Tagged: Karen Armstrong

Transcendence and Awareness

Image of the night sky above Paranal on 21 July 2007, taken by ESO astronomer Yuri Beletsky

We humans exist as sentient temporal beings in the physical universe, in a galaxy that is one of innumerable others, any number of which, should they have formed with the same optimal developmental and life-sustaining advantages currently enjoyed by those of us in this Milky Way galaxy, might also be harboring some variation of living sentient creatures. While there has been no definitive evidence discovered as yet of any such extraterrestrial civilization or society of intelligent beings, it seems completely within the realm of possibility that others may exist, who might have achieved a similar level of developmental cognition to support an adequate degree of intelligence, provided by some sort of fertile cognitive apparatus, leading them to also wonder about their own evolution, purpose, and future. Such beings might even be presently casting their gaze beyond their own galaxy, searching as we are for some evidence of the existence of intelligence outside of their own sphere in whatever distant region of the universe they may be.

The physical universe, from all we have been able to discern over the centuries as earthbound cognitive creatures, is governed by physical laws that are necessary in order for everything we see in the universe to exist in the first place. We should not then be surprised, especially as physical constructs in that same universe, that we exist physically and possess physical systems that sustain us within our bodies, as a result of those same laws. However, regardless of the character and nature of the laws governing physical existence, as necessary as they are, given that we could not exist temporally without them, in no way eliminates other potential layers of existence that may have contributed to and continue to give some degree of form and substance to our existence as we currently experience it on our planet.


The stationary state |531> of the hydrogen atom. This image shows an isosurface of the position probability density. The colors describe the complex phases of the wave function according to the standard color map. Created with QuantumGL © 2004 B.Thaller

With the help of modern physics and following the discoveries in the field of quantum theory, we have recently uncovered serious indications that our physical universe is composed of matter and energy that is not only essential and ubiquitous, but also invisible and mysterious. Since this matter neither emits nor absorbs light, we call it “dark matter,” and since the influence of the energy that supports it is clearly discernible, but curiously inexplicable, we call it “dark energy,” but what the names indicate more than anything is that we simply don’t know how to describe and do not fully comprehend the exact nature of the universe.

As a consequence of our evolutionary and biological inheritance, and as a result of our steady progress over millennia as cognitively self-aware creatures, we are able to debate the many implications of that progress, and also to speculate regarding what might account for our existence, beyond what might be explicable within the context of our current level of understanding. It’s completely reasonable to suppose that much of what we may eventually come to understand as the true nature of temporal existence will be explained by what we observe or determine through empirical means, even in the realm of “dark matter and energy,” in spite of how they are currently beyond our ability to perceive directly.

Is it possible that we exist not simply as a consequence of our cosmic and human evolution, but also by virtue of an underlying non-physical existence? Since we must acknowledge that much of our temporal reality remains outside of our comprehension currently, what would make any of us inclined to investigate, contemplate, and attempt to articulate the concept of a “transcendent reality,” when the physical universe itself still remains a mystery?

“For human beings transcendence is part of our experience of the world. In the course of… compassionate behavior…you encounter another transcendent reality.”


– Karen Armstrong, a former nun, and teaches Christianity at Leo Baeck College

My own inclinations seem to have begun to form during my early childhood, beginning with my earliest recollections of existing in the physical world. The character of my very first memories, before I had been introduced to the rigors of formal religious training, and before being indoctrinated by “social norms” during the years of my formal education, I fully accepted the notion of a transcendent reality, although I could neither fully comprehend it nor express it as such at the time. In retrospect, what I was able to acknowledge and accept as “normal,” before I fully grasped what I was experiencing, was a temporal reality that included an awareness of some part of my existence that originated from beyond the limits of my senses, and I did not question the validity of my experiences in this regard until I was well into the formal religious and educational process–a process that diverted me from engaging those aspects of my awareness for many years afterwards.

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“There is a second phase that Jung called the transcendental function. This function has the capacity to unify the opposite tendencies of the personality.The goal of transcendence is the realization of all aspects of the personality as they were originally concealed in the one’s center, and the development of the potential unity. The transcendence is the means to realize the unity of the archetype of the Self.” – The Hero’s Journey on http://www.psychoideology.com/

Even as we acknowledge our current limitations regarding our comprehension of the temporal and the transcendent, our awareness of a transcendent reality, particularly as it relates to our existence in the first place, can be experienced subjectively in a state of “transcendent awareness.” As Carl Jung suggested by his idea of the “transcendent function,” consciousness is the catalyst for the manifestation of our understanding and perception–the juxtaposition of each component in the equation–leading to an awareness of the transcendent source of all things.

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