5 Aspects of Transcendence and Their Benefits for Wellbeing

5 Aspects of Transcendence and Their Benefits for Wellbeing

via Psychology Today by Arvin Paul

Since at least the beginnings of recorded history, transcendence has occupied a central role among humanity’s ultimate concerns (Smith, 2009). In psychology too, several founders of its key movements have made it a topic of focal importance (James, 1917/2004; Jung, 1959/1979; Maslow, 1971/1993; Peterson & Seligman, 2004). Their definitions convey their regard of its significance. For example, Abraham Maslow, one of the founders of humanistic and transpersonal psychology describes transcendence as referring to “the very highest and most inclusive or holistic levels of human consciousness, behaving and relating, as ends rather than means, to oneself, to significant others, to human beings in general, to other species, to nature, and to the cosmos” (Maslow, 1971/1993, p. 269).

More recently, the developers of positive psychology defined transcendence to be that which “allows individuals to forge connections to the larger universe and thereby provide meaning to their lives” (Peterson & Seligman, 2004, p. 519). This most centrally denotes a reaching outside of the individual where “the reaching goes beyond other people per se to embrace part or all of the larger universe” (p. 519).

This gets us off to a good start. But what is transcendence more specifically, in experience-near terms, and why does it matter? Below I outline five aspects of transcendence and offer an example of each’s relevance for psychological health and wellbeing.

Mohamed Nohassi/Unsplash

Source: Mohamed Nohassi/Unsplash

Transpersonal Awareness

Description: Transpersonal awareness refers to the aware context of all experience, as opposed its content (e.g., sensations, thoughts, feelings, and perceptions). It is objectless (meaning it cannot be found as an object of experience), nonconceptual, unconditioned, ever-present and ever-free. When purified and deepened, it can appear as a luminous empty clarity, wherein the mind is experienced as limpid and pristine (Chowang, 2016).

Example: Transpersonal awareness allows for a disidentification with the psychological content of experience, such that one is no longer wholly engrossed or entranced by various self-images, narratives, and the like, mistaking those mere mental representations for reality or who one is. A tremendous amount of psychological suffering is instantly and at once undercut because their basis depended on one believing or identifying with such content (Kelly, 2015).


Description: Nonseparateness points to any number of experiences of a loss of or seeing through one’s familiar ego-self boundaries, whereby some sense of familiar separation has been overcome in the direction of communion or unity, often accompanied by a sense of universal goodness, benevolence, and wellbeing (Underhill, 1930/2011).

Example: Like transpersonal awareness, nonseparateness holds profound implications for psychological healing in that it confers a sense of existential belongingness (a fundamental, rightful belongingness to the universe as a whole) and basic trust. The restoration of these, even to a small degree, acts as a corrective to the foundation of much psychological and existential suffering, namely, separation, alienation, and estrangment from life as a whole and its goodness (Adyashanti, 2015; Almaas, 1999)…

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