Grounding Transcendence


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by Susan McCaslin

Today I want to reclaim the use of the word transcendence. I also want to reclaim my love of the sensual world.

Transcendence for me used to signify above, away, outside, Spirit, separation from matter. To transcend was to move beyond tawdry things like compost, fights with annoying neighbours, or family turmoil.  It was to occupy sacred space.

When I was a kid at a Christian camp, the “saved” were the ones who, through belief in Christ, had transcended the flesh, the world, and the devil. For some of my friends, hoping for transcendence was like waiting to be airlifted or “raptured” out of here. They’d soon shake the dust off their mired feet and fly. It would be all “beam me up Scotty,” and then out, permanently.

Certainly, we all have days when we long to escape this world with its giant spiders, dog-eat-dog economics, and apparently irresolvable environmental problems. The words of the old blues song, “Any day now, any day now, I shall be released” aren’t just about brick-and-mortar prison, but about the imprisonment of our bodies and souls.

However, as I matured I began to realize that if you fully embrace this kind of longing for transcendence you are trapped in deadlock dualism. Immanence or transcendence, which will it be? Embrace the sensual world as it is and give up all hope of mysteries beyond what we can see and measure, or be deluded?

Lately, I discovered an ancient Buddhist text, the Heart Sutra, that ends: “Go, go, go beyond.” As a form of meditation this chant summons us to release our “I know” mechanism. We are gently called to transcend fixed ways of knowing, certainties that exile us from mystery and beauty. Going beyond or transcending is central to the Heart Sutra because the heart is not only the seat of the intellect, but of the feelings. It is the place of release, disarming, letting go.

The heart’s natural urge is to expand.

And for me, to transcend is not to go beyond this one world, the universe that holds us all, but go beyond our small constructions of the self. Something wants us to flow into a mysterious largeness, an ancient largesse.  For me, the truest sense of the word isn’t about “above” versus “below,” but about holism.

Sometimes we have to descend into the chthonic, darker, so-called “lower” or unknown regions of the self, paradoxically going down in order to transcend. When we do, we just might take up everything, losing nothing except what falls away of itself because it doesn’t serve the purposes of the whole.

Lately, old songs from my childhood trips though the deep South of the United States return to me, songs about “going home.” One goes, “I have no father, no mother, no sister, no brother. I am an orphan in this world.” And another goes, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long way from home.” Such songs evoke a universal longing for home and relationship.

The difference between my situation then and now is that now I’m not always clinging quite so hard to my constructs of heaven, but finding mother, father, sisters, brothers here and now. Yet I don’t let go of the mystery of what lies beyond.

Being this open is heaven. Heaven is both this amazing world of wind-dancing spiders and rainbows, and whatever might emerge when the body returns to the elements.

Going home, like transcending current dualities, has a plethora of connotations. For me it means going over to a place of oneness, dynamic peace, flourishing. Home is where you lie open to the mystery.

Who knows what we are and what we shall be? Home is trust, a trust transcending all the odds.

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Categories: Embodiment, Featured, Inspiration and Meditation, Spiritual Growth, Susan McCaslin


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3 Comments on “Grounding Transcendence”

  1. July 11, 2013 at 8:41 pm #

    for me being “saved” means being conscious….having an awareness of the journey and forgiving and non-judgement of self and other consistently… know like saved from the rat race….the river of deceit…etc…thanks

  2. flouann
    July 12, 2013 at 12:37 am #

    Interesting, Susan. Recently I’ve had a conversation with a poet friend who was considering transcending or transformative poetry – we weren’t sure what that meant.

    Another poet friend is sure that she will meet the horse she knew in childhood ‘on the other side’. As I often say, I know nothing.

    Franci Louann will read with others at

    ‘Pablo Neruda – The Heights of Macchu Picchu’

    6:30 pm Tues, July 17 at the New West’r. PL

    translation by Nathaniel Tarn


    woodlakeguest posted: ” by Susan McCaslin Today I want to reclaim the use of the word transcendence. I also want to reclaim my love of the sensual world. Transcendence for me used to signify above, away, outside, Spirit, separation from matter. To transcend was to move bey”

  3. July 13, 2013 at 12:05 am #

    Beautfiul, Susan. Somewhere, David Abram is clapping!

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