Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

Portrait of a Spirit Warrior May 25, 2010

According to neurologist Leonard Shlain, the development of the brain’s left hemisphere and ego consciousness “resulted in humans creating a distinction between me-in-here and world-out-there.” This detached subject/object split enhanced the skills of hunters who needed to separate themselves from the hunted and strengthened their ability to remain motionless while focusing on a single task, but this occurred at the expense of attributes like holistic awareness and emotional depth. As Shlain says, “The dispassion inherent in dualism, a viewpoint indispensable for killing, is the opposite of a mother’s binding love for her child.” Eventually, a sense of alienation from our fuller selves became the norm in most “highly civilized” Western societies.

But many indigenous cultures, for example, the Toltecs of Mexico and the Taoists of China, never discarded what William Horden calls the “magic world of the unconscious dreamtime.” Knowing that Ultimate Being consists of a unity-totality, they envisioned a new kind of spirit warrior who unites all opposites within him/herself. Five days ago I witnessed a living example of this ancient wisdom as my husband and I drove through the American southwest.

After visiting the magnificent Monument Valley National Tribal Park in Arizona, we were driving toward the Grand Canyon when we stopped at a roadside stand on the Navajo reservation. I was examining a necklace made by the lovely young woman running the stand when I heard the strange, high-pitched mewling of a predatory cat coming from somewhere behind me. Turning, I saw a man about ten yards away leading a brown and white pinto across the red clay desert dotted with silvery-gray sagebrush shrubs. Huddled in the saddle on the horse’s back was a little girl who appeared to be around two or three years old.

In an instant this idyllic scene was transformed into a life and death drama. Perhaps the child was frightened, or maybe she was just tired, but when she made the mewling sound again, the horse, which by now must have been convinced it had a bobcat on its back, erupted into frenzied bucking. I watched in horror as, enveloped in a rising dust cloud, the child was thrown off the horse’s back and the father thudded to the ground clinging to one thin leather rein.

This is where wisdom enters the picture. The father did not cry out in fright or anger. He did not let go of the rein, his only connection to the terrified animal that so easily could have trampled the tiny child. He did not jerk the rein or lash out at the horse. Rather, in slow and graceful motion, he stood, gathered up both reins, and looped them over his left shoulder as he walked calmly toward his daughter. The horse, which seconds before had been a hysterical beast, followed like a docile puppy as he led the girl to a rock and sat with her, murmuring quietly and caressing her face and long black hair with infinite tenderness. Moments later, father and daughter walked away hand in hand, the horse following peacefully, connected to them only by two thin strips of leather casually looped over the man’s left shoulder.

As I watched the father model the wisdom of the ages to his daughter and horse, memories of humans who were the irrational, emotionally overwhelmed beasts ran through my mind. In stark contrast to them, this man understood his unconscious, instinctual self. In taming and befriending it, he had replaced fear, anxiety, anger, and compulsiveness with trust, peace, compassion, and consciousness. These are his infinitely precious gifts to his family, his horse, and the world. His gift to me was the honor of standing in the presence of a spirit warrior.


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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