Back to the Jungle

Much has been written about how the film Avatar was made–how it took five years and thousands of people and $300 million.  Much has been written about how enchanting it looks.  Vatican Radio said “really never before have such surprising images been seen.”   L’Osservatore Romanos, the newspaper of the Holy See, commented:  “So much stupefying, enchanting technology, but few genuine emotions…” Others beside these Vatican sources commented on the pantheism of the story–a faith that equates God with nature–taking issue with the suggestion that communion with “Eywa,” the “All Mother” of Creation, the humming hub of energy that is the sum of everything thing, is the highest divinity.

But I have been thinking about how the film follows such a deep groove in the culture and maybe even in most individual’s brains, certainly mine.  Gurdjieff told his students that the aim of his work was not to add anything new but to recover something had been lost.  Gurdjieff meant wholeness,  unity– in a much more subtle, inward way than what James Cameron is dazzling the world with.   But the visually mind-blowing Avatar can take a person back, as they say.  It made me remember how it felt to be a child. The  protagonist of the film, a 22nd century ex-Marine named Jake Scully, is sent on a mission to a moon called Pandora.   His consciousness is slipped into the nine-foot-tall blue alien body,or avatar, so he can spy on the Na’Vi,  the beautiful, lithe, blue natives of Pandora who look like a re-imagined indigo version of the first aboriginal people.    Jake is meant to help his corporate and military masters get rid of the Na’Vi, who are living on top of a rich deposit of “Unobtainium,” an invaluable mineral back on ruined Earth.  But Jake (whose original body was paralyzed from the waist down thanks to war)  falls in love with a Na’Vi princess and learns a new way to be.

Biologists have written articles in The New York Times about the way Avatar captures “the naked, heart-stopping wonder of really seeing the living world.”    Watching it made me remember imaginary games I played in childhood that involved climbing trees and (in winter) jumping from couches to chairs in the living room, pretending I bounding gazelle-like through a vast, impossibly beautiful jungle, my black panther consort padding by my side.   Watching the swooping, gorgeous scenes of Cameron’s movie, it all came rushing back, the yearning and exuberant certainty I felt at five or six-years-old  that I could be far more capable and graceful and alive than my mother and the container of my life allowed me to be.    Somehow I new there had to be more to me that what was called on in school each day.   There was a capacity to be quicker, wilder…anyway, I practiced pretending that I could listen and even feel the intelligence of the whole of the jungle.

My days as a girl in tune with the jungle came crashing down the day my mother intentionally bleached the navy blue shorts I would not stop wearing winter or summer when I was pretending to be a kind of girl Mowgli.   It was a horrible, clarifying moment for me, seeing those shorts all mottled purple and white.  It was like tearing back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz.   I went from having a connection to the whole of Nature to being an ordinary kid shivering in a laundry room on a January day.

Many, many decades later, however, I sat down on a sitting cushion with other friends who are interested in coming to a greater unity. These days, the unity I wish for is an inner unity and the divinity I aspire to know is greater than Nature.   As I quieted down and sought to come to a greater awareness,  I realized that remembering who we really does mean forgetting the small creature we usually take ourselves to be.    It means going back, back behind all the proliferating thoughts and biases, returning to consciousness…and that primordial mystery.

4 thoughts on “Back to the Jungle

  1. Avatar evoked memories of my childhood growing up on a couple hundred acres of my grandfather’s farm in the deep, isolated hills of Alabama. There, connection with the earth, the trees, plants, animals, insects, water, storms, the wind, the rain, the sky, the Sun and Moon and my relatives who lived around me was continuous and direct. It was a culture. Today one could ask is there such a thing as culture; particularly in the U.S.?

    It made me remember that I still need to live within a community which values a way of living that takes into account other lives; regarless of it’s forms.

    Avatar indeed shows the beautiful but it also bares the ugliness of humanity.

    Of course it is quite clear that the ways of Native Americans, Native Australians and various traditions and cultures was liberaly “borrowed”.

  2. I confess that I have not seen the film, Avatar, and perhaps more shockingly, upon its release, had no desire to see it. But your description of the film and your childhood memories are deliciously rich like a lovely French pastry. Your description of the film and the memories that the film resurrected is a wonderful endorsement for the film. So, perhaps, I will see it.

    And while it is true, that those of us raised before the cyber invasion, often have rich memories of our wanderings in the natural world, with time and experience in nature, there is a darker side. Sometimes nature is not magical. Sometimes the natural world is downright frightening. I think there is a tendency to luxuriate in the sunny and blue sky days and forget how the natural world can turn on a dime.

    I am reminded of being a child and tearing off on a bicycle with my Irish neighbor. We were delighting in the glorious day, pretending to be spies, and riding beyond the boundaries of our neighborhood. My mother, on the other hand, had turned on the radio only to hear of an impending tornado watch for the town. Frantically, in good old-fashioned housecoat that was surprisingly common at the time, she went in search of Paddy and I. When see finally spotted us, she regained her composure and promised us cookies to lure us home. It worked and we never knew of the impending tornado until we were safely tucked inside.

    Yes, nature, is more like a Greek myth – seductive but full of danger…a kind of Mata-Hari luring us in and then perhaps taking something of us away.

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