Transcendence: Rising Above Existence

Transcendence InterconnectionIn prior blog entries, I discussed ways that life is fundamentally awful and depression is a pretty understandable, Human reaction to the way things are.  That is, however, only one side of the story of our existence.  The other side is the fact that transcendence of suffering is possible for each and every one of us.

The method of cultivating transcendence is precisely mindfulness practice, whether formal meditation or everyday awareness of the present moment.  Why would this be so?

Transcendence: Your Mind Need Not Rule Your Experience

Wow, that’s a pretty heavy sentence, “Your mind need not rule your experience”!  What on earth might we mean by that?  Well, turns out, a whole lot of things that add up to a very different kind of life.  Let’s break down this seemingly mysterious notion into LEARNABLE behaviors.

Notice and Label Your Thoughts

We can begin skillfully by noticing that we are thinking all the time.  Yep, whatever you just thought about what you just read was, well, a thought.  It wasn’t “truth,” it was a thought.  Whatever it was.  Whatever you’re thinking right NOW in response to this paragraph, thats… well, more thoughts.  We can practice simply noticing the simple fact that we think much of the time, a constant stream of thoughts, many of which are judgmental.  That’s neither good nor bad, it just is.

Having noticed the stream of thoughts, we can begin to label our thoughts. We label them by simply stating to ourselves what is happening: “Having a thought about going back to bed.” “Having a thought that s/he is an idiot.” “Having a thought that I cannot succeed no matter what.” “Having a thought that I am very clever.”  This process is not difficult, but it can by tiring to sustain, so we can practice it for a few minutes at a time as we learn it.

Keep Some Awareness In Your Body

Maybe you’ve heard yoga instructors or others telling you to be aware of your body, of what sensations you’re having in the body.  It’s not immediately obvious why that would be important.  We don’t necessarily relax or feel good just by paying attention to the body.  But whenever we shift some of our awareness, some degree of attention to our bodies, noticing sensations as they occur in the present moment, we are shifting away from believing everything we think.  Paying attention to body sensations helps us stay present, and staying present helps us to notice what our minds are up to.  So the previous point, the task of “noticing and labeling” thoughts becomes a lot easier when we train ourselves to be somewhat more present, somewhat more embodied.

Build Willingness to Have Discomfort

Transcendence involves cutting free from the usual, invisible cords that bind us to a dry, painful, meaningless life.  In order to transcend life-as-usual, we need more than just awareness of thoughts, feelings and body sensations, more than just present moment awareness.  We need to cultivate something even more challenging: the willingness to be present to ALL experiences, including those that are very difficult to be with.  Physical pain, emotional pain, embarrassment, shame, even despair, can be okay, if we MAKE ROOM FOR THEM.  This “making room” can be very literal: imagine the feelings to be shapes or objects, and imagine expanding around them so that you’re big enough to include them, so that you do not have to push them away.  Breathe in and around them.  I know that sounds dorky.  But please, if you’re reading this, maybe you could try it and judge it after you’ve tried it.

Notice Interconnectedness

We think of ourselves as if we were isolated objects like rocks or machines, with little holes in them where we see out into “The World” around us.  But that’s not how we see other people.  When you look at someone else, you notice that they are part of the world around them.  Same when they look at you.  Something must be wrong here, how could you each be “Out There” while the other is “In Here”?!?  This is an illusion created by our minds and our visual-spatial perceptual system.  We can notice that actually, substances are constantly passing through us in the form of food and drink, and we are constantly interacting with “The World.”  The more we come to notice this process, slowly, slowly, the less we think of ourselves as machines, cut-off from the world, and the more we notice that we are part of a web of interconnectedness.  Counter-intuitively, beginning to see our true context, as part of greater and greater Wholes, serves to help us transcend our usual existence.  Because our usual existence is pure illusion, made up by our minds.

Transcendence is NOT a ‘done deal.’  It’s a process we cultivate over a lifetime.  It doesn’t come easily, but its rewards are boundless.

What do you think?  Is this stuff I’ve been on about just bibble babble, or can you “dig” it?

How can you transform and transcend your ordinary life?  If you’ve done so, what’s that like?

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Joseph Rhinewine, PhD. People collaborate with me to live life fully: with principle, passion and vigor. My expertise is providing and teaching Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), an evidence-based, experiential and relational behavior therapy. I also apply Acceptance and Commitment processes to coaching those who wish to take their lives to a new level.

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  • Amanda Dean

    Thanks for this! It’s just what I was looking for as an ACT intro for a client. 🙂