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Three Transcendents, part 3: Community

October 16, 2012
Optimism, by H.KoppDelaney

In relationships with other people, we participate in something greater than ourselves.

- by B. T. Newberg

This post continues the series on transcendence in naturalism.  Part 1 introduced naturalistic transcendence, and part 2 covered nature as a source of transcendence.  Part 4 will delve into mind.

Photo by Warren K. Leffler

On August 28th, 1963, over 200,000 men and women descended upon Washington, D.C.  Had an alien observer looked down on this from orbit, it would surely have been a curious site: What a remarkable capacity this species has to form groups!

Such a distant observer might have compared it to other earthly sights, such as the buzzing of a beehive or the march of an ant colony.  Certainly they shared something in common.  Yet this would have missed that this collective unit was also a gathering of individuals.  Hundreds of thousands of unique personalities joined to demonstrate commitment to something greater than themselves: the ideal of justice.

It might not have been obvious to our alien anthropologist that the gathering expressed deep rifts in the community, frustration at the systematic disenfranchisement of an entire race.  It might not have been clear that the footfalls of each individual rang with suffering, and hope against all odds for something better.

We know better.  Our species has a deplorable capacity for cruelty, especially toward outgroups and deviants within-group.  At the same time, we also have the power to cooperate and achieve great things when we come together.

Society and culture

To belong to a group, to embody its goals, is to transcend oneself.

A society is more than the sum of its constituents; a group will emerges that moves in ways no single member may direct or predict.  It transcends the individual in both degree and kind.  At the same time, individuals participate in that greater movement, part and parcel of it, and may dissent as part of the greater process.

We are social animals, said Aristotle.  Nearly two and a half millennia later, it still rings true.  Our urge to form associations is bred into us by evolution.  Groups able to organize around common goals out-competed those who could not, and we are the genetic results of the more successful groups.

This is not always a rosy situation: groupishness is good for in-group cooperation, but also fosters nastiness toward other groups as well as deviants within the group.

Yet, for better or worse, we cannot deny ourselves.  We are tribal by nature.  And in taking part in groups, we reach toward something larger than ourselves.

Nor could we ever truly get outside the social, even if we tried.  Even a hermit in solitude, gazing across untouched wilderness, sees that wilderness through the eyes of a culture.  One continues to think in the language and categories of one’s society.  It is no more possible for a human to exist without culture than to exist without a physical body.  Culture is part of our very being.

This is not to suggest there is no such thing as freedom or individuality.  Each of us integrates diverse cultural streams in unique ways, and we can produce creative new expressions.  Yet there is no denying the fact that each free and unique individual is part of society, just as each wave is part of the sea.  Society is part of the human condition.

Thus far I’ve been using community, society, and culture more or less interchangeably.  Now, I want to draw attention to some more specific concepts.

Community vs. collective

I chose the example of the March on Washington for several reasons.

First, it’s not overly optimistic.  The march protested problems that still persist today, problems endemic to the tribal nature of our species.

Second, it’s not overly pessimistic.   The march is widely credited with helping to pass the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act.

Finally, it shows the care demanded by this form of transcendence (and indeed all forms) to affirm rather than negate the individual.  Communities involve individual sacrifices for the good of the whole, but must at the same time promote the individual interests of all members.

In this vein, Martin Buber distinguished between community and collective.  The former promotes the group for the individual, while the latter promotes the group at the expense of the individual.  There is always a tension between these two in any group.  Community is of course the ideal, which requires vigilance against collective.

The ancestors

Through community we can reach not only outward to other people, but also backward to our ancestors.

By identifying with our predescessors, be they ancestors of blood, culture, or inspiration, we become aware of the shoulders on which we stand.  Those who came before can teach us about ourselves.  By appreciating their contributions, we can learn humility and gratitude.  By studying history, we can also learn their hard-earned lessons, including patterns we should not repeat.

Ancient ways, by virtue of having evolved over great spans of time, frequently embody knowledge we hardly suspect.  This is one reason why I advocate strongly for working with ancient myths rather than creating new ones.  Ancient myths evolved their forms by cultural selection over time.  They survived because they spoke to people across many generations, made sense of diverse challenges and calamities, and empowered multiple ways of life.  There is no reason not to try out new myths as well, but neither should we ditch old ones in our haste.  Ancestral traditions deserve our continuing reverence.

Through contemplating our ancestors, we come to know ourselves as beings in time.  We feel ourselves glints on a wave pushing across an ocean.

Beyond the human: A community of all beings?

The question of revering ancestors leads to another: how far back shall we trace them?  To the golden age of our favorite culture?  To the emergence of homo sapiens?  To the first life?  Or all the way back to the Big Bang?

Contemplating these questions, ancestry expands to include all of Big History.  Nature then appears in its aspect as community, a cosmic family.  Earth may become mother, sky father, and creatures cousins.

This reveals a characteristic typical of symbols: the deeper you follow them, the more they appear everywhere.  They blend one into the other in an endless web of meaning.

Community and compassion

Finally, a word may be said about the moral potential of transcendence through community.  This can hardly be better expressed than in the Charter for Compassion, proposed by Karen Armstrong to serve like a Magna Carta for the world’s major religions:

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

I would only add that this principle goes beyond religion to include most secular societies as well.  Despite atrocities committed by both religious and secular groups, most all communities have compassion at their core.  Sometimes it is only a seed, and our job is to constantly water it in anticipation of its bloom.

The power to transcend ourselves through compassion, “to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there”, is a basic human capacity.

34 Comments
  1. Rua Lupa permalink
    October 24, 2012 10:38 am

    “we are the genetic results of the more successful groups”

    Success is a vague term that always requires clarification. If by success you mean out competing, you will inevitably also justify the common tribal practice of genocide. In evolutionary terms this would mean that the other groups essentially lost out and that those who committed the act could be justified in this manner. But I think that we can both agree that this is not something we want to support. So what then is meant by success? It seems that success and transcendence are interchangeable here both implying that anything that is not described as such are lesser and not desirable. Yet at all levels there is great potential of harm, as was pointed out. So I wouldn’t necessarily call any of it successful or ‘transcendence’ for they all have beneficial and harmful outcomes to themselves and others.

    Anything that is alive is so because it instinctively desires to be, and anything that allows it to be more capable to continue its existence is incorporated. Is life good or bad? Or is it neither?

    I like the point of community promoting the group for the individual and collective promoting the group at the expense of the individual. Where community is the ideal, which requires vigilance against the collective. And how the hermit still sees through the eyes of a culture and how culture is part of our very being. Culture being something that is inescapable, yet can and has changed many times in many different ways through the actions of individuals for better or worse.

    I very much agree that we’re standing on a mountain of knowledge handed down through our ancestors and that by studying history, we can also learn their hard-earned lessons, including patterns we should not repeat.

    “This is one reason why I advocate strongly for working with ancient myths rather than creating new ones.” … “There is no reason not to try out new myths as well, but neither should we ditch old ones in our haste. Ancestral traditions deserve our continuing reverence.”

    There is described here a direct preference for the old to the detriment of what is new. If we only looked back we’d not have the technological advancements we are using today i.e. conversing right now over vast distances in rapid time. Our ancestors only came to know what they did by trying something new. By building on top of this mountain of knowledge. I agree that it would be ridiculous to demolish the mountain, let alone not thoroughly exploring it. But what they considered to be good and the thing to do then is often not the case today. i.e. living communally in the great hall may sound great. It provides protections and a sense of community. Yet it sorely lacks privacy and having had no chimneys for the hearth meant that it was very poor breathing conditions. It was with the new idea of chimneys did the breathing conditions improve, and the new idea of home ownership did things improve. So my point is that the new is highly valuable and beneficial to society, this doesn’t mean ditching the old. Just building upon it, bit by bit to the point that the entirety may look vastly different, but it could have never been without the foundation of the old. The ancient roman culture may no longer be living, but it’s impacts are surely still seen today. Just because it had lingering benefits doesn’t mean that they had it good. Much of what was good is still here, even though it may not seems so. And yes, we should still look back to see if anything beneficial was potentially forgotten along the way. But we shouldn’t solely look back, we must look forward too with the new.

    “Nature then appears in its aspect as community, a cosmic family. Earth may become mother, sky father, and creatures cousins.”

    I agree that Nature is a community as well as a comic family in a way. In anishnabek teachings, the creatures are our brothers and sisters, while the plants are our uncles and aunts. abiotic things are referred to as grandparents while the earth is mother and the sky is father. Fellow creatures are more or less literal cousins that are very distantly removed. But to call the earth ‘mother’ or the sky ‘father’ causes misunderstandings of what it is and does, and is very restricting to what the earth is and does. Calling this planet by the name ‘earth’ or ‘world’ should itself convey all the associations well enough. Even though it is more of a water planet in truth. We are already naming it with what conveys deep meanings and associations. How are we not already emotionally attached to ‘earth’ or our home ‘world’, “Trust me, when you stand up there on top of the world, you become so humble. It’s not about breaking records anymore. It’s not about getting scientific data. It’s all about coming home.” – Felix Baumgartner speaking about his record breaking jump from 39,045 meters above the earth. Felix and any astronaut will tell you how affectionate they feel toward ‘earth’. And we understand their meaning, even though we haven’t experienced it the way they did.

    As for the sky. It is far better described as an ocean of air in which we live at the bottom of. Some have even described terrestrial animals as ‘sky fish’.

    Yet, the societal perspective given by the anishnabek have much in common with today’s environmentalists. How we are related to everything and how we are a family and community. Seeing the world in this way does have an overarching impact on how we conduct ourselves. It is less about domesticating and more about cooperating. In this agree to your point of a cosmic community.

    “to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there”
    This here quote is not something I can agree with. I don’t think its a good idea to put any thing in the center of our world. But rather there is no center but a network or web. None being better than the other.

    • Rua Lupa permalink
      October 24, 2012 10:39 am

      TYPO! *This here quote is something I *can’t* agree with*

      • Rua Lupa permalink
        October 24, 2012 10:40 am

        *Facepalm* (never mind. I reread too quickly. I wish there was an edit option within the last few minutes of posting)

    • October 25, 2012 1:10 am

      >It seems that success and transcendence are interchangeable here both implying that anything that is not described as such are lesser and not desirable.

      Nope, not interchangeable and not implying “lesser” or “not desirable.”

      “Success” in the line you quoted is in terms of evolutionary fitness, without any moral judgment.

      “Transcendence” here describes participation in something greater than you in both degree and kind. That doesn’t mean the constituents of that something are “lesser” (in a moral sense) or undesirable. For instance, take muscle cells. Together they form a tissue capable of something no cell can do alone: motor movement toward the goals of the organism. But that doesn’t mean the cells are undesirable or that the tissue can somehow look down on the cells with an air of superiority (to anthropomorphize a bit!). Rather, the cells are absolutely indispensable. Individuals and communities share a similar relationship.

      >There is described here a direct preference for the old to the detriment of what is new.

      Nope. That’s not what it says. It says we should not ditch the old in favor of the new, exclusively.

      >As for the sky. It is far better described as an ocean of air in which we live at the bottom of. Some have even described terrestrial animals as ‘sky fish’.

      Interesting point. Never looked at it that way before. :-)

      • Rua Lupa permalink
        October 25, 2012 8:10 am

        Good response :)

        I still think there is too much preference for the old though, having the scales tipped toward that end, and think that it should be more balanced.

        I still don’t understand the goal of ‘transcendence’?

        “Interesting point. Never looked at it that way before.”
        I thought the same thing when I first read that in Sacred Balance by David Suzuki. Great Read that I do recommend.

        • Rua Lupa permalink
          October 25, 2012 8:14 am

          There was a blip in there that I used the ‘less than’ and ‘greater than’ signs for (was using them a bit of late online to refer to character’s actions) but forgot that on blogs they don’t work the same. Between “Good response” and the rest was supposed to read “(Prodding for loopholes, nothing personal. Just testing out the concept, or ‘playing devils advocate’ as the saying goes)”

        • October 25, 2012 8:40 am

          >I still don’t understand the goal of ‘transcendence’?

          To be part of something greater than oneself… perhaps it is an end in and of itself?
          To dislodge self-centeredness, to feel oneness with another, to live for something more than myself…
          When I contemplate these things, I feel inspiration, wonder, awe, humility, reverence, empathy for other beings, gratitude…

          These are the sorts of thoughts that come to me when I think of a “goal” of transcendence. I’m not sure they make sense as a goal, per se. If not, perhaps it’s because transcendence may be its own goal.

          • Rua Lupa permalink
            October 25, 2012 8:49 am

            Sounds like enlightenment?

          • Rua Lupa permalink
            October 25, 2012 8:56 am

            To be honest, I don’t understand what is even really meant by ‘transcendence’ – what the heck is it? Loss of self? Engaging in the Network in a meaningful way? – But to make something meaningful to you would be to acknowledge that something has to be valuable to you individually, so the self is still a part of it. So I am admittedly confused.

            • October 25, 2012 6:40 pm

              >Loss of self?

              Good question. Maybe.

              I don’t mean loss of self in a Buddhist sense, or any kind of metaphysical sense, but perhaps in some sense. A temporary loss of a *sense* of self may be an accompanying experience in many instances of transcendence, or an experience of a sense of an enlarged self.

              Let’s go back to one of the concrete examples in the articles:

              In part 1, I mentioned a time where my wife and I were irritated at each other while biking in Korea. We were turned away from each other and focused on our own individual feelings of irritation. Then her bike tire popped and we had to pull together as a team to solve the problem in the countryside of a place where we don’t speak the language. Not only did we manage it, but in so doing we acted to some extent as one unit and the irritation disappeared. We transcended our individual irritations to become something greater than either of us alone: a team working toward a joint goal. In this example, perhaps there was a temporary loss of the sense of individual self, and a sense of an enlarged self (the team).

              Does that help it make any more sense?

            • Rua Lupa permalink
              October 25, 2012 8:04 pm

              What I get is, “team work is great” in that you can work together on common goals and achieve them better than you would alone. That is essentially all I got.

            • October 26, 2012 4:59 pm

              >What I get is, “team work is great” in that you can work together on common goals and achieve them better than you would alone. That is essentially all I got.

              Surely you can see how concentration on joint goals can eclipse a sense of individual self-interest, and enlarge the sense of self to include the rest of the team. No? Have you never experienced that yourself?

            • Rua Lupa permalink
              October 26, 2012 8:31 pm

              I’ve done a fair bit of grueling outdoor group labour and journeying (I never want to clear 5 acres of rocks ever again, but it was good companionship that made it all the more easier and the bonfire at the end of a day of brush clearing in torrential rain felt like a vacation. Plus it was fun with the steam as you ended up walking in your personal fog cloud which made it fun guessing who was who :D) and in every case there is always a form of self interest, otherwise you wouldn’t be doing it in the first place. You work the fields together – why? Many hands make light work, and no body wants to work more than they have to and every one wants their bread. Depending on the group, it can either be very enjoyable and satisfying or a immense pain in the neck (usually do to someone or many individuals being lazy in not putting all their weight into it, forcing everyone else to compensate – often in awkward positioning which sometimes is better if they weren’t there to begin with as it kills moral).

              That said, in a good group you do tend to think in a more ‘team’ mind set than an ‘I’ mind set. But the self interest is always there.

              I can give an ear full of stories for both versions of these, each having their memorable moments.

            • Rua Lupa permalink
              October 26, 2012 8:38 pm

              Typo, “…as it kills *morale*”

            • October 26, 2012 5:52 pm

              Let me try again by a different approach, because I don’t think loss of a sense of self is an essential characteristic of transcendence, though it may be a common one.

              Okay, first, I seem to be hearing two distinct critiques: 1) you believe transcendence implies superiority, and 2) the concept of transcendence appears incoherent to you. Is that right?

              Regarding 1), I disagree, but I don’t blame you. I made a similar argument two years ago in my post “No rapture”, where I argued for “non-transcendence.” There, I argued that transcendence implies “getting over or above or beyond something, as if there were some lack to be overcome.” But I was wrong. It does not imply lack.

              For example: Imagine hydrogen and oxygen atoms. When they come together to form H2O, new properties emerge that were not part of hydrogen nor oxygen. They have indeed reached a new level of organization, greater in both degree and kind. Does that imply a prior lack in either atom? Were they somehow inferior because they had different properties than the molecule of which they are now a part? No, I don’t think so.

              I think what introduces confusion is an ambiguity in the phrase “greater than oneself”, which can imply either a) conceptually greater or b) morally greater. The H2O example illustrates a pure case of conceptually greater. But when we come to humanity, every action also has a moral dimension, so we need to apply a closer analysis.

              For example, working in a group toward joint goals achieves a level of organization conceptually greater, as properties emerge at the group level which no single individual ever had.

              In addition, there *may* be, but need not be, a sense of being morally greater. If the group works toward and achieves goals benefiting all, in a manner that no single individual ever could, that is most certainly morally greater. However, such goals are not guaranteed. As both you and the article have amply pointed out, groups can also turn nasty. They can be brutish toward other groups as well as deviants within-group, or work toward goals that benefit the group but not its individual constituents. In this case, there is no sense of being morally greater.

              So, transcendence can, but need not, imply a dimension of moral superiority. Awareness of that fact makes it all the more imperative that we consciously seek morally responsible forms of transcendence. For, as Haidt’s quotes suggest, we are evolved to seek transcendence whether we like it or not, so we may as well do it consciously and responsibly.

              Finally, regarding 2), the critique that the concept of transcendence may be incoherent, I hope that I’ve gone some way in showing that is not so. The example of H2O suggests objective evidence of a new level of organization: new emergent properties arise which cannot be derived from any single constituent alone. The same thing happens as individuals (or individual egos) transition to the higher levels of organization represented by nature, community, and mind.

              Clearer?

            • Rua Lupa permalink
              October 26, 2012 8:11 pm

              Ah. Much more sense. So, in summary from how I’ve come to understand it is that its about a greater degree of organization – ideally one that is beneficial to all, but not always the case. Hopefully I’m on the mark this time. :D I’m not so keen on the word ‘transcendence’ in describing this though.

            • October 27, 2012 5:08 am

              Yes! That’s right. This conversation has pushed me to realize that was a better way to describe it – thank you.

            • Rua Lupa permalink
              October 27, 2012 8:36 am

              Welcome :D

  2. October 29, 2012 2:01 am

    John Halstead has published a remarkable response and extension of this series here:

    I especially like the following quote:

    http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com/2012/10/28/lateral-transcendence-toward-greater-compassion/

    “As we move through the numinous experience of otherness, with nature, with other people, and with our own selves, we move into the mystical experience of connection, then the scope of our compassion increases. This process moves us toward a kind of wholeness which is, as John Dourley explains, a “paradoxical combination of greater personal integration and extended universal empathy.” And this, I think, is the point. Intense experiences transcendence or mystical union can help us live life more fully. But if we stop there, then we risk these experiences becoming just another stimulant in a world of empty stimulation. These experiences need not be an end in themselves: they can broaden and deepen our compassion for the non-human world around us, for the human community, and even for our selves.”

    • Rua Lupa permalink
      October 29, 2012 11:49 am

      I agree in that looking at the world in this broader sense of interconnectedness is great and very beneficial to the greater community (beyond the human community) and ourselves. But find this being described as ‘transcendence’ and ‘mystical’ to be a bit over the top. All it is really is a different world view, and find nothing transcendent or mystical about it. When you first start seeing the universe/nature as part of you, yeah it has that mind boggling expansion of how you define what self is feeling. Kind of like the feeling of a new love and first years together, being all bliss and nothing can go wrong in the world feeling (what I assume to be where the description of ‘transcendence’ or ‘mystical’ comes) But then ‘the honeymoon phase is over’ and the relationship takes a more realistic or ‘normal’ view of things (which is what I’ve described as ‘the world view’).

      • October 29, 2012 5:49 pm

        You’re welcome to disagree. :-)

        • Rua Lupa permalink
          October 29, 2012 6:19 pm

          The thing is, why such an attachment to bring out that ‘feeling’? It all appears to be based on how you can get those feelings versus how something can be good or simply satisfying in and of itself and then working beyond that? i.e. Everything is interconnected, so by respecting that interconnections we respect ourselves; Creating ways to reinforce a respect for our environment is beneficial to our greater community. So why not instead of having the chief focus being chasing the ‘good feeling’, work on ways to do what is seen as good or ways of reinforcing a interconnected outlook etc. I mean, whats the point of getting off on feeling good (nothing wrong with doing that) if you don’t do anything meaningful with it?

          • October 29, 2012 6:52 pm

            I think this is the old “social action versus personal transformation” debate that goes on in my Unitarian congregation all the time, between the hard core humanists and those who want more “spirituality” (whatever that means). I don’t think I’m talking about just a “good feeling”. In fact, the quote that Brandon chose above should make clear than this is not about getting a spiritual “high”. It’s about a personal transformation that leads to a larger sense of compassion, and from that social action will flow naturally. I think there are those people who need to feel the motivation before they take action, or else they feel inauthentic, and then there are those people who need to take action until they get the feeling. I’m the former; my wife is the latter. I think social action can generate compassion, and compassion can generate social action. Whatever gets you there. But I don’t agree with the implication in your last statement that personal transformation is not meaningful in and of itself.

          • October 30, 2012 3:14 am

            >So why not instead of having the chief focus being chasing the ‘good feeling’, work on ways to do what is seen as good or ways of reinforcing a interconnected outlook etc.

            Well, yes. No argument here. But what makes you think this is only about “chasing a good feeling”?

            While I don’t want to downplay the value of improving quality of life by an enriched subjective experience, that is only one small part of what’s going on here. Action is being motivated by transforming identity through experience (“changes who and what you are”).

            What must be grasped here is that behavior doesn’t come out of the blue, it’s motivated. And motivations don’t come out of the blue. They are the result of complex layers of genetic predispositions, cultural conditioning, and personal experiences. All these come together to form an identity with specific values and behavioral tendencies. When you have an experience of being part of something greater than yourself, you are modifying that identity, thereby modifying its motivations, and thereby modifying all further action. It is a deep, systemic approach to action that goes to the root instead of slashing at the branches.

            The sense of self is malleable – we know that. When you use a tool, that tool temporarily becomes an extension of your self, for example. From there, it is but a short step to recognize that when you work in a team, the self may also extend in some sense to include the rest of the group. Look at behavior during any team sport, and you can see how a slight against a team member becomes a slight against yourself – because the self has been extended in this sense. Imagine next extending the self to include the environment: animals, trees, etc. How many have said of a long-cherished landscape: “it’s become a part of me”? So the sense of self can be extended toward something greater than oneself.

            Now, what is crucial about all this is that the self *cares* about itself. At its least extended, it cares only about numero uno, but when it is extended beyond the individual skin bag, to include other people, the environment, etc., suddenly it cares what happens to these others, and is motivated to action to support them.

            The more experiences of transcendence we have, the more the sense of self is conditioned to include others in its sphere of care, and the more it motivates action toward the flourishing of others.

            In some cases, such action can be motivated to the detriment of the individual, as in Buber’s “collective.” But in the best cases most worthy of intentionally seeking transcendence, action is motivated in ways that’s good for everybody, including the individual, as in Buber’s “community” or in fostering a healthy environment.

            Now is it clear why naturalistic transcendence can go considerably beyond “chasing a good feeling”?

            • October 30, 2012 7:28 am

              >What must be grasped here is that behavior doesn’t come out of the blue, it’s motivated. And motivations don’t come out of the blue. [...] When you have an experience of being part of something greater than yourself, you are modifying that identity, thereby modifying its motivations, and thereby modifying all further action. [...]
              >The more experiences of transcendence we have, the more the sense of self is conditioned to include others in its sphere of care, and the more it motivates action toward the flourishing of others.

              Well put!

      • October 29, 2012 6:44 pm

        If you don’t think that falling in love is transcendent, then I honestly don’t know what to say. The fact that the feeling is transitory (mystical experiences are by definition) does not diminish the importance of these experiences. I agree with William James that they act like signposts:

        “they may determine attitudes though they cannot furnish formulas and open a region though they fail to give a map. At any rate they forbid a premature closing of our accounts with reality.”

        I’m not sure what you mean by a “different worldview”. If you are talking about an intellectual point of view, I would disagree. It’s more than that. It’s a change of consciousness. That affects how we see the world, but it’s not like changing your mind about an intellectual proposition.

        These experiences expand our vision of what is possible. I agree we can’t live our lives seeking after the high of these transcendent moments, just like an individual’s love life would be a wreck if they were constantly seeking after the rush of falling in love for the first time, but that doesn’t make the experience less significant. They are defining moments. We can’t live in them, but they are definitive nonetheless.

        • October 30, 2012 3:15 am

          >These experiences expand our vision of what is possible. … We can’t live in them, but they are definitive nonetheless.

          Yes. Exactly!

  3. Rua Lupa permalink
    October 31, 2012 9:27 am

    These are all wonderful responses guys, and I appreciate that you’ve taken the time to make them – even though my statements & questions were brash (this was intentional prodding on my part and am pleased with the results – I suppose I’m a bit of a friendly troll in that I’m not out to demolish what I’m responding to as I agree with the foundation of it. I hope you don’t mind me testing the fields like this :) ). Each time I try to prod a different way I continue to learn something new and better understand your position, which I very much agree with. The information provided in responses like these would make excellent additions to the introductory/about page.

    The source of these prods stem in part from the subject of the majority of posts being about personal experiences as well as this quote,

    “… And this, I think, is the point. Intense experiences transcendence or mystical union can help us live life more fully. But if we stop there, then we risk these experiences becoming just another stimulant in a world of empty stimulation.”

    Which can read two different meanings depending on how its read, i.e. “you shouldn’t stop at having these experiences.” one impression was of always chasing new or better transcendent and mystical experiences to avoid empty stimulation, the other was suggesting going beyond just having these experiences as to do so would be empty stimulation. The prod was to determine which in this quote and why the subject of experiences out weights other subjects being presented here. So that should answer your question Brandon of, “But what makes you think this is only about “chasing a good feeling”?”

    “If you don’t think that falling in love is transcendent, then I honestly don’t know what to say. The fact that the feeling is transitory (mystical experiences are by definition) does not diminish the importance of these experiences. … These experiences expand our vision of what is possible. I agree we can’t live our lives seeking after the high of these transcendent moments, just like an individual’s love life would be a wreck if they were constantly seeking after the rush of falling in love for the first time, but that doesn’t make the experience less significant. They are defining moments. We can’t live in them, but they are definitive nonetheless.”

    I admit that the post you’re referring to here was not as well framed as it could have been, but you’ve made the same point I was trying to make. I often come across individuals who feel like they’ve lost ‘the flame’ in the relationship and end up leaving it in attempt to find ‘that fire’ again thinking that without ‘that flame’ there must be a problem in the relationship. The same sort of thing happens in belief systems too and wouldn’t want that to happen here either.

    I didn’t intend to suggest that ‘the flame’ of ‘falling in love’ was not transcendent (I’ve finally come to understand why this word ‘transcendent’ works well in what is being described, as I can’t think of a better one) or is bad in anyway. Yes, it is wonderful and as John said, transitory. The point I was trying to make was that the experience of the mystical and transcendence is exactly that – transitory. But what comes after that? I argue that it is a changed worldview, and I don’t mean just intellectual even though that changes too. I mean a person who has been through that transcendence, you do change and do look at the world differently. How can you not? It becomes very difficult to see from other perspectives, even the ones you may have grown up with – the longer you’ve been from it, the harder it becomes to relate because of having a different world view. The experience of transcendence, I argue, is a time of transition to that world view. Just like that experience of ‘the flame’ in romantic relationships is a transition to your world revolving around it (meaning that you can’t see the future without that person somewhere in it – it becomes difficult to see it as otherwise). And perhaps these mystical or transcendent experiences fade into the background as time goes on, just like ‘the flame’ in romantic relations fades as time goes on into the phase past the ‘honeymoon’.

    So, yes, I agree with your responses, I feel the same. Perhaps to better phrase would be to say, “could not these transcendent/mystical experiences simply be transitory and the end of it be a shift in world view? And by world view meaning a different way of looking at and experiencing the world?”

    • October 31, 2012 6:13 pm

      >Perhaps to better phrase would be to say, “could not these transcendent/mystical experiences simply be transitory and the end of it be a shift in world view? And by world view meaning a different way of looking at and experiencing the world?”

      Yes, I would agree with that. :-)

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