|Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)|
The American Transcendentalists were followed by the birth of what was called the "New Thought" movement, characterized by the writings of Christian Science founder, Mary Baker Eddy, the Chicago-based Emily Tompkins, as well as James Allen and Ralph Waldo Trine in the United Kingdom.
The English public schools between the two World Wars birthed another wave of English spiritual seekers, such as Allen Watts, Aldous Huxley, Christopher Isherwood and Gerald Heard, whose presence and influence in America reached heights in the immediate post-World War II 1950's and early 60's. They would influence and collaborate to a greater or lesser extent with Huston Smith, and two young Harvard professors Richard Allport (who would re-emerge as spiritual teacher Ram Das) and Timothy Leary in their research into whether psybicillin (and later L.S.D) could trigger the mystical experiences and higher states of consciousness reported by so many of the world's great wisdom traditions.
Transcendentalism and the search for expanded or higher consciousness may have hit its heights in the 'psychedelic' '60s. With the maturation of the 'hippies' of the '60s into today's 'baby-boomers,' and the disillusionment of the "Me-Generation" of the 1970s and '80s (followed by 'Generations X, Y, and Z'), the search for enlightenment and higher consciousness gave way to the passion for "sex, drugs and rock'n'roll." Now, however, with the aging and pending retirement of the "boomers," the maturation of the "Me-Generation, and the disillusionment of their following generations, it appears that the search for transcendent experience is once again waxing rather than waning. But what exactly is meant by "transcendence" and "transcendentalism?"
|Gerald Heard (1889-1971)|
Written in 1939 and long out-of-print, "Pain, Sex and Time" was, it seems, before its time. A classic outline of how humankind's evolutionary progress and potential for ever greater and higher states of consciousness, Heard's treatise was finally re-published in 2004. It's republication, perhaps, is an indication of a groundswell of interest in man's spiritual and evolutionary potential - a groundswell, aided too no small extent, by the realization that material success and achievement is not only ultimately unsatisfactory to our inner needs, but is damaging to the Earth herself. As Heard, naively and perhaps prematurely (as it turns out), observed in 1939, only months before the onset of the cataclysm that was World War II:
"It is now obvious that men cannot live much longer the life of irrelevant distractions. We are becoming too acutely conscious and aware of time. Any stimulant, however pleasant at the beginning, repeated [often enough] becomes hateful."
[G. Heard, "Pain, Sex and Time," p.193.]
"There are . . . three great stages in man' evolution; the appetitive animal, the intelligent human (Nietzche's "transitional creature"), and the being who once more knows itself to be a part of the Whole, but this time is clearly aware that the Whole is a comprehensive consciousness."
Now, it seems - with our growing awareness of the limitations of our old consciousness and the problems caused by it - that there is an ever-growing recognition that we must strive individually and collectively to meet what is our evolutionary imperative, our call to transcend the collective state-of-mind that has created the problems we face. For, as Heard also notes in "Pain, Sex and Time," those species that fail in continuing to evolve almost inevitably perish.