June 08, 2006
My friend Ellen recently posed an intriguing question:
In literature or in life, what does transcendance -- the noun, used all alone -- mean to you? Just what is being transcended, and how? Is that a good thing? Why, or why not?
To me, transcendence implies a state of heightened consciousness. That which is transcendent exists or extends beyond creation, as opposed to that which is immanent and is embodied in creation. Of course, I'm most interested in what bridges the presumed tension between transcendent and immanent, between the numinous that pervades creation and the numinous which extends beyond it...
I've had experiences I would characterize as transcendent: moments of powerful emotion, exquisite flavor, music that moves me. Those moments of transcendence allow me access, however temporary, to something far greater than myself. I enjoy that. It's good for me to be reminded that there's more to the universe than whatever's frustrating or confining me at any given moment -- that if I get out of my own way, I might be able to see a larger picture, and be transformed by that seeing.
Of course, the term "transcendence" can also be a cop-out, a sloppy description of an ill-defined category of experience. I'm skeptical about prepackaged mystical experience for this reason; I don't trust the perpetual search for something extra or beyond. I value my spiritual practice precisely because it isn't transcendent, most of the time, nor does it aim to be.
But regular spiritual practice can open up a space in which occasional moments of transcendence can arise. What's critical for me is the balance between the two. My immersion in daily experience is what makes it possible for me to occasionally see beyond that daily experience. If I never looked out beyond the confines of the mundane, I'd be diminished -- but if I spent all my time chasing the extraordinary, I'd miss the ordinary, and that would be a diminishment too.
Okay, your turn: what does "transcendence" mean to you?