The transcendent surpasses the range of an ordinary human experience. For Aristotle, this meant beyond enumeration in his ten Categories of the kind of things higher than the physical and concrete world of objects, the subject of human propositions, contrary to the world existing apart from limitations of the material universe. Transcendent stems from the Latin verb transcendere, ‘climbing-over’, which can be interpreted from late Middle English as a leaping-over, into the imagination; knowing something from the inside-out. Once one has climbed, then a slight notion of the truth is revealed, or grasped – nearly all philosophers have spoken at some length on the subject; Kant termed it ‘realisation’, Burke thought of it as relating to the ‘sublime’, and so on.
Jordan Peterson, the recent Canadian scholar making public rounds, has spoken of the transcendent as that which is richer than our apprehension, and is therefore a reality outside of our perceptions and memory. A somewhat Aristotelian approach, this suggests that the human being is in a state of ignorance and can only transcend once they realise this error of ourselves. In other words, the reality on the other side is more real than the reality we perceive. This has other-worldly connotations with exciting possibilities: the chance of a glorious Kingdom beyond the senses, behind the veil, above the clouds; wherever we immediately are not, as limited by our physical appearances. C.S. Lewis said something similar of ‘Nature’ when he suggested that ‘we are summoned to pass in through Nature, beyond her, into that splendour which she fitfully reflects.’ This ‘splendour’ beyond is something that we all desire, and, according to Lewis, it is very familiar to anyone who has come close to a transcendental experience, or the Christian faith.
What are some of the ways to get there? Peterson pleads with his students to appreciate art, literature, and music, with an unprecedented love; to restore their faith in the transcendental properties of beauty within the arts. He suggests that one can start out with the small things in life, for example, by hanging a favourite painting on their bedroom wall, therefore finding reconciliation within beautiful surroundings, and, as a result (presumably from feeling good), being more open and able to love thy neighbour, and so on, until he talks about forgiveness, and ultimately, the virtues bestowed upon us by Jesus Christ. Increasingly, the transcendental becomes a Christian theology, communicating something to us from beyond, transcribing the life of all Souls, whom are belonging to God. If you transcend, for example with Nature, then your soul opens up to the universe and God’s creation, leading to an experience of praise and gratitude. The world, or God, addresses you, and ceases to be a mere accumulation of facts.
Gifted authors offer us a glimpse at this. If you have read great fiction, then you know that it can become very real indeed. The fictional character of interest becomes a composite of many people that you somehow already know; things described are those belonging to a common humanity, and once you place yourself in their position, be it the prosecutor or the accused, or both, then you actively begin to participate in the event: the suffering, the redemption, the love, the trials and tribulations, and so on. The key to the what might be termed a transcendental experience here, is the reader ‘living’ as ‘another’ and not as a ‘self’. This acceptance in the direction of a story being told, if it is told well, teaches us, the reader (or the audience of a good film or a stage-play), to love. It celebrates in us the acceptance, and the triumph, of whatever morality act has been staged – all the great works of literature have thankfully been love defeating negativity, or good over evil, virtue against vice, and so on, therefore according to Gospel wisdom.
Perhaps then, the transcendental mode of being is that which chiefly involves love; a strong desire to willingly participate in what you have loved (in the humanities and Nature), and repeatedly to do so, until it turns inside-out; until one climbs-over the imagination into an interpersonal relationship with love, or, as I like to experience it, with God.