Provision #613: Transcendence 101

Laser Provision

Transcendence gets left out from many taxonomies of human needs. Perhaps that’s because of the common association between transcendence and religion. Transcendence is much bigger than religion, however. The map (religion) is not the territory (transcendence). The territory is bigger than life itself as the dynamic dance of human needs plays itself out on the canvass of space and time. Human beings need to participate in that dance, as challenging as that may be at times, and this Provision offers some suggestions on how to make it so.

LifeTrek Provision


Hierarchy was perhaps the biggest mistake made by Abraham Maslow with his understanding of human needs. Needs are not arranged in a hierarchy. All people, at all times, in all places, in every culture need the same things to be happy, healthy, and whole. How those needs get satisfied can take very different forms. What works for an infant does not always work for an adult, and vice-versa. What works in Africa does not always work in Australia. But that does not mean the needs are different; it just means people are going about meeting those needs in different ways.

For the past nine weeks, we have explored nine different families of human needs: subsistence, safety, work, community, empathy, honest, autonomy, challenge, and rest. Others have used different words to describe the range of human needs. Manfred Max-Neef, for example, a Chilean economist, uses the following terms: subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, leisure, creation, identity, and freedom. Maslow worked with five categories: physiological, safety, love / belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.

Whatever words we use, these systems all subscribe to the idea that being human means we have needs that are few, finite, classifiable, essential, and universal. Other animals also have definable needs, which scientists love to study and categorize; those needs might be different from those of human beings but they are still viewed as being few, finite, classifiable, essential, and universal. The current concern regarding climate change is a direct result of such understandings. Many animals can no longer meet their needs in traditional habitats. As a result, they are migrating to new environments or, when that doesn’t work, they are dying off entirely.

That’s the difference between needs and strategies. Needs must be satisfied or life is threatened. We’re not just unhappy if needs go unmet; we are miserable to the point of death. It happens most quickly when we cannot meet our subsistence needs • just try going without air for a few minutes • but all of the needs identified in my Wheel of Needs are just as critical to our health and well-being. That’s why vitality is found at the center of the wheel. When all our needs are being adequately met, we are filled • to borrow a line from my email signature • with goodness, peace, and joy. We are fully and wonderfully alive.

That’s what we all hope for in life. Indeed, that’s what we all need in life. It doesn’t work to satisfy some needs and to ignore other needs. Energy expenditure without energy renewal is a formula for disaster (as our planet is now reminding us in strident terms). Autonomy without community is just as precarious a position. Indeed, all of the needs around the perimeter of my Wheel of Needshave to be met in a dynamic dance for life for life to be at its best. That’s when we experience transcendence, the tenth need on my Wheel of Needs, or what we might call transcendance.

Consider the following description of the dynamic dance by Barbara J. King, in her book by the same name:

Imagine a first-rate dance performance unfolding before your eyes. You sit in a darkened theater, watching pairs of dancers execute intricate movements on the stage, accompanied by lively music. Perfect coordination marks the movements within each pair; every turn, dip, and lift reflects full attentiveness by one partner to where the other is in space, what movements the other has just made and might be about to make, and so on.

This coordination appears to be automatic and effortless, seemingly reflective of a flawless synchrony achieved only after countless hours of practice. Yet dancers say that the coordination results not from mere practiced matching of movements from dancer to dancer. Rather, each partner must participate, moment by moment, in creating the coordination. Writing about ballroom dancing, the instructor Jennifer Mizenko captures this quality of attentive participation:

“Sight is used by the follower to look for subtle differences or changes in the leader’s dance. These differences may include a tilt of the head, a change of the level of hand hold, a general weight shift as reflected by the torso of the body, or even a change of expression in the face of the leader. However, a good follower is not zeroing in on one particular visual signal, but is seeing with a broad vision and trying to ‘take it all in,’ as it were; seeing the leader and these changes as a whole….”

“Touch is extremely important in the lead/follow relationship…The actual physical contact between the dancers gives off so much information that it is possible for the follower to dance with eyes closed… All of these elements of good partnering combine to create a Gestalt effect, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”

The unfolding dance can be described by using a term coined by the psychologist Alan Fogel. It is co-regulated, the result of unpredictable and contingent mutual adjustments between the partners. So many variables interact as the dance unfolds that the results will never be precisely the same twice, even when the dancers follow a well-rehearsed choreography.

King goes on to note that human beings do the same dance when it comes to creating or making meaning. “Meaning is constructed,” she notes, “through action between social partners rather than through transmission of ideas from one mind to another.” It’s in the dance that we make sense of our experience and, in the process, that we determine what that experience will be. It’s never a straightforward to process to get all our needs met. It always involves “unpredictable andcontingent mutual adjustments” between people. But it is not beyond our grasp, and when we get it right it is a wonderful thing indeed.

That’s the piece that any schema of human needs misses if it fails to recognize the human need for transcendence. We are constantly dancing with ourselves and with others to experience that which lies beyond the realm of any one need. There’s a reason we end up with expressions such as:

  • “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
  • “Man does not live by bread alone.”
  • “No man is an island.”
  • “Being too cautious is the greatest risk of all.”
  • “Compassion is no substitute for justice.”
  • “Opposites attract.”

So many of our most quotable quotes recognize that vitality comes from a dance between partners with different energies, interests, and moves. When those partners respect and pay attention to each other, we experience the synchrony of transcendence. When they disrespect and ignore each other, we experience the cacophony of arrogance. When one partner takes or demands too much attention, the resulting dance is anything but coordinated, beautiful, and flowing. It fails to inspire. When the partners share the limelight, giving and taking from each other at just the right moments, in just the right ways, and with just the right anticipation, then they create a meaningful and memorable presence that transcends space and time.

We all know the presence I’m writing about. It’s easy to get so engrossed in a performance or an experience that we find ourselves transported to another world. I’ve had that happen while running alongside a flowing river. I’ve had that happen while watching a movie. I’ve had that happen while reciting poetry. And millions of people had that happen this past week when Susan Boyle opened her mouth to sing on Britain’s Got Talent 2009. When the stars align, when a flawless synchrony is achieved, we recognize that life is more than ashes and dust.

Religions, of course, are built around different understandings and interpretations of transcendence. Religions would not be such a universal part of human experience if transcendence itself was not a need. Something there is that doesn’t love a flat universe. We need things to be bigger than ourselves if we hope to be ourselves in the face of all that contradicts and denies life. That is what keeps us going, regardless of whether or not we take a metaphysical view of transcendence.

Don’t be afraid to look for that in life, and don’t be discouraged when it plays hard to get. The vitality is in the dance! Just when we think we have things figured, something else will surface and a different need will get stimulated. That’s when it’s time to pay attention and to move in new directions; that’s when it’s time to look up, give thanks, and sing.

Coaching Inquiries: How do you experience the dynamic dance? What brings you alive? What needs are being stimulated in you right now? How could you attend to them without neglecting or denying other needs? How can you find the rhythm of the dance? Who could be your partner on the journey?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. To learn more about LifeTrek Coaching programs, Click Here.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..


I want to thank you for sending Provisions each week. I forward them to all my best friends, some of whom are going through a lot right now. They are insightful and helpful. Thanks!


Wonderful Provision on rest and I loved the video. Playing for change • I love it!!! Hope all is well with you.


Great song from around the world performers. We all need someone or many people to stand by us as we go through life. 


Your last Provision was great; just in case you had any doubt, you are the best carbon-based coach in the world!


Your Provisions are very important for my learning and understanding myself. I’m grateful to God. The situation is that 3 years ago I had a very hard car accident; and it has been a large, hard and miraculous recovery, from coma and then blindness after waking up, and immobility. I been recovering day to day, even if I do not notice I trust on Him, give thanks for being alive, and continue making effort to continue. I speak in Spanish and this is one of the first little letters I do In English, (I am recovering the language), just to say that I find very instructive your Provisions.


I understand what you were trying to do in tying the Easter message into our need for energy-restoring rest, but in all candor, you completely missed the point, and in doing so, did a tremendous disservice to our Lord and Creator. Easter is all about God’s willing sacrifice of His own dear Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for our sins, so that we could be restored to Him. It has nothing to do with •energy• or •rest.• A human body that is dead is still dead after a 3-day respite, or a 30-day respite. This was God acting as only God can in bringing Jesus• human body back to life. It is all about God operating at a level of holiness and selfless love that you or I can’t possibly understand.  



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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