This is Part 1 of a 2-Part series. Click here for Part 2.
After clearing the dinner dishes one evening, I walked outside to take my dog for a walk. To my delight, I was met with candy-pink skies and a jaw-dropping, nearly complete double rainbow in the setting evening sun. As I was enjoying this moment, I noticed my entire street was also outside soaking up this rare experience. Together, we had become attuned to an awe-inspiring, boundless display of the beauty of nature. I felt somehow connected to my neighbors in our shared humanity and a deep sense of gratitude to God for the gift of the gorgeous sky.
This picture perfectly encapsulates the essence of a transcendent experience—a profound emotional response to a spiritual connection with something outside ourselves. But beyond simply an emotional moment, transformative transcendent experiences influence how we see ourselves in relationship to God, others, and the world, and deepen our belief systems. My experience with the rainbow deepened my belief in God as a loving creator, but for another neighbor it may have been a singular awe-inspiring moment. Authentic spiritual experiences connect us and draw us into alignment with a loving transcendent source that is characterized by unalterable goodness.
Transcendence is Life-Giving
Transcendent experiences deeply inform1 our identity and create fidelity with our beliefs. The beauty of the rainbow may have felt like a high or a rush of overwhelm, but the true measure of transcendence is expansion of the connection with our spiritual source. Even with the most transformative transcendent experience the emotions themselves are transient, but they leave us permanently altered with new abilities to assign meaning in our lives and shift our focus from ourselves to a connection with something more, whether that be God, a higher power, other people, or nature. Transcendent experiences are life-giving sources of peace, awe, gratitude, joy, and love.
There is not a minimum threshold for defining an experience as transcendent—they are not inherently dramatic or even exceptionally unique. Their power lies in how they affect the individual. In fact, experiencing transcendence often occurs in the small moments of seeking God’s love, reflecting on experiences of God’s love, or offering God’s love to others. It could look like the simple joy of hearing a baby laugh, the love in the words of a friend, or the peace of sitting on the beach listening to the ocean waves. Becoming aware of the impact these short moments have on our wellbeing and beginning to intentionally pursue them enables transcendent love to bring about changes in our lives.
We are Hardwired to Lean into Transcendence
Until about 20 years ago, the field of psychology and its research on emotions had been almost exclusively focused on negative emotions—understanding why we have them, the impact they have, the role they play in society. But perspectives have more recently shifted to include a curiosity of positive emotions as correlations to improved mental health have emerged. Transcendent emotions fall under this umbrella, and research is confirming broader connections between their presence and a higher quality of life.
Neuroscientist and author, Dr. Lisa Miller, has conducted research that provides evidence we are designed to connect with the transcendent and spirituality. “Just like we all have a natural capacity to move our bodies or to sing, this is in us. We’re built with natural spirituality ….” Further studies show that spirituality involves multiple parts of the brain and body, readying us for transcendent connection.
Our minds are designed to receive loving transcendent experiences. Becoming aware of and strengthening our connection with our spiritual belief system results in a deeply protective, expansive root system that creates resilience and fortifies us during hardship.
The Loving Invitation to Transcend
Because transcendence connects us to others and things outside of ourselves, it gives us access to spiritual emotions that help us find the terms with which we can place meaning on our lives and circumstances. Our experiences and relationships help shape our spiritual beliefs, which inform our spirituality and deepen our commitment to those beliefs and faith structure. Our spirituality is the method by which we access these transcendent experiences.
On the side of spiritual health, transcendence involves a sense of connection and awareness to a source of invigorating love that is always inviting us in. It is beneficial for our spirituality to include a practice of interacting with our transcendent source, our wellspring of invigorating love, because that is where we embody the sense of being enveloped in love, safety, and find a space to unfold and become.
PracticeTake a moment and recollect a moment when you felt a loving connection to something beyond yourself.
- Was it with others or by yourself? Was it through a connection with the Divine?
- What emotion do you most remember being associated with that time? Some examples could be love, joy, gratitude, awe, inspiration, compassion, or elevation.
- Consider how you can intentionally pursue another moment like that one, or another experience that you would perceive would bring you a similar, loving emotion.
Other practices can be found here. Explore and see what works for you.
Transcendence (Part 2): How Transcendence Can Lead the Way to an Open Heart
Believing in Something Greater Than Ourselves is an integral part of our spiritual health.
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