My biggest discovery so far in reading this book is the sheer fortitude of the camp prisoners. The human body and mind are obviously capable of enduring incredible pain and suffering when one has a goal or meaning to one's life. However, absent that meaning, it's as if your mind can talk your body into dying from sheer despair. Although, they displayed extreme mental fortitude and physical perseverance, many of the men ended up dying from a lack of hope. Frankl discusses an episode where he spoke to another prisoner about a dream the man had. In the dream, the man spoke of a voice telling him the war would end on March 30th. He firmly believed this to be true. Frankl then recounts how, as the day drew nearer, the man started to become ill. He showed signs of Typhus and his symptoms got worse every time news of the war effort contradicted his belief it would soon be over. On March 29th his temperature spiked, on March 30th he became delirious and lost consciousness, and on March 31st he died. Frankl states that the connection between the physical body and our conscious command of hope and courage is such that the sudden loss of hope can have deadly consequences and profoundly affects the immunity of the body.
Obviously, the body and mind are linked. Can we, as guardians and warriors, train this mind/body link to ensure we don't lose the mental faculties necessary to perform under stress at peak physical condition. I believe we can. Especially through scenario-based training and stress inoculation. I think enduring difficult physical workouts, etc. helps to strengthen the mind, as well.
I started Man's Search for Meaning today by Viktor E. Frankl. Within the first 20 pages I've become enamored with the author and how he communicates his experiences inside a Nazi death camp. Frankl was an inmate in four different concentration camps, to include Auschwitz, and he lost his parent's, brother, and pregnant wife in the process. This is a dissection of suffering and his main argument is that we cannot escape suffering but must find meaning in it and develop a renewed purpose. As I make my way through the book I will continually post to the blog and offer my insights and opinions. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.