Meditation and Transcendence

“Who would then deny that when I am sipping tea in my tearoom I am swallowing the whole universe with it and that this very moment of my lifting the bowl to my lips is eternity itself transcending time and space?”
― D.T. Suzuki

 “Flow with whatever may happen, and let your mind be free: Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate.” ― Chuang Tzu

The word “transcendence” is often used to describe the psychological or spiritual impact of meditative practice. There’s even an entire trademarked method of meditation called ‘Transcendental Meditation’. Last year, curiosity got the better of me and I paid to learn the technique. I found it straight-forward and, well, transcendent, and I continue to practice it daily. Zazen is similar, and I find the impact of both the same. So I practice both interchangeably.

Back to the point— the method of meditation we practice doesn’t matter, so long as it allows this transcendent consciousness to emerge. What’s important, regardless of how you choose to practice meditation, is understanding what fundamentally causes this transcendence. What does it mean, and why does it matter?

On yesterday’s podcast, I discussed how the consciousness we cultivate during meditation helps us overcome existential angst and meaninglessness. Understanding this is crucial to recognizing how and why we ‘transcend’.

When we immerse ourselves completely in one activity, whether it’s running, painting, breathing or walking in the park, we experience ‘pure mind’.  Pure mind is a state beyond thinking and thoughts. We aren’t judging or evaluating. We aren’t planning, worrying, harping or feeling sorry for ourselves. We just are. In each moment in which we can ‘just be’, we’re symbolically stating to ourselves that we accept every imperfection, every spontaneity, every strange nuance of life. We accept it all. As a result, every door remains open.

In cultivating this state of acceptance, we come to the crucial crossroads: surpassing dualism. In another recent post I discussed dualism in depth, comparing what we do in Zen and Taoism to what it took thousands of more years for the West to figure out (Hegel) — synthesis. We take all of the opposing forces of life and synthesize them into something greater than the sum of their parts. And then (this is where meditative acceptance becomes so important) we refine that into an even purer state of being, that aforementioned state of acceptance. This is the ultimate practice.

Transcendence comes from recognizing yourself as an expression of everything, rather than focusing on only what is preferable to you and trying to isolate the thoughts, emotions and experiences you’re personally attached to. It comes from understanding yourself as part of the fabric of everything, not through conceptualization but instead through the direct experience of self-reflection. It’s very simple in this sense; it just requires us to practice regularly. With time, the monkey mind quiets down and the transcendent mind emerges.

There’s an incredible freedom you feel when this happens, as if you can contemplate everything at once without having to put any effort or focus into your practice. In doing this, we symbolically let the world come to us rather than grasping fruitlessly at various focal points. The biggest lesson for me is recognizing myself not as a sole egoic agent in the world, but as a reflection of it, a product of it, like a tree or a wild animal. I don’t need to actively oppose my true nature or try to forge an artificial identity. We’ve emerged from nature. We reflect its truths. We should let it do what it does best— work with us and for us. We’re a part of its machinery. This is what it means to transcend; in a sense we’re not rising up into space, but sinking into the deepest reality of things. It’s both humbling and empowering.

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