Transcendence is one of those ‘hot’ words that pops up with perfunctory regularity, tangled up with phrases about meaningful change and the value of life. It’s one of those words that say an awful lot. And we all kind of know what it means. Yet, transcendence is one of those abstract terms that is really hard to pin down.
It is perhaps useful to begin with what is arguably the origin of the word. Religion. In religious terms transcendence has been around for an eternity. It has loosely become a word that has come to mean God. But that’s unhelpful. Actually it’s much more broad and conceptual than that. In very basic terms transcendence means to move beyond the world as experienced by the senses, into a world of higher existence (the realm of God). Or, more technically the existence of God as outside the physical universe.
Ok, so it’s fuzzy.
But actually thinking about transcendence in this way is really useful. Because transcendence isn’t just about religion. Transcendence is in fact simply to exist and experience the world beyond our physical senses. And we all experience transcendence every day of our lives without even realising it. It is an ambiguous, yet simple, complex and also important unifying feature of our lives and humanity. It is a central part of our existence in the world and the way in which we live our lives. Or at least it should be.
Transcendence is the invisible relationships between things. The indefinable ways that society exists together, bound by information beyond our senses. Think of the concept of marriage, the law, or a sports team, an organisation. How are they functioning beyond the information of their physical existence and the soak of the senses? How do they know and feel and do? That energy behind our existence. That’s transcendence.
Many would argue that in the modern age the value of transcendence in the world is diminishing. When materialism and individuality become more important than unity and the whole, transcendence gets pushed to the side. When it is more important to think of ‘I’ than it is to think about ‘we’. Then transcendence doesn’t matter anymore.
But it should. If we want to make change that is meaningful, then systems have to move from existing in a value system of ‘I’, into a world where ‘we’ matters. And to do that they need to understand the invisible connections which underlie their every action, thought and outcome. They need to move into a way of being where there is value beyond the physical impulses of the senses. In other words they need to value transcendence.