The Unconscious God- Reflections on the work of Dr. Viktor Frankel

November 8, 2010 - 7:22 pm 36 Comments

The Unconscious GodReflections on the work of Dr. Viktor Frankl

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Many of us find ourselves engaged in a daily struggle. It is the search for meaning and relevancy in our lives. Humanity, our society is involved with a quest for such purpose and meaning for all that we face- in all that life present to us. The most common malady of our age is not cancer or stroke; nor it is the common cold…. It is the constant level of anxiety we face while trying to make our lives more meaningful.

We live in the age of anxiety- on that perpetually insists on asking us the imponderable questions that there is no time to answer: Why? How Come? What For? And even among those of us who have never studied any psychology, there is a common follow-up: What does this mean to me? What is the purpose of this person or event in my life?

We can find ourselves compelled to seek the answers to these existential questions and to try to decipher the riddles of purpose and meaning because if we do not seek a resolution to these questions, they will either haunt us or taunt us. Many times these Buddha-like questions contain the answers within them. Like a Zen Koan for spiritual development, and regardless of whether the question is a personal one or a global one, intimate or cosmic, we are bound to ask from somewhere deep within us, what does it all mean?

Most of us have experienced intense periods in our lives where these answers do not come readily, easily , if at all. These are times when we can feel out of touch with what is happening to us or around us. The significance of this eludes our ability to understand its purpose. This quest to solve the seemingly unfathomable is what Logotherapy is all about.

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Logotherapy is a specific psychotherapeutic approach that seeks to defeat the feelings of meaninglessness. It roots are from the psychoanalytic school, yet they differ in their application and approach to problem solving. It is an approach that is the inspiration of Dr. Viktor Frankl. It source principally comes from his classical training in psychoanalysis plus his personal experience as a Auchwitz survivor. When combined in his life and thought, he came to the realization that people could understand having to deal with any trial or perilous suffering IF they were given a meaning or a purpose for it all.

Dr. Frankl concluded that for people to be freed of any injustice of their particular struggle , they first will require a reason for these challenges or trials. Without knowing why our tasks and trials occur, we are likely to feel empty, stressed, worried, and weary. Dr. Frankl’s states that understanding ourselves and our lives most fully comes when we resolve our questions into actions and insights. Furthermore, Dr. Frankl posits that the ability to answer these deep questions is our true human purpose and that it is the individual soul’s mission to discover the rich textures and layers of meaning that are present in their own existence.

Much of that potential lies trapped within us. It occupies a region of our being that psychiatrists would call the unconscious. Our goal is to become more aware of that material and thus release it into our conscious knowing, thereby discharging its anxiety and releasing its creative potentials.

Because those answers are locked up deep within us, they can sometimes be impossible to verbalize or grasp. These feelings and questions become filed away in an unreachable storage bin.

What Dr. Frankl discovered is that the unknown is NOT what we have not learned, for the unconscious can also be the ideas, feelings, that something that has always been there but that we were unaware of its existence. It is our stream of existence.

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We need to express the fluidity of our lives and the flow of our feelings and how the tides of self and soul interact and comprise the whole of our being. All that we have experienced between the banks of the river of life and existence flows from within us. Our inner thoughts can rise to the surface and the large ideas of our purpose and those questions can flood our awareness. Sometimes the hidden rocks and the dangerous currents that we contain become exposed as obstacles in our flow and our awareness. These crags are chinks in our self image, these ripples and eddies are ways we suck ourselves down into our defenses. This unconsciousness stream flows throughout our the seasons and reasons of our lives and winds its journey through the layers of sediment and froth, and its contains all the rich deposits and answers that we seek.

To be alive is a fluid fact; we experience a flood of emotion, the swirling rapids of thought and the bubbles and tides of creativity, inspiration, and insight. Often the channels it runs through is an unconscious one, but the fact remains, that its runs and your river of life and meaning flows on….

Viktor Frankl observed this phenomenon in both his personal and clinical work. He formulated Logotherapy into a theory that he believed completed the work of Freud and gave it a spiritual and altruistic dimension. Frankl asserts that there is a companion to the Id. Freud postulated that the Id is the source of all drives, needs, desires and feelings. The principal ones being the drives for sex, aggression, and survival. Satisfaction or gratification of those drives and desires comes from releasing the energy of the Id called Libido. But that is where Freud essentially left off. Frankl goes further to attest to another dimension or resident factor in our minds. He sees the satisfaction of the Libido or other societal goals often contributing to our dissatisfaction and disillusionment. If we are successful in the world, we are haunted by the question:

Now what? or What then are we to do, feel, experience, etc.?

Frankl counters this dilemma of achievement by claiming that there is another source of behavior and purpose in our lives that resides deep within us- a religious or spiritual core that can influence and inspire us to answer those haunting or plaguing questions which becomes our quest for meaning. This other force or presence that Frankl posits that lives within us as the source of our existential answers and altruism is what he called our “Unconscious God.” This core or reservoir of true virtue and operating sense of morality, higher inspiration and personal aspiration flows from a natural wellspring that comes from our recognition and acceptance of an ongoing, flowing, unceasing relationship with God and with the good of God that exists in all other beings. This reality is the unique stamp of our human existence- that we are essentially, at our core, moral beings. Some theories, of course, call this relationship by its more traditional name, the soul or the higher self. Others such as Frankl claim this “unconscious god” within is the pure human conscience that can guide our decision-making and align it with an eternal Truth that release and resolves the questions that had trapped or imprisoned us.

When we realize that there is another source to our human nature than what most of psychology provides, we can begin to seek a deeper meaning and purpose for our lives. Once we get beyond the idea that drives, emotions, and needs are the only motives for human behavior, then we can begin to dignify our existence rather than denigrate it. When we realized that there is a spiritual core , we can become more fully human and can know real freedom and accept real responsibility for our lives. In this recognition, there is liberty from alienation, boredom or despair. Another way of saying this is, that we learn to edify our lives rather that Id-fy them!

This realization that there is another source for our human behavior can assist us in rectifying the mistakes learned in our religious upbringing. In and through most of the span of religious history, people have purposed a “morals and conduct” form of conscience that we need to endure. One’s conscience is then comprised largely of all the rules one had to follow to avoid guilt, worry or punishment. Fear was the motivating factor and “the loss of heaven and the pangs of hell” was what kept us rigidly in line. Our conscience, however, is still a personal concern and the unconscious God still confronts and beckons us.

In the process of purging ourselves from the false beliefs about heaven and hell, conscience and guilt, we have all had to take courageous steps. The challenge, however, is not in the actual purging of false beliefs and dogmas, but in the replacing and affirming new ways of thinking and feeling after we are through rejecting those previous toxic ideas and emotions. We cannot be complete or content to just reject those old and crippling experiences and doctrines- we have to do the work! not just talk about it! (Parable of sweeping our the room (the heart) Matt. 12:43)

We are compelled by our unconscious God to actively seek what is vital and responsive to our needs. We seek then to discern and to ascertain just what is worthy of our belief and our trust. This is the domain of true conscience! To seek out the truth that frees us and grants us a whole new perspective on the meaning and purpose of our lives. In that quest, we can develop a personal theology that grasps distinctions and that promotes clarity in and through our thoughts and actions.

Frankl talks about this motivating factor of conscience in this context: He states that just like you cannot demand that

someone laugh or cry or love, we cannot demand that someone becomes religious or develops faith. His system of Logotherapy offers anyone who wills or desires it assistance with one’s personal struggles to achieve a lasting sense of purpose and meaning for their lives. It assist us in our search by educating us to the responsibility we have for delving into, venturing inward to find our own answers.

Frankl presents evidence that helps us to counter the claim of human inadequacy to understand the meaning of our lives. Logo therapy supports the intimate, the innate, and the ultimate goodness of each individual, while recognizing that much of the dis-ease and the evil we find in our world comes from the frustration and inability to find these answers and behold a more compassionate self. Frankl uses the analogy that when the angel inside you is repressed or goes along unacknowledged, it becomes frustrated and inverted. This reversal process crates many little demons that will then taunt or plague us. These devils of anxiety, worry and fear are created and we are so occupied by them that we only have time to be superficial, empty, surface people and we lose the recognition of our own inner depth, riches, and true worth. According to Viktor Frankl, our spiritual core needs to be acknowledged regularly, even daily, and be seen as vital, essential, and alive within us.

In our readings (Acts 17; Matthew 12) we encounter the stirrings of our inner voice, religiously and poetically expressed. This conscience is the source of our truest humanity. it calls to us to venture in, and then step forward, to serve those inspirations and altruistic goals. Conscience is not a system of rewards and elaborate rules. Obedience to its moral impulse cannot be demanded, for the goodness contains its our release and rewards, its own freedom and dignity. Frankl calls this realization, the ability that we all have to listen to the wisdom of our hearts….

It is our “unconscious God” that urges and asks us from within to do what is best for our own freedom and growth, our own well-being. Instead of allowing oneself to be susceptible to the whims of ego and culture that spawns the feelings of negativity or locks us up into habits, we can listen to our inner voice that will take us up to our higher self.

The responsibility of making our unconscious God in us more alert and responsive would refine the human character and clarify our purpose and meaning. That self-derived conscience instills a new vitality and allows a person to recognize and affirm their own depth and dominions. In the development of a personal faith or theology that one can truly utilize we have to learn to heed this unconscious God that Frankl’s ideas and that his life attests to, and to regard its reality and inspiration more wholeheartedly, more lovingly. Our quest lies within us…. it awaits our discovery so that it can be more graciously revealed… . All it takes is a willingness to venture in, explore, outgrow and to know! AMEN

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    I have read for excerpts from Viktor Frankel’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning”. I saw the book “The Unconscious God” which intrigued me. I hope to read that soon. Based on your writings here though, it would seem that the concept of the Unconscious God is the idea of a conscious that we all have – part of the moral ability given to man via his creation by God, but lost at the fall. Why change to the concept from conscious to “unconscious God”? Also there is the idea that all have good within them. Based on what. There are evil people in the world who choose to go against the moral collective and do whatever suits them regardless of the consequences. It is interesting within the Christian writings in the New Testament that Jesus Christ states, “there is no one good but God.” That word for God represents the Sovereign God who created the universe. So if God is the standard for good, then we are far from that. We can do good deeds or good things. But that is driven from our conscious as we listen to the prompting of the Lord God. The good we seek to do cannot be selfish or done for selfish gain – is it good or self-serving. I could write more, but this is your blog not mine. Thanks for the thoughts.

  36. Don Sturgill Says:

    Thank you for this thought-provoking article. Dr. Frankl dealt in that most precious commodity–Hope.
    Don Sturgill´s last blog post ..A Letter to a Solitary (A Letter to You)