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Self-infliction #11: You Are an Animal

“You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” ~Mary Oliver

You are a naked ape. This one is painfully obvious, but you probably need a reminder.

You are an animal first, a person second. You are paradoxical, a creature of opposites, torn between spirit and flesh, between civility and wildness, between the knowledge of life and death. These all wrestle together inside you in a cacophony of confused cognition.

As Ernest Becker poignantly stated, “Man is literally split in two: he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order to blindly and dumbly rot and disappear forever.”

Embrace the fact that you are a stumbling primate fumbling over your barely evolved brain. You’re an anxious mammal with a mortal coil. You’re an insatiable beast with improbable reach. You might imagine that you are a mature, evolved being above baser animal instincts, but you’re not.

When it comes down to it, we are a laughably young species attempting to evolve on an extremely old planet which is hurtling through an unfathomably ancient universe. In the grand scheme of things, we are a floundering baby of a species. Yet we imagine we are gods who are above nature.

But you were born from the womb, and you will one day be food for worms. In the womb, you went through all the phases of evolution: from a single-celled amoeba to a multicellular tadpole to a brain-wielding infant.

In your short life, you will piss and shit and bleed. You will rage and cry and sleep. You will go through all the profane motions of being a mortal mammal trapped within an indifferent universe. And here’s the real kick in the teeth: it’s going to hurt like hell.

Death anxiety and existential angst will not elude you. You are a member of a species of angst, after all. You were born into the knowledge of transience and tribulation. How could you not be anxious? Life is a sequence of impossible decisions veiled by uncertainty. But to be anxious is to be alive. It is a fundamental ingredient of the human condition.

Ironically, when you honor anxiety, you’re more likely to transform it into art, when you honor your mortal coil, you’re more likely to transform it into a halo. Understanding your angst will make you more capable of grace. When you reconcile your wormhood, you’re more likely to get in touch with your godhood.

Building these bridges is building something to grow into. It’s rebuilding God.

Indeed, you stand on the corpse of God in order to self-actualize your place as God in the making.

In the end, our mortal coils are simply too much to bear, so we grab them and thrust them upwards into halos. How could we not? What else could be expected of a species torn between spirit and flesh, between vain immortality and stifling mortality, between earthbound wormhood and Heavenbound godhood?

How could we not both plant our feet and flap our wings?

And so we do…

Animaste: The animal in me honors the animal in you.


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