Avatar: Pandora Is in the Eye of the Beholder

By Terrapinzflyer · Jan 26, 2010 · ·
  1. Terrapinzflyer
    Avatar: Pandora Is in the Eye of the Beholder

    Noted spiritual teacher Ram Dass, a former Harvard professor of psychology and early spokesperson for the possible spiritual benefits of using LSD and other psychedelic drugs, tells the following story: He was approached by a professional, scientific group, and asked to comment on various photos, presumably related to drug use. One of them depicted a man, lying on the kitchen floor, gazing at a puddle of spilled Coke. Ram Dass said that the picture gave him pause, for it brought to mind the many hours he himself had spent in just such a position, staring in awe at puddles of spilled Coke or something equally and allegedly "mundane."

    News reports have appeared lately speaking of people who see Avatar and subsequently fall into a deep depression at their inability to access a world in reality as beautiful, entrancing and spiritual as Pandora, the mythical planet depicted in the film. But before you join a Post Avatar Depression Syndrome (PADS) support group, consider the lesson of the spilled Coke, or really, one of the lessons of LSD. Yes, it is a drug-induced state, and yet, for the time that it lasts, the habitual filters through which we ordinarily view existence are removed, revealing a magical universe residing in the very spot that we would have dubbed "mundane" and passed by without a second glance in our non-altered state.

    Such eye-opening revelations of the deeper mystery of everything, animate and inanimate, can occur not only through ingesting a possibly dangerous chemical (I can attest to that part), but via intentional practices as well as random circumstances -- death or great loss, "Acts of God," the birth of a child and so forth. Virtually anything, if the timing is right, can temporarily jolt us out of our blind slumber and awaken our inner vision to a grander vista.

    Ram Dass eventually realized that no matter how much or how often he took LSD, he would always "come down" to ordinary reality, and be left with, like the Pandora-smitten viewers of Avatar, a powerful hunger to live in those deeper realms all the time. Thus, he proclaimed at one point, "The spiritual path is not about 'getting high,' it's about 'being high,'" and that, he explained, requires discipline, long hours of spiritual practice, and Grace.

    Another contemporary spiritual teacher, Adyashanti, has shared that he noticed at some point in his development that no matter how far out his experiences sometimes were, no matter how blissful, insightful and other-worldly, or how terrible, he always seemed to return to "this." Just this ordinary, regular moment.

    There is really not much use in continuously revisiting artificially induced states if it is at the expense of doing the actual work required to integrate the teachings from those selfsame states into one's life in a meaningful and less transient manner. Philosopher and Zen practitioner Alan Watts compared it to a scientist in a lab who discovers something under the microscope; she doesn't just keep on repeating the experiment and staring at the result; she takes new actions informed by her discovery. Or, switching metaphors, Watts also said, "When you get the message, hang up the phone."

    Because it only takes one such mind-shattering epiphany to recognize that William James was indeed onto something when he declared in The Varieties of Religious Experience that.

    "Our normal waking consciousness ... is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different."

    A single glimpse of this truth upends our entire world-view, and reality is never quite the same. We are suddenly launched, for better or worse, onto a path that is fueled by our yearning to part the veils that shield our eyes from seeing a puddle of spilled coke as anything less than a fantastical, mystical, miraculous and mysterious appearance in the midst of an inexplicable infinite universe! And the same for every blade of grass, our little finger, and all of our fellow creatures. Our earth -- Gaia -- like Pandora, is teeming with life, every quark connected to every other and all linked to the whole through the vast web of Indra's net. Sneeze in Kentucky, and a cockroach in Calcutta moves a little to the left.

    The alluring world of Pandora is not "out there." It surrounds us every moment, it is the very atmosphere in which we live and move and have our being. Hell and heaven are separated only by an infinitesimal turn of the mind and inner view. The longing to live on Pandora is our deepest soul cry to be who we really are and see life as it really is.

    The late guru Adi Da Samraj used to find it interesting that people would gaze up at the night sky, hoping to see a shooting star, as if the sky itself, just as it is, isn't already completely mysterious and beautiful. It just wasn't quite enough; people needed just a little more to be properly bewildered and awestruck!


    Ok- I know this is only tenuously drug related at best ;) but some of the thoughts related to LSD psychedelic struck a chord...

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  1. Potter
    My god... Just because some reporter found a message board of pathetic fans doesn't mean there's a fucking news story. Look on any fan board and you'll find people emotionally ruined by their favorite TV or movie.
  2. chillinwill
    Sacred brews, secret muse

    If you haven't seen Avatar yet, you must be living on a different planet – clearly not Pandora, where James Cameron's blockbuster unfolds. His 3D extravaganza has pushed hot buttons from the U.S. military to the Vatican, as well as soliciting political criticism from both left and right.

    The film's effect has even thrown some fans into a downright funk. A thread in one Avatar forum, titled “Ways to cope with the depression of the dream of Pandora being intangible,” has been visited by hundreds of moviegoers, some describing suicidal thoughts, others offering helpful tips for managing in the real world.

    If Pandora is just a product of an active imagination, why such extreme reactions? Could it be that the Canadian producer/writer/director has tapped into a zeitgeist that longs for a deeper connection to nature and a re-enchantment with the natural world?

    After seeing the film twice, I believe Mr. Cameron may have had help with his vision of life in another dimension, where the blue-skinned Na'vi maintain a direct communication with all biological life through a visceral connection with the tree deity Eywa. My suspicion is that he has heard about the use of ayahuasca among indigenous people in the Amazon, our closest relative to the luxuriant, bioluminescent jungle of Pandora.

    Ayahuasca ceremonies have migrated in recent years from South America to North America and Europe as Westerners seeking healing and spiritual awakening discover the traditional medicine, raising legal issues about the classification and use of the psychoactive substance as a medicine, drug or religious sacrament. I've recently finished a documentary film about this very subject, following characters as they enter the world of ayahuasca in Peru and their North American hometowns.

    In the Amazon, ayahuasca is a sacred medicine, a tea brewed from plants shamans have used for centuries for healing to enter the spirit world and communicate with other life forms. The thick woody vine spirals skyward to the forest canopy like the staircase inside a Na'vi Hometree. The literal translation of ayahuasca is “vine of the soul,” echoing the Na'vi “Tree of Souls.” Both plants – our vine, their tree – allow initiates to connect with ancestors and plug into the living biological matrix that sustains all life.

    One of my documentary subjects, a naturopathic doctor, described her ayahuasca experience this way: “I could feel plants quivering. I could feel everything breathing; I could even feel the Earth groaning. I could hear every single bird and had this blissed-out insanely powerful connection with the Earth … It's one thing to intellectualize something, it's another thing entirely to touch it, and to experience other, bigger energies that are intelligent.”

    In Avatar , the blinding psychedelic flashes that signal the transfer from protagonist Jake's human psyche to Na'vi consciousness are similar to how people in ceremonies describe the energetic shift as ayahuasca takes effect – a visual cue that consciousness is expanding and the mind is prepped as both receiver and generator of a different reality. The ayahuasca experience is like dreaming while you are awake; in effect, you become an avatar.

    I am not the only one to wonder about Mr. Cameron's possible ayahuasca influence. As L.A. blogger Erik Davis notes at techgnosis.com, “if there is an aya -Avatar connection, it would explain one crucial way in which the film differs from conventional ‘noble savage' mysticism. Rather than ground the Na'vi's grooviness in their folklore or spiritual purity, the film instead presents the vision of a direct and material communications link with the plant mind. Which means that Eywa (aka Aya) does not have to be believed – she can be experienced.”

    In the film, the Na'vi hold ceremonies huddled around their great tree and enter into communion with ancestors or Eywa herself by physically attaching their long braids to the glowing tendrils that hang from the branches. They immediately feel the healing energy flowing through all living things. In ayahuasca ceremonies, participants sit in a circle and drink the brew that transports them to a similar realm. Starting with the physical act of taking nature directly into their bodies, many report an egoless merging with one's surroundings, coupled with feelings of love for all creation. In religious terms, it would be a mystical experience, a direct encounter with the divine. “It's very much like being held to the bosom of the mother of everything,” another character explains in my documentary.

    Part of what Mr. Cameron has done with Avatar is to reawaken an ardour for the beauty and mystery of nature at a time when many people feel our planetary ecosystem is most under threat. That he has chosen the precarious Pandora/Amazon as his location and the indigenous relationship with a sacred tree/plant as the spiritual heart of his story reveals that his concerns have never been too far from our own world.

    Indigenous people have always revered their sacred links with the natural world. The relationship always begins with plants, the most humble of nature's creations – but also the most powerful, for life cannot exist without them. Learning through them is a pan-human cultural tradition that goes back thousands of years.

    In the end, it may just be that Avatar will get us all listening again to the plant world around us.

    Richard Meech is a Toronto-based documentary filmmaker. His latest film, Vine of the Soul, will be shown on VisionTV this spring.

    By Richard Meech
    January 30, 2010
    Globe And Mail
  3. SullyGuy
    I think it's an interesting phenomenon for sure... regardless of how widespread it is. The people with no drug experience are 'coming down', perhaps? Never a good feeling, especially if you don't expect it.
  4. NeuroChi
    This is one of those sentences that makes you stop reading for a second.

    Avatar was an incredible movie for many different reasons, but I feel that the underlying messages are the most valuable.

    Maybe living in a near-Utopian civilization wouldn't be possible, maybe it doesn't exist, but that doesn't change the fact that the desire to live in one is surely strong in some people.
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