On Transcendence


by Meg Keene, Editor-In-Chief

Earlier today, I mentioned that something at your wedding would probably feel transcendent, but I had no idea what it would be. Interestingly, a small controversy broke out in the comments:

I think it’s expectations like “best day of your life” and “transcendent” that mess with brides’ minds and create the bridezilla world. Because if it isn’t TRANSCENDENT if you aren’t RADIANT if it isn’t PERFECT than there’s something wrong with you. No wonder people go nuts.

But, I’m sticking to my guns on this one. If I had to pick one word to describe our wedding, most particularly our ceremony, it wouldn’t be happy (though there were lots of grins), it sure as hell wouldn’t be perfect, I’m not sure I’d even use the word joyful (though the day itself was wonderfully joyful), and it wasn’t the best day of my life (though it was a damn good one). I think I’d use a word like ‘huge’ or ‘meaningful’ or ‘overwhelming’ or ‘transcendent.’

I just looked up the definition of transcendent, and I got this, “extending or lying beyond the limits of ordinary experience,” or “being beyond the limits of all possible experience and knowledge.” Which is exactly right. Because as A of Accordions & Lace told me in the week between her wedding and ours:

“No matter how self-reflective you are, no matter how time you’ve spent blogging about the process and preparing yourself for marriage and thinking about the significance of it–NOTHING will prepare you for how it feels. It feels crazy and overwhelming. It’s kind of insane.

Experiencing our wedding ceremony was gritty, it was an exercise in staying in the moment, and there were times when it felt very strange. I felt more like myself in that moment than maybe I have ever felt in my life. We showed up. We were grounded. But something happened during the ceremony that you can’t expect, and that you can’t prepare for. I have no idea what it was, but it was big. And in the end, all I can say is that I felt different walking down the aisle than I felt walking back up.

Is it going to be that way for you? I have no idea. It’s not going to be *exactly* that way for you, that much I know for sure. But I think it is likely that you will have a moment at some point during your wedding that feels bigger than you. You can’t prepare for it, any more than you can prepare to be radiant (it’s not f*cking bronzing powder, it’s joy). But I’m not going to back down. Our wedding had moments of transcendence. Moments when we were all of ourselves and even more. And I think telling you that is a good thing. Because f*ck perfection, f*ck feeling like a princess, f*ck details. This is about something bigger than that.

Because of that, I’ll share a sketch of our ceremony with you tomorrow, but I’m not going to share much. That’s because our ceremony ended up being so important, not because it was not important at all.

***Update: A. of Accordions and Lace just wrote a response to this post that you have to go read. We had very similar wedding experiences in a lot of ways (down to being together for 5 years and living together for 2, pre-wedding.) And honestly, I think she articulates what I’m trying to say better than I ever could. So go read. It’s eloquent. And I don’t just go throwing that word around.***

Meg Keene

Meg is the Founder and EIC of APW. Her first book, A Practical Wedding: Creative Solutions for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration, was published in January 2012, and has been a top three bestseller on the wedding bookshelf ever since. Meg has her BFA in Drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and son.

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06123337745430790122 angela

    That was beautiful and gave me chills. That's why we DO this, right? To brush up against something bigger than ourselves.

    It seems to me ritual is all about transcending our usual lives.

  • http://accordionsandlace.wordpress.com/ accordionsandlace

    Ha–it should be mentioned that I sent you that email at approximately 10am, the morning after my wedding, when I was still in full "holy shit? Did that happen?" territory.

    I wonder if the issue here is how different people think of the idea of "transcendence" and what it means to them. But the idea of moments bigger than ourselves is great. My moment didn't happen during the ceremony, it happened (as I've written about!) right after. And I think about it almost every day.

  • Anonymous

    I wonder how much it depends on being very sure you're marrying the right person? That would make a big difference in how you experience it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09526722516550185150 Meg

    Yes, anon, I think it would. Though if you were not sure (and I've been in those weddings) it might be a little out of the realm of normal experience as well, but maybe less pleasant. I don't know. I haven't been there, I've only stood next to there.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06814302207938982159 Ariel

    Super interesting subject. I will say for me that while my wedding was fun, fabulous, one of my favorite parties ever, and super awesome … I didn't have a moment of transcendence. It didn't feel bigger than me. I didn't feel different afterward, other than proud of myself for hosting our community for an awesome weekend-long party.

    Unlike anon, it had nothing to do with feeling unsure if I was marrying the right guy.

    I think, for us, it was more like … we felt like we'd been married and committed for so many years that the wedding really wasn't especially a defining moment in terms of our relationship. For us, those defining moments had accumulated over the almost-7 years we'd been together at that point … and have continued to accumulate in the 5 years since.

    But I think this is a case where it depends SO MUCH on the people getting married. I'm not a very transcendent person. I'm pragmatic and grounded to a fault — and that transcendent feeling probably flew right over my head as I was busy laughing and dancing and feeling the grass between my toes.

    I don't think NOT having a lack of a transcendent moment makes your wedding any less awesome … it's just different people experiencing their emotions differently.

    Again, super interesting topic Meg. Thanks for bringing it up.

  • http://surprisewedding.wordpress.com Michele

    I'll have to agree with Ariel on this one.

    I think much of it has to do with how you perceive transcendence, and maybe even with how "spiritual" you may or may not be in everyday life. And as evidenced by your previous comments (Meg) regarding ritual and tradition, it has at least a little bit to do with those two things.

    It doesn't surprise me at all that the ceremony was a transcendental experience for you, because you're someone for whom the gravity of ritual and tradition is not lost on. You've talked about feeling connected to something larger than yourself by virtue of the vows you took, the same ones that have been taken by so many other people before you.

    Like Ariel, I'm a very pragmatic person. I'm also very literal and deliberate, don't consider myself spiritual and don't find much meaning in symbols, rituals or tradition.

    And I think all of those things played a big role in the fact that I never experienced anything that I would consider transcendental on my wedding day. I experienced a lot of other really awesome, amazing feelings, but transcendence wasn't one of them.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16158290821419472185 Anna Alter

    Your post and everyone's comments are really interesting! Its so helpful to read about all the different ways you can experience getting married, as I make sense of my own recent wedding.

    Like Ariel, because we were already super committed and our relationship was really established, it didn't feel like getting married changed anything. I felt exactly the same walking down the aisle as I did going up. And at first I felt disappointed, like I missed something. I was there, grounded as I could be, and marrying someone I am absolutely, positively, deeply in love with. Not a doubt in my mind about our future.

    If we had a moment of transcendence, it had to do with the INCREDIBLE amount of love and support coming from everyone around us, it almost felt like our wedding was more about appreciating our community than eachother strangely.

    It was that feeling that made it totally, abundantly clear that the beauty of a wedding has NOTHING to do with place settings or decorations or favors. While I had obsessed over that stuff for months, once the wedding began I couldn't care less. So I guess in that way I did feel transcendent, just really clear that I am profoundly lucky to have really giving, patient, loving people in my life, husband included.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09526722516550185150 Meg

    For the record, I'm not saying everyone's ceremony is transcendent, AT ALL. I've had lots of people tell me that something magic happened during the toasts (didn't for us), or the aisle walk (didn't for me), or when you see each other for the first time that day (nope), or the driving away bit (DID for us), or later that night (yep) or on the honeymoon (uh-huh). Big stuff just hits you when it hits you. But it hits a lot of people hard and fast on their wedding day. But the point is, it does not hit you in a wedding-industry bullshit way. It's not like, weepy nonsense, or oh god the bride is so PRETTY I wanna cry. It's not like oh-my-god-this-day-is-perfect, or even like God coming down for a chat (or some version of that). No. It's not pretty like that. It's gritty, it's like a freight train, it will wear you out. They don't sell that in wedding magazines (because seriously, who would buy? That stuff is tough to live through).

    It even those of us who are very pragmatic, sometimes.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09526722516550185150 Meg

    @Anna
    Uh-huh. That love and support stuff. That's exactly what I'm talking about.

    And you guys, David and I have known each other for 14 years! We've been best friends for 7, we've dated for 5. It wasn't that we were new to this.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16158290821419472185 Anna Alter

    I like that way of putting it, "big stuff hits you when it hits you" and that it is a gritty affair. It really is. Or it was for me, definitely not what I expected. And I'm glad.

    Thanks for bringing this up, its just great to hear about how individual the experience of getting married can be.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15082554090481175349 A Los Angeles Love

    I haven't been here myself (yet) but I've been lucky enough to witness that moment of transcendence, even for people who didn't treat the wedding as anything more than a piece of paper. I just saw it in Las Vegas, at the most casual, whatever-we-already-have-a-house-together wedding ever. It just hit them and became real during the Wedding March (yes, that Wedding March.) I can see how the "wow" moment might hit before or after the ceremony or even after the wedding day, but I think there's something imperceptible-but-monumental about marriage versus a verbal life-partner commitment. Whether it's a ray-of-light transcendence is another question. But I think there will be a wow moment in which all the love from family, friends, husband, and ceremony suddenly become real. I'm hoping to be present and able to fully appreciate it, whenever and however it comes.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09526722516550185150 Meg

    You guyyyysss. This whole post is about how their are no rays of light. Nope. Nada. Gritty. Hard. Trust me, outside the realm of what you've experienced does not equal fun glow. It equals WHAT THE F*CK?! Mixed with joy and bigness and family and support and all sorts of things. I look like I've been through the wringer coming back down the aisle. But my point is it's not pretty, it's important.

    And with that. I leave you to commenting in peace.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17184897773597853597 Little Miss Southern

    Such a great post.. and so kind of you to let us into your lives.

  • http://surprisewedding.wordpress.com Michele

    For some people, maybe transcendence isn't gritty and hard. Maybe it's light and pure and glides right through the day with them. Who knows? I certainly can't say since I wouldn't necessarily use that particular word to describe any part of my own wedding, but just like there is no formula or metric for any other part of our weddings, there can't possibly be for this element either.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15082554090481175349 A Los Angeles Love

    Aww Meg – I didn't mean YOU thought it was a ray of light moment – I was just musing-out-loud about what I hope the moment might be or not be. I quite like the idea of earning it, emotionally speaking, even if it's hard and gritty. Because the hard things matter, and those are the things I want to hold on tight for.

  • http://hoopfulbride.wordpress.com/ hoopfulbride

    For me it was the comfort and ease of the day that was so transcendent: whoever thought that getting married would be the most gloriously comfortable day? A bit like diving between silky sheets: which is seriously not normally a sensation I relate to… maybe it's still the honeymoon talking (ha!), but I think it sums it up – a really unknown experience that just feels overwhelmingly easy and good… (I realise that's a ghastly simile. Apologies.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13587382445025430711 Evelyn

    OK, I'm going to quote A's Accordions & Lace post on that moment she returns to the most.

    "To look at him, at that moment, was to look at my past, present, and future all at once. For all that I had spent the year of our engagement ruminating on the meaning of marriage, on why we were doing such an unfashionable thing, theorizing whether or not it would change anything or if it was “just a formality�, I don’t think I understood what it meant to get married until the anvil dropped during our recessional. It was one of the most intense moments of my life."

    Those kind of experiences happen and can't be considered anything but transcendent. Real, honest, in-the-moment, raw emotion slapping you in the face. It's not something you can expect or rehearse. It's there or it's not (and it's OK either way) and it certainly doesn't equal a pretty photo op (the most honest, unreal moments in our lives,good and bad, rarely do) or better a wedding. It is what it is. A streak of raw emotions beyond the ordinary that some people have and, when they do, it should be shared.

    I do have a tendency to agree that it's those who, perhaps, value or recognize the significance of tradition more strongly than those who do not who may be more accepting to feeling those transcendent moments. I'm not saying one's better or worse, just more open to it. Doesn't even mean you didn't have them…maybe you just dealt with them differently than others.

    There is something sacred in a marriage. I don't care what your background or personality is…that's the point of marriage. A union for life. Hello? That's huge. Lots of potential for a moment of transcendence there.

    OK, that's my 2 cents. I just had to share. Agree or disagree, I appreciate hearing everyone's thoughts and experiences. Interesting topic.

  • TNM

    Well, as a commentator who was on the outskirts of the initial dispute, I think we all arguing at cross-purposes a bit. It seems like Meg is just sharing her own experience of transcendence at her wedding. (Yea!) And then others are universalizing that experience and arguing about exactly what transcendence is and whether it should occur in all weddings. (Hmmm…)

    But I think one of the few truths in life is that there is almost nothing that is true in all cases! And I think I was moved to comment in the earlier thread because Meg's lovely personal story of "transcendence" seemed to be morphing in the comments into a new "must-do" at the ceremony or a yardstick for measuring its success. That was the problem. Universalizing one person's (wonderful!) wedding experience and making it a normative standard. Because that of course sets us up with comments like those of Anon – which seem to suggest that a failure to experience transcendence may mean you're not marrying the "right person." Which of course is just the type of over-generalized "standard" I thought we were hoping to avoid…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09526722516550185150 Meg

    Yes. No one should ever think that if they don't feel one thing or another they are marrying the wrong person. That's total crap.

    I just think the big stuff tends to creep up on our wedding day, whether it's the bigness of all that love and support (that is part of what hit us), wheather it's the bigness of a really great party, the bigness of not having to plan the wedding anymore (done! done! done!), the bigness of what you just did, or a ray of light moment, or comfort, or hard work. But *probably* whatever you feel is not going to be what you expect to feel. So judging it is pointless, just like getting ready for it is. I definitly don't think it was what I expected… and that newness of the feelings was what made it Trancendent. And also hard.

  • vanessa

    I also have to disagree with the posters comment that sparked this post.

    The women that get wrapped up in the material part of weddings become bridezillas, whereas its the immaterial things that make it transcendent.

    Getting married isnt just another ordinary day. Commiting yourself-nay- taking an oath to love and support and accept one person, and only one person for the rest of your life is a big fu*king deal. HUGE. That act is transcendent (at least in my opinion), because you are no longer the most important person in your own life. Your team is. If you dont have some sort of revelation along the way (maybe even before the actual wedding) than I don't think you're taking this event as seriously as you should.

    The "holy shit" moment hit me at my welcome picnic while I was walking out to greet our guests. Seeing everyone that we love most in the world, there, for us- to support our decision was overwhelming. And "OMG this is actually happening- tomorrow! We're getting married!" I was a sobbing mess.

    Yes some people are more emotional or spiritual than others, but I don't see how someone can say that there isn't just a little bit of transformation in a person on the journey from single to married.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03450581887718082271 k_darling

    I agree completely. I was incredibly cynical about planning a wedding — and had I been able to get away with it, I would have eloped. In the end there were too many people that wanted to be with us to not plan something a little more public (not that I could/should complain about being tremendously loved).

    We had a very mellow morning-of, going out to breakfast together and then splitting off so my dad could do my hair and I could do my sister's makeup and my own. I was totally relaxed until my car showed up to take me to meet my husband for pre-ceremony pictures. Suddenly everything I was about to do seemed HUGE.

    I got a big wave of the same feeling during our ceremony. The readings that we chose brought us (and everyone else in the room) to tears. And it was not perfect, but I do think it was a little transcendent.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02567097973987043341 Lauren

    I had too much to say, so I put it somewhere else :) http://suburbaliciousliving.blogspot.com/2009/10/what-is-really-comes-down-to.html

    Thanks for this, Meg!

  • Brooke

    The word "transcendence" perfectly sums an experience that is difficult to express in words. Great post!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02788673853394723270 Christy

    I didn't say or mean to imply that Meg didn't have a transcendent moment. I just took issue with the statement that everyone does at some point. That everyone will have an "oh shit" moment, to borrow from another comment. Because not all of us do, and it certainly isn't because we're uncertain or less in love or less aware of the commitment we're making.

    I married on the same weekend as Meg did, in the redwood grove where I was a flower girl for my great-grandmother's second wedding 28 years ago. The grove is on property on a mountain where my family has lived over a 100 years. We had a traditionalish Christian ceremony and we included a cup/wine ritual (NOT communion) taken from one of humankind's earliest wedding rituals. I made deliberate connections to the tradition of marriage personally, religiously, and ritualistically.

    But I didn't have any kind of *BAM* moment that day or since (and we didn't even live together until after our honeymoon). Maybe it didn't hit me at a particular moment because I am constantly so deliberately aware of those kinds of connections? Or maybe it's just that I too am so pragmatic and grounded. Or maybe I don't need to dissect why, and I can just accept that I didn't, and not everyone will.

    Anyway, I love what you wrote about it, Meg–in both entries. I'm glad you had an incredible day and that transcendent moment that moved you.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07099654516607570108 Lucy

    I think I would say that my consciousness expanded during the ceremony. I was fully there and looking down on things at the same time. Every moment was hyperreal. It was an extraordinary sensation.

  • millpond

    Thank you for this, Meg. I have been lurking for a while – after about three separate people sent me links to your blog when my partner and I announced that we were *finally* getting married: "You need to check this out! It's called A Practical Wedding! It's perfect for you…etc"

    I hope that some element of our wedding will be transcended in some way. I do know that making a conscious decision to declare our lifelong love and support for each other in the company of those who we love most is significant and feels pretty damn good.

    Thank you for so generously sharing your journey – your thoughts, experiences, and great sense of humor. I hope you will keep blogging! What a wonderful community of grounded women you have rallied!

  • Becca

    Hmmm… This is my first comment here (just call me lurker) and I'm a bit late as well, but I have to say, my moment of transcendence did not come during the wedding. My moment came much later. After the wedding, after the honeymoon, after we had been home, back to work and normal life… that's when I finally realized how different I felt. How much more (as trite as it may sound) complete, content, safe, and truly loved I felt. The wedding was great. But really? The marriage is what makes me feel special.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09526722516550185150 Meg

    @Becca

    I really understand having that moment later (we had a lot of moments on our honeymoon too, but that's a different story) but don't dismiss those of us who had transformative wedding experiences as being all about the wedding. The wedding is just the moment that you felt something change, where you felt something bigger than you. It's the change that is important. The moment just feels gritty and intense and wonderful, but not something you could (or you'd want to) do again. Me? I'm happy living the change.

    The memory of the wedding, with all it's joy, frustration, and transcendence, that's more than enough. The transcendence is the what, the marriage is the why.

    Meg

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06496768444775791868 Charise

    I just got back from my honeymoon and have been trying to figure out how I want to write about our wedding once I get the pictures back. And this is just it – it wasn't perfect, it wasn't the best day of my life. But it was OVERWHELMING and joyful and happy and fun.

  • Tara

    I’m going back through some of your older posts and this one really struck a note with me. I’m not in a committed relationship, nor do I see myself getting married soon, but I underwent a different ritual this past summer – the convocation ceremony at my university to receive my Bachelor’s degree. Now I had already received my diploma in the mail back in January since I needed it to get my work visa, but I decided to go back to my college town that weekend to hang out with friends and since I was going to be there anyways, I decided to participate in the ceremony.

    And boy am I glad that I did. I can’t completely explain it, but even though I had already been working for 5 and a half months at that point in a good job that I loved and was completely in the line of work from my degree (Computer Science), sitting in the gym with my friends in our black gowns when it was 100 degrees outside and walking across that stage with my friends changed me somehow. The pictures of me spinning around in my black gown before walking across the stage and the pictures I have with me and my friends afterwards are some of the dearest in my heart that I will have of the university experience.

    My sister and I aren’t the greatest of friends and we definitely argued over some things that day, but it really meant something to me to have her and one of my cousins there that day and to have her photograph the event. I didn’t mind that my parents weren’t there since it was quite far for them to travel, but it was amazing to be in good company that day and then to go out with friends that evening.

    Some of my friends spent money on getting their hair and make-up done and buying a new pair of shoes and everything. But you know what? Looking back at some of the pictures, my hair looks awful, but I don’t care. It’s the memories and the feelings that the photos bring back that means more. They remind me of all the great memories that I had during my five years.

    And as one of my professors once said, people continue to participate in our culture’s rituals for a reason. Weddings, university graduations, high school graduations, even elementary school graduations all mark important changes in our lives. I scoffed when people said that the ceremony was important, but I am glad that somehow, I subconsciously went anyways. And this is exactly why when it is time for me to get married, I will not elope. Even a simple wedding in my parents’ backyard would be amazing and not something that I would miss out on.