“Art is our way of creating the universe and making it sacred.”

~ Mark O’Brien

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Last night I saw the movie The Sessions, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. This morning I began to read about the real life of poet and journalist Mark O’Brien, the subject of the film, which led me to the independent documentary made by Jessica Yu: Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien.

Yu’s film, which won an Oscar for best documentary short in 1996, is the story of a writer who never stopped trying to figure out his life’s meaning. Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl believed that a “will to meaning” is a defining human force:

“We can discover this meaning of 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.” ~ Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, p. 111, Beacon Press, 2006

In his preface to Frankl’s book¬†Man’s Search for Meaning, Harold S. Kushner further explains Frankl’s theory:

“Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure, as Freud believed, or a quest for power, as Alfred Adler taught, but a quest for meaning. The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life. Frankl saw three possible sources for meaning: in work (doing something significant), in love (caring for another person), and in courage during difficult times. Suffering in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it.”

Mark O’Brien sought and found meaning on all three levels.

Trust me: you won’t forget this documentary. You will think about Mark O’Brien the next time you feel self-pity or “too busy” or fearful of the future or in any way put upon by life.

Below are both a short clip and the full film (note that the documentary contains frank discussion of sexuality and mild profanity).

Oh, what about “Picasso Man,” you ask? Watch the documentary to find the answer.

Breathing Lessons from Jessica Yu on Vimeo.

Watch the full film below: