Thursday, July 03, 2008

Is Transcendence Bunk?

I am realizing that the importance I place on transcendence is not something many others share. This leads me to wonder if my perspective is hopelessly skewed?

Transcendence has been a unifying theme of things that have mattered in my life. Transcendence: breaking beyond mundane existence and experiencing that which is deepest, most beautiful, divine—even if only for a moment. My most worthwhile experiences (friendship, adventure, love, music, sex, art, literature, sacrifice, learning, suffering, worship, creating) I appreciated partially because of the transcendence I experienced in them. I was not discontented with normal life, instead I saw normal life as a necessary staging ground from which to break through to what is beyond it. I was not searching for some mystery or magic, but I lived daily life more ecstatically. Nor did I think all transcendent experience was inherently good. Transcendence could mislead as well as enlighten, but these moments seemed to me our best evidence that we are not mere animals or mechanisms —that we are fallen children of God.

The problem of my life now is that I feel myself becoming more of a mechanism each day. The responsibilities of being a doctor, home owner, husband, debtor, father have bound me to the daily grind of being a producer and consumer. Although responsibilities provide stability there is little or no transcendence to be found in them. Some days my spirit feels like an ox yolked to a heavy plow.

Ten years ago I was not a consumer but an ecstatic and idealistic mind. All of my friends were similar and we all lived on a diet of dreams. I assumed that the feelings of transcendence we basked in were universal to all of mankind. We scorned those who didn't "suck the marrow out of life." Now all of my old friends have become hopelessly practical people, and don't seem to miss the transcendence in which they once lived. I talk of seeking transcendence and hear it dismissed as the stuff of childhood—something you grow out of. If no longer transcending life is a natural feature of being an adult, why am I the only one uncomfortable with the maturation?

The other day my wife said, “You don't need too much time on your hands. Instead of centering yourself when you rest, you get your head in the clouds. You end up very dissatisfied.” Am I dissatisfied? I had never thought of myself as a discontented person before, but I saw she was right. The thing I strive for is becoming increasingly hard to reach.

Is transcendence bunk or is it the very stuff life is made of? If transcendence truly is life then I am slowly dying of starvation of the soul, but if it is just a childish emotion then I am worrying myself over nothing and should embrace my maturity. As much as transcendence is a sensation of deep meaning, I cannot say if I really understand anything better than others who have had no such experience or put no stock in such things. The feelings of understanding and meaning are almost too deep for words, but if I can't express what I gain from transcendence have I really gained anything at all? Am I enhanced as a person by transcendent experience or is it only a "mental high" full of sound and fury but signifying nothing?

I am in a bit of a quandary. As I grow older the powerful experiences that were once the natural state of my mind become increasingly rare. Should I chase after transcendence or let it go? Am I a pitiful addict trying to reproduce a high that I can never achieve again, or am I doggedly seeking truth, beauty, and meaning in a cynical world that squashes all that is really worthwhile?

I really don't know at this point. I am perplexed. Perhaps those with more wisdom can help me find the answer. Any advice?

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