Transcending the self

Lynne McTaggart

When astronaut Edgar Mitchell was returning from his flight to the moon, he had an epiphany that would change his life. Staring out the window of the Kittyhawk, he experienced a feeling of connectedness, as if all the planets and all the people of all time were attached by some invisible web. It was an overwhelmingly visceral feeling, as if he was physically extending out to the furthest reaches of the cosmos. In a single instant, he had discovered and felt The Field.
All of us at one point or another in our lives have experienced this moment: a sense of unity with all things and with the life force — during a dream or some altered state of consciousness, or at a moment in childhood, or even while intensely in love. It could be a moment of precognition, when we intuitively sense something or see into the future. It could be a dream about our purpose in life or perhaps during a profound moment of meditation or self-hypnosis. 
Arguably the world’s authority on cosmic consciousness and the altered states of consciousness is American parapsychologist and author Dr Charles Tart, who has been investigating normal and altered states of consciousness for more than 40 years. Tart uses the term ‘cosmic consciousness’, coined by physician Robert Maurice Bucke in 1961, and also his definition: “The prime characteristic of cosmic consciousness is, as the name implies, a consciousness of the cosmos, that is, of the life and order of the universe.”
Similar episodes
According psychologist William James, all cosmic-consciousness experiences tend to have some similarities: the experience is usually spontaneous — you don’t turn in on like a tap; it tends to be transient — usually lasting about half an hour and rarely for more than two hours; the people involved invariably feel a sense of unity with all things as a ‘seamless whole’. They also have a sense of knowingness, says Tart, quoting James: “a direct insight into the nature of reality that is self validating”, resulting in a sense of authority and certainty about them in the future.
Finally, there is a sense of the ineffable nature of the experience, says Tart. It is utterly different from any other state of consciousness they’ve experienced, and can’t be described in words, or even by simile or metaphor.
Sense of interconnection
However individual the moment, there are several aspects that distinguish it as cosmic awareness.  In that moment, you move away from the tight boundaries of the ‘self’ of your own ego and embrace a more oceanic feeling of unity with the entire universe, with a sense of interconnectedness with all things. There is also an inner knowing that things will never be the same again.
It is invariably a profoundly transforming experience, usually lasting the rest of your life, having opened a window into a reality you never knew existed.
It also may be the experience that forces you to make an abrupt change in your life, as it did with Edgar Mitchell, who left NASA after returning to earth to found the Institute of Noetic Sciences. 
At the end of his life, the American psychologist Abraham Maslow (1908–1970) turned his attention to these types of peak experiences.
Although all of us are capable of having a transcendent moment, it was Maslow’s view that certain people were more predisposed to experience them than others. Maslow came to believe this after studying the biographies and writings of historical figures who’d had such an experience ¬ - Albert Einstein, Aldous Huxley, William James, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt and Albert Schweitzer ¬¬- for similarities of character. Maslow characterized all these notables as ‘self-actualized’, and noted that, as a whole, they
•  were problem-centered, viewing life’s difficulties clinically as a problem to be solved, not a personal issue inspiring anger or defeat
•   believed that the means — the journey of life — was often more important than the end result
•   enjoyed and were comfortable with solitude, but had deeper personal relations with a few close friends and family
•   liked to be independent of physical and social needs
•  were non-conformists without the need to be either well-adjusted or fit in a social situation
•  had a gentle sense of humor, able to joke at their own expense, or at the world
•   accepted both themselves and others as they were rather than changing them to what they should be; preferred to be themselves, too 
•   were motivated to improve their own worst qualities
•  were often quite conformist on the surface
•  felt a sense of humility and respect toward others
•  had a social conscience and compassion
•  had a strong sense of ethics and spirituality, but rarely a conventional religion
•  retained a sense of wonder
What all of these notables shared, in short, was a tendency to remain free of small and self-interested concerns and to recognize in every way that they were part of a greater whole.
That ties in with the work of neuroscientists about such experiences. Eugene d’Aquili, of the University of Pennsylvania, and Andrew Newberg, a fellow of the university hospital’s nuclear medicine program, carried out a two-year study of Tibetan monks. They found that feelings of calm, unity and transcendence, such as during peak moments, show up as more activity in the brain’s frontal lobes (behind the forehead) with less activity in the parietal lobes (at the back of the top of the head).
This part of the brain is responsible for the sense of ‘I’ and ‘other’. During this mystical experience, the ‘I’ part of the brain gets dampened down. What this suggests is the fundamental purpose of a transcendent moment:  to turn us into a bigger ‘self’ so that we move beyond the small sense of ‘I’ to the limitless sense of ‘us’.
Tart quotes Bucke’s own mystical experience as feeling “that the universe is so built and ordered that without any peradventure, all things work together for the good of each and all, that the foundation principle of the world is what we call love and that the happiness of every one is in the long run absolutely certain”. There is often a sense of ‘God’, but more as the ‘Absolute’ than the anthropomorphic god of organized religion. This feeling is our birthright – our natural state of being.
Notice that his overwhelming sense of oneness included a ‘liberty and justice for all’ sensation.  His own transcendence required a similar situation for everyone.
We can recover wholeness in our lives and recapture our sense of the transcendent on a daily basis, but it requires a very different set of rules than the ones we currently live by.
We have to ask ourselves some fundamental questions.  We must look at our lives from an entirely different perspective, a larger vantage point, so that we finally see the interconnection. Once we change the very way we see, we may begin to experience the connections that tie us all together.

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Lynne McTaggart

Lynne McTaggart is an award-winning journalist and the author of seven books, including the worldwide international bestsellers The Power of Eight, The Field, The Intention Experiment and The Bond, all considered seminal books of the New Science and now translated into some 30 languages.

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37 comments on “Transcending the self”

  1. personal opinion .. all these anecdotes and examples and types of evidence about this transcendental state are not helpful for an individual ... until afterward
    they serve only to reinforce the intellect, and concepts, and ideas .. all the things that must be slipped off

  2. I think this connectedness that's emerging within the collective consciousness is being out-pictured more and more through technology.
    It's hard for people to grasp that love, joy, and equanimity are the foundations of the universe.
    But it's easier for people to understand that we're all connected.
    And like Gregory said, it's all theory until it's experienced. And all the people mentioned above and documented throughout history have experienced it. And that experience has changed their lives.
    So then the question becomes how can we as leaders help to facilitate those experiences?
    Or do people come into them on their own?
    Thanks Lynne for everything that you do!

  3. There have been two experiences in the last 6 years that have really rocked my boat! I could no more find adequate words to describe what I experienced because all that I felt and thought during that time was beyond words.
    It would be similar to trying to describe the wind, or better yet God.
    What I can recall is for that day, in each instance, I could not really think or do anything other than just be an observer. I don't even recall wanting to think or try to record in some way what was happening. It seems that all that mattered was the experience and the moment.
    I realize that the ego would want me to stay in what has already past, yet I continue to be in the moment. And it's true. One such incident left me changed forever! Two, is beyond measure even more than the first.
    One thing seems certain to me. This is the way it is supposed to be.

  4. Hi Alan: if you're on FB I would love a friend request from you. Thanks for sharing your experiences here.

  5. Thanks for describing what is possible, Lynn. Many scientists and people had these kinds of experiences but it takes a good writer like you to articulate the ephemeral. I have many of these "peak experiences" but the most incredible was when I was training for a marathon running on the streets of Burnaby and looking towards the Northshore mountains a few miles away. For a few seconds, I was looking at a leave of a tree in the far distance as it was inches away. There was oneness with all there is and fundamentally, there was no separation between myself and the leaf. I was never the same again. Unity consciousness is so transformative and blissful.
    Thanks for all that you do to educate the masses.

  6. I see clearly, I hear clearly, I feel subtle vibrations, earth changes. Why, that I have yet to understand. I know September 2010 is important and changes will occur within the environment. I have linked into this website, not my usual network. I knew about zero frequency before I heard about the field. I touched others lives who were reading about 'the field' in 2007. My awareness leapt leaps and bounds in 2005. Increasing in 2007, balanced 2008, regressed 2009. 2010 I find myself typing here! Thank you for the oppertunity to share my thoughts.

  7. I'm aware I have been touching area's in peoples lives that cause them to forget more than they remember, I'm getting used to this phenomemon.

  8. I am grateful to have had a number of these experiences myself. It all began 45 years ago when I faced directly into a tragedy, surprising myself by being quiet and calm. I soon asked three questions: Who are You, God? What am I? and What's it all about?
    I tried to just let go and wait for the answers to my questions, trying to keep up as simple a life as I could in the meantime. It took three months for the first utterly transformative experience. It came suddenly, unpredictably, and did change my whole perspective about myself as not alone but part of a unitive Being that is love. I could and did begin to live like that!
    This new "seeing" has unfolded more and more. I credit everything to trying to be present to the Presence in the present moment--to be sure not to miss the new surprises. Nobody else can do this for me, nor I for anybody else, but I think we're being reached to, and I'm hoping for enough of us to be opening to a cumulative effect that will transform not only individuals but all of humanity. It's a big dream, but why not?
    It seems important to share such experiences for the reinforcement and good of all. Thank you, Lynne.
    There have been many more quite new "seeings"

  9. I had this experience in great clarity during an acid trip when I was 21. I never took acid again - as I had found what went looking remains the most real moment of my life still, and informs everything I think and do - as Redgum ( great Ausssie band) said "It'll be all right in the long run" Lost all fear of dying, and see our being as a gift beyond comprehension, as we merge and re-emerge with and from the field again and again

  10. History of The Stars
    A point of orgin...and an unimaginable distance for light to travel, through time, for us to see
    A moment in consideration of past admirers to the symphony that is the night sky
    A vast portrait of the cosmos on bold display for
    a current an endless and timeless spirit
    An abundance of emotion through silence,a special quietness only to admire under the light of the moon, in the dark, at night
    With love , and the History of The Stars TM
    I experienced a degree of transcendence before,during and after writing this poem. It was so heartfelt that it almost wrote itself that I was a conduit or facilitator.
    Not that it is any great working of poetry but the experience I had was a connected feeling of sorts and thats the feeling I get when I look at the night sky.The only thing I can bring to the table when I see the stars at night is my ability of love and to love and that I share that feeling with everyone who has had the simlar experience when they looked apon the night sky.
    It truely is an individualy profound experience that is collectivly shared .

  11. I always believe in this theory,and I also think we are connected with all the things in the world.Humans can feel some indescribable perception.That seems like a religious problem:why do we feel like that?Maybe something unknown power make ue feel like that or integrate us even the whole universe toghther.And the unknown power maybe come from God.That's just my hypothesis,because of those peculiar things that human can't explain in the world.
    Sometimes belief is such a good thing,it give us more space to think about the problems,we can just think and make our supposition without doing experiments,in most time religion and science are discussing and researching the same problem.
    [I know that my logic and expression is muddled,I can't express it clearly, human is such a strange organism]

  12. I often get these states of consciouness whilst surfing, but there is a preparation process, I have to go down to surf alone and be out in the water alone and be in total solitude in a wilderness situation.
    In response to Gregory and Ian, it is unfortunate that we have to rationalise the experience in order to communicate about it. It isn't ideal, but if we can look past the 'theory' and know that these states are possible and even common place, people will be more inclined to 'tune-in' and what's more understand the process. It is pretty freaky first time round. I always find a nice gentle reference to this phenomenon by James Redfield in the 'Celestine Prophecy'

  13. I have experienced many episodes of being somewhere where time does not exist and inner connectedness to all living things.
    Two separate ways of feeling.
    I can feel connected to every living thing at any time.
    I have experienced a state of mind during deep meditations were time does not exist.
    These two states of being are very different.

  14. Have I had such experiences? I think so, but I am never sure because, as has already been said, there are really no words to describe them. I most often feel this when I am on a beach watching the waves crash on the shore and realizing the immensity of the oceans.
    One problem with such feelings is that one never is able to look at humanities' tendency to make war in the same way. I do understand that there may be times when "kill or be killed" applies, but if we are truly interconnected, and I believe we are, how can we kill one another?
    When I slip into a peak experience, I am in touch with what has been called the "Knower" inside each of us. Still, it is almost impossible to be sure if I hear the "Knower" or only my own Ego. The "Knower" is certain of everything. I am certain of nothing really.

  15. Interestingly, Edgar Mitchell was not the only astronaut whose view was changed by his experience in space. Buzz Aldrin has written some interesting thoughts on this very subject.
    My view on this is that the part of us that is not incarnated here, does see itself as a part of the whole Cosmos (which it is) and when we can link with that part, it gives us to some degree, that same view of unity. Natural surroundings help to bring about this link and the scene that Ivan described, alone on the sea surfing, sounds perfect. I suspect thought that his appreciation of the sea, as one of the wonders of Creation, had much to do with the experience.

  16. Tim M. nice.............peace everyone. I love you and love this site. Thank You for so much ..

  17. I just saw Edgar Mitchell speak 3 days ago. Although he was speaking on sustainability, he mentioned his epiphany and that probably everyone has this same connectedness experience at some point. This from Ms. McTaggart has helped me understand my own a bit better as well as the importance of what you do after the experience--what you take forward and give back.

  18. I experienced this Transcendental state during a Core Transformation and Meditation. As you say, words, emotions or movement cannot describe it adequately.
    Interconnectedness, or in my revelation, Unity with the all was the major theme.

  19. So lovely just to read all of your experiences and thoughts. I myself was propelled into an awareness greater than little old me after reading Jane Robertson "Seth Speaks" it must have flung open doors to my consciousness reading those words and dispelling the limitations previously imposed upon me. I went out of body and was left with a curiosity and wonder ever since

  20. Is it possible for humans to experience other dimensions? Are we multilayered beings with the capacity to communicate with non-physical dimensions? Of course the answer is 'yes'. Since 1994 when I had a series of spontaneous spiritual experiences I have investigated this issue in order to understand what happened to me, my thinking and altered emotional state. Most significant is probably my meeting with the 'gate keeper' which Steiner describes and which the famous Danish writer Soren Kierkegaard and French philosopher Blaise Pascal probably also met but mention in terms which are understood only by people who themselves have had this scary experience where both fire and 'earthquakes' play an important part.
    I've written a book about my experiences - in Danish - but hope to make the text available in English at some point this year. Please check my website for free, non-commercial use of the book by anyone interested in a psychological/philosophical way of understanding this important phenomenon.

  21. What do people say of visionary's nowaday's? When the government suggests that Mediums must state 'entertainment purpose', none of my work with spirit has entertainment value, I'll leave that to the comedians, singers, and variety performers. I'm blessed to have good friends and family. Sat in circle with the worlds best 'Mediums'. Contributed to lives. My work with spirit takes many forms.

  22. I see through the soul of most that I meet. If they too can connect through spirit, they see my true self. They feel my presence without even being introduced. Some duck and turn away. Some blend with my energy, engage and exchange.

  23. I am a guarded individual. I treat people with respect on their insight. I trust in my reason. I understand my experiences I cannot express in words. When two souls meet the understanding becomes clear. Do you know why you are here? I do.

  24. As I work with spirit on certain day's and set times. I trust the message will reach as and when it should.

  25. Sounds like people have made contact with Holy Ghost from within times outward body experiences alike déjà vu which means we’re premortal spirit (beings) or intelligences before birth and remembering contact with plan of salvation spoken by Creators’ design realities we live for as our end time suggestions here on earth or like near death experiences and alive to allusiion for such experiences, to public reference.

  26. Every once in a while I'm reamazed at the incredible scope and focal range of the human eye. One can look at the close up details of letters and words on a page, turn and glance around in the local environment and especially at night look out upon the enormous display of galaxies of light and darkness. My upbringing and tendencies instructed me to pretend disconnectedness from almost everything these eyes could see. However, one day, on the way home from practicing tai chi in a small park, I looked down at the grass along the sidewalk and was startled to find that I could feel the grass in an area 10 to 15 feet out from me as though I were physically touching it with my fingers, with as much tactile sense. That kind of tactile sense aligning with the visual has been growing in frequency and expanse. Sometimes, people I'm casually watching walking along a street of shops, would be loudly broadcasting their thoughts and moods, though seemingly unaware that their mental volume was turned up, or that my disconnect mechanisms had been disabled for the moment. When connectedness occurs without the benefit of the ability to relax the mind or to turn down the volume on the human antenna, the temptation might be to further densify the walls of our cocoons. Thank you, Lynne, for providing a relaxed setting for sharing of experiences and insights on this topic. If we're making the U-turn back toward a more interpersonally shared sense of unity, we may be finding the pavement a bit slippery in spots, and the tendency still exists to tap on the brakes a bit.

  27. Thank you, Vladimir, for letting me know about La Belle Verte. The use of the word "disconnect" as PK technique in the film is quite different than the way I was using it above. Since you indulged in a bit of mud slinging on your post 16 above, I'm not inclined to discuss the matter in greater detail.

  28. Now I understand that the "oneness" experiences that I have had, are shared by many at sometime or another in their life. Maybe not the same circumstances but the same conscious awakening.
    i.e.. (1) Laying down under a tree in the park with rays of sun beaming through the leaves on the tree when I was a young girl. I totally felt absolutely no separation from me and all that was around me at that moment. The ground under me, the tree, the leaves, the sun, the voices/sounds I heard in the background, the air, we were all one. I am not sure how long I was able to remain in that state of consciousness, which by the way I recall being very blissful, but for sure long enough for me to remember it forever.
    (2) Feeling what seemed like a physical nudge on my right shoulder at a time when I was well into adulthood and was walking alone with no one else in my presence. My state of consciousness transformed immediately from depressed and heavily burdened to total optimism and confidence concerning my life and it's future. Within a month from this experience my life took on a 360 degree turn about from where it was at the time of the shoulder nudge.
    I have experienced many more but the above two stand out in my mind right now.

  29. It is interesting and refreshing to know there are others (besides Theodora) who have experienced like moments. Mine have been many, not easily explained and sometimes frightening to others. I have seen actual fear in the eyes of strangers who know there is something in my presence that commands reverence and they either embrace it (once they surrender) or they move aware, because they have not clue of what is happening. All of this occurs without my having to utter a word. I have been told on more than one occassion that there is an "aura" around me. Those who have shared this are strangers to each other,cite their observations years apart but all claim it is there and it is "blue". I've always known that I traveled to the tune of a different drummer, a tune that has a tactile sense. I can literally feel sound and hear colors. Those they senses are crossed I have a feeling of inner peace that defies explanation. To know that there are others who understand and accept this "difference" is comforting. Let us pray that this gift will allow us to give comfort and peace to those who have not yet come to understand what we have know and are obviously meant to share

  30. Please forgive my mistakes in documenting my feelings. It has been a long day and my fingers have a mind of their own. They tend to move about the keyboard at will, not always adhering to grammer or words that are correctly connected. Have a good one!!!!

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