Feb 9, 2021

Adequate, or Transcendent?

Adequate, or Transcendent?

Adequate, or Transcendent?

Nathan King

A British recruiter proposed a candidate to an American hiring manager, concluding with the recommendation: “the candidate is adequate for the position.” The American responded, “I don’t want adequate, I want great!”

British culture is precise in its language, careful to not overstate reality. This results in the description of an “adequate” professional as one who is well-suited to perform a job.  But American English reflects a cultural optimism that demands superlatives. American English looks for ways to transcend adequate. Hiring an adequate professional is like having a meal without dessert.  

Superlative Consciousness?

The Catholic philosopher and mystic Thomas Merton writes of superconsciousness[1]. The optimistic person, like the American hiring manager, is immediately intrigued by that word. We all know of the conscious mind, the dimension of reality that we are aware of. And we know of the subconscious, elements of thinking hidden from us that nonetheless have an influence over our actions, our moods, and shape our reality. 

Contending with consciousness and unconsciousness is a daily reality. It is adequate. Could Merton’s superconsciousness offer more?

His definition is more subdued, at least on the surface:

We tend to imagine ourselves as a conscious mind which is “above” and a subconscious mind that is “below the conscious.” This image tends to be misleading. The conscious mind of man is exceeded in all directions by his unconscious. 

There is unconsciousness, he says, “above…and all around” the conscious. The realm of consciousness above us is superconsciousness. Merton uses “super” in its literal sense, meaning above. Not in the modern superlative sense, meaning “awesome.”

Superconsciousness is the spiritual realm. It is a realm easily ignored even by those claiming to seek spirituality, who, Merton says, “confine the whole spiritual life purely and simply in the reasoning mind.” 

Merton argues that to achieve transcendence, we must expand our minds to a realm outside ourselves, the superconsciousness. This is a place that we cannot see that we can somehow access with our conscious mind. Transcendence is important because it delivers, as psychologist James Hollis says, “the agenda of growth, purpose, and meaning that we all are meant to carry into the world and to share with others.” [2]

Transcendence occurs when we step outside of ourselves and become a part of something bigger. It’s first requirement is faith, which “subjects our reason to the hidden spiritual forces that are above it.” [3] Through faith, we surrender to the unknown which is above it. In essence, we say, “not my will but thine,” and agree to cooperate with that unseen will. [4]

3 Steps Toward Transcendence

Accessing a superconsciousness and achieving transcendence seems abstract and inaccessible. But there are simple steps that lead there, and following all or a mix of them create the conditions that deliver. 

  1.  Meditation – this requires almost no commitment, no rigorous process, no steps to follow. It involves only a couple of minutes at a time (to start!). Meditation invites us to an encounter with the superconscious. Simple, secular meditation has been popularized by apps such as HeadSpace and Waking Up

  2. Prayer – If you are open to the concept of the divine, prayer is the most direct access point to the superconsciousness. It is “God’s breath in man returning to his birth.” Even to those skeptical of God, it “is a natural human instinct.”[5]

  3. Day of Rest – Known to the religious as Sabbath, the act of taking a day of rest every week seems outdated to the religious and irreligious alike. “Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space,” but on the Sabbath we find a day to experience time, stepping back “from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.”[6] A day spent this way, once a week, has a mysterious effect on our minds, positioning us to connect with something larger than ourselves.  

The life most of us lead today is adequate, but a bigger one beckons. Perhaps it can even become great. A few simple steps to open ourselves to the realm of the unconscious can connect us with the superconscious and open up the possibility of reaching “the summit of man’s spiritual being,” as Merton writes.


[1] Thomas Merton. New Seeds of Contemplation. Kindle Edition. These quotes are taken beginning at location 1471.

[2] James Hollis. Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life. Kindle Edition. Location 3440.

[3] Thomas Merton. Location 1479.

[4] James Hollis. Location 2087.

[5] Tim Keller. Prayer. 2014. P 29. The first quote is from a poem by George Herbert, and the second from Keller.

[6] Abraham Joshua Heschel. The Sabbath. 2005. P10.




I help leaders and teams achieve clarity and alignment so they can reach their potential


Sign up for my newsletter and I will send you a Life Review and Planning Guide to help you create a better future.

© King Strategic Consulting, LLC 2023