Self-Transcendence

July 5, 2012

Sounds like an eastern yoga-practicing we-are-all-one spirituality term. But by “self-transcendence” I’m referring to a certain characteristic of being human. The word “empathy” describes part of this: the ability to understand a person’s feelings outside yourself. Yet empathy seems to me to imply sympathy, which I’m not terribly interested in at the moment. It also describes only one aspect of this characteristic. So “self-transcendence” will work.

Self transcendence as I’m defining it is the ability of a person to remove herself from subjective experience and think outside herself. Don’t interpret the term too literally. To literally transcend one’s self is a contradiction in terms, and I do not mean to suggest the self is something that can or should be abandoned, disregarded as unimportant. Without the self there can be no individual, and people, much as they may share in common, are at essence individuals. It’s better to think of the term loosely–self transcendence is what allows a person to attempt to look at something from a difference frame of reference. A cat or dog can’t think about what life would be like if it grew up in a different age or what a certain person’s experience is like. They are bound to their sliver of reality, at their location at that time. And human beings are similarly bound by space and time like a coordinate on a plane. But a human can potentially be aware of other places in the universe, other times, other experiences, which are outside the scope of his own experience.

Self-transcendence is also necessary for real introspection. To be able to question yourself and why you think as you do and act as you do, you have to detach yourself from yourself. Naturally, you can never technically transcend your mind. You can never fully detach yourself from yourself. To think is to use your mind, and to evaluate something requires judgement–a subjective faculty. But you can realize the existence of things outside yourself and try to consider them without reference to yourself. As I said, “self-transcendence” does not mean not having a self. Ultimately it leads to understanding, awareness of what you do and don’t know, and greater knowledge of the world and other people. Paradoxically, self-transcendence of this kind enhances your self.

I had more to say about this, but I’m hungover and forgot what it was. I’ll come back to this later.

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