The Transcendent Function

I love the word “transcendent” and all its derivations, like transcendentalist, transcendental meditation, and the psychological concept of the transcendent function. The International Cambridge Dictionary defines transcend as “to go beyond or rise above”. During these intense times, this definition conjures for me the image of a person floating up above our planet in space, rising above the conflict, chaos, and confusion, and looking back on humanity with a sense of compassion, calm, and clarity; understanding the higher cosmic order of things and the meaning of it all, or acknowledging the mystery that can never be fully grasped. 

Holding the tension of the opposites

In analytical psychology, the transcendent function refers to the capacity to hold the tension of the opposites (such as the conscious and unconscious, the known and unknown), until “the third” appears. This is not an easy task and seems counterintuitive. When there is tension, why not find a quick release and feel some relief? Why hold the tension, with all its accompanying discomfort and pain? It takes an attitude of patience, trust, and courage to do so. 

As we work our way through the seventh month of COVID-19, the still rising infection rates, teleschool and unemployment, and the much anticipated US general elections next month, it strikes me that we have no choice but to hold the tension of the opposites in our politics and Weltanschauungen, between our current reality and our future dreams (or nightmares), in order to pave the way for something that is waiting to emerge. We must stay vigilant and engaged in order to recognize this “third” when it appears, and to use it as a gift, whatever it may bring, because it will be a reflection of our level of consciousness as a people, a product of our own making. 

Moving beyond

Many of us are approaching the election results and the end of 2020 with both hope and dread, as we straddle the tension of the opposites and find ways to manage it without breaking apart or falling into the abyss. Our task, as I see it, is to continue to find ways to be flexible and open to the changes that are inevitable. To find a home of sorts between confusion and clarity, calm and chaos, right and left, stimulus and response, rising above and sinking below our comfort thresholds, as we move beyond what is now, and into whatever the next phase of life brings.

Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash