Mindfulness and Transcendence

Written on October 5, 2008. Written by .

An analysis of Zen concepts.
Photo courtesy of Rickydavid

A large part of our subjective experience is based on the way we perceive things to be. A rainy day can be a downer if all you think about is how it cancelled your soccer match, but it can also be a pleasure if you see beauty in the rainfall. Many of the problems in our lives can be recast into enjoyable experiences in this way. Mindfulness is a method that allows you to see the beauty in life so that you can fully enjoy those experiences that contain something worth appreciating.

Mindfulness comes from an awareness of one’s thoughts and direct experiences in the present moment. The mind is usually chattering, analyzing, and planning, which distracts its focus from the present. The problem with this is that we can only directly extract value from the present. Certainly analytical thoughts will sometimes provide improved direct experiences in the future, but if we are always in an analytical, non-present mindset, then our enjoyment will be partially blocked even when the benefits do arrive. Also, analytical thought may provide some direct value if you enjoy the process of thinking analytically, but this is difficult to sustain because such thoughts naturally lead to concern.

To encourage yourself to be more mindful, try this: slow down, look around, and ask yourself, “What does this feel like right now?” Often you will find that there are many pleasant experiences available. Doing this gives you a perspective on the world that can help you to detach from the normal concerns of life and feel more relaxed. Eventually this can lead to the transcendence of certain issues.

When you transcend one of your concerns, you become apathetic to it. You no longer gain either pleasure or pain from successes or failures in it. Therefore, one must be careful in choosing what they would like to transcend. At first the transcendence of ego, also known as egolessness, may sound appealing, but this means that you would no longer feel the pride of victory and very likely lose much of your motivation for personal improvement. And transcending dependency on others may make you more safe from rejection, but it also deprives you of the ecstasy of love. Stability of emotion often sounds nice, but sometimes it is the variance in your subjective life quality that creates the most interesting experiences.

Furthermore, there are some things which may not be possible for humans to transcend. We do have an amazing ability to adapt to a wide range of conditions, but our adaptation tends not to work as well on erradic or overly intense factors. For example, you may not be capable of adapting to randomly spaced loud noises or incessant hard punches to the head. In “The Happiness Hypothesis”, Haidt lists the following factors that people tend not to adapt to: Noise, Commuting, Lack of Control, Shame, and Relationships. Attempting to transcend these issues will likely result in disappointment. So the Stoic philosophers and the Buddhists probably took things too far when they advocated transcendence of everything.

So is there any role left for transcendence? I think that there may be some limited applications. Result detachment is a form of temporary transcendence. Essentially you divide your time between your “planning self” and your “naive self”, the latter being in a state of transcendence. For example, your planning self might analyze your budget for an hour a month by setting up two bank accounts the first receiving income from your employer, and the second receiving weekly transfers from the first. Then your naive self can spend freely from the second account, transcending budgetary concerns. The Happiness Hypothesis discusses how being satisfied with sub-optimal spending habits, such as those of the naive self, produces increased happiness. Those who try very hard to optimize are called “maximizers”, and they do end up finding slightly better deals than the naive “satisficers”, but they pay a large price in stress and buyer’s remorse that significantly outweigh the benefits.

There may even be benefits to completely transcending some things. Upward comparison comes to mind as a candidate because it is so much more often a source of pain than of pleasure, and it is certainly possible to transcend. But transcendence as a way of life doesn’t seem reasonable. The modern world seems to require frequent active concern with one’s career and relationships, with the alternatives being unadaptably bad. Rather, mindfulness and transcendence are techniques to enhance experience within the framework of a normal life.

Read more from the Positive Psychology category. If you would like to leave a comment, click here: 1 Comment. or stay up to date with this post via RSS from your site.

Leave a Comment

If you would like to make a comment, please fill out the form below.

Name (required)

Email (required)



1 Comment so far
  1. Y. February 5, 2014 10:24 am

    Transcendence is apathy? No, transcendence is caring detachment.

© Copyright thrive by design - Powered by Wordpress - Designed by Speckyboy