Believing in Something Greater Than Ourselves
To experience transcendence, we must first believe that what we are connecting to is real. “The capacity to be in a deep transcendent relationship is our birthright, and that with whom we communicate is real.”1 In order to experience transcendence in a way that helps us assign meaning to our lives, we must first believe in a bigger picture and that things will work out in the end. Theologian, Miroslav Wolf, envisions the work of our lives as contributing to the kingdom, and that God is working in us and through us. If God is in control, and God is good, we can trust that he has us. 2
Transcendent Emotions are a Universal Language
Transcendent emotions are feelings such as peace, awe, gratitude, joy, compassion, appreciation, admiration, or love (among others) that are produced through transcendent experiences. We are all capable of and have experienced these emotions. Connecting with elevating emotions has the capacity to broaden and build3 spiritual development, protect against depression and suffering, inform trauma response, and link to purpose and meaning for anyone who interacts with them. They help our spiritual narrative grow, deepening our devotion to the stories of our belief systems.
Transcendent emotions are relational—whether or not we experience them within the same context or at the same intensity, humanity is bound together by our common capacity to have emotional experiences. If we pay attention, we will become awakened to how, when, and with whom we experience emotions connected to transcendence. Exploring and harnessing these emotions binds us to something and someone beyond the self. It is through transcending our previous limitations, striving toward a worthwhile goal, and encountering other human beings that we find meaning and fulfillment in our lives.
How can we live out the practice of transcendence?
It is possible to have transcendent experiences without being consciously aware they are happening. By becoming awakened to their existence and the potential impact they offer to our spiritual, mental, emotional, and even physical health, we may become motivated to move towards intentional practices to incorporate transcendence into our lives. Pursuing transcendence can be thought of as exploring something that is beyond-the-self (the Divine, human connectedness, nature).
A recent study (4) funded by the Fetzer Institute shows that transcendent experiences help motivate people to live in alignment with their sources of meaning. It examined how people described their spiritual lives and how they experienced the transcendent. Results of the study show that people experience transcendence and spirituality in three distinct, but overlapping, areas:
- By engaging their understanding of the transcendent
- Through relationships with family, friends, and community
- Through self-reflection
Here are some tangible practices that can engage us with these experiences:
- Breathing exercises: Focusing on our breathing encourages our mind to become present and our sympathetic nervous system to relax, allowing opportunities for spiritual engagement and reflection. There are many apps that offer guided breathing and meditation exercises.
- Developing a daily practice: A regular routine of mindfulness, reciting a centering prayer, sitting in silence, praying, practicing loving kindness, or reading sacred texts and scriptures (such as Lectio Divina5) attune us to the Divine.
- Spending time in nature: Simply being outside can bring calm, and, in particular, offers an overwhelming opportunity to be opened and attuned to the possibility of connection with the Divine by experiencing the awe and wonder of nature.
- Observing beauty: The creativity present in the world, including nature, is astounding. There are endless ways to notice beauty through arts such as dancing6, artwork, music, singing. Beauty often inspires transcendent feelings of awe and wonder.
- Accessing wisdom: Spiritual traditions hold deep knowledge. Joining a faith or spiritual community in worship, participating in the sacraments, engaging in rituals, or even practicing yoga can align us with age-old wisdom.
- Connecting with others and our deepest selves: Connecting to others through fellowship, such as communal meals or acts of service, contribute to moral elevation. Paying attention to our emotions and how they show up in our bodies provides insight into what matters to us. Our most profound sources of joy and our deepest laments often dance together to make meaning in our lives.
- Aligning with our purpose: We may sense a calling for a particular occupation or vocation. This calling can motivate us to do difficult work, be present in parenting, or can be a way to connect with a sense of divine relationship.
- Acknowledging our values: Reflecting on what we value beyond ourselves such as justice, beauty, or love.
- Lamenting: Allowing ourselves to experience grief or sadness as a way to express to a transcendent or divine presence about the ways life does not make sense.
This is a guided practice, adapted from our conversation with Lisa Miller, that will help engage your understanding of transcendence and also provide a loving experience with your spiritual source.
- Take a moment to calm your body and mind. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Now envision a table before you. This is your table and you may invite anyone who truly has your best interest in mind—living or deceased—to your table. The people you have invited to your table are your council. As your council sits at the table, ask them if they love you. What do you hear them saying to you?
- Invite your higher self to the table—the part of you that is beyond what you have or do not have, or what you have or have not done. This is your true, eternal, higher self. Ask you if you love you. What is your higher self saying to you?
- Next, invite your higher power, whatever that looks like for you, and ask them if they love you. What is your higher power saying to you?
- Finally, with your council at the table, what do they need to share with you? What do you need them to share with you?
To download a pdf of this practice click here.
For further reading:
(1) see Lisa Miller
(2) see Miroslav Wolf
(3) See broaden and build theory.
(4) See Fetzer findings.
The following are some books that may help expose broader ways of thinking and allow for deeper belief introspection.
The World’s Religions by Houston Smith
The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living by Dalai Lama XIV and Howard C. Cutler
The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck
The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization by Scott Barry Kaufman
The Gift of Being Yourself by David Benner.
Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker J. Palmer. Theologian, Miroslav Wolf, envisions the work of our lives as contributing to the kingdom, and that God is working in us and through us. If God is in control, and God is good, we can trust that he has us.2
Transcendence (Part 1): The Beauty of Transcendence and How it Informs our Spirituality
Our minds are designed to receive loving transcendent experiences. Learn more in this post and try some practices.
The Power of Transcendence and Spirituality in a Modern World
Pamela King reflects on the church of her youth and considers lessons from her current research findings about spirituality for the future.
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