Section One

Transcendence through whole-hearted devotion to someone or something else

Being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself—be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets oneself—by giving oneself to a cause to serve or another person to love—the more human one is and the more one actualizes oneself. What is called self-actualization is not an attainable aim at all, for the simple reason that the more one would strive for it, the more one would miss it. In other words, self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence.”

Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Photo by Kirsten Lewis
Photo by Kirsten Lewis
Photo of Jane Goodall by Hugo van Lawick
Jane Goodall reaches out to Flint, the first infant born at Gombe after her arrival. (Photo by Hugo van Lawick)
Photo of Éliane Radigue by Jacques Brisseaut
Éliane Radigue (Photo by Jacques Brisseaut)

Transcendence refers to the very highest and most inclusive or holistic levels of human conscious­ness, behaving and relating, as ends rather than means, to one­ self, to significant others, to human beings in general, to other species, to nature, and to the cosmos.”

Abraham Maslow, Various Meanings of Transcendence

To be engrossed by something outside ourselves is a powerful antidote for the rational mind, the mind that so frequently has its head up its own ass—seeing things in such a narrow and darkly narcissistic way that it presents a colo-rectal theology, offering hope to no one.”

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

…to do something and do it again, from morning till evening, and then to dream of it at night, and to think of nothing except doing this well, as well as I alone can do it. When one lives like that, one thing after another that simply does not belong to such a life drops off. Without hatred or aversion one sees this take its leave today and that tomorrow, like yellow leaves that any slight stirring of the air takes off a tree.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science
Photo of Eartha Kitt by Gordon Parks
Eartha Kitt (Photo by Gordon Parks)
Photo by Brendon Burton
Photo by Brendon Burton
Photo by Jackie Nickerson
Photo by Jackie Nickerson

If there is a state where the soul can find a resting-place secure enough to establish itself and concentrate its entire being there, with no need to remember the past or reach into the future, where time is nothing to it, where the present runs on indefinitely but this duration goes unnoticed, with no sign of the passing of time, and no other feeling of deprivation or enjoyment, pleasure or pain, desire or fear than the simple feeling of existence, a feeling that fills our soul entirely, as long as this state lasts, we can call ourselves happy, not with a poor, incomplete and relative happiness such as we find in the pleasures of life, but with a sufficient, complete and perfect happiness which leaves no emptiness to be filled in the soul.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Reveries of a Solitary Walker
Photo of Shiba Ryotaro Memorial Museum by Will Pryce
Shiba Ryotaro Memorial Museum (Architect: Tadao Ando, Photo by Will Pryce)

It is when we act freely, for the sake of the action itself rather than for ulterior motives, that we learn to become more than what we were. When we choose a goal and invest ourselves in it to the limits of concentration, whatever we do will be enjoyable. And once we have tasted this joy, we will redouble our efforts to taste it again. This is the way the self grows.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

‘Mono no aware’, ‘the pathos of things’, also translates as ‘an empathy toward things’, or ‘a sensitivity to ephemera’. A term for the awareness of impermanence, or the transience of things. A meditation on mortality and life’s transience, ephemerality heightens the appreciation of beauty and sensitivity to their passing.… The movement of time transforms into an eternal present.”

mono no aware

An unhurried sense of time is in itself a form of wealth.”

Bonnie Friedman

Peak experiences such as moments of insight or epiphany are often followed by plateaus. Such insights can fade quickly without the presence of a “scaffolding” for the learning process to assist with making meaning of the unfamiliar experience…. The process [can also be] inhibited by lack of quiet solitude, not enough time in nature, staying too busy, and too quickly returning to contexts apathetic or inimical to transformation.”

David Hartman and Diane Zimberoff, Higher Stages of Human Development

Section Two

Transcendence through challenging beliefs inherited from family, tribe and culture

We are afraid of what it means to live in a world where we are responsible for how things turn out. We would prefer to live under the false assumption that the rules by which we live are given circumstances rather than realize they are creations of human beings and utterly up for discussion. Just as we understand our technologies to be limited by the software with which they are packaged, we understand our world as limited by the social and economic codes currently in operation.”

Douglas Rushkoff, “It’s not too late for humanity to survive the digital

…we are trying to sustain social cohesion using redundant ideologies devised for a population that lived in deserts millennia ago. What does it matter if 2,000 years ago Christ died on the cross and was resurrected if we are not constantly resurrected to the truth, anew, moment to moment? How is his transcendence relevant if we do not resurrect our consciousness from the deceased, moribund mind of our obsolete ideologies and align with our conditions?”

Russell Brand, “We no longer have the luxury of tradition
Photo of The Church of Saint-Étienne-le-Vieux by Quentin Chabrot
The Church of Saint-Étienne-le-Vieux (Photo by Quentin Chabrot)

…the transcendent self-actualizing man… is root­ed in a particular culture but he rises above that culture and can be said to be independent of it in various ways…. One can examine one’s own culture in which one is rooted in a detached and objective way of a certain kind. This parallels the process in psychotherapy of simultaneously experiencing and of self-observing one’s own experience in a kind of critical or editorial or detached and re­moved way so that one can criticize it, approve or disapprove of it and assume control, and, therefore, the possibility of changing it exists. One’s attitude toward one’s culture, the parts of it which one has consciously accepted, is quite different from the unthink­ing and blind, unaware unconscious total identification with one’s culture in a nondiscriminating way.”

Maslow, Various Meanings of Transcendence

Like the generations of leaves, the lives of mortal men. Now the wind scatters the old leaves across the earth, now the living timber bursts with the new buds and spring comes round again. And so with men: as one generation comes to life, another dies away.”

Homer, The Iliad

I don’t feel that it is necessary to know exactly what I am. The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning. If you knew when you began a book what you would say at the end, do you think you would have the courage to write it? What is true for writing and for a love relationship is true also for life. The game is worthwhile insofar as we don’t know what will be the end.”

Michel Foucault, Truth, Power, Self: An Interview with Michel Foucault

The condition of renewal is that you cut your roots.”

Slavoj Žižek, from the DVD commentary to Children of Men

Be brutal with the past, especially your own, and have no respect for the philosophies that are foisted on you from outside.”

Robert Greene

Transcending the opinions of others… means a self-determining Self. It means to be able to be unpopular when this is the right thing to be, to become an autonomous, self-deciding Self; to write one’s own lines, to be one’s own man, to be not manipulatable or seduceable… to transcend one’s role and to be a person rather than being the role.”

Maslow, Various Meanings of Transcendence

Section Three

Transcendence through seeking new forms of knowledge and understanding

Photo of Anna Fisher by John Bryson
Astronaut Anna Fisher (Photo by John Bryson)

Let us create vessels and sails adjusted to the heavenly ether, and there will be plenty of people unafraid of the empty wastes. In the meantime, we shall prepare, for the brave sky-travellers, maps of the celestial bodies—I shall do it for the moon, you Galileo, for Jupiter.”

Johannes Kepler, from an open letter to Galileo (1610)

Reality is what we take to be true. What we take to be true is what we believe. What we believe is based upon our perceptions. What we perceive depends on what we look for. What we look for depends on what we think. What we think depends on what we perceive. What we perceive determines what we believe. What we believe determines what we take to be true. What we take to be true is our reality.”

David Bohm, 1977 lecture at Berkeley

Every kind of ignorance in the world all results from not realizing that our perceptions are gambles. We believe what we see and then we believe our interpretation of it, we don’t even know we are making an interpretation most of the time. We think this is reality.”

Robert Anton Wilson

Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one’s self esteem. That is why young children, before they are aware of their own self-importance, learn so easily; and why older persons, especially if vain or important, cannot learn at all.”

Thomas Szasz

Of course this means that science is uncertain; the moment that you make a proposition about a region of experience that you have not directly seen then you must be uncertain. But we always must make statements about the regions that we have not seen, or the whole business is no use.”

Richard Feynman, The Character of Physical Law
Image from The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil
Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near

The analogue of evolutionary change in a species is creative thought in a person.”

David Deutsch, The Beginning of Infinity

…whatever fundamental units the world is put together from, they are more delicate, more fugitive, more startling than we catch in the butterfly nets of our senses.”

Jacob Bronowski, The Ascent of Man

If you need to visualize the soul, think of it as a cross between a wolf howl, a photon, and a dribble of dark molasses. But what it really is, as near as I can tell, is a packet of information. It’s a program, a piece of hyperspatial software designed explicitly to interface with the mystery.”

Tom Robbins, “You Gotta Have Soul”

In the long run, history is the story of information becoming aware of itself.”

James Gleick, The Information

Section Four

Transcendence through care and love for another

Whenever I start thinking of my love for a person, I am in the habit of immediately drawing radii from my love—from my heart, from the tender nucleus of a personal matter—to monstrously remote points of the universe. Something impels me to measure the consciousness of my love against such unimaginable and incalculable things as the behavior of nebulae…, the dreadful pitfalls of eternity, the unknowledgeable beyond the unknown, the helplessness, the cold, the sickening involutions and interpenetrations of space and time. […] I have to have all space and all time participate in my emotion, in my mortal love, so that the edge of its mortality is taken off, thus helping me to fight the utter degradation, ridicule, and horror of having developed an infinity of sensation and thought within a finite existence.”

Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory
Photo of Vera and Vladimir Nabokov by Philippe Halsman
Vera and Vladimir Nabokov (Photo by Philippe Halsman)

Identification-love is a kind of transcendence… of the selfish Self. It implies also a wider circle of identifications, i.e., with more and more and more people approaching the limit of identification with all human beings.”

Maslow, Various Meanings of Transcendence
Photo by Anna Morosini
Photo by Anna Morosini

In bed next to a girl he loves, he forgets that he does not know why he is himself instead of the body he touches.”

Georges Bataille

Before he died in 2013, the great sociologist Robert Bellah said that his view of everything he’d studied across his life was tilted on its axis by this late recognition: when mammals began to bring forth offspring from the center of their bodies, spiritual life became possible. With apes and far more with humans, the period of necessary parental care—care in order for the offspring to survive—became longer and longer. The long helplessness of the child generated a sphere of softening, experimentation, and creativity in self-understanding and shared life.”

Krista Tippett, Becoming Wise

Love dares the self to leave itself behind, to enter into poverty.”

Anne Carson, Decreation

Section Five

Transcendence through identification with nature

Photo by Gian Paul Lozza
Photo by Gian Paul Lozza

As a poet I hold the most archaic values on earth… the fertility of the soil, the magic of animals, the power-vision in solitude, the terrifying initiation and rebirth, the love and ecstasy of the dance, the common work of the tribe. I try to hold both history and the wilderness in mind, that my poems may approach the true measure of things and stand against the unbalance and ignorance of our times.”

Gary Snyder, “Statement for the Paterson Society”

We are rag dolls made out of many ages and skins, changelings who have slept in wood nests or hissed in the uncouth guise of waddling amphibians. We have played such roles for indefinitely longer ages than we have been men. Our identity is a dream. We are process, not reality…”

Loren Eiseley, The Unexpected Universe

Humans have lived alongside parrots for thousands of years, and only recently have they considered the possibility that we might be intelligent.

I suppose I can’t blame them. We parrots used to think humans weren’t very bright. It’s hard to make sense of behavior that’s so different from your own.”

Ted Chiang, “The Great Silence

Kwan believes that the ultimate cooking comes from this intimate connection with fruits and vegetables, herbs and beans, mushrooms and grains. In her mind, there should be no distance between a cook and her ingredients. ‘That is how I make the best use of a cucumber,’ she explains through a translator. ‘Cucumber becomes me. I become cucumber. Because I grow them personally, and I have poured in my energy.’”

Jeff Gordinier, “Jeong Kwan, the Philosopher Chef

Technology was not given so humankind could ride roughshod over nature and wreak irreparable changes. Rather, technology is to draw out the hidden essence of all nature so that it can sparkle with new purpose. Technology is not to enslave and command life but to draw forth the infinite possibilities locked within all life and to open new realms of significance. Thus it is that we need to heed the message of life and nature and to create new interfaces infused with nature’s wisdom.”

Shinichi Nakazawa, “Beyond Development: Rediscovering Nature’s Wisdom”
Photo by Rob Herr
Photo by Rob Herr

One of the most popular and credible contemporary neuroscience theories on consciousness, Giulio Tononi’s Integrated Information Theory, further lends credence to panpsychism. Tononi argues that something will have a form of ‘consciousness’ if the information contained within the structure is sufficiently ‘integrated,’ or unified, and so the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Because it applies to all structures—not just the human brain—Integrated Information Theory shares the panpsychist view that physical matter has innate conscious experience.”

Olivia Goldhill, “The idea that everything from spoons to stones is conscious is gaining academic credibility

We do not ‘come into’ this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree.”

Alan Watts, The Book

Section Six

Transcendence through the power of artistic expression

Art is the ethical space where we encounter the pain of others and truly reflect on its significance to a shared human community. Art is a direct and imaginative response to the traumas of suffering. It refuses an image of the world that is presented to us as catastrophically fated. Art thus places itself on the side of life, as it directly resists the rituals of death and destruction. Indeed, as we confront more and more devastating spectacles of violence on a daily basis, it is with the arts that we truly enter into those most precious and fragile of ethical bonds that foreground the importance of love, compassion and human togetherness.”

Brad Evans, “Humans in Dark Times
Photo of Amir Baradaran by Marco Anelli
Amir Baradaran (Photo by Marco Anelli)

There are some works so luminous that they fill us with shame for the meager life to which we are resigned, that they implore us to lead another, wiser, fuller life; works so powerful that they give us strength, and force us to new undertakings.”

Hervé Le Tellier, Enough About Love

The performance connected me deeply to past memories, evoking kindred forms of indescribable emotion. I was reminded of what I found as a child to be the most profound experience possible—watching the sunset in isolation on the beach. Waiting in the decaying light to be the only body left on the long stretch of sand, I would revel in the cascading shivers that would crawl down my back as water evaporated from my skin and I wrapped myself more tightly in a towel. Facing the sublime extension of the sea, I remember becoming enveloped in a comforting and serene form of abstract loneliness, an empowering type of isolation devoid of any tinge of yearning or melancholy.”

mwalker, “William Basinski’s Vivian and Ondine

The instinct that pulls us toward art is the impulse to evolve, to learn, to heighten and elevate our consciousness. The Ego hates this. Because the more awake we become, the less we need the Ego.”

Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

…storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it…”

Hannah Arendt, Men in Dark Times
Photo of Alfredo Jaar’s artwork Lament of the Images
Alfredo Jaar, Lament of the Images

I had a teacher I liked who used to say good fiction’s job was to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. I guess a big part of serious fiction’s purpose is to give the reader, who like all of us is sort of marooned in her own skull, to give her imaginative access to other selves. Since an ineluctable part of being a human self is suffering, part of what we humans come to art for is an experience of suffering, necessarily a vicarious experience, more like a sort of “generalization” of suffering. Does this make sense? We all suffer alone in the real world; true empathy’s impossible. But if a piece of fiction can allow us imaginatively to identify with a character’s pain, we might then also more easily conceive of others identifying with our own. This is nourishing, redemptive; we become less alone inside.”

Larry McCaffery, “An Interview With David Foster Wallace

When I speak of poetry I am not thinking of it as a genre. Poetry is an awareness of the world, a particular way of relating to reality. So poetry becomes a philosophy to guide a man throughout his life…. [With poetry, one] is capable of going beyond the limitations of coherent logic, and conveying the deep complexity and truth of the impalpable connections and hidden phenomena of life.”

Andrei Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time

Being a writer, in my experience, means putting up with an inner voice—a maker of sentences—that is always clamoring to be heard. More and more, I find myself listening for the moments when that voice lapses.”

Verlyn Klinkenborg, “What the Land Says

Section Seven

Transcendence through ego-less contemplation of the infinite

Photo of Robert Irwin’s artwork Untitled
Robert Irwin, Untitled

It was a tremendously painful thing to do, especially in the beginning. It’s like in the everyday world, you’re just plugged into all the possibilities. Every time you get bored, you plug yourself in somewhere: you call somebody up, you pick up a magazine, a book, you go to a movie, anything. And all of that becomes your identity, the way in which you’re alive. You identify yourself in terms of all that. Well, what was happening to me as I was on my way to Ibiza was that I was pulling all those plugs out, one at a time: books, language, social contacts. And what happens at a certain point as you get down to the last plugs, it’s like the Zen thing of having no ego: it becomes scary, it’s like maybe you’re going to lose yourself. And boredom then becomes extremely painful. You really are of your own being. But when you get them all pulled out, a little period goes by, and then it’s absolutely serene, it’s terrific. It just becomes really pleasant, because you’re out, you’re all the way out.”

Robert Irwin, Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees
Photo by Giles Revell
Photo by Giles Revell

When I believed [that personal identity is what matters], I seemed imprisoned in myself. My life seemed like a glass tunnel, through which I was moving faster every year, and at the end of which there was darkness. When I changed my view, the walls of my glass tunnel disappeared. I now live in the open air. There is still a difference between my life and the lives of other people. But the difference is less. Other people are closer. I am less concerned about the rest of my own life, and more concerned about the lives of others.

When I believed [that personal identity is what matters], I also cared more about my inevitable death. After my death, there will be no one living who will be me. I can now redescribe this fact. Though there will later be many experiences, none of these experiences will be connected to my present experiences by chains of such direct connections as those involved in experience-memory, or in the carrying out of an earlier intention. Some of these future experiences may be related to my present experiences in less direct ways. There will later be some memories about my life. And there may later be thoughts that are influenced by mine, or things done as the result of my advice. My death will break the more direct relations between my present experiences and future experiences, but it will not break various other relations. This is all there is to the fact that there will be no one living who will be me. Now that I have seen this, my death seems to me less bad.”

Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons (quoted in 2011 New Yorker profile)

losing its name
a river
enters the sea”

John Sandbach

When you get the message, hang up the phone. For psychedelic drugs are simply instruments, like microscopes, telescopes, and telephones. The biologist does not sit with eye permanently glued to the microscope; he goes away and works on what he has seen.”

Alan Watts, The Joyous Cosmology

I often dream about falling. Such dreams are commonplace to the ambitious or those who climb mountains. Lately I dreamed I was clutching at the face of a rock, but it would not hold. Gravel gave way. I grasped for a shrub, but it pulled loose, and in cold terror I fell into the abyss. Suddenly I realized that my fall was relative; there was no bottom and no end. A feeling of pleasure overcame me. I realized that what I embody, the principle of life, cannot be destroyed. It is written into the cosmic code, the order of the universe. As I continued to fall in the dark void, embraced by the vault of the heavens, I sang to the beauty of the stars and made my peace with the darkness.”

Heinz Pagels, The Cosmic Code (Pagels would later die in a 1988 climbing accident)

The only possible alternative is simply to keep to the immediate experience that consciousness is a singular of which the plural is unknown; that there is only one thing and that what seems to be a plurality is merely a series of different aspects of this one thing, produced by a deception…”

Erwin Schrödinger, What is Life?

I do not make any clear distinction between mind and God. God is what mind becomes when it has passed beyond the scale of our comprehension. God may be considered to be either a world-soul or a collection of world souls. We are the chief inlets of God on this planet at the present stage in his development. We may later grow with him as he grows, or we may be left behind.”

Freeman Dyson, “What Would a Machine as Smart as God Want?