Archive for July 31st, 2022

Elan Vital

GC Myers-  Elan Vital sm

Elan Vital– At the West End Gallery

Seen from this point of view, the mental reactions of the inmates of a concentration camp must seem more to us than the mere expression of certain physical and sociological conditions. Even though conditions such as lack of sleep, insufficient food and various mental stresses may suggest that the inmates were bound to react in certain ways, in the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone. Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him – mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp. Dostoevski said once, “There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.” These words frequently came to my mind after I became acquainted with those martyrs whose behavior in camp, whose suffering and death, bore witness to the fact that the last inner freedom cannot be lost. It can be said that they were worthy of their sufferings; the way they bore their suffering was a genuine inner achievement. It is this spiritual freedom – which cannot be taken away – that makes life meaningful and purposeful.

― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Élan vital was a term coined in the 1907 book Creative Evolution from philosopher Henri Bergson. Loosely translated, it means life force or vital force. It’s that part of us that gives us that feeling of being alive, of being connected with the greater forces and energies of the universe.

I used the term for the title of the painting at the top which is now at the West End Gallery. as part of my Chaos & Light show, which runs until August 25. I see the Red Tree here as being aware in the moment of that life force, feeling itself connected to the elements of the world around it– the sun, the winds, the water and the landscape. The winds move it. The sun attracts it. The water nourishes it and the landscape provides a place in which to stand.

I chose the excerpt from Viktor Frankl to accompany this today. It describes another aspect of élan vital, that which allows us to endure the suffering of this life. Frankl writes of how those inmates of the Nazi concentration camps who survived did so by an inner decision, either conscious or subconscious, that allowed them to view this life force as a form of freedom, something that could not be taken from them.

Hopefully, we will never have to make that sort of decision in that circumstance. But we all must endure suffering of some sort in this life. It is unavoidable. Loved ones die. Illness, injury, tragedy, and insult take their toll on us all. It is this élan vital that allows us to persevere, that drives us onward.

At first glance, this painting has a bright and decidedly optimistic feel but the underlying darkness in it brings in that element of the suffering required to endure.

Perhaps this darkness, this suffering, provides the needed contrast so that we can better appreciate the magnificence of the elan vital within us and how it connects us to the greater forces of this world.

For this Sunday Morning Music, here’s a song that has a connection to this concept. It’s Alive from Pearl Jam from their 1991 debut album, Ten. Hard to believe that this song is over 30 years old.

Makes me feel old. But alive.

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