- Transcendent experiences elicit positive emotions, such as joy, peace, and wonder, as well as enhancing mental and emotional well-being.
- Transcendence can help us be more effective in our work and easier to get along with our co-workers.
- Transcendence is supported through mindful moments, quiet spaces, mono-tasking, and exposure to art or nature.
The need for transcendence
In times of challenge or distress, we can look to self-transcendent experiences to increase our sense of joy and fulfillment. But how do we cultivate and foster transcendence in the midst of our everyday lives?
Consider your life journey so far. Is there a moment that stands out in your memory when you felt a fullness that expanded beyond you and at the same time knit you together with others around you or with some element of creation? I’ll never forget the first time I saw the northern lights shimmering in the summer sky. I was transfixed by the vibrant colors. Moments like these can be brief but leave a lasting impact on our lives. They bring a deeper understanding and appreciation for the world around us. These moments or experiences are called “self-transcendent” because they elevate us above the mundane of our daily lives.
Experiencing transcendence can help us to focus less on ourselves and feel as if we are part of a greater whole with increased connectedness to others. It increases our consciousness, which is the state of being awake and aware of one’s surroundings and context. It is this shift in consciousness that influences our ability to perceive, identify, relate to, and act toward ourselves, others, and the world. It helps us to be more thoughtful, less reactive, more open, curious, and committed to a growth mindset. Transcendent experiences also allow us to rise above our own personal concerns and see things from a broader perspective, which may elicit positive emotions, such as joy and peace and wonder (Kaufman, 2021). Research also shows such experiences contribute to mental and emotional well-being (Yaden et al., 2017).
Transcendence in the workplace
Experiencing transcendence isn’t limited to your personal life; it can also be incorporated into your work life. When we are able to experience moments of self-transcendence in our work, it creates meaning and connection, as well as increases our desire to keep coming back day-in-and-day-out. It also supports more effective problem-solving, increases prosocial behavior, and contributes to more positive relationships with co-workers (Van Cappellen & Rime, 2014). In other words, self-transcendent experiences help us to be easier to get along with and more supportive co-workers.
Fostering transcendence at work and at home
Meditation practices associated with promoting mindfulness are one of the most popular applications of the research on transcendence. A 2017 survey of U.S. workers found that 1 in 6 had participated in some form of mindfulness meditation practice in the past year (Kachan et al., 2017). Numerous mobile apps and training programs have emerged to support a growing interest in meditation, but consistent practice is required to experience the greatest benefit.
If you are just starting or struggling to maintain a consistent meditation practice, here are some ways to foster a more transcendent environment:
Build meditation moments into your day. Look for opportunities to embed brief moments of meditation into your daily schedule. Add a meditation element to the end of your morning exercise routine, practice mindfully brushing your teeth, incorporate a period of deep breathing while waiting for your coffee to brew, or practice eating a mindful lunch.
You can also examine your schedule for consistent periods where you find yourself waiting for others, or you might consider adding one-minute reflection periods at the start of meetings. If you are able to get outside for a walk during the day, consider making it a mindful walk where you eschew the distractions of music or a podcast in favor of engaging all of your senses to notice the beauty of the world around you.
Create time for meditation by shortening meetings. If your work schedule includes a lot of back-to-back meetings, practice scheduling or requesting shorter meetings. For example, instead of meeting for a full hour, shorten standard meetings to 45 minutes. This embeds periods of recovery into your work day. Many workplaces have made this standard practice, but if yours hasn’t, be the first to start this practice.
Avoid multitasking and practice mono-tasking. Mindfulness is about practicing presence, which means focusing our full attention on what is happening in the present moment. We can practice mindful listening, eating, driving, or working.
One of the biggest disruptors of mindfulness is a distraction. Identify specific times when you want to minimize distractions by silencing your phone, turning off email or social media notifications, or wearing headphones as a signal to others that you wish not to be disturbed. If this idea sounds anxiety-provoking, practice this for just 20 to 30 minutes and set a timer. When you are tempted to check your phone or email, remember that most things can wait until the designated time is up. Specialized software can be installed onto your computer to minimize incoming emails and text messages.
Increase exposure to nature. Connecting with nature is one of the most common ways to experience transcendence in our everyday lives. It requires us to simply slow down and savor the color of the sky, the scent of a flower, or the feel of a gentle breeze. If you find yourself spending a lot of time indoors, you can bring the beauty of nature into your workspace through photos on your computer screen saver or phone. Real or artificial plants or flowers are another way to increase one’s exposure to nature. Research on transcendent mental states has used virtual reality (VR) technology to bring nature into the laboratory, and such technology is becoming increasingly available for home or personal use.
Increase exposure to art. Exposing ourselves to art, poetry, music, and other elements that move us can be a gateway to transcendent experiences. Seek to add such elements to the places where you spend the majority of your time and rotate them periodically since we can become desensitized to the beauty around us when exposed to the same thing every day.
Though transcendent experiences tend to emerge in their own mysterious ways, there are many things we can do to create the conditions that support their presence in our everyday lives. Such moments of awe, wonder, and flow may be fleeting, but they can elevate our emotions and mood states as well as transform our ways of thinking about and approaching the world in a positive way. Such benefits make creating environmental supports for transcendence well worth the investment.
Kachan D., Olano H., Tannenbaum S. L., Annane D. W., Mehta A., Arheart K. L., Fleming L. E., Yang X., McClure L. A., Lee D. J. (2017). Prevalence of Mindfulness Practices in the US Workforce: National Health Interview Survey. Preventing Chronic Disease 14:E01. doi: 10.5888/pcd14.160034.
Kaufman, S. B. (2021). Transcend: The New Science of Self Actualization New York: Penguin Random House LLC.
Van Cappellen, P., & Rimé, B. (2014). Positive emotions and self-transcendence. In V. Saroglou (Ed.), Religion, Personality, and Social Behavior New York, NY: Psychology Press.
Yaden, D. B., Haidt J., Hood R. W., Vago D. R., and Newberg A. B. (2017). The varieties of self-transcendent experience. Review of General Psychology 21: 143-160.