The demands of everyday living mean that we need to spend a fair amount of time doing fairly mundane things like earning a living and managing a household. These can be quite enjoyable, of course, and offer us some degree of fulfilment, but we have to be wary of the danger of allowing all the mundane stuff to squeeze out opportunities for those things that go beyond the day-to-day basics.
The literature relating to spirituality (whether religious spirituality or not) uses fairly obscure terms like transcendence, exaltation and the numinous, often without offering any explanation of what they mean. It’s worth considering each of these in turn because, despite their obscurity, they are important ideas.
To transcend literally means to go beyond. It is therefore used in a spiritual sense to refer to going beyond the everyday, to finding something more meaningful than day-to-day activities and concerns. It is linked to the idea of ‘connectedness’, the notion of connecting with something bigger than ourselves, whether that be a cause, a belief system, a set of people or whatever. Such connectedness can be an important part of what makes our lives meaningful.
Exaltation refers to the experience of joy, a sense of stepping beyond (transcendence again!) our everyday feelings, rising above them to a higher plane of happiness. The reason I am mentioning this here is that getting bogged down in everyday matters can stand in the way of any such exaltation. We can become so focused on our mundane challenges that we lose sight of the things (and people) in our lives that can bring us joy.
The numinous is used to describe those experiences that are distinctive and meaningful in some way, things that stand out as very special and awe inspiring. It could refer to natural phenomena, such as a splendid sunset, a beautiful forest, a magnificent mountain range. But it would also include a wider range of experiences, such as giving birth (or being present at a birth) and other special, emotionally intense moments where we feel our humanity acutely. For religious people this could be equated with those aspects of life that are thought of as ‘divine’, but experiences of the numinous are not restricted to people of faith.
The theme that unites these three ideas is that of not allowing day-to-day pressures (however important and pressing they may be) to leave little or no room for the more special aspects of life. And, underpinning that is the importance of awe and wonder – the ability to rise above what the textbooks call ‘normalcy’.
It is important to emphasise that I am not advocating that we should abandon or neglect our everyday concerns. Rather, it is a case of not limiting ourselves to those concerns and to make sure that we are open to the many opportunities for awe and wonder that are around us if we know how and where to look.
Awe and wonder can arise at any time, sometimes when we least expect them, but there is no need to sit back and wait for them to happen – it is also possible to seek them out. You may struggle with this at first, but it is worth persevering with what is involved, as the longer you do it, the more successful you are likely to be. You can also learn a great deal from seeing how other people make use of awe and wonder, how they manage to rise above the daily grind and get the benefits of doing so. Or perhaps you are already very good at it, in which case you can perhaps help others to learn how to do it.