| text and photo © Jonathan Zap
Photo of Jonathan with well-behaved young Bengal tiger in Colorado.
"My Avatar betrays me. It is a mortal corporeal version 1.0 requiring constant, expensive upkeep. It carries me, like an arrow through linear time. It includes a brain that builds a simulacrum of this sensual world. I want to perfect my Avatar with mouse clicks, but it stubbornly adheres to source codes I cannot access. What an uneasy alliance I have with this quintessence of dust." — Facebook status update by Jonathan Zap, 2010
Make friends with your animal nature. We are mammals and primates. Many have sought to make spiritual progress by repressing our animal nature. But we do not benefit by either repressing that nature or by being ruled by it. Make friends with your animal self, work with it, integrate it as a valid part of who you are. Regard it as neither alien to who you are, nor all of what you are. Most of us are highly ambivalent about corporeal incarnation. We often resent the limits imposed on us by being incarnated in a physical body that can't always do what we want when we want. Many of us are at war with how our bodies look, with aging, and mortality in general. We may also have conflicts based on how we relate to our appetites and other physical drives.
The positive aspect is that this may be a propitious time to make your peace with your animal nature.
That's the short version, if you have time for a bit more:
There are many ways in which the body can be our mountain. Like climbing a mountain on a stormy night, corporeal incarnation presents us with one risky challenge after another.
We live in a time where denial of the body has generated the polarized opposing view, the body-centric perspective. Neurological materialists believe that consciousness (if they admit such a thing exists at all) is merely an epiphenomenon, or secondary effect, of biochemical process in the brain. This unproven assumption is definitively contradicted by some of the findings of near death experience research. Although the condition of our brain has a vast influence on what we experience while we are bound to this particular body, there is strong evidence that we are not bound to a particular body. The body-centric point of view would have you believe that the body is not merely our life raft through human incarnation, but that we are the leaky life raft, and without it our consciousness ceases to exist. One version of the body-centric point of view is the person who is morbidly obsessed with fitness, life extension and so forth. Instead of living for deeper meanings, they are preoccupied with yoga, extreme dietary practice, etc. as if those were ends in themselves. Misunderstanding our relation to body can make climbing Body Mountain more discouraging and obsessive than necessary.
Body Mountain is challenging enough without being a body-centric materialist. We begin life as infants entirely dependent on those with adult bodies to take care of us. As our bodies begin to take on an adult form they can become possessed by raging hormones which may obsess us with the urge to couple with other bodies. At any moment in the lifecycle our bodies can become ill or injured and present us with staggering challenges. In a book on the experience of illness, an author wrote that every human being is born with a dual citizenship. In most cases we have a passport granting us access to the land of the well and another passport into the land of the unwell. Most of us will spend portions of our lives in both lands. And if our lives do not end prematurely we must climb the ever-steeper mountain of aging. An aging hippie I met this summer who was struggling with a heavy pack on a high-altitude trail told me: "The problem isn't being old, it's that you keep getting older!"
One of the best ways to experience Body Mountain is to take it on as a Warrior challenge. This is the path of some athletes, wilderness explorers and people who take on extreme dietary challenges such as fasting. Marathon running, mountain climbing and fairly extreme dietary regimens have been some of the most empowering practices of my life. Again, how you approach the mountain is crucial. If you are obsessed with a concrete aim like winning at all costs then you become the sort of athlete who cheats with performance-enhancing drugs. Even more common is the fitness-crazed egocentric obnoxious yuppie type for whom anti-aging is a kind of dismal, shallow religion. At this phase of biotechnology anti-aging is a nonsensical goal because like all other animals on this planet, we have pro-aging bodies. Even if anti-aging worked, it would at best serve to prolong our attachment to a single body, what Tolkien called "premature immortality," a reason for the elves to envy mortal man. Such self-centered and morbidly obsessed fitness types are not taking on Body Mountain as a Warrior challenge because a Warrior with a capital "W" always serves transpersonal aims.
Depending on the context and card position, consider this a propitious time to take on Body Mountain. Only your discernment can determine whether you need to take on Body Mountain as a Warrior athlete, pushing the envelope, as a healing challenge, as someone working with infirmity and aging as givens to achieve transpersonal service, or as a soulful surrender to mortal limitations and the upcoming event horizon of death.