"When I woke up this morning after watching Avatar for the first time yesterday, the world seemed… gray. It was like my whole life, everything I've done and worked for, lost its meaning," Hill wrote on the forum. "It just seems so… meaningless. I still don't really see any reason to keep… doing things at all. I live in a dying world." — Audiences Experience 'Avatar' Blues
"In the New Age we break free of centuries of false doctrines, destructive indoctrinations, absurd ideas, and children's stories about God, education, medicine, and love. The corrupt foundations of false society crumble. This time of crises is not the signal of the end of the world. What comes is not the end, but the beginning. The dream humanity has lived for centuries ends and we awaken to a bright new day, a bright new way." — Age of Aquarius, Age of Holy Breath
A Malleable Pop Parable
In the weeks after seeing Avatar, I got a little obsessed — I scoured the web for reviews and ardently scrolled through long forum discussions, fascinated with what people were seeing in this movie, how it was resonating with the "masses" and within my communities. What I found, a myriad of impassioned interpretations, confirmed my impression that although this is, on one level, just a predictable Hollywood blockbuster about sexy aliens and explosions, it's also a valuable pop parable inspiring deep dialogue.
People are getting different things out of this film — in addition to the obvious environmentalist and anti-imperialist messages, the blogosphere is blowin' up with all kinds of good stuff! From spiritual/religious interpretations seeing it as an impetus for interfaith unity, an illustration of the notion that "everything is god", a synthesis of paganism & christianity, and a surreally accurate depiction of the ayahuasca experience, socio-political interpretations construing it as everything from a white guilt fantasy about race, to a harbinger of ET Disclosure, to an illustration of the promise of permaculture combined with a genuine free market economy, to more classically-minded viewers like this one, who has taken the time to map out the entire film as it correlates to the stages of The Hero's Journey, people are seeing their own world-views reflected in this film, finding its bright colors and simple story a useful frame to help convey their pet issue or philosophy. James Cameron says he just wanted to make "something that has this spoonful of sugar of all the action and the adventure and all that" that would thrill fans, but also "maybe in the enjoying of it makes you think a little bit about the way you interact with nature and your fellow man."
Like most viewers, I was enchanted with the newness & beauty of visual aesthetic, the psychedelic iridescent forest worlds & creatures — the alien world of Pandora felt more like where I wanted to live than the concrete strip mall jungles of my native homeland. I also resonated with the film's elegant fusion of core spiritual concepts from diverse spiritual traditions mixed together in just the right ratio so as to be suggestive of core truths & concepts from specific spiritual "flavors" while also conveying the underlying similarities between seemingly disparate faiths — the "Everything is God" interpretation definitely resonated with me, as did the Hero's Journey take — and when these interpretations are combined, Avatar becomes a story in which Heroism can be read as Ascensionism, and Hero redefined as Collective — fleshed out with uncannily perfect metaphors from most esoteric New Age material I've been devouring recently.
Neo New Age?
Before I go into a bunch of freaky terminology, it feels important to establish where I'm coming from. I don't self-identify as "New Age." Just as some people cringe when they hear the word Christian, thinking of dogmatic Bible-thumping simpletons who imagine God to look something like Santa Claus, the label New Age connotes a similar fundamentalism and tendency towards dogmatic evangelism of over-simplified abstract concepts.
Yet on paper, I'm about as New Age as they come — I use crystals, casually and frequently reference chakras, spend hours in Google rabbit holes spiraling around extraterrestrial theologies, and practice meditation and yoga seriously and regularly. But I'm also a serious and regular practitioner of left brain analytical thinking, prefer hip hop to hippie, and take pride in being a grounded, aware, pragmatic, disciplined, hardworking person who can, if pressed, even articulate the majority of her "woo woo" beliefs in clear, logical language. One of those beliefs is that humanity is entering a "new age" — whether you call it 2012, the Age of Aquarius, a Dimensional Shift, the Second Coming, End Times, or maybe just the laws of cause and effect delivering powerful straws about to break the greedy corporate imperialist camel's back… whatever station you're tuned into, the airwaves are pregnant with crackly ellipses.
Two years ago I participated in a rigorous yoga teacher training program that facilitated my transformation from cynical rationalist to optimistic mystic. Belief was a big topic. Still in recovery from a frightening fundamentalist Christian upbringing, I was deeply suspicious of "believers," and cringed at the idea of leaving my safe, postmodern, vaguely Eastern-affiliated agnosticism and professing allegiance to any kind of God, scared of becoming a vacuous "stepford yogi," blissful but brainless, spiritually radiant in some higher plane but alienated from the folks on this one. Thankfully, I had good teachers. "Don't trust us!" they said, "Belief is highly dangerous — it can turn you into a fundamentalist. Trust only your own experience. Develop your intuition; learn to listen to it. We do this by meditating. Find the still place from which you can hear the neutral voice."
After learning how to listen to my intuition, recognize and follow synchronicities, and trust my personal experience more than things I'd been taught to believe, I began to understand the different "truths" something could hold for me — and to notice the ways in which my internal consciousness did create my external reality. Somewhat ironically, my spiritual quest had led me to simple utilitarian pragmatism — if an idea, belief, or practice resonated with me and demonstrated significant utility towards facilitating my personal development into a happier, more loving, giving, peaceful, content, and generally "better" person, I was willing to choose to experience it as true even if I couldn't prove its truth. And that's how I got into crystals, auras, and aliens, why, from my mildly nauseating seat in the second row, I saw Avatar as a story about Ascension.
Dimensions of Ascension
A common criticism of spiritual pursuits is that they remove or distract you from civic or social engagement with the real world and its real problems around you — essentially, that they are escapist salves — kinda like going to a movie about saving the world instead of actually doing something. What I dig about New Age concepts — most of which actually aren't "new," by the way, but rather a pastiche of ancient esoteric ideas and practices — in particular the concept of the New Age itself, is that they actually do the opposite, with the heavy emphasis on personal responsibility.
"Ascension" is a New Age term for the old concept of "enlightenment." The contemporary "Ascensionist" movement, while drawing on Mayan, Astrological, and Christian concepts of New Age/End Times, takes the idea a bit further by positing that the shift to a "new age" is a process that is in part astrological, physiological, and inevitable, but in part determinable by humans — free will and personal accountability figure heavily in the stories of potential ways our world could change.
Astrology tells us that history can be viewed as a series of "eras" or "ages" shaped heavily by astrological alignments — that stars, planets, constellations each give off a particular frequency, and all living things on Earth are effected by the energy that is hitting our planet most strongly. Quantum physics tells us that everything is vibration, and that the frequency at which something vibrates defines its nature — for example, the frequency at which light vibrates is its color, the frequency at which sound vibrates is its pitch. Most of us know from experience that different frequencies have different effects on the human body and psyche, and there's significant research corroborating this. Simple science and personal experience also tell us that our bodies are effected in obvious ways by the moon (menstrual cycles) and sun (Vitamin D).
The New Age, or Aquarian Age, is marked by the dominant planetary energy shifting from the constellation of Pisces to Aquarius, from a period of competitiveness, hierarchical thinking, and allegiance to stories, myths, and belief that power lies outside of ourselves, to one of collectivism, collaboration, and connectivity. This and other astrological alignments are believed to be instrumental in shifting the fibers of human consciousness and "lowering the veil" so that we are receiving more support for our awakening process from powerful assistive energies, like benevolent extraterrestrials, angels, and guides. Many people are already experiencing this, and it is expected to intensify.
Although we are receiving greater "assistance," it is still the individual's responsibility to choose and walk her own path of Ascension, or spiritual growth. This is generally defined as doing self-healing and personal growth work required to clear out all internal fears, allowing one's identity to shift from finite separated ego-self to an experience of self as connected to a larger divine whole, finally shifting into pure love consciousness. When enough of us do so, the planet as a whole will then experience Ascension. Some equate this to the "Second Coming of Christ," in which Christ Consciousness is embodied by many people instead of just one. The Mayan Calender end date of Dec 12, 2012 has been used as a focal point for this target completion — signifying the "end of time," or beginning of the new age — though there are strongly divergent opinions as to this interpretation — many see it as a much longer gradual period of shift, some dismiss the idea of 2012, or that date in particular, as significant. In general, though, folks concur: the time is now, and now is the time.
The Story of Self
A little backstory may be required for those of you not familiar with these concepts. I encourage you do do your own research, but the cliff notes would go something like this: in the beginning, all existed as God, with no separation. At some point, God split; the One turned into Many – some traditions posit that the impetus for this choice was so that God could appreciate itself, which required perspective. Like water poured into millions of vessels – it was still all water (God), but was also now separate (many souls), each shaped by its container, containers like astrology, genetics, biology, socialization, etc. A vow of forgetfulness was taken by each soul that chose to incarnate, so that the game of remembering could be played. Karma was accrued and the cycle continued — for a long time. A few incarnated beings achieved full remembrance of their Godness (Jesus Christ, Buddha, the Ascended Masters, etc) and provided inspiring examples to help others remember. Certain souls chose to become incarnated with more of a remembrance (avatars, Indigos, Star Seeds, etc.) to similarly assist in the awakening process. Each of us, under our soul's "contract," or destiny, choose to be born into the context that would most perfectly facilitate our growth, the opportunity for maximum healing, as well as provide us with the unique gifts we'd need for our incarnation's Hero's Journey.
The physical self/ego self is the soul's container for this lifetime, and exists as a discrete entity in "3D" reality, i.e., the world on Earth, the consensus-defined Reality of the time-space continuum. The Higher Self, or highest expression of the soul, exists in higher dimensions. As we "ascend," become "enlightened," move from darkness (ignorance, forgetting) to light (wisdom, remembering), it becomes possible to fully integrate the "small" self with the "higher self." In Ascensionism, the self is described as "multi-dimensional," existing in multiple dimensions either simultaneously, sequentially, or both. While my 3D self is happily tapping a MacBook Pro in hot pink stretch pants fantasizing about breaking her coffee fast, I also exist as a Higher Self in a higher dimension, the me that's (theoretically) been around since the beginning of time, lived many lifetimes, and is lounging in the disembodied cosmic equivalent of a hot tub along with the Higher Selves of Jesus Christ and (potentially) Michael Jackson. When I tune in to that quiet inner voice that I know I can trust, my intuition, it's likely that it's my Higher Self that's doing the talking. Which explains why it so often tells me to stop stressin' and go sit in a hot tub…which is always good advice.
The Multi-Dimensional World of Avatar
An avatar is an incarnation of a divine being, a deity that has "descended" into Earthly form, or, in computer/video-gaming usage, a virtual representation of yourself. The avatars in Avatar are almost a combination of the two definitions, but with an interesting twist: rather representing a "descended deity," they represent "ascended" humans. They are fashioned in the form of the Na'Vi, who James Cameron says, represent our higher selves. Yet the Na'Vi aren't fully ascended. They still experience separation, fear, anger, and other "low" emotions. They are not fully in Christ Consciousness… just a few steps closer than the super-silly humans.
In esoteric material, dimensions are described as "realms of consciousness delineated by vibrational frequency range and nature of form or absence of form" The Pleiadian Workbook. The default human reality exists within the 3rd dimension. The ascension process is described as the process of an individual progressively elevating her consciousness, e.g. "up-shifting" into higher dimensions. This can be understood via commonplace experiences like the difference between the way you felt before an awesome yoga class, good workout, or blissful romantic interlude, and after. Your external reality is the same, but your embodied experience of it is vastly different — your body feels lighter, not quite as bound by normal physical rules like hunger or fatigue, your brain chemistry has changed, there's more love-energy than stress-energy flowing. Now imagine going there permanently, and even more deeply.
Jake Sully's ordinary worlds of Earth and now the spaceship, represent 3D reality; linear time-space. The land of Pandora and its native Na'Vi beings represent a higher dimension — I'd map it as most closely correlating to the 5th, where "dark & light polarities still exist, and beings retain their etheric forms, but have greater freedom to alter these forms at will," and in which "humans dream their lives into time and space reality, then wake up and live out the dreams" or 6th, which is "the realm from which the Higher Self communicates with us," and "the beginning of collective consciousness," where when beings wish to communicate with one another, "they simply blend their energy fields and consciousness" (The Pleiadian Workbook).
Exactly which dimension Pandora represents is sticky and fairly irrelevant, though I do find it interesting that it seems to correlate to the dimensions that several Ascensionists map to Pleiadian entities, which are thought to have a special relationship with humans as benevolent extraterrestrials guides at this time, and are commonly experienced as blue light beings. What's important is that Jake is communicating with extraterrestrial beings from another, higher dimension, who act as guides facilitating his ultimate ascension, or dimensional shift, and that this process is exactly what mystics throughout the ages have done — whether they called these beings "angels" (as in the Judeo-Christian tradition), "gods" (as in Hindu and Egyptian traditions), or "extraterrestrials" (as in contemporary New Age Ascensionist movement), these beings all exist on other planes, or dimensions, that spiritual seekers have sporadically been able to access through technologies ranging from asceticism to psychadelics, prayer, yoga, meditation, and psychoacoustic audio technologies.
It is amusing to note that this movie being hailed for its pioneering "dimensional" technology is also dealing with dimensions on a whole other level!
The Hero's Journey in Avatar
The Hero's Journey, or monomyth, structure was first articulated by Joseph Campbell, who posited it as the backbone of all mythological stories, like the stories of Jesus and Buddha. George Lucas wrote Star Wars as a conscious exercise in creating a Hero's Journey myth that would speak to modern people. The Hero's Journey can be broken down with different subtle variations, but the fundamental stages are as follows:
– Ordinary World
– Call to Adventure
– Refusal of the Call
– Meeting with the Mentor
– Crossing the First Threshold
– Tests, Allies, Enemies
– Rethinking Approach
– The Road Back
– Resurrection Hero
– Return with Elixir
The Hero's Journey is the fundamental story of transformation, the path to mastery, victory, enlightenment — and it's generally walked by an individualist, male hero. Most criticism I've found of Avatar relating to the heroic story revolves around disappointment with the identity politics implications of the regurgitated "white male hero" saving the helpless indigenous/native/female/minority. Agreed — that's played out. But I don't see it as that simple. When we critically create the distinction between an "external" and "internal" heroic journey, it's easy to see the "internal" heroic journey in Avatar as the process of Ascension, enacted by not just one hero, but three: Jake, Neytiri, and the Collective Alliance with Eywah. My analysis of the steps of the Hero's Journey as they correlate to the stages of Ascension, and as they are experienced by our heroes Jake, Neytiri, and the Collective, is presented here.
The Simple Human Hero
Powerless and vulnerable in a hostile place, Jake Sully cowers behind his weapon in his first jaunt through Pandora. He can't read his environment — doesn't know which animals are dangerous, which aren't, how to hold his ground and defend his territory, or how to kill with grace. The forest is experienced as separate from himself, nature as something to be studied; he lacks intuitive understanding of his environment or his effect within it — he pokes plants, provokes animals, and makes a bunch of noise, getting himself corned by several packs of scary wild things.
Although he is "stupid… like a baby," Jake possess the qualities of a hero in the making: unlike his colleagues, he is not overly intellectual — he comes with beginner's mind, natural courageousness and curiosity, a hunger born of desperation, and most importantly (according to Neytiri) a strong heart, strength of spirit. She would have missed it were she not so tuned in to source — but because she is aware, open, receptive, she sees and understands the meaning of the sign from Eywah, when, arms extended outward in a Christ-like power pose, Jake is illuminated by hundreds of the orb-like creatures that seem half dandelion, half jellyfish, flocking to him like fireflies defining his etheric body, and symbolically signifying to Neytiri that he is special, worth saving.
While Jake is already at stages 4&5 of his external heroic journey by this point, this meeting with Neytiri and the forthcoming arrangement of her being assigned as his mentor, or guru, marks the beginning of his internal/ascensionist journey, as well as the beginning of Neytiri's heroic journey, which is purely internal.
In the Hero's Journey/Ascension story, whether there's an external monster, villain, or enemy to be fought, the real battle is always the internal one, which revolves around the hero overcoming fear. In Jake's internal battle, the choice between fear and love is represented by whether he will choose to exploit the trust of the Na'Vi and side with the imperialist human war mongers, or to defect from the mission to which he was originally assigned and side with Grace & the Na'Vi, collaborating with them to attempt to protect Home Tree and their pagan permaculturalist way of life. When he chooses love/trust/fearlessness, he chooses Ascension, alignment with his Higher Self. His ascension is literalized at the end of the film — his consciousness switches bodies and his self ascends into the higher dimension permanently, fused with his avatar, the representation of his Higher Self.
One aspect of Ascensionist language that particularly resonates with me is its presentation of divinity as a continuum (shades of God), rather than a polarity (God or Not God). A trademark New Age concept is that polarity is always false, maya, illusion — nothing is purely good or evil; light simultaneously exists as both a particle and a wave; we are both God and Not God. And the multi-dimensional metaphor, with its accompanying concepts of ET races, Archangels, and Ascended Masters, fills in a lot of blanks, making it easier to understand the continuum paradigm.
As a representation of a higher dimensional being, Neytiri's heroic journey is less extreme and purely internal. She has already learned to 'see' (as in namaste, "the god in me sees/acknowledges the god in you"), experiences a deep energetic connection with all life, as well as a special psychic connection with animals & nature facilitated by the tail-braid linking, experiences her "self" as part of a collective higher self (deeply entwined with both the people and Eywah), and as the shaman's daughter, is one of the more spiritually advanced community members. Yet she still experiences fear, distrust, and separation, and is presented with choices that would allow her to break out of those lower vibrational states of consciousness — like whether she will continue to trust Jake after his initial seeming betrayal (which also represents trusting her Higher Self & Eywah, who told her to trust him in the first place), or whether she will choose a story of separation, lost love, and bitter resentment.
She's tested by the initial attack on the Na'Vi in which her father is killed — her experience of grief and loss plummets her consciousness down and she temporarily shifts to more of a fear/separation consciousness – distrustful of Jake and fearful of the end of the world as she knows it, she renounces Jake. After he changes his approach (link to the chart again), swooping down on the pimpin' big banshee, she, in tune, changes hers, and after spiritually re-grounding, she decides to take the leap of faith and choose trust.
It's unclear whether she fully ascends (merges her Higher Self into her existing body), or simply raises her vibrational level to a higher dimension, but it's inarguable that she's as much a heroine of the film as Jake is a hero. If she hadn't heeded the signs from Eywah and saved his life, the most likely scenario is that Jake would have been killed by scary beasts, and the mission would have continued as planned, culminating with Home Tree & the Na'Vi civilization getting obliterated, and the bad guys winning. Additionally, she clearly chooses love over fear, and is rewarded by tantric kitty elf sex with the "alien" she loves, and getting to save both her protégé (twice!) and her planet.
Her heroism is more subtle — her role as Jake's guru (the teacher who facilitates his enlightenment) is less glamourous than Jake's as dimension-hopping ambassador. She didn't tame the biggest banshee like Jake did, but she taught him how to… And she tamed the big beast inside herself, her negative mind, so that she was able to listen to her soul, soften her hard warrior edges, and let love in. I don't see this as anti-feminist or disempowering, but rather as a balanced integration of concepts of the Divine Feminine in which fierce shakti warrior energy is woven together with nurturing receptive mother and lover energy to create balance.
Hero As Collective
The true hero of the film, however, was not Jake or Neytiri, but the collective alliance created between all those who sided with Eywah. While Jake served an important role as ambassador between worlds, uniting The Collective using some very effective grassroots community organizing techniques, and Neytiri served an equally important role as Jake's guru, neither of them saved Pandora, they just played their parts by using their unique gifts to facilitate a situation in which a Collective Alliance against the imperialist invaders was able to form, organize, fight, and win.
Ascensionist Lisa Renee describes the purpose of life as finding your unique note and holding that frequency, so that together we create harmonic resonance, a sophisticated symphony, perfect in its diversity. In the Ascensionist paradigm, Everyman can be as heroic as Christ by pursuing his own path of Ascension, which generally consists of prosaic tiny battles that, if well played, culminate in bigger victories. These tiny battles take place when the ego-self becomes attached to something that is not harmonic with the larger picture — the big victories are experienced when we've navigated the right balance between giving and receiving, serving one's own needs and serving the needs of the people or The Whole, such that we feel safe, connected, symbiotic. The method towards achieving this is to go deep within and allow yourself to acknowledge the things you're afraid of, the ways in which you're still clinging to concepts of separation, and work through them in whatever manner you find most effective.
Until the situation got desperate in Avatar, no one seriously entertained the possibility that humans and Na'Vi could fully trust one another and work together for an agreed-upon greater good. But due to a domino effect created by a few strong individuals choosing Divine Alignment, this became a possibility. The reward was something previously unimaginable to humans and Na'Vi alike — that the connectivity between all of Eywah's creatures could be experienced as total alliance, in which all living creatures magically collaborated towards the preservation of the sacred.
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, the same guy who encourages communities to organize interfaith Avatar outings & dialogues, says, "Avatar teaches that in the struggle to heal our world, birds and animals and trees and grasses can become our active allies if we "see" them as part of ourselves, part of our Beloved Community. Is there a way to make this true for us?"
As old systems crumble and we crouch poised on the brink of the New Age of collaboration and symbiosis, both with other people and with Gaia, the model of collective as hero is relevant. We've grown up in a world in which a small percent of the population controls the majority of the world's wealth. We've felt disempowered, fearful, even, as Joanna Macy describes it, despairing. It's our job to figure out how to turn the despair into power, how to go from complicit cogs to intentional co-creators. We have to figure out what we want, how to make our visions meet in the middle, and, most challenging, how to work together in order to actualize them. We must learn to "see into" the other, and have the courage to make ourselves vulnerable enough to defeat our own fears. In the New Age, the guru, or mentor, is not an external teacher, but an inner knowing, and all have equal potential for greatness, if only they heed the call.
It Makes Me Feel Good
I can feel Neytiri hovering above me like my Higher Self, a feline protectress reminding me that piety can also be sexy. Like millions of viewers, I wanted to be her cub and her lover, and my 2010 fashion to date is definitely taking heavy cues from her. Speaking purely empirically (in terms of my own direct experience), she's about as "real" as the historical Jesus Christ is to me — a beautiful conceptual container into which human beings have stuffed the abstract, a tangible flavor of divinity, expressed via mythology. She's archetypally aspirational, a useful avatar. When I'm tempted to get short tempered or revert to negative thought patterns telling me the same old separation sob stories, it helps for me to feel her inside me, to feel the moment of choosing trust, forgiveness, and to associate that choice with a happy ending.
Similarly, it also doesn't fully matter to me whether the legions of extraterrestrial races that populate the Ascensionist mythologies are "real" either. My intuition tells me that there's something there — I've seen unidentifiable things in the sky and felt chills up my spine, and within the last year I've made a handful of new friends who claim to channel extraterrestrial entities, and my reasons to believe them outweigh my reasons not to — primarily that I know them to be truthful, happy, grounded, self-aware, highly intelligent people. When I "hear voices" in my head during meditation, it feels good, and right, to experience that as tuning in to a more divine frequency, something larger than my ego-self. When I listen to the voice I identify as my Higher Self, I never regret it. When I trust a healing modality that I've been drawn to, it's generally quite effective — including recent forays into things beyond logical explanation. Placebo effect, esoteric realities, or enigmatic magic, at this stage in my journey, the result is what matters — if something gives me hope, makes me feel connected, and breaks through my inner bull-shiznit, it's true for me, for now. Like The Zombies said, I don't need any reason; it just makes me feel good. And beyond the relativist pragmatist justification, there's also something deeper: an intuitive knowledge that my experience is also true – maybe someday I'll feel as confident about the language I have at my disposal to describe it.
What Does Your Avatar Look Like?
Many people were effected by the images of Avatar in a way that that hit home like existing spiritual or religious mythology has failed to. Some people are even feeling suicidal as a result of the deep longing that's been awakened by this movie — and the corresponding fear/belief that they do not live in a world that could facilitate such beauty, such connection. I'm lucky. I'm a left-coast fringe-dwelling neo-new age permie Evolver. I've got Kundalini Yoga, Permaculture Design Courses, and techno-shamanic vibrating floor parties. I live next door to a redwood forest. It's easy for me to shoot my psychic tail braid into the mulchy forest floor and up through the foggy atmosphere, and feel myself connected with all living things. I also started my existential crisis early and have had the privileges of training and community — for some, it sounds like this movie is the catalyst that may inspire them to seek those out.
Whether you believe we're at the dawn of a new age or simply responsible for cleaning up a big mess, the questions are equally relevant: what are you afraid of, and how is that fear limiting you? What does your Avatar look like?