Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Transcendence of Reason

Lao Tzu
The Sage learns to transcend, right?

Lau Tzu thought so. The Bible has that bit about being in the world but not of the world. Emerson and Thoreau picked up the ball and ran with it (ran away with it?). Yogis and stressed housewives move to yoga and meditation to transcend the daily lameness of living. Businessmen stand on lawns in industrial complexes in shirts and ties doing Tai Chi before going back in to be told they are not putting up good enough numbers...

I could go on. In fact, I think I will.

People play video games to leave the world. They read novels. They choose ways to forget about their problems. They find "diversions" from "reality." (I put "reality" in quotation marks because I think it is very debatable term. But that is another post.)

Are "diversions" the same thing as "transcendence," though? To me, the two are not the same. Transcendence, as I understand it, is a breaking away from the bonds of "the world" -- the world being everyday life, in all of its manifestations, from work to beddy-bye.

Transcendence, to me, is an active endeavor; or, rather, a conscious action that takes place within the confines of reality. I know this flies in the face of some philosophies. Meditation, for instance, is supposed to be a clearing of the mind; an escape from thought itself. Many say that, if you do it right, you feel yourself leaving your own body -- which is incredibly profound and cool.

Still, that feels more like escape, to me. Don't get me wrong: I love the idea of escaping. But I don't see it as a practical way to live life. It is a nice break, but it doesn't allow one to transcend the morning commute. And  please remember that -- you read it here first -- meditation and driving don't mix.

I am more into transcendence through resoning; logical transcendence. To be free of all worldly concerns is impossible, but one can free one's self from illogical worldly concerns.

It is painfully un-Romantic of a guy who writes music and poetry and novels to say, but, to me, logic is the most important piece of happiness. The ability to reason soundly is the essential ingredient to active transcendence (as opposed to escape or diversion).

Transcendence, as I see it, is exemplified in scenarios like these:

"Things in work are horrible and I have to go home for the night; I can do nothing until work tomorrow, so I will throw away my worries until nine a.m."


"I am in a miserable traffic jam; this is something beyond my control; I will call my wife and say I will be late and I will enjoy the solitude of my car and watch the sun set."


"I have a massive project due in one month; I will do a little each day so that I don't feel the impact."


"I have a massive project due in one month; I know I will be able to complete it within one week, so I will not worry about it until the end of the third week." (I am a fan of controlled procrastination.)


"My father is off the wall with dementia in a nursing home and he is miserable and disagreeable; I will visit him and ride-out the grief and guilt he will pile upon me, and I will leave; when I leave, I will not think about him much, because he is safe and protected and in the care of professionals who are trained to take care of people like him; and, because, my children need all of my attention when I am with them. It is necessary that I not become obsessed with his misfortune, so I will not."


"My phone is ringing; I am at my daughter's softball game; I will not answer it, because the phone is not more important than this particular at-bat. I will be free of my phone by refusing to be at its beck and call." ("Better still, I will not even bring it to her softball game, because my whole family will be there and no one's call is more important.")


"This week is going to be miserable and filled with duties and obligations; it is so and this cannot be changed; I will go through it and get through to the week after, which is not so busy, and I will be happier."


"I am being screamed at on the phone by an irate customer, but, in a few hours, my dog will be cuddled up with me on the couch."

You get the picture. Of course, in each of these scenarios, logic has to gently take anger in its arms, cradle its head, and lay it into its crib for a nap -- otherwise, it won't work.

This is different than meditation and escape -- both of which are very important. This logical transcendence is buttering one's self up and slipping in and out of the bars of life's cage at will. We are all, in some way or another (based on what we want in life) bullied into "normal" life issues. With logic and reason, we can float slightly above these issues, but still keep sight of what is going on around us. Logical transcendence, if you will, is a lunchtime wine buzz; meditation and escapism are a good drunk. Both have their value, but one is truly a way to "be in the world but not of it."

(For the record: As a transcendent logic, I find the Tao Te Ching the most powerful work.  Every human should read it.)

No comments:

Post a Comment