Transcendence is not for sissies, and you can’t buy it online.
Although the ruthless, navel-gazing, mesmerizing values of capitalism as it is today have contributed to mind and heart rot all over the world, the United States stands out as particularly naive in its covert religion of “I can buy my way out of anything.”
This shows itself most clearly in the areas of personal growth, enlightenment, transcendence, etc. There’s another one born every minute— not just suckers, but snake oil salesmen pursuing their capitalist dream by selling you a bridge in Brooklyn. The idea of ‘personal growth’ as something disconnected from a humbling awareness of heightened vulnerability and responsibility is a commercial crock of you know what.
You can’t buy transcendence online. And it’s not a destination either. It’s merely the next step in a gradual reorganization of self that takes more into account than the last iteration of self. Transcendence is a movement towards integration on a larger field of awareness. What is being transcended is the last iteration.
Ay, there’s the rub. To allow myself to enter territory beyond my habits of self-protection is often to feel pain/sadness/grief. Accepting these feelings, unbinding them, unblinding them, is the beginning of self-acceptance and an intensified ability to respond to the questions asked of me by life. And the real indian burn here (no idea why it’s called that, but probably racist) is that there is no integration of self, no enlightenment, no transcendence that protects me from the vulnerability of being human. In fact, just the opposite. The more open to reality I am, the more reality I get, gosh darn it.
And it is only when that vulnerability feels safer to me than the alternative of being an asshole, then I guess you could say it hurts so good. Okay, maybe ‘safer’ isn’t quite the right word, at least not without some explanation. And maybe ‘being an asshole’ isn’t quite right either.
If I define being an asshole as compromised awareness, then I must accept that that’s never going to end no matter how much I transcend my limitations du jour. My awareness will always be compromised by my human condition: blood and meat and bones, fear and desire, aches and pains, a physical arc that leads towards deterioration and death, even though my spirit longs for transcendence.
I wrestle with this compromise between meat and motion every day: who and what is my tribe, who am I and what is my responsibility, what do I love more than I fear, and vice versa? Who/what do I serve? Who/what do I obey (or at least take suggestions from)?
These are not theoretical questions; these are the questions we answer in our actions, or lack thereof. An action can be as quiet and simple as a prayerful intention. I use the word “prayerful” in the sense that sometimes the most I can do is express my yearning to move in a certain direction, like moving a dial to a certain setting (the mechanical analogy betrays my age) and having faith that the yearning/setting will move me.
Which brings me to attempt to explain what I meant by ‘vulnerability feeling safer than being an asshole’. I think what it means is that if and when I can transcend my limbic fear of death, it becomes clear that I desire to align myself with a field of awareness that transcends death. And the more real that field appears to me, the safer I feel in perceiving myself as part of it, rather than depending on anxiety to protect me from it.
That may not be the greatest explanation, but it’s a start. I’ll keep trying. For now, let’s just say that love casts out fear and being human is all we’ve got to work with...
The minute I’m disappointed, I feel encouraged.
When I’m ruined, I’m healed.
When I’m quiet and solid as the ground, then I talk
the low tones of thunder for everyone.
Rumi, translated by John Moyne and Coleman Barks