Story and the Pursuit of Transcendence

by | Feb 27, 2020

Why do we write? Why do we read? I ask these two questions often—in my courses, retreats, and even the book I’m working on right now.

With reading, answers come down to understanding ourselves and the world, as well as knowing more and feeling more, including feeling less alone. With writing, we seek to communicate, connect, and make meaning out of the seemingly random events that make up life experience.

This leads me to wonder if, through reading and writing, we are in some way attempting to transcend the problems of life and the angst of existence. If so, why? Maybe the better question is why not? It seems that to not try would be to curtail our own growth, as individuals and as a collective.

The pursuit of transcendence does not mean it’s ever achieved, mind you. In fact, every effort reveals it’s quite impossible, at least in a sustained way while we’re living and breathing. But reading and writing stories seem to be part of this pursuit.

Story recognizes the problems that living in the world brings and it deals with the human desire to transcend our inner and outer conflicts. But it knows, because the psyche knows, that such transcendence is only possible through immersion–through deep absorption of all that is, and a reconciliation with and acceptance of that “all.” This is what we use story for, to greater and lesser degrees, and it’s how story uses us.

The psyche is story. Life is story. The world is story. It’s the way we perceive, understand, and integrate the meaning that allows us to change. To evolve. When we engage with story, we are subconsciously opening ourselves up to this evolutionary possibility, again to greater or lesser degrees. And art, all great art, reveals a glimpse of this potential. We are more–and the world is more–than we perceive in any given moment. Story helps us expand our perception. Stories of ourselves and each other, and of the world around us—through an immersive experience—render us more expanded. It is psychic evolution and it impacts the world in powerful ways.

Did you realize, when you took up writing, that you had joined a revolution of psychic evolution? I’m pretty sure you sensed it, even if you wouldn’t necessarily put it into these words. Because at some level you believed that writing, as a process, vocation, or career, would improve your own life and your Self in some way. Regardless of upheavals, set backs, and complications, your urge to write is like a flower turning toward the sun. It rests on a belief that you are moving toward a greater life force rather than away from it. That’s what humans do. With the life we’re given we reach for that which is life-giving.

Unless something has gone awry—and plenty has, does, and will. But stories can help us find our way back to the original urge to live in the name of life. Not one story but zillions. Because there are as many ways to live as there are people living. Of course, stories themselves can become corrupt and dangerous too. They reflect who we are and how we’re evolving. But most stories, and most writers, turn their words toward the light. And that sustains us.


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