Emotional Health: Self-Transcendence, Part 1


Self-Transcendence, Part 1

Rabbi Dov Heller

I can think of no more enlivening and pleasurable experience than self-transcendence—and no greater pain than self-absorption.

Self-transcendence is perhaps the greatest need of a human being. Individuals can transcend the self by connecting to something greater than themselves. A life of self-absorption; focusing on my success, my happiness, my problems, my growth, and my love life leaves one feeling empty and lifeless.

Jim Houdan, the author of The Art of Engagement, identifies four elements of self-transcendence:

  1. To be a part of something greater than ourselves, some kind of cause
  2. To feel a sense of belonging, in that one feels he has a home where he feels appreciated and accepted
  3. To feel one is on a meaningful journey
  4. To know that one’s contributions matter, are significant, valued, and are making an impact.

People try to fulfill the need to self-transcend in many ways, such as involvement in sports teams, becoming groupies, attending rock concerts, political activism, and all the “isms” that unite people in an experience which forges a connection to something greater than themselves. Many of these experiences are meaningless and offer little to the betterment of humanity, but they demonstrate how great the need is for self-transcendence.

What is at the core of a person’s total obsession with a sports team, listening to talk radio, following each player’s performance, talking ad nauseum about the team’s chances to win? Being a fan means being a part of something “greater” than yourself, being part of a community of fans who are all working together to help the team win. And what if the team does win it all—has the team accomplished anything truly meaningful and worthwhile? It’s not that important. What motivates the sports fan is the experience of being connected to something greater than him or herself.

Are you living a life of self-transcendence or self-absorption? What do you really care about other than yourself and your success? If you are connected to something greater than yourself, is it to something meaningful?

The purpose of a human being is to achieve true self-realization. The path to achieving complete self-realization is the path of self-transcendence. No amount of personal success can provide deep personal fulfillment. Ironically, to fulfill ourselves, we must transcend ourselves, as the great sage Hillel said, “If I’m not for myself, who will be? And if I’m only for myself, what am I?”