“Man is a worm and food for worms. This is the paradox: he is out of nature and hopelessly in it; he is dual, up in the stars and yet housed in a heart-pumping, breath-gasping body that once belonged to a fish and still carries the gill-marks to prove it. His body is a material fleshy casing that is alien to him in many ways—the strangest and most repugnant way being that it aches and bleeds and will decay and die. 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.” ~ Ernest Becker
We, the naked ape, are the only insecure animal on the planet. But it is precisely our insecurity that compels us to reach beyond our animal instincts. We are forced to test our limits because we are limited. It is the testing of these limits that makes us human. Indeed, we are never more human than when we are in the throes of transforming boundaries into horizons. Worm-like, God-like, and everything in between if we so choose, here are seven ways we are simultaneously worms and gods.
1) We are equal parts independent (selves) and interdependent (cosmos)
“You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.” ~ Rumi
The notion of Self is a house of cards built upon the quicksand of Time. It is more like a story we tell ourselves than a fixed essence. A kind of psychosocial cognitive narrative projecting itself through an ever-changing, ever-evolving, cosmic medium. Multi-layered, multifaceted, it is akin to an onion being boiled in an existential soup, flavored with cloves of evolutionary garlic and cultural herbs.
It’s both a delicious gamble and a gamboling uncertainty. It gives rise to terrible egos and profound souls, and vice versa. Even its masks wear masks. And the greatest mask of all: the illusion of separateness, keeps us tangled up in knots between independence and interdependence, provided we ever even get around to shedding our codependence in the first place.
2) We are torn between spirit and flesh
“The absurd hero’s refusal to hope becomes his singular ability to live in the present with passion.” ~ Albert Camus
We are psychosomatically split, reaching for the stars just as assuredly as we are rooted to the earth. Our wings melt under the sun. Our feet of clay, fecund. Equal parts ape and Overman, insect and Phoenix, worm and God. We dare to reach into the furthest reaches of the universe with god-like arms, while our breath-gasping, heart-pumping bodies tragically decay under a cruel sun. As we dance the sad web of our souls to beautiful eulogies, the happy tangle of our bones taps out the beat. Spirit enlivens us, but it’s laced with angst. Flesh pleasures us, but it’s laced with pain. But it’s all so tragically meaningful, in the moment, precisely because it’s going to end.
3) We are finite beings seized by infinity
“We composers are projectors of the infinite into the finite.” ~ Edvard Grieg
No other animal can contemplate the infinite. Our finite faculties nonetheless give rise to infinite conceptualization, however inaccurate. Doomed to finitude, we nevertheless dream toward infinity. Time is the insomnia of Infinity, and we are restless beings caught up in it. Infinity says we’re everything, finitude says we’re nothing.
But between the two, we flow. Everywhere and nowhere. Finite-bias laden but infinitely conceptualizing, Truth is an infinite-bladed sword that only we dare wield. Like Nietzsche said, “We, aeronauts of the spirit! It was our fate to be wrecked against infinity.” Indeed, the glue that binds finitude with infinity is the man torn between being both an animal and a god.
4) We are entangled by the conditional and the unconditional
“Love is the romantic solution to the problem of death.” ~ Roland Barthes
Caught as we are between a strong mind and a vulnerable heart, even our love is stricken with a beautiful sadness. The conditional envelopes us, threatening to drown us. And yet, even within the conditional there are kernels of the absolute. We cannot choose our conditions but we can choose our reconditions, and somewhere between, the unconditional becomes manifest. And so we are forced to navigate a state of creative non-attachment, holding on sufficiently enough to not fall apart, but letting go enough to allow space for our own flourishing.
Forced to sail the uncertain waters of life, we discover what we can control and what we cannot, what restricts us and what is unrestricted. The conditional and the unconditional weaves in and out, warp and weft, wave and undertow, crest and trough, and we surf it with the audacity of our love.
5) We are stretched between mortality and immortality
“The longing to transcend human limits is as human as the fact that we cannot.” ~ Susan Neiman
We are not simply the bridge from human to overman, we are the “passage” itself. The passage is our canvas. We are mortal artists double-dog daring our art to become immortal. Even as our mortal coil threatens to choke us, we can thrust it upwards, transforming it into a mighty halo.
And even though we know the halo won’t save us, it can liberate us, actualize us, and personify us in the face of our own mortality, and in that gesture, however futile, the seed of immortality gestates. Like Ernest Becker said, “The artist takes in the world, but instead of being oppressed by it, he reworks it in his own personality and recreates it in a work of art.” Our art is evidence that we have died, crossed into unknown dimensions, rebirthed ourselves, and in a flow state of cognitive genesis dared to share what we have learned between worlds.
6) We are humbled/glorified by transcendence and the immanence
“We know what we are. We know not what we may be.” ~ William Shakespeare
We are the only species that purposefully transforms and transcends. We cannot endure our own meaninglessness unless we can translate it into something meaningful. Thus are we translators, par excellence. Intermittently humbled and glorified by the process of transcendence and immanence, we are as defined by the macrocosmic as we are by the microcosmic. Between the two we existentially crush out. Rising up into states of otherworldliness.
Coalescing into states of interconnectedness. As sacred as we are profane. As divine as we are earthly. As godlike as we are animal-like. We are equal parts puppet and genius, torn between acumen and nescience. Eternally conflicted between the truth-functions of fiction and the fiction-functions of truth, our transcendent and immanent art solves the equation.
7) We are caught between Mindfulness and No-mind
“Man is equally incapable of seeing the nothingness from which he emerges as the infinity in which he is engulfed.” ~ Blaise Pascal
Between inhale and exhale, between being and non-being, between mind and no-mind, there is the stumbling, fumbling, god-ape of mankind. There, in a state of attached detachment, between love and fear, responsibility and complacency, truth and deception, healthy and unhealthy, and above thought, is the source of all human creativity: that place where artists, poets, musicians, and scientists have discovered the secrets of the universe.
Paraphrasing Leonard Cohen, “We lose our grip, and then we slip into the masterpiece.” But the masterpiece is us. Through mindfulness meditation and Buddhist-like non-attachment we slowly improve upon it, mindfully breathing in attachment and no-mindfully breathing out non-attachment.
Between it all, the Middle Way shines, the Golden Mean blazes, and the Golden Ratio spins ever onward toward infinity, toward the almighty PHI, where our breath-gasping, soul-clenched, heart-storming bodies go through the motions of their own unique Fibonacci sequencing. And infinity blazes mightily on, dragging our mortal coils through the dirt, but the occasional spark flashes brighter than the stars.