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Practical path to peace
on May 2, 2005
This book helps make practical a very nebulous but valuable skill. Let me explain:
About 29 years ago, as a teenager, while roaming the Birminham Public Library, I picked up a worn copy of Victor Frankl's book about man's search for meaning. I vividly remember where I was standing, think I could almost go to the spot on the shelf where I found the book; I think the memory lives clearly because as I scanned through the book, I became haunted with the images that came from its pages and moved by the strength of which it testified. I sat down, read more, took the book home, and never forgot the lesson.
When I worked as a janitor in high school at a local gym, I tried to find meaning by framing my work as helping provide a wholesome environment for children. When I worked as a cook at Hardee's, I was helping keep families together by providing a convenient and affordable place to escape and relax. When I worked alone as a chemist on army contracts, I was helping preserve freedom. When I worked as an ER physician, the value of saving lives was plain but then the challenge was to find meaning in the suffering around me.
These examples (from my work life) show what I strove for; but the practical, every-day accomplishment of finding meaning in the pain, drudgery, and short-term injustice that swirls around me and everyone I know has not always been a task at which I've been successful. Sometimes, I left the gym nasty and tired and just angry at how inconsiderate people can be. Sometimes I left the ER angry and confused that innocent people came to me in pain and disease at no fault of their own: how do you hold responsible a child molested, a young mother killed by a drunk driver, the crying child with sickle cell disease, the gasping child with cystic fibrosis?
You don't hold them responsible. And as you wade through the pain of the ER working with nurses and technicians with their own problems, sometimes it feels as if the world is thick with pain and thin with meaning.
In looking for meaning in suffering, I've found some help in Boethius' book "Consolation of Philosophy," in William James' "Pragmatism," in Oswald Chambers' "The Christian Disciplines," in the scriptures of the Holy Bible and the Bagavad Gita as well as in Frankl's writings. This book by Dr. Pattakos belongs on the shelf with those books as a classic about how to find meaning instead of power or pleasure and then uncover joy in meaning.
I write this reverently with the awareness that I'm immature in these matters--I've looked into the face of a quadraplegic man, bed bound for over 20 years, and heard him talk eloquently about how his accident was good fortune because it brought him closer to GOD; I don't know if I could do that. I've had to tell the mother that her child didn't live and watched her accept the news with strength and peace. I've seen this and more and so know that some do find meaning in situations heavy with pain. This is the skill that this book teaches: the skill of finding peace and meaning and the resultant deep joy.
The model used by Dr. Pattakos is the working life: how to find meaning at work. Like swinging two bats before walking to the plate to swing one, Dr. Pattakos draws from Dr. Frankl's writings about severe pain and unbelievable injustice to develop a pattern for finding meaning in the often painful pathways at work. The exercises make practical the every-day application of finding meaning and so uncovering joy and effectiveness. Simple exercises that take only a few minutes help plant each chapter in the fiber of thought and peel back the dirty details to the core meaning of work. Practical, easy exercises to help develop a valuable skill of mind and soul.
--Charles Runels, MD
Author of "Anytime...for as Long as You Want: Strength, Genius, Libido, & Erection by Integrative Sex Transmutation"