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Avatar, Spirituality and Hope

I ended up going to watch the new movie Avatar last night with my hubby. I won’t tell the whole story because it is a movie you should go see, but a brief summary may be helpful.

The basic theme is clearly reminiscent of Dances with Wolves, The Last Samurai, and 10,000 BC (even Pocahontas?) and other movies with the theme of the stranger who somehow becomes integrated into a community of indigenous people, ends up falling in love, and then bringing others together to fight a common enemy, of which he was originally part of. Except that in this case the “indigenous” community lives in the planet Pandora, where a US corporation has a military base (with ex-marine contractors) and is ready to take over their land to serve the interests of its greedy investors by collecting the precious mineral Unobtanium, which can save the Earth from its present energy crisis. Sounds familiar?

Pandora’s air is poisonous to humans. Some American scientists created the Avatar Program, which basically enables people to link with their own “avatar,” a genetically-bred human-Pandora native hybrid and transport themselves through a special chamber (much like a sensory deprivation chamber) amidst the actual indigenous Na’vi people, who are these very tall, slender bluish beings, in a sort of parallel reality.

Jake, the main character, is a paraplegic ex-marine who, through a series of chain events, ends up being accepted by the Na-vi people and trained in all their skills by a native woman named Neytiri (whom he marries). Jake lives a double life. His physical body is in the lab chamber while his mind is in the magic world of the Na’vis. When his chamber gets unplugged, he comes back to human reality. In the Na’vi world, he is free to run and fly on magical creatures while discovering their ways. In the human reality, he has to record everything he is learning and respond to the demands of both scientists and army superiors, who are using him for their “reconnaissance mission” to invade, relocate the natives, and take the precious mineral they want. Interestingly enough, the name is unobtanium, which probably refers to the fact that it is unobtainable for them, as it is the energy force that maintains Pandora..

Yet the ways of these spiritual indigenous beings, who are so incredibly connected to the forest, their ancestors, and the energy around them, slowly transforms Jake and his perception of the world. Through learning their ways and seeing through their eyes, his mind gets purified and he truly becomes one of them. After some sad and action-packed events, he becomes their leader and summons other clans to fight  together against the American corporate army. Eventually he is given a new life with the Na’vi by transfusing his life force onto his “avatar” on Pandora and letting go of his human form.

Anyway, this is one of those movies you need to watch to understand what I am saying. And more importantly, the visual effects are amazing! The world of the Na’vi is so visually astounding that it is impossible to describe. The colors, the animals, the flowers, even how the grass lights up at each step… It is a fascinating and magical world, filled with energy and beauty. That alone is worth paying your ticket at the movie theater and watching it on the big screen.

On the other hand, although the movie is a feel-good type of movie, with a happy ending, for some reason it did not make me feel good. Yes, the indigenous communities, in conjunction with Mother Nature, defeat the greedy officials and deranged US soldiers, but their most important tree, their life giving tree, which is connected to all other trees and creates a network between nature and people, is destroyed in the process. This is what war does, no matter who wins in the end. In the movie, the Na’vi move on with their lives, but the destruction caused by the US army will never be forgotten and their landscape will never be the same. The wounds of war will remain.

The gorgeous landscape of Pandora is even more acutely contrasted by the incredibly powerful weaponry that the army has. There is this AMP suit, which is a bipedal exoskeleton gigantic robot-like cabin that allows the soldiers to walk on Pandora’s territory without having to breathe the air, while also serving as a shield, a machine gun, and an army suit. Of course it is huge and powerful. I can’t help but thinking that these things actually exist, or are in the process of being created. Why? Probably because one of the main things that the movie reminded me of was the human capacity for arrogance, greed, and power lust. There is only a handful of humans in the movie that do not want to destroy Pandora or don’t have an agenda. And there is only one (Jake, the hero) who gets transformed and switches to “the other side,” mainly because he has nothing to lose and simply surrenders to the process. As he even says to his future-wife, “his cup is empty.” Everyone else is driven by greed, intellectual arrogance, or plain ignorance and brutality.

Of course, I have to remind myself that the spirit of the Na’vi is also within all of us, and that on some level we all have the capacity to explore other worlds within, where there is beauty, peace, and love. Like Jake, we live our lives in the world of humans, surrounded by greed and violence, and mostly driven by our selfish ego, but we can also tap into a different reality where we connect to everyone and everything, realize who we are, and completely surrender to our divine nature and the process of life.

The Na’vi believe that everyone is born twice. To me, that means that we are born once with a physical body, and then the second time we are reborn in the world of spirit and awaken to the reality of our true self. That is our ultimate goal.

Neytiri tells Jake that “all energy is borrowed and one day we have to give it back,“ which obviously refers to the energy of life, or life force, that connects everyone and everything around us. Unfortunately, humans have been very good at taking from the Earth, but not so much at giving back, so now we are on the brink of destruction while the world is still driven by pure greed.

I can’t help but wonder why they entitled the movie Avatar. In Sanskrit, the meaning of the word avatara is that of the descent of a deity into human form. In other words, an avatar is a direct manifestation or incarnation of the Divine in human form, that is, one that has not had to reincarnate a million times before, but appears directly to help humanity in times of great need. In the movie, Avatar is the name of the scientific program and also the hybrid creatures that allow humans to live in Pandora as a Na’vi being. Obviously, in this case the avatar is a human who saves planet Pandora. But is he who saves the planet or is the planet that saves him? And why Pandora? Because after all the destruction brought by the US army, like in the Greek legend, only hope remains. One of the most important goals of any avatar is to bring hope, because without hope human life would not exist.

The movie made me reflect on the darkest side of human nature, and how greed and power rule our poor, devastated Mother Earth, but it also reminded me how important it is for each of us to look within and find our creative, magic, and spiritual nature, transform our own motivations and environment, and hold on to hope for a brighter future. Similarly to Jake, our physical body follows its own needs in the world, and is ruled by the laws of nature, but our mind is what needs to be trained and purified in order for us to reconnect with our true nature. In other words, we need to find the avatar within while letting go of the outer demands of the ego.