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Being in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, with restrictions having been imposed on the traditional lifestyle; it seemed like a good time to start a new initiative. TED has recently curated a new opportunity within their offerings. This they have named Ted Circles. To become a facilitator required filling in an application, and having achieved that status my next move was to recruit a group of participants.

Creating the Circle

Networking from a local database, luck was on my side and I have found about a dozen people who have become part of a vibrant group of elders, exploring the recommended TED talks. Each month a theme is promoted, and four Ted talks featuring that topic are recommended on the TED Circles website.

The First TED Circle

By mutual consent, we chose to view Emily Esfahani Smith’ talk entitled,There is more to Life than Being Happy at our first meeting.

The presenter’s family were American immigrants from Iran.  While she was growing up her parents were active Sufi’s who regularly entertained in their home the local followers of this movement and she observed them meditating and performing their communal religious practices. This early exposure to people living a humble life of compassion and sharing has led Emily to explore the possibilities around living the best life possible.

Emily’s 4 Pillars of Meaning
  1. She commences by describing the need for belonging to a group. Essentially this starts with the family, and as one proceeds through adolescence, new group identities form an essential part of positive growth
  2. Purpose is her second criterion. She considers purpose or meaning to be more essential than the pursuit of happiness.
  3. Then she identifies ‘storytelling’. This is the ability to review one’s life by being more aware of the positive features. Simultaneously attempting to minimise the challenges and look for the potential good in what may be a difficult stage of our life.
  4. Her final pillar is that of Transcendence. This is indeed a challenging concept, so the decision was that at our following meeting we would have a discussion to try and gain some insight into this esoteric topic!
Johnathan Haidt’s approach to Transcendence

Going back to the TED offerings, Jonathan Haidt’s “Religion, Evolution, and the Ecstasy of Self-Transcendence”, was chosen as a means to explore this concept.

What Haidt explains is that humans are what the sociologist Durkheim described as Homo Duplex. Whilst we need to achieve and satisfy our earthly needs, we are at the same time looking for a ‘secret staircase’, and maybe it is a spiral one, to lead us to a higher experience which could be described as religious or spiritual.

However, the ultimate achievement of transcendence is when we realise that as John Donne said, “No man is an island entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” Ultimately transcendence can be achieved when one internalises the role we can play for the betterment of humankind.

The Humanistic Perspective of Transcendence

A humanistic take on Transcendence is offered by Scott Barry Kaufman in his contemporary work “Transcend, The New Science of Self-Actualisation.” Kaufman uses Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a springboard for his theory. Maslow’s theory was taught in Psychology 1, which I studied in the 1950s, so it is interesting to learn how this tool is used by Kaufman as the underpinning for a 20th century understanding of the subjective concept of transcendence.

Basically, Maslow postulated all those years ago that our basic needs for food and sex must be fulfilled before our emotional needs can be wholly recognised. Only when these emotional needs are met, then the higher need for self-actualisation can be sought. Ultimately the ability to fulfil one’s personal needs can be further merged with the needs of the other inhabitants of the planet, offering us the experience of Transcendence.

In Conclusion

I do believe that each person needs to find his or her own subjective experience of transcendence. In the same way as you can debate the meaning of religion, or spirituality without reaching consensus, there may be many unique and personal ways of experiencing transcendence.

This reminds me of an insight I experienced whilst studying Buddhist philosophy which I encountered when delving into the practice of Mindfulness. The great masters, if asked the ultimate goal of engagement in many hours of practice of their daily meditation, tend to hedge the question!  The experienced meditator in the eastern tradition is not keen to put his or her experience into words.   It is as if trying to verbalise the grandeur of the ultimate experience of Transcendence would be diminished in the communication.

Each person needs to find his own way of both describing transcendence and articulating their personal experience. We all climb the staircase in our unique way. “Viva la difference”

Addendum

Pearl Selibowitz who attended the meetings on Transcendence was motivated to pen this piece:

A Moment in Time

Judge not lest ye be judged, the master said

Offend not, for he who takes offence will be burdened and you will always bear the scar

Think on the man with no shoes whose feet bleed as he walks on the road

Think of the child with no bread, who has no dream to see him through

Open your window and see your dawn

Open your heart and bless the giver who has given you shoes and bread

So you may follow your dream