Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

Avatar and Cultural Transformation November 10, 2015

Without this playing with fantasy no creative work has ever yet to come to birth.  The debt we owe to the play of the imagination is incalculable.  Carl Jung

Culture is created by the human psyche.  Intended or not, there is a psychological dimension to every art form. This is nowhere more evident than in James Cameron’s 2009 epic science-fiction film Avatar, a personal favorite.

Avatar’s characters, symbols and themes are updated versions of archetypes featured in stories from every nation, generation, and religion throughout history. Its symbols of interconnectedness—the wormy squirmy tentacled pony tails that bond with similar anatomical appendages of bizarre beasts, and the electrochemical connections between tree roots—are imaginatively resonant of ancient Hinduism’s Diamond Net of Indra, Jung’s collective unconscious, and quantum physics’ holographic universe. And its themes of self-discovery, initiation, revolution, transformation, and redemption have been with us since the first story ever told around a fire.

This lush film eloquently depicts the transformation occurring in humanity’s heroic journey into wholeness and consciousness. It does so by contrasting an ego that succeeds by opening to otherness and change with one that fails because it refuses to grow. Indulge me for a moment as I engage in a bit of imaginative word play to illustrate my point.

The time is the mid-22nd century. The place is Pandora, (mythically, the Greek goddess whose curiosity unleashed all the evils onto the world but whose ultimate legacy was hope). Pandora is a moon in the Alpha Centauri star system that is being colonized to mine a rare mineral. The plot revolves around the expansion of the mining colony which is threatening the existence of the local tribe of natives known as Na’vi.

Corporal Jake (Biblically, Jacob was Isaac’s son and Abraham’s grandson who overcame adversity to become the patriarch of the Israelites) Sully is a soldier whose body is bound to a wheel chair and whose soul has been sullied—i.e. contaminated and made impure—by bitterness, self-pity, and the aggressive mind-set of his dominator culture. Yet, by the end of the story, he is transformed into a heroic Warrior and passionate Lover.

Where love rules, there is no will to power; and where power predominates, there love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other.  Carl Jung

After undergoing training to be an avatar, Jake’s crippled body rests in a remote location while his mind inhabits a genetically engineered Na’vi body that interacts with the natives.  His bravery, his respect for princess Neytiri (who says”nay” to tyranny and is Sully’s equal, savior, and Beloved), and his receptivity to the foreign ways of her culture all lead to his redemption and the salvation of the Na’vi.

And what might the name Na’vi symbolize? This tribe has long navigated safely through a difficult world by honoring the sacred underlying patterns of life. But because the people will not capitulate to the dominator ego mentality which has destroyed Earth, their culture is in danger of extinction.

Other archetypal themes are represented by the Na’vi’s spiritual leader Mo’at, (an abbreviation of Mother Earth?) who is a blend of the Jungian archetypes of Queen, Earth Mother, Wisewoman, and Beloved. Her earth-based values and connections to Nature are the glue that have enabled the Na’vi to flourish thus far.  Then there’s Jake’s mentor, Dr. Grace Augustine (a saintly name if ever there was one), who symbolizes the archetypal Queen’s regard for shared authority and individual differences and the Wisewoman’s intuitive intelligence and pursuit of truth.

Finally we have a plot with the necessary obstacles every hero must overcome: the self-absorbed and self-serving ego symbolized by Selfridge, corporate administrator of the mining program; and the obsessive Warrior mentality of the head of security, Colonel Miles Quaritch (from quarantine, a place of detention? Or quarrel, an angry dispute? Or quartz, a hard rock?). Cameron’s soulless dark invader, like Lucas’s Darth Vader, has miles to go in his own journey because of his rock-hard rigidity and unrelenting itch to maintain his power regardless of the cost to anyone or anything.

So here we have a story about a brave, heroic ego vs. a rigid, fearful ego. Earthly and cosmic connectedness vs. personal self-interest.  Accepting our shadows. Opening to otherness. Learning from feminine wisdom and nature. Moving toward balance. Uniting opposites with respect and love. Using our Warrior energy to protect and empower the vulnerable. Overcoming crippling disadvantages to become a force for positive change.

This haunting story is more than just another movie.  It is a mythic reflection of us at our worst and best. Of our blind ego with its rigid and self-righteous attitudes. Of our dysfunctional dark shadow that clings to old habits and blindly fouls our planetary nest. Of our power-hungry Warrior who continues to dominate families, neighborhoods and societies.

There is no coming to consciousness without pain.  Carl Jung

Our hope lies with Jake who represents the resilience, creative imagination, and heroic potential of every ego, no matter how much suffering it endures, to overcome its lethargy and choose consciousness:  consciousness of our light shadow with its unique gifts and ideals and sensitivity and care. Consciousness of our healthy Warrior with the courage to say no to ingrained attitudes and practices that produce chaos, pollution and destruction. Consciousness of the love waiting to blossom between healthy femininity and masculinity.

Image Credit:  Google Images

Jean Raffa’s “The Bridge to Wholeness” and “Dream Theatres of the Soul” are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. “Healing the Sacred Divide” can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications.

 

Qaddafi vs . Kali: Who Will Win? August 23, 2011

I started blogging almost a year and a half ago. So far I’ve avoided repeating any posts, but recent events in Libya prompt me to reconsider. Originally published on March 12 of this year, this post addresses the traditional interpretation of the hero myth which elevates “masculine” values and represses “feminine” ones. In my next post I will describe other toxic aspects of the old version and describe characteristics of the newly emerging one.

In an early post I wrote that the film Avatar highlights the differences between the heroic and immature ego. Avatar’s hero, Corporal Jake Sully, succeeds because of his bravery, receptivity to Princess Neytiri and her culture, and willingness to heed his wise and truth-pursuing mentor, Dr. Grace Augustine. His adversary, the obsessive and soulless Colonel Miles Quaritch (there’s an interesting similarity between his name and Colonel Mohamar Qaddafi don’t you think?), fails because of his resistance to the Na’vi and their spiritual leader, Queen Mo’at, and his determination to destroy whatever threatens his power.

Quaritch and Qaddafi exemplify the Old King/Warrior ego. This is the part of us which attains power and success with two primary strategies: first, by believing we are the supreme authority of the psyche and the world around us; and second, by rejecting otherness, which in Jungian psychology is associated with the feminine unconscious. As long as we function in this mode, sharing our power and trusting the wisdom of forces we consider inferior is unthinkable.

This way of thinking gave rise to, and still supports, patriarchal cultures with their hierarchies of authority. The old ego believes that climbing to the top to become a colonel or king will immunize it from the suffering, victimization and failure experienced by all that is below. Thus, being forced to surrender to the corporals of the world feels like a mortal, humiliating blow administered by a cruel enemy. Likewise, for many people including Job and Jung, an experience of God — the ultimate Other above everything — as a force with far more power than our puny ego is, in Jung’s words, an “unvarnished spectacle of divine savagery and ruthlessness” that produces shattering emotion.

I imagine Colonel Qaddafi might be feeling some uncomfortable emotions himself about now as he faces growing rebellion in Libya. Perhaps in the secret places of his soul he’s even questioning his God-image. After all, if he who did everything right (from the perspective of his ego) can be threatened by the loss of control of his country, what has his life been all about? This is exactly how every ego feels when confronted with the divine power of repressed otherness. Losing control feels like a violation. Like utter unfairness. Like death, the ultimate feminine mystery.

In Hinduism this mystery is symbolized by the aspect of the Great Mother known as Kali, the Mistress of the Dead who reminds us that when new healing is required, the old ways must change or die. Her natural cycles of birth/death/rebirth terrify the Old King/Warrior/Ego who wants to escape the darker demands of growing up: things like aging, becoming vulnerable in relationships, and losing power, money, status, loved ones, health. So he deludes himself into believing that controlling or destroying otherness proves his omnipotence and protects him from the Great Mother’s power. It doesn’t. The Old King/Ego aided the survival of our species. But the rules have changed. Now he is a dinosaur whose dominator mind-set is rapidly becoming extinct.

Einstein said: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Our world is in trouble. Dying to the old ways and birthing a stronger and wiser ego is the great work to which each of us is called today. Will we, like Corporal Sully, attain our heroic destiny by embracing otherness in ourselves and the world, or will we, like Colonel Quaritch and Colonel Qaddafi, ultimately fail?

 

Qaddafi vs. Kali: Who Will Win? March 12, 2011

In an early post I wrote that the film Avatar highlights the differences between the heroic and immature ego. Avatar’s hero, Corporal Jake Sully, succeeds because of his bravery, receptivity to Princess Neytiri and her culture, and willingness to heed his wise and truth-pursuing mentor, Dr. Grace Augustine. His adversary, the obsessive and soulless Colonel Miles Quaritch (there’s an interesting similarity between his name and Colonel Mohamar Qaddafi don’t you think?), fails because of his resistance to the Na’vi and their spiritual leader, Queen Mo’at, and his determination to destroy whatever threatens his power.

Quaritch and Qaddafi exemplify the Old King/Warrior ego. This is the part of us which attains power and success with two primary strategies: first, by believing we are the supreme authority of the psyche and the world around us; and second, by rejecting otherness, which in Jungian psychology is associated with the feminine unconscious. As long as we function in this mode, sharing our power and trusting the wisdom of forces we consider inferior is unthinkable.

This way of thinking gave rise to, and still supports, patriarchal cultures with their hierarchies of authority. The old ego believes that climbing to the top to become a colonel or king will immunize it from the suffering, victimization and failure experienced by all that is below. Thus, being forced to surrender to the corporals of the world feels like a mortal, humiliating blow administered by a cruel enemy. Likewise, for many people including Job and Jung, an experience of God — the ultimate Other above everything — as a force with far more power than our puny ego is, in Jung’s words, an “unvarnished spectacle of divine savagery and ruthlessness” that produces shattering emotion.

I imagine Colonel Qaddafi might be feeling some uncomfortable emotions himself about now as he faces growing rebellion in Libya. Perhaps in the secret places of his soul he’s even questioning his God-image. After all, if he who did everything right (from the perspective of his ego) can be threatened by the loss of control of his country, what has his life been all about? This is exactly how every ego feels when confronted with the divine power of repressed otherness. Losing control feels like a violation. Like utter unfairness. Like death, the ultimate feminine mystery.

In Hinduism this mystery is symbolized by the aspect of the Great Mother known as Kali, the Mistress of the Dead who reminds us that when new healing is required, the old ways must change or die. Her natural cycles of birth/death/rebirth terrify the Old King/Warrior/Ego who wants to escape the darker demands of growing up: things like aging, becoming vulnerable in relationships, and losing power, money, status, loved ones, health. So he deludes himself into believing that controlling or destroying otherness proves his omnipotence and protects him from the Great Mother’s power. It doesn’t. The Old King/Ego aided the survival of our species. But the rules have changed. Now he is a dinosaur whose dominator mind-set is rapidly becoming extinct.

Einstein said: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Dying to the old ways and birthing a stronger and wiser ego is the great work to which each of us is called today. Will we, like Corporal Sully, attain our heroic destiny by embracing otherness in ourselves and the world, or will we, like Colonel Quaritch and Colonel Qaddafi, ultimately fail?

 

Boys Behaving Badly April 5, 2010

I recently wrote about the obsessive warriors in Avatar and Star Wars from a psychological perspective and suggested their behavior was rooted in the rigidity of a one-sided, self-serving ego. Lest anyone misunderstand, I hasten to add that the ego’s problem is not one of gender, but lack of self-awareness. Surely it goes without saying that girls behave badly too. Snow White’s Evil Stepmother, 101 Dalmations’ Cruella DeVille, and Fatal Attraction’s Alex Forrest are merely images of self-centered egos with wombs, dresses, and long hair!

Many of us think of the ego as being “bad” by definition, and I know people who have trouble with the very idea of warriors, but every psyche is furnished with an ego and Warrior (and several other archetypes as well) at birth, and we all need both to get through life with a measure of success. This is why Jungian psychology does not judge the ego as good or bad but simply sees it as the center of consciousness. A healthy ego with mature awareness nurtures a noble, heroic Warrior; an immature and minimally conscious ego can create a destructive one. The point is to become conscious of our ego’s destructive tendencies and learn how to control them. And what are these tendencies?

Consider Colonel Quaritch and Darth Vader:  Self preservation is more important to them than species-preservation.  They want to prove themselves by acquiring worldly power and authority.  The more power and authority they have, the more resistant they are to giving it up.  They are so full of themselves (pride and hubris are two words that immediately come to mind) that they believe they are entitled and infallible.  They sincerely believe their way is RIGHT and are closed to alternative views.  They insist on having their way regardless of who they hurt.  They are totally unaware of the powerful tool – repression – they unconsciously use to ignore their true motives and justify their behavior and the damage they do.

These are the basic inclinations of every ego and it’s extraordinarily difficult to transcend them. Think about it. Don’t babies start out being utterly self-centered little tyrants? Doesn’t it require enormous effort to civilize them? Don’t we adults still struggle with these tendencies in ourselves? Isn’t this why we create laws and rules and schools and moral codes and social standards and religions? The human animal is trying to contain its instinctual willfulness, trying to respect the significance of others, trying to grow more conscious. But we are still incomplete.

Legal systems and religions can help an ego acquire good intentions and a veneer (persona) of balance and maturity, but by themselves they cannot soften a hard heart. To be able to love others we first have to love ourselves, and we can’t love ourselves until we can see and forgive our self-serving motivations and self-defeating tendencies.

This is why even the most well-intentioned religions and political regimes have difficulty containing the Colonel Quaritches and Darth Vaders of the world. There is only one force powerful enough to transform an immature ego and that is consciousness.

May the Force be with you.

 

Avatar, Ego, and Cultural Reform March 29, 2010

I loved Avatar’s lavish version of the hero’s journey. Its characters are such exotic examples of the archetypes starring in myths from every nation, generation, and religion. Its new symbols of interconnectedness–the wormy squirmy tentacled pony tails that bond with similar anatomical appendages of bizarre beasts; the electrochemical connections between tree roots that recall ancient Hinduism’s Diamond Net of Indra, Jung’s collective unconscious, and quantum physics’ holographic universe–are so imaginatively resonant. And I never tire of the themes of self-discovery, initiation, revolution, transformation, and redemption.

The human psyche creates culture, so intended or not, there is a psychological dimension to all art. Since I cannot help but view a movie through a psychological lens, (which adds another dimension to the 3D ones already supplied for Avatar), here goes: For me, Avatar is about the difference between the heroic ego that succeeds in its quest because it opens to otherness and change, and the stuck ego that ultimately fails because it refuses to budge. Indulge me for a moment as I engage in a bit of imaginative word play to illustrate my point.

Corporal Jake (Jacob was the Biblical favored son and usurper of his twin brother’s inheritance) Sully is a sullied soldier who is transformed into a heroic Warrior and passionate Lover. The qualities that lead to his redemption and the salvation of the Na’vi are his bravery, his respect for princess Neytiri (who says”nay” to tyranny and is Sully’s equal, savior, and Beloved), and his receptivity to the foreign ways of her culture.

And what about the Na’vi? Like all Native peoples they have long navigated safely through a difficult world by honoring the sacred underlying patterns of life. But because they will not capitulate to the dysfunctional ego mentality which has destroyed Earth, their culture is in danger of extinction. Sound familiar?

Other archetypal themes are represented by the Na’vi’s spiritual leader Mo’at, (an abbreviation of Mother Earth?) a blend of the Jungian archetypes of Queen, Earth Mother, Wisewoman, and Beloved. Then there’s Jake’s mentor, Dr. Grace Augustine (a saintly name if ever there was one), who symbolizes the Queen’s regard for shared authority and individual differences and the Wisewoman’s intuitive intelligence and pursuit of truth.

Finally we have the necessary obstacles every hero must overcome: the self-absorbed and self-serving ego symbolized by Selfridge, corporate administrator of the mining program; and the obsessive Warrior mentality of the head of security, Colonel Miles Quaritch (from quarantine, a place of detention? Or quarrel, an angry dispute? Or quartz, a hard rock?). Cameron’s soulless dark invader, like Lucas’s Darth Vader, has miles to go in his own journey because of his rock-hard rigidity and unrelenting itch to maintain his power regardless of cost.

Brave, heroic ego vs. rigid, fearful ego. Cosmic connectedness vs. personal self-interest. Do the psychological themes of this haunting myth remind anyone else of the conflict surrounding the passage of Health Care Reform?

 

 
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