Have you ever had an experience where you felt connected to something greater than yourself? If so, you had a transcendent experience. Transcendent experiences move us beyond our individual ego-sense of who we are and help us to perceive ourselves differently. As a result, they can help us feel connected to the world around us and find a greater sense of meaning and purpose in life.  Research suggests that these kinds of experiences can have a health-enhancing or salutogenic effect.  In other words, transcendent experiences can support your general health which is valuable whether you’re healthy or sick, or young or old.
Therefore, because of my orientation as a therapist, I believe that this is an important topic for exploration. That is why in this blog post, I’ll be looking more closely at transcendent experiences. I’ll describe what they are and how they can benefit your health. In a follow-up post, I’ll look more closely at music and transcendence. That post will also look at ways I use music to promote these kinds of experiences in my work with people at different stages of life.
What Transcendent Experiences Are
But first, let’s look at what transcendent experiences are. Some people might want to dismiss the benefit of transcendent experiences while others may see them as frivolous or unnecessary. There may be some people who use these kinds of experiences as a way to escape.
Yet, transcendent experiences have been a consistent part of human existence. People throughout time have experienced transcendence in a variety of ways. As the philosopher, Jules Evans writes, “There seems to be a common human yearning for the transcendent, even if people follow that yearning to different destinations.” 
Some of these ways people experience transcendence include:
- Being out in nature 
- Engaging in some form of religious or spiritual practice 
- Meditating 
- Making music or listening to music 
- Using certain psychoactive drugs 
- Having a near-death experience. 
While people have had these experiences throughout history, finding the words to describe these kinds of experiences can be hard. As a result of this, people throughout history have used a variety of terms and names to describe them. Some of these terms are “peak experience,” “flow,” “clear light,” and “objective consciousness.”  Other terms include “Cosmic Consciousness,” “God Experience,” “Mystic Experience,” “The Numinous,” or “Objective Consciousness.” 
As these terms illustrate, the transcendent isn’t limited to the spiritual or religious domains only, even though some people may associate them as such. The fields of transpersonal and positive psychology have been looking at these kinds of experiences through a secular lens. This is because these experiences are so universal.
Nonetheless, it’s important to note that a person’s background has an impact on how these experiences are understood. A person’s background also influences the terms they use to describe these experiences. Because of this, as a therapist, I hold space for the many ways clients may experience transcendence.
The Impact That These Kinds of Experiences Can Have
Since we can experience the transcendent in different ways, the impact that these experiences have on us also can vary. For some people, these kinds of experiences may be brief, singular events that they experience one or a few times. Another term for these kinds of experiences is “green” transcendence. While the experience(s) can have a powerful impact on them, it is perhaps not long-lasting. Examples of activities that can induce these experiences include being out in nature, using certain drugs, or engaging with music.
However, transcendent experiences can also lead to a more sustained way of being and interacting with the world. This way of being and interacting comes from a place of inner peace and a sense of unity.  This state of mind and being is known as “mature” experiences of transcendence. And as a therapist, I believe that fostering or developing mature transcendence is a worthwhile therapeutic goal regardless of how old you are.
How Transcendent Experiences Can Benefit Your Health
While not yet conclusively applicable to the population-at-large, it is thought that both kinds of transcendent experiences have a positive impact on health.  For example, the green type of transcendent experience may improve life satisfaction and lead to positive affect.  This seems to speak to the impact that transcendent experiences can have on our immediate mood and outlook. The experience feels good at the moment and we may carry that feeling with us for a bit.
In regard to the mature type of transcendent experiences, it’s thought that they may serve as “a protective factor” against diseases. These diseases can include those that affect our physical and mental well-being.  As a therapist, this makes sense to me because of how having a sense of inner peace seems to parallel possible outcomes of ongoing mindfulness practice which has also been shown to have health benefits.
Transcendent Experiences and Different Aspects of Health
Now I’d like to look a little more closely at how transcendent experiences may affect different aspects of health. These views are based on different factors, such as lived experiences, observations from my clinical work, as well as philosophical, religious or spiritual, and psychological writings on the topic. To illustrate this, I’ll be looking at the physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual aspects of health that I looked at in my blog post on how singing impacts health.
In addition to the possible protective factor that mature transcendent experiences can have on the development and experience of physical disease, I also think that transcendent experiences can inspire and motivate us to take care of ourselves in balanced, healthy ways. This is because such experiences can help us to feel good in our bodies. When we feel good in our bodies, we are more prone to treating ourselves well. This isn’t out of fear or out of a sense of deprivation or negative judgment, but rather in recognition that taking care of ourselves feels good and we are worth taking care of. For example, when we feel connected to the greater world, we can develop a better appreciation for the food we eat and how it’s grown or raised.
In regard to our emotional health, part of the way that transcendent experiences can lead to positive affect is because they can induce a sense of awe, peace, and contentment. Being able to experience such feelings can lead to decreased feelings of depression and anxiety. Having a sense of greater meaning and purpose can enhance our mood and outlook on life. It feels good to belong on our own terms and in an authentic way.
Our mental outlook can be enhanced by transcendent experiences because these experiences lead to new perspectives and a more objective outlook of situations and life experiences. Transcendent experiences can help us to see things more clearly. We may recognize patterns that we hadn’t seen before. As well we can gain new insights that lead us into new, more productive or exciting directions in life.
As far as social well-being goes, transcendent experiences can lead to a recognition of our interconnection and shared humanity. Because of this, such experiences can lead to more prosocial behavior. As well, such experiences can help us to evaluate the relationships in our lives. Transcendent experiences can help us better recognize the importance these relationships have in our lives. They can inspire us to show more love and care towards others, as well as invite us to be more present when we interact with others. This isn’t out of a sense of obligation or something that we think we “should” do, but rather it is something that we want to do because it’s the thing we want to do.
By now, it should be clear how transcendent experiences can contribute to one’s spiritual health and well-being. For those who are religiously or spiritually minded, transcendent experiences can reinforce a personal relationship to a higher power of some sort, with whatever term the person uses to define it. However, for those who don’t identify as being religious or spiritual, transcendent experiences can facilitate a sense of awe and connection to something greater than themselves. Regardless of one’s specific beliefs, this sense of hope and connection can have an impact on other areas of our lives.
Experiencing This For Yourself In Therapy
I hope that after reading this you have a better understanding of how your health can benefit from transcendent experiences. As it should be clear by now, I believe that transcendent experiences are a vital part of human existence. And for someone who has experienced trauma or is struggling with finding purpose in life, I think that they can also be healing. If you’d like to explore the possibility of incorporating transcendent experiences into your therapy, contact me. I offer a free 15-minute phone or online consultation that you can schedule here.
References Science, Drugs, Death, and Deities: What’s Behind Transcendent Experiences? – Eden Arielle Gordon
 Levin, J., & Steele, L. (2005). The Transcendent Experience: Conceptual, Theoretical, and Epidemiologic Perspectives. In Explore (Vol. 1, No. 2, pp 89-101). https://www.baylorisr.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/levin_transcendent.pdf
 Bethelmy, L. C., & Corraliza, J. A. (2019). Transcendence and Sublime Experience in Nature: Awe and Inspiring Energy. In Frontiers in Psychology (Vol. 10, p. 509). https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00509
 The Varieties of Transcendent Experience – Jules Evans