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Reply To: The Hour Yields, with Mythologist Joanna Gardner, Ph.D.


I very much enjoyed this Mythblast in its storytelling, descriptions, and the idea about time. To me, the passage of time–as natural as it is–can in many ways feel like such a ‘strange’ thing. Time is probably one of my biggest complexes in life–how much time I have to do this or that or even to stay here on earth (!), how time goes by, etc. I love the quote below:

“The still point follows the last thing and precedes the next thing.”

Transcendence: When “the still point follows the last thing and precedes the next thing,” when there is a bridge between the two, between the one thing and the “other,” whether from here to there, this object to that, or me to you or you to me.  Or, a transition. What if any difference might there be between transcendence and transition?

Transcendence is thought to have a “risen” quality–one that rises above the moment–therefore it rings of a feeling of the numinous–or mysterious. Transition can be more “mundane” such as making a transition from one plane to another plane on a flight, or making a transition from one paragraph to another–not that those paragraph transitions are never numinous! We transition from one place to another or one thought to another.

That moment “of perception when past and future both hold the baton of our awareness. It reverberates with memory and foreknowledge, echoing into eternity” is transcendent, a time when, Joanna writes, in our consciousness, “duality relaxes its grip.” I think here about how in the Tao the circle holds the pair of opposites in one place—within that sphere– and in that circle there is also its center. Transcendence is when the people or places or objects meet in the center or the middle. I also here think about the “memories and ideas of foreknowledge echoing into eternity” as experienced when a loved one dies as Joanna writes about. We perceive that moment we hear about the death as a still moment–we have a hard time thinking of that person as dead and still envision our loved one as alive and the wonderful moments we have had with that loved one—as if they are still moving, animated, alive, and not still. Yet, we feel still. I am finding this idea of stillness interesting to think about and find myself musing about it in terms of transcendence.

Here I wish I had the right Campbell quote to insert!

Here I could also insert a definition of Jung’s theory of transcendence. You can find a good description of it on Daryl Sharp’s Jung Lexicon which can be found online.

Jack Kornfield, in an essay on “Finding the Middle Way,” writes,

The middle way describes the middle ground between attachment and aversion, between being and non-being, between form and emptiness, between free will and determinism. The more we delve into the middle way the more deeply we come to rest between the play of opposites. Sometimes Ajahn Chah described it like a koan, where “there is neither going forward, nor going backward, nor standing still.”  To discover the middle way, he went on, “Try to be mindful, and let things take their natural course. Then your mind will become still in any surroundings, like a clear forest pool. All kinds of wonderful, rare animals will come to drink at the pool, and you will clearly see the nature of all things. You will see many strange and wonderful things come and go, but you will be still. This is the happiness of the Buddha.”  (Retrieved from Kornfield’s Buddhist website) (emboldened emphasis mine) (I did not put the link in here because I usually have a hard time doing it in this forum)

In this Mythblast about stillness, it is very moving to heart and soul that Joanna opens her essay with the story of the death of her father, of receiving the news, then describing the landscape where she then goes hiking in the mountains.  Suddenly, I am imaginally taken to the mountains out west from the flatter lands with no mountains where I live in the east. That is transcendence. Then I feel in sympathy with Joanna about her father’s death, feel her moment of stillness when she hears he has died; I remember that moment of stillness when my father died, and when I first heard the doctor tell him, “You can either get treatments or ride this out for a few months, Joe.” I remember watching my father’s face so closely while my dad made his decision and the whole room went still—or felt like it was. There again is transcendence in that still moment when two different people (a pair of opposites) have similar experiences that bridge them; we make associations and go from one thing to the other and they are held there together though in a way that “rises” above the opposites. The “play of opposites” can be the imaginal associations we make.

Then I think about death as that still moment when the body becomes still at the moment of death when just a moment before the body held a person who was “still alive” (we use the word still that way too—to show something that yet sustains as if that something is suspended in time. Then I think of how blatantly death or hearing that a person has died shows that difference between “being and non-being”, and “form and emptiness,” as Kornfield writes above.

The word time has the word “emit” in it: times emits history of people and things, the being and non-being of things, and invokes to emits our feelings about these things.

Suspend or suspension shares the root word with suspense. When we hear something that emits that sense of timelessness, that stillness, when we entertain imaginally our memories of our loved ones who have passed on before us, we are is a mode of suspension on the bridge or suspense—as we go from here to there and back again.

I included the Buddhist quotes above not because I think this experience is only Buddhist, but just because I liked some of the descriptions used to explain that sense of timeless moments and bridging gaps of here to there. I think about the universality of these still moments as part of the human experience (and I think animals have these too, like in that moment that they are playing with a favorite toy and hear the word “vet” and freeze for a moment before dashing off to hide, or in that moment that a deer hears a tree branch snap when it stands up alert ready to run out from under the tree. I wonder about symbols in various myths/religions that demonstrate that suspension in time between here and there, such as Christ hanging in suspended animation on the cross and the cross being even in the shape of the four directions and then he is said to have ascended upward into heaven, transcending that pain of the crucifixion. I am also thinking of various myths about trees and hanging, such as the Hanged Man of the Tarot, or Odin hanging on the tree in Norse Myth.

A few years back, I wrote a paper on The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy that involved notions of time and transcendence that was published in a depth psychology journal. I will share it in the forum where we can share our own work–it is timely now in this holiday season also for those who love The Nutcracker.