize our will to meaning--our authentic commitment to meaningful values and goals that only we can actualize and fulfill--that guides us in the quest to tap into this distinctly human potential.

  • How often are you searching for tools to make sense out of life?

  • How often do you reflect upon your pursuit of the will to meaning compared to either the will to pleasure and/or the will to power?

  • Have you pursued either the will to pleasure or the will to power because your search for meaning was frustrating and left a void you were unable to fill?

  • How often do you catch yourself sleep walking through life unable to wake yourself up and search for meaning?