What To Transcend


Too often we don’t notice the abundance and beauty that is around us at every moment. Rainbows, for instance. One of the questions in the May issue of “On The Journey” asks, “When was the last time you saw a rainbow and how did it make you feel?” Rainbows seem to have a power for a lot of us for pulling us out of ourselves, getting us to drop for a moment, the running story of who we are.

That story runs through our heads with ourselves as the noble hero, persecuted yet struggling on. The life of busy-ness we construct serves the purpose of sustaining the basic plot about a noble and important person carrying on amidst hardship, accomplishing worthy things. Have you had the feeling that life is the acting out of the movie about our life? We are the stars of our biopic. I’ve started to become a little self-aware of this tendency. Sometimes as I drive down a road, or walk up the path to the church, I’ll notice that this could the opening sequence of the movie about me. I can almost hear the theme music playing. The opening credits are flashing before me – only, since I’m on the other side of them, they’re backwards. Who’s the director of this thing? I wonder. I hope it’s not Tarantino. Hey, maybe this is going to be a Cecil B Demille production – whoah! There are days when my life feels like a movie by the Coen brothers. Or the Marx brothers. Where was I? Oh, yes: Rainbows.

Sometimes some of us find that a rainbow has the power to make that story about ourselves just fall away. The nearly constant playing of our inner narrative falls silent. All our busy strategizing for getting the next thing we want and avoiding the things we fear stops. There’s this thing of wonder and beauty – a rainbow – and nothing in all our busy-ness made it happen. It’s not our reward for being a good person. We didn’t earn that rainbow, and we don’t deserve it. It is a grace that is simply given. We just open our eyes and look.

If we can look at a rainbow that way, with the story on pause, then we can also look at a blue sky that way. And if we can look at a blue sky that way, then we can look at a gray sky that way. We can look at trees and buildings and one another’s faces that way. We can even look at a pile of dirty dishes and the socks on the floor that belong to children who seem incapable of picking them up that way. The invitation of the rainbow is: now look at everything that way.

Is there something more? Not more than what’s right around us right now, no. But certainly more than that storyline running through our heads about the setbacks we deserved and didn’t deserve, the triumphs we deserved and the lucky breaks we didn’t – the story about “dealing with things.”

There is something more than dealing with things. There is basking in them, loving them, being with them without any desires or fears or goals or purposes entering in. There is something more than all that we know, and that is the life of not knowing. The life of not-knowing is a receptive, curious openness to the wonder of the uniqueness of each circumstance, deciding not to bring it under the categories of your prior knowledge about what is present. It’s stepping down from the grand sweeping epic spectacle of the Cecil B. DeMille movie of your life, and into the step by step not-knowing described by his niece, the dancer and choreographer Agnes DeMille who said:
“Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little. The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.”
And not just the artist. The scientist, too, at her best, lives in the space of not-knowing, leaping and leaping in the dark. Someone with a scientific bent picked up that line, “the moment you know how, you begin to die a little,” and commented: “Which is to say, your wavefunction begins to collapse.” Right. Once something is determined, waves of open possibility collapse.


I have not as yet used this word, but I’ve been leading up to it all the way: Transcend -- from trans, beyond, and scandere, to climb. It means to escape inclusion in, lie beyond the scope of; surpass; climb over or beyond; surmount, overstep, rise above.

Transcendence, I submit, is not about climbing out of what’s here and now into some other realm. It is about climbing out of your story and your knowledge so that you can truly be with what’s here and now.

Transcendence is not about transcending the here and now. It’s about transcending your self -- your narrative, your purposes, your habitual categorization of things.

This month’s spiritual exercise asks, suppose you took 30 minutes to have a direct experience of transcending mystery and wonder, how would you do it? That is, what would you do to get out of your story, your plans, purposes, and judgments, and be as present as you can to the surprising wonder that’s all around you. You’ll probably find it helpful to be still and quiet. Look at each thought as it comes up – watch it fade away. Then another one comes. Watch it, until it fades.

Your thoughts aren’t you, and they don’t even seem to come from anyplace you have control of. Your thoughts are just these things that happen to you, like weather or traffic. Maybe, just maybe, in the pause between them, you’ll suddenly notice things are shining – like a rainbow. And there you’ll be smack in the middle of something so much more – that at the same time is not at all more than what you’ve always been in the middle of but were too busy making other plans to see. You’ll be directly experiencing transcending mystery and wonder.

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This is part 3 of 3 of "Direct Experience of Transcending Mystery and Wonder"
Part 1: This Is It
Part 2: Is There Nothing But Matter?

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